Zucchini Chips

Probably like you, I had an overabundance of zucchini this past summer, and I was on an endless quest to find different ways to cook the little (sometimes not so little) courgettes.

Zucchini gone wild

Uh-Oh. Big zucchini – BIG ZUCCHINI! This one was apparently hiding from me for a few days!

Zucchini muffins, zucchini bread, deep fried zucchini, roasted zucchini with parmesan, zucchini lasagna…

Yeah… you get the picture.

I actually read somewhere on a gardening blog that you should only plant ONE zucchini for every two people, lest you have too many to store.  I planted two.  I just couldn’t live without zucchini, and after I lost all my zucchini plants to squash mosaic virus a few years ago, I have planted at least two zucchini every year since then, one as a back-up for just in case.

Um-Hmm.  Then this happened…

homemade zucchini chips

The plants grew lush and full, and I was soon harvesting that many (above) zucchini almost every other day!  It reminded me of the great zucchini invasion of 2014…

too much zucchini

Then I saw a recipe for oven dehydrated zucchini chips.

“Seriously?” I said to myself, “is this the holy grail of good tasting, good for you snack foods?”

Almost.  On further reading, I saw that olive oil was involved.  Don’t get me wrong… I adore olive oil!  I just wanted to see if I could make a chip without oil and save a few calories.

If you know me, you know I absolutely adore experimenting in the kitchen, and my dear hubby is the best guinea pig ever!  So I dove in.

First, I used my handy-dandy mandolin to slice up the pretty green squash.  Easy enough.  Except, I will say, as my experiment with zucchini chips progressed, I found that the fresher the zucchini, the harder it was to get perfectly Sun Oven dehydrated zucchini chipseven slices.  The zucchini that had already spent a day in the refrigerator didn’t tend to crack or chip off as easily. Strange, but true.  However, you don’t want to wait more than a day or so from harvest to slicing, or the zucchini can get limp, and that makes slicing with a mandolin harder, if not dangerous!

I started out slicing the zucchini on the thin setting because I figured this would make the crunchiest chips. Well, at least I thought it would.

The sliced squash was laid in a single layer on parchment and sprinkled with my dry homemade taco seasoning (I got the recipe HERE), then placed into my SunOven.  I left the glass door of the Sun Oven slightly ajar so that the moisture could easily escape, and directed the oven just slightly off of direct sunlight.  Why?  I wanted to dehydrate the chips, not cook them!

Dehydrated zucchini chips

Zucchini chips just placed into the oven. You can see the temp gauge is right at 150, which is where it stayed most of the time.

They were done in about 2 hours, and they were good!  Not the best chip I had had in my life, but they were good and didn’t taste at all like zucchini.  The taco seasoning pretty much stuck to the chip, I assume because I sprinkled it on the chips as soon as I sliced them, so they were still pretty wet.  Aha!  See… no oil is needed!

Just a bit too thin. And the thinner they were, the faster they cooked…almost too fast!

But they were just too thin.  They were crunchy, but only the first bite into the chip was crunchy.  You see, first I got the crunch, but then I got a melt-in-your-mouth when you don’t really want melt-in-your-mouth kind of feeling. Harrumph! Besides, there was no way this chip would hold up to even the thinnest dip.

But the flavor was great!

One thing I noticed, also, was that the thinner chips dehydrated A LOT FASTER than the thicker chips.  Yeah, I know, Duh… but what I mean to say is that it dried exponentially faster!

So, I sliced some more zucchini on the medium setting this time, and with this batch I sprinkled on some Lawry’s Roasted Garlic Salt (my new favorite seasoning).

Yes, yes!  So Good!  Perfectly crunchy, and thick enough to use a light dip. And again…no oil!  I also tried a batch using just sea salt and then another batch with salt and black pepper.  Meh.  The truth is, the zucchini has such a mild flavor that you need stronger seasoning on the chips. So far, my favorite zucchini chip flavor is the Lawry’s Roasted Garlic Salt.

But, now I have a new quest… I need to find more flavors for my chips! I will spend some time this winter gathering recipes for chip flavors (please help), and then experiment again next summer when I have another over-abundance of zucchini. No oil zucchini chips

I would like to find a recipe for a homemade dry powdered ranch dressing mix to try as a flavoring for these chips.  I saw a recipe for this a few years ago, using powdered milk and other spices, but alas I did not save it and can’t find it anymore.

Sea salt and black pepper chips.

I wonder if it’s possible to make a nacho chip with homemade ingredients, or even sour cream and onion? Maybe barbeque? Perhaps you have a good homemade recipe for one of these flavors or maybe you have another suggestion?

 

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Broccoli and Sprouts Seed Saving

Wikipedia describes “landrace” as this:

“A landrace is a domesticated, locally adapted, traditional variety of a species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species.”

Saving home grown broccoli seedsI grew my first attempt of broccoli and brussels sprouts from organic, open pollinated heirloom seeds.  Although I won’t call my first crop a success because I got only a few small heads of broccoli and no brussels sprouts at all, I did learn a very valuable lesson.  Plant sooner.  I thought that since these were cool weather crops, I needed to plant them in cooler weather!

Silly me.

But the plants did over-winter in fine shape and, since they thought it was their second year of life, they bloomed, and the blooms were absolutely gorgeous! broccoli and brussels sprouts seed saving

Our honeybees were enthralled with the blossoms, as were the bumblebees and orchard mason bees.  Serendipity!  To be honest, I couldn’t really smell any sweetness to the blossoms, even when I stuck my nose smack dab in the middle.  But then, I’m not a bee, so what do I know 😉

So, I let the blooming plants go to seed, just to see if I could grow broccoli and brussels sprouts from my own saved seed. After it looked like the seed pods were pretty plump, I pulled up the plants and hung them by their roots on our orchard/garden fence. One lesson learned from hanging the seed pods is to watch them every day, because once they are all dried the seed pods pop open and the seeds will drop and roll all over the ground.  The seeds are so small, that it’s almost impossible to find them on the ground!  What I found is that about two weeks in the sun hanging on the fence is all that is needed.  Once the seed heads were dry, I rolled them between my fingers and the seeds popped out into a clean bucket I had below.  I put the seeds into an envelope and labeled them with the variety and date harvested.saving broccoli and brussels sprouts seeds

When it was time to plant the seeds (around the middle of August, for me), I bought some more seeds at our local organic seed store – Sustainable Seed Company.  Why?Because I wasn’t REALLY sure my seeds would be viable, and I actually wanted to EAT, not just grow broccoli and sprouts! One thing I have learned from all my experimenting in the garden and in the kitchen… you should always have plan #2!

broccoli and brussels sprouts seedsI labeled the seeds either SB (store bought) or HG (home grown), with my homemade labels.  I made these out of one of the ice cream buckets that my mother gave me.  Just cut the bucket in strips and label with a permanent market and, voila!

I planted the seeds in terracotta pots because I have had better luck germinating seeds in them, though it can be hard to get the seedling out when it is time to plant. It’s also easier to keep the pots wet when put into a cookie sheet tray or old roasting pan, without the seeds/seedlings getting waterlogged.  I then watered all of the planted seeds with my homemade kelp fertilizer (which has gibirellic acid, a type plant hormone) and waited to see what would happen.seed saving - broccoli and brussels sprouts

Some of the seeds germinated and were peeking up above the soil in just seven days!  I really think that had a lot to do with the kelp fertilizer.  Eventually it was evident that both the SB and the HG seeds were germinating at about the same rate.  I was so excited! That means I can definitely save my seeds every year, and hopefully, by careful selection, I will end up with seeds that are very well adapted to my weather and soil conditions.

saving open pollinated broccoli seedsAlas, I may have gotten my plants into the ground too late again.  Here it is October 1st and my plants aren’t very big. My biggest gardening problem isn’t timing, however, but  logistics.  Most of my raised garden beds are INSIDE my fruit orchard.  That was okay last year and the year before, but the trees are growing and are now shading my vegetable beds!

We’ll see what happens.

My plan is to every year select the healthiest two or three plants of each – broccoli and brussels sprouts – and let them flower and then go to seed.  Of course, that means that for a few years while I am developing my own broccoli and sprouts landraces, we won’t be eating the cream of the crop.

That’s okay.  I can wait!  At least the bees will be happy!

One more thing I learned from this experiment…  tomatoes don’t like broccoli!seed saving - broccoli and brussels sprouts

You see, I was gifted the book “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte a few years ago from my sweet DIL Wendy, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the book, trying to follow the planting preferences as listed in the book.  What happened is that this past spring the broccoli seeds hadn’t yet finished developing, but I needed to get the tomatoes in the ground in the same box that the broccoli was, so I went ahead and planted the tomatoes a few inches away from the broccoli.  Big mistake!  You have to click on the picture above to see it larger, but you can see that the tomato plants in the boxes with broccoli are much smaller than the ones in boxes without the broccoli!  The picture was taken about 3 weeks after the tomatoes were planted.  Believe it or not… the tomato plants started out at about the same size!

Who knew?  Obviously not me!  You learn something new every day!

So, my advice for today:  If you are growing broccoli or brussels sprouts and live in an area that has fairly mild winters, DON’T harvest every bit of produce off the plant!  Leave some sprouts and some broccoli heads on the plants, mulch heavily to get them through the winter and allow them to bloom and set seed the next year!  You will be able to take that seed and replant your next crop, which will be stronger and healthier year after year!

And don’t plant tomatoes among your broccoli!

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Strawberries Gone Wild!

I love strawberries and would eat them every day if I could.  Alas, strawberries are at the top of the list of the “Dirty Dozen”, and so I try not to buy any that aren’t labeled as organic, which means they are usually more expensive. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that I grow my own!

When I was a child living at home, my father always grew strawberries in our backyard… way, way back in the backyard.  I would help him pull weeds and trap slugs, but generally, strawberry growing was his hobby.  Now that I look back, I realize it was the solitude he enjoyed while gardening, and I must have been quite the pest!  My poor father was truly drowning in estrogen, having three daughters and no sons, and I am sure he enjoyed his quiet time away from his three incessantly chatty daughters!  😉

Mouse trap for organic pest control

Everyone likes strawberries… unfortunately!

The first year growing strawberries up here on our homestead, the harvest was just okay. Between the birds, the banana slugs, voles and the mice, we had a hard time getting any of the harvest for ourselves! And, since we didn’t actually live here yet, we had to rely on some automatic sprinklers to water the berry plants, and unfortunately no all the plants got the water they needed.  We planted Ozark Beauty and Quinault Strawberries, because those were the two varieties we found at our local nursery. That winter I covered the bed with a thick mulch of pine needles and oak leaves.  It worked and the strawberries came back thicker than they had been the previous year. But again, we had problems with critters.

Last spring I added some Seascape strawberries from The Sustainable Seed Co., along with the Ozark and Ouilette strawberries, to a new, raised bed.  I have been extremely happy with this “new-to-me” variety.  The Seascapes are fairly large with a very sweet flavor, and produce a fairly heavy crop in the late summer.

Nice!

This past winter, instead of applying the pine needle and oak leaf mulch, I used a frost blanket over the raised strawberry bed.

When I pulled it off this late winter, I was surprised to see some new growth already! Although the pine needle and oak leaf mulch had worked well, I was worried that so much organic matter might be harboring some pests, like the huge banana slugs that we encounter up here from time to time.  Well, the frost blanket actually did a better job, and I was able to check under it on warm winter days to see if there were any critters under there.  Since it kept the strawberry plants frost free and it was easy to lift the blanket to check for slugs, this is something I will certainly use from now on.

Even though I had been cutting off a lot of the “runners” so that I would have larger plants (and more strawberries) in the long-run, the plants continued to put out the runners, even in the fall.  And run they did, everywhere, apparently even during the winter under the blanket!

Strawberries gone wild!

After taking off the blanket off this spring, I saw that I needed to thin out a lot of the plants within the bed and also alongside the bed. In fact, some of the strawberries tried to set roots into our log retaining wall!

Silly plants!

So, here we were with quite a few “extra” strawberry plants.  Since I don’t have my permanent beds made yet, I had to find places to tuck the new plants. Once the permanent beds are done (another year away) I will be able to re-home these new plants into their forever beds.  And by that time, the original strawberry plants will be past their prime.  Strawberries produce best during their second year, and then usually decline in production after that.  But the runners are their way of renewing and giving us new plants.

Isn’t nature cool?

To keep out the birds, Ray built this great bird netting structure for me.  When I need to harvest the berries, all I have to do is throw the netting up over the structure to get into the bed.  It works really well.  Also, having the bed raised seems to deter at least some of the banana slugs.

We have been reading lots of books and have attended a few seminars on companion planting and land use, and realized that some of the new strawberry plants would be perfect in the pepper bed, because not only do the strawberry and pepper plants “like” each other, the large strawberry leaves would shade the soil around the pepper plants, keeping the soil a bit cooler and helping to reserve water.

I also have had a cute terracotta strawberry pot that we brought up from our previous home in the valley.  I had planted this with herbs years ago and it didn’t work very well.  So, since I had so many new plants, I decided to try the pot again.  So far, so good!

What have I done with all my strawberries?

Well, my dear husband and I just adore sliced strawberries with cottage cheese for an evening dessert.  It tastes like strawberry ice cream!

I also wanted to try out my Sun Oven as a dehydrator, and thought I would try out a batch of strawberry fruit leather.

First I washed and hulled the strawberries, then whirled them up in my little blender.

Next, I added some of our delicious honey, about 2 tablespoons, and set the pot on the stove to simmer.  The strawberry/honey pulp simmered for about 20 minutes and reduced in volume by about half.  Now the pulp was a bit thicker and didn’t spread so easily.

I placed some parchment paper on my cookie sheet and poured the pulp on.  Perfect.

Unfortunately, while carrying the pan to the Sun Oven, it tipped a bit and the pulp spread out a little more than I had planned, but I went ahead with the process anyway.

The Sun Oven worked great!  With the glass door propped open, it stayed at about 200 degrees, which was perfect!  Once I could lightly press my finger into the top of the thickest part of the pulp and nothing smooshed out, I knew the pulp was now fruit leather. You can also see that the fruit surface looks like leather!

I placed the pan inside on the table so the leather could cool down, and once it was cool, I used scissors to cut the leather into strips.  Don’t take off the parchment paper!   Now that the strips were cut, I was able to roll each one up, and then place into a glass mason jar for storage.  

That’s it!  Easy, peasy!  Nature’s candy!

Next week I am going to make some peach leather from my oldest son’s peaches.  Can you believe he already has ripe peaches?

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Gardening in the Orchard

While we wait (and wait) to get our building permit, we have kept ourselves occupied and sane with our garden/orchard.  We made raised boxes in the orchard a few years ago, when the trees were little babies.  Now, as the trees are starting to reach a more mature height and width, many of the planting boxes in my garden don’t get enough sunlight!  So, obviously, this will be the last year I garden in the orchard.

The reason we put the garden in the orchard in the first place was because we needed to water everything automatically, as we were still living 1-1/2 hours away in the valley and coming up to water every other weekend or so.  We set up an automatic watering system with zero pressure timers (hard to find) and small tubes to distribute the water.  Now that we are living here, we can water every day by hand, if needed, and the watering system has been largely dismantled

So, here is my picture heavy post of all the happenings in the garden/orchard.

First up…  Strawberries!  Lots of them.

Next I want to show you the zucchini and yellow crook neck squash.  We put them in a raised bed that we moved to outside of the shade of the larger trees in the orchard between a couple of small peach trees.

The yellow squash has gone absolutely nuts!

Can you see the celery in there?  Ray and I attended a workshop at the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa last year that taught us a lot about gardening that we didn’t know.  One thing they stressed was the need to plant in every available space – which provides living mulch, companion advantages (one of my favorite books is “Carrots Love Tomatoes”), and actually uses less water.  We also learned a bit about rotation of crops and succession planting.  So, we took our lesson to heart and planted the celery with the squash, peppers with strawberries, and squash with corn.

Speaking of peppers with strawberries:

They seem to be doing well together.  We have already picked off a few red bell peppers, before they got red, because the poor plants were barely big enough to support them yet!

And then there are the beans.  I love black turtle beans and plant them every year.  The first ones I planted were from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I have been selecting the biggest and best plants to collect seed for the next year’s crop.  This is the third year of saving my own seed.  The black turtle beans are bush beans, which works well for me because I put the kentucky wonder pole beans on the opposite side of the bed, where they can climb up the trellis without shading the black beans.

Of course, I couldn’t have a garden without some tomatoes, garlic and basil… right?  You can barely see them, but there is some spinach seedlings just reaching their first set of leaves up to the sky.  Sounds like a good salad to me!  Oh, and the nasturtium flowers are also edible, and add a colorful spicy note to a salad.  They will be blooming about the same time as I will be able to harvest a few spinach leaves. 

The potatoes are starting to bloom.  I have three of these potato towers in the garden.  If you have never seen this before, it’s a way of growing lots of potatoes in a small space in your garden.  This variety is the Yellow Finn potato.

I was very pleased that Steve made it through the winter.  Oh, you haven’t met Steve? Well, let me introduce you.

This is Steve, my stevia plant!  He is now four years old.

We had to uproot our two artichoke plants last year because the poor dears kept getting nipped on their toes by our &$@#%(& voles and/or gophers.  But, they are doing well nonetheless.  I can’t wait to be able to get them in the ground again, but since our perennial garden is going to be near the house, they will just have to wait.  Once house is built, we will be able to get our permanent perennial beds done.

And then, there is this monster.  It’s a spaghetti squash.  I try to grow something new every year to see if it is something I should keep in my garden.  Last year I tried Fava (broad) beans and Amaranth.

Okay.

So, I thought I would plant two of the three sisters together – corn and squash.  Well, I should have planted the corn first, waited a few weeks, THEN planted the squash.  The poor corn can barely see the light of day because the squash is growing and GROWING! I put a tomato cage around it hoping to contain it, but obviously that’s not gonna happen. Seriously, I think I can hear it growing!  Since I like to name my plants, I think I will call this one Audrey!  Hopefully she won’t be a maneater 😉

To the left of the squash is my lemon balm.  I use that for my tea also, for a refreshing lemony taste without the lemon.  A crushed up stevia leaf and that’s all I need.  Ahhhhhhhhhh

Tucked in here and there are a few marigolds, some sweet pea and the nastirtums.  They are supposed to repel some bad bugs but bring in the good ones.  We’ll see.  Even if they don’t, they will be pretty in the garden anyway.

And the last picture?  Today’s harvest, of course!

 

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