Tuesday, 05 May 2015 13:01

How does Swiss Chard grow?

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Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was among the first people to write about chard in the 4th century BCE.

  • Latin Name

    Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris

  • Growth

    USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-10

     

    Chard is a biennial leafy green vegetable that is botanically classified as a subspecies of the beetroot group, Beta vulgaris, related to beets and rhubarb. It goes by many common names, including Swiss chard, silverbeet, crab beet, spinach beet, perpetual spinach, strawberry spinach, Roman kale, Chilean beet, Sicilian beet, seakale beet and mangold.

    The plant produces large, edible leaf stalks and blades, which vary in color. Blades are typically green or reddish in color, and stalks may be red, yellow or white.

    Chard is a hardy, biennial crop that tolerates both cool weather with light frosts, as well as heat. In spring gardens, chard has a longer growing season than most other species of greens, which have a tendency to bolt in the heat. It also grows well into fall, until it is killed by a hard freeze. Harvesting chard is a continuous process, as crops can produce as many as three harvests.

    Chard is a quick-growing plant that thrives in sun and loose, organic soil. Chard grown from seed germinates in 5 to 10 days and produces a harvest in approximately 60 days.

  • Propagation

    Chard is easy to grow from seed.

  • Harvest

    Chard leaves are harvested as soon as they are large enough to eat (6 to 8 inches tall). Young, tender leaves are also very flavorful and best eaten raw. Larger leaves have ribs, which are also edible and often cooked like asparagus.

    Chard can be harvested continuously by harvesting just the outer stalks and gradually working inward as the plant grows, or by cutting entire young plants off approximately 1  to 2 inches above the soil, and allowing the crop to re-grow.

  • Storage

    Swiss chard has a short shelf life!

    It only lasts for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator and should be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper.

    Chard can also be frozen for 10 to 12 months.

    To freeze, it should be washed thoroughly and the woody stems removed, then blanched by plunging into boiling water for 2 minutes, followed by an immediate ice bath. After removing excess moisture, it should be immediately transferred to the freezer in an airtight container or plastic bag.

Friday, 24 April 2015 19:45

How do Plums grow?

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Plums are one of the earliest and most widely cultivated fruits known to humans.

  • Latin Name

    European plum: Prunus domestica

    Japanese plum: Prunus salicina 

  • Growth

    USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    Plums grow on fruit trees that belong to the rose family and are related to other stone fruit such as almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, and peaches. Although there are more than 40 types of plums, most grown in the United States are cultivars of European or Japanese varieties.

    In North America, European plums can be grown in most USDA hardiness zones, including spring frost-prone zones 4 and 5, while Japanese plum trees are better suited for warmer regions where peach trees thrive, hardiness zones 6 to 9. Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    Japanese plum trees typically produce more fruit than European trees, and thus require more pruning. However, European trees are the preferred variety for many North American gardeners because they produce more flavorful fruit, are hardier, and thus easier to grow and maintain. Today, there are also several hybrid-variety “American plum” trees that combine the hardiness of European plums and the high yield of Japanese plum trees.

    All varieties of plum trees thrive in moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Japanese plums tend to bloom in late winter and early spring, which makes their young buds susceptible to frost damage. European plums bloom in late spring, after the danger of frost in most areas.

    A plum tree takes four years after planting to begin bearing fruit. Japanese plums grow 8 to 9 feet tall and are ready for harvest approximately two months after the last frost. American varieties are harvested in mid-summer. European varieties grow to 25’ tall and are harvested in late summer and early fall.

  • Propagation

    Plum trees can be grown from cuttings, grafting, or seed.

    The best propagation method is by taking cuttings from a tree that is a known producer. Plum trees grown from seeds may not grow true to form if they are a hybrid variety.

  • Harvest

    Plums have the best flavor when allowed to ripen on the tree. Japanese plums typically begin to mature in late spring through mid-summer, while American varieties ripen in mid-summer, and European, in late summer to early fall.

    To check for ripeness, apply gentle pressure to plums with fingers. If the skin feels soft and takes on a dusty appearance, the plum is ready to be picked.  The fruit should easily separate from the branch.

  • Storage

    Plums do not last long after harvesting. They should be washed and eaten quickly, or refrigerated immediately (in an open plastic bag or egg carton) after picking. Plums stored in the refrigerator crisper will keep for 2 to 4 weeks.

    If plums are somewhat unripe when they are removed from the tree, do not refrigerate. Store at room temperature in a paper bag to ripen.

    Plums can also be frozen or made into preservatives, jams or jellies.

    To freeze, wash and dry plums and then slice into quarters, removing pits. Lay wedges on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once fully frozen, transfer to an airtight storage bag or bin and return to freezer.

    To make plum jam, remove skins and combine flesh with sugar, lemon juice and pectin and store in sterilized jars.

  • History

    Plums are one of the earliest and most widely cultivated fruits known to humans. The European plum has been traced to the European and Caucasian mountains, while the Japanese plum originated in Asia. Evidence of plums has been found at Neolithic-age human settlements.

    The first record of plums is found in documents dating as far back as 479 BCE, in the writings of Chinese philosopher, Confucius. There is debate about the spread of plums through northern Europe. Some sources state that Alexander the Great is responsible for the spread of plums through the Mediterranean around 330 BCE, from which they spread to the north. Other sources state that plums did not arrive in northern Europe until the Crusades, when they were brought back by Crusaders returning from Jerusalem during the late 12th and early 13th centuries CE.

    Plum pudding was made with dried plums or prunes in medieval England, but by the 16th century, plums were replaced by raisins. Plums or no plums, “plum pudding” retained its name - and was outlawed as “sinfully rich” by the Puritans in England! Plums arrived in North America via the British colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Today, plums are the second most cultivated fruit on earth, second only to apples.

  • Top Producers

    China, Serbia, Romania, Turkey and Chile are the world’s top plum-producing countries  (FAOSTAT, 2013).

     

    Rankings change annually due to the alternate-bearing nature of plums, but China maintains its top ranking by more than 5 million tons.

  • Varieties

    Popular varieties include:

    European: Stanley, Green Gage, Seneca

    Japanese: Satsuma, Methley, Burbank, Ozark Premiere

    Hybrid (American): Alderman, Superior, Underwood

  • Products

    Plums are eaten fresh, made into jams and jellies, and canned in syrup. They are ingredients in muffins, pies, tarts and other desserts, cocktails, and salads. Plums can be poached or baked in a variety of recipes, and even added as a sweet element to savory dishes.

    Plums are also dried into prunes and often used as a digestive aid in the form of either dried fruit or juice.

  • Top Health Benefits

    Bite into a plum and enjoy the health benefits of the sweet and juicy “stone fruit” that humans have been enjoying ever since the Stone Age - so yes, it’s Paleo diet-approved.

    Plums have a high antioxidant content, and are noted in particular for their high levels of the phytonutrients, phenol neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. These phenols are shown to neutralize dangerous free radicals in the body and prevent oxidative damage to fats (including cell membranes and brain cells).

    Phytonutrients anthocyanin and quercetin found in plums also protect the brain, and are preventative aids against diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

    Plums have good levels of potassium that support heart and blood vessel (blood pressure) health.

    The vitamin C content of plums supports a strong immune system and healthy tissue in the body, and increases iron absorption in the blood stream.

    Vitamin C also helps to prevent cholesterol in the body from being oxidized by free radicals. Cholesterol oxidation causes plaque to develop on the walls of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and damages blood vessels. Vitamin C  is also useful in preventing conditions associated with atherosclerosis, including heart disease and stroke, as well as cancer.

    Plums also help the body regulate cholesterol with their high levels of soluble fiber, which binds bile acids and helps remove them from the body through defecation.

    Plums are an effective aid in battling constipation, particularly in the form of prunes. The fiber in plums provides bulk in the intestine and stimulates digestion, encouraging colon health.  Insoluble fiber in plums is also helpful as it helps to feed “friendly bacteria” that prevent “bad bacteria” from surviving in the digestive tract, and by producing a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid, which serves as fuel for cells in the large intestine and colon.

    The high soluble fiber content in plums also helps to normalize blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity in type II diabetics.

  • Grow it yourself

    European and American plum varieties grow in almost any area of the United States. Japanese plum trees are less cold-hardy than other varieties, and should only be grown in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9 that are not susceptible to long winters and early spring frost.

    It’s best to start with a nursery grown tree as it will produce fruit more quickly for you.

    All varieties of plum trees require fertile, well-draining soil and full sunlight for optimal growth. Plant after the last spring frost.

    Check with a nursery to choose the best plum tree to grow in your region. Note that several types of plum tree require cross-pollination, in which case you need to be prepared to plant multiple trees to successfully grow plums. Alternatively, you can choose a self-pollinating variety that produces fruit on its own. Stanley (European) and Methley (Japanese) are popular self-pollinating plum cultivars.

    Avoid planting plum trees in low-lying areas where frost may settle, and if possible, choose a sheltered area that is protected from wind. This will help the tree set fruit.

    Space standard trees 20 to 25 feet apart. Space dwarf varieties 15 to 20 feet apart.

    Water newly-planted plum trees every week during their first growing season. Afterward, continue watering deeply at the root line, waiting for the soil to dry out (not completely), and re-watering. Continue watering well into October to provide plum trees with plenty of moisture through winter months.

    Do not fertilize young trees until they have produced their first crop. Once trees begin bearing fruit, fertilize year-round with a 10-10-10 fertilizer.

    Rake away dead leaves and debris in fall.

    Prune trees in spring and summer only. Do not prune trees in the fall or winter, or there may be risk of infection or injury.

    Japanese plums require heavy pruning to keep their shape and for optimal fruit production. Prune to create an open center shape by cutting away vigorous shoots from the top of the tree during the first year by two or three buds. The goal is to create three wide-angled branches, spaced equally apart. Check the tree after a month and cut back any other branches to encourage the three main branches. During the following summer, cut back the branches in the middle of the tree to short stubs and prune shoots below the three main branches. Continue removing shoots from the center of the tree to help it maintain its shape. Thin out fruit so that it is spaced 3 to 4 inches apart.

    European plums should be pruned in a central leader pattern, with branches spiraling around the tree every 5 to 8 inches so that no branch is directly above another. Prune from the first year in early summer to remove any shoots within 18 inches of the ground, and train branches in a spiral.

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  • Educational Projects

Saturday, 18 April 2015 01:46

How does Cauliflower grow?

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Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C...

  • Latin Name

    Brassica oleracea

  • Growth

    USDA Hardiness Zones Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    Cauliflower grows in nearly every USDA hardiness zone, as long as there are at least two months of cool weather.  It is one of many annual vegetables that belong to the species Brassica oleracea ( or cole family), along with broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and collard greens.  Most Americans are familiar with white cauliflower, the most common variety found in North America, but there are also green, brown, orange, and even purple cultivars.

    Cauliflower is a cool-season crop that can be difficult to grow because it does not tolerate extreme heat or cold. For optimal growth, it prefers temperatures that consistently stay in the 60 to 70 degree Fahrenheit range. Otherwise, cauliflower may prematurely “button,” forming small, button-sized heads instead of healthy large ones.

    In addition to cool weather, cauliflower requires moist soil conditions. It should be planted in mid-spring or mid-summer and takes 8 to 10 weeks to produce a summer crop and 4 to 5 weeks to produce a fall crop.

    Because cauliflower grows best in cooler conditions, fall crops are of better quality. Cauliflower that is not exposed to enough cool weather acquires a bitter flavor.

  • Propagation

    Cauliflower is usually grown from seed, but can also be propagated by rooted cuttings. Typically, it is grown commercially because of its finicky temperature requirements.

    Most home gardeners start cauliflower from transplants purchased from nurseries or garden centers.

  • Harvest

    Cauliflower heads are ideally about 6 to 8 inches in diameter when they are ready to harvest, usually one to two weeks after blanching (see Grow it Yourself section for details). A head that is ready for harvest is compact and firm.

    If heads that are smaller than desired begin to open, they should be harvested anyway as their quality will only degrade once they begin to open.

    The head is cut using a large, sharp knife. Some of the leaves around the cauliflower are left on the head to protect it. If a cauliflower is coarse in appearance, it should be discarded as it is past its prime.

  • Storage

    Store cauliflower by placing it in a sealed plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of the fridge where it keeps up to a week. Prevent moisture from forming in the stem clusters by storing them stem side down.

    To freeze cauliflower, wash immediately after harvesting and use a knife to split the head into sections with florets no more than 1.5 inches across. Soak the florets in a salt brine (salt water) for 30 minutes to remove insects. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Blanch cauliflower  for 3 minutes by submerging cauliflower in boiling water and covering the pot. Cool immediately in the prepared ice bath for 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly and transfer to an airtight plastic bag. Cauliflower can be kept in the freezer 8 to 12 months.

  • History

    Cauliflower traces its ancestry to the wild cabbage, and is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region of Cyprus. It was known to the Arabs and Romans as early as the 6th century BCE. Pliny the Elder first recorded cauliflower in western history in Rome in 2nd century CE, and it is also found in the writings of Arab botanists circa the 13 century CE.

    Cauliflower began to spread throughout Europe during the 16th century, and by the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century France, it was a favorite in the courts of kings such as the extravagant “Sun King,” Louis XIV.

    Cauliflower was not grown in the United States until the turn of the 20th century, when it was first cultivated in the Margaretville region of the Catskills Mountains where it reigned in U.S. production until the 1950s when California became the top commercial producer in the nation.

  • Top Producers

    China, India, Spain, Italy and France are the world’s top commercial  cauliflower producers (FAOSTAT, 2007).

  • Varieties

    There are a surprising number of cauliflower cultivars, ranging in color from white or green to orange and purple.

    White cauliflower varieties: White Cloud, Early White Hybrid, Snow Crown, Amazing

    Purple cauliflower varieties: Graffiti, Purple Head

    Orange cauliflower varieties: Cheddar

    Green cauliflower varieties: Vitaverde, Veronica

  • Products

    Cauliflower is typically eaten raw, steamed, or baked. It is an ingredient in salads, casseroles, side dishes, and soups. It’s also a popular topping on vegetarian or vegan pizzas,  and may even serve as an ingredient in vegan pizza crusts, or desserts such as chocolate cake.

  • Top Health Benefits

    The cruciferous vegetable family, of which cauliflower is a member, offers an excellent array of nutritional benefits for a healthy body and mind.

    Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C (73% the recommended daily value per serving) and beta carotene, as well as the antioxidant mineral, manganese.

    In addition to well-known antioxidants, cauliflower also contains unconventional antioxidant nutrients such as beta-cryptoxanthin, cinnamic acid, rutin, quercetin, caffeic acid and kaempferol - all of which work together to reduce oxidative stress on the body. Reducing oxidative stress helps prevent the risk of almost every form of cancer.

    Cauliflower is a good source of the anti-inflammatory vitamin K, which reduces the risk of cancer, as well as health conditions related to inflammation including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular diseases.

    In addition to good vitamin K content, cauliflower also contains heart-healthy omega-3 to provide cardiovascular benefits. A glucosinolate called glucoraphanin in cauliflower can be converted into a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called isothiocyanate sulforaphane, which can reverse the damage to red blood cells.

    Cauliflower contains 9 grams of fiber for every 100 calories, supporting digestive health.

    Sulforaphane, which protects the cardiovascular system, also protects the digestive system by fighting the growth of unhealthy bacteria on the stomach lining.

    Cauliflower’s positive impact on the body’s inflammatory responses and the digestive system make it an important ally in risk-prevention for Crohn’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and insulin resistance in type II diabetics.

     

  • Grow it yourself

    How to Grow Cauliflower

    Cauliflower needs a growing season based on when temperatures consistently average between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

    For a summer crop, plant cauliflower in mid-spring (2 to 4 weeks before last frost).

    For a fall crop, plant in mid-summer (6 to 8 weeks before first frost).

    Grow times for summer crops may be as long as double the grow times for fall crops.

    Select a site that receives at least six hours of sun a day.

    In warmer climates, it is best to plant cauliflower in areas cooled by the shade of taller plants.

    Prior to planting, prepare the soil with a large amount of rich organic fertilizer, such as composted manure. Cauliflower is a heavy feeder, and prefers soil with a pH balance of 6.5-6.8.

    If starting from seed, plant indoors 4 to 5 weeks before transplant date. Plant seeds in rows 3 to 6 inches apart and ¼ to ½ inch deep.

    Space transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 30 inches apart, and apply a starter fertilizer upon planting.

    In spring, be prepared to cover young plants to protect them from late-season frost.

    For fall crops, monitor plants to make sure they are not receiving too much heat from the sun, which may cause the crop to taste bitter. Provide shade for plants in hot climates.

    Maintain constant soil moisture, with at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Side dress plants with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer.

    Most varieties of cauliflower take 75 to 85 days from transplanting to grow a head for harvest. The cauliflower head will start out loose and take time to develop.

    The cauliflower head, or “curd,” will require blanching to keep the color as white as possible. When the curd is 2 to 3 inches in diameter, tie the outer leaves together over the head with a piece of twine or rubber band. This protects the head from the sun and is the reason the heads remain white.

    Plants are usually ready for harvest 7 to 12 days after blanching.

     

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Wednesday, 08 April 2015 01:41

How does Eggplant grow?

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Eggplant belongs to the nightshade family along with potato and tomato plants

  • Latin Name

    Solanum melongena

  • Growth

    USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    The eggplant goes by many different names depending on where it's grown: aubergine, garden egg, melongene, guinea squash, and brinjal (in South and Southeast Asia and South Africa). It is a delicate, short-lived perennial from the nightshade family typically grown as an annual. Botanically, eggplant is related to potato and tomato plants in the Solanum genus.

    Eggplants are tropical and subtropical requiring relatively high temperatures for growth. They grow best in areas with long, warm summers. In regions with shorter summers, varieties of eggplant that mature more quickly produce small and medium fruits and can be grown in containers. Eggplants require full sun for optimal growth and prefer sandy, well-draining soil. They grow up to four feet tall with bloom time in mid-to-late summer.

    Growing habit, maturation time, color and size vary by variety.   Colors range from deep purple to white, with some varieties even producing green or orange fruit. The most common varieties found in North America are oval or oblong. Japanese eggplant produce longer, more slender fruits and mature more quickly.

  • Propagation

    Eggplant is grown from seed or propagated by cuttings.

  • Harvest

    Eggplants are harvested 16 to 24 weeks after sowing (depending on variety). It is important not to harvest an eggplant when it is under-ripe or overripe, when it may be bitter tasting.

    Eggplants are ready to harvest when the fruit has stopped growing larger, and the skin is shiny and unwrinkled. When sliced open, a ripe eggplant has soft, well-formed immature seeds. An eggplant with no seeds is under-ripe, and eggplant with dark, hard seeds is overripe.

  • Storage

    Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit damage the texture and flavor of eggplants. For this reason, it’s best not to store them in the refrigerator!

    After harvesting, eggplants should be kept in a cool spot, away from direct sunlight in a ventilated bowl. For optimal freshness, use as soon as possible after harvesting. In cool conditions that do not get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they can be stored for up to two weeks.

    Eggplants can be stored for up to 3 days in the refrigerator and should be used immediately after refrigerating.

  • History

    The most diversity among varieties of eggplant is found in southeast Asia, where botanists believe it originated.

    A small, spiny, bitter plant that came to be known as an eggplant is believed to have originally grown in India, but the eggplant we know today began its history when primitive man experimented with cultivation methods to grow sweeter, larger fruits in areas throughout Southeast Asia including India, Burma, China, and Thailand.

    The earliest written accounts of eggplant cultivation date back to a 5th century record on agricultural history in China. Botanical records in China from the 7th to the 19th centuries CE note the botanical changes in eggplant as the Chinese continued to develop varieties that were sweeter and to alter its shape and size.

    There is no mention of eggplants in ancient Greek or Roman records. It is believed they moved west, across the Middle East and Africa, starting in the 6th century CE via Arabic traders. When the eggplant was first introduced in Europe, it was called the “mad apple” or “bad egg," thought to cause insanity and grown only for ornamental purposes. In France, it was rumored to cause fever and epilepsy. It was not until the 17th century, during the French Enlightenment, that views on eggplant changed and grilled eggplant became a royal delicacy.

    The Spanish and Portuguese introduced the eggplant to North America beginning in the 15th century. Later, in the 18th century, experimental botanist, Thomas Jefferson, introduced it to the United States. However, it would continue to be grown mainly as a table ornament until the early 20th century. Chinese immigrants arriving in the United States in the 1800s were the first to use eggplant as an edible food in the United States.

  • Top Producers

    China, India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey are the world’s top eggplant-producing countries (FAOSTAT, 2012).

  • Varieties

    There are many varieties of eggplant ranging in color, shape, and size.

    Classic purple varieties of eggplant commonly found in the United States are Black Bell, Black Magic, and Black Beauty.

    Smaller purple or mottled varieties include Italian and Sicilian varieties.

    White varieties include White Beauty, Casper, Easter Egg and Albino.

    In Asia, there are small, round Indian eggplants, and long and slender Chinese and Japanese eggplants, such as the Ichiban. The Pingtung Long eggplant is native to Taiwan. The Thai Eggplant is small, round, green and bitter.

  • Products

    Eggplant has a wide array of culinary uses and is commonly used in Italian and Asian cuisine.

    It appears in salads, pasta and main dishes. In the United States, it’s popular stuffed, grilled or roasted.

  • Top Health Benefits

     

    Eggplants are filled with phenolic compounds to help the plant fight against fungal and bacterial infection, as well as oxidative stress from exposure to the elements. The same phenolic compounds that protect the fruit can also protect the cells of our bodies in the form of antioxidants.

    Chlorogenic is the most prevalent phenolic compound found in eggplant, and also one of the most powerful free radical scavengers found in plant tissues. It contains antimicrobial, antiviral, and even anti-cancer benefits. Phenolic acid is responsible for the browning that occurs to an eggplant’s flesh when it is cut, as well as its bitterness.

    Black Magic eggplants, one of the most common varieties found in U.S. markets, have some of the highest antioxidant levels of all researched varieties.

    The phytonutrient nasunin, found in the skin of eggplants, is also a powerful free radical scavenger that protects cell membranes, which are composed entirely of lipids, from damage. It is particularly effective in protecting cell membranes in the brain.

    Nasunin also helps regulate the production of iron in the body. Excess iron can increase free radical production and raise the risk of heart disease and cancer. Although women who menstruate are unlikely to be at risk, men and postmenopausal women who do not lose iron monthly may be at risk.  It also helps to reduce free radical damage in the joints, which is a primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis.

    Phytonutrients in eggplant help to promote better blood circulation. In laboratory animal tests, eggplants have been shown to reduce cholesterol and help blood vessels relax, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

    Eggplants have good levels of fiber, low levels of soluble carbohydrates and are low in calories. They can be useful in diabetes management.

    Because of the high fiber content and cancer-preventative phytonutrients and phenolic acids, regular consumption of healthfully prepared eggplant may help reduce the risk of colon cancer.

  • Grow it yourself

    Eggplants like a sunny location with rich well-draining soil prepared with nutrient-rich compost.

    In areas with long, warm summers, raised beds are an optimal option for outdoor planting.

    In regions with shorter summers, small-to-medium eggplant varieties with a shorter maturation times are best  grown as container plants.

    - Start seeds indoors, using a heated seed starting mat, two months before the soil begins to warm up to spring temperatures (6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date). Optimal soil temperature for eggplant seed germination is 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep soil warm and moist.

    - One week before transplanting, harden plants by reducing temperature and watering.

    -When average soil temperatures reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit, prepare an outdoor bed with organic compost. Eggplants are heavy feeders, but for better fruit growth, avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which can stimulate bushy foliage growth at the expense of the fruit. Raised beds and black plastic mulch are a good option to warm the soil and speed early-season growth.

    -Plant transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 30 to 36 inches apart. For a more productive plant, pinch off terminal growing points.

    -Water well and apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks. Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer (if purchasing fertilizer from a garden center, look for the number sets on each band and choose a fertilizer with a low first number. This number represents the percentage of nitrogen in comparison to phosphorus and potassium. For instance, a 5-10-5 fertilizer is 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 5% potassium.

    -Stake plants over 24 inches tall. For bigger fruits, restrict to 5 to 6 per plant.

    -At the end of growing season, pinch off blossoms 2 to 4 weeks before the first frost. This way, plants will channel energy into ripening existing fruit instead of growing new fruit.

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Saturday, 04 April 2015 00:00

How do Almonds grow?

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Usually referred to as a nut, the almond is actually not a true nut.

  • Latin Name

    Prunus dulcis

     

    Almond time laspes seedling

    Almond time laspes blossom

  • Growth

    USDA hardiness zones 6-10 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    Almonds grow on trees that are a species in the genus Prunus - along with plums, cherries and peaches. Although usually referred to as a nut, the almond is not a true nut. In fact, an almond tree is most closely related to a peach tree. It produces a fruit called a stone fruit or drupe, which has an outer hull and a hard shell with a seed inside: the almond “nut.”

    The almond tree is deciduous (drops its leaves in winter) and grows 13 to 33 feet in height.  It has pale pink or white blossoms in early spring before the leaves appear. The fruit matures in autumn, approximately 7 to 8 months after flowering.

    Almond trees grow best in climates similar to the Mediterranean region - with warm, dry summers and wet, mild winters. The tree buds have a chilling requirement of 300 to 600 hours below 45 degrees to break their dormancy, and the optimal temperature for growth is 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Young almond trees begin producing a crop in the third year after planting. Trees reach full maturity at 5 to 7 years and can continue to produce harvestable nuts for up to 50 years. A healthy tree produces 30 to 50 pounds of almonds per year.

  • Propagation

     

    Almond trees can be propagated from grafted cuttings, or grown from seed.

    Propagating an almond tree is done by cutting a branch from a proven producer and grafting it onto hardy rootstock.  This is done in winter when the tree is dormant - usually Decmeber to February. It is then stored until spring when it is grafted onto rootstock from another almond tree or other stone fruit tree such as peach.

  • Harvest

    When almonds are ready for harvest in autumn, the green fruits (hulls) dry out on the tree and begin to split open, revealing the shelled almond inside. The fruits often drop from the tree at this point but can also be picked by hand. 

    Commercial growers use mechanical shakers to remove the almonds from the trees, then use mechanical blowers and harvesters to collect them to take to processing.  

    The almonds are hulled and allowed to dry in a cool, well ventilated place for one week. The almond should rattle in its shell once it has dried out.

     

  • Storage

    Store whole almonds in a cool, dry place in an airtight container to prevent insect infestation and to avoid moisture or mold. Almonds can be kept up to 8 months in this manner.

    Almonds can also be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. They can keep up to 12 months in the refrigerator, and for over a year in the freezer. Store sliced almonds in the freezer at all times.

  • History

    Almonds are native to central and southwest Asia, where they grew along the trade routes of the Silk Road that connected China to the Mediterranean. Almond trees sprout easily and wild groves cropped up plentifully along trade routes.  They were therefore part of almost every ancient civilization along these routes. Mentioned as early as 2000 BCE in Hebrew literature, reports of almonds were also documented in Turkey, Romania, Egypt and Persia. In Egypt, almonds were entombed with King Tut circa 1350 BCE. In ancient Persia, the image of almonds appear woven into rugs, and the nut was used to make almond milk from almond meal and water. They also appear in the Old Testament of the Bible as a symbol of divine approval. In ancient Rome, almonds were considered fertility charms, and newlyweds were showered with them.

    The almond industry in the United States originated in the 1850s in California, where the regions around Sacramento, Monterey and Los Angeles produced the first successful crops. Today, the United States leads the world in almond production, producing 80% of all almonds internationally. The almond industry in the United States is centered in California and is steadily growing as demand increases.

     

  • Top Producers

    The world’s top almond producers are the United States, Spain, Italy, Iran and Morocco (FAOSTAT, 2011).

  • Varieties

    Almond varieties include Butte, California, Carmel, Fritz, Mission, Monterey, Nonpareil, Padre, Peerless, Price, and Sonora.

  • Products

    Almonds are eaten raw, roasted, or blanched. They are often used as an ingredient in breads, desserts, salads and cooked dishes. Almond milk and almond butter have become an increasingly popular and nutritious alternative to cow’s milk and farmers are increasing yields from year to year.

    Almond oil is utilized for health and cosmetics uses.

  • Top Health Benefits

    Like heart-healthy olive oil, almonds are high in levels of “good fats,” also known as monounsaturated fats. Consuming almonds can help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

    Several extensive studies link the consumption of almonds and other nuts high in monounsaturated fats to the reduced risk of heart disease. Researchers found that replacing carbohydrates and saturated fats (found primarily in meat and dairy products) with an equivalent amount of nuts such as almonds can reduce the risk of heart disease by between 30% and 45%.

    A quarter-cup of almonds contains good levels of magnesium and potassium, as well as 40% the daily value of the antioxidant, vitamin E. Both are minerals essential in maintaining healthy heart function and blood pressure.

    For maximum benefits, leave the skins on almonds. Almond skins contain 20 powerful antioxidant flavonoids found in popular healthy hard-hitters such as green tea and grapefruit.

    Although high in monounsaturated fats, studies have found that participants who eat almonds or other nuts twice a week were 31% less likely to gain weight than participants who never ate nuts.

    The high levels of vitamin B2 in almonds, combined with minerals such as manganese and copper, help with energy production in the body.

    Eating almonds actually helps to reduce blood sugar levels after a meal, providing protection against diabetes. When paired with a food with a high glycemic index, almonds can help to lower the glycemic index of the meal.

  • Grow it yourself

    It is best to buy an almond tree in a nursery if you want to grow one yourself - preferably one three years old or older, so it will start producing almonds for you more quickly.

  • Recipe

  • Educational Projects

It’s hard to believe that almond milk is made from hard nuts, but it’s true.  What’s more is that you can make it yourself at home in just a few minutes.  All you need are almonds and water, plus whatever other ingredients you might want to add for flavor like vanilla, chocolate, a natural sweetener or whatever else strikes your fancy.  Here are the three easy steps:
 
1. Soak the almonds until they are soft and mushy.
2. Put the almonds and water in a blender (ratio of 1 cup almonds to 4 cups water) and blend until smooth.  
3. Then simply strain the mixture through some cheesecloth, and you’ve just made your very own homemade almond milk. 
 
Enjoy!   
Saturday, 28 March 2015 00:00

What is Vinegar? How is vinegar made?

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How is vinegar made?

 

Have you ever tasted wine that has soured after being opened? That’s vinegar! In fact, vinegar derives its modern name from the Old French, vinaigre, which means “sour wine.”

Vinegar is a sour-tasting liquid comprised mainly of acetic acid and water. Acetic acid, which gives vinegar its pungent smell and flavor, is produced by the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Vinegar is approximately 3% to 9% acetic acid by volume.

Once oxygen comes into contact with wine, a process called oxidation begins. When the acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) found in wine is exposed to oxygen, it turns alcohol into acetic acid. As a result, the wine “sours” because it has been converted into acetic acid.

Vinegar can be made from any alcohol-containing liquid, including wine, beer and fermented fruit juices and nectars, or, any other liquids containing sugar (which naturally ferments).

 

How is vinegar made?

 

There are two main processes by which vinegar is made: the fast and the slow process.

In the fast process, vinegar can be produced in as little as 20 hours to 3 days.

In the slow process, which is how vinegar is traditionally made, fermentation takes several months to a year.

Both processes require the presence of a non-toxic slime called “mother of vinegar,” which is made of acetic acid bacteria and cellulose.

In the slow process, sometimes called the Orleans Process, mother of vinegar naturally accumulates over time as the chosen liquid ferments in wooden barrels. Holes are drilled at the ends of the barrels a few inches above the surface of the liquid and left open, but covered with a fine screen to prevent contamination. Next, fresh vinegar making up 20% to 25% of the volume of the barrel is added in order to acidify the liquid and promote growth of acetic bacteria. As the newly added vinegar bacteria mixes with the liquid, and oxygen enters through the screened holes in the barrel, a thick slime of mother of vinegar develops. The mixture is fermented for several months, and the gelatinous slime removed before the vinegar is finally bottled.

The fast process of vinegar production is similar to the slow process, except that machines are used to promote oxygenation to speed up the fermentation process, allowing vinegar to be produced in a matter of days or even hours.

 

  • Latin Name

    Vinum acetum (“wine turned sour”)

     

     

    (Piloncillos is an unrefined Mexican sugar that is made from cane sugar made from boiling and evaporating cane juice. Piloncillo is the most common name for this type of sugar in Mexico, but the is also known as panocha or panela in other Latin and Central American countries. It can be found pressed into blocks or rounds, as well as cones, at Mexican markets. This form is very easy to store and transport, so it is also quite inexpensive.)

  • Storage

    Vinegar can be stored in the refrigerator, but is also fine left in a cool, dark place.  However, fruit and herb vinegars should be kept refrigerated in order to retain their flavor.  Be sure caps are secured tightly so oxidation does not continue to occur.  After about 6 months, don’t be surprised if the vinegar naturally begins to lose its flavor. It's not "going bad" but continued oxidation is changing the flavor.

  • History

    Scientifically, vinegar and the bacterial process by which it is made is simply nature at work.  As far as mankind is concerned, vinegar has been around as long as alcohol: Any alcoholic beverage that is exposed to air naturally turns into vinegar.

    The earliest recorded history of civilization intentionally making vinegar dates back to the Babylonian civilization, circa 5,000 BCE. The ancient Babylonians used the fruit of the date palm to make wine and vinegar, and used vinegar as a pickling agent. In Egypt, urns dating to 3,000 BCE also contain vinegar residue. The first documentation of rice vinegar in China dates back to 1200 BCE.

    In ancient Greece, circa 400 BCE, the father of western medical science, Hippocrates, noted that vinegar was useful in disinfecting wounds, and could be used as an antibiotic. In Biblical times, vinegar was also used as medicine and to flavor foods, as well as an energy drink, pre-dating Redbull by a few thousand years.

    During the Middle Ages, vinegar was first used as a household cleaning agent, with an abrasive such as sand, to polish armor. Later, in the 17th century, the French used vinegar to cool hot iron cannons while cleaning them and inhibiting rust formation.

    Apple cider vinegar played an important role in American history since colonial days. The folk hero, “Johnny Appleseed” (John Chapman) shared apple seeds with settlers from Pennsylvania as far west as Indiana. American families lived on apple cider in the 18th and 19th centuries, often drinking it as a safer alternative to contaminated water.

    Early American farm workers drank apple cider vinegar as a refreshing, energizing tonic. It was also used for medicinal and household purposes.  To this day, the base ingredient in a popular New England folk remedy for the common cold is “Fire Cider,”  which is apple cider vinegar infused with potent herbs.

    Vinegar was used as an antiseptic by medics in wars dating as far back as ancient times, and as recently as World War I.

  • Varieties

    Because it can be made from any liquid that has alcohol, including fermented fruit juices, vinegar is an incredibly versatile liquid. In fact, you may be familiar with several varieties. Here is a list of some popular types of vinegar, as well as lesser-known varieties:

    White (distilled) vinegar made from grain alcohol

    Apple cider vinegar

    Wine vinegar made from red, white,rose wines or champagne

    Balsamic vinegar is made from grape must in the regions of Modena or Reggio Emilio in Italy but has many imitators. Read the blog on Balsamic vinegar to understand how to recognize real balsamic vinegar.

    Other varieties include: Malt vinegar, beer vinegar, rice wine vinegar, coconut vinegar, cane vinegar, kombucha vinegar, honey vinegar, date vinegar, palm vinegar, and Chinese black vinegar.  

    Vinegar glazes simply have less water content than ordinary vinegars and can be made by reducing (boiling down) regular store bought vinegar.

  • Products

    Vinegar has many culinary uses. It is primarily used in the pickling process, in vinaigrettes and other salad dressings, in marinades and as an ingredient in condiments such as ketchup, chutney, and mayonnaise.

    White vinegar also has several household uses due to the benefits of its acidity, which is useful in dissolving mineral residue, as well as for polishing glass, bronze and stainless steel surfaces. It is also used as a household disinfectant, due to its antibacterial properties - although it is less effective against human pathogens than other chemical cleaners.

    Although there is little scientific research that conclusively prove its efficacy, vinegar has been used medicinally for thousands of years, primarily for its antimicrobial properties.

  • Top Health Benefits

    For thousands of years, vinegar has been touted for its health benefits. In ancient Greece, the famed physician Hippocrates used it as a wound disinfectant and antibiotic, and through World War I, it was used by medics to treat battlefield wounds.

    Vinegar is a popular folk remedy to this day, and some advocates claim it can prevent or heal serious ailments such as heart disease and cancer. However, there is still little scientific research that conclusively proves vinegar therapeutic for health purposes. Here’s what we do know:

    Vinegar’s high content of acetic acid can increase the body’s absorption of minerals from the foods we eat. Adding apple cider vinegar to meals (such as in salad dressing) or drinking a tonic of vinegar and water (one tablespoon of vinegar in a glass of water) can help the body absorb essential minerals locked in foods.

    Because of vinegar’s ability to help the body absorb minerals, it can be particularly beneficial to people who have a difficult time absorbing calcium to prevent bone-thinning diseases such osteoporosis. People who are lactose intolerant, vegan, or have other dietary restrictions that prevent them from getting calcium from dairy products, must look to the second-best source of calcium in nature: Dark leafy greens. However, these greens contain compounds that inhibit calcium absorption. Adding vinegar, such as a vinaigrette to a salad, can help the body absorb the calcium from leafy greens.

    Vinegar may help people with Type II diabetes control their blood sugar levels. A study cited in 2004 by the American Diabetes Association indicates that vinegar can help increase overall insulin sensitivity in Type II diabetics. When the body is more receptive to insulin, the hormone is more effective in getting sugar out of the blood and into the cells.

    There are so many different flavors and varieties of vinegar that experimenting offers myriad delicious possibilities. Flavored vinegars can also be used as replacements for other ingredients  high in sodium or unhealthy saturated and trans fats, thus helping to manage blood pressure, and decreasing the risk or serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

    Some research shows that adding vinegar to water (in a 10% vinegar, 90% water solution) when washing fruits and vegetables helps in more effectively removing some pesticide residues, as well as bacteria, from store bought produce. Do not use this process on porous or fragile veggies and fruits, such as berries as they could be damaged by soaking up too much vinegar in their porous skins.

  • Grow it yourself

    Making your own vinegar

     

    Storage notes: The first thing to know about making your own vinegar is that the acidity and pH levels of homemade vinegar vary greatly. Do not use homemade vinegar for canning, preserving or anything that needs to be stored at room temperature. Because of the inconsistency of acidity and pH levels in homemade vinegar, it may not be sufficient for preserving food and could even lead to food poisoning. In some cases, the pH levels in unrefrigerated homemade vinegar can weaken and allow harmful pathogens, such as E. coli, to grow.

    Homemade vinegar can be used for marinades, dressings, and for pickled products that are stored in the refrigerator at all times.

    Supplies you’ll need to make vinegar at home:

    1. Mother of vinegar or a starter vinegar (to provide acetic bacteria). The acetic bacteria and cellulose “mother of vinegar” can be purchased online, and starter vinegars can be purchased at beer and wine supply shops, or ordered online.

    2. A non-metal container (vinegar corrodes metal) such as a glass jar or bowl, a food grade plastic bucket, or a wooden cask. The vessel should have a wide mouth, as the acetobacter of the mother vinegar requires oxygen to do its job making vinegar.

    3. Cheesecloth, paper towel, or a breathable open-weave dish cloth that can serve as a cover over the container that allows oxygen to enter. It should be sealed around the mouth of the container with a rubber band.

    4. Alcohol: Wine, vinegar, fermented fruit juice (ie apple cider).

    5. Patience.

     

    To make wine vinegar, add one part unchlorinated water (boil first, and allow to cool if water is chlorinated) and two parts wine to your vinegar container and stir. Red wine vinegar is a great option for a “first run attempt” at making homemade vinegar!

    To make beer or cider vinegar, use one part starter and two parts of your alcoholic beverage of choice, but skip the water.

    Once your container is prepared with the alcoholic beverage of your choice, it is time to add one part starter vinegar or gently add the mother vinegar to the liquid.

    Cover the container using a breathable cloth, paper towel, or a couple layers of cheesecloth and seal tightly with a rubber band.

    Store the vinegar pot out of the sunlight, in a place where the temperature remains between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Over the next couple weeks, monitor the vinegar. Over time, the mother at the top of the vinegar will thicken, and may develop a brownish color. However, if you see mold or if the vinegar develops a paint-thinner aroma, discard the batch and start over.

    Begin tasting the vinegar after the first two weeks:  Lift or remove the mother vinegar, or it may sink (which is okay). When the liquid tastes like vinegar, it’s ready - but it will develop a stronger flavor if you ferment it for a longer period of time.

    Pour the finished vinegar through a strainer and store in glass bottles with tight screw lids or corks to prevent further oxidation.

    Keep some remaining vinegar in the original vessel, and immediately begin to make a new batch of vinegar with this starter and the original mother vinegar, or save the mother vinegar in the container. Mother vinegar may sit in the vessel for up to one month at room temperature before it is used again for a new batch.

    Once you’ve made and bottled your homemade vinegar, you can get creative with it. Consider infusing homemade vinegar with herbs and spices such as rosemary, flavorful berries, lemon, cloves and cinnamon, or hot peppers.

    To infuse vinegar:

    1. Prepare a clean, glass canning jar by submerging it in hot water while heating vinegar to 160 degrees in a saucepan. Turn off heat.

    2. Remove jar from hot water and drain. Pack herbs or other infusion ingredients into the jar and pour in vinegar, leaving ¼ inch of headspace.

    3. Place wax paper over top of jar (to prevent corrosion of metal lid) and screw lid tight.

    4. Store at room temperature up to one month and taste test. When vinegar is infused to taste, strain out the infusion ingredients.

    5. Store finished infused vinegar in a narrow-necked glass bottle with a tight top to prevent oxidation and maintain best taste.

Friday, 27 March 2015 00:00

Buyer Beware: What is REAL Balsamic vinegar?

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Buyer Beware: What is REAL Balsamic vinegar?
 
Be sure to carefully read the label on the balsamic vinegar you buy because there are different grades based on ingredients, origins and processing methods. Vinegar labeled "Balsamic vinegar of Modena" is not true balsamic vinegar. True traditional balsamic vinegar is made under consortium supervision in Modena and Reggio Emilio in Italy. Other vinegars are of varying quality, but be sure to look for IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta – Protected Geographical Indication) certification on any Italian vinegar you buy. The label identifies a product originating from a specific region whose quality, recipe and characteristics can be traced back to its geographical origin, and of which at least one production and/or processing phase takes place in its designated zone of production.
This European Community recognition represents a guarantee for consumers. 
IGP labeled products are guaranteed to be authentic and of the highest quality. 
 
True traditional balsamic vinegar 
 
 
Only two regions in Italy produce true traditional balsamic vinegar, Modena and neighboring Reggio Emilia. Both are made with consortium supervision.
 
True balsamic vinegar is made from a reduction of pressed Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. The resulting thick syrup, called mosto cotto in Italian, is then aged for a minimum of 12 years in several barrels of successively smaller sizes. The casks are made from a variety of woods like oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry, ash or juniper. True balsamic vinegar is a rich, glossy, deep brown with a complex flavor that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grape juice with hints of wood from the barrels.
 
Reggio Emilia designates the different ages of their balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia) by label color. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label means at least 18 years and a gold label designates aging of 25 years or more.
 
Modena (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena) uses a different system: A white cap means the vinegar has aged for at least 12 years and a gold cap bearing the designation extravecchio (extra old) means the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.
 
Consortium-sealed Tradizionale balsamic vinegar bottles of 100ml can cost between $150 and $400 each.
 
Condimento balsamico (also labeled "salsa balsamic" or "salsa di mosto")
 
There are no official standards or labeling systems to designate condimento balsamic vinegars, so it can be hard to tell their quality based on packaging alone.  It may be made in the following ways:
 
-Produced and aged in Modena or Reggio Emilia in the traditional way without consortium supervision and approval. 
-Made by producers of tradition balsamic vinegars but aged less than the minimum of 12 years, so no consortium approval is possible.
-Produced in the same way as traditional vinegars, but by producers located outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia and not made under consortium supervision.
-Made of ordinary balsamic vinegar with the addition of reduced grape juice (mosto cotto) in varying proportions, without any aging.
 
Buyer beware:
 
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
 
These commercial products imitate true traditional balsamic vinegar. They are made of ordinary wine vinegar with the addition of coloring, caramel or thickeners like guar gum or cornflour to artificially simulate the thickness and sweetness of aged Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. To meet IGP requirements, it needs a minimum aging period of only two months (not necessarily in wooden barrels), increasing to three years when labeled as invecchiato (aged). The manufacturing process is highly industrialized, so a medium sized producer can produce hundreds of gallons a day.

 

Saturday, 21 March 2015 01:48

What is Honey?

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How many stomachs do bees have?

  • Latin Name

    Honey: Mel

    Honey bee: Apis

  • Growth

    Honey is a sweet-tasting food produced by bees using the nectar of flowers as their source. Although the most commonly produced, collected and consumed honey is produced by bees from the genus Apis, called “honey bees,” it is made by many types of other bees including bumblebees, stingless bees, and even honey wasps.

    Honey is a food source for bees. Bees live in hives where the colony works in teams to forage for nectar, which the bees then convert it into honey through a process of regurgitation and evaporation.  This alters the enzymes of the nectar and then removes its water content, making it into a sweet, gooey syrup.

    To produce 500 grams of honey, worker bees must travel the equivalent of three trips around the globe.

     

  • Harvest

    Harvest honey in late summer, when the honey surplus is at its peak.

    Bees will not sting unless provoked, but a bee veil and a bee smoker are necessary equipment for a home beekeeper to have on hand at harvest time. The bee veil will protect from stings, and the smoker can be used to pump light shots of smoke into the hive. This will cause the bees to panic, assuming natural disaster, and gorge on honey before making an escape from the hive. Bees filled up on honey will be more docile and won’t sting unless highly provoked.

    To harvest liquid honey, purchase a honey extractor. This is a simple centrifuge mounted inside a stainless steel tank with a honey gate at the bottom.

    Stand to the side of the hive, outside of the guard bees’ lines of vision, while working. Use a screwdriver to remove the frames containing honey from the hive body.

    A honey extractor tank may hold two or more frames. Frames are removed from the hive body and slid down into a basket inside the tank. By hand-cranking a handle at the top of the tank, the honey extractor spins and throws fluid out of the frames and against the sides of the container. The harvest drips to the bottom and is let into a pail, filtered with cheesecloth, and bottled.

     

  • Storage

    Store honey in a cool location, away from direct sunlight. Do not store in the refrigerator, as this will accelerate the crystallization process.

    Crystallization occurs when glucose sugar forms into crystallized patterns. Although it is not an indicator of spoilage or poor quality, it is generally unwanted. If crystallization occurs, place honey container in a pot of near-boiling water that has been removed from the heat and leave until both have cooled. Repeat as needed.

     

  • History

    Humans have been collecting honey since the dawn of recorded history, and honey itself long predates the existence of mankind. Paleontologists have discovered fossilized honey bee specimens more than 150 million years old.

    Cave drawings in Spain that date back to 7000 BCE are the earliest known record of human interest in bees and honey, but the earliest records of beekeeping date to 2400 BCE in Cairo, Egypt. In ancient Egypt, honey was a natural sweetener and an ingredient in embalming fluids. The ancient Egyptians baked honey cakes as offerings to the gods, and the bee is featured frequently in hieroglyphs as a symbol of royalty.

    The practice of beekeeping among the ancients spans across the world, from the Mayan empire in South America to the dynasties of ancient China. In Hinduism, honey is one of the five elixirs of immortality. In the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as the “land of flowing milk and honey.”

    The ancient Greeks used honey in food, as well as medicinally. In ancient Rome, soldiers used honey to heal their wounds after battle. Honey was also a gift to the gods in ancient Rome, and once Christianity was established, the beekeeping industry boomed to meet the demand for church candles.

    In medieval England, kings and queens drank fermented honey wine known as mead. The arrival of sugar in Europe during the Renaissance reduced honey’s popularity somewhat, but despite this, the sweet syrup made by bees remains popular throughout the world to this day.

  • Top Producers

    China, Turkey, Argentina, Ukraine, and the United States are the top 5 honey-producing countries (FAOSTAT, 2012).

     

  • Varieties

    Unique varieties of honey come from different nectar sources, and range in color and flavor. In most cases, light-colored honey is more mild in flavor and darker honey has a stronger flavor.

    Some popular varieties include orange blossom honey, lavender honey, apple blossom honey, avocado blossom honey, blackberry honey, blueberry honey, clover honey, manuka honey (used for medicinal purposes), pine honey, tupelo honey, and wildflower honey (from miscellaneous or unknown sources).

     

  • Products

    Honey is mainly used in cooking, baking, as a spread, and as a sweetener in beverages such as tea. When fermented, honey can be used to make an alcoholic beverage known as mead, or honey wine.  It is also an ingredient in some beers.

    Honey is also used medicinally, both topically and internally, as an antiseptic and an energy booster. It is also used cosmetically, in hair and skin care products.

     

  • Top Health Benefits

    There’s a lot of buzz surrounding honey, and it’s not just the bees. In addition to being an irresistibly sweet treat, honey boasts an array of health and nutritional benefits.

    Health note: Children under 12 months should not have honey because it can contain a bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) that causes infant botulism.

    Honey has incredible antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal benefits, making it beneficial in wound and burn treatment. A study published in the British Journal of Surgery in 2005 found that in 59 patients suffering with wounds and leg ulcers - 80% of which had failed to heal through conventional treatment - were successfully treated with unprocessed honey.

    The aforementioned antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits of honey make it a useful tool in battling acne.

    Clinical studies have shown that medical grade honey is effective in killing foodborne illness pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli, and antibiotic-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus. Honey also helps to reduce ulcers in the stomach and reduce gastroenteritis.

    Honey contains 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon, making it an excellent all-natural energy source for endurance athletes. For a boost, add honey to your water bottle during workouts, or use honey sticks during endurance events.

    Some honeys have a low hypoglycemic index, and the exact combination of fructose and glucose found in honey can actually help the body to regulate blood sugar.

    Honey contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin and niacin, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. For this reason, it makes a great sweetener substitute for sugar, with greater nutritional benefits.

    Flavonoids and antioxidants found in honey have been shown to help decrease the risk of heart disease.

    Honey can help to battle dandruff and itchy, scaly scalp. Dilute honey with 10% warm water and apply to the problem area and leave on for three hours before rinsing with warm water. Apply weekly to relieve itching and scaling and to heal lesions.

    Pediatric studies have shown that honey’s anti-inflammatory properties make it extremely effective in soothing coughs in children. In a 2007 study performed at the Penn State College of Medicine involving 139 children, buckwheat honey outperformed the cough suppressant pharmaceutical, dextromethorphan, in managing night time coughs.

    Although it has not been proven in clinical studies, many people say that consuming raw local honey may help with seasonal allergies. The theoretical reasoning behind this is that the low amount of pollen found in honey could desensitize pollen-allergic people, in the same way that allergy shots expose people to specific pollens or pollen mixtures.

     

  • Grow it yourself

    Building a Honeybee Hive:

    The fundamentals for successful beekeeping is to make sure the hive is packed full of healthy, productive bees during peak honeyflow season (when nectar-producing flowers are in full bloom). To achieve this, you must first create a healthy environment where the bees live, breed, and produce honey.

    The apiary, or bee yard, is the area where the beehive is placed. The apiary should be near pollen and nectar sources, such as fruit and vegetable plants and flowers. There should be a clean water source no more than ¼ mile away. Apiaries should, ideally, be facing south or southeast, near trees that create shade for the hives in summer and allow sunlight to access them in winter.

    A basic beehive structure, or hive body, is a stackable structure of boxes that houses the bee colonies, similar to a high rise condo. The lower level is the brood chamber, where the queen lays eggs in comb frames and house worker bees raise young larvae. The upper stories of the hive body are called supers, filled with combs where the worker bees convert nectar into honey and store the finished honey. A hive body can have up to ten stories.

    Western pine is a good wood to use for building a hive body. Use a more water-resistant wood such as cypress, cedar or redwood for the bottom board.

    Start by building a hive body with two brood chambers and two supers, using a four-sided box structure with no top or bottom. Make the brood chambers 9 and ⅝ inches deep, and supers 6 and ⅝ inches deep.

    Purchase excluders and wax comb foundations to include in the hive body. Place the excluder (a plastic or metal grid with precise openings that prevent the queen from moving from the brood chamber to supers, but allow smaller worker bees easy passage) between the upper brood chamber and the lower super level.

    Wax comb foundations are beeswax frames that hang in the hive body, providing the queen a place in the brood chamber to lay her eggs, and a place in the supers for workers to store honey and seal with wax. Comb foundations are stamped with the same base pattern as a natural honeycomb.

    Cut equally-spaced grooves (frame rests) on opposite sides of each hive body to hold the frames. Make sure grooves are deep enough to hang frames flush against the top of the hive body.

    Cover the hive body using pine wood. Most beehive covers have a top, telescoping cover that extends over a flat, inner cover. The telescoping cover should slide about three inches around the uppermost super, and should be made of galvanized steel to protect the hive from rain and snow.

    Use a water-resistant wooden board as a base beneath the bottom brood chamber. Attach wooden strips across the bottom board to create a ⅜ inch entrance for the bees.

    Placing the bottom board on a set of cinders or ashes will help forager bees return home without injury (from sharp blades of grass and weeds). An inclined board at the entrance will also help a overburdened worker bee.

    Use an exterior latex paint to paint the hive body, either in white or a light pastel color, to help keep temperatures in the beehive cooler during hot summer months.

     

    Beekeeping 101:

    After the final frost date in spring, order bees to start your first hive, and follow the instructions from the provider to place them in their new hive in your backyard.

    Italian bees are the most popular honey bee for backyard beekeepers in North America.

    To make the process of transferring bees to their new home easier, feed the bees first by smearing a solution of two parts sugar, one part water on the wire screening. Secondly, make the transfer in the evening to avoid losing worker bees. In the dark, the bees will not stray far from the hive, and will wait until morning to explore the area around their new home.

    Continue to feed the colony artificially (using a sugar water solution, or pollen, which can be bought from most beekeeping providers for $2 per pound) for the first several weeks while bees are beginning to collect pollen and nectar. This will stimulate early egg-laying. You may purchase a feeder, such as a Boardman bottle feeder, for less than a dollar, for the sugar water. Apply dry pollen to a fabric cloth and drape over the frames in the brood chamber.

    As the colony gets into the full swing of honey production, you may need to add levels of supers to make space for surplus honey storage. This stage occurs in mid-summer, and harvest is ready approximately one month later.

     

Friday, 13 March 2015 19:21

How does Celery grow?

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Did you know a garland of celery leaves was found in King Tut's tomb?

  • Latin Name

    Apium graveolens

  • Growth

    USDA Hardiness Zones 2-10 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    Celery is a long-season crop that is grown in the summer in the north and in the winter in the south. Some gardeners say it’s the most challenging vegetable to grow because it has a very low tolerance for both heat and cold - and it is also very drought intolerant.

    Celery requires proper soil, fertilization and constant moisture. Failing to keep it constantly moist results in a harvest with poor taste. Because the plant has a long maturity period, it is best suited for areas with long growing seasons. In northern areas where it’s a summer crop, it should be started indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost date.

    A member of the parsley family, celery is available in two types:  stalk celery and celeriac celery (Apium graveolens var rapaceum). Stalk celery varieties are more commonly found in North America, where crunchy stalks are a popular snack. In Europe, celeriac celery is cultivated for its edible root, or celery “bulb,” and leaves that are used as a seasoning.

    Due to the length of its growing season and sensitivity to weather conditions, celery is grown both as an annual and and as a biennial crop depending on the region. 

  • Propagation

    Celery is propagated by seed.

    Celery plants produce large amounts of edible seed, and reseed easily in warmer climates where plants survive through the winter.

    Or

  • Harvest

    Celery is harvested when stalks are about eight inches tall. It is cut just below the soil line, or single stalks can be cut as needed, beginning at the outside of the plant and working inward.  

    Another method of harvesting is to pull the entire plant out of the soil.

    The darker the stalks become, the higher their nutritional value; however, they also become tougher and more bitter.

    If soil is built up around the base of the plant to cover and maintain the temperature around the stalks, celery can remain in the ground for up to one month.

    Commercial growers use a combination of manual labor and mechanical harvesters - or mechanical harvesters only - to pick their crops.

  • Storage

    Celery that has been cut from the plant can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

    If plants have been pulled whole from the soil with their roots, they can be preserved by putting them in a deep box with the roots covered by moist sand or soil. Stored in a cool place in this manner, celery can keep for two or more months.

  • History

    Celery is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean basin. The plant grows wild in wet areas throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and in the Himalayas. It is also believed that the plant selinon, mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey (circa 850 BCE) is the same plant as celery. Today the plant’s common name, celery, is derived from the French celeri, which is a derivation of the ancient Greek selinon.

    In ancient Greece, celery was considered a holy plant. Athletes who won the Nemean games, similar to the Olympics, wore garlands of celery leaf. Evidence of a celery garland was found in the tomb of King Tut, as well as other ancient Egyptians.

    Celery was used medicinally in its early history. During ancient times, ayurvedic physicians used celery seed to alleviate arthritis, digestive disorders, water retention, liver and spleen ailments, the flu and the common cold.

    It was not until the 1600s CE, in France, that celery was first cultivated as a garden vegetable. Shortly afterward, Italians introduced the blanching process, which makes celery less bitter and more palatable to taste. Celery is blanched in the sense of keeping sunlight off the growing stalks in order to maintain their tenderness and taste - not in the sense of quickly “blanching” in hot water for other reasons. Celeriac celery, the variety grown for its edible roots and leaves rather than stalk, was developed in the 1600s as well.

    Celery seeds first arrived in the United States in 1850, when they were brought to Kalamazoo, Michigan from Scotland by a man named George Taylor. Kalamazoo became the “Celery Capital” of the United States, a title it held until a blight in the 1930s wiped out production. Today, California is the leading celery producer in the nation, followed by Michigan.

  • Top Producers

    (No international data available).

    In the United States, California and Michigan are the top celery-producing states. In 2011, they produced a combined $457 million in celery harvests (agmrc.org).

  • Varieties

    Popular varieties of stalk celery include: Pascal Giant, Utah, Alfina, Conquistador, Golden Yellow, Golden Self-Blanching, and Red Celery.

    Popular varieties of celeriac celery include: Giant Prague, Brilliant, President, and Mentor.

  • Products

    Stalk celery is the more popular celery variety in North America, where it is grown as a vegetable for its stalk. It is eaten raw, and has a versatile flavor to complement dips such as ranch dressing, hummus or peanut butter. Celery is also used as an ingredient in soups, chicken and tuna salads, casseroles, among others.

    Celeriac celery is more common in Europe, where the plant is grown for its leaves and seeds, used as spices, and its root. It can be sliced into salads, cubed in soups, sliced and roasted into “celery chips,” roasted with potatoes, made into a “mash,” and more.

  • Top Health Benefits

    The crunch of biting into a stalk of fresh celery is satisfying in itself, but combined with the health benefits it offers, celery is a superstar.

    It is a good source of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and beta-carotene - but it’s the lesser-known phytonutrients that really stand out. A unique combination of flavonols, flavones, phenolic acids and other phytonutrients found in celery have been shown, in animal studies, to minimize oxidative damage to blood vessels and body fats.

    Because of the ability of its phytonutrients to combat oxidative stress and inflammation, celery is currently being explored for its cancer-preventive possibilities.

    Studies have shown celery juice and celery extracts to be effective in lowering the activity of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and other messaging molecules responsible for unwanted inflammation in the body.

    Pectin-based polysaccharides found in celery, such as apiuman, provide anti-inflammatory benefits specific to the stomach. In animal studies, celery extracts have been shown to help reduce the risk of stomach (gastric) ulcers.

    Pectin-based polysaccharides are also being explored by researchers for their possible benefits in decreasing inflammation in the circulatory system.

    Phthalides, yet another category of phytonutrients found in celery, may act as smooth muscle relaxants. By helping the smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels to relax, phthalides play a role in vasodilation (relaxation and expansion of the blood vessels), which helps to lower blood pressure.

    Phthalides also stimulate the secretion of bile juices, which help the body eliminate bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.

    Benefits from the high fiber content of celery help manage diabetes.

    Because of its low calorie content and high fiber content, celery is a good weight loss snack. The high fiber content allows for a feeling of fullness, reducing the tendency to overeat.

    Some research indicates that celery seed, celery oil, or celery extract (not the vegetable itself) may act as a diuretic, which also helps to lower blood pressure. As a diuretic, celery can also help lower uric acid levels (related to arthritis inflammation), assist in the prevention of urinary tract infections, and aid with bladder disorders and kidney problems.

  • Grow it yourself

    In most areas, celery seeds should be started indoors 8 to 10 weeks prior to the last frost date of spring.

    If planting celery for a winter harvest (in southern regions), direct-sow seeds in late summer, when daytime summer temperatures average 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They should be planted ¼ inch deep and thinned to 10 to 12 inches apart once they reach six inches in height.

    Whether starting indoors or direct sowing, soak seeds overnight prior to planting to speed germination time.

    Prior to planting, prepare soil by working in a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer or compost. Celery is a heavy feeder, and requires large amounts of nutrients throughout its lifetime to thrive.

    When starting seedlings indoors, they need to be “hardened” prior to transplanting. To do this, reduce watering slightly and place seedlings outdoors for a couple of hours each day for 7 to 10 days prior to transplanting.

    Seedlings that are approximately six inches tall and have five or more leaves are ready for the hardening process.

    When transplanting seedlings to an outdoor bed, plant 10 to 12 inches apart. Mulch and water directly after planting. Keep soil continuously moist.

    To keep stalks tender, they can be "blanched" by wrapping newspaper around them below the leaves in the last weeks of their growth.

  • Interesting Facts

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