Archive for June, 2013

June 18, 2013

Garlic Scape Season is Here!

Dahinda, IL: If you have ever grown hardneck garlic you more than likely have had the long curly flower stalks known as “scapes” appear in the late spring or early summer. In botanical terminology a scape is a long flower stalk emerging from a root, rhizome, or a bulb. Although they do not produce flowers, the scapes of hardneck garlic are the reproductive structure of the garlic plant. Although most types of garlic will produce a stem, it is only the hardneck types that will produce a true scape. Garlic cultivars are grown from seed, but from their bulbs, and have been selected to no longer produce true seeds. Thus, the garlic flowers of most cultivars are sterile but the scapes do produce “bulbils” or small garlic bulbs. These can be planted and with a few years of growing will produce full size garlic bulbs. But the best use of garlic scapes is to use them in dishes that call for a mild garlic flavor.

Garlic Scape

Garlic Scape

The Garlic Farm, West Granby, CT

I find that garlic scapes have a milder flavor than the bulbs, but just like the garlic bulb itself, the scape will vary in flavor from variety to variety. Generally if you like the bulb, you will like the scape. They can be used in stirfries, soups, pasta sauce or ground into a pesto sauce. I like to just sauté them in butter and a little olive oil. They keep in the refrigerator for a few days and can be frozen or dried. They are best picked when young and tender, within a couple of days after they first appear. After that they begin to form the bulbils and the stems become tougher.

Garlic Scapes from Smiling Frog Farm Dahinda, Illinois

Garlic Scapes from Smiling Frog Farm Dahinda, Illinois

In fact, if you do not pick the scape, some of the energy that the garlic plant would put into the production of the bulb will go to the production of the scape. This can result in smaller or less bulbs overall. If you do not grow garlic you can still find scapes at a lot of farmers markets. The season for scapes is short, and the demand is high, so you will have to be on the lookout for them.  The freshest scapes will come, of course, from garlic that you grow yourself. It is not hard to grow and with the hardneck varieties you will get more than one reward from the same plant!

Here are several garlic scape recipes:

Garlic Scape Pesto


1 pound garlic scapes, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

ground black pepper to taste


Blend the garlic scapes, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper together in a food processor until smooth. Store in the refrigerator to use within two or three days; freeze for longer storage. Scape pesto freezes well, and it holds its green color when frozen usually even better than the traditional basil pesto.


Pickled Garlic Scapes

Ingredients: (For one pint)

About 15 garlic scapes

1 dried chile (optional)

1 cup cider vinegar

4 tsp. kosher salt

4 tsp. sugar



Trim garlic scapes, curl them up, and place them in a pint jar with a tight fitting lid.

Work the chile, if you’re using it, into the jar with the garlic scapes.

In a small saucepan heat the vinegar, salt, and sugar with 1 cup of water until simmering and salt and sugar are dissolved.

Pour warm vinegar mixture over the garlic scapes to cover them (you may not use all of the vinegar mixture). Seal the jar. Let sit until cool, then store in the refrigerator for at least 6 weeks and up to six months.


Grilled Venison and Garlic Scape Sandwiches


1 1/2 pounds venison, slightly frozen and sliced into 1/16-inch slices

8 garlic scapes, minced

1/3 cup canola oil

1/4 cup soy sauce

4 hamburger buns, split

4 slices sharp Cheddar cheese (optional)


Place venison strips in a bowl; sprinkle with garlic scapes. Pour in canola oil and soy sauce; mix well. Cover bowl and let venison marinate for at least one hour.

Preheat grill fitted with fine grate grill topper to medium heat.

Evenly spread venison on the grill topper. Stir occasionally to evenly cook meat until no longer pink, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Warm hamburger buns on warming rack of grill. Divide venison among the buns and top with Cheddar cheese.

(Recipes from

June 7, 2013

Paw Paw Trees – Suitable for the City or the Country

When one thinks of the cultivation of tropical fruit, Illinois is not what usually springs to mind.  Warm climates with palm trees and land cleared from jungle environments is what most have a picture when thinking about the cultivation of mangoes, papaya, and other exotic fruits.  But there is a tropical tasting fruit that grows on an understory tree in the forests of Illinois and in much of the U.S. from Missouri to the Appalachians south to Northern Florida.  The largest edible fruit indigenous to the United States; the paw paw , Asimina triloba, in the same plant family as several tropical fruit trees including the custard-apple, cherimoya, sweetsop, ylang-ylang and soursop.

Paw Paw fruit1.jpg                productimages

Paw paw fruit                                                                                        Sliced paw paw fruit

Kentucky State University                                                                Stark Bros.

Paw Paw at farmers             Mango Grafted

Paw paw fruit at a farmers market                                               “Mango Grafted” paw paw fruit

Kentucky State University                                                            Stark Bros

I heard about the paw paw tree a long time ago, probably from an old Herbert Zim, Golden Guides book on trees that I read in grade school. I have always wanted to grow one of these trees that are described as a tropical fruit growing in the temperate forest.  I searched in vain for the elusive paw paw throughout the Cook County Forest Preserve that was one of my stomping grounds as a kid. It was a futile search but one that made the paw paw only more fascinating.

I wished that I could find one in a grocery store, both to see what it tasted like and as a source for seed, but I never found one and did not even know if they were commercially available. Wanting to grow one I could not find paw paws for sale at any Chicago Area garden centers or nurseries. As I used to be more of an urban dweller, I didn’t even know if the paw paw could stand the rigors of urban life anyway. Now that I am a well-established amateur farmer, and the internet is available to source paw paw trees, I thought what the heck am I waiting for? I have 22 acres that I can fill up, so this spring I ordered a couple of paw paw trees from Stark Bros..


My Paw Paw2 My Paw Paw1

This spring I planted two paw paw trees, one is a variety called “Mango Grafted and the other is just labeled ”Paw Paw”


The fruit of the pawpaw is large, yellowish-green to brown 2–6 in long and 1–3 in wide, weighing from ½ to 1 pound, containing several brown seeds 1/2 to 1 in diameter embedded within fruit pulp. The fruits begin developing after the plants flower; they are initially green, maturing by September or October to yellow or brown. The fruit pulp is edible and has the consistency of a banana with a flavor reminiscent of a tropical fruit. In its native environment, it is found in well-drained areas of both bottom-land and hilly uplands. It has large, simple leaves and large fruits.

Paw paw with tree shelters                                                  Paw paw trees in a orchard

Paw paw trees with tree shelters for protection                                      Paw paw trees in a orchard

Kentucky State University                                                                          Kentucky State University

As for growing paw paw trees I wanted to find an expert to help me grow a successful crop. I consulted Sheri Crabtree, Co-Investigator of Horticulture at Kentucky State University. With the only full time paw paw research program in the world, Kentucky State University’s pawpaw research efforts are directed at improving propagation methods, developing orchard management recommendations, conducting regional variety trials, understanding fruit ripening and storage techniques, and germplasm collection and characterization of genetic diversity. I thought who better to ask than an expert from Kentucky State?


Sherri Crabtree 2

Sheri Crabtree

Kentucky State University

Ms. Crabtree, who along with Kirk Pomper, won the 2008 Shepard Award for “Best Research Paper Of The Year” for their work on the paw paw, was kind enough to answer a few questions that I sent her:

What family of plants do paw paws belong to?

“Pawpaw is part of the Annonaceae, or custard apple family. It is the only member of the family that grows in temperate climates, all the others are tropical.”

Are they grown commercially?

“Pawpaws are grown commercially on a small scale. I know of orchards in Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Arkansas, California, Rhode Island, and there are likely more that I am not aware of.”

I am planning to grow them in Central Illinois (zone 5), what soil types and in what areas do they do best in? What advice do you have for anybody who wants to grow paw paw trees in Central or Northern Illinois?

“Pawpaw trees grow best in a deep, rich soil that is well drained but will hold some water, and is high in organic matter.”

What flavor do pawpaws have?

“Pawpaws have a tropical flavor, best described as a blend of mango and banana. Different varieties have different undertones, such as coconut, pineapple, vanilla, caramel, and melon. “

Do they propogate well from seed? What is the best way to propogate them?

“You can propagate pawpaws from seed, they need to be moist chilled (we keep them in the refrigerator in bags of moist peat moss) for at least 3 months to stratify, and they should be stored that way until you are ready to plant them, they can’t be dried or frozen like some seeds. Pawpaws are not true to type, there is a lot of variation among seedlings, so if there was a certain variety you wanted to propagate you would need to graft them. We collect scion wood in late winter; store it in the refrigerator, then in late spring we graft onto actively growing seedling rootstock. We usually chip bud them, but whip and tongue and other methods of grafting can be used also.”

Are there dwarf varieties for people who want to grow them in small areas?

“There are no dwarf varieties, but pawpaw is a pretty small tree so it isn’t really necessary. They can get up to 15-20 feet tall, but you can prune them to keep them smaller.”

Do they do well in urban areas?

“They do fine in urban areas since they are a small tree, they only need about 8 feet between trees.”

Some fruits require more than one tree or more than one variety in order for a tree to set fruit. Is this true with paw paws?

“You do need two different varieties to cross-pollinate to set fruit.”

What other advice would you give a first time paw paw grower?

“We have a list of nurseries that carry pawpaw trees at . Of these, we recommend Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery, Hidden Springs, One Green World, Forrest Keeling, Stark Bros., and Edible Landscaping as a few that we have experience with and know sell good quality trees. Some pawpaw varieties we recommend are KSU Atwood, Sunflower, Overleese, NC-1, Shenandoah, Susquehanna, Potomac, and Wabash.”

Sherri Crabtree 1

Sheri Crabtree in the field

Kentucky State University

I would like to thenk Sheri Crabtree for ansering the questions that I had about the paw paw! It sounds like it is a tree that would be suitable for the city or the country. If you want something different and is certainly interesting you might want to grow a couple of paw paw trees yourself!

KSU has a lot of general information on growing pawpaws in their publications, Pawpaw Planting Guide and Organic Production of Pawpaw.


June 5, 2013

Master Gardener farm tour provides a chance to learn

Getting to see what other farmers are doing is always an enlightening experience. For me to see what they are doing right and learning from them is a great way to improve what I am doing at the farm. If I can offer them advice as well then it is mutually beneficial. This week I had the opportunity to tour a couple of area farms as I was invited to tag along and see how these farmers are helping to supply local produce to Western Illinois.

The tour was part of the June meeting of the Knox County Master Gardener program. Both farms are near Galesburg and are currently involved in the Galesburg Farmers Market.  Both are currently, or have in the past, also sold their produce through CSAs. Both have also sold produce to Galesburg area restaurants including Baked, Landmark, enSeason Café, and also to Knox College.

Spurgeon Veggies CSA, in East Galesburg, Illinois was the first stop.  Eloise and Dusty Spurgeon have grown about ¾ acre of vegetables for the past 6 years and sell them at the Galesburg Farmers Market and through their 35 customer CSA.

(Click on pictures for a better view)



Eloise Spurgeon in a high tunnel put up in August 2012


Spurgeon Veggies CSA cabbage in an Agribon row cover


Floating row covers were used for several types of vegetables. Flea beetles are a concern at Spurgeon Veggies. There was an example shown of a flea beetle infestation.


Peas planted early at Spurgeon Veggies


Tomatoes were mulched with straw. A question was raised if the straw could be a problem, by promoting disease, during this wet year. Eloise Spurgeon said that she did not see any evidence of disease and she did not think that it would be a problem.


Spurgeon Veggies put in over 600 pounds of potatoes this year. This includes some planted on previously unplanted lawn that was plowed this year. The plowing was a lot of work with the tiller that they have and Eloise said that any future expansion would be done with the help of somebody with a tractor and a plow.


More potatoes.


Determinate tomatoes, along with cucumbers, tried for the first time in the Spurgeon high tunnel.


Worm composter in the high tunnel.


Eloise and Dusty Spurgeon along with Dahinda, Illinois farmer Tom Collopy.


Blue Ribbon Farms in Knoxville, Illinois is owned by Jim Stanley. He is currently selling his produce and potted plants at the Galesburg Farmers Market every Saturday.


Much of the produce at Blue Ribbon Farms is grown in a high tunnel or hoophouse.


High tunnel tomatoes at Blue Ribbon Farms.


High tunnel squash


Blue Ribbon Farms also grows herbs. High tunnels often allow growers to get a jump start on the growing season, especially in northern states. The season can also be extended well into the fall and in some cases all year production is possible.


Blue Ribbon Farms garlic.


Jim Stanley of Blue Ribbon Farms discussing the merits of a vermicomposter.


Knox County Master Gardeners getting a sample of local food.


Walt McAllister, of Q’s Café in Galesburg was the chef who provided his talents and catered the event. He served salad and pulled pork sandwiches that were terrific! The salad that was served to the Master Gardener participants was from Spurgeon Veggies and Blue Ribbon Farms. The pulled pork was made from pork raised at author’s own Smiling Frog Farm in Dahinda, Illinois

The Master Gardener Program is an educational training program open to the general public. Following acceptance into the program, the trainee begins the core training. This includes daytime classes taught once a week for 11 weeks, beginning in mid to late January. Attendance for all 11 classes is mandatory. Classes are taught by University of Illinois specialists and extension educators.

Upon successful completion of the classroom training units and passing the final exam, you will become a Master Gardener Intern. The internship consists of fulfilling volunteer hours approximately equal to the number of hours of classroom training received (60 hours). Certified Master Gardeners are those who have completed their classroom training and internship. To be an active Master Gardener you must remain current in annual educational updates (a minimum of 10 hours) and volunteer service hours (a minimum of 30 hours) required by the local program.

According to the University of Illinois Extension website the mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program is:

“Helping Others Learn to Grow.’ Master Gardeners involve people in improving the quality of life by helping them find sound management practices for home and urban natural resources, by creating aesthetically pleasing environments, by promoting well-being through people-plant interactions and horticultural therapy, and by contributing to a safe, abundant food supply through home fruit and vegetable production.”

Knox County Master Gardeners

June 3, 2013

A very wet start to the season in Western Illinois!

Weather banner

This banner seems to have become a permanent fixture at (for the Knox County forecast)

Dahinda, IL: Flooding again?? It has been a wet year so far out in Western Illinois! It has been raining for several days now with a period last week on Tuesday where Knox County received 3 inches in 1 ½ hours! This is on top of the deluge we had a few weeks before that. Most of the rivers and creeks are up over their banks. This includes the Illinois which recently flooded Peoria and the Spoon River which has not given the towns along its banks a break. London Mills has been extremely hard hit and received visits from Governor Pat Quinn and Representative Sherri Bustos earlier this year.  Last week FEMA arrived in Knox County to assess the damage.

London Mills

London Mills, Illinois Flooding

Elaine Stone – Fulton County Farm Bureau

Go figure, last year at this time I was worried about how I was going to water the ¾ acre of tomatoes, peppers, and other plants that I had put in. The water table was so low that I had trouble pumping enough water just for our house let alone water a garden and, with a 400 gallon tank I picked up, I had to haul water from a nearby town’s water tower. This year I can’t go out into the garden or work with our chickens and hogs without sinking a foot into the mud.

This year’s overabundance of rain is a far cry from last year’s under abundance but both have had an adverse effect on what people are trying to grow. What I am hearing from many gardeners in Central Illinois is that their cucumbers, squash, and beans are not germinating. Many downstate gardeners planted in early to take advantage of the warm temperatures that prevailed at that time. Cooler than normal temperatures for the past several weeks though, as well as the very wet conditions have made it a tough year for beans and cucurbits such as melons, cucumbers and squash. If the soil temperature is not high enough, above 60 F with 65-75 degrees F being ideal, this combines with the excessive moisture to cause mold and rot to form in the seeds. The 4 inch soil temperature here in Knox County was listed as 62.2 on May 28th. Although this is in the range for germination of cucurbits and beans, the moisture level is still very high and the germination has suffered.

Cuke Seedlings

Cucumber Seedlings

The tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other crops that have been planted already do not seem to be as affected by the wet conditions but that could change. The damp conditions could help spread diseases especially fungal diseases. Early blight and verticillium in heirlooms, that are not resistant to these diseases, could be a problem in a wet year.


Early Blight in tomatoes

Aside from the rain, the cooler temperatures this spring have not affected fruits this year. Last year a very early warm up with a late frost and hard freeze killed off a lot of apples, cherries, and peaches across the Upper Midwest. This year, at least from what I can see in our area, the fruit trees are bearing a healthy crop.

DSCN1511                                DSCN1586

Flooding in Court Creek Valley, Dahinda, Illinois 05/28/2013                 Fog due to cooler temperatures in Court Creek Valley


Most of Illinois’ corn crop was planted in the first weeks of May. In our area, some of the corn that was planted earlier is under water. The planting of much of the soybean crop and the rest of the corn crop has been put on hold for now. Mowing and baling hay, which requires dry conditions, has also been held up and the continued growth in the hay fields may degrade the first cutting of this year’s hay.

DSCN1571     DSCN1580

Very wet corn fields in Knox and Peoria Counties, Illinois May 2013

What effect the flooding will have on what is going on with CSAs and what we will see in upcoming farmers markets is still to be seen. There is more rain in the forecast in Central Illinois for the upcoming week. Hopefully at some point we can dry out down here and get the season moving along soon!