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Dishin' the dirt from the garden and beyond

State Fair here we come!

A must-stop for any gardener at the Minnesota State Fair is the Agriculture building.  It teams with apples, canned goods, flower shows and honeybees! 

Many years back, I entered a couple items in the honeybee area.  I was pleased with my results.  The experience was fun and I’m truly amazed at how everything comes together.  As an exhibitor, you strain to assure your entry is nice, clean, attractive… “blue-ribbon” (pun intended).  Then you need to follow the rules in the book.  It gives you a whole new view on the exhibits you see every year.

Looking at the canning I’ve done recently, I considered whether they should be entered at the Fair.  Are the slices of cucumbers consistent; does the brine settle to quickly; are there too many onions?  Are they blue ribbon – not this year.  But are they delicious – you bet.

So you won’t see any of my pickles or honey this year at the Fair, but you can see the Greengirls.  August 3 (1-3) and September 2 we will be at the Star Tribune booth by the Grandstand.  We will be playing “compost or not” again this year as well as a new game, “Good or Bad.”  The games are lively and fun -- with prizes galore.   

The Greengirls will be posting some garden-amazing things they see at the Fair too.  So if you can’t get to the Fair, keep posted to and you’ll get your fix.

Growing familiar vegetables that don't look familiar

Vegetable surprise sounds like the name for a hot dish, but these days it's just part of shopping and gardening. New and newly rediscovered fruits and vegetables have upturned conventional wisdom about the foods many of us grew up with: Now we eat yellow carrots, purple cauliflower and white eggplant. Well, maybe most of us don't actually eat the white eggplant, but you get the idea.
Nature is not always straightforward or easily classified. Fruits or vegetables you think you know may throw in a curve now and again.
I was reminded of this recently when I bought a melon at the farmers market only to be surprised, not unpleasantly, when I cut it open to find it was one of the yellow-fleshed variety, and a very tasty one at that. Many of the yellow varieties are from heirloom seeds, before we sort of standardized on the deep pinkish-red versions we mostly grew up with. The National Geographic just ran a piece on the "secret" history of the watermelon, tracing its 5,000-year development. It's an interesting read. You can read it here (, but suffice it to say that the current versions we slurp up are much, much tastier than the nasty incarnations that kept desert dwellers hydrated.
In markets, both the farmer and super variety, we're seeing more vegetable options than we had before, some new and some just newly revived: purple carrots, candy cane beets and golden cauliflower, for example. And those same varieties are growing more available to gardeners, both through seed catalogs, farmers markets and some garden centers.

Just as with people and books, we can't always judge by the outward appearance. The yellow veggie on the left in the photo is a lemon cucumber. It takes its name from its shape, not its flavor. The red banana-pepper-shaped item on the right is a tomato that tastes just like you'd expect a tomato to taste. You put them both together in the garlicky Greek salad below, and to me, that tastes like summer.

So if you run across something unfamiliar at the farmers market, don't be shy about asking growers what it is and how to prepare it. You might just find your new favorite taste of summer.

What unusually shaped fruits or veggies have you tried to grow? And will you grow them again? I might not grow those tomatoes again, but the lemon cucumbers are repeat favorites for their color.

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