Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, January 17, 2020

February Planting Tips, Why your seeds may not grow, and 2 Events Coming Up

Dear Folks,

February is the second major sowing / planting time after fall (September/October) for our desert gardens.

This is going to be a long post because I want to give you helpful information.

It is time to get an early start on beloved favorites like tomatoes, summer squash and eggplant. BUT you need to be prepared to frost protect them after you get them in ground, since we can have frost and the occasional hail into March. 

First there are two events coming up - details at the end of the post.

Saturday, February 1st - Free Seed Share and Q&A with me at Mesa Urban Garden

Saturday, February 22nd - Arizona Herb Association Lavender Day, I will be one of the speakers.

Before getting into the list of what to sow, plant and gardening tips, I want to discuss a bit about seed germination.

The picture above is my jiffy seedlings.  In the top portion you see 3 kinds of tomato seedlings, one squash, 3 eggplant/sweet pepper.  The 4th pellet sprouted about 3 days ago, 3 days AFTER the others which was January 11th.  The lower picture shows one more squash or melon (they got mixed up) "just" sprouting on January 11th.

This the part of germination I am going to discuss - germination "time" or how long it takes seeds to sprout.

I sowed all of those jiffys on December 11th.  On December 28th, all of the tomatoes and one squash sprouted.  On January 10th the 3 pepper/eggplants sprouted.  On January 11th the other squash/melon sprouted and on January 14th (or so) the 4th eggplant/pepper sprouted.

So, the sown seeds took 17, 30, 31 and 33 days, give or take to sprout.  All were growing in the same conditions (covered and outside during the day and inside my water heater shed at night. 

Many factors go into why and how a seed sprouts:  age, type, light, moisture and temperature.  The soil temperature is more of a factor here than air temperature as these seed selections (spring and summer) are all warm soil lovers.  They like their "feet" warm, so if the soil cools they can "stall" in growth.  This can be confusing to you, the gardener, waiting impatiently for your seed to break ground. 

Some seeds can take time to break "dormancy" - that hard coating on them is to protect from intermittent moisture and other conditions, so the accidental moisture for a day or two won't break the dormancy.

The picture is from a super helpful video (about 3 minutes) showing a time line of a seed sprouting (it begins with day 1, but does not include when it was sown).  Watch the video and pay attention to the fact the seed is putting our a root first.  Click here.

Likewise once dormancy is broken with consistent moisture and other conditions, that seed starts sprouting - underground and out of sight.

And if you aware of the need for consistent moisture, not letting the soil dry even for a day, you will eventually see above-ground growth.  Of course not all seeds germinate and while direct sowing, directly in the garden, does produce the healthiest plants, albeit many do not germinate, when you manipulate the conditions as I have with the jiffy pellets and covered containers, your germination rate goes up.

But how long does it take to break ground?  How many days do you water?

That is where the patience factor comes in.  I have had many folks disappointed in their seeds not sprouting.  They would tell me they read the package it said 10-14 days to sprout and they diligently watered for 10 days and nothing.  So they gave up and either stopped watering OR they sowed more seeds.

As the soil warmed up, and they had continued to water, low and behold both sets of seeds came up!

OR, if they stopped watering nothing came up.

Look at the picture again or watch the video and understand that if that tender little seedling/root hit a very dry - no more moisture area - it simply died underground without ever breaking surface.

Bottom line - my seeds took  17, 30, 31 and 33 days to sprout under the best conditions I could give them EXCEPT for being able to maintain the soil temperature.

Consistent moisture should ensure germination, eventually.

You may not be able to control temperature (light does not play into most of these while the seed is still underground, but the sun will warm the soil) completely but you can control making sure the seeded are never dries out.

NOTE:  I plan on putting my seedlings in the ground on or about February 1st, with my preferred frost protection - a poor man's cloche.
Poor Man's Cloche

Here is how to use them.  First make sure the jug is very clean, you do not want mold taking out your precious seedlings.  Cut off the bottom.

If you are VERY good at remembering to put the jug on at dusk and take it off after the sun is on the area in the morning, you can leave the cap on.  If you know you will forget sometimes, leave the cap off so excess heat during the day can vent.  I also pile mulch around the base and make it even deeper if I expect a particularly hard frost couple of nights.

That is it - you can stop using the jug when all danger of frost if over.

February Planting


Bean, Lima
Bok Choy
Citrus Scented Marigold (Tagetes Nelsonii)
Fruit Trees
Jerusalem Artichoke
Lettuce & Greens
Melon, Musk Melon
Melon, Winter
Onion, Sets
Onions, Green
Squash, Summer


Bee Balm (Monarda Didyma)
English Daisy
Jasmine Sambac (Arabian)
Scented Geraniums
Sweet Alyssum
Tangerine Scented Marigold (Tagetes Lemonii)

Frost/Freeze:  Average last frost day is approximately February 15th, however frost and hail has been seen as late as the second week in March.  It is best to have your frost covers handy.

GARDEN TIPS for February

February is the transition time for the garden from Winter to Spring sowing, transplanting and harvesting.

There is still time to get a last batch of carrots, sugarpeas, lettuces and similar in the ground. Choosing short maturity varieties, particularly of the root veggies, will give you more harvesting success as the weather jumps to heat in a couple of months.

February is also the time to start your warm season plants like tomatoes, basil and peppers, to name a few.  But they may need some initial frost protection.  Keep in mind that they may actually stop growing if there is a cold day or several, which chills the soil.  Then they resume when the soil heats back up (an interesting phenomenon I finally caught on to several years ago).

The weird weather of the last couple of years in February/March with high temps followed by overnight chill/freeze (Global Weirding as Karis over at the Valley Permaculture Alliance put it so well), makes for some required diligence in the garden in February and March.  It pays to remain more mindful of what the weather will be rather than just sow and try to grow.

February is the end of the primary perennial best planting time in the valley (October - February).  What this means is that to ensure the best success for your perennials like rosemary, oregano and fruit trees, it is best to have them in the ground before the end of February and the beginning of our temperature increases.

New to-the-valley residents can be surprised by the common spring joke of "when is spring here?" and the answer is "do you remember that period in early March when it was about 78-83 or so degrees for about 2 weeks? - that was it!"

This of course is due to the sudden rise of temperatures from balmy mid 70s in late February / early March to the 90s by April 1st (or higher - we have had the rare 100+ degree days in late March or early April).

The plants just can't take the stress of dealing with putting down roots while the temperatures soar into the 90+ range in just a few short weeks.

Fertilize fruit trees now -- Use Valentine's day as the target -- (and again in late May (Memorial Day) and early September (Labor Day).
    Pecan trees need zinc sulfate, applied at the rate of 1 pound per trunk inch width.

    The last frost date averages around February 15th, although we have had frost as late as March 1st or 2nd (usually the result of a late winter storm with hail).
    Frost in the Valley at the 1100 or lower elevations is usually limited to ‘soft frost’ where simple sheets or paper placed over sensitive plants (or moving potted plants beneath patios or trees) is sufficient to protect them. Hard/Killing frosts are rare particularly in February/March.
    For every 1000 feet over 1100 in elevation the last frost day is moved back 10 days and the possibility of hard (killing) frosts starts to occur.  At 2000 feet or lower, this is still a rare occurrence.
    Getting your edible seedlings in the ground as early as possible provides longer-produce seasons - especially with plants like tomatoes.
    Use homemade 'cloche' covers to protect seedlings -- cut the bottom of gallon milk containers or 2 liter soda bottles - clean very well to avoid mold -- place over plants each night until frost danger is past, remove during the day, or if you need to be gone for several days remove the cap to allow excess heat and humidity to escape.
    How do you know if we are finished with frost?  There are some examples in nature, but you still need to be prepared to cover sensitive plants through the 2nd week in March.
        a. Ant activity in the garden indicates the soil has warmed up sufficiently for them to start gathering food again.
        b. If the mesquite trees have started to bud out, it is unlikely to frost after that
        c. Be aware that a warm storm can contain some hail through March.

    Here in the Valley we can have Hail on an expected basis in Spring, early Summer and Fall.
    The perfect conditions for Hail are warm OR WARMING soil, cool air mass coming in AND wind.

    February and March have the perfect combination of warming soil and a cool system moving in.  If you add wind you will generally get hail.
    So, while actual frost may not happen keep your frost protection covers and jugs handy in the event of hail to safeguard your new seedlings and transplants.


FREE Seed Share / Q&A
Saturday, February 1, 2020
1-2:30 p.m.

212 E. 1st Avenue (Hibbert and 1st Avenue)
Mesa, Arizona 85201

Catherine, The Herb Lady, will be answering your questions on gardening in our currently crazy weather patterns.

Come on out to pick up free seeds and ask your questions to "get your growing on."

Our "Non-Soon" as some called the lack of summer rains, has been followed by a LOT of rain late-fall-into-winter.  Catherine will answer questions on how to adjust your sowing/planing/gardening for less than normal changes in our weather patterns.

Arizona Herb Association’s 4th Annual
2020 Herb Festival
- “Leap Into Lavender”

4341 E Broadway Rd.
Phoenix, Arizona 85040

DATE: Saturday, February 22nd
TIME: Check in/breakfast begins at 8:30 am, Program 9:30 am – 1:30pm
COST: $35

Join us in our annual celebration of herbs as we dive into one of our favorite herbs, lavender!  We’ll be learning about how to grow and use this  celebrated herb.  We are lucky enough to have Brittney Sounart, RH (AHG), Clinical Herbalist, joining us again and discussing how lavender is used medicinally.  The day will include a culinary exploration of the flavor with our very own Nancy Matsui, tips on how to cultivate lavender in our low desert environment from local gardening legend, Catherine the Herb Lady, and a tour of the garden to see the varieties of lavender currently growing.  A continental breakfast will be included.

DATE: Saturday, February 22nd
TIME: Check in/breakfast begins at 8:30 am, Program 9:30 am – 1:30pm
COST: $35

Tickets available online here:

Drying Flowers

I dry my own herbs and edible flowers in the refrigerator, most of the time.  During warm times of the year (when it is 80+) I used the sun for big batches of herbs.  And that works but more of the color and fragrance is retained when you do cold-drying.  Our modern refrigerators mimic the commercial freeze-drying process by constantly removing moisture.

So back on December 23rd I harvested a batch of edible flower petals:  nasturtiums, sugar peas and my pink wild rose.

One of the future uses for these is going to be a sandwich - have not decided what kind - which I will cut into quarters and dip each side into these pretty garnishes.  I might add some parsley or celery. :-)

I hope your February gardening gets off to a great-green start and also hoping to see you at one or both of the events.

Have a best day,

Be patient, share a smile with someone, and be kind - many are dealing with unseen challenges.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

You can purchase my books or calendars through my website at your preferred seller.  Click here.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Vegan "Bacon" - not just for vegans and a One-Pan Meal.

Dear Folks,

Gnarly to "Bacon" :-)

You do not have to be vegan or vegetarian to enjoy these "bacon" flavored vegetable strips. They work in sandwiches, pasta dishes, with eggs (of course), or cut up and added to salads. 

Back in 2015 I read about making "bacon" out of vegetables - okay, I thought, I'm in.  I am an omnivore, I like meat-based, vegetable-based and grain-based meals/dishes.  And I love bacon.  One of the continuing conundrums for vegans and vegetarians is many of them miss bacon.

Oh sure you can get the vegan/vegetarian replacement meats (by the way I was super impressed with the Impossible Burger at Burger King - my guy said he did not think he could tell the difference - it was that good - but pricey).  But like many "imitation" foods there are a lot of ingredients that go into making it taste 'similar' to the food it is attempting to imitate.  I remember looking at the ingredients for a vegan cheese some years ago and it had something like 20+ ingredients, most with chemical names - nope!

So back to making vegetables taste like bacon.  The ingredient which makes the flavoring really come close to bacon flavor is liquid smoke.  Do NOT make the mistake of getting "smoke flavoring" - they add a lot of extra things to make it taste smoky.  Wrights Liquid Hickory Smoke is just smoke captured in steam and reduced down.  A little goes a long way.

The rest of the ingredients are simple - you probably have them on hand and do not consider them chemically ladened.

I have made eggplant bacon and used it in sandwiches and more.  This time I had some sweet potatoes I harvested in December from the garden.  I am so bad at getting them out in late October to mid November, so by the time I get around to harvesting them many - but not all - look like that gnarly looking critter in the top shot.

The nice thing about the marinade is it keeps!!  And, you can drain it off and re-use.  Store in the refrigerator.  The combination of ingredients really keeps it fresh as long as it is refrigerated.

I will get to the recipe but first I wanted to explain what I did.  I cut off the roots (I have saved parts that were starting sprout for planting out later), and peeled away all the outer skin.  This is the unfortunate part of harvesting so late, I can't save the entire root peel and all (the skin is really good for you) because there is too much damage.

So I set my mandolin on thick (less than a quarter inch - thickness will impact total cooking time), sliced it all then cut the round slices into 3 pieces each, winding up with "bacon" size slices.

I had enough for two batches from my toaster oven - I like to use it instead of the big oven when I am doing small baking/roasting as it is usually just the right amount for the two of us.

Vegetable "Bacon" Marinade
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce - you substitute Worcestershire Sauce for all or some of the Soy
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup (I have not tried it but you could probably use honey)
2 tablespoons olive oil (you could probably use avocado oil)
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika (do not use the hot)
1/16 teaspoon of Wrights Liquid Smoke*

*If you have those cute pinch/dash measuring spoons, a pinch is 1/16 of a teaspoon.  BTW 2 tablespoons is 1/8 of a cup.

Mix all together and store in a jar.  When you need to use it transfer to a ziplock bag.

Sweet Potato "Bacon"
Pre-heat oven to 325.
Line a pan with aluminum foil - you could use parchment paper, my toaster oven does not recommend paper - probably because of how close the elements are to the pans.

One sweet potato peeled (if you have unblemished sweets keep the peel on) and cut into strips - the thickness of the strips will determine how long to bake and also how crispy you want the end result.

Place the potato strips and marinade in a ziplock back, zip and lay flat for 20-30 minutes, turning periodically to make sure they all get some coating.  You can refrigerate over night up to 12 hours.  The longer soaking will create a stronger flavor.

Drain the marinade off (save and store). Lay out the strips on the pan close but not touching.  Roast for 40-50 minutes turning the strips and rotating the pan half way through. (They shrink.)

I baked the first batch for 40 minutes (pictured) and the second batch for 50 minutes and got a much crispier result - BUT you need to monitor so they do not burn because of the syrup.

Remove and let cool.  Use and enjoy.

I made one of my 45 second microwave eggs with this "bacon" and toast yesterday.  Today I am planning on an apple, "bacon" and cheese sandwich melt.

Any sturdy vegetable would work with this.  My carrots are going to be coming in more so I many try them as "bacon" too.  I know I will also use my eggplants when the begin producing. Yum!

My next recipe came up because I wanted to use an abundance of sweet peppers from my garden and I have limequats too.

I am liking these one pan meals - particularly when I am not feeling well (I am battling my 2nd cold) and I can do the cutting quickly.

Amounts are totally up to you, but I will list what I used.

One-Pan Pepper, Onion, Artichoke Hearts, Limequat, Chicken Meal

Preheat oven to 425.
Prepare a pan with aluminum foil
12 small "lipstick" type peppers seeded and cut into pieces
6 limequarts, quartered and seeded (equal to abut 1 and a half lemons)
1/2 jar of Marinaded Artichoke Hearts only, plus a couple of tablespoons of the liquid
about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of chunked red onion.
1 large boneless/skinless chicken breast cut up into 2 inch chunks

In a bowl, toss all of the vegetables with a couple of tablespoons of the artichoke marinade until well coated.  Spread a bit of the liquid on the foil and put all the veggies on the pan spreading out to a single layer.

Toss the chicken chunks in the bowl, add more marinade liquid to coat.  Tuck the chicken pieces in among the veggies and add a bit of crushed salt (I usually you pink Himalayan Salt.

Roast 40-50 minutes, tossing the veggies and chicken once half way through and rotate the pan.  The cooked pan shows some charring - I could have cooked a bit less, but I really wanted the veggies caramelized.

This was so good. What you see in the finished pan is what I had left after I served our dinner.  I will use that today or tomorrow tossing with pasta and some Parmesan Cheese and chopped Parsley (I have a robust parsley plant that I am enjoying using right now).

I hope you enjoy these recipes and consider making them for yourself.

If you try the "Bacon" marinade on other type of veggies send me a comment or email and I will add the ideas to one of my next posts.

Have a best day,

Keep those in terrible circumstances in your kind thoughts, and be patient,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

You can find my recipe and gardening books and calendars here.

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Monday, January 06, 2020

Sprouting to Planting, and Two Events Coming Up

Dear Folks,

In my last post for December 31, 2019 I shared some "kitchen recycling" tips, so I thought you should see the full sprout to plant process.

First is my celery root re-use.  On December 22nd I cut up two bunches of organic celery (I buy when I do not have enough growing in the garden and I was preparing to cook a turkey with stuffing).  I cut the bottom 2 inch root off and started soaking in water.  On December 31st it had sprouted this much - cool isn't!

On January 1st I planted it.  I have others I have planted through out the gardens and pots to keep fresh celery coming on through late spring and into early summer.  Celery loves our cool winter weather and my seeded in areas are also coming up - just not fast enough for my constant use of celery.

Potatoes are my New Year's Day Planting tradition and I had some additional "offerings" this year because the potatoes I pulled out to make that turkey dinner (December 22nd) were a "little" older. So much so that most of them had sprouted eyes * - so I cut those off to let them air dry, then tucked in a cardboard container in the refrigerator to later planting. * You can see some of the eyes in the upper left of the top picture.

On January 1st I laid them out on the soil surface of one pot - eyes down - (I had another pot with the mini potatoes saved from last spring's harvest).  I then covered with the first layer of mulch.  I add mulch as the plants grow up through to make sure the growing potatoes are never exposed to the sun.

That green ting you see on potatoes sometimes is Solanine, a toxic substance caused by the sun shining on the potato tubers.  It cannot be cooked out or cut out, and can make you very sick if too much is eaten (a tiny bit should not hurt you).  So the growing method is to ensure the growing spuds are never exposed.  Just add mulch!

Oh, and I also planted the seeds from an Orange Bell Pepper I purchased.  What the heck, let's see if they will sprout - I actually have good luck with this process.  I planted the whole stem with seeds plus a bit of the flesh.

The little green leafed plant you see below the orange bit (I did that so I can remember what I planted there) is one of my famous Johnny Jump-Ups.  The seeds wind up everywhere so if they are not interfering, I let them come up wherever they choose.

A Tofu Recipe

Tofu is a love it or hate it food for folks.  The blessing and curse of tofu is its blandness.  The blessing is it picks up the flavors it is prepared with.

Tofu Dip Or Marinated Cubes*

1 package of extra firm Tofu
1 lemon, zested and juiced 
1 orange or tangerine, zested and juiced
Olive oil                                                                                                                               
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 to 1 cup mixed chopped or dried herbs

Slit package of Tofu but leave the top plastic in place.  Drain.  Weigh the tofu down with at least 1-2 lbs (I use cans) pressing out the moisture.  Let it sit with the weight for at least an hour, periodically draining the liquid.

Pat dry, and cut into cubes.

In a bowl, toss the cubes with the zest, herbs and salt.  Let sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes to let the flavors infuse.

Add juices and toss.  At this point you can leave as cubes and store in a jar, adding olive oil.  It is not necessary to cover completely with oil.  At room temperature, turn the jar several times for 30 minutes. Store.  Allow to come to room temperature to serve with other cheese, meats and crackers.


Place the cubed tofu in a food processor. With the processor running stream in olive oil until it reaches the consistency you want.   You can mash this by hand, adding olive oil as you go.

Store in the refrigerator.

* NOTE I actually served the cubes on Christmas Eve.  Then when there was a lot left over I processed into a dip.  I have made the marinated tofu cubes several times and the particular tofu block I purchased had a different texture - not sure why, maybe the brand as the cubes are usually nicely firm and these had a less than firm texture.  Anyway, the dip is wonderful, better than toothpick cubes. 

February Events

Saturday, February 1, 2020
1  to 2:30 p.m.
Mesa Urban Garden (MUG) FREE Seed Share
and Gardening Q&A with Catherine, The Herb Lady

Mesa Urban Garden
212 E. 1st Avenue
Mesa, Arizona 85201

Pick up FREE seed to get your growing on.
Bring your questions.  Catherine, The Herb Lady, will be answering your questions on gardening and on our currently crazy weather patterns and how they may impact your  garden.

Saturday, February 22, 2020
Arizona Herb Association’s 4th Annual
2020 Herb Festival - “Leap into Lavender”

TIME: Check in/breakfast begins at 8:30 am, Program 9:30 am – 1:30pm
COST: $35

"Join us in our annual celebration of herbs as we dive into one of our favorite herbs, lavender!  We’ll be learning about how to grow and use this  celebrated herb.  We are lucky enough to have Brittney Sounart, RH (AHG), Clinical Herbalist, joining us again and discussing how lavender is used medicinally.  The day will include a culinary exploration of the flavor with our very own Nancy Matsui, tips on how to cultivate lavender in our low desert environment from local gardening legend, Catherine the Herb Lady, and a tour of the garden to see the varieties of lavender currently growing.  A continental breakfast will be included."

Tickets available online here:

I hope to see you at these events - however, I am always happy to answer your questions via email or messenger on facebook.

Have a wonderful month,
Be patient, be kind, and always garden and share!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, January 02, 2020

Top Ten Posts for 2019, and Happy New Year!

Dear Folks,

What posts were the most popular in 2019 on my blog?

I received an update from one of my favorite bloggers who posted her top 10 from this past year.

I have a "popular post" area on the side bar on my blog and I had set to the last 7 days with the top 3, and thought "hmmm" what have all you folks been reading this past year that was the most  "eye catching"?

Well I changed the filter to the top 10 for the last year, so here they are.

I would love to hear from you if there is something you would like me to revisit more.

I love the notes and comments you send expressing how my writings help you - that is super and I appreciate the compliments.  I also realize many of you just quietly take my writings and "grow with it".  Also super!

So in order:

No. 1
Gardening By Zone - Why It Matters!

No. 2
Thinning Peaches and way to use the thinned baby peaches

NOTE:  Thinning peaches is a chore you will be looking at in the next couple of months as the fruit sets and you need to consider relieving weight from the branches.

No. 3
September Planting Tips and More.

NOTE:  Many of you consider fall your jump-start to beginning or expanding your garden, so the popularity of this post is not surprising.

No. 4
Tools & Tips: Moisture Meter

NOTE:  This post is from 2008!  And still one of the most popular - I am sure it is because I recommend it all the time as one of THE best garden tools to help with your success and understanding of the desert garden.

No. 5
December Planting Tips, Around the Garden and Kitchen

No. 6
June Planting Tips

No. 7
January Planting Tips - Ready, set . . .

No. 8
March Planting Tips - And 1 Major Reason Your Seeds Did Not Grow

NOTE:  I consider this one of the most important posts I've ever created.  It, along side using the moisture meter garden tool, are two major factor's to successfully direct sowing in the garden.  Sure, we can start seeds indoors, and that does work.  However, direct sowing seeds ensures only the strongest seeds survive meaning the strongest plants are the result.

No. 9
Bird of Paradise - One of My Few Ornamentals

No. 10
Chocolate Flower Question - Edible?

Important Note:  As my blog moves forward the sidebar "Popular Posts" order will change. [EVEN this post will create a change.]  At the end of January I will re-set the metrics to show most popular for the preceding month,.and forward through 2020.

Have a wonderful 2020 - learn, grow, share!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Around The Garden - Flowers, Frost, Harvest, Food

Dear Folks,

It has been busy and varied around here the last week or so.

I took advantage of the current flowers blooming to harvest some petals for drying.  Pictured is a selection of rose, sugar pea (Magnolia Blossom variety), nasturtium and pigeon pea, and in the frig for drying.  I have a partial jar of already dried flowers which I will use to decorate something later.

One of the things I love to do is eat and plant something!  By that I mean "recycling" food items that I can't use to actually eat, but that I can re-grow for later harvest.

Two fun things are celery and potatoes.  I had some older small potatoes I was preparing for dinner on the Sunday before Christmas - I NEEDED to cook a turkey - and potatoes were starting to sprout.

So I cut the sprouting parts off and allowed to dry before I stored them to plant tomorrow - January 1st - my tradition of planting potatoes on the first day of the new year to get the "new" garden and year off to a really positive start.
The other thing I do regularly is cut the bottom off of celery and sprout on the counter until I have some nice growth then plant out in the garden.  I do this when I need to purchase celery bunches from the store if I do not have enough to cook with.  I purchase organic when I can.  [celery pictured today about 10 days later - I gave the other one to a friend - I will plant this one out tomorrow]

So, about the turkey dinner.  My traditional stuffing is celery and onion sauteed in butter, poultry seasoning, bread cubes and stock/broth.  A while back Sweet Paul Magazine posted a Mediterranean stuffing which looked so wonderful I thought I would try it the next time I wanted stuffing.  Here is the link for his recipe.

The recipe called for preserved lemons, artichoke hearts and olives.  I had been wanting a reason to try preserving my limequats and this was it.  So back in early November I started the preserving, then refrigerated them.

Check Sweet Paul's link for the original recipe.  I also wanted to make this a one pan meal so I made the stuffing, spread in the pan, made a small indentation in the center and set in the turkey breast. 
 While it may seem a stretch to use poultry seasoning on the turkey the combination of flavors in the stuffing blended well as the rosemary and thyme in the stuffing are also part of the herbs in poultry seasoning.

My Version December 22, 2019 Sweet Paul's Mediterranean Stuffing.
I used fresh rosemary, parsley and conehead thyme from the garden

1/2 stick of butter
1 cup of diced celery
1 cup of diced red onion
Sautee until soft.
Equal parts of rosemary and conehead thyme for celery/onion
Poultry Seasoning and Butter for turkey

I used Pane Tuscan bread - about 4 cups+
2 cups of homemade turkey/chicken broth
1/3 cup of marintated artichoke hearts
1/3 cup kalmata olive cut in 4ths
Fresh parsley about 1/3 cup
2 preserved limequats slivered

We agreed this stuffing was a keeper - I will use it as an alternative to my traditional version - maybe every other time.

Usually my family and extended family gather for big meals on Christmas Day.  This year most chose quieter Christmas Day PJ open house and it was sweet and peaceful.

Knowing this ahead of time, I still personally needed more celebration, so I had some family over Christmas Eve and got to try out a "grazing board" concept for a low key - nibble until you are stuffed - tray.  Everyone loved the display and the selection.  The fully covered dessert table was in another area and included my cookie exchange bounty - sorry no picture :-)

The garden was hit by frost the night of December 28/29th.

The sugar peas just shrugged a "whatever" and just continued on their delicious and lovely growth. The flowers are visible in the middle and lower part of the vine and that is a yellow nasturtium in the lower left.  P.S.  I used some of the nasturtium and sugar peas flowers on the grazing tray.

The morning after the frost when the lawn was brown and frosty crunchy I happened to look out towards the south.  The sun was just hitting the post of one of out split rail fences and I was so surprised to see vapor coming off it.  The sun was heating the very, very damp wood and releasing a visual display.  I hope this picture does it justice.


The actual frost damage was about what I would have expected.

Our banana plants which have two sets of fruit on them was hit, however the fruit itself seems undamaged at this point.  They are not nearly along enough for me to cut and bring them inside to ripen, so I just have to hold out hope they will survive.

The soft-leaved plants always get bit by frost, particularly basil which is a tender perennial and hates the cold.  As I noted about the Sugarpeas, they just shrugged.

In the picture you can see bright green growth at the base of the Stevia - this is a "bit" early for the new growth on this about 7 year old plant - it dies back in the winter, then sprouts in late January/Early February, so I hope this is not a problem having new growth this early during frosting times. 

One last garden picture.  I harvested the last of my sweet potatoes and the Candy Roaster Squash which has quite the story.

I sowed the seeds for the Squash on June 20th.  The plant was going gang busters when something caused it to go down almost over night in late October- but not quite all the way.  I chatted with a gardener friend and I did some research and came up with a possible culprit - nematodes.  But the plant was not down all the way, so I decided to just see what happened.  It had put on one fruit while it was challenged and it may have even been one I pollinated.  At any rate, the frost took the plant down completely so I harvested it.  It is supposed to be a pinkish color when ripe and is not anywhere near that.  I will cut it later and see what I can do with it.  The planting time of June was not helpful to this variety, so I will try and sow in mid-to late May as I am eager to give this heirloom a real try.

I wish you a Happy New Year, one filled with joy in and from the garden, patience, and kindness towards others.  I believe these things will bring contentment.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Seasonal Harvest and Next Season Seedling Sprouting.

Dear Folks,

A tiny hint of the new year and next season.

Today is December 21, 2019 and I thought it was a lovely portend that one of my Yellow Summer Squash seedlings sprouted today!

On December 10th, I started several types of spring/summer seeds in Jiffy Pellets to plant out on or about February 1st.  I like using these starter options as there is no transplant shock.

I am using several grocery store produce boxes as mini-greenhouses, putting them out in the sun during the day then back into my laundry / water heater shed at night.

Meanwhile,yesterday I harvested some fun things from the garden. Pink Grapefruit, 2 kinds of Navel Oranges, Breakfast Radishes, Detroit Dark Red Beet and Chantenay Carrots (my favorite, tasty at any size).

I kind of planted the beets in the wrong orientation, so I harvested these for the stems and greens as the roots are not getting mature.  Hoping the remainder will bulk up now that I have thinned the area out.

Planting orientation:  I made the mistake of planting north to south instead of east to west.  This may not seem like a big deal but it turned out to be a very big deal as the radishes to the south completely shaded the growing beets most of the day, so I got a big growth of greens, but not the roots - yet.

I cooked up the beet greens for my guy last night, carrots for him tonight (I'm slightly allergic to beets and spinach, but I will snag some of the cooked carrots tonight-- I actually prefer my carrots raw :-).

I added some sliced radish to a mini ham and cheese sandwich for some crunch.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Peanuts, Garden, Microwave Omelette, Peanut Butter Cookies And Holiday Entertaining!

Dear Folks,

Pictured are my peanuts drying - more on that below, but first. .
Peanuts...and chocolate.  I like both but not necessarily in the form of say a Reese's.  They do not have a 'balance' of flavors with the peanut butter over-taking the chocolate.

I found a combination that pleases both myself and my wonderful guy, who loves Reese's but is always willing to try something I make.

A couple of years ago, during one of my holiday baking times, he asked if I would make peanut butter cookies.  I said sure, then started looking at recipes and got to thinking how I might add chocolate to it (he is after all a true choco-holic).

After looking at recipes and while shopping later I found the solution.  Chocolate Peanut Butter, oh my!  And it was DARK chocolate peanut butter - even better.

The brand for your notes is "Peanut Butter & Co. - Dark Chocolately Dreams" and it is non-gmo and gluten-free, if that is a consideration.  There is at least one other brand and you could probably substitute something like Nutella - but it has a lot of extra ingredients.

So to the recipe.

It is really simple.  A 4 ingredient delight that whips up quickly and turns into a flattened crinkle cookie.  If you like to embellish you can add chocolate chips (my guy said when I tried that in one version he felt like it was too much - I said "what did you do with Deane?"), or you could add more nuts.  But the plain recipe is just wonderful as is.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies.

1 whole jar (2 cups - 16oz) Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter*
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Line your baking sheets with parchment paper - it is just easier to slide them off with all the fat in them.
Drop by rounded teaspoons about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets
Do NOT flatten
Bake 7-9 minutes or until cookies are puffed and cracked (you will see the cracks forming when they are ready)
LET STAND on baking sheet 5 minutes or until firm.
Remove to wire rack to finish cooling and cool completely before boxing up.
They freeze nicely.
NOTE:  If your oven runs hot decrease temp to325 and bake 10-12 minutes

* If you use a chocolate peanut butter which is 14 oz I would not worry about adjusting the other ingredients.

Makes about 53 cookies and gives you a little less than 2 grams of protein each cookie the calories are high, but at least you are getting some decent protein :-)  

45 Second Microwave Omelette

This is a super fast breakfast or snack.  These minute microwave scrambled egg recipes are all over the internet.  I modified one to suit my tastes adding herbs from the garden and/or cheese.  This morning I decided to serve over toast with a bit of cheese under the egg to add a little extra to the meal.  I used snipped celery, parsley and I'itoli onions from the garden.  Many recipes suggest a mug, I use a soup bowl to get the egg to spread out.

1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
salt and pepper
Optional herbs and/or cheese
Optional toast

Toast the bread and butter if you like.  If you are using cheese put it on the toast.
Mix the egg, milk and salt in pepper in a mug, then pour into a soup bowl.  Top with optional snipped herbs and microwave on high for 45 seconds.  The omelette slides easily out of the bowl.

 Around The Garden

I have been growing peanuts for a couple of years now.  I just wanted to try itThe first year I tried, I did not quite get the culture right.  I generally mulch much of my beds and/or containers and that is mistake with peanuts as the plant puts out a flower which then "dips" down into the soil to great the "ground nut" meaning they grow as clusters around the roots.

Once I got that figured out the rest was easy.  Break up - gently - the shells and plant each peanut with the skin on about 1 1/2 - 3 inches down.  Ideally you will be planting in a bed and spaced about 8 inches apart.  Plant in April (interestingly they have similar heat requirements as sweet potatoes) and plan on harvesting late fall early winter - the past two years I have harvested mid-December as the plants began to go down.

Fall Leaves - our deciduous trees here in the desert crack me up - about the beginning of September 1st the first couple of leaves fall and then a few here and there.  Then one morning - overnight - in December I will walk out and the majority of the rest of the leaves had fallen - all at once!  It decided "IT FALLED"

Last week the trees, Saturn Peach and Fig - FALLED!

Great mulch.  Much of it we rake back into the tree wells, but I also use the dried leaves as mulch for beds, and containers.

TWO More recipe ideas - or not so much recipe as just really cool entertaining ideas - even if it just for a special date night.

I am going to be making a "board" grazing tray for Christmas Eve when we a couple of family over.  This so cool ideas from the folks over at Sweet Paul Magazine is going to be incorporate in my board as I have a lot of rosemary. 

I have been gathering various items for my board and hope everyone really enjoys the idea.  I usually do big dinners but I have been so wanting an opportunity to do one of these attractive, casual, nibble/graze arrangements.

The other idea which really caught my eye is for a cocktail - served in a glass Christmas Ball.  How cool it that!

Besides the choice of this serving container, the recipe uses fresh pine tree tips which have a citrus flavor. If you have fresh pine or fir trees the bright green new growth is perfect for this.  You can use older but newer is better.  I experimented with pine tips a couple of years ago and it was fun.  Of course you could make and serve any cocktail in this so-fun container.

Here is the recipe. 

If you missed my January Planting Tips - here is the link. 

I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year and Yuletide.  Enjoy your personal celebrations in comfort with peace, kindness and patient understanding.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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