Pickling & Preserving – Pinetree Garden Seeds

pickle

One of the problems you may run into with growing your own food is simply having too much of it! You can only eat and give away so much, so an alternative is canning or preserving it! By canning your own fruits and veggies, you can save money and learn how to be almost completely self reliant concerning food.

When you really break it down, canning is just food science. When you preserve food, you are basically freezing time. The simplest method of canning entails filling jars with acidic foods such as tomatoes, berries, fruit jams or jellies, or cucumbers in vinegar, covering them with lids and then boiling them in an open pot of water until the heat forms a seal under the lid. This method is called WATER BATH CANNING. Boiling the jars in a water bath forces the air out of the food and creates a vacuum in the acidic environment that prevents bacteria from forming. High acid foods preserved with this technique should keep for at least a year.

Water bath canning is a great place to start if you’ve never canned before, as it’s very easy and affords you a variety of options such as jams and jellies, whole tomatoes and pickles. The process is fairly simple, just requiring a clean work environment and the ability to boil water. The lids, rings and jars themselves should all be boiled in a large pot prior to canning to ensure all bacteria has been eradicated. While boiling your jars, rings and lids, prepare the product that will be going into your jars according to your recipe. After product is ready to be canned, remove jars from boiling water, place them on a clean towel and carefully fill the jars with your product, leaving at least 1/2-1/4 inch space at the top.

H750 LID LIFTER-BUBBLE REMOVER - low

H749 CANNING FUNNEL 2 - low

Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a damp towel before screwing on the lid and ring. Return the full jars to the water you used to boil the jars initially, and once the water has returned to a boil, start the timer according to the recipe. You’ll want to use a jar lifter to insert and remove your jars into and from the boiling water, as the jars must remain upright at all times to allow for a proper seal.

H748 JAR LIFTER - low

Make sure to keep the water level well above 1-2 inches over the tops of the jars, especially for boil times of over 30 minutes. You may want to purchase a book on canning to ensure the proper boil times for the specific item you are canning. Your jars should remain completely covered by the boiling water at all times during the boiling process. If the water stops boiling or if the water does not completely cover the jars at any time during the canning process, you must bring the water back up to level and back to a boil before restarting the timer FROM THE BEGINNING. After the timer goes off, turn off the heat and allow the jars to rest for 5 minutes before removing them from the water with your jar lifter. When the timer goes off, remove the jars immediately from the water and set them on a towel to rest. Soon after you should start to hear the “ping” of the lids sealing. Let the jars sit at room temperature for at least 12-24 hours before disturbing. After the jars have cooled completely, test the seals on the jars by removing the ring and gently prying at the lids. They should hold fast if the seal is good. These jars should last for up to year. Any with seals that did not take should be refrigerated and used first.

Pressure canner image from Wikipedia.org

Pressure canner image from Wikipedia.org

A more advanced method of canning to use is called PRESSURE CANNING. This requires a little more skill and specific equipment, but provides a wider array of food and flavor options. When selecting your pressure canning equipment, keep in mind the size of the batches you intend to do. A large pressure canner is recommended, as most instructions on venting apply to standard large canners. Low acid foods need to be processed in a pressure canner in order to destroy any bacteria that may be present. In an effort to educate (NOT intimidate), I’ll briefly go over a particular bacterial risk called Butolism. Butolism is a rare and potentially fatal illness that causes paralysis. The toxin that causes it lives in soil and water, and is allowed to manifest when exposed to low oxygen levels and certain temperatures. The toxin is destroyed by being exposed to temperatures of more that 85 degrees Celsius for more than 5 minutes. This is why proper canning is so important. The acidity in high acid foods like fruits and tomatoes is optimum for killing the bacteria, so they do not require the same amount of steps that low acid foods do.

When using the pressure canning method, it is important to understand the science behind it. Pressure itself does not kill bacteria, only high temperatures applied constantly for an extended period of time can achieve this. Your canner must be operated at a gauge pressure of 10.5lbs, which provides an internal temperature of 240 degrees. Be aware that your canner must be properly vented before setting the timer. When putting water in your canner before use, be sure to abide by the measurements for the specific food you are canning, as they vary. A good starting point is 2-3 inches of hot water. Place your jars on the rack using your jar lifter, as the jars must remain upright at all times a fasten the lid securely.

When deciding which method to use, you must take into consideration the acidity level of the food you want to can. As mentioned before, high acid foods such as berries, tomatoes and cucumbers can be canned using the simpler water bath method. Red meats, seafood, poultry, milk and all other fresh vegetables need to be canned using the pressure canning method. It is important to note that while most fruits and tomatoes are acidic enough to use water bath canning, you must make sure that the pH level of your intended food is below 4.6. If your intended fruit or tomato is above 4.6, you must use lemon juice or citric acid in the canning process to lower the pH to the appropriate level.

The time frame on your canning relies on the acidity level and the kind and amount of food you have selected. Low acid foods can take anywhere from 20-100 minutes to pressure can, while high acid foods can take anywhere from 5-85 minutes using the water bath method.

A great resource of information on canning is the Ball canning website (www.freshpreserving.com) for beginner canning methods as well as many tried and true recipes.

Below is a selection of books that we offer concerning canning and preserving. They include tips and tricks, basic information, as well as many recipes.

L733 Ball Home Preserving L730 Complete Book of Pickling L731 Small Batch Preserving L728 Pickled Pantry

We also offer a wonderful product called The Perfect Pickler! Make pickles in just days right on your counter top with no cooking required and without the use of heavy crocks. This quick brine method is simply done by adding Celtic sea salt (provided) and water to any wide mouth canning jar and adding raw vegetables of your choice to transform into tasty nutritious pickles. Try sauerkraut, dill pickles, pickled eggs, beets, peppers, string beans and more. This fermentation kid includes: a unique fermentation air-lock that allows gases to escape through the special lid that seals out airborne microbes, a gasket ring that seals the lid to pressurize, a floating brine cup to collect brine overflow and exhaust gas, 1/4 lb. of superior Celtic Sea Salt and many recipes.

H747 The Perfect Pickler Primero Cabbage 4 - low

REFRIGERATOR PICKLES are another option that do not require a lot of work. These pickles are meant to be kept in a fridge and eaten rather quickly, and are not meant to be stored for the long haul. Cucumbers, carrots, beans… you name it, you can refrigerator pickle it! There are many recipes and methods that have been tried and touted over the years, so we’re providing a recipe used by one of our Pinetree Employees!

TO MAKE THE PICKLING BRINE:

- 1 quart vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
– 2 quarts water
– Just under 2/3 cup pickling salt

Combine all ingredients and boil for 5 minutes. Add:

- Garlic to taste
– Dill to taste

before adding brine to cucumbers. Extra brine (without added garlic or dill) will last in refrigerator for up to a year.

TO MAKE THE PICKLES:

Choose your container (crock, jug, large mason jar, etc.) and fill with your desired amount of cucumbers. Pour the brine over top, until cucumbers are completely submerged. Refrigerate for approximately a week to achieve desired pickled taste before consuming (if you can wait that long!). Pickles can last in the fridge anywhere from 6 months to a year.

AEC_9888 - low AEC_9889 - low

FRESH SALSA

Tomatoes are something that we always seem to have too many of by the end of the summer. You can only eat so many, and can only give away so much! One yummy option is salsa, fresh, frozen or preserved! Again, there are many, many recipes with endless variations, so we’ll just share a basic fresh/frozen recipe that we’ve had luck with so you can modify it to your own tastes!

It all starts with the tomatoes, of course! Roughly chop around 6-7 good sized (baseball-softball size) tomatoes in order to make about 6 pints of salsa.

EEC_9529 - low  EEC_9533 - low

Add in 2 chopped bell peppers, 3 chopped jalapeno peppers (seeds removed for mild salsa, seeds left in for hot salsa), one chopped Anaheim or Cubanelle pepper, one large onion, 2-3 cloves worth of chopped garlic, and 1/3 of a bunch of chopped cilantro. We added chopped canned peaches to our salsa to give it some sweetness, which you can swap out for chopped mango or pineapple!

EEC_9532 - low EEC_9534 - low

Everything gets pulsed through a food processor to achieve that chunky salsa goodness. For flavor, we added around 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a tablespoon of dried thyme, a tablespoon of dried oregano, a tablespoon of dried basil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir it all together and take a taste, add what you think it needs more of if needed!

EEC_9536 - low EEC_9538 - low

After mixing it all together and putting your stamp of approval on taste, measure the salsa into 6 pint sized mason jars. Refrigerate immediately, enjoy the fruits of your labors with some tortilla chips, and give some to a happy neighbor!

If you make a large batch and don’t think you’ll consume it all, you can purchase freezer-safe containers to fill with your fresh salsa and store the excess in the freezer! (DO NOT attempt to freeze glass jars of any kind)

EEC_9540 - low

If you have a favorite canning or preserving recipe, feel free to share it in the comments section of this post!

Veggie Gold: The universal flavor favorite… Cucumbers!

veggiegold

Aside from being one of the most popular vegetables for consuming… cucumbers are also a very versatile in many other areas, such as body care and home remedies. The cucumber is originally from India, but has now spread to almost every other continent and is readily available in multiple shapes, sizes and colors.

They are noted as being consumed as early as ancient Thrace, and the legend of Gilgamesh. It has since been discovered that cucumbers are threaded throughout history, and have quite the line of development as far as varieties. Today we use four general terms to describe the different varieties of cucumbers: Slicing (best for eating fresh), Pickling (best for pickling), Burpless (generally mild and easy to digest) and Armenian (close to a class of melons than cucumbers). There are several other catagories under these four varieties, but in general every cucumber will fall under at least one of the four.

Upon being brought to America by Columbus, cucumbers were widely planted and consumed until the 18th century, when it was speculated that eating uncooked vegetables of any kind would result in a terrible sickness. This way of thinking was reversed in the 19th century, and cucumbers once again took hold.

Below we’ve listed a few of our more popular and unique varieties. In general, cucumbers require full sun and consistent, deep watering, as well as trellising to keep their vines off the ground and promote good airflow. You can use the trellised vines to shade more sensitive veggies, like lettuces, from harsh sun.

DIVACUKE2

MUNCHERCUKE2

ALIBICUKE2

DELIKATESSECUKE2

WESTINDIAGHERKIN2

PAINTEDSERPENT2

SUMMERDANCE2

WHITEWONDER2

18 Fabulous Uses for Citrus Peels! – Pinetree Garden Seeds

CITRUS

AEC_5210 - low

Orange, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit… the possibilities with the vast array of citrus available to us are endless. Most varieties of citrus are versatile, natural options for cleaning, beauty, cooking and much more. Aside from their great scents and tastes, these wonderful fruits also have amazing antibacterial properties. They are also perfect for natural beauty care with their skin brightening properties. With their high concentration of acids, citrus make disinfecting, cleaning and brightening your kitchen or bathroom a breeze!

AEC_5220 - low

If you are using the rind in any edible fashion, be sure to only use organic fruit which has been washed very well beforehand. Where the U.S. isn’t as focused on using citrus rinds as other countries, our citrus skins can contain many harmful pesticides that should not be consumed.

AEC_5219 - low

 

Here are a few of our favorite uses for your lemons or oranges, long after they’ve been juiced!

- Keep brown sugar moist by keeping an orange peel in the container
– Keep bugs away by rubbing the inside of the orange peel over your exposed skin
– Remove tar from the bottom of your shoes by rubbing orange peel over the tar spot
– Blend chopped up orange peel in water and dump down the hole of an ant hill you want to remove
– Rub the inside of an orange peel over houseplants that you want to keep cats from munching on
– Simmer orange or lemon peel in a little bit of water to freshen up a room
– Chew on a bit of citrus peel to freshen up your breath without the use of gum
– Freeze vinegar and citrus peels in ice cube trays and send them through your garbage disposal to get rid of any undesirable scents
– Combined with sea salt, use a citrus rind to scrub and polish metal surfaces
– To clean and refresh your microwave, place citrus peels in a small bowl of water and set in the microwave. Microwave for around 5 minutes (enough time for it to generate steam) and then wipe the microwave clean of all residue
– Rub a wedge of lemon on the edge of your nails to brighten them
– Place a few lemon peels inside your refrigerator to absorb foul odors
– Dry your citrus peels and use them as kindling to start a fragrant fire
– Rubbing lemon peel over your skin and leaving it on for five-ten minutes before rinsing off will lighten, brighten and tighten your skin
– Sucking on a slice of lemon can aide in relieving travel sickness
– Use half a squeezed-out lemon with some baking soda to aide in the removal of grease and underarm stains from clothing
– Revitalize your cutting board by vigorously rubbing half of a squeezed-out lemon and some coarse salt over it before rinsing well
– Rub the inside of a citrus rind over your teeth to immediately brighten (use sparingly, as too much can weaken the enamel and cause sensitivity)

AEC_5228 - low

What are your favorite uses for citrus rinds? Let us know in the comments below!

Grow up, not out… Our favorite vertical gardening ideas! – Pinetree Garden Seeds

vert

A lot of would-be gardeners are convinced that they don’t have space for the big, luscious garden of their dreams… but there are many alternatives to sprawling rows of flowers and vegetables! Container gardening is one option, especially for those in urban settings, but there is also vertical gardening! Essentially, you are growing your vegetables up, not out, by training them to climb a structure or by planting them in a vertical container. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite vertical gardening ideas for your use! Also, be sure to check out our Container/Urban Gardening Pinterest board for container gardening ideas!

1. Palette Garden

Image from Design Sponge

Image from Design Sponge

Before starting to fill your palette, make sure it has a backing to keep the soil from falling out the back. Staple doubled-up landscaping fabric (or something similar) around the sides, back and bottom of the palette. Lay your palette on the ground and fill it with your soil mix of choice. Press the soil down firmly, but not so hard that you don’t have room for planting. Plant from the bottom up, ensuring that the plants are placed rather closely together. Water thoroughly and leave the palette lying horizontal for at least two weeks to allow the plants to take root. Stand upright and water regularly before enjoying!

2. Clay Pot Wall

Image from Deborahsilver.com

Image from Deborahsilver.com

Image from Deborahsilver.com

Image from Deborahsilver.com

This vertical garden was created using four cedar posts, steel rods and fashioned steel hooks to hold the clay pots. These particular images show the pots holding succulents, but they could also be used to hold herbs or salad greens. Watering may prove to be a bit time consuming, but the garden is attractive and effective for a small space.

3. Vertical Planter

From Rufflesandtruffles.com

From Rufflesandtruffles.com

Find the instructions on how to make this planter here!

4. Strawberry/Herb Tower

From Removeandreplace.com

From Removeandreplace.com

Image from Studiogblog.com

Image from Studiogblog.com

Find the instructions on how to make this tower planter here!

5. Stack-a-Pot Planter
AEC_3577 - low h701_stack_a_pot_1

This planter can be stacked on a deck or patio, or hung suspended by a chain! Great for herbs, flowers and vegetables.

6. Trellises

Image from Digginfood.com

Image from Digginfood.com

Use trellises to grow beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, melons and more! Train the vines of your plants to wind up the grid or poles of the trellis and it will keep the fruits from sitting on the ground. This will help stave off diseases and the chance for fruits buried beneath vines to rot.

Beautiful but Deadly: Poisonous Wild Flowers to Avoid! – Pinetree Garden Seeds

BD

A favorite past time of many gardeners and non-gardeners alike is strolling through fields and forest paths of wild flowers. Speaking from experience, the effect of wading through hip-high fields of grass and flowers is very calming and uplifting. Unfortunately, as it is with most things… there are a few of these natural beauties that you will want to avoid due to their toxic and poisonous components.

Foxglove

Poisoning by Foxglove is most common in pets, livestock and children, as the plant has to be consumed to be toxic. All parts of this flower, including the water that any cut stalks sit in, are poisonous. It is also sometimes mistaken for the comfrey plant (which has similar bell-shaped flowers) and brewed as a tea, and the results can be fatal. Even in a dried state, all parts of this plant remain poisonous. 
Symptoms:
 Stomach pain, nausea, violent vomiting, vertigo, muscular stiffness, fatigue, headache, pulse at first rapid and violent but soon weak and irregular, dilated pupils, dimness of vision, delirium.

DeadlyNight
Deadly Nightshade is one of the most toxic plants found in the Eastern Hemisphere, as the name suggests. All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous and any small bit consumed can be fatal. The berries are slightly sweet and attractive, creating a big threat for consumption by curious children. The consumption of two to five berries by a human adult is lethal in most instances. The root of the plant is generally the most toxic part and ingestion of a single leaf of the plant can be fatal to an adult.
Symptoms: Strange indescribable feelings of giddiness, yawning, staggering or falling while attempting to walk; dryness of mouth and throat, feeling of suffocation, swallowing difficult, face at first pale which later develops into a rash which extends to the body; pupils widely dilated; pulse, at first rapid and violent, later becomes irregular and faint.

Jessamine
All parts of the Yellow Jessamine, or Jasmine, plant contain are toxic and should not be consumed. The sap may cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals. Children, mistaking this flower for honeysuckle, have been poisoned by sucking the nectar from the flower.
Symptoms: Giddiness, nausea, paralysis of muscles of mouth and throat, indistinct speech, difficulty breathing, delirium.

dollseyes
Dolls Eyes, or Baneberry, contains toxins than can have an immediate sedative effect on human cardiac muscle. The berries are the most poisonous part of the plant, causing poisoning in curious children by eating the waxy, shiny red or white berries. Ingestion of the berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death. The berries are harmless to birds, the plant’s primary seed disperser, but are highly poisonous to rabbits. Dolls Eyes is related to a highly toxic plant genus which contains wolfbane and several varieties of monkshood.
Symptoms: Both the berries and the entire plant are considered poisonous to humans. The berries contain cardiogenic toxins which can have an immediate sedative effect on human cardiac muscle tissue, and are the most poisonous part of the plant. Ingestion of the berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Larkspur
Larkspur, especially tall larkspur, is a significant cause of cattle poisoning on rangelands in the western United States. Larkspur is more common in high-elevation areas, and many ranchers delay moving cattle onto such ranges until late summer when the toxicity of the plants is reduced. Death can occur within a few hours of ingestion. All parts of the plant are toxic to humans, and simply touching the plant can cause skin irritation.
Symptoms: Ingestion leads to nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscular spasms. If fatal, death is usually due to respiratory collapse or cardiac arrest.

Veggie Gold: The Resilient Root Vegetable… Carrots!

veggiegold

Most people are familiar with these super sweet and very popular root vegetables… their signature bright orange coloring is easily recognizable! Mothers and fathers are perpetually encouraging their children to consume this lovely, sweet vegetable for its nutritious properties such as improved vision, healthy skin, strong and healthy teeth and many more! Carrots are fairly easy to grow, and you can avoid pest invasions by simply keeping up with weeding. They like full sun and sandy or loose soil so that they can stretch their roots far into the ground. Mulch to keep the roots cool. Carrots are also frost resistant, and actually can taste better after having endured the first couple frosts before being pulled from the ground. They come in a variety of colors including the traditional orange, as well as reds, purples, yellows and whites, and have varying levels of sweetness.

Plant your carrot seeds 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date and make sure that the soil is well-tilled with no rocks so that the roots can dive down deep. To avoid forked carrots, don’t till too-ripe or too fresh manure into the dirt before planting the seeds, and wait to fertilize until 5-6 weeks after sowing the seed. Water at least 1 inch weekly.

There are 5 different categories regarding carrot shape and size.  Ball-type, Chantenay, and Danvers carrots have bulbous shapes that can handle heavy or shallow soil due to their short root length and wide width. Nantes and Imperator carrots are long and thin, requiring loose and deep soil. Sow 1 pinch of about 6 seeds per 1 inch and cover with ¼ to ½ inch of screened compost, potting mix, or sand. Soil should remain moist for best germination. Carrots take about 1-3 weeks to sprout, so don’t worry if they don’t come up right away. They also tend to sprout slower in colder soil, so take soil temperature into account.  Thin the sprouts to 1 inch apart when the tops are 2 inches high, as crowded carrots will produce crooked roots. Thin again 2 weeks later to 3 to 4 inches apart.

Aside from four legged pests such as deer, woodchucks, gophers and rabbits, carrots are fairly pest and disease resistant. To prevent soil-borne pests and diseases such as parasitic nematodes, carrot weevils and soft rot, rotate crops. To prevent pests such as leafhoppers (which cause carrot yellows disease) and carrot rust flies, utilize floating row covers.

The first carrots originated in Afghanistan, and actually looked nothing like the carrots we all know and love today. They were thin, spindly and purple! By the time they reached Europe in the 12th century, they had acquired their recognizable rainbow of colors.

AtomicRedCarrot Atomic

DanversHalfLongCarrot Danvers

CosmicPurpleCarrot Cosmic

MokumCarrot Mokum

LunarWhiteCarrot Lunar

ParisianCarrot Parisian

TenderSweetCarrot Tendersweet

Creating Herbal Infusions: Honey, Oil, Vinegar, Salt and More! – Pinetree Garden Seeds

HERBALINFUSIONS

If you’re looking for some new, creative ways to use your fresh and dried herbs, infusions may be the way to go! You can infuse many things with herbal flavors, such as honey, oil, vinegar, salt and alcohol. Store bought herbal infusions of high quality can be expensive and hard to come by, which is all the more reason to make your own! You can use fresh or dried herbs in most of these, unless otherwise noted, and each infusion can be used in a multitude of applications.

InfusedOil
When making infused oils, be sure to start with a good base oil. The oils best used for infusions are plant based, such as olive oil, sunflower oil or almond oil. Make sure your selected herbs are clean and dry before chopping or bruising them to release their natural oils, as any water left on the herbs when they are closed up in the jar can grow bacteria. Select your jar (canning jars or any bottles with rubber stoppers will work well) and toss the herbs into the bottom of the jar before filling the jar with your selected oil. Seal the jar tightly and let it sit for 1-2 weeks, or until it has reached your desired potency. You can strain the herbs out once the infusion has reached your desired potency. If you used fresh herbs, be sure to use the infusion within a week or two to prevent bacteria from growing. If you used dried herbs, the infusion can last for around a month. Keep refrigerated to deter bacterial growth.

InfusedVinegar
Use infused vinegars in marinades, salad dressings, soups and more. The best types of vinegars to use as bases are white wine, red wine, or apple cider. Use approximately 2 cups of vinegar to 1 cup of  loosely packed fresh herbs (or 1/2 cup dried herbs). You can adjust this amount based on whether you want a stronger or a milder infusion. Make sure you are using clean, good-looking herbs that do not have any signs of wilting, browning or yellowing. First, rinse or wash your fresh herbs and gently bruise or mash the herbs to release their natural oils. Place them in the bottom of a sterilized jar and fill the rest of the way with your chosen vinegar. Do not use any metal utensils or metal lids of any kind, as the vinegar can react badly with the metal. Seal the jar tightly and place in a dark place that is room temperature for 1-2 weeks, depending on your desired infusion strength. If the strength is not as desired after the first two weeks, add fresh herbs and steep longer. Once it has reached desired strength, strain the herbs out and re-bottle the vinegar in your chosen container.

InfusedHoney
Most suggest using dried herbs for infusing honey, as the risk of bacterial growth with fresh herbs is fairly high. Generally 1-2 tablespoons per 1 cup of honey is a good place to start measurement-wise. Select clean, dry jars with clean, dry lids of whatever size you prefer. Use either full sprigs or chopped chunks of dried herbs (though chopped will make them harder to strain out) and place them in the bottom of your jar. Fill the jar almost to the top with honey (a lighter flavored honey works best, such as orange blossom) and stir to mix the herbs in with a wooden implement. Fill the jar the rest of the way to the top with honey, wipe the rim of the jar with a damp cloth and seal the jar with the lid. Let the herbs infuse for at least 5 days, turning the jar over if the herbs float to the top to keep them fully coated with honey. After the infusion has reached your desired intensity, strain the honey into a new jar to remove the dried herbs. Store the honey in a cool, dry place and it will last indefinitely.

InfusedSalts
These salt infusions can be used on any items you would sprinkle normal salt on, just with an added burst of flavor. Use dried herbs at a ratio of 1 teaspoon per 1/4 cup of salt. Use a coarser, flakier salt (such as kosher or sea salt) for a better distribution of the flavoring. Make sure that your dried herbs are chopped finely before putting them in a food processor or mortar with your chose salt and pulsing or grinding them just until everything is incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to a year (although the flavoring will diminish over time). You can also use this process for making infused sugars.

InfusedSimpleSyrups
Simple syrups can be used for a multitude of things, such as additives to teas, cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, or simply drizzled over a bowl of fresh fruit. Use fresh herbs for this infusion; about 4-6 fresh sprigs per batch depending on desired potency. Rinse your herbs carefully, making sure they’re clean and free of any dirt. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add 1 cup of sugar, whisking until dissolved. Add your fresh herb sprigs and boil for an additional 60 seconds before removing the mixture from heat and allowing the herbs to steep in it for an additional 30 minutes as it cools. After the mixture is cooled, remove as much of the herbs as you can by hand before straining the syrup through a fine mesh strainer or several layers of cheese cloth into a clean jar or bottle with a tight sealing lid. Store in the refrigerator.

InfusedAlcohol
Lighter spirits such as vodka, gin and light rum are suggested for these infusions, so as to not overpower the flavors of the infusion. Choosing a better quality spirit is always suggested, as the impurities that are sometimes in cheaper liquor can soil the taste of the infusion. For best results, use fresh ingredients only. Use your imagination when coming up with flavor combinations! Choose a clean, airtight jar (such as a quart mason jar) and place inside your clean, fresh herbs, spices or fruits. Fill the jar the rest of the way up with your chosen spirit. Shake the jar and taste test daily for up to 3-5 days and store in a cool, dark place. Once your infusion has reached the desired intensity, strain the fresh ingredients out and the infused liquor into a clean jar or bottle.

Growing Healthy Tomatoes! – Pinetree Garden Seeds

TOMATOES

Tomatoes are one of the most commonly-grown garden vegetables in America… but unfortunately they’re also one of the most problematic ones to grow. Tomatoes are susceptible to a variety of diseases and pests, and for first time and seasoned growers alike, the results may be disheartening. As daunting as this may seem, basic good gardening practices are a good way to start. Make sure your tomato plants (whether in a container or in a garden bed) have access to full sun during the day along with well-drained soil. Shade and too-wet soil are an open invitation for all kinds of disease and pest problems. Also  be sure to practice crop rotation  with your tomatoes (don’t plant them in the same place the next year), as this will help keep away a lot of issues that have to do with your soil. If you are unable to rotate your crops, you can practice container gardening. Just be sure to use good, clean potting medium, as well as a large enough pot (at least 12 inches in diameter). Some tomatoes can grow up to 6 feet tall by the end of the season! Make sure to keep your tomatoes consistently watered. If they go through long dry spells and then get soaked with water, this can cause cracks in your beautiful fruits! Always try to water directly at the base of the plant, as wet foliage can be the cause of all kinds of diseases. If you do have to water the foliage, be sure to do so before noon, so the leaves have time to dry during the day.

Most Common Tomato Problems

TomatoCare

Cracking: Cracks in the skin of your tomatoes are a result of receiving too many nutrients and too much moisture all at once. Keep your waterings and feedings consistent by sticking to a schedule and you should avoid seeing these splits in your fruits.

Early and Late Blight: If your leaves are looking yellow, brown, spotty, mottled or otherwise disfigured, you may be dealing with some form of Blight. Unfortunately, there is no quick cure for Blight, so prevention is key. Make sure your potting medium is rich in nutrients and disease free, and be sure to keep good air flow around your plants. Also try to keep your foliage as dry as possible, focusing on watering the base of the plant or watering earlier in the day so that the foliage has a chance to dry in the sun.

Blossom End Rot: If you’re seeing dark brown or black spots on the bottoms of your tomatoes, you’re dealing with a case of end rot. This is caused by a severe calcium deficiency in the soil as well as fluctuating moisture levels and overly hot conditions with no water at all. Before you plant your tomatoes, make sure that you are incorporating a good amount of nutrients into the soil, such as composted manure or bone meal, to keep the calcium level up to par. Keep your waterings steady and consistent.

Verticillium and Fusarium: If your leaves wilt and turn yellow before turning brown, you may be dealing with one of these two diseases. Good air flow and keeping your foliage dry will prevent these diseases from taking hold. If you catch it early, you can simply remove the few diseased leaves to keep it from spreading to the rest of the plant. However, there is no cure for these diseases, so preventing them from ever taking hold is the only way to go.

Tomato Hornworms: Talk to any tomato gardener, and you’ll find that these big green worms are the bane of their existence. They start very small and hard to see, but grow very rapidly by devouring the foliage of your tomato plants overnight. They tend to hide on the underside of leaves during the day, and are more active at night. The best way to rid your plants of these fiends is to pluck them off by hand and either squash them or dump them into a bucket of soapy water. If you have chickens, you can feed them the little green monsters and they’ll be VERY grateful for the tasty snack! The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or BT, is another effective way to kill off hornworms; simply spray the foliage of your infested plants and pay extra care to the underside of the leaves.

Follow these simple steps to start your tomatoes off strong, and keep them growing until the season is done!

TomatoTips

Feed the soil FIRST: Many tomato gardeners make the mistake of trying to make up for under nourished soil by force feeding their plants extra amounts of fertilizer. The over feeding can stress the plants and cause cracks in the skins of the fruits, and the under nourished soil can cause blossom end rot. Make sure your soil is full of nutrient rich compost containing good amounts of calcium, potassium, and phosphorus BEFORE planting.

Plant them deep: Tomato roots thrive when they’re settled down deep in the soil, allowing them to grow strong and sturdy. When your seedlings are ready for transplanting, dig a 4-5″ trench for them and pluck the leaves off the seedlings up to the top set of leaves, burying almost the entire stem in the dirt. The cooler soil that is down deep will help the tomatoes retain moisture and survive hot weather.

Keep them mulched: To keep their soil moist, mulch around your tomato plants with dried grass clippings, straw or even fallen leaves. This also prevents weeds from sprouting! Be sure to mulch only after the soil has reached 65°, as the mulch will keep the soil too cool and you don’t want to stress the plants.

Pick off the first flowers: Many experienced tomato growers insist that plucking off the first set of flowers that show up on your tomato plant is a way to make sure the root system and leafy canopy of your plant is well structured and hardy. By plucking the first  set of flowers off, you’re forcing the plant to divert its energy into building up its root system and canopy as opposed to trying to produce fruit at first.

Keep them off the ground: The best thing you can do for your plant is to make sure that it grows up and not out. By gradually tying your tomato plants upward to a trellis, cage or pole, you’re keeping up the airflow between the leaves and fruit, and preventing any soil-borne diseases or pests from attaching onto the foliage.