Garden Tip: Make Your Own Seed Tape

Soon, we Michigan gardeners will be stuck indoors, staring forlornly out at our snow or frost-covered gardens. While I’m not in a hurry for that, I know that there are several ways I can keep myself busy, and get my garden off to a good start next spring. One of those ways is to make seed tape. An afternoon or two of work during the winter, and I’ll have perfect, evenly-spaced seeds ready to plant once the time is right.

Supplies:

* Newspaper (black and white, plain newspaper pages) cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch strips, paper towel, or toilet paper
* Flour
* Water
* Seeds
* Ruler

How To Make Seed Tape

1. Make a paste out of flour and water. Start with 1/4 cup of flour, and add water until you have a paste-like consistency. it should easily coat a spoon, not just drip off.

2. Check the instructions on the back of your seed packet (or at the end of this post) to see how far to space seeds apart. Use the ruler, and write marks on your strips of newspaper at the correct intervals.

3. Dab a bit of flour paste onto the marks you wrote.

4. Place a seed (or two, if you’re concerned about whether they’ll germinate or not) into each dab of flour glue.

5. Write the name of the variety on each strip of newspaper.

6. Wait for the flour glue to dry completely, then store your seed tapes in an airtight container, preferably in a cool place until it’s time to plant. The refrigerator works well, as does an unheated garage.

When it’s time to plant, simply place your seed tape in the garden, and cover with soil, 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, depending on what type of seed you’re planting. Water in well, keep it moist, and wait for those first sprouts to show up.
Seed Spacing for Common Herbs, and Vegetables

Space your seeds on the seed tape according to the following general recommendations. You can also find this information on your seed packet.

Herbs:
* Basil: 4 inches
* Chives: 6 inches
* Cilantro: 6 inches
* Dill: 12 inches
* Mint: 12 inches
* Oregano: 6 inches
* Parsley: 6 inches
* Sage: 12 inches
* Thyme: 8 inches

Vegetables:
These are small-seeded vegetables that are commonly sown directly in the garden.

* Arugula: 4 inches
* Asian greens (bok choy, tatsoi, mizuna): 4 inches
* Beets: 3 inches
* Carrots: 3 inches
* Collards: 6 inches
* Kale: 6 inches
* Lettuce: 6 inches
* Mustard greens: 6 inches
* Radishes: 2 inches
* Rapini: 6 inches
* Spinach: 4 inches
* Swiss chard: 6 inches

Seed tapes are an easy way to get your garden planted. Even better, you can make these seed tapes during the winter and early spring, while you’re waiting to get out into your garden. They’re also a great project to do with kids.

I originally wrote this post for Planet Green, and wanted to share the info with my readers here at Gardening in the Mitten. You can view the original post here.

All through October, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite gardening tips. To check out other “31 Days of…” bloggers, check out this post.

Three Types of Tomatoes, and How to Decide What You Should Grow

It’s easy to see why tomatoes have so many fans: not only are they delicious, but they are also visually stunning, with a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. But did you know that there are actually different types of tomatoes, and that some are better suited to certain types of dishes than others? The three basic types of tomatoes are slicers, paste tomatoes, and cherry-type tomatoes. Here’s what you need to know about each.

Slicers

These are the tomatoes that you eat, apple-style, right in the garden warmed from the summer sun. They are superior for slicing for sandwiches and burgers, or chopping into a salad. They tend to be juicier than paste tomatoes, and are therefore much better for fresh eating.

While people generally think of “beefsteak” type tomatoes when they think of slicers, that is only one type of slicer. Slicing tomatoes come in many different sizes and colors, not to mention flavors. Some wonderful slicers include:

Brandywine
Cherokee Purple
Kellogg’s Breakfast Tomato
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Black Krim
Japanese Black Trifele
Pineapple
Persimmon
Uncle Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter

These tend to be indeterminate varieties, though some varieties, such as Sub-Arctic Plenty and Celebrity, are determinate, and therefore better suited to small gardens.

Paste Tomatoes

“Paste tomato” is somewhat of a misnomer, because there is so much more you can do with these types of tomatoes than make tomato paste or sauce! Besides the requisite sauces, you can make fresh salsas, ketchup, tomato juice and dried tomatoes. In general, these tomatoes are “fleshier” than slicers, with less juice and gel and thicker walls. Some of the most popular paste tomatoes are:

Roma
San Marzano
Polish Linguisa
Hungarian Italian
Italian Red Pear
Opalka
Principe Borghese

These are almost always determinate tomatoes, making it easy to harvest and sauce or can all at once.

Cherry-Type Tomatoes

One thing you can say for almost any cherry-type tomato (which includes not only cherry tomatoes, but currants, pear, and grape tomatoes)is that they are prolific. These tomatoes are excellent for eating raw in salads, or just popped into your mouth as a snack. Cherry tomatoes are usually indeterminate, and will produce lovely little snacks for you until the plants are killed by frost. Some favorite cherry-type tomatoes are:

Sungold
Chadwick Cherry
Yellow Pear
Juliet Grape
Red Currant
Super Sweet 100
Sweet Million
Tiny Tim

If you only choose one of each type of tomato, it’s safe to say you’ll be able to fill just about any tomato-related need you may have.

How to Make Roasted Green Tomatoes

The end of the gardening season, the threat of impending frost, usually leaves me contemplating ways to save and/or use all of the green tomatoes still maturing on my tomato plants. Here is one easy, delicious way to put those green tomatoes to use: roasting!

How to Oven Roast Green Tomatoes

This is another one of those non-recipe recipes. Here’s how you do it.
1. Quarter large tomatoes (such as ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Polish Linguisa’). Halve smaller tomatoes, such as ‘Roma’ or ‘Japanese Black Trifele.’ Leave cherry tomatoes whole. You don’t need to worry about removing the seeds.

2. Place the cut-up tomatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Rimmed is important — there will be a lot of juice!

3. Drizzle some olive oil over the top of the tomatoes, then add salt and pepper. I like my tomatoes a little on the spicy side, so I also added a few crushed red pepper flakes to mine.

4. Use your hands to swoosh the tomatoes around in the oil to ensure that they’re all coated.

5. Place your tomatoes in a pre-heated 250 degree oven. Let your tomatoes roast for 1.5 to 2 hours, until they are soft. (Note: I’ve seen recommendations for everything from 250 to 400 degrees for roasting. I tend to get a burned mess when I roast at 400, but if you like more charring on the tomatoes, go for it. I like 250 because it results in a nice, slow, gentle roasting and very tender, sweet roasted green tomatoes.)

How to Use Roasted Green Tomatoes

You could do what Gayla Trail recommends, and eat the roasted green tomatoes slathered on a piece of crusty bread. You could use them to top a pizza, or in pasta, or as a really unique topping to a burger (roasted green tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese — yum.)

If you’re not able to use them up right away, put your roasted tomatoes (after they’ve cooled) into a freezer container or freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to six months. Simply thaw them overnight in the refrigerator the night before you want to use them.

This is a good way to make use of something that many of us end up composting. Have you tried roasted green tomatoes?

How To Make Quick and Easy Refrigerator Dilly Beans

I don’t know about you, but I reach that point every summer, right around mid-August, where I can’t look at another bean. I don’t care if they’re yellow or green, or even the pretty purple ones I’m growing this year. That’s when it’s time to pull out the big guns: time to make some dilly beans. Dilly beans are vinegar-y, garlicky, dilly (obviously…) bits of crisp deliciousness with just a little bit of a kick to them thanks to the addition of hot peppers. The heat can be adjusted to your liking, so whether you like them mild or zippy, it will work just fine. Oh, and the best part: you don’t need any canning supplies for this project. You don’t even need special jars. I reused a jar from store-bought sauerkraut for mine. Use whatever you have on hand, as long as it’s glass and has a lid. This really couldn’t be easier. Here’s what you’ll need: 2 cups of beans (about one huge, overflowing handful), 1 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of water, 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 of a medium onion, sliced thinly, 2 sprigs of fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon of dill seeds), 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, and 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (depending on how hot you want them) — you can also add a whole dried chile if you have one. I didn’t, so I used flakes. 1. Make your brine. This is the longest part of this process (and it only takes a few minutes!) so do this first. Add your water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and garlic (which you’ve minced) to a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn it off and set it aside to cool down to room temperature. 2. Trim the beans. You want them all to fit in your jar with about an inch at the top so the brine covers them completely. You can trim both ends, or just the stem end. I think the pointy blossom end of beans are pretty, so I leave them. It’s up to you. 3. Blanch the beans. Bring a saucepan of water to a full boil, then dump the beans in and boil them for thirty seconds. Drain them, and quickly add them to a bowl of iced water to shock them and stop the cooking process. You want your beans to be brightly colored and still crisp.

4. Drain the beans and set them aside. Add your onions, dill, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns to your jars.

5. Now add your beans to the jars. They look prettiest standing upright, but don’t worry about being perfect. The easiest way is to lay the jar on its side, or hold i

t horizontally, and place the beans inside.

6. Go ahead and pour your brine in once it has reached room temperature. Fill the jar to 1/2 inch below the top of the jar, and put the lid on. Place the jar of dilly beans in the fridge, and let them sit for at least two days before eating them. They’ll keep for up to six months in the fridge, but I’ll bet you foldable money that you won’t have them around nearly that long!

I hope you give these a try. They’re really easy, and a great way to preserve all of those crisp beans from your garden.

More About Preserving the Harvest:

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: March

If you are a Michigan gardener, March is the time to start seeds for prime gardening season. The vast majority of vegetable and herb seeds can be started indoors this month and the list of seeds that can be sown outside is growing. March is also the time to finalize those plans for a successful vegetable and flower gardening season.

It’s Time to Start Seeds!

Indoors

    • Broccoli – March 17 – 31
    • Brussels Sprouts – March 17 – 31
    • Cabbage – March 3 – March 31
    • Cauliflower –  March 17 – 31
    • Celery – March 1 – March 10
    • Chard – March 1 – March 17
    • Eggplant – March 17 – 31
    • Kale – March 3 – 17
    • Leeks – March 1 – March 10
    • Lettuce – March 10 – 24
    • Peppers – March 31 – April 14
    • Scallion – March 1 – March 17
    • Tomato – March 10 – April 7

Outdoors – as soon as the soil is not too soggy

    Note: All (with the exception of potato) can be started indoors throughout March.

    • Arugala
    • Beet
    • Carrot
    • Mache
    • Parsnip
    • Peas
    • Potato
    • Radish
    • Turnip

Eating Seasonally: Recipes for Rapini (A.K.A. Broccoli Rabe)

Rapini (also called “broccoli rabe”) has been prevalent in farmer’s markets for a few weeks now, and the rapini we sowed in our garden in late April is nearly ready to harvest. Now, what to do with it?

What is Rapini?

Rapini is a leafy green that is a member of the broccoli family. In fact, if you are growing your own, or buying it at the farmer’s market, you’ll often find that your rapini has developed buds that look just like broccoli florets. The flavor is similar to broccoli, but a tad more bitter. It is a cool-weather crop, best eaten in spring and fall.

This is a delicious, nutritious vegetable (we should all be eating more leafy greens in general!) but many people have no idea what to do with it. Here are a few recipes from around the web to help you out.

10 Rapini Recipes

1. Braised Broccoli Rabe via Emeril Lagasse: Braised greens with garlic, pancetta, and red pepper flakes.

2, Rapini with Orecchiette and White Beans, via The Kitchn: Rapini, pasta, cheese, and beans — perfect comfort food.

3, Orecchiette with Rapini and Goat Cheese, via Saveur: A perfect spring dish, featuring rapini, goat cheese, and lemon.

4. Charred Rapini, via Cooking Channel: Rapini, charred with honey and red pepper flakes, combined with sweet onions and walnuts.

5. Broccoli Rabe and Orzo Salad, via Eating Well: Delicious salad with rapini, orzo, lemon, oregano, and feta.

6. Goat Cheese Rapini Toasts, via The Kitchn: A perfect spring appetizer.

7. Lemony Broccoli Rabe, via About.com: Rapini sauteed with lemon and olive oil.

8. Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe, Toasted Garlic, and Bread Crumbs, via The New York Times.

9. Broccoli Rabe with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, via Eating Well: Perfect side dish, or toss with pasta for a main dish.

10. Rapini and Mushroom Pesto, via The Wall Street Journal: A great spring alternative to basil pesto.

Part of the fun of growing food (or shopping at farmer’s markets) is learning fun new ways to prepare it. I hope these recipes give you some ideas for new ways to cook with rapini, or, even better, make you want to grow your own!