Genetic Modification of Flavor and Aroma in Fruits and Flowers: Is the Future GMO?

A Display of Grapples®

A Display of Grapples® That Lead To Exploring GMOs and Flavor

My mouth watered, my eyes grew large, and my mind drifted off thinking about how amazing it was going to be to bite into that giant red apple- all crisp, sweet, juicy flesh with the surprising flavor of a Concord grape. I salivated all the way home in a state of food induced delirium. While at the grocery store I had stumbled across the Grapple®: four perfect apples packed in plastic with a sign that said “Imagine the sweet distinctive flavor of Concord grapes combined with the crispness of a fresh, juicy Washington Extra Fancy apple.” I am sad to say my excited anticipation was far better than the Grapple®.

The Grapple® Label that Mislead Me

The Grapple® Label that Mislead Me

In the case of the Grapple®, it turned out that there was little if any actual modification of flavor. The company’s “patented process is complex, and the ingredient mix primarily includes concentrated grape flavor and pure water (USPP #7,824,723)… There is nothing but flavor being infused into the apple. A relaxing bathing process prepares our apples for you…” There was no earnest attempt to genetically alter the flavor. They simply used natural and synthetic flavorings and “infused” them into the apple.

My Grapple® experience left me jaded and disappointed, but my disappointment may soon have reason to subside. Scientists are currently looking at manipulating flavor and aroma (the two are inextricably linked) by means of genetic engineering. This work may lead to better tasting and more nutritious produce and increased pest resistance in plants. It may even have a profound impact on the entire commercial agricultural industry.

Trying to alter or improve the flavor and aroma of fruits, vegetables, and flowers has long been the realm of plant breeders. To begin a breeding program, one first must collect a diverse population of genetic plant material, then carefully select stud plants and make crosses with the singular goal of improving the flavor or aroma of a given fruit, flower, or vegetable.

This type of breeding is called selective breeding. Selective breeding, or artificial selection, is the intentional breeding of a plant with desirable traits in an attempt to produce offspring with similar desirable characteristics or with improved traits. There are several obstacles to this approach. It consumes massive amounts of space and time to grow up a speculative cross and divine if it has been successful at achieving one’s goal(s). Also, plants only breed with other plants of the same familial order, making the resulting possibilities limited, and because we do not yet fully understand the mechanisms that are responsible for flavor and aroma, we have been stumbling around in the proverbial dark.

Before scientists can modify flavor, first they must understand the complex matter of what flavor is. “Human perception of ‘flavor’ involves integration of a massive amount of quantitative information from multiple sensory systems…  Chemically, flavor is the total of a large set of primary and secondary metabolites that are measured by the taste and olfactory systems (Klee, 2010).”  Taste is the amalgamation of all of the sensory data from the 5 classes of taste receptors in the mouth: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savory). Quantifying flavor is a challenge by itself, but as anyone who has ever had a cold will tell you, flavor is inextricably linked to the sense of smell. As mammals, humans rely greatly on the combination of senses (i.e. taste and smell) to form sensory experiences because our senses are not as developed as those of other mammals. Humans have 10 cm2 of olfactory epithelium compared to 169 cm2 of olfactory epithelium in a German Shepherd (which is why they are the preferred drug sniffing dog breed).

The flavor and aroma we experience from a given fruit is determined by complex mixtures of often hundreds of volatile compounds. A strawberry has over 300 compounds that contribute on multiple levels to make up the characteristic flavor we associate with a ripe strawberry (Honkanen & Hirvi, 1990). A tomato has more than 400 aromatic volatiles which constitute its aroma and flavor, but only 15-20 in sufficient enough quantity to impact flavor. The volatiles are composed of the metabolites of several chemical groups that include: acids, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, esters, sulfur compounds, furans, phenols, terpenes, epoxides, and lactones. Although the individual concentration of these substances vary from tissue sample to tissue sample, their concentration makes up 10-100 parts per million of a fruit’s fresh weight.

The compounds responsible for flavor are generally formed during the ripening stage of flower/fruit development when the metabolism of the plant changes and catabolism of high-molecular weight molecules such as proteins, polysaccharides, and lipids degrade and are converted into volatile metabolites (Asaphaharoni & Efraimlewinsohn). Catabolism can be thought of as destructive metabolism, or the breakdown of complex molecules in living organisms to form simpler ones, along with the release of energy. It is during this stage of ripening that flushing a plant’s growing medium (depriving the plant of nutrition) and forcing it to catabolize its stored metabolites can most impact the final flavor.

Prior investigations of fruit flavors focused on identifying compounds present in various fruit species (Honkanen & Hirvi, 1990). Along with the classification of flavor compounds researchers often identified the substances that were responsible for the unique scent we attribute to a particular fruit (methoxyfuraneol for strawberries and isoamylacetate for bananas). Current research on fruit flavor is focused on the genes that directly influence fruit flavor formation. Future success at manipulating fruit flavor hinges on the research being carried out today; gathering information about the genes and metabolic pathways that generate fruit flavors. Other avenues of research include experiments that use genes isolated from plants other than fruits, such as the leaves and glandular trichomes of various herbs to modify flavor.

Bio-engineering fruit flavor may seem like a waste of time, but there is a growing consensus among consumers that in recent decades the overall flavor quality of produce has declined. This decline has been attributed to breeders selecting for particular traits such as disease resistance, appearance, firmness, post-harvest shelf life, and yield. This focus on fiscally beneficial traits has resulted in less expensive, year round produce that frankly does not taste good. Genetically modifying flavor is not restricted to introducing “new flavors or enhancing existing ones but also includes the removal of undesirable metabolites that generate ‘off-flavors.’ Since most of the molecules that compose the flavor profiles of fruit may exhibit antifungal or antibacterial bioactivity, it is conceivable that manipulation of fruit flavor will not only influence the flavor profile of fruit but will also confer resistance to pests and pathogens (Asaphaharoni & Efraimlewinsohn).”

The first genetically modified tomato called the Flavr-Savr (also known as CGN-89564-2) was approved for commercial production in 1994. Using genetic engineering the naturally produced enzyme that generates an “off flavor” and mushy texture was turned off. The result was a vine ripened tomato that could be shipped with minimal bruising and spoilage. Due to poor flavor and mounting costs the crop was pulled from production in 1997.

The prevalent method currently employed to manipulate flavor is called transgenic genetic engineering. The transgenic approach refers to the modification of an organism by transferring a gene or genetic material from one organism to another. A gene is a segment of DNA that codes for the production of a protein; proteins determine particular traits.

For example, the gene for flower color. The arrangement of the nucleic acid compounds on a chromosome in one plant tells the flower cells to produce certain proteins that make the flower blue. On another plant, the nucleic acid compounds are arranged differently, instructing the plant to make pink…Some genes control regions of a chromosome. These regions are like a light switch or a thermostat. They turn the gene on or off, or regulate the amount of protein produced. While cells carry identical DNA codes, different cells have different functions. For example, the gene that makes a flower pink is not needed in the root, so it is turned off in the root cells and turned on in the cells of the flower. (Spears, Klaenhammer, & Petters)

An advantage of transgenic genetic engineering is that precise alterations can be engineered into cultivars that are already proven commercially. Two of the most common GMO crops in production are cotton and corn that have been modified with the addition of a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. The resultant crops are toxic to caterpillars but safe for humans. A major obstacle of utilizing the transgenic approach is that the present regulatory environment makes it very expensive to gain approval for genetically modified organisms. Additionally, even if approval is obtained for a GM (genetically modified) crop, there is a growing social movement that vehemently opposes genetically modified produce.

We recommend if you want a great “old-time” tasting tomato, go visit your local farmers market once the tomatoes hit the stands, or you can pick up some organic heirloom seeds and grow them yourself! The day might be coming however, for better or worse, when commercial greenhouses will be packed with high yielding, disease resistant, flavorful genetically engineered tomatoes; if you choose to eat them will be up to you. To stay apprised of Farm Bill legislation in your state, get involved with a local advocacy group, and always try your best to know your food.

The Future of Fruit??? photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

GMOs…The Future of Fruit???
photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

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.

Spring Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening: A Guide to Organic Soil Amendments & Organic Fertilizers

Growing in a Raised Bed is So Easy Even a Child Can Do It!

Growing in a Raised Bed is So Easy Even a Child Can Do It!

The idea of planting a garden can be daunting. There is so much information and advice as well as countless products and additives to choose from, it might feel as if you need a PhD to grow a tomato. The fact is that everyone can easily grow an edible garden. Similar to buying real estate, the most important choice a gardener makes is location; you cannot grow sun loving plants (which most vegetables and fruit are) in dense shade. Most vegetables (excluding leafy greens like lettuce and cabbage) require a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Most of us can find an area that gets enough sun, but what are you to do if the area with the correct sun exposure does not have healthy rich soil? The answer is simple: build a raised bed garden.

Raised bed gardens have several advantages over traditional in-ground gardens. First, raised bed gardens are constructed above ground, lending themselves to easier planting, tending, and weeding. Raised beds are little more than large container gardens and can be placed anywhere, regardless of the quality of soil underneath. Also, raised bed gardens are ideal for square foot gardening. You can build them out of wood (do not use pressure treated wood as the chemicals in the pressure treated wood can leach into your soil, and your plants), or buy a raised bed garden kit. Another option for someone that wants a raised bed garden but doesn’t have the time or tools to build one is to use a large fabric aeration pot. Aeration pots are fabric containers that come in sizes from 1 gallon all the way to 300 gallons. The benefit of aeration pots is that they prevent the plant’s roots from becoming root bound, while encouraging a more robust root systems with greater surface area in contact with the soil for improved nutrient absorption.

Root bound plants like the one in this photo can stunt a plant's growth.

Root bound plants like the one in this photo can stunt a plant’s growth.

Viagrow™ Fabric Aeration Pots prevent plant's roots from becoming root bound.

Viagrow™ Fabric Aeration Pots prevent plant’s roots from becoming root bound.

Once you have built your raised bed or purchased an aeration pot, now comes the all important choice of what to fill it with. I prefer a high quality potting soil like Fox Farm’s Ocean Forest which is loaded with organic fertilizers and micro-organisms. However if that does not fit your budget, another less expensive option is topsoil, which is sold by the bag at every hardware store or sold by the truck load. It can be used as base for your garden soil, but topsoil is not ready to use just yet. I recommend when buying topsoil to make sure it has been screened, ensuring that large pieces of organic debris and rocks have been removed. Plan on adding organic matter and organic fertilizer to the top soil; it will guarantee a bountiful harvest of your favorite fruits and vegetables.

The best way to add organic matter to soil is by adding a rich compost. Compost is decayed organic matter, and it is one of the best things you can add to any soil. You may have the notion that a compost pile is a big, ugly, smelly pile of leaves and lawn clippings, but that is not necessarily true. Today people have options of homemade compost piles, well constructed compost bins, and stylish compost tumblers. These provide everyone the option of making their own nutritious organic soil inexpensively. You can also improve the soil structure and improve the moisture retention and/or drainage of your garden soil with the addition of products like perlite, shredded leaves, peat moss, coconut coir, and composted bark sold as “soil conditioner.”

Aside from compost there are several organic fertilizers and additives that can be added to improve your garden soil. One popular option for adding organic matter to soil is to use composted animal manures. There are several kinds to choose from including: seabird guano, bat guano, cow manure, horse manure, and chicken litter. Generally, manures from animals that eat vegetation are preferred to animals that eat meat. Animal manures vary greatly in the nutrition they will provide your garden due to the different diets of the animals that produce the manure. When possible, it is best to use composted manures and guanos in your soil; fresh manure is best placed in your composter to age and breakdown before it is used or you risk burning your plants. An added benefit of animal manures and guanos is that they provide an excellent source of beneficial micro-organisms which add to your soil’s ecology. You also have the option of adding beneficial fungi and bacteria with products like Mykos and Azos.

Other options for amending soil include the following organic fertilizers and additives:

Rock Phosphate
A natural granular source of phosphorous and calcium in addition to several trace minerals. Rock phosphate is an excellent source of phosphorous which promotes cell division, photosynthesis and respiration. Also encourages the growth of earthworms and soil bacteria that enrich and aerate the soil. Slow release so it will not leach away like chemical blossom boosters. Apply 1-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. for gardens.

Blood Meal
A slow release organic nitrogen source. Excellent as a top dressing when extra nitrogen is needed. Stimulates bacterial growth. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft or as a top dressing.

Bone Meal
Steamed, finely ground bone provides phosphorus, calcium and nitrogen. Promotes strong, vigorous bulbs, healthy root systems and good blooming. Excellent for flowers, roses, garden bulbs, shrubs and trees. Use up to 5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Greensand
Contains 22 minerals and helps loosen compacted clay soils. Highly recommended for conditioning pastures, lawns, orchards, fields, and gardens. Apply 2-4 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Worm Castings
A pure all natural plant food produced by earthworms. Helps develop foliage in plants and improves aeration of the soil. Worm castings are also a source of nitrogen. Use in gardens and flower beds at rate of ½ cup per plant every two months. In potting mixes add 1 part earthworm castings to 3 parts soil. For roses mix 4 cups into soil around each plant.

Sulfur
Sulfur is excellent for lowering the pH of soils for growing blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas and other acid loving plants. Use according to soil test recommendations – do not over apply. Maximum use ¼ lb. per 100 sq. ft.

Micro Pelletized Gypsum
Pelletized calcium sulfate; supplies calcium and sulfur while loosening clay soils, aiding aeration and water penetration. Use when calcium and sulfur are needed, and pH of the soil is alkaline. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Garden Lime
A natural liming material which supplies additional calcium and helps maintain a near neutral pH in your soil. Apply 3-5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Once you have built your bed, added your soil, and amended it with lots of organic matter and fertilizer, it is time to plant your seeds or seedlings. Starting seeds is easy to do with a Viagrow™ Seed Starting Kit. Another option is to visit your local nursery and buy vegetable seedlings; ask them what varieties will perform best in your area. Water regularly (as needed) and top dress around the base of your plants on a monthly basis to ensure your plants have plenty of food. You will be eating your harvest in no time.

A raised bed garden can produce enough for a family of 4 in a very small area.

A raised bed garden can produce enough for a family of 4 in a very small area.

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

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!

Hickory Smoked Ghost Pepper & Pineapple Hot Sauce: Sweet & Fiery HOT!

Chili on fire

Fiery Smoked Ghost Pepper Pineapple HOT Sauce!!!                                                                              Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Are you one of those people? One of those fire-eaters who isn’t happy until your head is sweating and your eyes are watering? You willingly chomp down on a whole habanero and routinely order the “hellfire” wings at the local pub? Good for you. You’ll love this recipe.

But luckily, so will the rest of us sane folks, thanks to the sweet, merciful addition of pineapple. The luscious, tart-sweet of the pineapple, raisins, and lime balances so well with the smoky fierceness of the ghost pepper and various spices, resulting in a bold punch of flavor that won’t blow out your taste buds. The great thing about this Hickory Smoked Ghost Pepper & Pineapple Hot Sauce is that you can use as much or as little as you like, depending on your tolerance for heat. Mmmm…sweet, sweet heat.

Ingredients:

  • 3 hickory wood smoked Ghost Peppers; Bhut Jolokia or Naga Jolokia (you can also use Butch T’s, Trinidad Moruga Scorpions, or Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper) The Trinidad Moruga Scorpian and the Carolina Reaper are both claiming to be the current world’s hottest pepper…grow out some seeds and decide for yourself.
  • 8 ounces organically grown pineapple, cubed
  • 1/2 small Vidalia onion (official state vegetable of Georgia), about 6 ounces cubed
  • 1/2 of an organically grown carrot, about 3 ounces rough chopped
  • 1/2 ounce organic golden raisins, about a 1/4 cup
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, about 1 ounce
  • 1/2 lime, zest and meat, white pith discarded
  • 1/4 ounce ginger, rough chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 ounce cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon free trade cinnamon
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 3/4 cup vinegar

Directions:

  1. Place all of the ingredients with the exception of the vinegar in a food processor and pulse till pureed. Add mixture to a saucepan, then add vinegar and cook 15 minutes. After mixture cools, blend again until a smooth consistency is reached.
  2. Fill sterilized bottles or jars with hot sauce.
  3. Place jars/bottles into a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
  4. Let age for at least 1 week.

Recommended uses: grilled chicken or pork, fish, tacos, black beans and rice, wherever else you need some sweet heat. Enjoy at your own risk!

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

Bringing Your Outdoor Garden in for the Winter: Don’t Leave Your Plants Out in the Cold!

Snow on Garden

Snow on Garden

The leaves are changing; the temperatures are steadily dropping day by day. It is time to tend your garden one last time before Jack Frost’s impending visit. Cover your garden beds with several inches of chopped shredded leaves to protect tender plants and bulbs. In September a high nitrogen fertilizer applied to your lawn would have promoted vigorous new blade growth, but now in November it is more beneficial to use a high phosphorous fertilizer which will add inches to your lawn’s roots. What do you do with those container plantings, citrus trees, and expensive ornamentals that are planted in pots on the patio or porch?

Simple; you build a small indoor garden to overwinter your tender tropicals and pricey petunias. It can be fun and easy to bring plants inside and can also allow a real jump on planting next year’s garden. Setting up an indoor garden requires a few simple steps. First look at the plants you want to bring inside, also take into consideration if you want to start annuals for next year’s garden, or if you would like to grow some fruits or vegetables for yourself or your family over the winter. Now that you have a rough idea of how much space you will need for your garden, look around your home for an area that can accommodate it. You will need to find a space which will be protected from the cold, has electrical access, and preferably is close to a sink and drain. I suggest you consider a closet that doesn’t get much use. It will allow your garden to be tucked away out of sight, when you so desire.

If you choose a closet line the walls with plastic sheeting like Panda film to create a moisture barrier. Put a tarp down on the floor and use a staple gun to tack it 6” up the side of the walls. This will protect your floor should you inadvertently spill a bit of water. If all this sounds like too much trouble then simply purchase an inexpensive grow tent. A grow tent also offers the advantage of being able to be placed inside any existing room while maintaining a closed environment for your garden.

Next you need a light. Based on the size of your garden, and your financial and electrical constraints choose the lighting for your particular situation. The most common lights for over-winter gardens and those new to indoor gardening are either a 400 watt High Pressure Sodium / Metal Halide light system or T5 fluorescent fixtures that will fit your space. A 400 watt HPS light can easily cover a 4’ x 4’ garden. By including some shelves off to the side you can make even better use of your space. If all you want to do is keep plants alive over the winter then a 400 watt light is capable of covering a 6’ x 6’ space. Be aware that a 400 watt light gives off about 2,000 BTU of heat per hour, and you should plan to use this heat to warm your garden or help heat your home. Also make sure your plants are at least 18” from the bulb to avoid burning the tops of your plants.

Once you’ve hung your light and protected the walls and floor it is time to move your plants inside. In the interest of keeping your plants healthy it will be necessary to treat your plants with an organic insecticide to prevent bringing pests into your new indoor oasis. Wipe down planters and pots with a wet rag to remove any dirt. Now you are ready to bring your plants in to their new winter home.

Indoor Garden Lighting (Part 2): Choices, Choices, Choices!

Sun and Fluorescent bulb

Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

In my prior blog I discussed the obstacles that indoor gardeners must contend with when using horticultural lighting as the primary source of light for their gardens. With those challenges of indoor garden lighting in mind, lets review what options indoor gardeners have when selecting lighting.

Fluorescent lighting comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, wattages and styles. The old standard 4’ shop light T12 bulbs (40 watt) produce about 2,600 Lumens. The newer 4’ T8 bulbs (40 watts) produce about 3,200 lumens. The preferred horticultural fluorescent lamps are T5 bulbs (54 watt) and produce about 5,000 lumens per 4’ bulb. There are also compact fluorescent lamps (or CFL) that have built-in ballasts in either 125, 200, or 250 watt options that produce about 45 lumens per watt.

Lamp Type 4’ T12 4’ T8 4’ T5 Compact Fluorescent
Lumens Per Watt 65 80 92.6 Roughly  45

The pros of fluorescent lighting are that they have relatively low wattage, can be utilized in all sorts of size areas and configurations, and they are more affordable than some of the other options. However, fluorescent lighting does not deliver the intensity of light to provide good penetration through the canopy. There are also issues with  fluorescents lacking the intensity necessary to produce fruit on high light plants. Lastly fluorecent lights give off a good bit of heat. They are an excellent choice for mother plants, clones, and young seedlings.

HID or high intensity discharge lighting has been the standard lighting for horticulture for decades. Although they produce an enormous amount of heat, they are able to provide good penetration of light through the canopy to about 3 feet. Utilizing switchable ballasts & different bulbs you can choose a spectrum heavy in blue light (Metal Halide) for vegetative growth, or heavier in red light (High Pressure Sodium) for flowering and fruiting.  HID lights are reasonably priced, they are proven as a primary or sole light source, and they able to produce enough intensity of light to allow high light plants to produce excellent crops. For more information about HID lighting, check out this helpful HID lighting guide.

Plasma Lights are a type of electrodeless lamp energized by radio frequency or microwaves. The interest in this type of lighting is driven by two factors: spectrum and the potential for financial savings (based on lower electrical consumption). The spectral output of a plasma light is almost identical to the light spectrum of the sun making it ideal for horticultural applications. Plasma lights are also capable of producing large amounts of light from relatively small amounts of electricity yet they still produce large amounts of heat. Currently there are Plasma Grow Lights available for sale made by Gavita Lighting in Holland but they are still in their respective infancy.  Based on my personal testing I will say they hold a LOT of promise.

LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes are starting to draw a lot of attention, not just from indoor gardeners but also from the general public. There are LED bulbs to replace your standard incandescent household light bulbs, LED flashlights, and even LED wallpaper. Why this explosion of LEDs, and can we as gardeners benefit from LED Grow Lights? Stay tuned to future blogs to find out.