Friday, November 7, 2014

Hors D'oeuvres Anyone?

Eggplants grow very well here in the Valley due to our mild winters. Whenever everything else has given it up in the garden, in the heat of the summers, the eggplants seem to thrive even more. I think more people would grow them if they just knew what to do with them.

One of the market vendors makes homemade babaganoush (pureed roasted eggplant, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil) and says he's going to bring me some but I'm still waiting. I've read you can stuff and bake miniature eggplants with a mixture of feta cheese, pine nuts and roasted peppers which sounds very tasty.

As I've said before, I like them sliced, brushed with olive oil and grilled for a few minutes on either side for a quick, easy tasty side dish.

Here's another way that has my mouth watering, just looking at 'em. Many thanks to my friend Angela Barnard for sharing what she did with hers.

Mini Eggplant Parmesan made w/garden fresh basil,
eggplant and homemade tomato sauce.

My friend Angela Barnard shared her photos
above and the 
Mini Eggplant Parmesan recipe link she used to
make these tasty hors d'oeuvres from her "Pot Black" eggplant
(see plant below).

Eggplant “Pot Black”
A compact variety for container
growing that produces many
2-3 oz. glossy oval black
fruits over a long growing
season. Attractive plants and
tasty fruit. Sun.
I am so excited about these compact varieties as they make such a pretty container plant and make great gifts. When Angela's husband came looking for a birthday surprise for her last year, I suggested this plant, as it was the first time I had brought it to the market so I knew she hadn't seen it before. As a fellow Master Gardener, we are always looking for the new and unusual, at least to us and I knew she would appreciate this one.

Another great new container variety that is really producing as you can see here is the "Patio Baby". I plan on potting a couple or one of each of these two to put in the entryway of our front porch as my new fall decorating scheme. Another good reason for us to sit outside and enjoy our front porch.

Eggplant “Patio Baby”
A 2014 AAS Winner. An eggplant
variety that is great for pots & container
growing. Plants produce lavender
blooms and a big crop of shiny black
small fruits that is bitter free.

I just love how eggplants come in all sizes and shapes.
Here's another new variety for us that I think I failed to mention, in my last blog on eggplants.


Eggplant “Shooting Stars”
A showy variety with small (4") oval white
fleshed fruits that are vivid purple
with white stripes. Good in the garden
or pots.  Height 30"x20" wide. Sun.
Maybe the trick to get more people to consider trying eggplant is to call it an Aubergine - that's the British English name for it. Try a search using aubergine recipes and you'll have lots to choose from.
(Plant photos by Debbie Cox) 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Eggplant/Berenjena

Eggplant “Pot Black”
is a compact variety for container growing producing
many 2-3 oz. glossy oval black fruits over a long growing
season. Attractive plants & tasty fruit. Sun.
While the eggplant is considered a minor crop in the US, in the Orient it is more popular than either the tomato or potato according to Dr. Sam Cotner, author of “The Vegetable Book, A Texan’s guide to Gardening” (p. 141). We've found eggplants very easy to grow in our area. I have customers who have had their eggplants growing for several years at a time.

There are a lot of tasty ways you can prepare them. I like to slice the larger ones in ¼ to ½ inch slices and brush them with olive oil and grill them for an easy tasty treat. The long slender varieties are just the right bite-size when fried  using a batter recipe.

Basic Gardening Tips for any Planting

Eggplants, like other plants here, grow best in raised beds. Raised beds provide good drainage. They also grow well in large container pots. We planted each variety in a large pot (5 gallon size or larger) on our patio one year just to see how well each grew and tasted.

Scattering a couple inches of compost in your bed and incorporating into your soil beforehand not only improves plant growth but it will also improve moisture retention in the soil.

We like to use smaller tomato cages and fit them over the transplant when first planted to keep the plant upright when it’s loaded with fruit.

I pick any yellowed leaves from plants and throw these away along with any dead leaves that drop from plants.

Watering 

Water deep and frequently in dry or hot weather. But first check - If the first couple inches of soil are dry, than water.  In containers, water till the water runs out the hole in the bottom of the container, wait a few minutes and water deeply again. Add fertilizer several times during the growing season. Mulching around plants also helps retain moisture and adds nutrients to the soil as the compost breaks down.

I’ve found watering my garden early in the morning rather than late in the day has prevented a lot of foliage diseases and I have less bad bugs because of it.

Insects

“Pinholes in leaves from flea beetles are of no concern,” according to Dr. Bob Randall, author of Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston. When watering early in the morning I’ll find pill bugs or roly polys eating on leaves and will flick them off with my finger. When watering,  I’ll spray water on the underside of leaves to discourage spider mites and aphids.

Harvesting

How do you when your eggplants are ready to pick? Some people think you have to wait till they grow really big but that’s not the case. You can pick them small or large as long as their skin is still shiny or glossy. When their skin becomes dull, their color starts to fade or they turn yellow, that’s a sign they are getting over ripe and bitter and should be harvested before then. If you leave overripe fruit on the plant it will slow production down. One plant will produce a huge number if you keep them picked.

When ready to harvest, use a knife or pruning shears to cut the stem right above the eggplant. Wear gloves when harvesting as some eggplants have a prickly stem end.

There are two varieties new to me I'm trying this year - Epic and Pot Black. All the rest are varieties we've had great success with:

Black Beauty” – Classic big-fruited black eggplant. Large fruits are glossy, well shaped, and perfect for thick slices, just right for grilling, pan frying or eggplant parmesan. (This is the one you see in the store.)

“Clara” (F1) - Unique, large, white Italian-type eggplant. Green calyx. High-yielding & early bearing. Fruits 6-7" long x 4-5" wide. Full Sun.

“Dancer” (F1) Bright neon purple fruits w/green calyx. Plants are strong & high-yielding. Fruit is mid-sized, semi-cylindrical, mild tasting & non-bitter flavor.

Eggplant Epic F1 - Premium quality oval eggplant variety. Fruits are glossy purple-black and average 9" long x 3 1/2" wide. Strong, vigorous, upright plants to 3 feet tall. Sun.

“Fengyuan Purple” - Very long & slender Asian eggplant with fruit 12-18" long. Non-peel thin-skinned beautiful purple fruits. Creamy-white mild flesh w/no bitterness - great for grilling or stir fry.

"Pingtung Long" (Chinese type) - Slender violet-purple heirloom fruit 12-18" long w/excellent mild flavor & tender white flesh. Thrives in heat & humidity w/continuous large harvests. Sun & good soil best.

Eggplant “Pot Black”
Compact variety for container growing. Produces many 2-3 oz. glossy oval black fruits over a long growing season.  Attractive plants & tasty fruit. Sun.

Thai Green "Kermit" - Traditional Thai type eggplant. Small, ball-shaped fruit about 2" across - green marbled with white stripes. Productive. Used in Asian dishes, shish-kebab and grilling. Sun. Good Soil.

Eggplants are low cal, satisfying and are a great source of Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, fiber, manganese, B vitamins and many antioxidants. They certainly thrive in our weather conditions.

Feel free to share your experiences, photos and recipes.
Debbie Cox

Friday, October 3, 2014

Your Local Gardening Programs

FALL is for Gardening 2014 and Spring 2015

Do you want to learn more about gardening? I get a lot of questions about gardening that I wish I could answer more in-depth at the farmers market.

Don't wait - check these out.
Veggie transplants for fall garden planting.

Brownsville Wellness Coalition - Free Gardening Classes

Open to the public.
No experience necessary.
Held every first and 3rd Thursday of the month, 6:00 pm at the Parks and Recreation Center on 8th Street & Tyler St., Brownsville, TX
Find out more about the Brownsville Community Gardens.
Contact Elizabeth Garcia 956.459.3205.
__________________________________________________

Texas AgriLife Extension Service Events
Call 956.361.8236 for programs below


2015 Master Gardener Program

(I highly recommend - have been a TMG since 96)
Sign up NOW to get on the contact list to be considered.
Fee and so many hrs. of training in exchange for volunteer hrs.
in the community earns you the title of "Texas Master Gardener."
Orientation starts the last week of January.
956.361.8236

FREE Vegetable Gardening Educational Program

Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities Cameron County
All classes begin at 6 pm throughout Cameron County
from October 13 - November 13, 2014
Contact Scott Kunkle at 956.361.8236 for schedule.

An Introduction to Aquaponics:The Production of both Fish andVegetables in a Soil-less Environment

Friday, November 7, 2014
956.361.8236

Food Safety for the Small Acreage Producer/Webinar

Thursday, October 16, 2014, 9 am – Noon
956.361.8236
______________________________________________________

Fall Garden Festival and Free Gardening Workshops

North San Juan Park on Saturday, October 18, 2014, 10:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Free workshops for families, plant sale. Topics include a hands-on presentation on Plant Propagation, How to Make a Square Foot Garden, Composting, Preventing Citrus Greening Disease, Rainwater Harvesting demo and Fall Vegetable Gardening.
_____________________________________________________

Permaculture Design Certification - FREE

Begins October so sign up now.
_____________________________________________________
If you know of more, please let me know so I can pass them along!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Basil Harvest - Goodies to Share

With an abundance of fresh basil, I recently made basil salt several different ways along with fresh pesto using the tiny tasty leaves of Pistou basil. In place of pine nuts I used salt and pepper flavored pistachios I had on hand I bought from Yvonne and Fidel at the farmers market. After several requests to share the recipes - I decided to post here -  follow the links below.

 Valentino basil has such lovely large leaves and wonderful flavor.
I still have a gigantic bowl of Red Ruben basil to use up.
Hmm... what's next, any suggestions?


Enjoy Your Bumper Crop of Basil Year Round 

with Fresh Basil Salt

I made four batches of fresh basil salt following Hometalks' easy instructions link above. Using kosher certified Mediterranean coarse sea salt for three batches and one batch using pink Himalayan salt, I learned to tell what it looks like when its dry enough to be done. 

I have to say my favorite tasting is the Himalayan batch.
Not quite dry yet.
Photos by Debbie Cox
I use a salt grinder daily so had containers on hand of the sea salt. I put one batch back into the processor after it dried to grind it up further but left the other batches coarse. What great gifts for myself, oh and others. Hometalk also provided a dip and dish to utilize the fresh sea salt and more fresh basil below - looks yummy!

Bountiful Tomato and Basil Harvest / 

Caprese Crostini Skewers

Thanks to several of my herb friends, Mary Nell, for turning me onto the above and Dorothy Earley for the mixed herb pesto recipe below she so generously shared. Enjoy!

Dorothy Earley's
Mixed Herb Pesto
  • 1 cup basil
  • ½ cup oregano
  • ½ cup mint
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 t lemon juice
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1 t salt
Place basil, oregano, mint, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice in a blender or food processor and run it on high until all ingredients are finely pureed.  Remove from blender or food processor and add Parmesan cheese and salt. Mix well. Serve with pasta.

I believe the real secret to great pesto, is not just fresh sweet basil, but a really fine Parmesan cheese. Grate it yourself just before you need it. And it doesn't hurt if you use the best olive oil you can find either.

Friday, February 14, 2014

For the Birds

Check out this nice looking shrub!  The birds love the berries and it looks great in the landscape used as a shrub or a tree. It can take sun or shade. You can find these at Palm Gardens in Brownsville from Morris Clint.

Friday, January 31, 2014

First Time I've Ever Seen

Where?  with Morris Clint  at Palm Gardens, Brownsville
Cardboard plants in bloom!

Very different looking flower.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Year, New Challenge

It's that time of year to register for the 2014 Brownsville Challenge. Weigh-in is Saturday, January 11 from 9 am to noon at Linear Park, next to the Farmers Market off 6th & Harrison St.

My Story
I signed up to take "The Challenge" three years in a row – 3rd year, the past year, was a charm as that was the first year I actually worked the program and took advantage of the free events which included the SG Boot Camp with Sal Garza. It wasn't until I attended Sal's Camp that I realized how negative I subconsciously speak to myself. 

Yes, it turns out I was my own worst enemy.
I recall proudly bragging about being such a great procrastinator - go figure. I didn't want to change my thinking  as that would mean I needed to make up my mind to do something after my years of procrastinating (Yes, it turns out I was my own worst enemy.) Once I overcame the I can't/won't, I'm not ready to give up eating what I like, eating mindlessly, whatever, whenever I want, you're not the boss of me to myself, no less, procrastinating thinking ... and started thinking ... Yes, I can/will and want to ... the rest was super easy. 

I kept a log of what I ate normally for several weeks and soon became aware of where all the calories I was consuming came from (lots of high calorie sweets)which helped me change my eating habits.If I indulge I eat less of something later in the day to balance it out. A good example of a change for me was Instead of eating the WHOLE can of mixed nuts in one sitting, I eat a handful and stop.

Long Story Short
I went from a size 16 to a size 10 – I lost and have kept off 25 pounds this past year and haven't missed it a bit ~ thanks to taking advantage of this program.

This year my goal is to prepare and eat healthier home cooked meals with assorted seasonal fresh vegetables and fruit from my garden and the Farmers Market. I also want to get back to doing a physical activity I enjoy several times a week (yoga, walking the dogs, aquatics or something new). It's not enough just to reduce calorie intake - I need to burn calories too, in order to make any progress. That's a fact.

Recent circumstances have made it even more apparent to me how important what we eat may affect our health and what food I bring home/prepare or serve my family can impact my families health. I have to say I have taken a lot of what I eat for granted. I am already craving more fresh veggies and fruits - and I look forward to changing old habits for better ones. 

TIP
I just found a good tip through Facebook I plan on putting into practice - Dinner by 10 - Tip to Save $ and Eat Healthier from the Thrifty Couple website.

"The Challenge"
I encourage everyone to take "The Challenge" in Brownsville starting this Saturday, January 11. Weigh-in is from 9 am to noon at Linear Park, next to the Farmers Market off 6th & Harrison St. 

As a Challenge participant you receive a pass that gets you into all of the sponsored events January through March (such as aquatic workouts, boot camp, yoga, cooking classes and more) for FREE. Many of the events are also open to family and friends. Click on Further Detail heading for more info.

Everyone who finishes The Challenge has a chance at winning $$ as they compete against each other and themselves.  For every 5% of weight an individual loses they will receive a $5 gift card. 

Register
Remember you must register for The Challenge and attend a final weigh in, either Friday, April 4 or Saturday, April 5 to win any prize (including gift card). This is in addition to the first and second place prizes in each category. 
 Create a team, bring your family, friends, and coworkers, and join THE CHALLENGE!!

To Your Health!
PS Don't wait for events such as these or for that certain friend to join you, otherwise you might never "do" something for yourself. You are the only one you are in competition with - you get what you put into anything - how much are you willing to invest? It's just YOUR health.