Tag Archives: garden

How Old is Too Old for Home-Canned Food?

October 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Mady Besch

Preserving homegrown produce is a favorite pastime for Midwestern gardeners. 

In late summer and fall, mountains of cucumbers turn into pickles and baskets of tomatoes become salsa and spaghetti sauce with the help of canners on stovetops. 

A bountiful harvest then fills the pantry in the form of canned jars. Health-conscious consumers get to know what goes into their processed foods while enjoying the harvest throughout the calendar year.

But beware the curse of plenty, as overabundant jars can accumulate into perpetuity. The question then becomes, “At what point should homemade cans be discarded?”

Foods canned at home are safe to eat for several years—says Nancy Urbanec, a nutrition and health expert with the Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy counties—so long as the food was properly canned in the appropriate type of jars (glass mason jars and metal bands can be reused) with new lids (fresh seals), and stored in a cool, dry location.

“I’m not going to advocate for eating something five to seven years old,” she says. “Food safety-wise, it’s perfectly safe. Food quality-wise, it will change.” Peculiarities in foods stored in cans for many years may include lack of texture, cloudiness, and sometimes disintegration. 

Urbanec advises using canned foods within a year of processing, while the quality is best. She plans her garden with the intention of producing enough canned goods to last until the next year’s harvest. 

She also advises discarding canned items with rusted or bulged lids. Unsealed jars of canned food in the pantry should be discarded to avoid risk of botulism. 

Urbanec suggests removing the metal rings from the lids of cans that have been opened to make it easier to identify unsealed jars. Sticky exteriors of jars may also be a clue that they are not properly sealed. Jars containing fizz or odd bubbles may be suspect, too.

Unfortunately, botulin bacteria cannot be detected easily. But Urbanec says water-bath canning with adequate acidity or proper pressure canning will keep foods safe to eat. 

The methods of water-bath and pressure canning are slightly different in process but identical in result—they kill any possible botulin bacteria.  Both methods produce safely preserved food. 

What about when the prime year has slipped past already? Urbanec recommends not keeping canned items past one year. But when it happens—and it will happen, especially for folks new to growing and pickling cucumbers—Urbanec suggests using surplus pickles mixed with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Pickles can also be mixed with sour cream as a condiment for pita and lamb. Pickle brine with oil makes a delightful salad dressing, and deep-fried pickle spears will disappear off any serving tray. 

Urbanec enjoys sharing her canned produce with friends and family. Before offering them as gifts, however, she always checks to ensure that her lids are safely sealed. So if you have more cans of tomatoes and cucumbers this year than you know what to do with, tie a pretty bow around those mason jars and give them away as gifts. 

If you still have cans of pickles remaining after trying Urbanec’s suggestions—or maybe you just don’t want to share—know that it’s perfectly safe to consume them past one year.


Visit extension.unl.edu for more information about the Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy counties. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

April 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mary Current and her son, Anderson Current, started making hot sauce three years ago. She never planned on being a commercial food producer despite working the front and back of the house at restaurants, studying culinary arts, and being married to a retired food and beverage director. “It just kind of happened,” she says of Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce’s origins. One day this foodie and home gardener decided to make hot sauce from her bumper pepper crop. She had made pico de gallo and salsa, but never liquid hot sauce. Friends and family loved that first spicy concoction and wanted more.

Her four main sauces became habanero, jalapeño, datil, and chipotle, each with notes of poblano, anaheim, vinegar, citrus, garlic, and onion. Specialty sauces have followed. She only arrives at a recipe after much research and experimentation. Finding the right complementary combinations, she says, “is what I really like doing,” adding, “That’s what I get a kick out of. It’s like a gift.”

The initial strong reception got mother and son thinking, especially after the savory micro batches proved popular with Anderson’s friends in Colorado, where he lived with his wife, Constance. The couple worked for Whole Foods. When they moved to Omaha, Anderson helped his mom turn her food hobby into a business. Constance designed the logo with a Medusa-like head sprouting chili peppers. The two shopped the sauces around to trendy eateries like Block 16, and found that chefs and patrons also enjoyed the homemade spicy condiments.

Crazy Gringa has come a long way since Mary cooked and bottled the sauces at home and sold them out of the trunk of her car. Her condiments are now made in a commercial kitchen and are staples at the Omaha Farmers Market, select Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Hy-Vee stores, and some restaurants. She plans on keeping things small.

Working together allows the family more quality time, which is the main reason why Mary likes keeping it all in the family.

“When we make hot sauce, that’s our bonding time together,” Mary says of her and Anderson. Her husband, Doug, helps with receiving.

Mary also likes maintaining a small operation because it allows her to pour as much of her heart and soul into the operation as possible.

“It really is a labor of love. I’m never going to be rich, but I love to see the joy on people’s faces when we’re back at the Farmers Market and they say, ‘I can’t live without this hot sauce.’”

Just as Crazy Gringa showed up on store shelves, City Sprouts board president Albert Varas sought an area food manufacturer with whom he could partner. He realized these simple sauces with complex flavors have, as their base, items interns can grow and cultivate at the City Sprouts South garden at 20th and N streets. He contacted the Currents and found they shared a passion for building the local food culture.

The Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce maven partners with Omaha City Sprouts on a social entrepreneurship project that may spur more collaboration between for-profits like hers and the nonprofit urban agriculture organization.

City Sprouts South grows various peppers for Crazy Gringa’s signature hot sauces. The boutique company, in return, donates a percentage of sales over four summer weekends to support City Sprouts programs. Meanwhile, Crazy Gringa works with other local growers to supply the peppers City Sprouts can’t.

“We just hit if off,” Varas says. “They are all about community service, engagement, and sourcing hyper-local food with a mission behind it. It was always my dream we would partner on bringing a value-added product to market. It’s a great way to engage our interns.

“The relationship adds revenue and relevance to what we’re doing.”

Having the hand-grown peppers picked and processed in Omaha fits Crazy Gringa’s emphasis on fresh, local, and artisanal. Current also creates limited-run small batches for City Sprouts and other nonprofits to give away as gifts or prizes.

 

Anderson helped build the raised beds for the peppers at the site that community activists turned from a dumping ground to a garden.

Mary loves that her product helps a community-based ecosystem.

“So many kids don’t know where their produce comes from and City Sprouts helps educate them about how things grow,” she says. “Those interns learn how to garden, so they learn how to sustain themselves and their families. We’re happy to support good things in the community like this.”

Interns gain a sense of ownership in Crazy Gringa’s success.

Varas says, “The interns need something to do and something to believe in. One intern, Rafeal Quintanilla, is a mentee of mine and he really digs the idea that he has a stake in the finished product because he waters and cares for the peppers and harvests them. He has pride in being a part in creating this delicious hot sauce.”

The partnership with Crazy Gringa “has far exceeded my expectations,” Varas says, adding, “It’s not just transactional—it’s been an incredible reciprocal experience.”

Mary Current concurs, vowing the relationship will continue as long as she’s in business. “It’s an amazing concept. They’re wonderful people to work with. I can’t think of a better place to give back your money.”

More collaborations like this one may be in the offing.

”I think this is a model that could and should be replicated,” Varas says. “My hope is that we will be able to recreate this next growing season with Crazy Gringa and possibly other food businesses.”

Visit crazygringahotsauce.com

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Living Green

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Les and Ce Ann Zanotti built a house in Glen Oaks Estates (south of 99th Street and West Center Road) in 1972, the couple—from Iowa and Missouri, respectively—had only lived in Nebraska for a few years, and they were not really sure how long they would stay in the community. They both say, emphatically, that they never envisioned themselves still living in the same house four and a half decades later.

Zanottis2“I don’t think we thought that far ahead,” Ce Ann says.

“I was just starting a new business, so I didn’t know if I was going to be in business two years from then or not,” Les explains.

The new business venture, Management Recruiters, thrived all the way to Les’ retirement. So as the Zanottis prospered through the years and put down deeper roots in Omaha, they modified and added on to the original house and landscaping.

“We really kind of underbuilt, to be honest,” Les says. “Our house is just an ordinary house; it’s not something that’s a showpiece. But our backyard is spectacular.”

The lot was a draw from the very beginning, Ce Ann agrees, recalling that the greenery was so abundant even before construction started that, during a site visit, she lost sight of a handbag she momentarily placed on the ground. And the Zanottis were thrilled to get the lot “for a steal” from its previous holder, a prominent local business owner in the midst of a divorce and eager to liquidate.

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Les may describe his house as “ordinary,” but the 3,400-square-foot, two-story, French Country-style residence boasts lovely features, such as a mansard roof and leaded glass front windows. Neighborhood covenants required that the house be set back 75 feet from the street, leaving plenty of room for now-mature trees and plants in the front. The sloping, 1.3-acre wooded property proved perfect for tiered landscaping in the backyard, the site for a breathtaking flower garden that’s matured beautifully over the last 10 years and become the envy of neighbors and visitors.

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“It’s been at its best for the last three or four years, but it took a long time,” Ce Ann says.

The large lot was also conducive to the house itself, evolving through a series of remodels that included a 1984 add-on, which doubled the size of the family room and created another eating area, and a 1990 project that converted a bathroom and bedroom into a larger bathroom and closet. A swimming pool came and went (their now-adult daughter loved it, but pools don’t mix well with squirrels and walnut trees or blackbirds and mulberry trees, Les says) and the original, one-car garage was expanded to a three-car garage at some point.

The pinnacle, however, was the unique 2002 addition.

“That was our last and final addition. That probably is the best room in the house,” Les says.

Ce Ann adds: “It’s octagonal-shaped, there are windows on every side of the octagon (except the entrance), and a spiral staircase going down to the wine cellar. It’s kind of unusual.”

The Zanottis admit that they looked into building again in other neighborhoods—in the past. Every time they looked, they never found anything quite like what they already own.

“What kept us here was the lot,” Les says, and his wife agrees. “We like our trees, we like our lot, and we like our central location.” OmahaHome

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Your Garden Glory

April 9, 2015 by

Originally published in March/April OmahaHome.

Mother nature is warming things up outside, which means it’s time to dig out those boots and gloves and get to work preparing your garden and outdoor living spaces for those heady, bountiful days to come. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Indoor Prep Work

To kick-start your spring color, cut branches of forsythia, crabapple, and spirea to place in a bucket of cool water inside. Leave in a cool area of no more than 60 degrees until buds show color. Snip and display in your favorite vase for an instant, preseason pick-me-up.

Grab some paper cups and your kids or nearest tiny relative and show them the wonder of starting seeds. Their eyes will delight in the wonder of the bursting of that first tiny sprout. Ideal veggies for home germination include basil, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chives, leeks, peppers, and tomatoes. Make your own seed-starting mix with a blend of equal parts perlite, vermiculite and peat. To neutralize the acidity of the peat, add ¼ teaspoon of lime to each gallon of the mix.

Clean up the Clutter 

Around the third week of March, clean your lawn of any debris like rocks and sticks (or annoying blow-away garbage from your neighbors, as is all-too-often the case here in the big O). Prep the beds by removing winter mulch. Prune fruit trees, shrubs and ornamental trees before buds begin to break. Later, prune spring flowering shrubs as soon as they finish flowering.

Early Spring Planting

Cool season veggies, like peas, onions, potatoes, artichokes, and some lettuces can be planted now. Just make sure not to work the soil when wet. Raspberries should also be planted in early spring as soon as the soil is dry and workable.

Survey the Scene

Check conifers and broadleaf evergreens for signs of winter injury. To control aphids, apply a soil drench treatment of imidacloprid on deciduous and evergreen trees. A March application will be effective against insects and will last all year.

Spread the Love, Garden-Style 

Share with your friends by dividing perennials before spring growth has begun. Who doesn’t
love the gift of greenery?

Keep a Record

Pick out an adorable journal that expresses your inner gardening diva and keep a record of all of your gardening information. Make a list of each item you have planted in the garden, and create a schematic to remember where everything is. Make sure to include seed companies, plant name, variety, planting date, and harvest date. Maintain a record of how well each plant does during the growing season. If any variety is prone to disease, record what was used to treat the problem. You will thank yourself next gardening season for keeping these handy records at your fingertips.

Thank you Berry Much 

Give established strawberry plants a dose of fertilizer before new spring growth starts.

Make Your Beds

Mama told you that if you make your bed you’ll have a great day. Transfer that wisdom to your garden by picking out flats of your favorite bedding plants such as begonias, geraniums, lobelia, busy lizzie, petunias, rudbeckia, California poppy, antirrhinum, and cosmos.

Revive Bulbs

Soak any bulb-like plants that are starting to shrivel. Put them in water for a short time to allow for plumping. Weed out dead blossoms from spring-flowering bulbs. Discard any rotted bulbs among your dahlias, gladiolas, elephant ear, caladium, tuberous begonias, and cannas.

Fixer-Upper 

Check your deck and lawn furniture for needed repairs or re-painting to make sure that your outdoor living space is ready for all of that entertaining you resolve to do this year. Search for the perfect
outdoor party treats on Pinterest. Bring on the guests!

For the Birds

Birds will now start looking for places to nest, so set those birdhouses out and keep an eye out for your newest fine-feathered friends to come calling.

Mid-Spring Mulching

Applying mulch now will cut down on your summer weeding time. The best mulches are compost and rotted wood chips. Buy only what you need. A yard of mulch will cover 300 square feet when spread an inch thick.

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Green Thumb – Pink Dreams

November 3, 2014 by
Photography by Sara Lemke

October will be loaded with events that recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Project Pink’d supporter Karen Kruse will certainly make at least a showing at a select event or three, but she’ll manage her time to leave room for the most important of tasks—tending to her pink-pinker-pinkest garden.

“I call it my Survivor’s Garden,” Kruse says of the front-yard space that is the jewel of Blondo Street between Country Club Avenue and 52nd Street.

Kruse finished planting her garden in 2010, exactly one year to the day after her first chemotherapy treatment. There’s only one rule in this garden—it has to be pink. Besides featuring a monochromatic array of plantings in the hue forever associated with the iconic ribbon that will be everywhere to be seen this October and beyond, Kruse carries the theme into patio furniture, planters, and surrounding tchotchkes.

But there’s more.

“I’ll buy anything pink in products where a portion of the proceeds go to the battle against breast cancer,” says the woman who sports a shoulder tattoo with the words “Fight like a girl” accompanied by the familiar pink ribbon. Which answers the question behind her pink gardening gloves, shears, pail…heck, even her garbage cans.

Kruse, who is featured in the just-released, pin-up-girl-style calendar that is a fundraiser for Project Pink’d, says that her garden is so much more than a mere hobby.

“This garden is an important part of my recovery,” Kruse explains. “This is about an attitude that is more than just surviving. When I’m working in the garden I am thriving. I want to be more than a survivor. I want to thrive.”

Just like her pretty-in-pink riot of color planted along Blondo Street.

Visit projectpinkd.org for more information.

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Walk of Life

September 19, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We all have that one special relative in our lives whose powerful influence forever alters our being. Whether it’s an eclectic taste in music or a fondness for French Impressionism, that enthusiasm is contagious and makes us all unique in our proclivities.

In the case of Terry Price, whose decadent Fairacres garden was one of six featured in the 2014 Munroe-Meyer Garden Walk, that one person was her Great Aunt Ruby Hall.

“She was an old maid, as they say, school teacher in Boone, Iowa,” Price says. “We always loved her gardens.”

So when Aunt Ruby reached the ripe age of 82 back in 1987, she gifted her famous gardens, plant-by-plant, to Terry and her husband, Tom. “We were ecstatic beyond words. We took the two cars we had, a station wagon and a Honda Accord, and the two kids. There was barely enough room for us to sit in the cars to get back,” Terry says.

She describes an old photo of her Aunt Ruby. “She’s standing at the back of the station wagon. You can see it’s just loaded with plants. And she’s kind of waving. It’s cute.”

To prepare for the transfer, Aunt Ruby helped Terry and Tom compile a chart describing each plant. “We sat for the longest time one afternoon. You know, here’s a Phlox. It likes sun. They get tall. There’s pink and purple and white.”

They also received some plants from other relatives, as well. “I think the fact that there are family plants in here make it really special,” says Tom.

Nebraska’s clay-like soil posed a problem at first. So they took a tip from one of their horticulturist friends by adding playground sand on top of the garden.

 Nearly 30 years later, and thanks to the sand and decaying mulch, their soil is win good shape.

“It’s amazing,” Terry says, “how a grain of sand can work its way down through clay.”

Their garden features an intoxicating array of peonies, hostas, phlox, coral bells, sedum and daisies. Let’s not forget lady’s mantle, astilbe, hydrangeas and several ornamental trees. The list of species is endless, and those who are lucky to visit are treated to a gardener’s delight.

The Prices add their own surprising touches, like an old gate from a bank purchased at an antique store. A piece of a broken clay pot planted on its side peeks out from the soil like a Roman ruin. Their walkway features a bit of Omaha history with cobblestones and pavers from the Jobber’s Canyon historic district in the Old Market.

The Garden Walk is hosted annually by the Munroe-Meyer Guild, a group whose mission is to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities through fundraising for the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute.

The Price’s passion for gardening is simple.

“It’s just nice to be outside and dig in the dirt,” Terry says. “The old commune-with-mother-nature-thing.” 

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Going to Seed

April 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Looking to give the toolbox a rest? The simplest of materials blend seamlessly in this easiest of funky projects.

Any type of cup and saucer will work here. I chose to go with new, store-bought selections, but you may elect to raid the cupboards or make a dash to your favorite antique or thrift shop.

I started with a garden ornament as the base, but you can use any kind of pole or rod for your interpretation of this fun project. A little heavy-duty glue, a few decals, and just a couple of minutes of assembly were all it took for this one.

Now, where shall I put this? In my garden? As an accent in a potted plant? Decisions, decisions!

Lessons Learned

Decals or other embellishments are best applied before assembly.

Be sure to select a metal or other all-season material for the base part of this project. Rustic wood stakes are cool, but they will inevitably rot after only a summer or two in the ground.

The cup and saucer can be replaced by any number of household containers or other fun objects. Get creative!

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Preparing to Overwinter Your Herbs

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

September and October can be some of the most rewarding months for a gardener. Plants are fully grown and pumping out as many fruits as they can before the first frost. It’s like they know their time is up.

But it doesn’t have to be the end for some plants if you know how to help them out, according to Tony Cirian of Cirian’s Farmers Market on 50th and Leavenworth. Most herbs, for example, are as simple to grow indoors as they are outside. So if you’ve developed a taste for fresh basil on your tomatoes or tarragon in your scrambled eggs, don’t despair the coming winter. These tips will keep you in fresh herbs no matter the cold:

  • Let annuals go to seed. Annuals, such as basil, cilantro, chervil, borage, and dill, are going to seed by now (and probably have been ever since temperatures started soaring). Collect the seeds and plant them in pots right away. Set the pots inside under a grow lamp or in a very warm windowsill. Keep them just moist until you start to see shoots.
  • Salvage smaller mature annuals. Dill, cilantro, and chervil are too tall to transplant easily and probably don’t have many useable leaves left anyway. Cirian says that you can pot up smaller annuals such as basil and parsley (actually a biennial) if they still have leaves to harvest; they’ll last a bit longer if you bring them inside, but they will die eventually. “You might get an extra month or so out of them,” he says. But by that time, the seeds you planted will have germinated. You’ll only have a small gap, if any, without fresh herbs.

Know the needs of your perennials. Perennials are essential additions to an herb garden, but they can vary in their care:

  • Rosemary, for example, is technically a tender perennial but isn’t usually hardy enough to endure our Zone 5 winters, according to Cirian. You can attempt to pot up the entire plant and bring it inside. Cirian does warn that the plant will get a bit woody and lanky over the winter. “It’s just not getting the sunshine and warmth to be really vibrant.”
  • Tarragon is another perennial that benefits from potting up over the winter for extra protection. It can be handy to divide a root clump, leave a few plants outdoors, and just bring one inside. (Note that Russian tarragon is unfortunately more commonly sold, though it tastes more like a weed than the licorice flavor of French tarragon.)
  • Other perennials, such as chives, common thyme (thymus vulgaris), sage, oregano, and lavender, are easily left in place throughout the winter and will come back nicely next spring. To enjoy them inside as well, root thyme, sage, oregano, and lavender cuttings in pots. Keep the cuttings moist until you see new growth. You can add chives to your winter kitchen by digging up a clump and dividing into pots.
  • Some perennial herbs can be invasive and so should only ever be grown in pots. A large pot of mint or lemon balm adds a fresh smell to your patio and can easily be moved inside before the first frost.

To make the most of your indoor herb garden, use potting soil (never garden dirt) and only water once a week. “You don’t want that root system to rot,” Cirian says. He adds that there’s not much need to fertilize over the winter, as “potting soil already has a slow-release food.” Just make sure light and warmth are in good supply, and that’s all it takes to keep yourself in fresh herbs all winter long.

 

Be Our Guest

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“They tell me, it’s up to you to change things out. We trust you.” Alex Ostblom, a landscape designer for Lanoha Nurseries, strolls across a newly transformed Westside lawn, naming flowers off the top of his head. Impatiens, begonias, mandevilla, and sweet alyssum are planted in great swaths of color, sweeping along sidewalk, driveway, and around to a brand-new back yard. Guests to the remodeled home might never suspect what the place looked like just a few months earlier.

Ostblom explains that the homeowners wanted a lawn that matched their refinished house’s new capabilities: to blend in with the rest of the stately neighborhood and to provide a perfect space to entertain family members and close friends. “Other than that,” he says, “they didn’t have too many particulars.” So Ostblom let his creativity loose, beginning the design process in March and construction in May. The entire project was completed by June 15.

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The first order of business was to redesign an unsightly retaining wall that led around the north of the house to the back yard. Originally made of concrete block, the five-foot wall created a tight alley between the house and a small mountain of unusable back yard. Its considerable height so close to the back of the house blocked off half of the dining and living room windows. A cramped patio made a stab at bringing hospitality to the space.

To simultaneously create a much less imposing wall while also making the yard itself usable, Ostblom removed tons of dirt to create tiers of lawn that allowed him to install a limestone wall less than two feet tall. The limestone complements colors in the house and can actually be found in the landscaping of nearby homes, bringing the property more into the neighborhood’s fold. Large blocks of the limestone accent the front and back yard, “giving the grandkids something to climb around on,” Ostblom points out.

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Thanks to the greatly shortened wall, guests in the dining and living rooms can enjoy a panorama of seasonal annuals (“One of the owners just loves lots of color,” Ostblom says), a rose cutting garden, and mature evergreens. “They wanted everything to look like it’d been there for years,” Ostblom says, so Lanoha Nurseries set field-grown spruce and conifers in place with machinery. “That’s a one-time deal,” he explains. “If the trees don’t take to this well, we can’t get the equipment back in here to put in more of that size.” So he’s monitoring their progress closely, already eyeing some barely noticeable brown needles on a spruce. “That one might be under stress from over watering.”

Frequent entertainment of friends and family meant the homeowners needed a large, welcoming space. In particular, they wanted a gas fire pit large enough where several people could comfortably gather. The idea of an L-shaped outdoor kitchen was tossed around, but the couple decided instead to place a simple grill out of sight around the home’s south corner to ensure that the fire pit remained their outdoor gathering place. A gas line leads from the house to the grill; no empty propane cans here.

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Ostblom notes that establishing such a mature landscape within six weeks calls for careful attention to how light will change over the seasons. Most of the yard is in at least partial shade, particularly in the front yard and to the north. To the northeast and east, the yard transitions into full sun. To cope with the variety of landscape elements (varying light, drainage, and plants with differing needs), Ostblom says he redesigned the home’s irrigation entirely. “They have turf, trees, annuals…it all requires different watering.” To facilitate easy maintenance by Lanoha Nurseries without disturbing the homeowners, Ostblom had the irrigation clock moved from inside the garage to just inside the gate in the backyard.

“I visit about once a month,” he says, though he admits he makes the rounds in the neighborhood frequently, checking in on this and other landscaping projects for any signs of trouble. “Communication. That’s the biggest part in making sure it all looks amazing.”

Cultivating Your Vegetable Garden

May 25, 2013 by

Sustainable vegetable gardens are a great way to encourage organic living. When beginning yours, plan for year-round growth. Keep a gardening log to record tips and tricks you’ve picked up along the way; it can help you determine what may or may not work for next year. It’s also a good idea to educate yourself at your local nursery or farmers market about proper care and growing techniques.

Thanks to Mother Nature, almost every vegetable has at least one companion plant that helps protect it from pests and insects. For example, marigolds repel beetles, nematodes, and rabbits. Dill and parsley attract “garden heroes,” like spiders and ladybugs, that love to eat garden pests. And while most people know that herbs, such as basil and chives, make great additions to your fresh dishes, others such as yarrow and lavender protect plants from moths.

Here are more tips for maintaining your vegetable garden in the summer months:

JUNE

All warm-season plants should be in your garden now. Remember to water weekly and pull weeds when they sprout. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac (almanac.com), “By keeping your plants well-watered and fertilized, they will quickly fill in spaces instead of weeds.” Start seedlings for broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage now so they’ll be ready for fall. Use nine-cell containers that can be watered from the bottom. Then, transplant to bigger containers 1-2 weeks later, or when sprouts begin to appear.

JULY

If you have summer squash in your garden, harvest when they grow to eight inches. Fertilize tomatoes and peppers lightly, and water the garden in the morning or later in the afternoon to prevent evaporation. Also, make sure to stake the taller plants to encourage growth and protect them from falling over during any summer storms. You can now begin sowing all your seeds for your fall garden: beets, carrots, collards, kale, radish, snap beans, turnips, and winter squash.

AUGUST

Continue to harvest your fruits and veggies every few days—this will promote production well into fall. This is a good time to begin canning. In fact, can everything you can! Let your tomatoes ripen on the vine. If any green tomatoes fall, store them in a paper bag with an apple to help them ripen. Keep planning for your fall garden and watch for pests and diseases. And don’t forget to share your harvest with friends, family, and neighbors! Backyard parties under summer skies are always better with fresh vegetables on the grill anyway.