Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, June 11, 2018

July Planting Tips and Around the Garden

Dear Folks,  

National Weed Your Garden Day is Wednesday, June 13th.

This time of year I am out in the garden at first light or shortly thereafter.  This time of morning is just beautiful.  I put seed out for the wild birds, let them eat for a while, then I start my garden rounds.  Weeding, harvesting, checking for issues and just enjoying the cool morning before the heat hits.

I was picking some Arabian Jasmine flowers to float in a bowl for our kitchen table when I spotted this cute little (about 3/4 of an inch long and trying to hide) Praying Mantis.

National Pollinator Week begins Monday, June 18th.

It is important to keep something flowering in the garden year round so your pollinators happily visit your gardens all the time.

Your melon and cucumber type plants NEED the pollinators.  I am happy to see this cantaloupe on my young vine which means the pollinators were at work.

I am hoping for more and particularly when this Black Tail Watermelon gets going well and starts putting out flowers.

The Dark Opal Basil is doing nicely also.


Most of the planting in July and August is by seed for fall production/harvest. Consider this: If you want pumpkins for Halloween, you have to count back 90-120 days for seeding in. If you do not have a bed prepared or in mind for planting now, get your bed(s) ready.

Beginning July 15th
Seeds Only Planting:

Luffa Gourds
Musk Melons
Squash, Winter       


Sown areas need to be kept consistently moist and the seeds will germinate based on soil temperatures. [Cool weather seeds can be sown now and will give you a jump start when the soil begins cool later on.] Lightly cover with loose soil and loose mulch to keep the area moist.
    Higher humidity can reduce moisture loss to plants, reducing watering frequency, but check with water meter regularly.  It is possible to over-water - then followed by under-watering causing plant stress.
    Tomato plants are unable to set fruit when the Night temperatures stay in the 80s.  Maintain the plants through the summer and you will get a fall crop of fruit before frost.
    Sun damages plants in the summer time, as frost damages them in the winter time. As in frost damage, try to leave the sun damage at the top of the plant alone, if you can, as it protects the lower portions of the plant.  Pruning for fall can start at the end of August through the beginning of September when the monsoon ends and night time temperatures fall below 80.

Your plants may exhibit chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves showing green veins) which is caused by excess water.  It is hard to balance the plants needs against the heat.  Ironite or green sand applied will correct the chlorosis within a week or two.

More of our visitors.

This Woodpecker was trying to eat some of my sweet peppers (I wish they would leave more, but I get enough :-), and was trying to stay upside down, so Deane caught this "abstract" of the bird's fluttering.  Normally we delete blurred pictures but this really looked like art so I kept it.

One of the Quail families stopped by the watering tray and the Lovebirds were literally hanging out ON the tree.

Stay safe in the heat, enjoy your garden and bounty!

You can purchase my calendars and books through links on the sidebar here.

I appreciate your sharing my posts with family and friends.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Seed Share Coming Up - Mark Your Calendars!

Lime Basil
Dear Folks,

My next free seed share is coming up in July, "sow" you do not want to miss it!

More below, meanwhile - read this article I wrote 2 years ago for my Seed Share that year.

Sunday, June 10th is National Herbs and Spices Day, are you growing enough of these healthy flavor seasonings for your meals?  At my seed share event you can ask questions and get answers.

Sow? 105+ Degrees? Yes!

Mesa Urban Garden
Free Seed Share and Q&A
with Catherine, The Herb Lady
Thursday, July 5, 2018, 6 - 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mesa Main Library
64 E 1st St, Mesa, AZ 85201
(East of Post Office off of Center Street)   

Do you want pumpkins for Halloween or Thanksgiving?  Enjoy fall corn on the cob?  Ever heard of a Monsoon Garden?

What do these have to do with sowing seed in the hottest time of the year in the desert?


I will answer questions on the whys and hows of sowing your fall garden at this seasonal lecture hosted by the Mesa Urban Garden, at the Mesa Main Library.

I harvested all of my garlic, regular and elephant type (Elephant Garlic is a leek on steroids) and I am keeping my fingers crossed that most of them will have formed heads of cloves for longer storage.  They can be used like this but that is a lot of garlic even for sharing.  Our winter was, again, too warm and only a few formed scaps signaling the formation of cloves. Keeping fingers crossed.  Meanwhile they need to air dry in the shade.

My Lime Basil comes back up each year having freely re-seeded wherever, at least this time it is in one of my big pots.  A delightful and distinctive lime flavor.  Photo at the top.

My Turmeric has popped up as has some of the ginger. In the picture this is the turmeric

One of the very, very few strictly ornamental plants I grow is the drop-dead gorgeous red and white Amaryllis.  One of the blooms is gracing our kitchen table along with some of Arabian Jasmine sprigs.

And I can't resist sharing another picture of the Peach Faced Love Birds sheltering among the trees.  This tray refreshes each time the area waters but yesterday, with the unofficial high of 110, I had to add more water.  This gathering followed visits from the other varieties of birds getting some water, and sometimes dropping bread a neighbor puts out for them in the water!

We are in for more high triple digits so check your plants in the morning for any additional watering they need.  Mid-day wilt is NOT necessarily a sign of water need as many plants with thin leaves wilt mid-day to retain moisture.

Speaking of moisture - drink water!!!!!  Make it pretty with edible flowers, some herbs or fruit and veggies.

Stay safe while enjoying the garden, kitchen and maybe a dunk in a pool or lake.

I am taking the rest of the week off visiting with family. Type at you next week.

A Favor -- please share my blog and posts with friends and family on facebook or your favorite social media site.  It helps me and brings helpful info to those who would like to garden and use the bounty.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Around and From the Garden - May 29th

Dear Folks,

My caper berries are coming in!  Now starting the fermenting to get some of these delicious berries ready for eating.

Capers are most known for the pickled or fermented unopened flower bud, but if you let the flower go to maturity it produces a berry and bigger harvest and delicious fruit.  More 'bang' for your time as it were.

Caper buds or berries horribly bitter so the bitterness needs to be removed. There are multiple ways to process the buds or berries.  I use a brine fermentation which gives a nice flavor without the harsh vinegar of typical pickling AND gives us the side benefit of beneficial bacteria as the brining causes friendly bacteria to culture the fruit in a process similar to culturing yogurt.

I use a simple salt solution of 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to 1 cup of hot water.  Stir to dissolve and let cool before using.  I keep a jar pre-mixed on hand to immediately be able to start fermenting garden produce.  For the capers I pierce the end with a toothpick, cover with the brine, weighed down to keep everything submerged and let sit loosely covered on the counter for 10-20 days depending on taste.  The fermenting vegetables release gas which needs to escape.


Have you signed up for the FREE Grow Your Own Food Workshop? It is full of organic gardening know-how and wisdom!

Hurray and sign up by Midnight, May 31, 2018, when enrollment closes.

You'll learn about growing, clean, healthy, nutrient dense food. Including how to deal with:

Garden pests
Poor soil
Finding time for your garden
Starting seeds
....and much much


Back to fermenting foods from the garden . . .

I harvested potatoes, a hidden sweet potato, my first cucumber (a yellow variety) and our first crook neck squash the other day and immediately set to fermenting some of the cucumber. 

Shown for pickling the cucumber is some of my dried garlic and dill along with a few nasturtium leaves which help keep the finished cucumber crisp.

I use the same brine recipe for cucumbers as I do with the caper berries.

My first attempt to grow peanuts where I actually understand the process and the flowers are starting to come out.  The next unique phase is they need to grow tall enough to then bend over and bury into the ground to grow the actually "ground nuts".  So happy to see them at this point.  The speckling you see on some of the leaves is insect damage which I am treating with safe soap spray. 

One of the "neighbors" stopped by and I was able to get a great picture before it launched off our clothes line.  The wild Peach-Faced Love bird, we call "The Cheepy Guys" for their chatter are the result of an escape 40 something years ago.  The State fish and game deemed them a non-threat to native birds so they have bred throughout the valley.  Colorful and fun to watch. 

My Roselle (Hibiscus Sabdriffa) are coming along nicely.  I chose a different spot to grow them this year.  I am looking forward to using the leaves for my summer salad mix (roselle, Egyptian spinach and sweet potato) while the plant gets to the fall stage of producing the gorgeous burgundy flower calyx.

The dried calyx from last year's roselle harvest and they colored and flavored this sun tea mix of green tea, dried ginger peel (when I harvested my ginger, I dried the peel for use like this) along with a nice sprig of my fresh Stevia.

I enjoy unsweetened flavored seltzers during the hot times, so last night I made a "mocktail" for a visit with a friend of half of this lovely tea and flavored seltzer.  Nice and refreshing and no calories, just the great flavor and benefits of the green tea, roselle and stevia.

Lastly I want to share a nice link from The Essential Herbal on making herbal "pastes" aka pestos.

I hope you have a lovely week in the garden and kitchen with your bounty!

All my books and calendars are available through links on the side bar here on the blog, and through my website.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Beauty In The Garden, and Blending In.

Dear Folks,

Just some fun pictures from the garden yesterday.  I have a terrible time with lighting (sun, shadows) to catch the beautiful lavender, lilac or white colors, but these two both turned out so lovely I could not decide, so I'm showing you both!  Not the best tasting Oregano, but the beautiful flowers, oh my! Origanum laevigatum 'Hopley's Purple' Oregano
Blue is sometimes hard for me to capture, but I finally got what I think is my best picture yet of the Azure Blue Sage.  Another not so great tasting but these blues are stunning.  Salvia Azurea.

This pretty Red House Finch is probably surveying for the ripening fruit on my Acerola Cherry (Barbados) Tree.  We do share, I just try to grab my fair share of the fruit before the birds :-)

The critters which blend in range in the gardens.  This Desert Iguana is not exactly blending in, more like sunning itself on the just coming back lawn, but I am so glad s/he stopped because up until this picture I have been unable to get even a good LOOK at them they are so fast.   Mostly vegetarians they do eat some insects.  Glad they and the other lizards are in the gardens.

Now for real blending in "Betty" the Northern Bobwhite, the cute little quail we rescued when she was filled with Cholla thorns is quite the master as blending in.  She has decided to stick around and we are delighted, if not concerned about her future.  We just have to let nature take its course as they "covey" type birds are not usually loners.  This species is endangered

I hope you too are enjoying your gardens and "neighbors".

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, May 14, 2018

June Planting Tips, Around the Garden, and Thinking Ahead to July and August

Dear Folks, 

Getting into the hot part of our year in the desert garden, some new to gardening here may think there is nothing to grow or would be growing.  Not so, fellow gardeners.

--If you live in USDA Zone 9b and above this information is also helpful as it is not just about temperature, it is about daylight hours and the plants that love the warm long summer days.

If you sowed or transplanted your basil last month, it should be growing lushly, maybe even needing pinching for bigger leaves* and -- good news -- Basil LOVES THE HEAT!  As long as your soil is healthy, the plant(s) are in full sun and breezy areas and you water wisely (deep) your basil will reward you with abundant growth all summer.  Likewise your tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant should be producing or near producing.

*Pinch back basil to increase energy into bigger leaves and USE those flowers and what you have pinched.  I added my Dark Opal and Sweet Italian Basil to a grain salad I made the other day when we had friends over for dinner on the patio.

Tomatoes will take a break producing fruit after the night time temps stay in the 80s, but keep that plant healthy and it will produce again in the fall when the temps drop back down.

Squash, Peppers, and Eggplant will produce all summer long.  Peppers like some afternoon shade.

Use your moisture meter to determine if you need to change the frequency of watering adjusting to the higher temperatures.  Did you know you can actually over water when the humidity starts ramping up in July?  Again use that meter.


Cucumber, Armenian
Luffa Gourd
Melons, Musk
Peas, Black Eyed
Peppers, Chiles
Potato, Sweet

USING existing plants you can under- seed with:  Basil, Chives, Shiso, and Epazote


Roselle, Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) (not too late to direct sow seeds)

    June through August in the Desert Southwest is the equivalent of winter in North Dakota — you maintain what you have planted, taking special care of young or sensitive plants.

   With the exception of August when the heavy pre-fall seed “sowing” begins, it is a good idea to hold off on any major transplanting until the fall when the temperatures drop back to prime planting weather (below 90 daytime).
    Our Flower Mulching technique can be used to protect young plants by canopying the soil around them, placing the flowering plants very close to the base of the young plants.
    Heavy watering requirements may result in yellowing of leaves due to iron deficiency, especially of fruit trees (Chlorosis).  Apply Ironite or Green Sand before next watering to correct.
    Sowing corn for fall harvest, plant ONLY one variety at a time, so you can save some dried corn after harvest for re-sowing (2 varieties will cross).  You can sow corn twice a year.

    Begin looking into what you will be sowing mid to late July and Early August for fall growth.  If you want winter squash or pumpkin you need to count backwards from Halloween or Thanksgiving 90-120 days for sowing.  Also you can seed in winter herbs such as Cilantro, Chervil, Dill and Parsley in August and the seeds will germinate when the soil begins cooling.  You need to make sure the sown area stays moist.  Light Leaf cover helps.

In The Garden Now

Lots of fun things growing in the garden now.

Cantaloupe - I was a bit later than I wanted to be getting my seeds in the ground. Got some heirloom Petit Melon from a friend, but because I was late, I purchased an organic cantaloupe plant and after hardening it off, popped it into the ground near the emerging seeds.  Using one of my chicken wire hats to keep the critters off while they get going.

I have a baby cucumber and a baby crook necked squash coming on.

Many of the plants I started early were negatively impacted by the up/down weather. Some plants which should have really taken off earlier were delayed and some which should have been harvested already were also delayed by the increased heat. 

Global weirding at work! 

One plant I was really happy to see up is my Turmeric.  This will be the second and a half year of growth.  Last fall I harvested some roots for use, so happy to have that available in my garden.

Peanuts are doing great!  I am delighted with this new attempt to grow them and decided on a large pot, as they require space to be able to bend their flower heads down into the soil and I needed to keep track of that action.

Flowering in the garden are my hollyhocks and my celery.  I will be catching the celery seed for use in the kitchen AND re-sowing next fall.

What is fun about the celery is the one flowering in the picture is my "kitchen trash recycle" where I replant the bottom of an organic celery bunch.  I am still waiting for my red celery to flower.  This past fall and winter excessive heat delayed my celery coming up (it reseeds itself), so I buy organic when I need it and replant the base.  The picture showing it in a chicken wire collar for protection from the birds (not sure why they like to dig it up but they do) transplanted in November after soaking in a dish for a couple of days.  Fun in the garden stuff! 

The plants which I am most concerned about are my garlic.  The excessively warm fall and winter have delayed and may have stunted the garlic.  I barely have a few scapes from the regular garlic while the elephant garlic which did not bloom last year and I left in the ground, did produce scapes last month, so I will harvest those.

These very small and below normal size scapes on the regular garlic are just coming on now.  They should have been growing more than a month ago and I should be harvesting my regular garlic right now.  I am going to wait until the plants begin dying back and then pull them and hope for the best.

Last years crop never matured and interestingly unlike the elephant garlic which re-grew in place, never came back up.

So to explain.

Garlic requires prolonged chill - not necessarily freezing - to produce a head of cloves.  A normal planting / growing season here in the desert is plant October 1st or no later than October 31st to have the longest time in the ground and harvest around mid-May.

With the mostly commonly grown varieties called hard-neck, after a nice winter of chilly to cold weather the plants come up, produce a scape in the spring (between March and April.  You wait until the scape top reaches the height of the leaves and cut it off as the base. Then a couple of weeks later the plant begins to yellow and die back.  You carefully harvest and hang to dry in a shaded area and in a couple of weeks when the exterior is papery you have garlic which can be stored and used as needed.  As I noted, hoping for the best.

So much of my gardens are just a delight and producing, so I am happy with what the gardens have and are giving us.

Planting at the best times, usually creates wonderful bounty year round here in the desert or USDA Zone 9b+ gardens.

For easy reference on when to plant, you can purchase my perpetual calendar with monthly sowing/planting tips and garden maintenance information - click on the link here, there is a preview you can check out.

Have a wonderful day in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Harvest, Use, Preserve and Making Bouillon Powder!

Dear Folks,

Recent harvests from the garden and preserving through sun and refrigerator drying, have given us some great foods to enjoy now and then later.

Our Moro Blood Orange is still giving us nice fruit into May.  Rather than just eat one orange, we pick 2 or 3 and section, keep in the frig and snack on them through the day.

Peaches, tomatoes and Acerola Cherries are more of the lovely fruit we are gathering.  LOTS of tomatoes coming on from last year's vines which did not just give up but gave us fruit until about end of January and re-started putting on fruit again in late Feb to Mid March and we are reaping the bounty now.  The Acerola Cherries, one of the super fruits, is giving me several every day, if the birds don't get them first.  I've learned to pick not-quite-ripe to beat the birds as these are one of those fruits which continues to ripen after picking.  Our dear Florida Prince Peach is getting quite elderly (21 years old) but has given us some fruit this year.

So that is the "pretty" offerings.  Now for some gnarly but still great veggies.  Our Chantenay Carrot - one of my absolutely favorites for its outstanding flavor no matter the age or size - gnarly or pretty.  And one of the red beet varieties.  We had quite the time with all of the roots crops this year as the fall and winter excess warm weather delayed both the seed germination (they like their soil cool for germinating and growing) and good growth, so while I was checking regularly for good harvest size, I got distracted with other things in the garden and just let these go.  I still have more to harvest and cook up.  After trimming up, I roasted most of these and saved some of the carrot for my dried bouillon recipe (below).

I have a major concern this year that I will get a repeat of NO garlic, as happened last year due to the excessive heat and insufficient chill hours.  I did get "some" garlic scapes this week and with the tomatoes I am planning on roasting these together to make the base for a sauce.

So, garlic also needs chills hours to eventually produce the head of cloves we look for.  I got nothing last year, no scapes ever appeared.  I am a little more hopeful this year, however these scapes are under-sized.  We shall see if, when the plants start to die back, there is evidence of clove formation.

In the meantime, I harvested two not-matured-garlic and a huge leek.  I trimmed all, removing any hard core, kept the white bulb and a smidge of green from each (composted the rest).  I finely minced the garlic and finely sliced the leeks and put them on one of my trays to dry in the sun (garlic on the bottom).  I will jar up, label and keep for use when dried leek or garlic will do.

In the past, just an FYI, I have used a garlic press to extract the "meat" of garlic cloves and then sun dried them.  The consistency is more granular from the formed garlic cloves.

I harvested a bunch of my celery (red and green). I love growing this in the garden as I can just cut however many stalks I want without pulling up the whole plant.  These nice batch is ready to use fresh (I chopped in a salad) and drying in the frig AND for use in my bouillon recipe.

Here is some of the celery drying on my rack in the refrigerator.  This mimics the commercial freeze-drying process with the constant removal of excess moisture in a cool environment.

Now for the Bouillon.

I wish you could smell and taste the aroma and flavor of this blend of vegetables and herbs from the garden.  I started doing this a couple of years ago, after reading what EXACTLY is usually in bouillon powder or cubes and wanting to leave OUT the things I did not like in them.  I searched around for recipes, change a lot of the ingredients (things like chicken broth or beef broth powder - OUT) and thought about what I PUT into my own stocks/broths when I make them.  I wound up with about 2 ounces dried or approximately 2-3 tablespoons. Sounds like a little, right?  You will find if you choose to use this, a little goes a long way.  Think about the way you may choose to use dried rosemary or thyme in a recipe and use that measurement as a guide.  I use to help a soup along, I've used in salad dressings, only adjusting salt, sprinkled on steamed or roasted vegetables, and tossing foods like cooked grains or pasta with some.  Limited only to your imagination.

Ready to Dry.
I needed to make up a batch.

Everything in this mix is from my garden.  Carrots, I'itoi onion tops (a shallot like flavor), celery, sorrel and sweet potato leaves, basil, rosemary, conehead thyme and some sweet peppers.  I also added some slivered asparagus I had dried earlier.

You may be wondering about the "greens" in addition to the obvious carrot, celery, onion and herbs and why no garlic. [Note: you can see how much the mass has shrunk to dried state.  It is VERY important that you spread out things to dry completely dry so you do not have any mold issues.]

The greens give extra flavor and "fullness" to the blend and I think adding garlic to the base blend may limit use.  You can (and I do) add garlic to some of the ways I use this outstanding flavor. [Pictured in the collage is everything dried, piled ready to grind and then ground.

I do not like to lose any of the great flavor so I poured some water in the grinder and measuring cup, swished, and added to my stock "bucket" in the freezer, all ready for the next time I am making stock.  I put parings of carrots, celery, onion and chicken bones, pieces of herbs I did not use etc. in this bucket.  Makes a great tasting soup base.

Ratios for making your own.

Ratios are approximate - I used about 50% more carrot than the onion and celery (equal amounts of those).  For the herbs and greens about the amount called for in a recipe for soup or stew 5-6 sprigs total.

The celery provides some of the salt taste without adding salt as it is naturally higher in sodium than the other vegetables.

Because of that you should always taste first when using to flavor a dish before reaching for the salt shaker.

I hope you do try making your own. I think you will be delighted with the results.

Have fun with your harvests!

Reminder.  If you are interested in another opportunity to take advantage of the "Grow Your Own Food Workshop" videos and more you will need to register to be put on the list and you will be offered an opportunity to purchase access to all of the videos, but you can watch the introduction videos free. The Workshop starts May 16, 2018.   Click here.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Did You Miss The "Grow Your Own Food Workshop?" - You have another opportunity.

Saving Basil Seeds
Dear Folks,

If you missed the first showing of the Grow Your Own Food Workshop Free videos and an opportunity to purchase access to 20+ videos until next March, you have another chance.

I was very impressed with my co-speakers.  Watching the free videos lets you see each speaker in a short but informative "intro".  The full program has detailed how-tos, and can be purchased with access through March 2019.

Signing up for the free videos, will put you on the list of when they start (May 16th) and provide you with more details.

Grow Your Own Food Workshop

Over 15 Expert Gardeners teach:

Seed Saving
Companion Planting
Vertical Gardening
Growing Herbs
Raised Bed Gardening
Gardening Basics
Basics of Organic Gardening
Growing 3 Medicinal Herbs
Growing A Year's Worth Of Food
Growing Tropical Plants
Which Gardening Method Is Best For You
Getting Started With Hydroponics
Starting Seeds Indoors…and MORE!!!

. . .

Meanwhile . . .

Watch For My Monthly Planting Tips for June in one of the next blog posts!

Have a best day in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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