Summer Herb and Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Fresh Fried Squash Blossoms with Summer Herbs

Fresh Fried Squash Blossoms with Summer Herbs

This seasonal recipe combines the delicate flavor of squash blossoms with all the delicious organic herbs growing in your garden during the summer months. The spice of the herbs and the heat of the crushed red pepper are balanced by the creamy, rich ricotta cheese while the citrus notes play on your tongue. I highly recommend this recipe for anyone looking for a delicious vegetarian treat that screams “summer is here!”

Summer Herbs and Squash Blossoms Fresh From the Garden

Summer Herbs and Squash Blossoms Fresh From the Garden

Ingredients:

6 fresh organic squash blossoms
1/4 cup fresh organic parsley
1/4 cup fresh organic basil
1/8 cup fresh organic mint
1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 eggs
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil, for frying

Wash the squash blossoms inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Make sure to remove the pistil from inside the center of the blossom by pinching it off at the base. Rough chop the parsley, basil, and mint and place in a blender. Add the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, 1 tsp lemon juice, lemon zest, and 1 egg white to the blender. Blend until mixture is smooth and add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon herb and cheese mixture into pastry bag, then pipe generous amount into the center of each squash blossom. Heat oil in cast iron skillet on medium-high to 350° F. Scramble remaining egg in a shallow dish. Pour breadcrumbs into another shallow dish. One by one, coat stuffed blossoms in egg, then coat in breadcrumbs and place on wax paper until all are prepared. Carefully place the squash blossoms in the hot oil and fry until golden brown on all sides. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to remove excess oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

Tangy Strawberry, Cucumber & Avocado Salsa

Sweet, tangy, spicy, and creamy- the ingredients for Strawberry Salsa.

Sweet, tangy, spicy, creamy- the ingredients for Strawberry, Cucumber & Avocado Salsa.

This light and tangy salsa is the perfect treat just as the temperatures start to climb towards summer and fresh organic produce becomes readily available. The combination of the sweet strawberries and organic honey are balanced by the acid of the lime and the heat of the jalapeno. It is as if Mother Nature welcomes you to Spring with every delectable bite. This salsa does not keep well so make sure to make only what you can use immediately; actually no matter how much you make there probably won’t be any left anyway.

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh picked strawberries from Twin Oaks Fun Farm, diced
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1/2 cup organic cucumber, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon lime zest
Juice from one lime
2 tablespoons organic Orange Blossom Honey from Hidden Springs Farm, LLC
1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely diced (seeded for a milder flavor, or leave seeds in for extra heat)
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
salt to taste

Chop strawberries into 1 cm cubes (approximately) and place in bowl. Zest the lime and place to the side. Juice the lime into a separate bowl and mix with the organic honey. Pour over the diced strawberries, toss and let mixture stand to macerate. Next, chop the cucumber, avocado and the jalapeno into 1 cm cubes and place into serving bowl. Add the strawberries and about half of the lime juice/honey mixture; too much and the salsa will get runny. Toss with cracked black pepper and salt to taste. Chill for 2-4 hours. Enjoy.

Enjoy this salsa with chips or with grilled chicken or seafood!

Enjoy this salsa with chips or with grilled chicken or seafood!

The key to this dish is to make sure all of the ingredients are chopped to the same size; too small and you will lose the various textures, too large and the flavors will not combine as well.

Adapted from a recipe at Better Homes and Gardens.

The Kratky Hydroponic Method: A Simple & Effective Hydroponic Technique

When I first heard about this new method of growing from a friend, I thought he said it was called the “Cracky” method. After hearing his explanation of how it worked, I thought my friend was actually on CRACK! I was more than skeptical- I was incredulous. After some research my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to try this “revolutionary” new method of hydroponic growing. The style of growing was developed by B.A. Kratky at the University of Hawaii. His method contradicts traditional hydroponic theory on multiple levels: no active movement of water, no aeration of the reservoir, no change-out of nutrient solution. It is best for growing leafy greens, such as the lettuce shown here, and it has not been proven suitable for growing fruiting or flowering crops. All I can tell you is that although contradictory to my years of education and training, I cannot argue with the results in front of me…

Kratky Hydroponic System 1 Week After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 1 Week After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 2 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 2 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 3 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 3 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 4 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 4 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 5 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 5 Weeks After Planting Ready to EAT!

The basic idea behind the Kratky method, as it has been dubbed, is that the plants start with their roots submerged in a mixture of water and fertilizer as seedlings. The growing container should be well sealed to minimize moisture lost to evaporation. The roots will then grow longer into the water as the water/fertilizer mixture is absorbed by the plants. As the water level goes down, the plant will make aerial roots able to absorb the necessary oxygen from the airspace between the top of the water and the top of the container. By the time the water is gone, you should have harvested your lettuce and can start again. No pH adjusting, no adding more fertilizer, no topping off the water/fertilizer mixture. I admit I am shocked, but I swear it works. Grow some in a Kratky Method Hydroponic System and see for yourself.

Hydroponic Fodder: Growing Grains to Feed Our Furry Friends

Deer Eating Barley Fodder

Deer Eating Barley Fodder

I was walking through my local pet store recently and noticed they were selling a small pot of grass for cats at what can only be described as an outrageous price. Is growing grass for pets making someone- or lots of someones- rich? This got me thinking about a hydroponic technique that is gaining traction worldwide: hydroponic fodder production of livestock feed. If hydroponically growing crops is such an efficient method of producing food for humans, then is it also viable for growing food for our pets and livestock?

Barley Fodder 1 Day After Soaking

Barley Fodder One Day After Soaking

Growing fodder is the practice of sprouting cereal grains and then feeding the sprouted grains to animals. The process is fast, only taking about 7-8 days, and has demonstrated impressive results such as a 41% increase in beef cattle weight compared to those fed traditional food stocks. Fodder can be used to feed horses, deer, cattle, pigs, poultry, alpaca, sheep and goats, as well as dogs and cats to a lesser degree. Fodder has been shown to have 23 times more vitamin A than carrots, 22 times more vitamin B than lettuce, and 14 times more vitamin C than citrus fruits according to Howard Campion, a fodder system manufacturer.

Barley Fodder 2 Day After Soaking

Barley Fodder Two Days After Soaking

Sprouting grains for human consumption dates back centuries in Asian countries. Fodder production for animals has been in practice as early as the 1860s when European dairy farmers began sprouting cereal grasses to feed dairy cows in the winter. Currently there are countless farmers worldwide supplementing their livestock feed with fresh grown fodder. Fodder has the benefit of sprouting with very little water consumption, making it dependable in times when drought would normally reduce hay and feed production. A 10 meter by 13 meter building outfitted with fodder growing systems can produce as much food for livestock as 298 acres of grassland.

Fodder production is a simple process as long as you provide the correct environmental conditions as well as a sanitary growing environment. The ambient air temperature needs to be maintained between 63-75 degrees Fahrenheit; the ideal humidity range is from 40 -80%; the water temperature must be kept between 53 -75 degrees Fahrenheit; and the pH of the water should be between 6.2 and 6.4. The general procedure for growing fodder is to take a high quality cereal grain (alfalfa, barley, millet, oat, red wheat, ryegrass, or sorghum) and soak them in a solution of water and a sterilizing agent like the food grade hydrogen peroxide ViaOxy for 24-48 hours. The soaked grains are then laid evenly in flat bottomed growing troughs or channels that allow for complete drainage and irrigated for roughly 2 minutes every four hours. Within 7 days the fodder is mature and ready to be fed to your animals.
The growth rate is pretty amazing, as seen in these pictures.

Barley Fodder 4 Days After Soaking

Barley Fodder Four Days After Soaking

Dr. Dave’s Quick Tip: How to Improve Sugar Content, Brix, and the Flavor of Your Harvest

Strawberry with sugar

Follow these tips for a harvest sweeter than this strawberry!
photo coutesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The devil is in the details, or so the saying goes, and harvesting your plant is no exception. You take so much time to meticulously fertilize your plants; pain-staking attention is paid to pH and PPM, but many gardeners get so excited around harvest time that they do not take the correct measures to ensure that they get the best harvest possible from all of their hard work. Here are two tips about harvesting your plants that will ensure that your fruits are as sweet and delicious as they can be:

1. Always harvest in the late afternoon (or slightly before the lights go out for you indoor growers). This is because plants make less energy during the Kreb cycle (a chemical process that takes place at night); as such they utilize some of their stored starch and sugar reserves, making the morning (or lights on) the lowest Brix/Sugar content time of the day.

2. Do not keep your planting media saturated for a few days before harvest. Scientific studies have shown that extended periods of precipitation (moisture in the growing medium) provide so much moisture to the plants that the Sugar/Brix level can become diluted. I am NOT telling you to allow your plants to become bone dry, but try to water sparingly during the days preceding harvest.

Try these tips for the sweetest fruit, and check back soon for more tips to make your garden great!

Drying & Smoking Your Harvest: How to Improve Longevity & Flavor

Strings of Drying Hot Peppers

Strings of Air Drying Hot Peppers

So you have been reading the Atlantis Hydroponics blog and with your increased knowledge and skills as a grower, your garden has produced more than you could possibly use. You find yourself with the enviable problem of having a bumper crop! Don’t let your excess go to waste; consider these simple options to increase the longevity and enhance the flavors of your bountiful harvest.

Harvesting

Getting the best flavor out of your crop starts with when you harvest. Once most herbs, fruits, or vegetables have been harvested, their ability to produce sugar declines or stops (although some fruits will continue to ripen off of the vine). Then the plant will cannibalize its starch reserves, converting them to sugar and thereby increasing the brix or sugar content of the plant material. A scientific study determined that one should harvest hay (or any plant) when the sugar and starch content or total nonstructural carbohydrate (TNC) is at its peak in the plant’s diurnal cycle. This simply means one should always harvest at the end of the day. In the case of indoor growers, this means you should harvest right before your lights go off. This is because the TNC content is at its lowest point at sunrise/lights-on because the plant used carbohydrates for respiration during the previous night. By harvesting in the evening or right before the lights go out the plant will be at its maximum sugar content.

Drying

Drying your herbs, fruits or vegetables is a great way of keeping your harvest for a longer period of time; it is actually the oldest known method of preserving food. Dried foods are able to be stored for long periods of time because their low moisture content reduces the risk of spoilage.

There are several options for drying your crop: kiln or oven drying, food dehydrators, sun drying, but my favorite is called the slow dry. By slow drying you get the highest conversion of starch to sugar and thereby the best tasting product. The keys to slow drying are to make sure your drying space has the right humidity and temperature, slight air movement and to make sure to maintain a high surface area to air ratio of what you are drying. That is to say you don’t want to just pile a bunch of peppers in a bowl and wait for them to dry; that is a surefire way to get a bunch of moldy peppers.

The humidity for slow drying should be maintained at 40-60%. The temperature for fruit and vegetable drying should be between 100-140°F; this is usually done in an oven or food dehydrator due to their high water content (but the lower and slower you dry, the better flavor your crop will have.) The water content of fruits and vegetables can make some types unsuitable for slow drying. For herbs and low water content vegetables like hot peppers, you can tie them in bunches, hang them from string, or place them on a drying rack or mesh drying screen in a thin layer (remember your high surface area to air ratio) and then maintain the temperature at about 60°F. Keep herbs out of direct sunlight as this can damage their delicate aroma. Drying can take anywhere from several days to 2 weeks depending on what you are drying. Again, remember that the slower you dry, the more flavor it will have, but if you do not maintain your temperature, humidity, and air movement, you will end up with a bunch of mold.

Smoking

One of my favorite methods of preserving food is smoking. Smoking food is believed to date back to the time of cavemen. By exposing food to smoke for a period of time you effectively remove the moisture from the food while simultaneously imparting the smoky flavor of the smoking wood. Popular woods used in smoking include: hickory, oak, mesquite, and apple wood. Smoking is a great method for drying thin walled peppers for later use in cooking. You not only preserve the peppers but you create unique flavor combinations perfect for use in chili, salsas, and hot sauces. Below are instructions for smoking peppers. I hope you enjoy the smoky deliciousness.

Apple Wood Smoked Habanero Peppers

Apple Wood Smoked Habanero Peppers

Supplies:

  • A wood smoker (I used a propane fired wood smoker)
  • 1.5 lbs of your favorite hot peppers (I used orange Habaneros)
  • Wood chips of your preference (I used apple wood)
  • Water
Propane Fired Wood Smoker

Propane Fired Wood Smoker

Instructions:

Rinse off peppers in warm water & place them on a paper towel to dry fully.

Peppers Washed and Dried

Peppers Washed and Dried

Soak wood chips in water for minimum of 1 hour.

Pre-heat the smoker to 200-225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smoker Temperature Gauge

Smoker Temperature Gauge

Once smoker is at temperature, place the peppers in a single layer directly on the rack(s).

Peppers on Rack Ready to be Smoked

Peppers on Rack Ready to be Smoked

Place wet wood chips in smoke pan or box.

Add water or a combination of water and juice to water pan. This will add moisture to the smoke and slow down the drying process.

Leave peppers smoking for 2-2.5 hours or until they are dehydrated; you want them to be crisp but you do not want them to crumble into powder.

Remove peppers from smoker and allow them to cool.

Place in a canning jar, vacuum seal bags,  or Ziploc® bag until ready to use…Enjoy!

Jars of Smoked Peppers

Jars of Smoked Peppers Ready for a Tasty Meal!

Secrets of a Hardy Winter Edible Garden

A Raised Bed Winter Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

A Raised Bed Winter Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

A farmer’s work is never done, and just because there is a chill in the air does not necessarily mean your farming fun has come to an end. There are several planting options for a late autumn, winter, or early spring garden. Most of the plants recommended below germinate when the soil temperature is between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit, so if your soil temperature is below that, consider starting your seeds indoors in a germination chamber.

The following cold hardy vegetables make for a great-looking (and great-tasting) garden, like the Edible Garden pictured at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. From the cabbage family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae) you can try: cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower. Root vegetables, a staple of the winter garden, allow for such choices as: beets, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, and parsnips. No winter garden would be complete without colorful, eye-catching leafy greens like: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens.

The only real secret to having a successful winter garden is knowing what to plant and when to plant it, so bundle up and get growing!

An assortment of cabbage, broccoli, and kale at the ABG

An assortment of cabbage, broccoli, and kale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Broccoli and Parsley at the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Winter Garden

Broccoli and parsley in the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Edible Garden

Colorful Cabbage at the ABG

Colorful cabbage at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Grow it. Cook it. Eat it. Share it!

It’s time to eat! National Stuff-Yourself-Full-of-Hopefully-Delicious-Food Day is right around the corner. As in, tomorrow is Thanksgiving! Here at Atlantis, we’re a bit curious about what is going to be on your table this Thursday. There will probably be turkey, we know that, and maybe some stuffing (or dressing, as it is sometimes known in the South). You might have some cranberry sauce, some gravy, some pumpkin pie. But what else are you having? What kind of delicious vegetable side dishes will you be feasting upon? Do you go for simple, like steamed green beans? Or do you get down-home comfy with some casseroles? Do you ever use any hydroponically grown fruits or vegetables in your Thanksgiving dishes?

Inquiring minds want to know. If fact, we are so eager to hear about what you are making this year that we are challenging you to a recipe contest! Tell us about the greatest recipe you enjoyed this Thanksgiving holiday, preferably one can be made using hydroponically grown produce, and you could win a fantastic prize! The winning recipe will also be featured on this blog. (You don’t actually have to have grown the ingredients, y’all.)

Email your recipes to robin@atlantishydroponics.com by Wednesday November 28, 2012 for consideration. Try to include a photo if you can!

Now, I would never dream of sending you off with a task like that without giving you a little bit of inspiration.

To tickle your Internet-taste buds, I would like to share what I will be making for my family’s Thanksgiving feast this year. I come from a long line of Southern casserole-lovers, and this recipe comes straight from the top, as far as my family is concerned: my late great-grandmother Kate. This tummy-warming side dish is super easy to make, and it tastes INCREDIBLE. It’s as simple as this:

Kate’s Squash Casserole

Typically, yellow squash is a summer crop, as evidenced by its alias ‘summer squash,’ but with hydroponics, it is possible to grow and enjoy yellow squash all year round!

1.5 lbs yellow squash, sliced
1 medium Vidalia onion, diced
1 large egg
½-1 cup sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
10-12 Saltine crackers, crushed
salt & pepper to taste
cayenne pepper/hot sauce of choice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place squash and onion in a pot and fill with enough water to cover all vegetables. Boil covered over high heat until squash and onions are tender. Drain well. Return to pot and mash well with a potato masher. How well you mash is based on preference, as some people prefer their squash casserole a bit chunkier than others. (I like mine pretty smooth.) Add salt, pepper, cheese, and half of the crushed saltines and mix until well combined. Check for seasonings and make adjustments as necessary, adding cayenne or hot sauce to taste to spice things up if you wish. Add the egg and stir until mixture is moist and well-combined. Make sure the burner is off before you add the egg! Transfer mixture to a greased casserole dish, top with remaining cracker crumbs, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until crackers have started to turn golden. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Enjoy! This recipe can easily be multiplied to feed the hungry masses.

I’ll post a photo of the real thing after the holiday. Now get cooking!

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, friends!

A Hops How To: Varieties of Hops for Beer Brewing

Hop Cones on Vine

Hop Cones Growing on the Bine

Hops or Humulus is a group of flowering plants in the Cannabacea family, which incidentally includes the genus Cannabis (hemp) and Celtis (Hackberries).  The hops plant produces male and female flowers on separate plants, which means they are dioecious.  The female flowers, or cones, are used for several culinary purposes but most notably they are used in the brewing of beer .

The hops plant is usually referred to as a vine, but in actuality it is a bine because it uses stiff hairs on its rigid stem instead of tendrils to climb.  It is a perennial plant, re-growing annually from an underground rhizome.  The hops bine can grow over 20 inches in a single week and climb to heights of over 50 feet, spiraling clockwise as it climbs.  If you are a gardener you will be happy to know growing hops is fairly easy and rewarding.

Young Hops Bine Climbing Support

Young Hops Bine Climbing Support

The hop cones impart a spicy floral aroma and a bitter flavor when used in beer brewing.  Beer bitterness is expressed as IBUs or International Bitterness Units; a measure of the intensity of the bitterness in a given beer.  As a point of reference here are some common beer styles and their IBU range.   Alpha acids are the precursors to beer bitterness.  The hops used to add bitterness to a beer are added during the boil so the heat from the boiling wort has time break down the acid.

Another way to use hops in brewing is dry hopping; the process of adding hops to the primary fermenter, the maturation tank, or the casked beer to increase the aroma and hoppy character of the finished beer.  Not all hops are the same, and aside from when and where you add them, there are many different varieties of hops to choose from.  The type of hops chosen can impart more than a subtle difference to the flavor and aroma of your home brew beer, so choose your palette wisely.

Square Foot Gardening: A Garden for Everyone!

A Square Foot Garden

Gardening is one of those things I believe everyone can do. It is a great feeling to see a child watch a plant grow, and then see the light in their eyes when they pull their first carrot from the ground. The gardening strategy we are about to examine is truly for everyone. I hear from lots of people that they don’t have the space for a garden, or “good” soil, or the time to tend & weed a garden. Well guess what? It does not take a lot of space, time, or soil to grow a garden.

Square foot gardening is a style of gardening popularized by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 in his book(s) and PBS television series. Square foot gardening is the practice of planning and creating small but heavily planted gardens utilizing one square foot per plant selection. The practice combines concepts from other organic gardening methods including a strong focus on compost, densely planted raised beds, and soil stewardship. Proponents claim that the method is particularly well-suited for areas with poor soil, beginner gardeners, or those with disabilities.

Basically square foot gardening boils down to a few basic concepts:

  1. Gardens are designed in raised bed style.
  2. The soil filling the raised beds is rich and full of biologically active compost and has excellent drainage.
  3. All plantings are given 1 square foot per plant selection.

When planning your garden either a 3’ x 3’ or a 4’ x 4’ raised bed will be the easiest to maintain because you will have access to all plants without walking in the garden bed. Walking in the raised beds compacts the soil which is detrimental to your plants. If you desire a larger garden, consider several raised beds designed in an appealing pattern or layout that fit your space. I would recommend that you always keep 3’ walkways between garden beds, making weeding and maintenance easier. Also pay attention to the orientation (north-south or east-west) of your garden bed when making plant selections (you don’t want to plant corn where it will shade all of the other plants). A few other tips for making your raised bed garden:

  1. Plan your garden on paper to maximize your productivity, minimize your work, and make the most attractive use of your space.
  2. Successive planting is a great strategy to increase your gardening season; after a cool season spring crop like lettuce or radishes is harvested replant the space with beets, beans, or turnips for the summer. Then in the fall replant again with a cool season crop.
  3. Utilize your vertical space with trellises, fencing, or cages to allow climbing or tall growing plants to occupy space without encroaching on neighboring plantings.

My favorite adaptation of square foot gardening is using the principles for an indoor garden. A grow tent is the perfect place to utilize these concepts. You get to grow a variety of plants in a small space, without any weeding or having to contend with the elements, bugs, or disease. By growing in an indoor climate-controlled space, you can minimize labor and maximize yield. Just buy a tent, a soft fabric pot or raised bed kit, build a liner (to protect the floor from water damage,) add some rich organic soil and some seeds and you are on your way. For the do-it-yourselfers out there, here are instructions on how to build a raised bed garden. Check out the planting guide below for some ideas and recommendations on plantings and density.