Summer Succotash with Bacon

Made with salty bacon, fresh tomatoes, and bright herbs, this easy succotash recipe creates a delicious summer side dish.

You’ll need:

  • 6 slices bacon, sliced
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 4 corn cobs, husked and kernels cut from the cob
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup sliced chives
  • ¼ cup sliced basil
  • ½ cup crumbled feta
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

To make:

Cook the Bacon: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the skillet and set it on a paper towel-lined plate. Remove excess bacon grease, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the skillet.

Cook the Vegetables: Add the green onions and corn to the skillet and cook until soft, about 3-5 minutes.

Combine Ingredients: Remove the skillet from heat and add the tomatoes, chives, basil, feta, and white wine vinegar or lemon juice. Stir in the bacon just before serving so it remains crispy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve: This dish can be served warm or at room temperature.

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Pickles Made Easy

Pickling cucumbers is a great way to preserve the freshness of summer and enjoy the tangy crunch of pickles year-round. Whether you prefer classic dill pickles, sweet bread-and-butter pickles, or spicy variations, pickling cucumbers at home is easier than you might think. Here’s a guide to help you get started on pickling.

Choosing the Right Cucumbers
For the best pickles, choose cucumbers that are:
Small to Medium-Sized: About 4-6 inches long, firm, and blemish-free.
Fresh: Pick freshly harvested cucumbers for the best texture and flavor.
Pickling Varieties: While you can pickle any cucumber, pickling varieties like Kirby or Persian cucumbers hold up better during the pickling process.

You’ll need:

  • Cucumbers: Fresh, firm cucumbers.
  • Vinegar: White vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a tangy flavor.
  • Water: To dilute the vinegar.
  • Salt: Pickling salt or kosher salt (avoid iodized salt).
  • Sugar: Optional for sweet pickles.
  • Spices: Dill seeds, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and garlic are expected. For a spicy kick, you can also add red pepper flakes.
  • Fresh Dill: For dill pickles.
  • Jars: Clean, sterilized jars with lids.

To make:

  • Prepare the cucumbers by washing them thoroughly and trimming off the ends. Cut the cucumbers into desired shapes, such as spears or slices, or leave them whole for baby pickles.
  • To make the brine, combine vinegar and water in a saucepan. Add salt (about 2 tablespoons per quart of liquid) and sugar if making sweet pickles. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt (and sugar).
  • Place spices, garlic, and fresh dill at the bottom of each sterilized jar.
  • Pack the cucumbers tightly into the jars.
  • Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace.

Seal and process the jars:

  • Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean cloth to ensure a good seal.
  • Place the lids on the jars and screw on the bands until fingertip tight.
  • Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10-15 minutes for shelf-stable pickles.
  • If you prefer refrigerator pickles, skip the water bath and store the jars in the fridge.

Allow the pickles to sit for at least 24 hours to develop flavor, but they taste best after a week. For fermented pickles, leave the jars at room temperature for 1-2 weeks, then refrigerate.

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Window Box Gardening

Window box gardening is a fun way to add charm and color to your home, regardless of your gardening space limitations. These compact, versatile containers can be filled with various plants, from vibrant flowers to aromatic herbs, making them a perfect choice for city dwellers and suburban homeowners. Here’s a quick guide to help you create and maintain a beautiful window box garden.

Getting Started: Choosing Your Window Box

  • Material: Window boxes are made of various materials, including wood, metal, plastic, and terracotta. Choose one that complements your home’s exterior and suits your style.
  • Size: Ensure your window box is at least 8 inches deep and wide enough for healthy root growth. The length should match or slightly exceed the width of your window.
  • Drainage: Proper drainage is crucial. Look for boxes with drainage holes, or add a layer of gravel at the bottom to prevent waterlogging.

Selecting Plants for Your Window Box

  • Flowers: For a lush, layered look, choose a mix of trailing, upright, and filler plants. Popular choices include petunias, geraniums, marigolds, and lobelia.
  • Herbs: If you prefer a functional garden, herbs like basil, thyme, parsley, and mint are excellent choices for window boxes.
  • Vegetables: Some vegetables, like lettuce, radishes, and cherry tomatoes, can thrive in window boxes.
  • Seasonal Rotation: Consider rotating plants seasonally to keep your window box looking fresh year-round. Pansies and violas are great for spring, while mums and ornamental kale add autumnal beauty.

Planting Your Window Box

  • Soil: Use a high-quality potting mix that provides good drainage and nutrients. Avoid using garden soil, which can be too heavy and compacted for container gardening.
  • Plant Arrangement: Place the tallest plants in the center or back of the box. Fill in with medium-height plants and finish with trailing plants along the edges.
  • Spacing: To avoid overcrowding, follow the spacing recommendations on plant tags to ensure each plant has enough room to grow.
  • Planting Depth: Plant at the same depth as in their original containers. Firm the soil gently around the roots, and water thoroughly after planting.

Caring for Your Window Box Garden

  • Watering: Window boxes dry out quickly, especially in sunny locations. Water regularly, keeping the soil consistently moist but not soggy. During hot weather, you might need to water daily.
  • Feeding: Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 2-4 weeks to keep your plants healthy and vibrant. Avoid over-fertilizing, which can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowers.
  • Pruning: Regularly deadhead spent blooms and trim back any leggy growth to encourage more blooms and maintain a tidy appearance.
  • Pest Control: Look for common pests like aphids and spider mites. To protect your plants, use organic pest control methods, such as neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Creative Ideas for Window Box Gardens

  • Theme Gardens: Create themed window boxes, such as a butterfly garden with nectar-rich flowers or a culinary herb garden for your kitchen window.
  • Color Schemes: Choose a color scheme that complements your home’s exterior. Monochromatic schemes can be elegant while contrasting colors add a vibrant pop.
  • Seasonal Decorations: Add seasonal decorations, such as mini pumpkins in the fall or ornaments during the holiday season, to enhance the visual appeal.

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Shade-Loving Plants

Gardening in the shade can be as rewarding and colorful as cultivating sun-loving plants. Shade gardens offer a calm, serene retreat, often filled with lush foliage and vibrant blooms. Here are some top shade-loving plants, including hostas, impatiens, heuchera, ostrich ferns, and Japanese-painted ferns, to help you create a stunning shade garden.

 Hostas: The Shade Garden Staple
Hostas are beloved for their large, attractive leaves that come in shades of green, blue, and yellow, often with striking variegation. They are incredibly hardy and can thrive in deep shade.

Growing Tips:
Soil: Well-draining, rich in organic matter.
Water: Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy.
Maintenance: Hostas are low-maintenance but benefit from mulching and occasional fertilizing.

Varieties to Try:
‘Blue Angel’: Known for its large, blue-green leaves.
‘Golden Tiara’: Features green leaves with golden edges.

Impatiens: Adding a Pop of Color
Impatiens are perfect for adding bright splashes of color to shady spots. These prolific bloomers come in various colors, from whites and pinks to deep reds and purples.

Growing Tips:
Soil: Well-draining and rich in organic matter.
Water: Keep the soil moist; they don’t tolerate drought well.
Light: While they prefer shade, they can handle some morning sun.

Varieties to Try:
‘Super Elfin’: Compact and ideal for containers or borders.
‘Infinity White’: Known for its large, pristine white flowers.

Heuchera (Coral Bells): Foliage for All Seasons
Heucheras, or coral bells, are admired for their stunning foliage in various colors, including deep purples, bright greens, and even silvers. Their delicate flowers add additional interest in late spring to early summer.

Growing Tips:
Soil: Well-draining, moderately fertile soil.
Water: Water regularly, but avoid waterlogged conditions.
Maintenance: Cut back dead leaves to encourage new growth.

Varieties to Try:
‘Palace Purple’: Known for its deep purple leaves.
‘Lime Rickey’: Bright lime-green foliage.

Ostrich Ferns: A Dramatic Showstopper
Ostrich ferns are known for their tall, feathery fronds that create a dramatic backdrop in shade gardens. They can grow large, making them ideal for adding height and texture.

Growing Tips:
Soil: Moist, rich, and well-draining soil.
Water: Keep the soil consistently moist.
Maintenance: Cut back fronds after the first frost to tidy the garden.

Varieties to Try:
Matteuccia struthiopteris: The classic ostrich fern with tall, arching fronds.

Japanese Painted Fern: Pretty and Contained
Japanese painted ferns are prized for their unique, colorful fronds, which blend shades of green, silver, and burgundy. They are also more compact and contained than other ferns, making them perfect for smaller spaces.

Growing Tips:
Soil: Well-draining, humus-rich soil.
Water: Keep the soil evenly moist.
Maintenance: Trim old fronds in early spring before new growth appears.

Varieties to Try:
‘Silver Falls’: Noted for its striking silver and green fronds with burgundy stems.

Creating Your Shade Garden
Layering: Plant taller plants like ostrich ferns in the back and shorter plants like heuchera and impatiens in the front.
Color and Texture: Mix foliage and flowering plants to add visual interest.
Pathways: Incorporate winding paths to create a serene woodland feel.

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Growing Squash

Summer squash is a versatile and prolific vegetable that can thrive in various garden settings. Whether you prefer zucchini, yellow squash, or pattypan, summer squash is relatively easy to grow and provides a bountiful harvest. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you grow summer squash successfully.

Summer squash is a gardener’s favorite because it matures quickly, often producing its first fruits in as little as 50 days from planting. It’s also incredibly versatile in the kitchen, perfect for grilling, sautéing, baking, or eating raw.

There are several types of summer squash to choose from:

Zucchini: This popular variety comes in green and yellow, and it’s known for its mild flavor and versatility.

Yellow Squash: Also known as crookneck or straight neck squash, it has a slightly sweet flavor and tender skin.

Pattypan Squash: These small, round, scallop-edged squash are great for stuffing and roasting.

Choose a variety based on your culinary preferences and the space available in your garden.

Timing: Summer squash thrives in warm weather and should be planted after the last frost when the soil temperature reaches at least 60°F (16°C). In most areas, this means late spring.

Location: Choose a sunny spot in your garden that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Squash plants need plenty of room to grow, so ensure you have enough space to accommodate their spreading vines.

Soil Preparation: Summer squash prefers well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Aim for a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8. Incorporate compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to enhance fertility and drainage. Consider planting in raised beds with heavy clay soil to improve drainage.

Watering and Mulching: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water the plants deeply at the base, avoiding overhead watering to reduce the risk of fungal diseases. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or compost, around the plants to retain soil moisture, regulate temperature, and suppress weeds.

Fertilizing: Summer squash is a heavy feeder and benefits from regular fertilization. At planting time, mix a balanced fertilizer into the soil. Once the plants begin to flower, side-dress with a high-phosphorus fertilizer to encourage fruiting.

Harvesting: Harvest summer squash when young and tender for the best flavor. Zucchini and yellow squash are typically ready when 6-8 inches long, while pattypan squash can be picked when they are 2-3 inches in diameter. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the squash from the vine, being careful not to damage the plant.

Storing and Using Your Harvest: Freshly harvested summer squash can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. They are incredibly versatile and can be used in various dishes, from stir-fries and casseroles to salads and baked goods.

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