Preserving Garlic for Year-Round Use

It’s March, and my garlic stash is diminishing and drying out. But that’s OK, I’m covered. I plan for this. I preserve garlic in a few different ways to ensure a year-round supply of farm garlic.

Over the years, I’ve come to know that some of those beautiful cured bulbs will stay firm, but most will be dried out by February. This makes sense. Word is that I should expect garlic to keep until New Year’s Day. Maybe ideal storage conditions, dry and cool and dark with good airflow, might extend this New Year’s prediction. But for years, I would be without farm garlic from February until May, when the first garlic scapes can be snapped off the plants. Now, I prepare for these gap months. I freeze chopped garlic and dehydrate garlic into powder so I can cook with farm garlic year-round. 

Here are four ways to keep garlic so you, too, can cook with fresh garlic year-round. 

Garlic Powder 

Peel and slice the garlic. I use a food processor and slice them like almond slices. Dehydrate the slices in a dehydrator or an oven on the lowest setting. This will take all day or longer. When you can snap a slice (and it doesn’t bend), then it’s ready. Cool the slices, and then powder them. I use my Vitamix to powder garlic. A coffee grinder dedicated to spices would also work. Whatever gadget you use, clean it promptly and thoroughly so your next smoothie doesn’t taste like garlic. This garlic powder is so premium! Especially if you grow the more potent hard-necked garlic, as we do at House in the Woods Farm. Sometimes, I give small jars of garlic powder as gifts. Read my blog about garlic powder and the gardening setback that led to learning how to make it. 

Chopped Garlic in Olive Oil

Peel the cloves. Chop them in the food processor to your preferred coarseness. Pack them into small jars, and fill the jars with olive oil. Leave 1 inch of airspace. Label and freeze the jars. I use canning jelly jars or reuse small jars from olives or jam. You can defrost them and keep them in the refrigerator, but garlic in olive oil is perishable, so use small enough jars that you can use up your garlic in a few weeks. Sauté and cook with the chopped garlic and the flavored olive oil.

Crate of Garlic

Garlic Roll 

This is convenient. When you make a freezer roll of garlic, you don’t have to worry about it being perishable, because the roll stays in the freezer. Cut a thin slice off the roll and cook with it. Pop the garlic roll back in the freezer. I keep it in the freezer door so it’s easy to find. To make your garlic roll, peel and chop garlic, and add a little olive oil to the food processor, just enough to hold it together. Spoon it onto the edge of parchment paper and roll it tight. Maybe hold it together with a couple of rubber bands. Slip the roll into a zip-close bag or a small container to protect it from freezer burn. Storeit  in the door of the freezer so that it’s ready when you need it. 

Ice Cube Trays of Garlic

Chop garlic with a little or a lot of olive oil (a similar process to the garlic rolls) and then load up ice cube trays that are dedicated to spicy things, such as garlic and pesto. Maybe fill them halfway, whatever you feel is one sauté serving size. When they’re frozen, you can pop them out to store in a zip-close bag. Use a whole cube in your next sauté. 

 written by Ilene White Freedman for Mother Earth News published on 3/4/2020 and printed in the magazine in the August-September 2020 edition.

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Simple Composting: Starting from Scraps, a Trash Bin, and a Hay Bale

Our chickens have eaten our kitchen scraps for so long, I don’t even remember maintaining a compost pile. So when we found ourselves without chickens, I really missed the little rotten vegetable eaters. It was a good system, but now I am stuck with kitchen scraps. Scraps fill up the bucket I keep on the counter. They fill up a couple bowls I add for overflow. They get relocated to a five-gallon bucket on the porch, which attracts wasps. This is not a system. I don’t want to walk the scraps out to the garden to bury in the soil. I don’t want to dump the scraps in the woods for raccoons and skunks and my dogs to scavenge. I am certainly not throwing them into the trash. The landfill is no place for easily decomposed food. I need a new system.

I need a simple compost bin. “Composting is easy!” All the marketing for composting says so. But I’ve definitely heard people complain about it being tricky. I researched making a compost bin. Bin options range from homemade on the cheap to quite expensive. And then there is the brown-green ratio. You have to get the green and brown matters to balance for successful decomposition. Guidelines can overwhelm with tips on how to get the ratio right. They give the clear impression that the decomposition balance is tricky, either too dry and static or too stinky and composty.

Simplify your composting routine. My husband makes everything easy. If you want a complicated meal from a recipe, I’ll make dinner. If you want dinner in 15 minutes, Phil’s your guy. So when I told him I wanted to make a compost bin, he said “Just drill holes in a plastic trashcan. Then add hay or straw to cover each bucket of kitchen scraps.” That’s all there is to it, folks.

Use a plastic trash bin. We selected a plastic trash bin with an attached lid, but any plastic trashcan will work. I used a drill with a large bit to punch holes every few inches all around the bin including the bottom. You might need to bungee the top on to keep critters out. I set up my compost bin close to the house and right next to the goat paddock, where there is a steady supply of scrap hay. Every time I dump a bucket of kitchen scraps, I cover it with a big handful of hay. Sure enough, as soon as it started to fill up, it started to shrink down.

Have a hay bale on hand. Then I realized the key to easy composting: get a hay bale. You need that convenient source of the brown ingredients to layer between every dump of kitchen scraps. Brown ingredients can be dried leaves, branches, hay, straw, shredded paper, but let’s keep this easy. It is hard to find the browns, especially in a tidy suburban yard. Dry leaves are plentiful in the fall, but the rest of the year one could spend too much time scrounging around for these brown elements. You might not have hay scraps, but I would go so far as to recommend this, even to suburban composters: buy a square bale of hay or straw to set next to your compost bucket. After every kitchen scrap offering, cover it with a generous layer of hay. Fully covering the scraps every time will keep them from having an odor or attracting animals. Worth it.

Take it from Phil and keep it simple. Punch holes in a plastic trashcan and add layers of scraps and hay. It’s as simple as that, to spin straw into garden gold.

written by Ilene White Freedman for Mother Earth News published on 10/8/2019

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How to Perfectly Roast Vegetables

Roasting vegetables is easy, they say. I have always heard that but never experienced it. Anyone can throw a dish of vegetables in the oven, but I found it difficult to achieve that crispy coated browning. The caramelized sweetness of broccoli, zucchini, onions. That perfect browned skin-like coating around every cube of potato.

I gave up on roasting vegetables long ago. My roasted vegetables were always just overcooked and oily. Or the opposite: dried out beets. I am looking for that crisp outer shell with a soft fully-cooked inside. The intensified flavor you get from concentrating sugars, drawing out a sweetness you don’t expect from broccoli, zucchini, eggplant, and onions.

Last week I gave roasting vegetables another try. I tossed them with olive oil, careful not to use too much, and baked for 40 minutes at 410 degrees Fahrenheit. I took them to a potluck with good friends. My dish was popular: zucchini and eggplant sweetly softened; buttery garlic and onions; sweet peppers, soft potatoes. But no crispy edges. No roasted browning here, for the most part; flavorful and sweet, but soft.

Friends enjoyed them. Did I mention they were good friends? Dear, very tolerant, friends? Nobody complained, everyone was supportive and ate all their vegetables. When asked how I made them, I mentioned baking at 410 degrees. Andrea tilted her head at me. 410? She looked at me sideways. Who cooks anything at 410? “I never go for 410 for anything.” She seemed surprised at my choice of heat index.

It got me thinking. Why do I roast at 410? Is it my magic number? Or is it like wearing last year’s pant length? A shirt in an off shade of pink? Next time I tried 450 degrees. It worked! 450 is great! 450 achieves the crisp edges. The perfect potatoes. The browning I seek. Roasted perfection is found at 450. Thank you, Andrea!

Now I am roasting all the time. Most of what we eat is what we grow on our farm here in Maryland. Roasting can change with the seasons. Right now in late summer, we have potatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant, red peppers. Later I won’t have zucchini or eggplant but I will add fall butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

I see all the delicious uses for roasted vegetables: pasta toppings with sauce or pesto, over rice, in eggs, on sandwiches, as pizza toppings, in soup. Leftover roasted potatoes make the best hash browns. My hash browns were always too oily and soft as well; now using leftover roasted potatoes, my hash browns are so much better.

Roasted Vegetables

Cut vegetables into approximately equal sized pieces, so they cook evenly. If you want to get fancy, put zucchini and peppers in a separate pan and roast for just 20 minutes.

Toss with olive oil, to coat. Not too much!

Sprinkle with spices like oregano and rosemary, salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees. For 40 minutes. Scrape and mix with spatula about mid-way through.

Honestly, you should hesitate to follow my recipe on roasting vegetables. I just explained all the trouble I’ve had with roasting. We’d probably both do well to check some other recipes. I’m still playing with this. Roasted vegetables are supposed to be cooked separately so they can be pulled out at different times. I found a chart for roasting times of different vegetables. Potatoes take longer than zucchini. Still I haven’t done this. They all stay in with the potatoes for 40 minutes, in it until the end, like a good team. Having said that, I bet the red peppers would benefit from half the roasting time. Will I be lazy and cook everything together, or will I achieve roasting multi-task prowess, pulling out separate trays at perfect midpoints? We shall see. And get this: the recipe I looked at recommends roasting at 400-425 degrees…and 410 is right in the middle of it, in full roasting fashion.

written by Ilene White Freedman for Mother Earth News published on 9/4/2019

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Emily’s Stand

This is Emily’s Stand, in its second season. Emily’s Stand is a patch of sunflowers, Emily’s favorite flower. It is a patch of joy and bright sunshine at House in the Woods Farm. This sunflower patch brings smiles and hope to those who admire it. It honors the life and spirit of Emily Duckworth. Emily had a bright smile, positive nature, and a gentle yet determined way of bringing goodness to the world.

The Duckworth family are House in the Woods CSA members and have been so for 17 years! Emily was raised on our produce and made memories on our farm. They are a big part of our farm community and our homeschooling community. I have taught Emily and her siblings in our homeschool coop, that their mother Lisa organizes. We go way back! Here are some photos from way back.

On a day that Emily brought me crappy news about a brain scan, we stood in front of the garden and I told her that I will plant a sunflower patch for her in the spring because we are all standing with her. And it will be called Emily’s Stand. We both smiled on a hard day. Neither of us knew if she would see the garden grow, and I don’t know if that even crossed her mind at that time. No matter. We smiled on a hard day, and that is all that mattered.

Sunflowers stand so tall and always turn toward the sun. Like Emily.

Emily passed away December 28, 2017 at age 21. I think of her often, but especially in July, when the sunflowers beam with joy right in my garden.

Emily’s parents, Lisa and Will, established an FCC scholarship fund in Emily’s name to honor her memory and support other students of social work. Consider feeding the fund. Click here to make a donation. Select Designation “Other” and put “Emily Marie Duckworth Scholarship” in the text box below. Details about the fund are here

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The Making of a Vegetable Herding Dog

English Shepherds are herding dogs. They are work dogs and need to be kept busy. We have animals on our farm, and our dogs help herd and protect the farm animals at times, but it’s not a full-time job. And this puppy needs a full time job. We are vegetable farmers. Vegetables don’t need much corralling. Now that Kenai is two, I am starting to realize we have created a job opening we didn’t know we needed. He really is herding the vegetables.

Not So Helpful Help

As a puppy, when we would dig in the soil to plant, he would dig in the soil too. This was not helpful help. When we were digging up sweet potatoes, he would dig holes too. Cute, but this is a job that could get out of hand. I could see how this digging job could become a real problem on a vegetable farm. We needed to find a different job for Kenai.

The hard-working dog was just trying to find his job. He tried on another hat that summer. When we would carry row covering, he would try to tug the pile of cloth the other way. Another not-so-good job. When we were carrying a big crate of produce, he would try to get under our feet or take the opportunity to bite at our shoes. More unhelpful helping.

Herding Vegetables

Kenai is two years old now and he has settled into his role as a vegetable herding dog.  Here is how it works. When I am making my way down a row of cucumbers or zucchini, harvesting, he walks along, keeping close attention to what I am doing. When I find a dinged up cucumber, I cut a piece off and throw it. Kenai dashes after it. He chews it a little, drops it and waits for the next one. Sometimes he gets a few in a row, back and forth along an open row, and then he knows he needs to wait a while. He will stay at attention, monitoring for the next cucumber to step out of line. You’ve got to keep those vegetables all together, when you are herding produce. Minutes go by; you might be lost in thought. Look up, and you will find you are being watched quite intently. He is on the job, herding vegetables.

Kenai is very good at his job. He respects the little piles of cucumbers or zucchini that I set next to the plants as I am harvesting. He might look at them longingly, but he doesn’t touch them. He doesn’t really want one anyway. Taking one for himself is not what he is after. He wants me to pick one up and cut it, so he can catch or chase a piece.

When you’ve got 300 feet of cucumbers to harvest, you might need a farm vehicle to help haul heavy crates. After that, it is good to have a friend to help get the job done. And in this case, a vegetable herding dog might be just what you need.

This post was written by Ilene White Freedman for Mother Earth News published 7/5/19.

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Prep Green in Jars

Prepping spring greens like spinach, lettuce and scallions makes them easy to use for my family. Asian spinach straight from the garden, sits in my refrigerator, unwashed. It just sits there. My husband won’t grab it and toss it into scrambled eggs. My son won’t grab it and toss some into his stir-fry. I will think twice before using it for a quick lunch salad. It still needs prepping. It needs to be rinsed and chopped before it’s ready for easy use.

I used to leave heads of lettuce and spinach unwashed, but I’m starting to see the benefits of prepping in advance. I’ve taken to washing and chopping greens and storing them in glass jars or big plastic bins in the refrigerator, ready to use. Washed and drained and stored nicely, all ready to go. Prepped produce is convenient, ready to toss into a stir-fry, eggs, salad. Ready to be eaten.

Sometimes a lettuce goes limp in a bag, but it is keeping fresh and crisp in jars. It’s changing the way we eat. Grab a jar of chopped lettuce and add dressing. Toss some chopped tatsoi or nappa into a stir-fry or scrambled eggs. Ready to go.

The convenience of prepped vegetables in the store is all the rage. You can still reap the benefits with your homegrown or locally purchased produce, without the extra packaging and cost. Once chopped, produce does start to lose nutrition more quickly; however, if it also gets eaten in your house more quickly, the benefits are reaped.

Some of my favorite jar greens: Bok choi, nappa cabbage, tatsoi, lettuce, scallions: all prep well. Chop them in advance (they often fit into the jar better this way), or just break into individual leaves, clean and ready for chopping. Half gallon wide mouth canning jars are really useful. Consider using smaller jars to create jar salads, combined and ready to go for a quick lunch.

Bok choi can be washed and broken apart into edible spoons. The crunchy white scoop makes the perfect spoon for hummus or a rice filling. Or chop the bok choi, ready to toss into stir-fries. Small jars of chopped scallions and garlic scapes are ready too, adding zest to every dish.

Storing in jars is particularly helpful in early season, when the spring greens are bountiful. I wouldn’t prep a zucchini or cucumber unless they are being pickled in a jar of brine. They won’t keep well in a canning jar. Their skins keep them fresh and are so easy to chop as needed. It’s mainly the washing job that nobody in my house wants to do. Prepping that task jump starts the whole “use it” game.

written by Ilene White Freedman for Mother Earth News 6/4/2019

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Raised Beds for Resiliency

Among all the resilient growing practices at House in the Woods Farm, it is the raised beds that really saved the day in 2018, the rainiest season on Maryland record. Our county of Frederick had flash flooding in May due to as much as six inches of rain falling within three hours. And it continued to rain steadily all year. It rained more days than not, even during the summer when we are used to dry weather.

With seven inch raised beds, the rain collected in rivers between the elevated crops instead of drowning the plants. Raised beds help with drainage and keep crops up on rows like islands above the rivers of water that settle in on the rainiest days. The rivers of rain have time to seep into the paths between beds. Even temporary flooding can devastate a crop or drown a set of new seedlings. The raised plants are held up high on islands of dry ground while the rivers have time to drain, illustrated by this photo of our sweet potato plants. 

Another resilient technique that helps with drainage is the quality of the soil. Our soil is rich and loamy, so it drains well. Our farm sits on an ideal soil region, but we have also made it better by adding nutrients and plant materials back into the soil. Over the past two decades of growing, we have built up the organic matter in the soil, enriching the soil and improving the drainage.

The crops may be protected by our raised beds and rich soil, but I have to admit our spirits got a little soggy. Planting seedlings on raised beds while you trudge through mucky paths just takes more out of you. Harvesting in the rain and changing your clothes four times in one day is tiring. Soggy conditions. Mostly, the rains of 2018 dampened our spirits. I am looking forward to this season for a renewal of energy on the farm. Every year is a new year, and the spring crops are starting strong.

Despite 2018’s record rains, I am grateful for our relatively bountiful harvests last year. We matched our sweet potato and tomato harvests from years past. We grow tomatoes under the protection of hoophouses, so their skins do not split in rainy weather. Surely those hoops saved our tomatoes. We grow a wide variety of crops for our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members. Growing diverse crops helps the farm in extreme conditions, when some crops thrive better than others. Some of the spring cabbages suffered from the rainy conditions. Our spring and fall harvests were less diverse than usual, but we had a decent variety for CSA customers, full of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more. As farmers reported losses and more losses, flooded fields and rotted crops, I am grateful to our resilient growing practices, such as raised beds and hoophouses and building rich soil. These are the techniques that helped us thrive in a year of extreme rain conditions.

How do we make raised beds at House in the Woods Farm? Using our farm innovation called the Mulchinator, which adapts a plastic mulch layer to lay and reroll reusable black cloth. For information about House in the Woods Farm’s Mulchinator, see this blog and this video.

written by Ilene White Freedman for Mother Earth News 4/29/2019

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Spring Vegetables that Scoop and Wrap

A fun way to eat your vegetables is to use them to scoop or wrap a delicious filling or dip. The kids who come to the farm delight in vegetables they can get their hands around. It is like magic when you grow a vegetable that serves as a spoon and can be eaten right along with the rice it is scooping! I will share a few of my favorite spring vegetables that make great wraps, spoons, and scoops. Members of the CSA at my farm have been enjoying the first few weeks of harvests in May and June, and these vegetable crops are some of the highlights.

Lettuce Cabbage

Fun Jen Napa Cabbage is a cabbage variety with mild delicate leaves like lettuce and white crunchy stems like celery. We call it lettuce cabbage at our farm. Chop it up and you have a complete salad. With its big wide leaves, it also makes an excellent lettuce wrap. Saucy chicken cooked in the crock pot makes a delicious filling. Or anything spicy and ricey.

Bok Choy

Bok Choy is similar, with its celery-like spoon at the bottom and green leafy vegetable top. We use bok Choy as edible spoons. My kids prefer their vegetables raw and crunchy. They use edible spoons to scoop up anything saucy, spicy, and ricey. Bok Choy spoons also scoop up hummus or ranch dressing. Anything you want to scoop can be scooped with a Bok Choy spoon.

Salad Turnips

Hakurai turnips are not your ordinary turnips. They are delicious, crisp, white turnips that are delicious raw. Peel and slice them and use as scoops for dips, or toss chopped pieces into salad.

Whether you are looking for a fun vegetable to grow in your garden or buying some seasonal produce at the local farmer’s market, try these varieties of edible spoons and healthy wraps.

written by Ilene White Freedman for Mother Earth News 6/7/2017

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Quick springtime side dishes

With CSA harvests up and running, dinners are getting easy again. Here are two easy sides I made to go with roasted chicken. Basically, add any protein and grain, and you are set.

Steamed or sauteed Asian spinach. I used a whole bouquet of tatsoi, it shrinks down a lot in the cooking. Sautee garlic scapes, the white part of scallions, and tamari/soy sauce. Steam with a little water. Salt. Ginger and maple syrup would be good.  Chop scallions to toss on top.

Lettuce Cabbage—this delicate leafy Napa Cabbage variety is like lettuce and celery all in one. Chop the stems as celery and the leaves are lettuce. Toss in some peeled slices of kohlrabi or salad turnips. Add dressing of your choice. I like an asian sesame dressing, or a ginger vinaigrette. Chop scallions to toss on top.

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What’s Growing On

The farm is brimming with things to eat. Spring crops are ready to harvest and summer crops are planted and growing. In late May, everything is in its place. Let’s take a walk through the garden.

To continue reading…

Ilene’s Frederick News Post column on the Green Page, May 26, 2017

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