Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite gardens and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.
Stephanie Thurow, food preservation extraordinaire, cookbook author and gardener, sat down to talk with us about her Minnesota garden and some of her favorite veggies to preserve.
She’s a published cookbook author and expert on food preservation, which means her family will enjoy their garden harvest year-round. Stephanie started getting into food preservation about 16 years ago. “At the time, I was looking for a new hobby and I loved pickles and Bloody Mary's. I wanted to learn how to make my own delicious garlic dill pickle,” she says. “I only knew one person at the time that knew how to can, my now-husband's aunt, and I asked her to teach me. After the first time canning with Mary, I was completely hooked and food preservation became a passion.”
Stephanie and her family preserve their harvest to enjoy year-round
Her favorite vegetable to grow and preserve? Tomatoes. “I enjoy Tomatoes because we slice them and eat them fresh, ferment them into salsas and our favorite, which is cherry tomatoes fermented with basil and garlic, or rosemary and onions,” she says. “ I can them diced to have on hand for cooking and also can my own homemade spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, ketchup and bloody mary mix.” Plus, Stephanie says she loves growing them because she always has plenty of extra to share with family and friends. Her goal is to grow her own pickling cucumbers, but this season her plants didn’t make it.
Stephanie started gardening over a decade ago when she bought her first house. Her first attempts at growing flowers were a swing and a miss — they all eventually died from inadequate watering. But once her daughter grew older and was interested in helping with the garden, Stephanie decided it was time to teach her about growing vegetables. They had three garden beds in their suburban yard. “For many years we grew a variety of herbs, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, beans, peppers, rhubarb, raspberries and gardened small scale so that we could have a variety of things,” explains Stephanie. “We just didn't have much space that provided enough sunlight.”
Stephanie's new garden bed that was created in 2020 after they had to remove a tree in their yard.
All of that changed in 2020. Stephanie participated in a variety of seed swapping events and started hundreds of flowers and vegetables from seed indoors. “My living room was taken over by plant shelves and plant lights. It turned out to be a really therapeutic shift of focus given that Covid-19 hit the US around the same time and we were all pretty much stuck at home,” she says. She had planned on giving the majority of her seedlings away, but ended up having to get a tree removed in her yard which opened up a big space to add six new garden beds. To her (and her family’s) delight, she was able to keep 80% off the seedlings and plant them in her new garden space.
The herb garden
Her garden theme? “Seed swap,” she jokes. “I grew the seeds I was given and seeds I had saved. I have tomatoes in nearly all the garden beds, except I have one area reserved as the squash garden and another bed for herbs.” Her expanded garden includes ten garden beds and a couple dozen fabric grow pots. Ready for her plant list? It’s long! She’s growing seven varieties of tomatoes, four types of onions, lots of jalapeno peppers, pumpkins, broccoli, spaghetti squash, bell peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, beets, carrots, celery, a variety of beans, sugar snaps, rhubarb that was transferred from her great grandmother's years ago, raspberries, garlic, two types of kale, swiss chard, green cabbage, watermelon radishes, horseradish, luffa gourd, and lots of nasturtiums and other flowers around the veggies to bring in pollinators. In her herb garden she has two types of basil, oregano, thyme, two types of lavender, spearmint, rosemary, cilantro and dill.
Stephanie grows all of this in hardiness zone 5a, which means she has a short growing season. This year, she says “I feel like it just started and now it’s almost going to be over.” But she’s used to it — A Minnesotan from birth, Stephanie says it’s all she’s known and that after working so hard in the garden during the summer months, it can be nice to take a winter breather. “Even though it’s sad when the growing season is over, it’s nice to have a break in the winter. Then [before you know it], it’s time to start all over again,” she says.
Stephanie used C-BITEs to support her pumpkins and tomatoes this year.
She’s used C-BITEs this year to keep all of her various vegetables supported and growing healthy for the best harvest yet. “I like the versatility of them,” she says. “I first used two stakes and C-BITEs with some netting I had on hand to create a trellis for my pumpkin. Once my pumpkin grew over another support area, I removed the stakes from the trellis I made to use as a support stake for my bean tower that got snapped during an awful storm we had.” She also created smaller supports with C-BITEs that keep heavy tomato branches from lying on the ground. “I like the multi-function of them. You are really only limited by your imagination,” says Stephanie.
Stephanie says it’s hard for her to define exactly what she loves most about gardening. “I guess it's more of the feeling I get when I'm in the garden. I think it is satisfying to germinate a tiny seed in the soil and have it grow into vegetables and flowers. The process is fun to experience and it's so important to teach the next generation,” says Stephanie. Her husband and daughter are involved in the gardens each season, from seed starting to harvesting. “My husband mixes up my seed starter and we all three work together to make soil blocks, start the seeds, and label the containers.” While her husband does most of the digging and garden bed creation, Stephanie takes over with planting, weeding, and watering.
Stephanie’s daughter loves watching the transformation of the gardens each season and helps Stephanie harvest (and eat) the garden goodies. “We both also really enjoy watching all of the butterflies and birds that visit,” says Stephanie. And when she says the whole family works in the garden, she means it! “We keep our three hens out of the garden bed area, but they pretty much can forage anywhere else around the yard. When we clean their coop, their bedding and droppings go into the compost bin, which will create some really good soil for us to use next growing season. We also have two dogs, and they help keep the squirrels at bay.”
Stephanie says if she had one piece of gardening advice to give, it would be to always be on the lookout for garden pests. “They can quickly make mess of your hard work, so I check around the garden almost daily.” She makes the rounds checking for cabbage moths, borer beetles, potato bugs, hornworms, and evidence of voles and grub worms in the soil. How does she eradicate them? Without the use of pesticides, it’s all in the hands! “I rub the moth eggs off or pick the caterpillars off and feed them to my chickens … It’s easy to stay on top of it if you get into the habit of going out everyday or every other day and spot them, pick them off, or whatever.” Her diligence has helped keep the garden and plants healthy each season.
Stephanie left us on a high note with her delicious Bloody Mary Mix recipe, which you can find below. You can follow Stephanie on Instagram @MinnesotaFromScratch, and purchase her books Can It & Ferment It, WECK Small-Batch Preserving, and WECK Home Preserving online.
Bloody Mary Mix
This classic Bloody Mary mix makes the perfect gift-basket idea for your Bloody-Mary-loving friends. It can be served as-is or can be jazzed up with some spice and additional freshly ground horseradish.
YIELD: 3 pints (6 cups)
8 cups ripe tomatoes (5 lbs.), cored and quartered
7 garlic cloves, halved
2 tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. celery salt
1 ⁄8 tsp. ground clove
1 tsp. canning salt 1 tbsp.
1 tsp. ground horseradish (optional)
1 tbsp. lemon juice per jar
Wash tomatoes and remove stems and cores as well as any bruised or flawed areas. In a large nonreactive pot, bring all ingredients except the horseradish and lemon juice to a simmer. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes or longer if needed, until the tomatoes have begun to break down.
Remove from heat and use an immersion hand blender to purée the mixture. Then, working in batches, use a fine mesh strainer with a bowl or large measuring cup underneath to separate the juice from the pulp. Use a spatula or spoon to help speed the process along by pushing and stirring the pulp in the strainer and forcing out the liquid. Pour the reserved tomato juice into a large nonreactive saucepan, add the horseradish if desired (it will lose spiciness as it’s cooked), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
Water bath canning instructions for shelf stability:
Add 1 tbsp. of lemon juice to each 2-cup pint jar (or if using a quart jar, you will need to add 2 tbsp. of lemon juice). Ladle the tomato juice into warm prepared jars. Use a funnel to safely transfer the mixture, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars with a dampened, clean, lint-free cloth or paper towel and again with a dry towel. Place canning jar lid in place over the rim of each jar and carefully screw the canning ring onto the jar until finger-tip tight. Process in the water bath for 35 minutes (or if canning in quart jars, process for 40 minutes). Carefully remove the jars from the water bath with canning tongs and place them on a towel-covered surface for 24 hours without touching. Remove clamps and test the lid to make sure it has securely sealed onto each jar. Refrigerate after opening; drink within one week of opening.
Alternate directions for refrigerator storage:
Pour bloody mary mix into airtight jars or alternate containers. Allow to cool fully and transfer to the refrigerator. Use within one week of making.
Recipe edited from WECK Small-Batch Preserving to fit standard mason canning jars.
This recipe has been shared with permission from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.