Buy organic. Buy local. Think global. Impact the world.

8NHBORBRVR 3What eat organic?

 

Many people think, I should buy organic food because organic food is better for me. Well it is better for you because a bunch of nasty chemicals weren’t used to grow it, and weren’t subsequently absorbed by it to later get ingested by you, but that’s just part of the story.

 

When you buy organic food, you support organic farming. The more people buy organic, the more organic farmers we will have. That doesn’t just mean healthier people. If more food is grown organically, less chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are used globally, which means less runoff of these products into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Our entire planet is healthier.

 

That’s why at Zukeeni, we’re keen on people growing their own, because that gives people the greatest control about what they’re consuming.

 

You might think all our food is safe, because we have governmental organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration. Unfortunately, today’s farmers are legally allowed to use all sorts of known toxic chemicals in the growing process to boost yield, prevent insect infestations, etc. Any and all chemicals applied to a crop are absorbed by more than just the plants for which they were intended. Chemicals applied by aerial spraying, are affected by wind and can affect the ozone. Any chemical applied to plants also goes into the ground and makes its way into our streams, rivers and lakes. That applies to chemicals we use in our yard or garden, not just the thousands of acres of farmland managed by large, faceless corporations.

 

For example, the herbicide Atrazine, while banned in the European Union for nearly a decade, is still widely used in U.S. agriculture, primarily on cornfields. It’s estimated 80 million pounds are applied to U.S. soil annually. Studies show atrazine chemically castrates frogs (a key marker species to ecosystem health) and it’s associated with breast and prostrate cancer in humans. LINK And studies have linked the pesticide chlorpyrifos to childhood developmental delays. Chlorpyrifos has been banned from use in households in the U.S. but is still commonly used as an agricultural pesticide on fruits and vegetables. LINK

 

We all make budget, availability and risk/reward choices every time we shop, so if you can’t afford or choose not to buy organic all the time, try to buy organic where it matters most. Most healthcare professionals and healthy eating advocates agree that the meat and meat by-products you eat (such as milk, butter, and cheese) should be organic. As for fruits and vegetables, get familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” — the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticides. According to the EWG’s review of 7,000 tests conducted in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the following 12 fruits and vegetables make up the current “Dirty Dozen”:

 

1. Strawberries

2. Apples

3. Nectarines

4. Peaches

5. Celery

6. Grapes

7. Cherries

8. Spinach

9. Tomatoes

10. Sweet bell peppers

11. Cherry tomatoes

12. Cucumbers

 

But let’s be clear—this isn’t a call to avoid fruits and vegetables for fear of ingesting pesticides. In fact, the EWG always makes a point of reinforcing its belief that the health benefits from consuming at least three recommended servings of vegetables and two of fruit per day far outweigh the risk associated with eating pesticide-laced produce.

 

And this doesn’t mean you need to buy organic all the time. Some plants have built-in insecticides, such as quinoa, so typically the plants are treated with very little if anything during their growing cycle. And let’s be honest, sometimes the price for organic is significantly higher, and particularly thick skinned fruits, such as bananas and avocados are naturally protected from pesticides getting absorbed into the part you eat. We like the motto, “Buy organic. Buy local. Think global. Impact the world.”

 

Zukeeni can help you grow your own vegetables without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. It also connects you to the food others in your community are growing.

 

 

Top 10 Easiest Varieties to Grow by Season

When starting a garden, the options are many. Where to begin? Our experienced gardeners have pulled together the top fruits and veggies (in order of season) we’d suggest.

eastereggradishRadishes – Fall/Winter

Very easy to grow , takes barely a month between sowing seeds and harvest. Seriously. Seeds can be sown every week (even through summer.) The three main types are: round, long and daikon.

Zukeeni’s favorites:

Easter Egg are a mix of pastels, with a zesty crispness

French Breakfast have a somewhat milder spicy flavor

Salad Greens – Winter

There’s nothing tastier than a salad harvested from your own garden. Crispy romaine, soft butter, or fresh baby greens, all are delicious. Pick a favorite or plant all… your salad awaits.

Most popular varieties:

Sweetie Baby Romaine is a fast producer

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix is a great mix of flavors

Green Beans – Winter/Fall

Green beans are easy to grow, harvest and eat! Pole beans grow up walls and fences, perfect for small spaces. Bush beans are shorter, more compact, but provide aplenty.

Best bets:

Blue Lake for tender beans with good flavor

Rolande for a delicate flavor for special dishes

Swiss Chard – Winter

Loaded with vitamins A, K, & C, this is a “nearly-perfect” vegetable. The baby greens are tender enough for salads and its mature leaves can be sautéed or added to soups. It’s not bitter and ideal for “cut-and-come-again” gardening. In temperate climates, it can survive for years.  BREAKING: Swiss Chard, upgraded to perfect!

Zukeeni suggests these:

Rainbow Bright Lights for a fun, colorful plant

Italian Silver Rib for large, flavorful leaves

Borage – Spring

Borage is a favorite. Its beautiful, edible flowers bloom all summer long. It attracts bees (pollinators) and its flavor is mild, think cucumber. Use in salads or as a garnish for cocktails.

Blue Borage is most common, but can also be found in white and pink, how civilized.

tomatoesonvineTomatoes – Summer

There are so many varieties of tomatoes, you’ll never taste them all. #bummer We’re sorry, but no matter what your climate, you’ll be able to find several that grow well. #silverlining

All-Around Pleasers:

Sungold for the sweetest cherry tomatoes

Brandywine for a great slice tomato

Amish Paste for rich tomato sauce

Basil – Summer

Basil got big in the ‘90s. Everyone realized how great it tastes in Italian food. It’s an easy-growing herb and produces all summer long. Use in salads, soups, baked dishes, so many options.

Genovese for the best pesto dishes

Cinnamon for a spicy flavor in salads

Thai Sweet for Asian dishes

strawberryplantStrawberries – Summer

If you’ve ever tasted a homegrown strawberry, the store bought variety will be dead to you. They’re easy to grow, grow pretty much anywhere and once you taste one… trust us.

Chandlers are super sweet

Mingonettes are heat-tolerant

Yellow Wonder Wilds are unique and delicious

 

 

Peppers – Summer

The “spice of life”. Whether you prefer sweet peppers or those with a bite, they’re a must in your garden. They love the summer heat and make a difference in any salad or a kabob.

Rainbow Bell Mix for a colorful assortment

Sweet Banana for salads and grilling

Jalapeño for pizzas and spicy dishes

Summer Squash – Three guesses

Summer squash grows fast and provides delicious fruit all summer. If picked young, it’s tender with a delicate flavor– perfect for grilling, sautéing and stuffing. Sliced thinly, it’s lovely in a salad. Plants can be grown up a trellis or fence, you tell it what to do.

Ronde de Nice for cute little globes

Summer Scallop Trio for UFOs and pattypans

Black Beauty for the classic zucchini

What we’re growing

What we’re growing

Remember when you were a kid, and the holidays or your birthday rolled around? Remember that excitement about looking through the catalogs and sales flyers, circling the toys you just had to have? And then the excitement as the gift-receiving day got closer and closer, the wonderfully delicious wondering of what would be wrapped up for you?

I think the closest thing to that hopeful anxiety is the feeling gardeners get as they spend the winter months pouring over seed catalogs and making endless lists of what they want to plant this year, and then waiting for the seeds to arrive.

I polled our dedicated staff about what plants they were really excited about growing this year. Proving they’re also eager as children awaiting Christmas, they all got back to me right away with a great list of plants that I knew I just had to share with you all as well!

Something new:
O’Henry Sweet Potato
Kristee: These white-fleshed sweet potatoes are intriguing. Originally grown in the Southeast as an alternative to regular potatoes, they are becoming popular with folks who aren’t big fans of orange-flesh sweet potatoes. Their texture when baked is often described as “creamy.” They’re also less stringy, which means they make wonderful mashed sweet potatoes.

Trieste Finocchio
Bobby: I recently got the Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian cookbook which features a recipe “Finocchio al Burro e Parmigiano” (fennel with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano). I decided to give this Italian favorite a try. WOW. The bulb’s anise-like flavor becomes slightly mild and nutty when cooked with butter, a perfect match for the Parmesan cheese melted over the top. I can’t wait to try this recipe with fennel bulbs fresh out from the soil. Fennel has no serious pests or diseases and is so well adapted to San Francisco that is actually a weed in abandoned lots and gardens throughout the city.

Romanesco Italia
Brittany: I am obsessed with this plant. It is so cool! I can never find it at my local Farmers Markets so I’m just going to grow it myself!

Louisiana Purple Pod Beans
Karen: I usually grow a couple varieties of pole beans every summer, like Rattlesnake & Purple Pole Beans. When I saw that these are drought-resistant, I decided to give them a try. With our Mediterranean climate here in Sonoma County, it’s important to save water in the summer. Plus, as a Louisiana-native, the name cinched it.

Sunny Supersett Crookneck Summer Squash
Bobby:
 San Francisco’s cool foggy summers makes it a perfect environment for plant diseases. One disease in particular, Powdery Mildew, is a common problem for Cucurbits in the area. Sunny Supersett is resistant to Mildew and it is very early to mature, making it a perfect crop for San Francisco’s cool foggy summers. I grew them last summer in a large container and the plants were really productive, providing the usual glut of fruit that summer squash are known for. The nutty flesh of the fruit is at perfection when grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Rainbow Sweet Inca corn
Kristee: This beautiful multicolored corn is sweet, and when cooked fresh,while the colors are still very pale it has a delicious corn flavor. It is also a great variety for grinding into colorful corn meal. And the dried ears make lovely autumn decorations.

Sub Arctic Plenty Tomato
Frank: One of the hardiest tomatoes, I want to try getting very early tomatoes this year.

Sorrel
Brittany:
 I really want to make the classic french Sorrel sauce, so I’m going to grow some Sorrel this year to do it. I also only have a container backyard garden so it’s perfect for my small space.

Salad Burnet
Brittany: 
A cucumber-like flavor. I love cukes, but can’t grow them in the chilly, foggy summer in SF. I’m going to grow this instead and see if I can make things like tatziki/raita taste the same.

Blood Shot Pumpkin
Carl: A fun ornamental pumpkin with white flesh and orange and red “veins” that make it look like a blodshot eye. Hence the name. It’s very unusual, and not easy seeds to come by, but I picked some up at a seed swap and can’t wait to grow some!

Old favorites:
Dark Green Italian Parsley
:
Bobby: Whether or not I have access to land, I always grow Italian Parsley in a container outside the window of my 5th story apartment. Parsley is really hardy and isn’t bothered by the brisk seasonal winds that blast over my roof from the ocean, plus it’s delicious on almost anything you put it on. It’s a must for salads, soups, meat dishes and is even good for some desserts. A little bit of chopped parsley goes surprising well with a slice of apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The plants will produce for a really long time if you make sure to cut off any parts of the plants that try to bolt. I’m still harvesting from my parsley plants that I sowed last spring.

Hill Country Heirloom Red Okra
Karen: As a kid in Louisiana, I did not like okra. But something weird happened as I grew up: I developed a love of okra in soups and, of course, in gumbo. Buying okra here in California is hit and miss, so I figured it’s time to grow my own. I settled on this variety because the color looks beautiful, and the plant is drought-resistant.

Sugar Loaf Chicory
Frank: When grown to perfection the blanched heart of this relative of radicchio is one of the very best salad plants. It is also perennial and very hardy.

St. Valery Carrot
Kristee: These sweet, tender carrots are one of our favorites. We eat them straight from the garden, sliced in salads, or lightly steamed, and have been known to rinse the soil off and snack on them while harvesting other veggies.

Baby Pixie cabbages
Carl: These are smaller heads than the great big ones you get on regular cabbage plants, which makes them perfect for cooking up as a quick dinner for two people. These plants are especially well suited to a Midwestern garden, since they can handle both extremes in temperature we get here.

White Beauty Radish
Karen: We grow radishes year-round here. These all-white radishes are lovely sliced into a salad, but are also mild enough to eat by themselves as a snack.

Fairy Tale Eggplant
Carl: These cute little striped eggplants are prolific producers and have a great flavor!

Papalo Papaloquelite
Frank: This member of the daisy family tastes a lot like cilantro, but is very heat tolerant and grows like a weed.

Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is actually a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. With its parentage, you’d be right if you guessed it loves moist conditions — in the wild it is often found growing along the sides of creeks and ditches. In older gardens, it can usually be found under leaky faucets.

If you have ever grown mint, you probably also already know how invasive it can be. It doesn’t generally produce seed, but instead propagates by sending out underground runners, and can be easily restrained by taking simple measures, such as keeping it in pots or contained beds, or staying vigilant at trimming it back.

Mint has long been used in medicinal potions. It has a high menthol content, and its oil can be found in all kinds of products, from ice cream to toothpaste. While usually associated with iced-tea, and as a garnish for desserts, mint also adds a simple, fresh flavor to many typically savory dishes. Lamb with mint jelly is a popular dish in many parts of the world. In India, fresh mint leaves are often added to lightly cooked vegetables.

Spring Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 cup fresh green peas, blanched
3 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

Rinse and cook the quinoa following the instructions on the package. You can prepare the quinoa the day before and allow it to cool overnight, but you can also spread it out on a baking sheet and place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the carrots, peas, and green onions and add the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in the cooled quinoa, until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the top with the chopped mint leaves and serve.

Spring Vegetables

Spring Vegetables

So you’ve got your soil ready, it’s finally warm enough, and now you’re thinking about what to plant. It’s tempting to start planting all those great seeds you bought over the winter, but it’s best to take a moment and consider what weather conditions each plant needs to germinate and thrive. Each plant has an appropriate time to be planted, and it’s important to be aware of which plants can go out at what time.

The vegetables that grow well in spring all originated in temperate climates and prefer cool (50-75˚ F) growing conditions. When you first plant your spring crops, the soil and air are cool and days are fairly short, so crops germinate and grow slowly. As spring progresses the days lengthen and the weather gradually warms, until by the time most crops are ready to harvest it may be warm most of the time. Fall has cool weather too, but there the reverse is true, conditions are warm for seed germination and growth (and pest activity), while maturation takes place in cooler weather.

When to plant
It is important to get your spring crops into the ground as early as possible, so they have enough time to grow and mature before the long, warm days of early summer cause them to bolt or develop bitter or pungent flavors. Fortunately cool weather crops aren’t perturbed by minor cold snaps, so planting them early isn’t a big problem. If it is cold they will just sit and wait until the weather warms up enough for growth.

  • The hardiest crops can be planted as soon as the ground is suitable for making beds in spring, which may be 4 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. These plants include: leek, onion, parsley, pea, spinach, and shallot.
  • The slightly less hardy crops can be sown 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. These include: lettuce, cilantro, mustard, and radish.
  • The rest of the spring crops are sown a couple of weeks before last frost date. These include: beet, carrot, broccoli, cabbage, chard, kale, and potato.

 

Smart Gardener makes it easy
We show you quickly and easily when it’s the right time to start your seeds indoors or outdoors, based on your region. Just check the Overview tab in the variety descriptions, and you’ll see when to start your seeds, transplant your starts, and harvest your vegetables. The top lines are for spring/summer crops, and the bottom lines are for fall/winter. Easy as can be!

How do I prepare my garden for planting?

How do I prepare my garden for planting?

If you’re like me, when the first warm days of spring arrive, you can’t wait to get out into the garden and start planting. It means winter is finally over and the gardening season has begun. You’ve been looking at seed catalogs for months and have plenty of ideas you’re just waiting to try. However, before you plant anything you need to get the soil ready.

Don’t be intimidated
This can be quite a bit of physical work, but luckily it is pretty straightforward and doesn’t take a lot of explanation. It helps to do it methodically though, so I’ll go through the steps here. And, while it may feel overwhelming to considering tackling a large garden space, keep in mind you don’t need to do the bed preparation for your entire garden at one time. You can easily do each bed as you need the space for planting, and leave the rest for another time. Start small to keep it manageable.

When to start
Just because it is a beautiful day doesn’t mean you can just go out into the garden and get to work on the beds. I know it’s tempting, especially after a long, wet winter, but digging very wet soil can damage its structure and cause long-term harm (not to mention being harder to dig).

To determine whether your soil has the right moisture content, you can do a rough check by lightly squeezing a handful of soil into a ball and dropping it from approximately waist height. If it doesn’t break up when it hits the ground it is probably too wet to dig (you have to take into account that a sandy soil breaks up more easily than a clay one).

Another indicator of excessive wetness is when you walk on the soil and leave shiny footprints where water was squeezed from the soil. If your garden tends to stay wet every spring, it helps to use raised beds, as they drain and warm up faster than flat areas.

One very wet spring I was so desperate to get outside and get planting I covered some of my raised beds with plastic sheet to prevent them absorbing any more rain. This actually worked quite well, though such extremes aren’t usually necessary.

Clearing the space
If the soil is dry enough to work, you can start bed preparation by removing all of the surface vegetation. If there are only a few weeds or dead crops, it only takes a few minutes to loosen them with a fork and pull them out. If you have been growing a cover crop over the winter, removing it is a much bigger job. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to skim off the above ground parts with a sharp flat spade and compost them (cut right down at soil level, to sever the top growth but leave the roots in the soil). You could also dig the cover crop into the soil, but it will need a couple of weeks to break down before you can plant into it. This means you will have to prepare beds a couple of weeks before you intend to plant.

Amending the Soil
Now that you have your garden bed cleared, it’s the perfect time to add any soil amendments you need. Typically, I add a couple of inches of compost and some standard fertilizer mix. If you know your soil’s pH balance if off, this is also a good time to add some ground limestone for acidic soil, or some pine sawdust for alkaline soils.

These are simply scattered on to the soil surface and then incorporated into the soil. If the soil is already in good shape, you can simply dig them into the top few inches of soil with a fork. If it isn’t so good then single digging works better. If the soil is very poor or compacted you may have to resort to double digging (usually you only need to do this once though).

Once you have your amendments thoroughly incorporated, all that remains is to break up any large soil clods with a fork and then shape the bed with a rake. It is then ready for sowing or planting and your garden season has officially begun.

Vegetable Seeds for the Spring Garden

Vegetable Seeds for the Spring Garden

November isn’t quite over as I write this, but already the seed and fruit catalogs have started to arrive. They will increase in frequency through December and into January and then peter out in February. No doubt they arrive at the most convenient time from the perspective of the seed production business and for the convenience of spring seed starting, but by coincidence it is also a master stroke of marketing. They just happen to arrive when gardeners are first starting to experience garden withdrawal symptoms. We may have been confined inside by inclement weather for weeks and are starting to pine to be outside doing garden things (we have already oiled the wooden handled tools with linseed oil and sharpened everything that needs sharpening).

Perusing seed catalogs has long been a treasured ritual among avid gardeners. We curl up with them by the fireside on cold winter nights (hot cocoa and fuzzy slippers are optional but recommended accessories).  Our catalogs allow us to dream about vegetables and gardening even if our gardens are actually frozen solid beneath three feet of snow (not very likely in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, but that’s part of the mystique). We get to read and reread those descriptions of plump, sweet, tangy, succulent tomatoes and crisp, green, frilly lettuce and admire the glorious color photographs until our imaginations start to run wild, especially if there’s brandy in the cocoa.

Of course we Bay Area gardeners are blessed in that we can actually get out and garden on any day of the year, weather permitting. So we can’t get as intense a seed catalog experience as gardeners in Vermont. Nor would I say that receiving the catalogs is one of the highlights of the gardening year (they don’t actually involve any gardening), but they certainly help to keep the gardening portion of my brain busy during the gap between Christmas and seed starting time.

Receiving seed catalogs predates the electronic age, but just because you love looking at them doesn’t mean you can’t use the Internet to do your buying. One of the great benefits of Smart Gardener is that you can not only plan out your vegetable beds for the next season and get immediate feedback on what you need to do to prepare and plant your garden, but you can also buy the seeds and starts you need all in one place.

If I get all the planning work done in early December, I can look forward to receiving a fat padded yellow envelope in the mail in time for Christmas. I get a little buzz of excitement as I open it, exactly like I used to feel as a child opening my presents. These days, new seeds and the anticipation of getting back into the garden is gift enough for me.