Friday, November 6, 2015

Basic Botany Lessons

Introduction to Basic Botany

Video 1 - Origin of Plants, Division of Plants, Scientific and Common Plant Names

Video 2 - Parts of a Plant, Stem Structure and Modifications

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How to Use Recycled Coffee Grounds in Your Garden

This isn't really a recipe but some great tips:

Composting with Coffee Grounds

Old coffee grounds are one of the best ways to add nitrogen to your compost pile, which is often a lacking element in urban or suburban composting. They can go right into the compost pail, and just give the pile a bit of a stir when you add the pail with the coffee grounds, to make sure they spread out well in the pile. You want to spread them out not only for the added nitrogen, but because they are great at retaining moisture and keeping your pile active.

It’s hard to generate too much coffee grounds from one household unless coffee is all you drink, so don’t be afraid to ask non-composting neighbors for theirs too.

Another plus: they don’t stink when kept in a plastic bag, unlike much other composting material. Remember you can also compost the coffee filters, although cutting them up or shredding them is always a good idea to break the tough fibers down faster.
Coffee Grounds as Fertilizer

Another frequent use of old coffee grounds is as an organic fertilizer. They work well anytime you want more nitrogen and moisture in the soil, such as when you’re digging new planting beds for heavy-feeding vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Save them up yourself, or ask local gas stations, restaurants and coffee shops for their discards if you have big gardening plans. You can mix the coffee grounds right into the soil with a garden rake after you have turned the bed over well. Plant your new seeds or seedlings as usual, and they’ll love the nitrogen, sprouting up fast. If you’re fertilizing container vegetables or houseplants, turn coffee grounds into a gentle liquid fertilizer by diluting it with water in a bottle or jug and shaking it up before each use.
Slugs Be Gone with Coffee Grounds

An unexpected bonus for many gardeners who use coffee grounds as a mulch or soil amendment around nitrogen-loving plants is that coffee keeps away crawling pests, and is especially good at repelling slugs and snails. A border of coffee grounds around plants or gardens is nearly a guarantee of slug-free gardening.

The caffeine in the grounds acts as a poison absorbed through slugs’ and snails’ skin, and they’ll avoid it thoroughly. If you have plants that slugs love, such as lilies, hostas or tender spring bulbs, surround them with some coffee mulch.
Vermicomposting with Coffee Grounds

While the list of substances that can be composted using worms is different from a plain old compost pile, coffee grounds can be used in vermicomposting with as good results as anything. In fact, their gritty texture helps the worms digest other waste.

The principle of worm bins is that the worms eat the scraps you add, then excrete a nice, dark, humus in return. But worms, like birds, have gizzards that require sand, cornmeal or other fine, gritty substances to break down their food.

Coffee grounds serve this function in a worm bin, as well as having a mulching effect on the bedding, which keeps worms moist and healthy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Horseradish is a vegetable native to Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is in the same plant family as mustard, broccoli, cabbage, and wasabi. This coarse perennial plant with the pungent root has been grown in gardens since antiquity. It is mentioned in ancient Greek mythology as being worth its weight in gold. Horseradish has been revered medicinally in home remedies and in culinary dishes for centuries. Although the leaves are edible, the roots of the plant are most commonly used around the world today for their health benefits and the pungent spice they add to foods.

So what does this unsung hero in the cruciferous vegetable family offer in the way of health? It too is a highly nutritious vegetable that provides calcium, potassium, and vitamins B1 and B2. It has powerful antioxidant and natural antibiotic properties that work to eliminate toxins and infection, and to relieve sinus discomfort and respiratory illness. To relieve a persistent cough or hoarseness, herbalists mix a horseradish infusion with honey. A University of Illinois anticancer study involving the potential of cruciferous vegetables in cancer prevention has found that horseradish contains more than 10 times the amount of cancer preventing glucosinolates than broccoli. A quarter cup serving contains a mere 29 calories, 7 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of protein, and less than a half a gram of fat.

Horseradish is a traditional Central and Eastern European food served for centuries in Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Russia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Southern Germany, Serbia, Croatia, and in various regions of Italy, before it was introduced to England and the Western hemisphere.

Fresh horseradish is peeled and grated and served either plain, or mixed with white vinegar, salt and sugar. In Poland, a red horseradish variation is made by adding beets or beet juice. In Southern Germany, horseradish is served in a lingonberry dip at traditional wedding dinners with cooked beef.

However you choose to use horseradish, the fresh horseradish root must be peeled and grated. When working with fresh horseradish, it can cause the eyes to tear so you may want to grate in a blender or food processor to avoid the vapors. Cover the grated horseradish with a little vinegar and store in the refrigerator, until ready to use.

You can buy horseradish root in most specialty or health food supermarkets. Prepared horseradish is widely available in grocery stores, but may not be as tasty or spicy as freshly grated. It is an ingredient in commercially bottled spicy mustards and mayonnaise, and gives cocktail sauce its tangy flavor. Horseradish also gives a spicy bite to Bloody Mary cocktails. Prepared horseradish can also be served with fresh oysters on the half shell, or in a sauce with roast beef, fish or lamb. Try grating some in with your favorite coleslaw recipe for added zing!

A great spread for roast beef, brisket or barbecue sandwiches, or with hard-boiled eggs for a zesty egg salad!

Horseradish Mayonnaise (Blender Recipe)
Yields: 1 cup +

1 egg
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ tablespoon ground mustard, firmly packed
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste, optional
1 tablespoon raw honey
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Crack the egg into a blender and add the white wine vinegar. Secure lid and blend briefly to whip the egg. Add the remaining ingredients except the olive oil. Pour about 1/4 cup of the olive oil into the blender and secure lid. Start blender on low and slowly increase variable 10 and then to high speed, if using a Vitamix. While blender is operating, slowly pour the remaining olive oil through the lid cap. Stop the machine as soon all the olive oil is incorporated. The mixture should be the consistency of mayonnaise. Transfer to a glass container with lid and store in the refrigerator. Use within 3 or 4 weeks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prickly Pear Jelly

In the mid 1980s we were visiting my in-laws in Utah.  It had been an exceptionally wet summer and the high desert was in full bloom.  We were quite taken with the beautiful cactus flowers and took cuttings from some of the cacti with the most attractive flowers.  Since we were in the high desert, above 10,000 feet above sea level, we hope that the cactus cuttings that we took would survive our Appalachian winters.  The claret cup and barrel cactus that we planted at our home in LeSage, WV didn’t survive.  However, the prickly pear (Opuntia) or beaver tail cactus thrived in the poor clay soil and crowded out weeds which is a good thing since reaching into a bed of cactus to pull weeds is not a good idea.
When we moved from LeSage to Milton in 1997, we brought some prickly pear cactus cuttings with us and like before, they thrived.  The cacti bloom all summer long.  Some have large rose-like solid yellow flowers while others have red centers to the yellow blooms.  In all cases, fleshy pear shaped fruits form on the edges of the paddles where the flowers formed.  In our area, the pears take on a red color ranging from rust to garnet sometime around Veteran’s Day.  Warmer and drier summers cause the pears to ripen earlier in the autumn. 
We carefully collect about a gallon of the ripe prickly pear fruit.  Even some unripe fruit in the mix will not hurt but the jelly will have less of a red tint and the flavor will be less intense.  Although the pear fruits are less spiny than the paddles, they still have tiny needles that can be very irritating in your hands.  I use kitchen tongs to pluck the fruit and place them in a large pot.  The fruits get a good washing in cool water being careful of the tiny invisible spines.   If the pears are very large, they can be cut into small chunks or placed whole in a stock pot with enough water to cover.  Cook on medium heat until the pears fall apart to a seedy stew.  This may take a couple of hours.  During this time, the small spines on the fruit are destroyed by the heat.
If you have a food mill, run the cooked prickly pear fruits through.  If you do not have a food mill, run them through a kitchen sieve pressing the solids with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.  If you wish, this liquid can be refrigerated and the process can be continued on another day.  If you want to complete the jelly making process, measure the liquid from cook prickly pears.  For each cup of juice, add two cups of sugar, five teaspoons of powdered pectin and two teaspoons of lemon juice.  Cook this mixture over high heat until the liquid reaches the gel point which is about 220o at our elevation. 
Pour the hot liquid into sterilized half pint jars and cover with lids and rings.  Place the filled jars in a hot water bath and boil for ten minutes.  The jelly jars can be stored at room temperature.  If your fruits are very ripe, the jelly should have a reddish color.  Less ripe fruit yields jelly produces jelly of varying shades of yellow.  The flavor of the jelly is slightly citrus but unique and will be the talk of your family and friends.