Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Let me tell you the story of the Bradford Watermelon Scar.

Dear Folks,

If you have been reading my posts for a while, you know I planted and have harvested a couple of Bradford Watermelons, and heirloom "discovered" several years ago growing in the backyard of the original grower's heirs.

To say this watermelon variety is worth every effort to grow it, is an understatement. The fruit, even under-ripe is incredibly sweet -- all the way through the white rind -- just amazing.  (You can use the white rind as you would a cucumber.)

Pictured is the comparison of the scar when we first discovered the damage and after harvesting the fruit.  Don't let the ugly appearance of the scar fool you, it is the same kind of damage branches rubbing on a growing fruit produces.  The fruit 'sealed' and 'healed' -- this is the story.  For the purpose of this collage, I flipped the harvest scar to show you the orientation.  The scar never changed - never got worse, only grew in proportion to the growing fruit.

You can read the my other posts here on my growing adventures.

First Bradford Harvest

Second harvest and I dropped it!

So on to the last Bradford Watermelon harvest of the year, November 27th we noticed the vine had suddenly collapsed. Time to harvest the remaining viable watermelon.

This one had a special place in my garden journey.  After discovering the fruit under some vine on October 12th, I placed a paper plate under it to protect from the soil-born bacteria which can rot the fruit.

4 days later we spotted damage to the fruit by a squirrel.  The little stinker had shown up rather suddenly and contemporaneously discovered our fruit!

We discussed the 'nature' of the damage and determined it was literally only skin deep, so I decided to let it continue growing - now with a chicken wire hat to protect it, and it worked perfectly.  (Check out my youtube channel for a couple of short videos on using chicken wire hats.)

When we notice the vine had collapsed on November 27th I harvested the last melon, the one with the scar.  Pictured you can see how much it had grown.

In the early pictures I was amazed at just how fast it was growing.  The first picture showing when we discovered the fruit and I slipped a paper plate under it, for ratios the plate is 9 inches wide, and the fruit is about 7 inches long.  4 days later the fruit was as long as the width of the plate.

When I harvested it using my hand and the subsequent baking tray I have the cut melon on, the fruit had reached about 15 inches long.

After I started cutting the melon I remembered the scar and took a photo to illustrate the original work of the squirrel and not invaded the fruit and merely remained a scar on the outside.  Not pictured clearly is that the scar thickened outside not inside the skin.

So really ugly scar amazingly delicious fruit, even slightly under-ripe.  It could have probably gone another couple of weeks, but I did not want to chance it since the vine had collapsed.

I will have seeds from the earlier and possibly this fruit in my seedbank.

. . .

>> eBundle coming in January - Watch for updates as they become available -- the eBundle will be available for one week only <<

Have a great weekend in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Days 7, 8, 9 & 10 of 25 Days of December Herbal Celebrations!

Dear Folks,

Continuing my re-posting of my 25 days celebrating herbs mentioned in the bible, here are days 7, 8, 9 & 10 featuring:

Dandelion, Sow Thistle, Horseradish and Sorrel

Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

A note about the herbs and spices I selected. There is agreement on some of the herbs (garlic, onion and mint for example) and some continuing discussion on which plant the Bible referred to.  After many years there is a consensus - although still discussed by some - that the Hyssop of the Bible is Syrian Oregano (Origanum maru).  Since Hyssop (Hyssopus officionalis) is not indigenous to the lands of the BIble but Syrian Oregano is, I have included it as the Biblical plant.

References to Hanukkah are listed in some of the posts but may not fall within the celebration time because the dates vary each year

Day 7
Herb:  Dandelion
, Taraxacum Officinale,  a bitter herb of the Bible

Hanukkah Continues - this site gives history, children's activities and more.

The Bible does not specifically name Dandelion, but it is presumed to be one of the bitter herbs.  As often happens with historic writings, we can make some better than a guess about what constituted - in this and other instances - the "Bitter Herbs."  However, the dandelion is not only a probable Biblical plant considered as one of the "bitter herbs," but for centuries around the world this herb has been valued for food. -- Herbs of the Bible  By Allan A. Swenson

I am sure I was one of millions of children who plucked the bright yellow flowers to bring a bouquet to their mothers, or blew the delicate seed head and watch them float away.  A lawn-purist's nightmare, the Dandelion is again coming back to appreciation for all of its great culinary uses, and the pollinators love them too.

Dandelions are found on all continents and have been gathered for food since prehistory, but the varieties cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia.  -- wikipedia


The entire Dandelion plant is edible, known for its tonic properties and digestive aid.  The roots are roasted to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute.  The flower petals used to make a spring Dandelion Wine.  The leaves and flower buds are blanched or sauteed like spinach, or used raw in salads.

More of the Farmers Markets are carrying Dandelion greens along with other ancient lessor-known greens and vegetables.

Read more here

Day 8
Herb:  Sow Thistle (Milk Thistle)
Silybum Marianum) Genesis 3:18 - Bitter herb and associated with the Vrigin Mary.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception  celebrates the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary  It is one of the most important Marian feasts celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church celebrated worldwide.

Bodhi Day is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautauma (Shakyamuni), experienced  enlightenment.

Services and traditions vary amongst Buddhist sects, but all such services commemorate the Buddha's achievement of Nirvana, and what this means for Buddhism toda.  Individuals may choose to commemorate the event through additional meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras), or performing kind acts towards other beings. Some Buddhists celebrate with a traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings.

Food:  Like many wild plants younger leaves can be eaten in salads or at a pot herb.

The roots can be eaten raw or boiled and buttered or par-boiled and roasted. The young shoots in spring can be cut down to the root and boiled and buttered. The spiny bracts on the flower head were eaten in the past like globe artichoke, and the stems (after peeling) can be soaked overnight to remove bitterness and then stewed. The leaves can be trimmed of prickles and boiled and make a good spinach substitute or they can also be added raw to salads. - Wikipedia.

Sow thistles got their name because they were fed to lactating pigs. (Remember the old heuristic way of thinking? If you want to see like a hawk eat hawk eyes. If you want mama pigs to nurse better feed them plants with white sap.)  This site has some recipes to cook with sow thistle.

Read more here

Day 9

Horseradish, like other bitter herbs, is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but in modern times is used as a component of them.

Probably native to Southeast Europe and Western Asia, it is naturalized around the world, and what a good thing that is, for its wonderful additions to flavor and spicy up our food.

Planting and Harvesting:  Horseradish can be grown in our desert gardens, but the planting and harvest times are reversed.  It took me a couple of seasons to get this figured out.  Plant in the fall to late Winter and harvest in late spring/early June.  It takes a couple of years to get to a good enough size root to harvest, but you can use some of the peppery leaves anytime they are lush.  Just don't harvest too many - you want the leaves to feed those roots!  Leave some roots in the ground for next years growth.   Pictured is my plant this September, lush and green, and a harvest several years ago in June.  Note:  The roots won't grow as huge as you may find in the grocery store, but they are just as good tasting.

Read More Here

Day 10
Rumex (Polygonaceae (Buckwheat) Family) one of the herbs recognized as a Bitter Herb of the Bible, although not mentioned specifically.
Sparrows enjoying 1 of my sorrels.

There are three major varieties of Sorrel (Rumex):  broad-leaf (arrow head shaped leaf) (Rumex acetosa), French (Rumex scutatus), and red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus).  All have tastes that range from tangy / sour to bitter and are a lovely green for salads or cooking.  Most of the flavor comes from Oxalic Acid, also found in spinach and like spinach, should not be consumed in large quantities (People with arthritis or kidney stones should eat minimal amounts of sorrel because the high oxalic acid content can aggravate those conditions.).  I love the lemony flavor of my sorrel.  It is great in salads and cooking for the extra zip it gives.  Before the introduction of lemons in the Middle Ages, sorrel was used in cooking and to prevent scurvy due to its high Vitamin C content.

I grow the Broad-Leaf and it is a wonderful herb in the garden, usually producing year-round, and will thrive for several years.

Growing certain types of greens in the desert garden can be challenging and most people who have grown sorrel have not had luck with it growing through the summer.  I found an afternoon shaded spot worked well to keep me in sorrel year-round. The growth is far more vigorous in the winter, but still produces enough during the summer for occasional use. (Pictured, the birds never paid any attention to the plant until I temporarily potted it to move it!)
Baker Creek has 3 types of sorrel seed for sale --

Dandelion & Sorrel Salad

This Recipe for A Chocolate Dreidel was too cute to pass up, even though not quite in the theme.
More recipe ideas for using sorrel.

Read More Here

Have a wonderful time in your garden and kitchen

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Saturday, December 03, 2016

Days 4, 5 & 6 of 25 Days of December Herbal Celebrations!

Dear Folks,

Continuing my re-posting of 25 days celebrating herbs mentioned in the bible, here are days 4, 5 & 6 featuring:

Cassia, Chamomile and Chicory

Day 4
Herb:  Cassia (Cinnamomum iners
) Exodus 30, Psalm 45:8, Job 42:14

Like True Cinnamon (Day 3 Cinnamon zeylanicum), Cassia is mentioned in the bible for its perfume and scenting properties in anointing oil, and was traded in commerce.  Job named his second daughter after the herb (Keziah, Job 42:15  Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.)  We can believe that he must have thought them very special to name one after a valuable trading spice and to grant them an inheritance.

(Image: source: Naturalis Biodiversity Center/Wikimedia Commons)


Make cinnamon sugar for dusting pancakes, waffles, oatmeal or the top of whipped cream desserts.  I keep a shaker jar of cinnamon sugar in the pantry right next to the salt and pepper.

To make a large amount, combine:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Store in glass away from light and moisture.

A small shaker jar holds quite a bit less.  So adjusting for the size of your shaker, 1 part cinnamon to 4 parts sugar,  = 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to 4 teaspoons of sugar.  Add several grains of rice to the shaker to keep the mix from clumping if moisture gets in.

Read More Here:

Day 5
Herb:  Chamomile
-- Isaiah 40:6   "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field"

Chamaemelum nobile, is the herb most known for its calming and sleep aid properties. Perhaps no other herb is quite as useful as Chamomile to take the edge off some the frensy which accompanies holiday preparations (except maybe Lavender - Day 12)

CHAMOMILE OR CAMOMILE...anyway you wish to spell it,
this herb is worth finding and keeping near by.
By: Catherine, The Herb Lady, Originally published in the East Valley Tribune December 27, 2003
       It is said of Chamomile "May all your wishes come true" (in the language of herbs and flowers-Flora's Dictionary by Kathleen Gips), and that would be appropriate for this hectic but happy season of the year.
       So sit down with a relaxing cup of chamomile tea, put your feet up and I will tell you about this simple herb.
       There are actually a couple of species of Chamomile (the usual American spelling); German Chamomile, matricaria recutita (aka M. chamomilla); annual used in teas and cosmetics; Roman Chamomile, chamaemelum nobile (aka Anthemis nobilis), perennial used in teas, cosmetics and lawns; English Chamomile, chamaemelum nobile 'Treneague' is a perennial non-flowering variety of the Roman species used in the popular "chamomile lawn" of England; and a dyer's herb (yellow coloring) Golden Marguerite, dyers's chamomile, (Anthemis tinctoria 'Kelwayi').
       The tea you are drinking is most likely the Roman variety which most people prefer.
       The apple scented daisy-like flowers and leaves are a calmative (meaning calming) agent, used for insomnia, nerves, as a digestive aid, and there is some research going on into its anti-inflammatory properties.  Teas are generally made from the flowers, but if you grow your own, you can use the leaves also.
       A note of caution. Chamomile is a member of the Compositae (daisy) family, and as such some people are allergic to the flower tea (if you have ever had a "morning after" type headache after sipping chamomile you may be allergic to these types of flowers). A leaf tea may not cause the reaction, although leaf alone is inferior in its actions.
       Chamomile has traditionally been used as a hair rinse for blonde or light colored hair to enhance the highlights (Rosemary does the same for brunets).

Read More Here:

Day 6
Herb:  Chicory,
(a bitter herb of the Bible) Numbers 9:11

The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Exodus 12:8 They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

Hanukkah (Dates vary each year)
The Bitter Herbs used in Hanukkah Celebrations is symbolic of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.  Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.  See wikipedia for more history and information.

Feast of St. Nicholas called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century Christian Saint and Greek Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey). -- Wikipedia

Read More Here:

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-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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eBundle Coming In January!

Dear Folks,

Do you know what an eBundle is?  I did not until I was asked to participate with one of my writings in a ...

Back 2 Basics eBundle.

This eBundle of author works on a variety of sustainable-focused books etc. will be available, for sale, 1 week only during "Bundle Week" - scheduled January 17 - January 22, 2017.  The buyer has the entire rest of 2017 to download their purchased eBundle.

What is an eBundle?

"A collection of over 60 eBooks, memberships and courses at over 90% off, to help you discover the value of getting back to doing things for yourself, growing your own food, living without toxins, bringing back forgotten skills, and living frugally."

All the details are still being put together, like where and how you buy your copy.  I will keep you updated as I have more information.

This is kind of an exciting new project for me to participate with a collection of authors of like-minded sustainable living ideas and goals.

---You can become an affiliate to earn some commissions from selling the bundle too!  As soon as I have the page/links for you to check out becoming an affiliate I will post the information.

You can also message me through my facebook page to be put on a 'notice' list as soon as I have the affiliate information.

My Facebook Page

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Days 1, 2 & 3 of 25 Days of December Herbal Celebrations.


Dear Folks,

Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

A note about the herbs and spices I selected. There is agreement on some of the herbs of the Bible (garlic, onion and mint for example) and some continuing discussion on which plant the Bible referred to.  After many years there is a consensus - although still discussed by some - that the Hyssop of the Bible is Syrian Oregano (Origanum maru).  Since Hyssop (Hyssopus officionalis) is not indigenous to the lands of the Bible but Syrian Oregano is, I have included it as the Biblical plant.

I am including some of the most enjoyed songs of the Christmas and secular celebrations of the month.

A nice site for talking to and teaching your children or grandchildren, about the multicultural celebrations of December, is Education World, with this nice page.

Day 1
Herb:  Myrtle

By Catherine, The Herb Lady - originally appearing in the East Valley Tribune December, 24, 2005
      Is there a more appropriate biblical herb to contemplate for the holidays than Myrtle (Myrtus Communis) with its ancient meanings?
      Biblical references (Nehemia 8:15; Isaiah 41:19 and 55:13; Zachariah 1:8-11) speak to Myrtle as a symbol of recovery, festivals and the divine establishment of the people in the land.
      Myrtle was woven into wreaths for the winners of Olympic games; was a sacred plant of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus; and the Myrtle-nymphs were prophetesses who taught the god Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene, how to make cheese, build beehives, and cultivate olives.
      Parts of the Myrtle have been used in tanning which also imparted scent to the leather.

Read the Entire post here:

Day 2
Herb:  Anise
     (Pimpinella anisum) in the family Apiaceae (carrot and parsley) native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia and shares some flavor characteristics with fennel, star anise, licorice, chervil and tarragon.

Although references to translations of the Bible speak of Anise - it is usually Dill which is referred to.  I am including it in this 25 Days posting, because the people of the Biblical lands would have known Anise through the Romans and Greeks.

Anise is used primarily in sweet foods like cookies, such as the popular German Pfeffernüsse around the holidays, it is used to flavor black jelly beans, and liquors such as Italian Sambuca and Greek Ouzo.  From Roman times (and probably earlier) the seeds were chewed for digestive relief.
     Its primary essential oil is Anethol, which is also found in other licorice tasting herbs such as fennel, tarragon and chervil. It also contains a minute amount of limonene (the lemon essential oil). Other essences account for its sweeter taste.

Read the Entire Post Here.

Day 3
Herb:  Cinnamon
Proverbs 7:17

(Cinnamomum verum) -  Ceylon Cinnamon is considered the True Cinnamon contrasted to another Biblical herb Cassia (discussed in the next post - Day 4).  It is the bark of the tree which gives all the wonderful flavor.

While the Biblical reference to Cinnamon is as a perfume (and you can find recipes for making ancient type perfumes using cinnamon, myrrh, and Frankincense) we most think of it for its excellent flavor in cooking and baking.

Taste:  True Cinnamon has a taste described as milder and sweet compared with descriptions of Cassia as strong and occasionally bitter.  Modern manufacturers opt for Cassia because of the bold taste and that fact it is cheaper than true cinnamon.

Medicinal:  The distinction is important because of the medicinal properties of True Cinnamon and toxicity of Cassia in high doses e.g., Levels of the blood-thinning agent coumarin in Ceylon cinnamon are much lower than those in cassia.  True Cinnamon is a benefit in reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels in diabetics.   It is usually recommended to add some cinnamon to the daily diet.

Read the Entire Post Here.

I hope you enjoy these posts.  I will be posting every few days with the following Days of December Herbal Celebrations.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Fall Seed Harvesting - AND, Watch For My Herb Celebration Posts Coming Up!

Dear Folks,

Time to harvest seed.  The summer plants are spent, and have "gone to seed" and are dried, meaning they are mature and viable.

I get questions from folks from time to time on when should they harvest seeds and the answer is when they are fully dried or almost dried.  That is it in a nutshell - and of course nuts are the seed of the tree. :-)

In the first picture working clockwise from the top are:  Garlic Chive Seeds, Egyptian Spinach (Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis), and Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa).*

Some seeds like the Garlic Chives are pretty evident.  The tiny flowers begin to open and finish by folding back and revealing the black, dried seed.

Egyptian Spinach is an example of the long seed pod type plant.  The pod gradually dries and when fully or almost fully dried, the pod splits easily when you touch it.  I harvested these by hold the pod over a mason jar, pressing the pod, and the seeds freely flowed into the jar.

Roselle seed pods are a round thick skined capsule inside the swollen cranberry red calyx and you have to watch for when the seed pod starts to split at the seams.  If you harvest to soon the seeds will not be the mature, dull charcoal color.

I will package up these seeds for my use and to add to my Seed Bank Inventory.  They will be sown next March/April to give me Lettuce-Type Leaves (Egyptian Spinach and Roselle) and young garlic chives all next summer. 

I also saved the Roselle Calyx, after I shook out the seeds, to make tea and beverages this winter.  The dried Roselle looks quite different from the gorgeous glistening fresh "fruit" but the benefits are the same.  Some Vitamin C and other antioxidants are still present even dried and that nice lemony / cranberry flavor.

* In case you are not familiar with Roselle - if you have had tea which listed Hibiscus or Red Hibiscus as an ingredient, you have enjoyed the flavor and benefits of Roselle.

25 Days Celebrating Herbs of The Bible 

Worth Repeating!

Myrtle, Anise, Cinnamon, Cassia, Chamomile, Chicory, Dandelion, Sow Thistle, Horseradish, Sorrel, Coriander, Lavender, Cumin, Mint, Hyssop, Garlic, Leek, Sage, NIgella,  Laurel, Onion, Mustard, Marjoram, and Saffron.

[Pictured from my garden: Horseradish, Bay, Garlic and Syrian Oregano aka Hyssop.]

All of these herbs and spices are not only referenced in the Bible but also grown in the Biblical Lands.

Since the area is home to three of the major religions,  last year (2015) I posted a different herb each of the 25 (Advent) days of Christmas with history.  I discuss how the herb is used and some recipe ideas for you to enjoy and a craft project or two.  I also chose song links appropriate to the season.  NOTE:  all links in the posts should be good, but I apologize if any are no longer available.

To give you a heads up in case you want to prepare any of the recipe ideas, I am going to post 2 or 3 Days together every 2 or 3 days, instead of daily.  I don't want to miss a posting and I am current fielding some extra activities.

I hope you enjoy this month long Herbal Celebration!

Be sure to check out my side bar and below for gift ideas

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, November 28, 2016

My Cheese Ball Recipe - Great for a Party or a Snack!

Dear Folks,

Here is a recipe to make up for any gathering - even if it is just a nice quiet family evening.

My Cheese Ball

For a while now I've been wanting to try making a cheese ball.  I know it is simple and folks have been doing this appetizer for years but I kept balking at the Cream Cheese component most recipe ideas start out with.  I LOVE cheese and I want real cheese and real nutrition density.  Then I did some research and created this recipe last year.

Recipe can be doubled etc.

1/2 cup White Cheddar (Arizona Cheese Company makes a White Cheddar with garlic and black pepper-- available at local Farmers Markets)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons of Greek Yogurt (enough to bind well)
3+ Tablespoons of finely diced red and green bell pepper
Sprinkle of paprika
Chopped Walnuts

Blend all with a spatula, then butter your hands and shape into a ball.  Roll in nuts to cover well.  Twist in plastic wrap, and chill.  Bring out about 15 minutes before serving to allow to soften a bit for spreading.

Last year I served this as dessert with sweet potato chips, blackberries, grapes, some spiced nuts a friend gave us and a mix of chocolates and cookies.  A take off on a dessert tray of cheese, fruit and nuts.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, November 18, 2016

In the Garden and Kitchen November 16/17

Dear Folks,

The weather is starting the cooling trend and this is triggering some activity in the garden.  The other day when I notice the Egyptian Spinach seed pods were finally dry enough to harvest the seeds, I also turned my head and found a fun surprise.  My potted sweet potato from last year is flowering!

I have had them flower before, but always when the plant has been in the ground for a full year, wintering over and continuing to grow through cold and into and out of summer.  I "think" this is one of the red or orange varieties - don't remember :-)  I hope this time it goes to seed to hopefully catch edible sweet potato seed.

The Egyptian Spinach (Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis,) was introduced to me by my friend Jacq Davis over at Epic Yard Farm as a lettuce substitute during the summer.  I was delighted to find this tasty leaf addition to summer salads, soups, and sandwiches along with my sweet potato leaves and my roselle leaves.

Now I have a nice bunch of seeds for re-sowing next late spring and to add to my seed bank.  A fun fact about Egyptian Spinach is that it is the Jute, the plant known also for its fiber to make ropes etc.

My Myrtle (Myrtus communis) has been pushing out berries for a while now and they finally have turned deep blue/purple.  Myrtle is an ancient herb, known in the Bible as the herb of joy.  The entire plant is edible from the shiny leaves, to the gorgeous flowers on to the berries, which can be used in place of juniper berries or rosemary in meals.  Myrtle is best known for use with game meat to minimize the 'gamey' flavor.

I knew from prior reading that myrtle was frequently used in some old, old liquor recipes so I did some research a while back about using the berries in "Mirto" a European Liquor made from the berries.  I made a note in my calendar to watch for when the berries were ripe to try this recipe.  Like a lot these I am starting to call the "40 Day Liquors" you steep for 40 days, then sweeten and maybe depending on the plant steep for another 40 days.  I am trying a very small batch which should be ready to taste before adding the syrup on December 20th.  Recipes note after the syrup is added you can drink a few days.  I will have to see how that goes and let you know.  Myrtle is known as a digestive aid, but it also has a high amount of salicylic acid so it has a long use for pain and fever.  My thought is to use it as an aperitif, sipped before a big meal.

Yes, we have some bananas!  My Ice Cream "Blue Java" put out a stem of bananas and I am really looking forward to enjoying these.  I have been growing this plant for a long time and because of the structure of our garden we have had to take out, move and otherwise fuss with the plants.  They always grow, but not necessarily happy, so when Deane said did you see the bananas ? - I said where?  The flower was kind of hidden because there is a blood orange and apple bracketing the plants.  It really is not the best place for the banana, but I have left it there because at least it was growing so as soon as I could find a better spot I could at least depend on getting a baby plant when I was ready.  The Ice Cream banana is a small fruit but with a "vanilla ice cream" flavor.  When we last able to enjoy them they did indeed have a vanilla flavor to them and were nice and creamy.  So a rare treat to look forward to.

The Johnny Jump-Ups have started to sprout in the lawn.  For a number of years we have enjoyed a spectacular display of a Johnny Jump-Up in mid to late Spring.  About 5 years or so ago, since we do not seed a winter rye in our small lawn, I decided to sprinkle JJU seeds.  Deane kind of shook his head, but when the first spring's bloom showcased a small sea of flowers he agreed they were a lovely site to look at while the garden woke up from winter.  Over the years the self-sowing of the plants now turns the entire lawn into an ocean of JJUs. A peek of what the lawn will look like next spring.

The Pineapple Guava fruit is ripe.  We know this because they fall off the tree when perfectly ripe.  Early experience with trying to determine when this pleasant tasting fruit was NOT ripe, taught us to wait for the fruit to fall.  We have a lot of duff under the trees intentionally so the fruit just drops onto a soft carpet of leaves, ready to be picked up.  I describe the flavor as a slightly astringent kiwi flavor.  We split them in half and scoop out the fruit.  I made jam last year we had such a nice crop of them.
  I was just reading a simple recipe for making fruit wines using bread yeast and I may try that with the pineapple guava fruit this time.  Some of the best tasting foods are good old fashioned methods of preserving foods before "modern" preserving added a lot things many of us would rather not have in our food.  The collage to the left shows the gorgeous edible flowers (taste like a bite of candy) in May and the fruit in November.

Speaking of preserving.  The batch of sauerkraut (lacto-fermented = brining) at 10 days showed a bit of mold on top.  Don't worry.  While not harmful because that is the fermentation taking place, this white mold is simply skimmed off and discarded (I put it in my compost counter pot for adding later to the compost).  I tasted the 'kraut and it was right where I wanted it to be, so I jarred up, adding a bit of my reserved brine I try to keep on hand.  If you look closely at the jarred up sauerkraut you will see a few bubbles at the top of the liquid. It was still releasing gas during fermentation.  By refrigerating it the gas production will cease or slow.  The first time I open these jars a bit of air may escape.  No worries.  These types of fermented vegetables keep a LONG time in the refrigerator.  Over time the sauerkraut will turn more mellow in color but continue to have that nice non-vinegar brine flavor.

CAUTION:  If your fermentation foods ever develop a mold color other than white, discard the whole thing and start over.
  These fermenting foods rely on good bacteria on the vegetable/fruit and wild yeast in the air.  Thousands and thousands of years have proven this is a safe method of preservation. BUT on occasion bad bacteria may be introduced.

So why fermenting vegetables?  The lacto fermentation process produces the same types of good bacteria you find in yogurt.  While vinegar is a great food product, once you have tried brined vegetables like sauerkraut and old fashioned dill pickles, you may not want to go back to the modern vinegar version.  Use sauerkraut in any recipe calling for pickles or capers.

Finally, I shared this picture of my growing garlic but I'm so pleased with it and I want to inspire you to grow garlic I'm showing it again.  While it may be too late for the low desert to get garlic to form heads in the last spring, you can still plant cloves every week or two through the end of April for harvesting "green garlic" to use like scallions. The thicker plants on the right are Elephant garlic.

Wishing you a best day in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

December Gardening Tips - Sowing, Planting and a Recipe

Lots of "Green" Garlic - large ones are Elephant type.
Dear Folks,

I have a mix of information for you today.  December planting information and garden maintenance tips

And finally my "Red Hot Chili Truffle" recipe, with my 'secret ingredient' to give it a wonderful taste and consistency. 

If you have never used "green garlic" (I like to call them garlic scallions) they are a great addition to meals.  Whenever you would use garlic or green onions, green garlic will give you a mild to medium taste of garlic without some of the heat associated with cloves.  You use the whole thing as you would a scallion.  You can plant green garlic all the way through April for a continuous harvest.  Harvest when the greens are 8+ inches tall and the clove has swollen a bit.

December PLANTING:

Bok Choy
Fennel, Leaf
Fruit, Bare Root
Fruit Trees
Onions, Green
Oregano, Greek
Ornamental Cabbage/Kale (Brassica Oleracea)
Peppers (seed)
Primrose (Primula Vulgaris)
Watermelon (by seed December 15 and after)


Carnation (Dianthus)
English Daisy
Jasmine Sambac (Arabian)
Scented Geraniums
Stocks (Matthiola)
Sweet William (Dianthus)
Sweet Alyssum

GARDEN TIPS for December
    Holiday time can be stressful. Your edible garden can be an oasis from stress.  With citrus fruit ripening like yellow and orange ornaments, pansies blooming, and dill waving in the breeze, winter is only a state of mind here in the Desert Southwest.
    November through January can be a ‘rainy’ season for the desert. You can usually hold off on regular watering if you have received a half inch or more of rain within 2 days of normal watering days (except for trees unless you receive 1 inch or more).  Make good use of your water meter to determine soil moisture. 
    If rains are heavy this month, in addition to foregoing some water days, you may need to put down Ironiteor Green Sand to compensate for mineral bonding (which makes iron unavailable to the plants) due to both the excess water and the cold soil.  Ironite is not a fertilizer so it will not burn plants -- apply to the drip line (edge) of tree canopy.

Watering Guide:
As the temperatures rise or decrease, a guide (this is only a guide! make use of your moisture meter to check moisture content of soil) For mature gardens would be:
    70s water every 5-6 days for all but trees
    80s water every 4-5 days for all but trees
    90s water every 3-4 days for all but trees
    100s water every 2-3 days for all but trees

Garden Design tip - if you are considering laying out a new garden, use Ironite to 'draw' the garden layout on the soil, easy and safe.

FROST damage:  Do not prune until danger of frost is over - the damaged plant protects the lower growth.


Prune citrus and deciduous fruit trees in December, or no later than early January before flowering starts.

Occasionally our crazy peach trees drive Deane nuts because they still have leaves on them when they start to flower in late December or early January.

The idea with pruning deciduous trees is to get it done before the 'sap starts running' in the warming spring weather.  Because we do not usually have extended cold spells some of the stone fruit trees may not actually go into full dormancy.

The commercial growers like Schnepf Farms have simply adopted the practice of prunning their peach etc. trees after December 15th. This ensures that flower buds will not be pruned off later on.

There is always the challenge of a cold spell coming in January or February while the stone fruit trees are coming into bloom, which in other areas of the country might mean the severe limiting of fruit production.  Here we have not generally found that a short cold period has killed off the flower bloom/fruit production.

If you feel you are in a colder area, you can cover the blooming peaches, apricots, plums and apples with cloth covers if you can reach high enough to make it worth the effort.


Peach tree borers are a problem here in the valley as the special hybrid stone fruit trees are more vulnerable to borers because the pests are not killed off as readily as in very cold areas of the country.

Winter 'dormancy' of the trees is the time to consider treating the trees to an oil spray to discourage the darn pests

Generally called "dormant oil" or "horticulture oil" this is a heavy oil based control which is designed to smother the pests, and therefore can't be applied to the active growing parts of any plants.  It is sprayed on the trunks of stone fruit (not evergreen like citrus) from the soil-base line up.  Make sure you read the instructions carefully.

If peach and other stone fruit trees are new to you and your garden, look for swelling on the buds/edges of each branch which indicates the tree is going into active growth and DO NOT use the spray on those areas. 

Sow tomato, basil, pepper, eggplant, tomatillos and all similar warm-soil lovers beginning Dec 1 or later, indoors.

Start warm weather seeds indoors or greenhouse for transplanting out February 1st (with frost protection handy).
Transplant out February 1st.  Tomatoes in particular need a good 'running start' to give you the first of two crops before the high summer night time temperatures stop fruit set.

Collect things you can use to provide frost protection for the first 2-3 weeks in February  after transplanting.  I start saving the distilled water jugs we use for a Poor Man's Cloche, but cardboard boxes will do alsoYou just have to remember to put them on at night after transplanting and take them off during the day.

. . .
Chocolate is an herb, of course, and what would the holidays be without a recipe using chocolate and since we are in the southwest, chili!

       Notes: this is a very rich, soft (but not liquid) at room temperature truffle.  Using the dipping chocolate option for coating will allow them to stay more solid at room temperature
during parties and dinners.  Otherwise it is best to keep all of them refrigerated until ready to eat.  They will keep in the frig in covered containers for 3-4 weeks.

12     ounces (2 cups) dark semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like
Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chips)*
6      tablespoons butter
1/3    cup of eggnog (secret ingredient)
1-1/2  teaspoons of chili powder (strength of choice!)
Coatings: Red crystal candy sprinkles, chili powder, cocoa powder, or dipping chocolate **etc

       Have plastic (like syran wrap) lined pan ready - pan should be wide enough to make shallow layer of truffle when poured.
       In a double boiler or heavy pot on low heat, melt butter and eggnog, stirring constantly.  Add chili to butter and eggnog, mix to incorporate chili completely before adding chocolate.
       Add chips to melt stirring constantly (if you do not stir the mixture may burn).  When completely mixed and melted (no lumps), pour mixture into pan, refrigerator until firmed -about 2 hours.
       Cut the truffle mix into small squares or using a mellon baller, or roll small balls in lightly-oiled or buttered hands, roll in coating of choice (if dipping instead see note below), place on wax paper lined pan, and chill until ready to use.

       *If desired, use white chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet (use the best white chocolate made with real cocoa butter)
       ** Dipping chocolate is special tempered chocolate that creates a hard glossy shell of candy   Can usually be found at Michael's (look for Wilton dark).
       To Dip Truffles: Roll into balls as noted above and chill.
Do not use any other coating if you want to dip the balls.  In the top of a double boiler or a clean wide mouth class/china jar or bowl set in a simmering water bath, melt dipping chocolate stirring to keep liquid.  IMPORTANT, do not let any water come in contact with this chocolate or it will ruin it.  Once the truffles balls are chilled, using a fork or toothpicks, dip each ball in the chocolate, place on wax paper lined tray and return to refrigerator or freezer to chill for about 15 minutes.

Last - a Tip for Spring.  While you are doing your holiday shopping pick up a couple of packages of RED GLASS OR METAL Christmas Ornaments.

These are great helpers in the spring and summer to deter birds from eating your ripe fruit.  When fruit begins to turn color, hang the ornaments here and there.  Pecking at the glass or metal deters the birds.  It is not a 100% guarantee but you should have more of the fruit for you and family and by pass the potentially dangerous bird netting.  Buy at least 1 1/2 inch diameter size.  You want the shiny kind, not dull or satin.  The shiny attracts the birds.

The ornaments are a lot easier to find now than at other times of the year. 

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Have a Great Day in the Garden and Kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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