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Stories from the valley

A Season in Our Gardens – Hit of the Summer!

Contributed by Tim Johnson

Contributed by Luke Matthews

Contributed by Paul Buttner

What is the hit of your garden this summer? We have a couple. Some ordinary and some a bit more exotic. Regardless, it is always great fun to share the wins with others!

Large Rural Garden – Tim Johnson, President & CEO

pepper plants

The winners of this year’s garden are the shishito peppers! These fantastic mild Japanese peppers are producing like crazy and are perfect as a side, served as a snack with a tall cold Asahi, or added to scrambled eggs. 

Preparation is about as easy as it gets.


  • Handful or two of rinsed peppers drained and blotted dry
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan
  • Coarse salt


  1. Heat oil in pan over medium heat and add peppers
  2. Cook until peppers start to brown and blister, turn for the same on the other side
  3. Remove from heat to a paper towel to drain
  4. Salt to taste with your favorite coarse salt

peppers in a bowl

Eat everything but the stem! Use any leftovers chopped in your breakfast scrambled eggs. 

Diverse Urban Garden – Luke Mathews, Wildlife Program Manager

sliced tomatoes on drying rack

My Garden has really been giving me a lot of high quality produce this year. I have enjoyed incorporating sweet corn, bell pepper, onion, okra, cucumber, green beans, and summer squash into a variety of our meals; however, the hit of the summer has been dried Tomatoes! 

A few weeks ago, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with all of my excess tomatoes and I did not feel like canning them. Ultimately, I decided to try dehydrating a few and the result was so delicious that I have since run a lot of tomatoes through the dehydrator and I look forward to harvesting and processing more this way. 

dehydrated tomatoes

The beauty is that it only takes a few simple steps and they have a decent shelf life. 


  1. Wash and slice your ripe tomatoes into ¼ or ½ inch rounds 
  2. Spread them out onto your dehydrator racks
  3. Set the dehydrator to 150°F and run it for 15hrs (This can vary based on the size of your tomato slices as larger pieces take longer to dry)
  4. Check periodically and remove tomatoes as they become leathery
  5. Keep in mind you can also dehydrate tomatoes in the oven or sun-dry them and get the same result. 

These dehydrated tomatoes can be eaten as chips, rehydrated to cook with later, or submerged in olive oil and eaten with bread and cheese as an appetizer. I have tried all of the above methods with great results and just recently made a batch in olive oil with basil and rosemary from the garden. These are going in the refrigerator for a week, then they are ready to consume! 

New Garden – Paul Buttner, Environmental Affairs Manager

I will deviate a bit from my comrades on this one.  I’m not a recipe guy (I usually just make up all my own original “dude dishes” on the fly).  And, I’m barely a gardener.  I’m actually a woodworker in disguise.  So, one might ask why I’ve suddenly become a daily fresh tomato-addicted gardener now in my life.  The answer:  An excuse to be a woodworker again while spending so much time at home due to the pandemic.  So, my “hit” of the summer was actually building my garden, not necessarily farming it.  However, the gardening part has really started to grow on me while I still hang on to my first love of woodworking.

cantaloupe in a garden

The most recent examples of my woodworking addiction in the garden can be seen with my melons and tomatoes.  My melons are growing vertically and starting to develop big, heavy fruit.  I’ve learned of ways to support them using nylons or other fabrics to tie them up.  But a woodworker futzing around with pantyhose?!  Forget that!  This is just another excellent excuse for a woodshop project.  So, instead, this woodworker builds a special platform for each melon making each of them feel like kings.  Crazy huh?   I also just happily extended the cages for my endlessly growing tomato plants using leftover corner molding and wire from my workshop.  These two Early Girl variety tomato plants just keep on trying to reach for the sky.

Bottom line:  I’m loving all extra reasons to be a gardener.  But, my daily servings of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers are becoming equally addicting.  Off to go cut today’s bounty!