Lack of rain seriously affecting gardens and fields

Published 8:30 am Thursday, July 12, 2012

Column: Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

The dry conditions, combined with the extreme heat of the past week, are now taking a serious toll on gardens and farm crops in this area. I have been trying to water some of my garden, but because I can’t water everything, I must choose what looks most desperately in need of water. Soaker hoses are often a  good option for some garden crops, as the water goes directly where needed and you don’t waste a lot of water. I do believe that when you do water, you need to water well so the moisture gets down into the root zone. Somehow, though, no amount of watering can take the place of a good natural rainfall.

Verlys Huntley

Although many of the corn fields and soybean fields in the area still look pretty good, you are beginning to see some spots in the fields, and even some entire fields on lighter soil, that are showing some severe damage. When the corn is setting on ears, moisture is particularly important.

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So let’s hope we can get some rain here in the next week.


Farmers market notes

This has been a very exciting year for our local farmers market. We now have 45 vendors, with others  still interested in joining us. In spite of having to deal with some rather unusual weather conditions, these growers will offer you a wide variety of exceptionally fine locally grown produce, freshly picked and attractively displayed. And farmers markets are becoming more and more popular as people are becoming more health conscious, wanting to know about where their food comes from and how their food is grown. In addition, buying locally is a real benefit to the local economy. Because our vendors are all living in this area, they will spend the money they make at area businesses.

For the last two years, we have been able to accept EBT cards, as well as credit cards, at the market.

The cards are scanned at our market booth, under the red awning, and you will receive tokens that can be spent at the individual vendors tables. Those people using their EBT/SNAP benefits at the market receive $5 additional benefits for the first $5 in EBT benefits used each time they come to the market, which means they could come to the market twice a week and get $10 of extra free food.

We would like to thank Blue Cross/Blue Shield for funding this wonderful program, which provides some real healthy food to those in need, and also helps support local small growers.

The farmers market also participated in the city carnival that was from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

We also this year received a grant from the Ball/Jarden Corporation to fund some canning classes. A demonstration on making freezer jam was given at the Strawberry Festival on June 30, and this Saturday we will have another canning demonstration at the market. If you haven’t already stopped by our market booth to get the free samples and coupons for canning supplies, be sure to stop.

If enough people show interest in learning how to can, we may schedule another class later (probably when tomatoes are in abundant supply). Canning is not that difficult, and certainly can help you save money. In addition, you will have a healthier product than the commercially canned foods, which usually have additives and a lot of salt. Last year my husband was put on a low salt diet to try to alleviate an inner ear problem, and I was amazed at the amount of sodium (salt) in nearly every processed food in the grocery store. When canning vegetables at home, you can decrease or even eliminate the salt. Among the younger people, salsa and pickles are becoming very popular, and they are not that difficult to can at home.

Most beginning canners are probably intimidated by the process, but by taking a class, they can find out that it is really not that difficult. Water bath canning is probably easiest, and works well for pickles, salsa and other canned tomato products. Although many home canners also probably have a garden, you can also buy your vegetables in larger quantities at the farmers market. And some of your canning supplies can probably be found at rummage or yard sales, saving you even more money. For anyone interested in canning, I recommend the book “So Easy to Preserve” put out by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, which has a real wealth of information, and even some great recipes.

Canned products make particularly nice gifts. About 20 percent of all jars of canned foods end up being given as gifts, with jams, jellies, salsa and various kinds of pickles being most popular.

We also now will be having a newly certified master gardener, Doug Meyer, at the Albert Lea Farmers Market each Wednesday, willing and eager to help you with any of your gardening questions or problems.  He will set up next to our market booth and be close to the Red Barn.


Featured produce of the week: Green beans

Green beans, also called snap beans or string beans, now are in season. The term string beans probably came from some of the older varieties of green beans, which had a fibrous string along the side. The newer varieties no longer have this. In addition to green, beans can be yellow (also known as wax beans) or purple. Beans like warm weather and should be picked when the plants are dry, to avoid spreading disease from plant to plant. Beans should be picked when the pods are thin, and before the seeds inside get large. Beans produce well for the amount of space they take up and are a good crop for home gardeners. If you keep them picked, they will produce for possibly two to three weeks, but if you want a continuous summer supply, you should probably make successive plantings.

Green beans are rich in folate, vitamin A and vitamin C. One pound of green beans will give you four cups of cut up beans. Green beans can be frozen by blanching for about three minutes, plunging them in ice water until completely cold, draining and packaging in freezer containers. Or they can be canned, using a pressure canner or proper hot water bath methods.


How to cook green beans

Bring one inch of water to boil in two quart saucepan. Add four cups cut green beans and salt to taste (1/2 to 1 teaspoon). Return to boil and simmer until beans are crisp tender (five to 10 minutes). Add butter.

Variations: Brown onion in butter and add to cooked beans. Sprinkle buttered beans with pieces of crisp cooked bacon or with Parmesan cheese. Or brown slivered almonds in butter and mix lightly with  beans.



Dilly beans

2 pounds green beans

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 heads dill

4 cloves garlic

2-1/2 cups water

2-1/2 cups vinegar

1/4 cup salt

Sterililize jars. Wash and trim beans, and pack into pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. To each pint, add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, one clove garlic and one dill head. Combine remaining ingredients and bring to boil, pouring hot liquid over beans. Put on lids and process 5 minutes in boiling water bath. Let beans stand two weeks before tasting to let flavors develop.


Green bean salad

6 to 8 cups cut green beans

1 thinly sliced onion

1 cup sour cream

2 Tablespoons vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons horseradish

1/4 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

Cook beans 3 minutes, rinse in cold water, and drain well. Add remaining ingredients and marinate  overnight.


“He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread;but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.” — Proverbs 12:11

See you at the farmers market from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays!


Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.