Beets

Overview: Beets (Beta vulgaris) are a hardy vegetable that can survive the cold temperatures of New England. These colorful plants are a great addition to your garden and are perfect for a beginner gardener!

Three newly harvested beets sit on a bed of grass
Three newly-harvested chiogga beets from the Merrimack Garden
A white bowl holds three different colors of beets: golden, bull's blood red, and chiogga, which has pink and white stripes
A bowl of chiogga (striped), golden, and bull’s blood beets

Seed Starting: Plant seeds in soil that is free of rocks, as their roots cannot develop properly with them in the way. Seeds should be planted very early spring, about 4 weeks before the last frost. A second crop can be sown in early August. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1-2 inches apart from each other directly into the bed in which you wish to grow them. Beet seeds (little balls) are actually a clump of 2-4 seeds. Soaking them before planting can speed germination and soften that hard seed coat. Make sure they are watered sufficiently for proper germination as well!

To level up, consider multi-sowing beets, which means starting multiple seeds in trays or six-packs before transplanting into the garden (Source: Tiny Garden Habit). As the beets mature in a group, they push the other beets out. You simply harvest the biggest one of the bunch and let the others continue to grow. 

Growing Advice: Beets prefer full sun – at least 6 hours a day! Once your seeds germinate and start to grow, you should thin your plants to around 5-6 inches apart so that their roots will have space to spread. No need to pull up the plants to do this – you can just cut off the greens at the tops to not disturb the other beets. They should get 1 inch of water per square foot weekly.

Harvesting Advice: Beets push up and show their size above ground. When a beet reaches the desired size (maybe 1-3 inches in diameter), gently pull it from the ground. Note that beets can lose their sweetness and become “woody” if they get too big.

Sauteed Beet Greens Recipe

While beets are tasty, their leaves are equally so! Here is a zero-waste recipe for sautéed beet tops. (Originally found here). You will need:

  • 1 bunch beet greens
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • Lemon wedge
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts or pistachios
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Separate the stems from the beet greens. Finely chop the stems and coarsely chop the leaves.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and the beet stems and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the beet greens, a few pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté, tossing, until just wilted.
  • Turn off the heat, add the raisins, a big squeeze of lemon, and toss. Transfer to a platter, top with the walnuts and season to taste with more salt and pepper.

Written by Sophia Beland

Milkweed

Overview: Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.) is a species of flower native to the United States that will attract many butterflies and other pollinators to your garden!

Seed Starting: Milkweed plants will have a deep system of roots and will prefer to be planted far apart, about 18 inches. They are also best planted in the fall.

Growing, Harvest, and Special Advice: Common milkweed can survive in a drier environment, so watering only when the soil appears dry will be sufficient. They are quite an easygoing plant, as they need not be fertilized either! Milkweed, as it is a native plant, can survive in subpar soil conditions. Because milkweed has a deep root system, it is not recommended to transplant plants once fully grown. They will also spread their seeds over time and replant themselves.

Peppers

Overview: Peppers are another versatile vegetable that have their own measurement called scovilles. Scovilles measure how hot peppers range from bell peppers, around 0-2,000, to the hottest peppers in the world like the carolina reaper at 1.5 million scovilles and higher.

Seed Starting: plant pepper seeds 1-2 feet apart. Peppers like partial shade and well drained soil. Peppers are often 

Growing Advice: Peppers do well with a trellis or fence to climb and to bear the weight of the peppers as they mature.

Harvesting: Harvest peppers with a knife or scissors when to desired size, bell peppers typically will be in full color (in accordance with seed type) and around the size of hand. 

Stuffed Peppers Recipe

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F and set an oven rack in the middle position.
  • Tenderize the beef: In a medium bowl, using your hands, mash the beef with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the baking soda. Let sit for 20 minutes while you continue with the recipe.
  • Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil for easy clean-up, if you like. Place the peppers, cut side up, in the baking dish; drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.
  • Roast the peppers for about 20 minutes, until slightly browned and tender-crisp. A bit of liquid will accumulate in the bottom of the peppers; that’s okay.
  • Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more; do not brown. Add the ground beef mixture, chili powder, cumin, and oregano and increase the heat to medium high. Cook, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon, until the meat is browned and almost cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, until the meat is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and ¾ cup of the cheese, and stir until melted. Remove the skillet from the heat.
  • Remove the peppers from the oven and spoon the meat filling evenly into the peppers. Sprinkle with the remaining ¾ cup cheese and place back in the oven. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the filling is hot and the cheese is melted and bubbling, and serve.
  • Make-Ahead Instructions: The peppers can be partially cooked and filled with the beef mixture up to 2 days ahead of time and refrigerated, or frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, defrost overnight in the refrigerator if frozen, cover the dish with foil, and bake in a 425°F-oven for about 15 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and remove and discard the foil. Top the peppers with the cheese and place back in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted. 
  • Recipe from Once Upon a Chef https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/stuffed-peppers.html
Pepper plant with 3 peppers on it

Watermelon

Overview: Watermelons are Annuals (only one life cycle). They typically take 80-90 days from seed to full maturity. You’ll get 1-3 fruit per plant

Seed Starting: The best time to start the seeds would be late spring to summer for planting, the soil must reach 70º Fahrenheit before growth can start. Watermelons needs 3-5 feet between growing plants

Growing Advice: Unless living in a warm/ tropical climate, watermelons will need lots of attention and care. plastic bags, green houses, kiddie pools, etc are all commonly used to warm up that soil to start the seeds. When the melons mature to the point of weighing down to the ground, put straw underneath to prevent molding.

Harvesting: home grown melons are often much smaller than bought or farm grown, so keep this in mind when it comes time to harvest.

Recipe for Watermelon Salad

  • cut up watermelon and red onion into a fine mince.
  • Rinse onions in ice water to remove bite
  • Add feta cheese crumbles, basil, and top with balsamic glaze of choice.

By; Jackie Rosney

One small watermelon on vine being held
Small watermelon plant

Potatoes

Overview: Potatoes are a meal staple all over the world. The starchy vegetable is one of the most versatile, there are hundreds of ways to prepare and enjoy them.

Seed Starting: Started from seed potatoes from either pieces or whole small potatoes. One potato seed can yield as many as 10 potatoes. Potatoes need full sun and loose soil.

Growing Advice: cut up seed potatoes and let them dry out, this helps prevent rot. The bigger the plot or pot the better, more room can mean more potatoes under the right circumstances.

Harvesting: the potatoes will sprout a plant with vines and flowers, when these vines start to die that’s when the potatoes are at their most mature and are ready to be dug up.

Recipe

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Wash potatoes and slice into ⅛” thin slices. Slice onion as thin as possible.
  • Layer potatoes and onions in little stacks. Place stacks upright in a greased casserole 2.5qt to 3qt dish.
  • Melt butter & flour in a saucepan and cook 2-3 minutes. Add seasonings and milk. Whisk over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses until melted.
  • Spoon cheese sauce over potatoes. Cover with foil (sprayed with cooking spray) and bake 60 minutes. 
  • Remove foil and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned and potatoes are cooked. Cool 15 minutes before serving.
  • recipe from Spend with Pennies https://www.spendwithpennies.com/au-gratin-potatoes/

By: Jackie Rosney

Garlic

Overview: Garlic is one of the most versatile and popular spices in the world. Strong in flavor, smell, and health benefits, garlic can be added to many dishes as a main or supporting flavor. 

Seven heads of recently harvested garlic sit atop a rock
Recently-harvested garlic

Seed Starting:  Garlic is grown from cloves. It takes 8-9 months for cloves to become new garlic heads. Garlic is one of the few foods planted in the fall in New England. It is harvested in late spring/early summer.

Growing Advice: Plant each clove tip up and 3 to 5 inches deep. It helps to insulate garlic over winter with a layer of mulch (shredded leaves, straw, etc.). . You can plant garlic from sprouted garlic, just add it to soil. Although garlic only has one life cycle after picked, simply replant a clove or two from each harvested head, to restart the process.

Harvesting: Harvest your garlic when the lower leaves of your plant turn brown. Don’t rinse dirt from garlic with water: shake it off to preserve the papery protection.

Recipe for Garlic Confit

  • Remove garlic cloves from head and peel
  • Put in ceramic or any oven safe container.
  • Separate cloves and cover completely with olive oil.
  • Add any additional herbs to your liking (rosemary, basil, peppercorns, lemon, etc.) and bake in the oven at 300 Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Use as a spread, add to butter, or any of your recipes there are hundreds of uses!
  • Save the oil and now you have garlic infused olive oil!
  • Since you cooked the garlic and the oil make sure to refrigerate for keeping!

Written by; Jackie Rosney

Beans

Overview: When starting from seed, there are two categories that beans can be grouped into: pole beans and bush beans. Both types are almost identical, but pole beans will climb once the plants progress in growth, and will need some form of support to grow on. Bush beans will require less maintenance in this way, but pole beans will typically produce a larger quantity of beans to harvest.

burgundy beans (purple in color)
Burgundy beans (bush type)
Scarlet runner beans (with green pods) hang from their vine
Scarlet runner beans (pole type)

Seed Starting: Beans typically grow best when planted directly outdoors. Because they generate their own nitrogen for use in the soil, they will not need supplemental compost or fertilizer unless your soil quality is particularly poor. Sow bush beans 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows that are around a foot and a half apart. Sow pole beans the same way, but be sure to set up stakes for support around them prior to planting seeds (source).

Growing, Harvest, and Special Advice: If you continue to plant beans year after year, they will benefit from crop rotation (that is, planting them in a different bed or patch of soil the next year) to prevent diseases. Beans should be watered often, about 2 inches of water per square foot of soil weekly. It is also best recommended to water on sunny days to prevent moldering of plants. Once pole beans reach the top of their supports, you can pinch off the extra stems to encourage the plant to put more energy into growing bean pods instead of getting taller. They should also be harvested in the morning when their sugar content is at its highest – the more you harvest, the more will grow!

Recipe

Easy Garlic Green Beans (original recipe can be found here):

  • 1 pound of trimmed green beans, washed, drained, and halved crosswise
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 to 12 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 1 small onion (½ cup), sliced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  1. Bring 3 cups of water in a large pot to boil over medium high heat. Stir in the salt.
  2. Add the beans and cook for 7 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to cook evenly.
  3. Remove from the heat. Drain the beans through a strainer over a bowl. Reserve ½ cup of the bean cooked water for later use.
  4. Put the same pot back on the stove. Turn on the heat to medium high.
  5. Add the vegetable oil and garlic, stirring with a wooden spoon for 1 minute, until the garlic start to get a little crispy and light brown.
  6. Add the beans, the reserved ½ cup bean cooked water, soy sauce, and onion.
  7. Cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, occasionally turning and flipping with the wooden spoon, until the soy sauce mixture boils down and the beans turn savory and tender. Remove from the heat and stir in sesame oil.
  8. Transfer to a serving bowl or plate and serve with rice. The leftovers can be refrigerated up to 1 week.

Written By Sophia Beland.

Parsley

Overview: Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is one of the most well-known and versatile herbs out there. They are also very hardy and easy to grow for even the most novice gardeners.

This is a mound of light green parsley with serrated leaves.
Flat-leaf parsley (source: PublicDomainPictures)

Seed Starting: To sow parsley indoors, such as in a small pot to keep in your garden window, sow seeds ½ inch deep. If planting outdoors, sow seeds 1 ¼ inch deep and about 3 inches apart from one another (source).

Growing, Harvest, and Special Advice: Parsley will thrive in deep pots or beds, and will do well in heavily composted soil. Plants should be in partial shade. If planted outside, parsley will do well with companion plants of carrots, chives, onions, or tomatoes. Planting parsley around asparagus plants will repel asparagus beetles.

Recipe for Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a refreshing Mediterranean side dish that can be eaten with hummus and pita bread. Original recipe can be found here.

To start, combine cooked and cooled bulgur wheat (1/2 cup uncooked) finely chopped cucumber and tomatoes (1 cup each) in a bowl. Pulse parsley (around 3 medium sized bunches) in a food processor until finely chopped. Add parsley to your bowl with bulgur, tomatoes, and cucumber. You can also add fresh mint (one medium bunch) to the food processor with your parsley if you wish. To make the dressing, combine fresh minced scallion (1/3 cup), EVOO (1/3 cup), salt (1 tsp), lemon juice (1/4 cup), and a couple chopped garlic cloves. Mix everything together and serve chilled. Tabbouleh will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

Written By Sophia Beland.

Tomatoes

Overview:Tomatoes are a fruit (yes a fruit–although commonly referred to as a vegetable) These fruit are sweet and acidic used all over the world

Five heirloom tomatoes in red, orange, and purple sit on a wooden cutting board.
Heirloom tomatoes

Seed Starting: Tomatoes need lots of sunlight or growing lights. Start in damp seed starting mix, 2-3 seeds per pot, and ¼ inches deep. Start tomatoes about 8 weeks before your last frost date. This is right around Merrimack’s spring break. . Space your tomatoes 2 or more feet apart.

Growing Advice: Tomatoes need full sun and lots of moisture. If the soil is dry an inch down, offer them a good soak. Tomatoes are subject to blight, a fungal disease, so keep leaves off of the ground and water at the base of the plant (rather than spraying the leaves). Tomatoes often do well with a fence or equivalent to let the vines climb rather than droop or touch the ground

Recipe for Homemade Tomato Sauce

  • Start with 8-10 medium to large tomatoes (this will be a smaller batch of sauce) or 14 or more to make a larger batch. (Tomatoes on the vine or Roma tomatoes work best for me!)
  • Slice an “X” on the bottom of your tomatoes and bring them to a boil in a large pot.
  • When the skin of the tomato becomes loose or is coming off completely remove from boiling water and place in a bowl of ice water.
  • Remove all the skin and stem parts (the white parts) from tomatoes and crush. Crushing by hand is the original and best way but if you prefer you can use a potato masher or equivalent to break down the tomatoes!
  • When all the tomatoes are crushed to your preference (you can crush them or even blend them to pure liquid consistency or leave some chunks of tomatoes for texture) put back in pot and return to a simmer.
  • Add 4-6 cloves of garlic, a hefty sprinkle of salt and pepper, a 1/2 cup of olive oil (or to your liking), Italian seasonings of your liking (basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, etc.), and minced onion (or a whole onion with the ends cut off, also marked with an “X” on both ends, not enough to cut through the whole onion, and remove from sauce when soft or if layers begin to peel)
  • Simmer until all ingredients are combined and sauce thickens in consistency (if desired some prefer a thin sauce and you can just combine ingredients and use sauce as desired!)
  • For Gravy you can add meat to your sauce; sausage, meatballs, beef cubes, etc. (pre-cooked)

Written by: Jackie Rosney

#Healthcare in a New [Digital] Dimension

Written by: Sabella Fabiano

Growing up, I dreamed of being a nurse. I was (& still am) inspired by their ability to make a difference in people’s lives everyday. As you can see, that career path was not in the cards for me. So, how could I make my “dream” a reality in the communication field? I have realized that I have the ability to make the world a better place through effective communication. It doesn’t seem like much but effectively communicating healthcare literacy, cultural competency and language barriers  can build a patient provider relationship. According to Haran Ratna, author of The Importance of Effective Communication in Healthcare Practice , “Without it [communication], the quality of healthcare would be impaired.” Ethical communication in healthcare aids transparency and supports the patients’ goals to care

The global pandemic has brought prominence to health communications and has led healthcare organizations to rapidly expand. We have seen improvements in clinical services, manufacturing prescription drugs, medical equipment, and telehealth.These outcomes make healthcare providers more accessible, approachable, and can create stronger relationships with their patients.

Like any other industry, it is important for healthcare to continue to keep up with the latest trends. The overall use of technology within healthcare is great but it’s also important to build positive relationships with patients through social engagement specifically through social media (SM) platforms. SM has become a new dimension of healthcare allowing the public, patients and healthcare professionals to become actively involved in their communities.

There are Six Key Benefits that SM has provided:

  1. Increased interactions with others
  2. More available, shared, and tailored information
  3. Increased accessibility and widening access to health information
  4. Peer/social/emotional support
  5. Public health surveillance
  6. Potential to influence health policy. 

Born and raised in Boston, it only made sense for me to see how some of the finest Boston hospitals use SM. Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Dana-Farber Cancer Institution, and Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH)  utilize Instagram to create positive impacts on society.

@massgeneral Instagram Post https://www.instagram.com/massgeneral/

@Massgeneral engages their followers (42.6k) through uplifting and informative content. Posting photos of nurses, helpful hints, and hospital news allow for their audience to find comfort in making connections to the organization on a more personal level. Understanding healthcare is not easy for the average person. MGH has created a podcast to their profile providing a space that is informative and educational.

@Danafarber is a little more reserved with their Instagram profile compared to MGH. Dana-Farber focuses deeply on emotional support, providing their followers (27.4k) with quotes from survivors, friends and family members that have felt appreciated and respected through their journeys. This type of approach allows for an inclusive online support system. 

@Bostonchildrens has a high level of community interaction. Content consists of photos of patients that are light hearted and community oriented. It is pretty evident that no one wants to see images of sick children- BCH provides their patients and followers (59.1k) hope and commitment to service through involvement. I admire that their posts are cheerful rather than providing hard facts or statistics.

I am the first person to argue that SM has negative effects on society but utilizing platforms like Instagram for the greater good reminds me how important it is to be able to communicate to people in all different ways. Is SM going to cure cancer? No, probably not. However, making small connections on social networks help open new opportunities for providers and their patients. With the right intentions of social media platforms through medical communications, we can continue to see impactful change within the future of our healthcare system.