Author Archives: Paonia Farm & Home

Heirloom or Hybrid Seeds – Which is best?

seedsHeirloom seeds versus hybrid seeds – which is better?

Heirloom or Hybrid, which is better?  A review of the pros and cons of each seed type should help you determine which seed type meets your goals for a mouth-watering, flavorful and successful vegetable, flower, and herb harvest this season.

Hybrid seeds grow plants that are predictable and uniform. They have been bred for specific characteristics, such as flavor, color, number of days to harvest, resistance to disease, etc. F1 hybrids

Big Beef Hybrid Tomato

Big Beef Hybrid Tomato

also possess “hybrid vigor.” Typically this means more plants survive the seedling stage and mature plants are large and healthy.

Big Boy, Big Beef and Better Boy tomatoes are popular, well-known examples of hybridized tomatoes that are more “perfect” in size and shape while sacrificing some of the rich flavor of better known heirloom tomato varieties such as Cherokee Purple.

Although hybridized seeds may be strong in one or more particular characteristics, they will not produce reliable seeds for saving. Even if the variety is not sterile and does produce seed, the seed will be unstable—it won’t necessarily produce plants with the same traits as the parent in subsequent years.  So if you enjoy a particular variety, you will need to purchase new seeds every year if you want to keep growing that variety.

Of particular concern to home gardeners is the risk that hybrids are or will become trademarked or patented by the breeder.  Hence costs associated with producing patented or trademarked seeds are passed onto the consumer

Heirloom vegetable, flower and herb seed varieties are preferred by Organic gardeners for their superior flavor and for the capacity that enables you, the home gardener, to save your own seeds from year to year, saving the costs associated with repurchasing garden seeds each year.  In addition heirlooms are the varieties that have been passed down generation to generation over the years often originating in Europe.

cucumber-lemon1

Lemon Cucumbers are over 100 year old Heirloom Variety

Of particular interest to organic gardeners and all consumers is the assurance that heirloom seeds  are not genetically engineered. To be considered an heirloom, most authorities agree the seed variety is at least 50 years old, and it has been preserved and kept true .

Lemon Cucumbers are over 100 year old heirloom variety that effortlessly produces loads of fruit just the size and shape of pale colored lemons. They have a mild sweet flavor, crisp texture and thin skins, and dual purpose: perfect for eating fresh or pickling

Many heirloom seed varieties are actually common seed varieties  you may have already tried and come to love.  Examples of heirlooms you might already be familiarized with include:

Heirloom tomato assortments have wide variations in color, shape, and size.

Heirloom tomato assortments have wide variations in color, shape, and size.

  • Detroit Dark Red Beets
  • Nantes Carrots
  • Romaine lettuce  (and most lettuce varieties)
  • Chantenay Carrots (the fatter carrot)
  • Copenhagen Cabbage

At Paonia Farm and Home, we offer a wide selection of vegetable, flower and herb varieties in both Organic Heirloom seeds, and conventional seeds from well-known producers including Lake Valley, Botanical Interests, and Renee’s Garden.

Asparagus on Toast with Cream Sauce and Eggs

Asparagus on Toast with Cream Sauce. Bacon bits are optional

Asparagus on Toast with Cream Sauce. Bacon bits are optional.  Recipe is from Emma, Linda’s grandmother

A delicious recipe that is just in time for a seasonal breakfast or brunch.  With the recent rains, there is plenty of asparagus sprouting along roadsides, just be sure if you are picking wild asparagus to not trespass private property.

IngredientsAsparagus 2

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, diced or sliced
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 2 cups milk  (part cream is OK)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, optional
  • 1/3 cup bacon bits, optional
  • 4 slices bread, toasted and halved

Directions

  • Snap off the lower part of the asparagus stalks where they break easily.  In a large skillet, bring 3/4 cup of lightly salted water and asparagus to a boil. Cover and boil for 2-3 minutes or until crisp-tender.  Keep warm and drain when ready to serve the plate.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt 1/4 cup of butter; gradually whisk in the flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk and continue whisking the mixture. Bring the sauce to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat; stir in optional cheese until melted, if desired.
  • Place 1 slice of toasted and halved bread on each slightly heated plate.  Top the toast with asparagus spears, followed by cream sauce, diced hard cooked egg (one per plate) and garnish with optional bacon bits.  Serve.
  • Yield: 4 servings.

Time to Plant Peas, Potatoes, and Onions

March 17 is the traditional time to plant peas, potatoes, and onions.

 

peaseeds

Peas are a cool-season crop, now coming in three separate varieties to suit your garden and cooking needs. They are: (sweet pea, inedible pod) and snow peas (edible flat pod with small peas inside) and snap peas (edible pod with full-size peas). They are easy to grow, but with a very limited growing season. Furthermore, they do not stay fresh long after harvest, so enjoy them while you can!

plantingpeasPlanting Peas

  • To get the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds in the fall, add manure to the soil, and mulch well.
  • As with other legumes, pea roots will fix nitrogen in the soil, making it available for other plants.
  • Peas will appreciate a good sprinkling of wood ashes to the soil before planting.
  • Sow seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost, when soil temperatures reach 45 degrees F.
  • Plant 1 inch deep (deeper if soil is dry) and 2 inches apart.
  • Get them in the ground while the soil is still cool but do not have them sit too long in wet soil. It’s a delicate balance of proper timing and weather conditions. For soil that stays wet longer, invest in raised beds.
  • A blanket of snow won’t hurt emerging pea plants, but several days with temperatures in the teens could. Be prepared to plant again.
  • Peas are best grown in temperatures below 70 degrees F.

Care of Pea Plants

  • Make sure that you have well-drained, humus-rich soil.
  • Poke in any seeds that wash out. (A chopstick is an ideal tool for this.)
  • Be sure, too, that you don’t fertilize the soil too much. Peas are especially sensitive to too much nitrogen, but they may like a little bonemeal, for the phosphorus content.
  • Though adding compost or manure to the soil won’t hurt, peas don’t need heavy doses of fertilizer. They like phosphorus and potassium.
  • Water sparsely unless the plants are wilting. Do not let plants dry out, or no pods will be produced.
  • For tall and vine varieties, establish poles or a trellis at time of planting.
  • Do not hoe around plants to avoid disturbing fragile roots.
  • It’s best to rotate pea crops every year or two to avoid a buildup of soil-borne diseases.

plantingpotatoes_lPlanting Potatoes

  • Plant seed potatoes (pieces of whole potato or a small whole potato, with at least 2 eyes per piece).
  • If you are cutting up potato pieces for planting, do so a 1-2 days ahead of time. This will give them the chance to form a protective layer, both for moisture retention and rot resistance.
  • Old Timers say Good Friday or under the full moon is the best time to plant root crops.  Potatoes can be planted as soon as soil can be worked, but be aware that some crops could be ruined by a frost.
  • Spread and mix in rotted manure or organic compost in the bottom of the trench before planting.
  • Plant seed potatoes one foot apart in a 4-inch deep trench, eye side up.
  • Practice yearly crop rotation.

Care of Potatoes

  • Potatoes thrive in well-drained, loose soil.
  • Potatoes need consistent moisture, so water regularly when tubers start to form.
  • Hilling should be done before the potato plants bloom, when the plant is about 6 inches tall. Hoe the dirt up around the base of the plant in order to cover the root as well as to support the plant. Bury them in loose soil. The idea is to keep the potato from getting sunburned, in which case they turn green and will taste bitter.
  • You will need to hill potatoes every couple of weeks to protect your crop.

Planting Onions

Candy, yellow, red, and white onion sets are now in the store.

Candy onion plants, yellow, red, and white onion sets are now in the store.  Get started now!

Onions are a cold season crop, easy to grow because of their hardiness. We recommend using onion sets, which can be planted without worry of frost damage and have a higher success rate than direct seed or transplants.

  • Till in aged manure or fertilizer the fall before planting.
  • Start seeds indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting. Move transplants into the garden as soon as the ground can be worked.
  • Plant the transplants about three inches apart.
  • Plant sets directly outdoors mid March and early April. Make sure temperature doesn’t go below 20 degrees F.
  • When planting onion sets, don’t bury them completely under the soil; if more than the bottom third of the bulb is underground, growth can be restricted. Set five inches apart.

Care

  • Fertilize when bulbs begin to swell, and again when plants are one foot tall
  • Make sure soil is well-drained. Mulch will help retain moisture and stifle weeds.

Candy onion plants, white, yellow, red onion sets are now in stock.  Come in and visit!

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Enstrom’s Style Homemade Toffee

Finished Toffee

Finished Toffee

For about $10.00 for the ingredients including butter, sugar, chocolate and almonds, you can make this delicious toffee and have about 3 pounds of finished product. That is enough toffee for several generous, very welcomed gifts right from your kitchen!

Enstrom’s Style Toffee Recipe

Norpro Digital Thermometer/timer combo

Norpro  Thermometer/timer combo available in the store

2  3/4 Cup sugar
1 pound salted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup slivered almonds

1 – 12 oz pkg milk chocolate chip

3/4 cup whole almonds, chopped very, very finely in a blender- almost a powder
NOTE:  Follow directions carefully and use a candy thermometer.  Be sure to subtract two degrees Fahrenheit from a stated temperature for every 1000 feet you are above sea level. Test your thermometer with boiling water before starting and make any additional adjustments accordingly.

Melt butter in a medium sized sauce pan – about 3 quart size over medium to medium high heat. Add the salt. When the butter is almost melted, add the sugar in quickly. Stir slowly, using a figure 8 motion with a wooden spoon. The sugar will not immediately dissolve or mix in, this is normal.

When the sugar absorbs into the butter the mixture will look more homogeneous and smooth. This takes 5-10 minutes. Then add the slivered almonds. This is what it will look like when you add the almonds. A would call this the blonde stage.

Blonde stage
Blonde stage

Continue to slowly stir the mixture in the saucepan for about another 10-15 minutes until the mixture reaches the hard crack stage.  Do not hurry this process by increasing the heat or you risk failure. This is 290 ° F on a thermometer at sea level. (I use the instant read thermometer with a probe from Norpro.) You will notice that the sugar mixture is turning a darker more caramel color and it is almost starting to smell like burnt sugar. You can also drop a small amount of the mixture into iced water to test for the hard crack stage. Do not under cook. This picture shows how much darker the mixture becomes.

Hard Crack Stage
Hard Crack Stage – ready to pour out on cookie sheet

If the mixture has reached 290 or hard crack, (adjustment for altitude in Paonia is about 276 degrees F.) pour the mixture onto a large cookie sheet and allow it to spread out. Place the cookie sheet on a cooling rack NOT ON A COUNTER because the mixture is so hot it could warp your counter.

After the toffee hardens, about 30 minutes, melt half the chocolate chips in a double boiler and spread over the toffee in a thin layer. Sprinkle lightly with finely diced. like powder almost, almonds. When this is cooled, flip the toffee over and repeat. Spread the other half of the chocolate chips, melted over the toffee and sprinkle with finely chopped almonds. When it is totally cooled, put portions into cellophane bags tied with a ribbon to use for gifts.

Wrap toffee in cellophane bags or similar packaging for gifts

Wrap toffee in cellophane bags or similar packaging for gifts

Putting the Garden to Bed

Putthegardentobed

Cooler temperatures tell us it’s time to put the garden to bed and store the fall harvest to be enjoyed throughout the winter.

Fall Harvest

At my home, potatoes have been dug up (one of my favorite garden chores) and stored away in a dry, cool place.  I have now harvested half the carrots and left the other half in the ground.  The carrot tops have been removed from the carrots  in the ground and covered with 16 inches of straw.  In mid-to-late winter, I’ll be able to harvest out of the ground the sweetest, tastiest carrots ever because they over-winter well when covered deeply with straw or bags of leaves.

Store up squash and pumpkins

Store up squash and pumpkins

Also, my garden cart is heaped up full, with butternut, delicata and sweet meat squash and pumpkins.  I bake and process the pumpkins for pies and soups.

I also like to roast the pumpkin seeds for munching while they last.  One secret to tasty, nutritious pumpkin seeds is to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes.

Lastly, we’re enjoying kale and swiss chard in soups and stir-fries.  More kale and chard have been frozen – hopefully enough to enjoy in soups and stews this winter and last until spring!

FermentedbeetsFermenting Vegetables

I have also just harvested the last of the beets and turnips and made fermented beets and turnips for the first time.  I learned the art of fermenting  from local fermentation guru, Maria Hodkins.  It’s not to late to ferment just about any leftover/surplus veggies like carrots, cabbage, broccoli, onions, etc without using vinegar, pressure canners or freezers.

Fermentation, makes it’s own vinegar, so-to-speak, which is actually  lactic acid produced by bacteria naturally present in our environment.  Not only are the naturally occurring bacteria beneficial for health and eliminate the canning process, but the fermented veggies can be stored for months in cold storage or refrigerators.