Friday, September 27, 2013

Preserving the Harvest

This month's healthy cooking class focused on local foods - and how to eat locally year round!

Farm-fresh vegetables ready to be preserved! 

Participants watch as Renee preps peppers for freezing.

Shredded zucchini is great out of the freezer, thawed and baked into bread! 

Home-made vegetable stock is easy to put together from left-over onion peels, carrot tops and potato skins! 

Our ice bath ready to cool down the blanched broccoli

Purple broccoli, post-steaming, is quickly cooled before going into the freezer.

Fresh vegetables ready for the freezer! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Seed Saving 101

For those who were unable to make it to the Seed Saving workshop this month, here are some tips, notes and photos!

Why save seeds?
  • It's Cheap! And you end up with basically a free crop for next year
  • It's an important way to save heirloom varieties that are otherwise being lost from our food system
  • Plants adapt to local conditions and can grow better next year

What do I need?

Depending on the seeds you are planning to save, basic tools you'll need are knife, cutting board and paper towel. If tomato seeds are on your list, then you'll also need a jar with lid and water.

Which seeds to save or not save?

  • Squash and sweet corn (male/female flower parts) can cross-pollinate and may not necessarily be good the second year
  • Carrots/beets are biennial plants, so it takes two years for them to go to seed. It's possible, just more difficult.
  • Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are easy plants to save seed from.
  • F1 hybrid seeds were cross-bred and may not produce desirable results (or not even produce at all!) Open pollinated seeds are heirloom varieties that will yield 'true' generations.
How to save seeds, some common examples:
  • Save seed from the most vigorous, healthy plants as these will have the 'strongest' seeds (e.g. natural selection)
  • Tomatoes/Cucumbers (see photos below): allow fruit to fully ripen and scoop out seeds and pulp. Place in jar of water for 24-76 hours, to ferment (this releases the lining on the seed, allowing for future germination), stirring the seeds every day. Once seeds have sunk to the bottom, pour liquid away and rinse. Dry on paper towel (preferably out of sunlight) and once completely dry (up to 3 weeks!) place in envelope.
  • Peppers: Let pepper fully ripen on fruit and wait until skin starts wrinkle. Remove from pepper and let dry on paper towel. Then place in envelope.
  • Peas/Beans: Allow pod to ripen on stalk and start to dry and turn brown. Spread them out on a tray indoors to dry, waiting at least two weeks before shelling. Or you can leave them in the pod until next spring when ready to plant.
  • Carrots/Beets: As a biennial plant, carrots (like beets) won't flower until early into the second year after planting. If you want to collect carrot seeds, leave a few in the ground to overwinter and collect seeds once the flowers have seeded and dried the following spring/early summer.

How to store seed:

  • Seeds are best stored in paper envelopes in a cool, dark area where temperatures don't fluctuate much.
  • Make sure to label your envelopes well with variety type and year. You may even want to leave a few  notes for yourself to remember for next year.

Tomato Seed Saving Photos
When you cut open your tomatoes, you'll see the seeds surrounded by their pulp/coating.
Squeeze all of this out into the jar.

After you squeeze out the pulp and seeds into your jar, throw the rest of your
tomatoes into a blender to make a quick salsa or add them
to your compost pile for next year's crop.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Field Trip: Central Greens

Yesterday, we took a trip to Central Greens, Milwaukee's newest aquaponics venture focused on the innovative fish-as-fertilizers model.  Central Greens, located near Miller Park, is a family-run business located on a once-run down site in the Story Hill neighborhood of Milwaukee's west side.


Although Central Green's main focus is fresh salad greens and herbs, fish like tilapia play a major role in their business model. Simply stated, water is circulated through large fish tanks where it picks up nutrients from the fish waste and is then circulated through a hydroponic greenhouse full of lettuce, basil, and other greens and herbs.

This not-too-large 'fish house' stays nice and warm thanks to the large tanks of heated water

Inside the fish tank: a tube system helps to circulate the water
The powerhouse of the system: tilapia

Emma showing CORE/El Centro interns how the water is filtered before it heads out to 'feed' the plants.


While Central Greens is able to sell a number of tilapia to restaurants for additional revenue, the greens are where they really see their 'green.'

Coir (coconut husk) forms the base for some seed starting trays

Small plants on their way to the hydroponic green house

Central Greens created small 'rafts' for their seedlings to float on.
They push the older plants up stream while loading on new arrivals.

An alternative form of seedling tray - instead of individual pods, all plants are on one large flat

Rows of fresh, nutritious greens getting ready to join someone's kitchen counter. Notice the height of plants at the end - once they reach the end of the greenhouse they are ready to be harvested. Brilliant!