About Potatoes

This week’s lesson: Potatoes! Potatoes, also known as “spuds”, are a staple crop in the Midwest. There are many different varieties, which range in shape and color such as purple, yellow, and orange, and have different flavors and uses. Choosing a variety can be overwhelming, but they basically fall into two categories: baking potatoes and boiling potatoes. Baking potatoes (such as Russet, Fingerling, and Purple Viking) have coarser skin, and are higher in starch, with a dry, mealy texture which turns light and fluffy when cooked. Boiling potatoes (such as Red Potatoes) have a thin, waxy skin, and have less starch, which helps them hold their shape in the boiling process. There are some potatoes that fall in the middle, in the “all-purpose” category, such as the Yukon Gold, Peruvian Blue, Superior, and Kennebec. They are moister than baking potatoes, but will hold together in boiling water, and are particularly well-suited to roasting, pan frying. New potatoes are just that- immature potatoes of any variety that are harvested young, and valued for their sweeter taste and delicate texture. How do you know when they are ready to harvest?  Since all of the action is buried underground, it is hard to see when potatoes are ready to harvest. Once the flowers start to bloom, that is a good sign that you are close to harvest time. You can harvest new potatoes once you see flowering, by digging around the edges of the plant with a garden fork (you’re less likely to cut the tubers with a garden fork than you are with a shovel.) To harvest mature potatoes for storing, wait until the flowers finish blooming, and the foliage has died back. Keep hilling up the soil or mulch around the plants in the meantime, so...

Emily Fishbein

We praise the big milestones our gardens go through, and the individuals who helps make them happen! This series of posts is to give shout outs to the unsung heroes that make those milestones happen. JFK said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” And these people not only try, they do – remarkably and repeatedly – make a difference in ways big and small. Through October 15, we are celebrating the individuals who make your garden a success and make Peterson Garden Project work. Each week, we’ll tell the story of one of our amazing volunteers. And, as a small thank you, they will be able to pick out a pair of wonderful Wells-Lamont gloves from Matty K’s – our local hardware store. This week we would like to recognize Emily Fishbein! Emily stopped in the garden to help out with a clean-up day one afternoon while walking down the street, and has been volunteering with us ever since. We sure are lucky that she decided to join us that day, and we’re so happy to have her around! Emily, stop in to Matty K’s for a well-deserved pair of free gloves for being so...

About Onions

This week’s lesson: Onions! Onions belong to the lily family, and have been used for food and medicine for thousands of years. They are a very popular crop among gardeners, because they can be stored for a long time after harvesting. Plus, there are over 300 varieties in different colors, shapes, and flavors, so it is fun to experiment with them and find your favorites. Red and white bulb onions tend to be sweeter than the more pungent yellow ones. Green onions (also called “scallions”) are just the young shoots of these bulb onions, harvested before the bulbs mature, and they have a milder onion flavor. How do you know when they are ready to harvest?  The size of the mature onion bulb is dependent on the number and size of the tops. For each leaf, there will be a ring of onion; the larger the leaf, the larger the ring will be. When onions start to mature, the tops become yellow and begin to fall over. At that point, bend the tops down or even stomp on them to speed the final ripening process. Loosen the soil to encourage drying, and after a few days, turn them up and let them dry out on the ground. Always handle them very carefully — the slightest bruise will encourage rot to set in. When tops are brown, pull the onions and spread them out on an open screen or netting, off the ground, to allow air to circulate on all sides. Allow onions to dry for several weeks before storing them. Drying them is important, as it prevents rotting and mold growth, and allows you to keep them for much longer periods of time. How do you store them? Once dried, bulb onions will store for...

Chris Braun

We praise the big milestones our gardens go through, and the individuals who helps make them happen! This series of posts is to give shout outs to the unsung heroes that make those milestones happen. JFK said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” And these people not only try, they do – remarkably and repeatedly – make a difference in ways big and small. Through October 15, we are celebrating the individuals who make your garden a success and make Peterson Garden Project work. Each week, we’ll tell the story of one of our amazing volunteers. And, as a small thank you, they will be able to pick out a pair of wonderful Wells-Lamont gloves from Matty K’s – our local hardware store. This week we would like to recognize Chris Braun! Chris is a gardener at Global Garden, and has been to our rescue many times to help with carpentry and construction projects. He even went above and beyond and managed our exhibit set-up at the Chicago Flower and Garden show. Chris, stop in to Matty K’s for a well-deserved pair of free gloves for being so...

About Corn

This week’s lesson: Corn! America’s beloved, quintessential Midwest crop is believed to have originated in Mexico over 80,000 years ago (called “maize”). Corn, beans, and squash were known as the “three sisters” by Native Americans, because they could be grown as companions; the corn growing tall to provide a stalk for the beans to grow up around, and the squash providing a ground covering to prevent weed competition. Corn comes in a variety of colors, including yellow, white, black, red, or multi-colored, and a variety of types such as popping corn (for making popcorn), feed corn (for feeding animals), and sweet corn. Certain varieties of corn have also been bred to produce many additional smaller developed ears, which are the source baby corn used as a vegetable in Asian cuisine. How do you know when it is ready to harvest?  Typically, each stalk will produce at least one ear of corn, sometimes two. Sweet corn ears should be picked about 20 days after the appearance of the first silk strands, when the kernels are fully formed but have not yet reached full maturity (known as the “milk stage”). The kernels will be smooth and plump, and the juice will appear milky when punctured with your thumbnail. It will only remain in this stage for less than a week, so make sure to check frequently at this point and harvest before the kernels become too tough. Corn husks should be green and have visible kernels that are plump and tightly packed on the cob. Another sign that indicate that the corn is ready to pick is when the silks dry out and turn brown. To harvest, snap off the ears by hand by pushing downward, with a quick twist. How do you store it? Corn is...

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