Brenda lives in northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and other various creatures who share their backyard wildlife habitat. Brenda became a Master Gardener in 2007, after attempting to put down roots in a yard filled with clay, stones, and poorly laid sod. Little by little, she and her family removed grass, amended soil, and replaced invasive weeds with native plants.

The family now grows vegetables in raised beds year-round. Brenda, who subsequently became a Master Food Volunteer, cooks mainly with seasonal ingredients from her garden, or from local farmers markets. She invites you to join her on her mission to build an eco-friendly habitat, grow organic food, and sustain the small plot of earth we each claim. Brenda shares her gardening, cooking, and beekeeping experiences at beehappygarden.com.

 

 

Grow Asparagus This Spring
by Brenda Lynn - posted 02/18/16

Nothing says spring quite like asparagus. Growing your own spears takes a little upfront effort, but the rewards are manifold. Asparagus is considered a "valuable" crop, meaning it's pretty expensive to buy it at the market. It's a hardy perennial, so once established, it returns each year. Soil preparation is key, so as soon as soil can be worked in later winter or early spring, begin amendments. 
 

First sign of spring.

 
 
First, chose a sight that receives full sun and good drainage. Asparagus likes a soil pH between 5.8 and 6.5. If you're not sure of your soil's pH, the Virginia Cooperation Extension will test it for you and send back the results, including recommendations for amendment.  You'll probably need to enrich the soil with composted manure, bone meal, humus, or composted leaves (leaf mold). It is useful to amend the soil at least 6 months before planting, in order to give the planting area time to mature.
 

Asparagus fits nicely into a woodland area, 

that receives at least part-sun.

 
 
Asparagus fits nicely into a woodland area that receives at least part-sun. Double-dig the planting area by removing the first foot of soil, and then breaking up the next 12 inches of subsoil. Dig trenches twelve to eighteen inches wide, and four to five feet apart. Mix the topsoil with organic amdendments, and refill the bed.
 
Plant asparagus crowns, purchased from a reputable nursery, around the same time that you would plant peas and potatoes; in other words, when soil can be worked in spring, before days grow long and warm. Recommended cultivars for Virginia are Jersey Knight, Jersey Giant, Jersey Gem, and Purple Passion.
 
Keep the bed weed free and evenly moist. A two-inch layer of mulch will help with temperature and moisture control. Apply a balanced fertilizer in late winter, before spears emerge.
 
Unfortunately, harvesting asparagus in the first year is not recommended. The plants need energy to fully mature. In the second year, take just a few spears. The third year will be the most productive. Snip spears when they're no bigger than a pinkie finger, before the tips begin to flower.
 
 
 

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How To Chose, Store, And Use Apples
by Brenda Lynn - posted 10/23/15

It's a sad day when the local farmers market shuts down for the season. During the last few weeks of November, I try to scoop up as much fresh, seasonal produce as possible. Apples are abundant in fall, and many vendors sell them by the bushel, for a steep discount. I was about to purchase a bagful from our favorite market vendor, Spring Valley Farm and Orchard, when they clued me into the fact that if I spent $5 more, I could fill up an entire crate. Before bringing home enough apples to last all winter, I had to be sure I'd be able to store and use them. Luckily, apples are versatile ingredients, with a very long shelf life.

How To Store Apples

Apples continue to ripen in storage, becoming sweeter with time. Some varieties store for up to 10 months. It's unlikely we'll have them around for that long, but storing them properly is critical. The ideal temperature for apple storage is between 30-34 degrees, with 90% humidity. Refrigerators tend to have low humidity. Placing the apples in plastic bags in the bottom area of the fridge helps ensure the proper climate. Apples can also be stored in crates in a garage or basement that averages around 40 degrees, as long as there is plenty of air circulation. Apples kept at room temperature ripen 10 times faster than if they're kept around the freezing mark. Higher temperature may shorten the shelf-life of the apples, but hopefully they'll go to good use long before their freshness date expires. 

Picking the Right Apples

Everyone has their favorite apple variety, and there are seemingly more choices on the market every year. There are over 7,500 known apple cultivars produced each year. 'Red Delicious' is the most commonly grown cultivar in the U.S., but I personally prefer the more crisp, sweet-tart 'Pink Lady,' 'Fuji,' 'Goldrush,' and 'Gala'. Virginia is a top apple producing state, so luckily we have plenty to choose from. A combination of different types of apples makes the most flavorful applesauce and pie. I've tried different combinations throughout apple season, beginning with 'Honeycrisp', 'Gala', and 'Gingergold' in August, and moving on to 'Winesap', 'Fuji', and 'Cameo' in late fall. 'Jonagold' is supposedly the best for baking, but I always mix it up with a few others for well-rounded flavor. For an excellent list of apple cultivars, flavors, and seasonal availability, check out the Apple Works website.

How To Make Applesauce

 

Applesauce is one of the easiest, tastiest desserts around. Fresh, warm, cinnamon-flavored applesauce tastes nothing like the mass produced school lunch staple some of us grew up with. Once again, I rely on my trusty crockpot to make this divine, seasonal treat. Not only does it scent the whole house with fall holiday cheer, it serves as a healthy side dish, dipping sauce, or dessert. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients

 

10-12 apples

2 T. fresh lemon juice

3 T. apple cider or water

2 t. cinnamon

1 t. nutmeg

1/2 t. cardamon

1/4 t. ground cloves

Instructions

  1. Peel and slice the apples. An apple slicing tool is handy for this.  (You may chose not to peel the apples, since most of the fiber and anti-oxidants are found in the apple skin. I happen to prefer applesauce without the peel.) 
  2. Layer the sliced apples in the crockpot, sprinkling each layer with the spices. 
  3. Add the fresh lemon juice and apple cider or water.
  4. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 7 hours. 
  5. While still in the crockpot, stir the apples until smooth. 
  6. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze the applesauce in plastic freezer containers for up to 3 months. 

 

 

 

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Harvesting and Cooking With Dried Beans
by Brenda Lynn - posted 08/26/15

In square-foot gardens, space is a premium. There's simply no space to waste on dwindling crops, or those that just aren't experiencing their best season. Knowing what to plant when is key, as is knowing what grows well in soil recently vacated by another plant.
Trellised beans save space in a square foot garden.
Beans are a near perfect crop. They:
  • restore nitrogen to soil;
  • are relatively pest free;
  • grow all summer and into fall in USDA climate zone 7 gardens; 
  • make good teepees to play under; and 
  • can be used as living shade covers for things like radish, spinach, and lettuce
In spring, I like to interplant peas, beats, radishes, and lettuce. The peas climb an A-frame trellis, protecting the shorter crops beneath. Once the spring peas are finished, I replace them with crowder peas, black-eyed peas, 'Cherokee Trail of Tears', and 'Kentucky Wonder' green beans. A 1-inch layer of organic mulch ensures adequate moisture and restores any missing nutrients to the soil.
Grow a variety of beans for color and flavor.
 
The pole beans are ready to harvest by mid-summer, and if left to their own devices, will dry on the vine. Saving even a few handfuls will go a long way when you're craving a hearty winter soup or stew. Once the dry bean pods are ready for harvest in late September or early October, the nitrogen robbed by earlier crops has been replenished. In go the hardy winter crops: carrots, kale, radish, turnip, kohlrabi, and mustard. They'll come in handy when it's time to make hearty winter stews with the dried beans.
Beans are delicious, either dried or fresh. Save a few in the freezer if fresh, or in an airtight container if dried.
Not only are dry beans easy to harvest and store, they're packed with protein, folate, iron, and calcium. Pull them out when the hardy winter crops are ready for harvest. The greens that pair so well with beans in winter dishes are full of antioxidants and vitamins A and K. Throw in some carrots for the beta-carotine and B-6, and you'll feel like a new person in no time.
 
This simple, low-fat, home-cooked soup makes a meal in itself.
 
Turkey Bean Soup
 
Ingredients
 
1 1/2 cups dried beans
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
3 turnips, diced
2 cups chopped kale
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 T. fresh sage, chopped, or 1 t. dried sage
2 quarts chicken broth
1-2 lbs. leftover turkey
1 T. olive oil
1 t. cumin
6 peppercorns
 
Instructions
 
  1. Place the beans in a large non-reactive pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Soak for 8 hours, or overnight. 
  2. Drain the beans completely before making the soup
  3. Heat the oil in a pan and add the diced vegetables. Sautee until they begin to soften, about 5-7 minutes
  4. Add the vegetables, herbs, spices, chicken broth and beans to a large crockpot and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours. A crockpot is not essential, but slow-cooking ensures the best flavor, in my opinion. 
For more recipes, gardening, and beekeeping ideas, visit my blog at http://www.beehappygarden.com.
 
 
 

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