It's now the part of spring where everything is growing quickly, and unfortunately that also includes many weeds. The good thing though is that we finally have stuff to harvest in the garden.
Our rhubarb plant has shot away and has produced many leaves, so it was time to harvest the first of the stems. We mostly use our rhubarb for our rhubarb and ginger meringue pie.
I pulled a bunch of rhubarb out off the plant, cut off the leaves,
and then cut the stems up into pieces to freeze away in our chest
freezer. I find that six stems of rhubarb are enough to make one rhubarb
and ginger meringue pie, so I freeze them away in batches of those. The good thing about freezing them is that the process turns the rhubarb into mush, which makes them easier to cook with afterward.
The next thing to harvest is peppermint. I like to harvest our peppermint in early spring for making dried peppermint leaves for peppermint tea. Our peppermint patch pops up everywhere in the herb garden, and beyond, so I just find whatever is on the edges, and then harvest them. It's really easy to do, just pull out any rogue peppermint stems, rinse them, and then pull off the leaves to slowly air dry, or by putting in the dehydrator. I dehydrate ours, and it doesn't take very long at all.
The first harvest of calendula flowers was also ready, and it is one of my favorite plants. Not only do bees love it, but you can use it in all sorts of products around the home.
I just pick the flowers when they're fully open, and then rinse and pat them dry before putting them in the dehydrator along with the peppermint leaves.
The last thing to harvest was the first of our strawberries. They weren't the most prettiest strawberries in the world, but they were good enough to put in the chest freezer for making strawberry jam later on in the growing season.
Are you harvesting anything in the garden yet? Labour weekend is this weekend, and it's a pretty busy time in the vegetable garden. All the garden beds have been dug, and I can't wait to get stuck in and plant everything currently sitting in our glasshouse.
Have a wonderful day
During last year's growing season I had a Serrano chilli plant growing in our glasshouse, and over summer it gave me an abundant harvest of both green and red chillies. I picked so many chillies that I had no idea what to do with them all. I gave away as many as I could, and then with the rest I decided to dry them. We mainly use chillies as dried chilli powder in the kitchen throughout the year, so this method to prepare them was the best way to use all the left over chillies.
I waited until I had a big chlli harvest (some had already started drying out whole), and I cut off all the tops off before splitting them down the middle and removing the seeds (while wearing gloves). I then dried them in our dehydrator on trays at a temperature of 50˚C.
The smell was quite pungent, so initially the dehydrator was sitting outside under our veranda for the day, and then in the garage after that.
Once the chillies were dry, they were stored whole in a plastic container until it was time to grind them.
Last week, I finally got around to actually grinding them in our coffee and spice grinder. So as not to stink out the house with powdered chilli, I placed the grinder under the rangehood with it turned on.
It didn't take very long to turn the chilli into powder. It didn't make as much as I thought it would, so I think that this year I won't give as much away, so we'll have more chilli powder for ourselves.
And we've already used our new chilli powder in a meal, we made chilli con carne that very night. It wasn't too spicy, but it had a really great flavor that we liked. I'm definitely happy to make even more chilli powder this coming growing season.
Have a wonderful day
As you may know by now I like growing new varieties of fruits and vegetables, and the more unusual the better. Over the past couple of years I've grown Sugar Beet, with the hope to try and process my own sugar. Here in New Zealand we get all our commercial sugar from sugar cane grown in Queensland, Australia, but elsewhere in the world (including the USA) sugar is made from sugar beet.
Up until this year it was possible to buy sugar beet seeds from Kings Seeds, but they no longer sell any at this time. Sugar beet are very closely related to beetroot, and are grown in the same manner. It's best to sow them in later winter/early spring directly into the ground. Each "seed" in the packet is actually made up of 8 seeds, which grow very close to each other. After the seeds have germinated and come up from the soil, it's a good idea to pull out any that are too close together, and replant them further apart to maximise your sugar beet crop.
After that, the sugar beet plants are very easy to take care of. I watered them infrequently over the hot summer months, and come autumn, after the first frost, they're ready to harvest. As with parsnips and carrots, sugar beet are sweeter after a frost. With a garden fork it's pretty easy to pull them out of the ground. The top of the plants look like beetroot plants, and the roots of the plants look similar to parsnips.
Once in the kitchen, the first step is get all the dirt off the roots by washing and scrubbing, and after that it's time to peel the sugar beet roots themselves. We just used a regular vegetable peeler, and then cut the tops off the sugar beet roots with a sharp knife.
The next step is to prepare the sugar beets for grating using a food processor. We cut them into smaller chunks that would be easy to feed down the shute of the food processor. With a food processor grating the sugar beet on a rough setting took only minutes, but doing it the old fashioned way by hand took an hour (I did this in previous years). At this stage of the process we had 2 kg of sugar beet roots.
With this done, it was time to cook the sugar beet. The first year we made sugar from sugar beet we used this blog post as a guide. But this method is very labour intensive, and we burnt the sugar from the sugar beet while drying it down.
However, this year, we had a secret weapon, our brand new, handy dandy, steam juicer. Before the harvest, I had spent weeks coming up with this idea of extracting the sugar from the sugar beet using the steam juicer. Steam juicers are great for extracting juice from fruit and veges using the power of steam. You put your fruit or vegetable of interest in the top compartment of the steam juicer, add water to the bottom compartment of the steam juicer, and turn on the stove. The water heats up in the bottom compartment, and the steam rises up to the top compartment through a whole in the middle compartment. The steam cooks and softens the fruit or vegetable in the top compartment, and the cooled juice drops into the middle compartment to collect. From there, there is a spout to siphon off the collected juice at the end of the steam juicing. It's an ingenious system of juicing a big range of fruit and vegetables, and I use it a lot for making blackcurrant juice in summer, and apple juice in autumn. If you're interested in buying one in New Zealand, Netropolitan sells them infrequently when they bring them into the country. I had to wait over a year to get our one.
The steam juicer guide suggested that 1 hour of heating was good for extracting juice from beetroot, so I used that as a guide for steam juicing our grated sugar beet. The sugar beet went into the steam juicer, and an hour later the sugar beet juice had collected in the middle compartment of the steam juicer. After checking the sugar beet in the top compartment, is was soft and cooked.
After siphoning off the sugar beet juice in the steam juicer, we filtered it through some cheese cloth to remove any solid bits of sugar beet. The left over sugar beet in the top of the steam juicer was still quite wet, so we also put that through the cheesecloth and squeezed as much juice out of it as we could get. Hubby mumbled something about getting a cider press at this point to make the job easier, but that seemed a little extreme to me...
The thing about sugar beet juice is that it isn't the nice pristine white colour you would be expecting from sugar. Normal sugar is highly processed to remove all the impurities in order to get pretty white sugar that looks the most appealing. Sugar beet juice is a brownish colour, similar to molasses, and without a centrifuge and other commercial processes, it's just not possible to get sugar that is pure white. Since we use our sugar beet sugar in baking and cooking, the brown colour doesn't bother us at all.
The next step in processing the sugar beet to get sugar, is to decrease the volume of liquid in the juice. All the sugar beet juice was transferred into a pot, and it was brought up to a simmer. The more water that comes out of the juice, the more syrupy the juice gets. You need to pay attention to it, otherwise you could remove all of the water, and burn the sugar beet molasses (I know this from experience last year).
When you get the sugar syrup to a stage you are comfortable at, it's time to take it off the heat. There are two methods at this stage to remove the last of the water, either pour it into shallow trays to dry slowly over time, or bring out the dehydrator, and get it to do all the work for you in a much shorter period of time. I decided to bring out the dehydrator. The aim in the drying is to try and get sugar crystals to form, and the best way to do this is to actually seed the cooled sugar syrup with a sprinkling of sugar crystals. I haven't figured out this step totally yet, so I just got a small amount of sugar and sprinkled it on top the sugar beet syrup.
The dehydrator doesn't have an exact setting for dehydrating sugar syrup, so I chose the fruit leather setting which is set to 70˚C. The sugar syrup was poured onto dehydrator silicone sheets with a lip around the entire edge, and put into the dehydrator. After a total of 5 hours, the sugar beet sugar in the trays had dried enough to lift the sugar from the flexible silicone sheets.
The sugar was still sticky in the middle and bottom layers at this stage, so I broke the sugar up into smaller pieces and spread them out evenly over the silicone trays to dry further. After a further 5 hours, the sugar was completely dry. When broken, the sugar cracked.
The last step in making sugar from sugar beets is to break the shards of sugar into smaller pieces. At this stage I brought out my Breville Coffee and Spice Grinder and filled it up with the sugar shards, and broke them down into smaller pieces. I use the grinder all the time to process all of our dried herbs and spices, and it has a handy removable stainless steel bowl for cleaning. It is quite often on sale, so no need to buy it at full price if you're after one for yourself.
I repeated grinding all the sugar into smaller pieces until all the sugar shards had been turned sugar.
The final weight of the sugar extracted from our sugar beets was 162 grams from 2 kg of roots, which equates to a sugar content extraction of 8.1%. Sugar content extraction in sugar beets can vary anywhere from 12 - 21% according to Wikipedia using commercial processes, so I think that 8% is good for us as home growers. I think we could have gotten the number higher if we had a fruit press like hubby had mentioned, but that is a bit extreme I feel for the average home grower. The other thing to consider is when to harvest the sugar beet. Due to health issues this year, we harvested it later in the season compared to other years. It's possible that some of the sugar beet had been used up already by the plants prior to harvest.
And what does sugar beet sugar taste like? Well, it tastes like sugar, it's nice and sweet, but it has a taste reminiscent of barley sugar. Our plan is to use the sugar in baking our Christmas Cake this year. We did this last year, and no one who ate the cake noticed anything different from previous years.
As for the coming growing season, what is our plan sugar beet wise? Well thanks to some lovely people in some Facebook NZ seed swapping groups, I've been given some sugar beet seeds from their Kings Seeds packets that they still had spare in their stashes. Our plan is to grow these seeds on to develop our own big stash of sugar beet seeds for growing on in years to come. I'll also pass on some of these seeds to other people want to do the same. As sugar beet plants are biennial, it will take two seasons to happen, from there we can grow sugar beet every year and collect more seed.
I hope that you have enjoyed this in explanation of growing, harvesting, and processing of sugar beets to turn into sugar. Feel free to ask any questions on my social media about this, and I'll try to give you answers. I'm also interested if anyone has any suggestions to streamline this process any further.
Have a wonderful day
love eating basil, whether it be fresh in salads or pesto in summer, or
dehydrated to add to dishes in winter, so back in the winter of 2022, I
added three different types of basil seeds to my Kings seeds order. As I
have a PhD in plant biochemistry, I'm always up for experimenting with
new plants to see how they grow and what their harvests are like.
The three varieties of basil I chose were, Organic Basil Sweet Genovese, Basil Gustosa,
and Basil Lettuce Leaf. Sweet Genovese is the basil everyone usually
thinks of when it comes to pesto, and also for eating fresh. This basil
tastes fresh and clean, and grows well in a glasshouse, and is the type
I've grown for years. Basil Gustosa is also a Sweet Genovese type, but
was bred for growing commercially in pots with vigorous growth and good
disease resistance. Basil Lettuce Leaf is the strongest growing and most
highly prolific of all basil varieties. The leaves are twice as large
as normal basil leaves, and the leaves themselves are crinkly.
I sowed all the basil varieties in mid-September and grew them up in the glasshouse in pots until October when they were dug into the glasshouse soil.
The basil plants all grew strong and healthy. There was little difference in growth between the Sweet Genovese and Gustosa basil varieties, and they looked similar. The Basil Lettuce Leaf had leaves much bigger than the other two varieties, were lighter in colour, and they were very crinkly. During its growth the Basil Lettuce Leaf was attacked by caterpillars, where as the Sweet Genovese and Gustosa were not.
It wasn't long before our first basil harvest was picked.
the three basil varieties, Sweet Genovese basil was the most like the
common basil grown and eaten. It had a sweet taste that wasn't too
overpowering. The Gustosa leaves were similar in size to the Sweet
Genovese basil, but it's taste was a little more peppery than Sweet
Genovese. The Lettuce Leaf basil's leaves were much bigger, and had a
slight aniseed taste.
We made a batch of pesto by combining all the basil types, and as you can imagine it was delicious. Because of how expensive pine nuts are, we usually use Mother Earth Slightly Salted Cashew Nuts in our pesto. We only buy them when they're on special, and they are salty enough that no extra salt is needed to make the pesto.
The bulk of our basil crop is dehydrated in our dehydrator for later use in the colder months. We bought our Sunbeam FoodLab Dehydrator in August 2022, and have used it nearly every day since then for drying herbs, flowers, fruit, and vegetables. We couldn't live without it now that we own one. We also bought some accessories for it online, so that we have more finer trays for herbs, and also more silicone non-stick sheets for making fruit leather.
Basil is dried in our dehydrator at 35˚C for a number of hours. It is ready when the leaves snap after they have been cooled to room temperature. After that they are stored in a glass container for 48 hours to check no further water has been released into the container.
we dried all three varieties of basil in the dehydrator, both Sweet
Genovese and Gustosa dried quickly. The Lettuce Leaf basil however, took
a long time to dry as its leaves contained much more water than the
other two varieties.
the basil is dried I ground all the basil varieties together using our
Breville Coffee and Spice Grinder. It is designed for grinding all sorts
of herbs, spices, and also coffee, and we bought it online when someone
was having a sale.
experimenting with all these basil varieties over the Spring and
Summer, I have decided that in future seasons I wish to grow only the
Sweet Genovese and Gustosa varieties. Even though they do not have big
leaves like the Lettuce Leaf Basil, they still have good plant growth,
and are resistant to caterpillar attack. They also dry fast in the
dehydrator, which is what we harvest most of our basil for. The mix of
the two varieties also brings a good combination in terms of taste, so
that's also a bonus.
am having sinus surgery this Friday (17th March), and will be
recovering for a couple of weeks, but have already prepared next weeks
blog post for you.
Have a wonderful day,