Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year from communEATi!

Happy 2016 everyone! Welcome to a new year, bright with promise. 2015 was tumultuous to say the least, and with 2016 being an election year, things probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon. So why not arm yourself -- and fuel yourself -- with some luck for the year?

We told you about the food considered lucky to eat on New Year’s earlier this week, and now we’ve found some lucky meals for your first day of 2016!


For your first meal of 2016, we recommend a fruitful brunch of pomegranates and grapes paired with this delicious Baby Spinach Omelet. If you need to take breakfast on the go, try this toasted bagel with spinach and eggs. Foods in the shape of a ring are thought to bring good luck because they symbolize coming full circle.

For lunch, we’re going way down south with a New Year’s Day classic from Charleston, South Carolina: Hoppin’ John. Loaded with coin-shaped black-eyed peas, this dish is thought to be loaded with luck. Many modern recipes replace the ham hock in the traditional recipe with chicken stock, but we recommend using ham if you can. (Remember? Eating pork is considered lucky, chicken isn’t.)

If you didn’t get to use pork for lunch, don’t worry: we’ll get you that luck with dinner. Mix things up for your final meal of the day with this veggie filled Pork and Noodle Stir-Fry. Vegetarian? Substitute tofu for the pork (or nix it altogether) and vegetable broth for the chicken broth and you can soak up all the luck of the noodles in this dish too!

We wish you all the luck and happiness possible in this new year! And make sure you follow communEATi on Facebook and Twitter so we can keep you up to date on all the big things happening for us this year.

Read More »

Monday, December 28, 2015

7 Lucky Foods to Eat on New Years

Later this week, we get to celebrate a new start with the coming of 2016! And what better way to celebrate than with food? For centuries, all around the world, people have been eating these foods for luck, prosperity, health, and longevity in a new year. And if the whole world’s doing it, there must be some truth to it, right?

This New Year’s midnight tradition comes from Spain: before you take your first sip of champagne of 2016, grab 12 grapes to pop one by one as the clock strikes 12. Small and round, grapes resemble coins and are meant to bring fortune in the new year. Each grape represents each month of the year: if the grapes are sweet, it’s smooth sailing, but if one happens to be sour, watch out for that month.

Cooked Greens
Load up on green, leafy veggies on the first day of the year for good fortune. Because their leaves look like folded money, greens are symbolic of economic fortune, and it’s believed the more you eat, the more fortunate you’ll be (which is true, health-wise). So whether you go with the Danish recipe of stewed kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, German sauerkraut (cabbage), or collards (the southern US green of choice), eat up and be prosperous!

Fish are lucky in three ways: their scales resemble coins, they travel in schools (representing prosperity), and they swim forward (symbolizing progress). Most cultures eat some type of fish for an abundant year: Danes and Italians tend to dine on cod New Year’s Day, while herring is eaten at midnight in Poland and Germany. In Japan, herring roe is eaten for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest. And in China, they prepare fish with the head and tail still intact to ensure a good year, start to finish.

Pomegranate seeds are considered lucky because they represent prosperity in the new year. In Turkey, they take it two steps further: the red color represents life and fertility; and the medicinal properties represent health. Don’t like pomegranates but want all of those things in 2016? Go Greek: when the new year turns, it’s a customary there to smash a pomegranate on the floor in front of your door to break it open and reveal the seeds; the more seeds, the more luck.

The longer, the better! In China, Japan, and other Asian countries, it’s customary to eat noodles, signifying longevity, on New Year’s Day. Typically, the idea is to cook and eat them without breaking or chewing them, so we recommend serving up a little Stir-Fry-day special for this New Year’s Day.

The custom of eating pork on New Year’s is based on the idea in countries like Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria that pigs symbolize progress because they root forward with their snouts, seeming to never move backwards. Their rotundness also signifies wealth and prosperity in places like Italy and the US. Veg(etari)an? Try an Austrian tradition and make some mini-marzipan pigs to get in on this lucky food.

Beans, peas, and lentils are symbolic of money, and because they swell when cooked, they have been eaten with financial rewards in mind since Roman times. Today, many countries have recipes that include lentils to knock out two birds with one stone: in Italy, they have cotechino con lenticchie; in Germany, lentil or split pea soup with sausage; and in the southern US, a dish called hoppin’ john is served with black-eyed peas, pork, greens, and rice.

While you’re stocking up on groceries for your New Year’s Luck Feast, be sure to avoid these foods that are considered unlucky:
  • -Lobsters move backwards, which is said to lead to setbacks in the new year.
  • -Chickens scratch backwards, which is said to cause regret or dwelling on the past.
  • -Some warn against eating ANY winged fowl because good luck could “fly away.”

Are there any foods that are a part of your New Year’s tradition missing from this list? Tell us about them in the comments! And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter so you can stay up to date on all that communEATi has to bring you in the new year!

Read More »

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Holidays from communEATi!

Merry Christmas from communEATi!

We hope this seasons’ greeting finds you in the company of friends and family, sharing a delicious meal with love and laughter. We know you want to get back to them, so we won’t keep you too long, but we didn’t want to let the day go by without sending you and yours some holiday cheer! And what better way to wish you all the joys of the season than with some of our favorite holiday movie quotes?

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” -How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” -The Polar Express

“Sometimes, things look good on paper, but lose their luster when you see how it affects real folks. I guess a healthy bottom line doesn’t mean much if to get it, you have to hurt the ones you depend on. It’s people that make the difference.” -Christmas Vacation
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” -It’s a Wonderful Life

“It’s Christmas Eve. It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” -Scrooged

“That’s what Christmas memories are made from. They’re not planned, they’re not scheduled, nobody puts them in their Blackberry, they just happen.” -Deck the Halls

“Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.” -Miracle on 34th Street

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” -Elf

“Another crisis solved, Yeah, there sure are a lot here. Well, all families start to come together. We always get together at Christmas. Yeah, life would just pass in a blur if it wasn’t for times like this.” -A Muppet Family Christmas

We’ll be back next week with some more of our regularly scheduled gardening and cooking blogs. In the meantime, enjoy this weekend with all the love and warmth of the holiday season!

Read More »

Monday, December 21, 2015

3 Reasons to Avoid OVERcooking Your Food

It rarely takes more than one time eating undercooked food to learn that there’s a good reason to not eat anything that hasn’t been cooked all the way through. And while undercooked food is certainly something to be on the lookout for, did you know that overcooking your food can also be risky for your health?

When we say “overcooking,” it isn’t as simple as just plain burning your food. For example, over-frying your eggs changes the protein structure and makes them less beneficial; and broccoli and other veggies that have been overheated can lose a lot of their vital nutrients. Cooking food over a certain temperature has been linked to many health risks, some incredibly serious.

Overcooked Foods are Harder to Metabolize
Raw foods are easier on your metabolism which, in turn, makes things easier for your digestive organs. But what happens when you heat them up? Once it’s been cooked past a certain temperature, food becomes more difficult to metabolize, which can result in it staying in your gut for longer than it should. And if it stays too long, it can become toxic. Cooking techniques like steaming and boiling can help your food remain below that dangerous temperature while still cooking it all the way through.

Overcooked Foods Lose Nutrients
Many vitamins (particularly vitamin C) are sensitive to heat, which means the longer you cook your source of vitamins, the more you deplete them. Your veggies are especially at risk for this, and studies show we should be eating more of them raw. That being said, cooked vegetables still have their own health benefits to offer. Try serving a raw veggie and a cooked one (steamed or blanched) with every meal to be sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need.

Overcooked Foods Can Contain Carcinogens
When cooked until charred on the outside, certain foods can contain dangerous carcinogenic substances. Foods with carcinogens have been known to act as triggers that can convert normal cells in the body into cancerous ones. This is particularly true of meats, which produce harmful chemicals like heterocyclic amines or benzopyrenes, which can cause an increased risk for pancreas, distal colon, and breast cancer. You’ll especially need to watch out for this when grilling: if fat or juice drips onto the coals, hydrocarbons can rise off of them in the form of vapor and permeate the meat. To counteract this, try cooking your grilled foods en papillotte instead (that’s fancy chef speak for “in paper or a wrapping”).

Overcook No More
We’ve already provided a few pointers for preparing your food so it’s balanced between undercooked and overcooked, but here are a few more ways to help cook your food at the optimum temperature:
  • -With all cooking methods, cook with less intense heat at lower temperatures.
  • -Keep your grill clean, making sure to scrape off all the charred residue after each use.
  • -Avoid well-done meats and blackened or charred areas of any food.
  • -Cook with liquid: boil, steam, poach, or stew your meals.
  • -Marinate your food; some research shows marinating foods can reduce the production of carcinogens.
    • -A lot of yummy marinades use ingredients like olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, orange juice, garlic, salt, pepper, cooking wine, or herbs and spices. Get creative with your marinades for healthier, tastier meals!

Want more cooking info like this? Keep up with communEATi here on our blog -- and on Facebook and Twitter -- for even more informative how-tos and pointers for your food preparation, from garden to kitchen to plate!

Read More »

Friday, December 18, 2015

Composting with communEATi Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of communEATi’s all-about-composting blog series! In our last post, we prepped you with some information about the home and environmental benefits of composting, as well as what can and can’t be composted. Now, it’s time to dig right in and start breaking things down!

How to Compost
  1. -Start your compost pile on bare earth, allowing worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost. Pro-tip: the soil beneath a compost bin becomes enriched as nutrients filter down. Place your bin on a plot you plan to sow in the future (and move it each year) for double the compost benefits!
  2. -Add a few inches of lay twigs or straw first to aid drainage.
  3. -Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist ingredients (food scraps, tea bags, etc.) and dry ones (straw, leaves, sawdust pellets, etc.).
  4. -Keep compost moist. If it doesn’t rain much where you are, water it occasionally.
  5. -Cover your compost to help it retain moisture and heat, and to prevent over-watering by the rain. Remember: your compost should be moist, not soaked and sodden.
  6. -Every few weeks, give the pile a turn with a pitchfork or shovel to continue aerating. Mixing (or turning) the compost pile is key to completing the compost process.
    1. -If you buy a composter rather than build your own, you might want to consider buying a rotating one, which makes it easy to mix the compost regularly.
    2. -Pro-tip: Thoroughly mix in enough coarse material (like straw) when building your pile and your compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly.
  7. -If you have new materials, add them in by mixing them instead of layering.

Compost Bins
For small-scale outdoor composting or indoor composting, enclosed bins are the way to go:
  • -The least expensive enclosed compost bin is the one you create yourself.
    • -In a heavy-duty garbage can, drill 1.5-cm aeration holes in rows at roughly 15-cm intervals around the can. Fill the can with a mixture of high-carbon and high-nitrogen materials, stirring the contents occasionally.
  • -You can also buy a compost bin, which is typically enclosed on the sides and top and open at the bottom so it can sit directly on the ground. This is a good option for homes in residential areas where you don’t have as much space and really want to discourage pests.
  • -For indoor composting and collecting kitchen scraps for your compost pile, consider setting up shop in your kitchen. HGTV recommends a sleek, 3.5-quart ceramic crock (glazed inside and out) or a 3-gallon stainless steel step-can, depending on how many scraps your kitchen generates.
    • -You can now even buy 100% biodegradable liner bags for your indoor compost bin. When it needs to be emptied, just remove the liner, and toss the whole thing in with your compost.

Your Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio
All compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen-based. The secret to a healthy compost pile is to maintain a working balance between these two elements, which means more carbon than nitrogen. The nitrogen-rich matter provides raw materials for making enzymes, while the carbon rich matter gives compost a light, fluffy body. An easy rule of thumb to remember is to use 1/3 green and 2/3 brown materials. And, if in doubt, add more carbon.

A Few More Pro-Tips:
  • -Add activators to your compost to help kick-start the process and speed up composting. Comfrey leaves, grass clippings, and well-rotted chicken manure are all good activators.
  • -Keep a small pile of dry grass clippings next to your compost pile. Whenever you add new materials to the pile (especially fruit or vegetable matter) cover them with the clippings. This will keep smells - and flies - from getting out of hand.
  • -Adding lime or calcium will also neutralize odors and discourage flies. If your compost smells like ammonia, add carbon-rich elements.
  • -If your compost is steaming: good! That means you have a large community of microscopic critters at work. If your pile doesn’t get hot enough (the center of the pile should reach temperatures between 130-150℉) you risk any weed seeds present surviving and getting spread throughout your garden when you use your compost.

Keep in mind that compost should be used as a soil additive, not exclusively as the growing medium. While it’s a great source of nutrients for growing plants, it’s only one component of a healthy garden bed. Be sure to stay tuned with communEATi on our blog, Twitter, and Facebook for more components of healthy gardening!

Read More »

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Composting with communEATi, Part 1

Anyone who says that gardening is glamorous has probably never tried composting -- or gardening, for that matter. Being elbows-deep in soil with an ache in your back while your neck turns an unflattering shade of red hardly exemplifies elegance. But before you know it, your garden is lush and overflowing with flowers, fruits, and veggies, and you can see that it was worth all the effort (and tan lines).

But back to the task at hand: composting. You’ve probably heard of composting, and may have even taken a stab at it already. Whether you have acres of farmland or you share a rooftop garden with the other residents in your apartment building, you (and the environment) can benefit from composting!

Benefits of Composting
  • -Compost is free, easy to make, and good for the environment because it offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.
  • -Essentially a soil conditioner, compost adds nutrients to your plants and helps soil retain moisture.
  • -It’s a great way to recycle: as much as 30% of your household waste can be composted.
  • -Composting introduces beneficial microscopic organisms into your soil, which can help aerate it and break down organic material for your plants. They can also help ward off plant disease.
  • -When you compost, you’re helping to reduce landfill waste. Currently, it’s estimated that one-third of landfill waste is made up of materials that could have been composted. 
What to Compost

table scraps
add with dry carbon items
fruit/veggie scraps
add with dry carbon items
best when crushed
leaves break down faster when shredded
grass clippings
add in thin layers so they don’t mat into clumps
garden plants
use disease-free plants only
lawn/garden weeds
only use weeds which have not gone to seed
shrub prunings
woody prunings are slow to break down
straw is best; hay (w/ seeds) is less ideal
green comfrey leaves
excellent compost ‘activator’
pine needles
acidic; use in moderate amounts
chop up any long, woody stems
apply in thin layers; good source for trace minerals
wood ash
only use ash from clean materials; sprinkle lightly
chicken manure
excellent compost ‘activator’
coffee grounds
unbleached filters may also be included
tea leaves
loose or in bags
avoid using glossy paper and colored inks
shredded paper
avoid using glossy paper and colored inks
shred material to avoid matting
corn cobs/stalks
slow to decompose; best if chopped up
dryer lint
best if from natural fibers
clean sawdust pellets
high carbon levels; add in thin layers to avoid clumping
wood chips/pellets
high carbon levels; use sparingly

*Stay tuned for “Composting with communEATi Part 2” for why this is important.
You can also add a layer of garden soil to your compost to help mask any odors and allow microorganisms in the soil to accelerate the composting process.
What Not to Compost
  • -Meat, bones, or fish scraps, which will attract pests 
  • -Perennial weeds or diseased plants 
  • -Pet manures in compost that will be used on food crops 
  • -Banana peels, peach peels, and orange rinds, which may contain pesticide residue 
  • -Black walnut leaves 
  • -Sawdust with machine or chain oil residue from cutting equipment 
So now that you know a little more about how composting can benefit your lawn, garden, and the world, why not give it a try? On Friday, we’ll have another blog featuring directions on how to get your own compost pile going, indoors or out. In the meantime, don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more gardening know-how and how-tos!

Read More »

Friday, December 11, 2015

Build Your Community Through communEATi

Think of your favorite holiday movie. Now think of your second favorite. Now think of the one that’s kind of okay, but you mostly watch it because of tradition. Now think of the one you hate but you watch it anyway because your family loves it. There’s a point to this, we promise.

Whether you thought of It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Love Actually, Home Alone, or any of a slew of other holiday movies, you probably already know at least one common theme between them (aside from the obvious): bringing people together. In fact, that’s a common theme throughout the entire holiday season. With songs like I’ll Be Home for Christmas and (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays playing on the radio and stories like A Christmas Carol to share, the warm feelings of togetherness and love are certainly in the air. And not to seem too sappy, but we at communEATi are all about that.

In Fact...
We’re working very hard at communEATi to keep this feeling of togetherness going year-round! It’s the main reason we’re called communEATi, not Local Food Finder App or something else equally as, uh...straightforward.

We’re called communEATi as a reminder that what we eat can help grow and support our communities, and because breaking bread together has always been a part of the human story. With communEATi, we wanted to remind you of the power a shared meal can have in forging relationships or burying anger, provoking laughter or providing comfort.

Community to communEATi
communEATi works to put you in direct contact with local gardeners and farmers ready to provide the freshest, best tasting foods for your table. Or, if you’re the grower, communEATi provides a virtual farmers' market for you to share your harvest with the people close to you. Ultimately, at the heart of communEATi is a sense of togetherness, of community, that extends beyond a monetary transaction.

We’re reminded of this sense of togetherness every year during the holidays when we actually do take the time to come together to eat, drink, and be merry. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to carry that feeling throughout the whole year? Local food, buying and selling it, helps to build communities, keeping a long established connection between local growers and consumers. By taking part in this connection, you’re able to help strengthen the support system of your community and bring people together.

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. -Charles Dickens

We wish you a very happy holiday season and new year of friendship and prosperity. If you’d like to join the communEATi family, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to keep an eye out for updates on our program and for more information on locally grown food and growing your community.

Read More »

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

#DidYouKnow About County Extension Offices?

Did you know that there’s a way for you to find information about gardening, agriculture, and pest control specific to your area? That instead of Google-ing “red spots on leaves” and ending up with answers more relevant to people on other continents, you can contact a local or regional office for how to deal with your very local problem?

County Extension Offices are a part of the Cooperative Extension System, a non-formal educational program implemented in the United States designed to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives. The service is provided by each individual state’s designated land-grant universities.

Basically, this means that agriculture, science, military science, and engineering research are done at these universities; the information found from that research is then shared with these extension offices so that farmers, gardeners, and other members of a region have access to locally relevant information that may affect their gardening and other daily life.

Traditionally, each county of all 50 states had a local extension office. The number has declined as some county offices have consolidated into regional extension centers. Today, there are approximately 2,900 extension offices nationwide. Each office is staffed with agents who work closely with university-based Extension specialists to deliver answers to your questions about gardening, agriculture, and pest control. Today, extension offices work to:
  • -Translate science for practical application,
  • -Identify emerging research questions, find answers and encourage application of science and technology to improve agricultural, economic, and social conditions,
  • -Prepare people to break the cycle of poverty, encourage healthful lifestyles, and prepare youth for responsible adulthood,
  • -Provide rapid response regarding disasters and emergencies

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “the hallmarks of the extension program - openness, accessibility, and service - illuminate how cooperative extension brings evidence-based science and modern technologies to farmers, consumers, and families...Further, these services improve the lives of consumers and families through nutrition education, food safety training, and youth leadership development.”

Sound familiar? We at communEATi brought you this little blog of information about County Extension Offices because these offices provide a service, not only for your garden, but for communities in each state and/or region. Extension offices start and keep a conversation going between local agricultural experts and community members, similar to how communEATi wants to build a bond between community members, growers and consumers alike. At communEATi, we firmly believe that by starting the conversation about our food, one of the most basic of human necessities, we can help to build stronger ties in communities and grow healthier as a whole.

And if you’d like to be a part of the conversation, you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook and continue keeping up with our blog. We’re glad to have you with us!

Read More »

Friday, December 4, 2015

3 Phases of Growing Cranberries

If you’ve been keeping up with communEATi lately, you’ve probably seen us feature cranberries, everyone’s favorite holiday fruit! Tart and tasty, cranberries are commonly used in a variety of sauces, pies, and juices. Cranberries are also well-known for their healing qualities, due in large part to their high concentration of vitamin C and antioxidants. And while growing cranberries may bring to mind acres of flooded bog land, that’s actually not necessary to the cultivating process.

That said, cranberries aren’t exactly an “easy” fruit to grow either. They require a lot of attention and a lot of water. So if you’re up for a gardening challenge, here’s how to grow cranberries:

Planting the Cranberries
First you’ll need to choose what variety of cranberry you’d like to grow. We recommend Howes cranberries (smaller) or Stevens cranberries (larger) for first time growers.

Cranberries are best grown in cooler climates, between zones two and five. Cuttings (1-year-old plants) and seedlings (3-year-olds) can be planted throughout autumn (Oct.-Nov.) and in springtime (Apr.-May). Cranberries need soil with a low pH and a high level of organic matter. It’s often necessary to replace your existing soil instead of trying to alter it:
  • -Plan your plot for 4’ by 8’. You can also use a 2’ by 2’ planter for a single plant.
  • -Dig out the existing soil to a depth of 6-8”. Fill the plot with peat moss, then mix in ½ lb. of bone meal and 1 lb. of blood meal. Wet the soil thoroughly without saturating it.
  • -Plant cuttings 1’ apart and 2” deep; plant seedlings 3’ apart and 2” deep.

Caring for Your Cranberries
Cranberry plants do not compete well against weeds, so it’s very important to weed the bed regularly. Luckily, the peat moss used in your plot will inhibit the growth of most weeds.

Make sure to keep your plants well-watered. The soil should always be wet or damp to the touch, but be sure not to oversaturate or submerge your plants. Too much water can slow down root growth and prevent them from reaching the necessary depth.

Soon after planting, your cranberry plants will start to put out runners, which will fill the bed before taking root and sprouting “uprights,” which is the part of the plant that grows flowers and fruit. You’ll need to fertilize your bed well to encourage the growth of these runners:
  • -For the first year after planting, fertilize your bed with a high-nitrogen fertilizer 3 times: at the beginning of growth, when the flowers bud, and when the berries start forming.
  • -After the first year, use a non-nitrogen fertilizer to encourage the runners to take root.
  • -At the start of the second year (and every couple years after that), cover the soil with a thin (½”) layer of sand to help root the runners and prevent weeds.

Pests and diseases are relatively easy to deal with if you know what you’re looking for with cranberries. A common pest is fruitworms, which come from gray moths eggs in the berries. If you spot gray moths around your plants, spray the plot with insecticides to kill the eggs. Other common diseases are red spot and berry fruit rot. You can treat these by spraying the plants with an organic, copper-based fungicide between late June and early August.

From the third year of growth onwards, you’ll need to prune your plants each spring to control the runners and encourage uprights. Comb the cranberry plot with a landscape rake until all the runners are going in the same direction, and cut the longest back. Don’t prune existing uprights.

Harvest Time
If you planted seedlings, your cranberry plant may be producing fruit by the following autumn. If you planted cuttings, however, you may need to wait 3-4 years before your plant produces fruit.
  • -Your berries should be ready to harvest in September and October each year
  • -Ripe berries will be a bright or dark red color (depending on variety) with brown seeds.
  • -Fresh cranberries keep up to 2 months when stored in the fridge in an airtight container.
    • -Cooked cranberries can last in the fridge for up to a month.
    • -Dried cranberries can keep for up to a year.
Cover your plot with a heavy layer of mulch to prevent your plants from freezing over the winter. You can uncover the plants in springtime (around April 1st), but cover them any night you expect frost. Never cover your plants with clear or black plastic, though, as this could kill them.

Once your cranberry plants are in place and thriving, imagine the uses you’ll find for them throughout the holiday season! What are some of your favorite cranberry-inclusive recipes? Tell us about them in the comments! And don’t forget to follow communEATi on Facebook and Twitter for more information on all things homegrown.

Read More »

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Get Your Garden Ready for Winter!

Although the claim has been made that 2015 is likely to be the hottest year ever recorded, things are starting to cool off now that December has hit. With December comes the official beginning of winter, and for many states in our largely temperate nation, this means the beginning of winter weather: from daily frosts to full-on snowstorms, depending on where you are.

So how will you take care of your garden during the long winter months? Well, we at communEATi are here to help you get your garden winter-ready so that when spring comes, your garden will be a little more orderly, healthy, and productive.

Typically, you’ll want to start getting your garden ready for winter right after the first frost has killed off most of your annual plants. If you’re unsure of when the frost is there to stay in your area, you can look up a Frost Dates Calculator by state through the Farmer’s Almanac website. If you live anywhere that gets frost, it’s important to put your garden “to bed.”

Putting Your Veggies to Bed
You can try to postpone the inevitable (winter, that is) in your garden for a while by covering your vegetables with old sheets or bedspreads on cold nights, but the declining light and chilly daytime temperatures will naturally bring plant growth to a halt.
  • -Leave carrots, garlic, horseradish, leeks, parsnips, radishes, and turnips in your garden for harvesting through the early winter.
    • -Mark the rows with tall stakes to find them in the snow.
    • -Cover with a heavy layer of mulch to keep the ground from thawing.
  • -Pull up tomato, squash, pea, and bean plants and any stakes.
    • -If they’re disease-free, compost them.
    • -If they’re diseased, burn them or discard separately.
  • -Remove all weeds and debris before the ground gets too hard.
  • -Gently till the soil to expose any insects who plan to overwinter.
  • -Add a layer of compost, leaves, and manure (if you have it) once most of the garden soil is exposed and till into the soil.

Preparing Your Herbs for Winter
  • -Sage and thyme are considered perennials, going dormant in the fall and reviving themselves by spring without special treatment for the winter.
  • -Rosemary needs to be sheltered outside (Zone 6) or brought in (Zones 5 and colder).
  • -Parsley can withstand a light frost but should be covered at night in Zones 5 or colder.
  • -Dig up a clump of chives and pot, letting the foliage die down and freeze for several weeks. Bring the pot inside to a sunny, cool spot; water well to harvest throughout winter.

Winterizing Your Perennials and Flowers
A perennial is a plant that lives for more than two years. It’s important to water your perennials and flowering shrubs in the fall to ensure a good winter.
  • -Once the ground has frozen, cut your perennials back to 3” and mulch them with a thick layer of leaves or straw.
  • -If putting in a new flower bed next spring, cover the area with mulch or heavy plastic.
  • -Before a heavy snowfall, cover pachysandra with a mulch of pine needles.
  • -Move potted chrysanthemums to a sheltered spot when their flowers fade. Water well and cover with a thick layer of straw.
  • -When the leaves of dahlias, gladioli, and cannas are blackened by frost, carefully dig them up and let them dry indoors on newspaper for a few days. Then pack in Styrofoam peanuts, dry peat moss, or shredded newspaper and store in a dark, humid spot at 40-50℉ until spring.

Garden Odds and Ends
In addition to your garden, you’ll need to prepare your gardening tools for winter.
  • -Empty all of your outdoor containers and store them upside down.
  • -Hang a bucket on a hook in your tool shed or garage and use it to store hose nozzles and sprinkler attachments.
  • -Run your garden hose up over a railing to remove all the water; roll it up and put it away.
  • -Cover your compost pile with plastic or a thick layer of straw before snow falls.
  • -Drain the fuel tank on your lawn mower and any other power equipment.
  • -Scrub down and put away your tools. You can also oil your tools to avoid rust.

By taking the steps to bed your garden and care for your tools before winter, you can ensure a healthier and more fruitful garden. And for more tips on gardening throughout the winter, yummy recipes, and other homegrown topics, be sure to stay up-to-date with our blog and follow communEATi on Facebook and Twitter!

Read More »

Friday, November 27, 2015

After the Feast: Tasty Ways to Use Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Happy belated Thanksgiving from communEATi! Thanksgiving feasts are strange because it seems like no matter how stuffed everyone is Thursday, there are always enough leftovers to last for days, or even weeks, if you’re good with cling wrap.

But as you sit surrounded by mounds of potatoes, at least half of a turkey, and more dinner rolls than you remember making, you may find yourself wondering, “What the heck am I supposed to do with all of this food??”

Well, before you decide to start eating turkey sandwiches from now until Christmas while stuffing stockings with actual stuffing, take a look at these delicious recipes you can make with your Thanksgiving leftovers!

Leftover Turkey Soup
What You’ll Need:
-1 large sweet potato, peeled, halved, crosswise, and cut into ½” thick wedges
-1 onion, halved and thinly sliced       -4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
-½ tsp. dried oregano             -¼ tsp. ground coriander                 -½ tsp. coarse salt
-¼ tsp. cayenne pepper          -2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice                 -Freshly ground pepper
-2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley        -1.5 c large shreds cooked turkey
-2 bunches watercress, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces (5 c)
-6 radishes, quartered             -2 oz. crumbled cotija cheese (½ c), feta cheese, or ricotta salata

Treat yourself to a gourmet Sunday brunch right at home with this delectable salad. Pair with a classic Mimosa, or a more seasonal Poinsettia (champagne and cranberry juice), for a healthier meal you can make with your leftovers.

Turkey, Sweet Potato, and Watercress Salad
What You’ll Need:
-1 large sweet potato, peeled, halved, crosswise, and cut into ½” thick wedges
-1 onion, halved and thinly sliced     -4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
-½ tsp. dried oregano             -¼ tsp. ground coriander                   -½ tsp. coarse salt
-¼ tsp. cayenne pepper          -2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice                   -Freshly ground pepper
-2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley     -1.5 c large shreds cooked turkey
-2 bunches watercress, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces (5 c)
-6 radishes, quartered            -2 oz. crumbled cotija cheese (½ c), feta cheese, or ricotta salata

Treat yourself to a gourmet Sunday brunch right at home with this delectable salad. Pair with a classic Mimosa, or a more seasonal Poinsettia (champagne and cranberry juice), for a healthier meal you can make with your leftovers.

Curried Turkey Casserole
What You’ll Need:
-¼ c (½ stick) plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter        -1 small yellow onion, diced
-2 garlic cloves, minced         -¼ c all-purpose flour                 -3 c whole milk, room temperature
-2 tsp. curry powder               -coarse salt & ground pepper      -6.5 c broccoli florets
-4 c cooked turkey, cut into ¾” pieces               -3 c day-old bread, diced medium

If you like turkey pot pie, you’ll love this quick alternative. Try buttering the bread to give it a nice, crunchy texture on top of the casserole.

Apple Crisp with Cranberry Sauce
What You’ll Need:
-4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced       -1.5 c whole berry cranberry sauce
-1 c whole wheat pastry flour            -1 c rolled oats               -⅔ c packed brown sugar
-⅔ tsp. ground cinnamon                   -½ c butter, melted

This delicious little dessert is the perfect way to use up those cranberries! Serve with vanilla ice cream for a real treat.

Don’t forget to follow communEATi on Twitter and like us on Facebook for more holiday tips and recipes throughout the season. And we hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that the rest of your holiday season is full of joy and togetherness.

Read More »

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Homegrown Foods to Use this Thanksgiving

In some of the past few communEATi blogs and posts, we’ve talked about fruits and veggies that you can grow right in your own backyard to use in your Thanksgiving meal as a part of the #GrowYourThanksgiving movement. While your garden may not be ready until next year, you can still have a homegrown Thanksgiving meal this year!

Instead of stocking up on canned and processed foods from who-knows-where for all your cooking, seek out your local gardeners and farmers to see what’s available and try out these holiday favorites made with fruits, vegetables, and herbs right from your hometown.

The Main Dish
Instead of buying a prepackaged seasoning for the brine, try preparing your turkey with freshly grown herbs! This recipe works for a 16- to 25-pound turkey and is sure to please your guests. If there are any apple orchards nearby, swing by and grab a gallon of fresh apple juice. You’ll also need fresh ginger, peppercorns, allspice berries, cloves, and bay leaves. When you roast the turkey, try using freshly grown rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Dried herbs don’t necessarily lose nutritional value like fruits and vegetables do, but for the maximum flavor possible, fresh herbs are unbeatable.

Green Bean Casserole
This classic 1950s Thanksgiving side is usually made with canned beans and heavily processed onion crisps. Try reviving this dish with green beans grown locally and flash-frying locally grown sweet onions to top it. You can even ditch the sodium-heavy canned cream of mushroom soup and instead make your own to complete your homegrown recipe.

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a great excuse to eat dessert during your meal. While they may not taste like it, these sweet little roots are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, B6, B1, and B2. They are also a very good source of manganese, copper, pantothenic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, and phosphorus. So feel free to go overboard on the sweet potatoes this year: try your classic sweet potato casserole, sweet potato pie, or a roasted root-vegetable medley with winter squash and freshly pulled turnips this year with sweet potatoes right from your neighborhood.

Pumpkin Pie
Ahh, dessert. What Thanksgiving feast would be complete without a sweet and savory pumpkin dessert? And during this time of the year, pumpkin patches and produce stands are overflowing with locally grown pumpkins ripe and ready for the taking (just make sure you pay first). Delight your guests’ tastebuds by adding a healthy and fresh twist to your traditional Thanksgiving dessert with locally grown pumpkins!

Whatever traditional dishes your family puts on the table, the meal will be even more special with homegrown ingredients. Give it a try this Thanksgiving, and you might decide you want to #GrowYourThanksgiving for years to come. And from all of us at communEATi, we hope you enjoy your holidays, may they be full of togetherness and flavor!

Read More »

Friday, November 20, 2015

#GrowYourThanksgiving with Pumpkins!

Even since before the days of the seasonal “PSL” craze, pumpkins have been a staple of the autumnal spirit. Beginning every October, when we slice-n-dice ‘em into silly-faced heads, these sturdy orange veggies are with us right through to the last slices of pumpkin pie of our holiday meals. That’s why this installment of #GrowYourThanksgiving is all about pumpkins!

Before you decide whether or not you’d like to add pumpkins to your home garden, keep in mind that pumpkins require a lot of moisture, compost-enriched soil, and a long, warm growing season (generally 75-100 frost-free days). This means you’ll need to begin planting them by late May in northern locations to early July in extremely southern states. That said, pumpkins are easy to maintain if you have the space.

Selecting a Site
  • -Pick a site with full sun (light shade is fine) and lots of space for sprawling vines. Vine varieties need 50-100 square feet per hill.
    • -If you don’t have that much space, that’s okay! You can plant pumpkins at the edge of your garden and direct vine growth across the lawn or sidewalk. Doing this will also help keep the pumpkin’s vines, which can grow pretty aggressively, from taking over your garden.
    • -You can also grow pumpkins in big 5-10 gallon buckets or (carefully) on a trellis!
    • -Or, you can consider growing miniature pumpkins!
  • -Pumpkins are pretty greedy feeders. They’ll require very rich soil that is well-drained and not too soggy. Mix lots of compost and aged manure into the planting site before you sow your seeds or transplant.
Pumpkins demand warm, fertile soil for growth, and your soil pH should be 6.0-6.8. Plan to give each vine at least a 3-foot diameter mound, or hill, of warm, enriched soil. You can test your soil every year or two to determine how to amend it for ideal pumpkin growth. In cool climates, you can warm your soil a week before planting by covering it with a piece of black plastic; then, cut a hole in the plastic and plant through the hole.

Pumpkins need ample water when flowers and fruits are forming. It’s best to use a drip system or soaker hose to directly water soil at the base of the vines to avoid wetting the foliage. Try to water early in the morning; most vines will wilt under the bright, hot afternoon sun, but if you see foliage wilting before 11:00 a.m., that’s a sign that they need water. Pumpkins are also heavy feeders; regular treatments of manure or compost mixed with water will sustain good growth, and fertilize on a regular basis.

The first few flowers on pumpkin vines will be male blooms. Their pollen attracts bees so that when female blossoms begin to open, the bees will have the pumpkin vines on their daily flights. Bees are essential for pollination, so be mindful when using insecticides to kill pests.

Some gardeners promote branching to get more pumpkins by pinching the tips out of main vines when they reach about 2 feet long. For a higher yield on a vine, remove all the female flowers (those with a small swelling at the base of the bloom) for the first 3 weeks. This will produce a sturdier vine with more, albeit smaller, pumpkins. If your goal is fewer, larger pumpkins per vine, once you have 3-4 fruits on a vine, pinch off all the remaining flowers as they form. Encourage an even shape by carefully turning the fruits as they develop.

Pests and Diseases
Squash bugs and cucumber beetles are common, especially late in the summer. You can contact your local County Extension office for dealing with pests specific to your area. Be on the lookout for other pests, like aphids, or fungal diseases like Powdery Mildew and Anthracnose. Slip a thin board or piece of cardboard beneath the fruits to prevent possible rot.

Harvest and Storage
  • -Toward the end of the season, remove any leaves that shade ripening pumpkins.
  • -A pumpkin is ripe when the outside is fully colored, skin is hard, and the stem begins to shrivel and dry.
  • -To harvest the pumpkin, cut the fruit off the vine carefully with a sharp knife or pruners.
  • -Do not tear the stem. About 3-4 inches of stem will increase the pumpkin’s keeping time.
  • -Before storing, cure pumpkins by setting them in the sun 10-14 days to harden the skin.
  • -Store cured pumpkins so they don’t touch in a cool place (ideally 50-55℉).
  • -Under ideal conditions your cured pumpkins should store for 2-3 months.

#GrowYourThanksgiving with Pumpkins
Pumpkins are such a Thanksgiving staple that it’s likely you already have a pumpkin dish as a part of your traditional meal. Now imagine a slice of your favorite pie made with pumpkins from your very own garden...yum! Or, if you’d like to do something new with your crop, why not try a delicious Pumpkin Risotto or a savory Pumpkin Cheesecake? When you wake from your food coma the morning after, you can enjoy this baked Pumpkin French Toast. And don’t forget the seeds! You can roast them with salt or cinnamon for a tasty snack.

Be sure to keep following our blog and and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more tips for your garden and ideas on how you can #GrowYourThanksgiving!

Read More »