Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, October 16, 2017

November Planting Tips and Harvesting.

Dear Folks,

"Thyme" for the monthly planting info :-)

It is also harvest time for seeds.  Pictured are Egyptian Spinach, Roselle and Garlic Chive seed, ready to store for resowing next year.


It is harvest time for seasonal bounty from the garden including seeds for re-sowing.  Saving your own seed means regional adaptation to your backyard = stronger plants and probably better production.

Don't forget to harvest tomato seeds if you have some fall fruit production from your favorite varieties.  Tomato seed savings if a bit different method and the purpose is to have seeds that last for a long time.  Remove the jelly seed center of the fruit.  Place in a cup of water and squish around a bit, gently.  Set the cup aside to "ferment" for a couple of days.  It will look icky with mold on top.  You want that.  Then carefully pour off the top moldy water and start squishing/swishing around the seed/jelly.  You want to start dislodge the seed from the gel.  Then start rinsing, let settle, rinse again, let settle.  The seed that falls to the bottom is viable.  Get the water as clear as possible with all the jelly removed.  Drain and tip the seeds on to a white un-coated paper plate to dry.  I like paper envelopes for storing seeds. Label and you are ready to re-sow.  December 15th in a green house or inside a bright sunny window is a good place to start your tomatoes for planting out around February 1st for best production growth into spring.  You may need to frost protect after transplanting until early March, but the plants can get a good root start.  FYI you can use the same method if you purchase an heirloom tomato you enjoy - it must be perfectly ripe to get viable seeds.

November is when we harvest our Pineapple Guava fruit.  We have found they are best when they fall to the ground or just a tiny tug gets them to release.  They made a lovely jam last year.

And while the days are getting cooler, if the temperatures are still in the 80s, you can sun dry your vegetables, fruits and herbs. Make your own homemade dried bouillon - click here.

Grow, harvest, preserve, and use!  Repeat!  That is what it is all about.

November PLANTING:

When you begin sowing or transplanting seedlings, keep my chicken wire hats in mind to keep the birds and other critters off them until they get growing well.  Unlike netting which can catch small birds and hummers and keeps pollinators away, chicken wire lets the pollinators in, the birds have a physical barrier which tells them they can't get in there.

You can check out my short videos on using chicken wire hats here and here. 

Sow or Transplant:

Bay, Greek (Sweet)
Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage, Ornamental
Endive (and Chicory)
Fennel, Leaf
Fruit Trees
Garlic (only as green garlic)
Kale, Ornamental
Lemon Verbena
Onions, Green
Oregano, Greek
Oregano, Mexican
Tarragon, Mexican
Tarragon, French


Carnation (Dianthus)
Cornflower (Bachelor Buttons)
English Daisy
Jasmine Sambac (Arabian)
Johnny-Jump Up
Marigolds, including Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii)
Scented Geraniums
Shungiku Chrysanthemum
Stocks (Matthiola)
Sweet Alyssum
Sweet William (Dianthus)

GARDEN TIPS for November
    First frost date average is around November 17th.
    Frost in the Valley at the 1100 or lower elevations is usually limited to ‘soft frost’ where simple cloth sheets or paper placed over sensitive plants (or moving potted plants beneath patios or trees) is sufficient to protect them.  Never use plastic covers as the plastic transmits the cold to the plant tips.
    For every 1000 feet over 1100 in elevation the first frost day is moved forward 10 days.  The possibility of hard (killing) frosts starts to occur, although at 2000 feet or lower this is still a rare occurrence.
    Frost pockets in the Valley can surprise gardeners.  As a matter of practice, if the weather forecasters predict an overnight temperature of 40 F, I prepare for frost by protecting my sensitive plants with cloth or paper covers This is because heat retention by buildings and walls dissipates by early morning (4 or 4:30 a.m. so dawn the temperature can drop 8 degrees plus or minus).
    Frost danger continues until about mid-February.
    Cool weather annuals and biennials can be sown every 2-4 weeks (beginning in August) through the end of November for a continuous crop through next spring.
    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.  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 Ironite or green sand to compensate for mineral bonding (which makes iron unavailable to the plants) due to both the excess water and the cold soil.

The best way to think of frost damage on your edibles is the damaged plant material is now a partial protective cover to the underlying growth.

As mentioned above, frost damage in the lower desert gardens is usually limited to 'soft' frost which is controlled by simply putting cloth or paper covers over the plants at night, or if containers, moving them under evergreen trees or onto the patio.

IF, however we get hard or killing frosts, of extended periods or days, die-back will occur even on protected plants.  The reason is the radiant heat retained by structures and even the soil dissipates completely, leaving the plants exposed to too-cold air.

Whether the frost damage is from soft or hard frosts if the plant is still alive DO-NOT-REMOVE-THE-DAMAGE.  Doing so risks damaging the growth still alive under the top die-back.  I don't remove even dead plants until spring.  I have found basil seedlings coming up under a large dead basil plant killed off by a hard frost.

Obviously we like our gardens to look pretty most of the time, but selectively resisting the urge to pull something a little bedraggled gives you, the gardener, access to earlier production of the warm weather plants because of their larger root systems.

That is all for now, Folks.

Offline for several days visiting family.  If you ask questions, I will get back to you when I return.

Have a great time in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Is Your Garlic In the Ground Yet? Harvesting Roselle, & Homemade Crackers.

Elephant Garlic Coming Up
Dear Folks,

If you want to harvest your own garlic in the spring, you need to have the cloves planted by October 31st here in the desert garden, so it has all the winter chill to create the heads of garlic you know and love.

Last winter was so mild in my neck of the valley, there was insufficient cold to produce heads so I left the plants in the ground and I will see what that patch produces this coming spring (if we get sufficient cold).  That is elephant garlic re-sprouting in the picture.  There is also regular garlic in there but it has not re-sprouted yet.

I am trying to new-to-me "Red" garlic.  I got some from Queen Creek Olive Mill - they grew and were selling it at their garlic festival a week ago or so.  Creole Red and Estonia Red from Baker Creek.  I was reading up on some Red Varieties that are supposed to be even milder when roasted than many of the other varieties. 

Here is the Estonian Red going in.  The cloves are huge! Garlic is one of those fun plants to grow and the varieties range in flavor from mild to spicy/hot.

So while I was digging up this bed for the Estonian - as usual when we dig we find the worms, always.

I know many folks, new to gardening in the desert, trying to get their gardens going, do not think there are worms in the soil.  They are there, but hanging out well below the dry and hard un-worked soil, usually down about 2-3 feet. Once you get an area going and work it, they will come up and help you with soil health.  Many times they just move out of the soil I'm working.  If I get a clump of soil with them in, I gently break up the soil and get them on their way down into the soil.  If they are still on the surface when I finish working, I sprinkle more soil on top of them so the birds don't easily find them.  The birds love to explore when I have just been working in a bed.

I am harvesting my Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) "fruit", which is actually the swollen calyx of the flower.  I still have dried Roselle from last year, so this year I decided I want to do some baking with it, and am freezing the calyx, after pulling out the immature seed pod.  Pictured is the rinsed calyx split into "petals" and the removed immature seed pod.

While Roselle is usually prepared as a beverage, either hot or cold (think tangy, cranberry flavored lemonade), I think it will make a great addition to my jam bread where I used my homemade jams and other fruits and nuts to make a great quick bread aka fruit cake.  I'm thinking with its cranberry-like flavor the Roselle would be nice in a cake with some of my homemade marmalade.

This Vitamin C, antioxidant rich "fruit" should be in everyone's garden!

Fun fact, the roselle seeds are fed to poultry. If I had hens (I am still trying to come up with a plan to house and range them) I would see if they like the immature seed pod rather than composting it.

Speaking of the Roselle Seed, let some of the pod go to full dry stage (on the plant) to harvest for re-sowing next April.  My current plant is from 2nd generation seed.  Regional adaptation is important to improve the quality, and possibly quantity, of edible plants you grow.  They "Adapt" to your backyard.  You know the seeds are viable when you see those splits in the pod.

This is what the seeds look like.

And just in case you are not familiar with what the calyx looks like on the plant before harvesting, here is a picture.

So when do you harvest the calyx?  Following some suggestions, the first year I harvested I counted 10 days from when the flower faded.  They only last one day.  So I watched several in one general area on the bush and began harvesting.  When I knew the size and "look" of the "ripe" calyx I just started looking for how big they could get.  They can get about double in size from the 10 day point, and the "points" of the calyx started to turn out and get sharp.  These are really great at that size.  This year though, I decided to harvest within a day or two of the flower fading because I am harvesting a bunch at a time for rinsing, splitting, removing the seed pod and freezing. Last year I spent HOURS doing baskets of them at a time and I thought I would just try to make it easier on myself this year.  It is working. :-) 

In between harvesting the Roselle, I decided it was time to make more of my nut/seed/cheese crackers.  I love these, and they come together pretty fast.  First picture is the dough rolled out and I used a pizza wheel to just score them, not all they way through.  It makes it easier to break them up after they are baked.

Second picture is the finished crackers.  With all the protein and fiber in these, they are a great snack cracker.  BE WARNED - they are addicting.  Bet you can't eat just one!

This time I used sunflower seeds and walnuts, along with white cheddar cheese and rosemary.  I have posted several versions of this recipe on this blog, I will put the links below.

A couple of points.   All the seeds and nuts have to be ground.  When you are grinding nuts (I use my bullet for all of this) be careful not to over grind or you wind up with nut butter, usually okay, but it makes mixing a bit more difficult.  The finished "dough" is more like a thick paste and you need to control the moisture to keep the crackers from burning while baking.

Any nut / seed combination along with any cheese you like is okay.  Drier components help with the too-moist issue, so Parmesan cheese is drier than cheddar. Just compensate when using more moist ingredients but reducing the amount of water added.

ANY herb is great and while I did not use it in this version, I love adding lemon or lime zest and a bit of juice to give the cracker a tang.

The basic recipe is 1 cup of seeds/nuts combined; 1/3 cup shredded cheese;  dried or fresh herbs of your choice; 1/2 teaspoon of salt; a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of warm water - Optional:  2 tablespoons of ground flax seed; 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds sprinkled on top of dough when rolled out.  FYI flax seed works best for you if ground first.  Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes and watch carefully so they don't burn.  Remove cool and break apart.  This can also be dried in the sun on a low humidity, very hot day (90+ degrees) and turn the dough over half way through the day.

My original version.

Another version.

A lengthy post on drying including another version of the cracker.  Off and on I HAVE dried the crackers in the sun on hot days. Save heating up the kitchen and works great.

And finally, if you are a lover of cheese as I am, you may enjoy my version of homemade Cheeze-Its.

I am away visiting family next week, so I will answer questions when I return.

In the mean time I hope you have a great time in the garden and in the kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Having some computer problems - just a heads up

Dear Folks,

It looks like my computer is trying to go to computer heaven.  So bare with me if you have questions, I hope to have things resolved within several days.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, October 09, 2017

When The "Storm" Hits you and your family - will you be ready?

Dear Folks,

I've written before about coping with life's challenges, but I REALLY want you to think about the answer to "WHAT IF...." for you and your family.  Are you prepared to have food, water, power and shelter access?

I personally try to plan for the what ifs, even if the likelihood is so remote as to be funny - but it is not really funny.

Just watching the news on the hurricanes, earthquakes, and wild fires is chilling enough and then the reality was brought home when I realized my cousin is living in Puerto Rico - through Hurricane Maria.  We now know she is okay, but one of the many who survived surrounded by ruins.  It took over 2 weeks for her to make contact with one of her daughters.  The process of her recovery is now starting still without enough access to the basic necessities, and power and cell service.  The videos being shared, one from NBC shows a man traveling long distances to a scrubbed together spring water pipe to fill any available container with water to deliver to others including the old, and frail and those with no vehicle, gas or a clear road to get there.  He said one official told him there is no aid available right now to them.

I realize the enormity of dealing with an entire island blackout, destroy towns, and many roads into the interior not passable.  There is a triage going on, of course, but the situation is one of back to scavenging for everything as if it was 100 years ago, for most of the population there.  What if . . .

This is my quote from 2011 when I posted (click here) a long, but I hope useful set of ideas to help YOU cope with serious challenges to your life.

"When we accept that only others can be the source of our necessities, then we risk having a roof made of paper, garment made of chemicals, or a meal of straw.  That is unsustainable." -- Catherine

"Prepper", "Survivalist", are words and images that may be strange sounding to "city folks" but we can all take some great tips from these "movements" on keeping food and water safe, repairing, mending and making do, when the time comes to need these skills or in having an emergency plan.  There are some great resources online for creating a stable (read no refrigeration required) food supply, how to store extra water.

But keep on tending your garden is the message I would suggest you keep in mind, while planning for the what ifs.  We are supremely lucky here in the Phoenix Metro area to be able to grow some or most of our own food or raise chickens for eggs and dairy goats for milk.

I mention those two beloved farmyard critters because in really challenged times, chickens can live on scraps and goats can browse on sticks and twigs as long as they have clean water, for a short period of time, allowing you to get more resources arranged.

Food, water, shelter, access to power and a way out and up from the challenge or disaster are what you need to know how to manage.

Stories are popping up in the news about having a "go bag", an emergency escape route planned, a source of the necessities, do some research for ideas that suit your needs.

Did you know our desert area is one of the BEST places to wind up if faced with a disaster that may be long term?  Why, because we do not have to deal with harsh winters and no plant foods.

Do you own research on what you would need and how to deal with the emergency whether it be staying put or needing to leave.  Short term or long term.  Make a plan, understand things like "making do" with what is available.

In addition to my post - here is a nice short list to consider for planning and even just basic principles applied to your every day life.

I have been re-watching one of the great period Farm Series from BBC, Wartime Farm, where over the course of a year the historians re-created a WWII farm in England which was faced with one of the worst times of war blockades of food and supplies.

I created a playlist on my channel to have all of the episodes available in one spot.

It is 9 hours long, but I think it is worth watching to get a "feel" for how to deal with a shortage or restriction.

It is also a REAL wake up call on food sources.  Between WWI and WWII England chose to drop support for farmers, to encourage moving from the rural areas to cities and turned instead to relying on imported goods.  The impact was tremendous on them with the start of WWII.

And we have our own challenge here in the US, a country physically huge compared to the United Kingdom Island.

Not too long ago a government official here in the US, when discussing water rights for farmers vs. cities made the statement that we do not need farms here in the US - everything we need can be imported.  I wish I had made of note of the quote and person making it.  BUT . . .


We live in the Valley of The Sun - USE IT for goodness sakes!

Grow food.

Any sunny day 85 degrees or over can help you sun dry, fruits, vegetables and herbs for shelf storage.

Consider solar panels with convertors to generate power for fans, small coolers, appliances, cell phones, tablets and computers etc.

One smart resourceful lady following the impact of Irma in Florida went out and put together a small unit.

A note my Deane made - great idea, but a slightly larger panel and a direct inverter so you don't need the battery. This link shows an inverter.  Amazon link here.

We are making plans to include this type of setup to have on hand. It does not need to be set up until you need, that is the point of having the panel with the inveter - no charging needed as with a battery.

I don't want this post to go on and on, there is more reading and watching in the links above.

PLEASE really, really, understand what you and your family might be up against should you face a crisis, emergency or even suddenly being unemployed.

Take care of you!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Saturday, October 07, 2017

Living Green in The East Valley - October News - Plant Sale Links

My Sugar Pea Seedlings Coming Up.
Dear Folks,

Here is the monthly list of "Green" events in Mesa and nearby cities.  Make sure to scroll down in the link to the plant sales coming up, with links to Boyce Thompson, Desert Botanical Garden and more.

October IS a major planting time here in the desert and THE best time to get your perennials in along with cool weather loving annuals.

Also provided is information on watering, family-oriented activities, recycling and environment.

I recommend you sign up to receive the monthly email of what's going on in sustainable and water related activities.  The link for signing up to receive the email is near the end of the page.

"Living Green" is sponsored by the City of Mesa

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

My Lecture This Saturday, October 7th

Dear Folks,

Just a reminder of my FREE lecture coming up this Saturday at the Mesa Community Urban Garden.

5 p.m.
Mesa Urban Garden
212 E. 1st Avenue,
Mesa, Arizona 85201
I will also have my free seed library with me.

Garden Multi-Tasking: Edible Flowers and Seed Saving!

Catherine, The Herb Lady will explain how edible flowers and seed saving creates multiple benefits in your garden. She will discuss regional adaptation for stronger plants and other benefits, and edible flowers multitasking from garden to kitchen. Catherine will also answer your gardening questions and tell you what to plant NOW!

Mesa Urban Garden is a community garden supported by volunteers. If you have limited gardening space, the garden rents beds, already set up with soil and watering access, ready to plant.

I hope to see you there. If you can't make it I am always happy to answer questions.  Easiest way maybe to go to my facebook page and message me.

Meanwhile, isn't this a handsome pumpkin flower?  Keeping my fingers crossed on a nice crop of fruit.

I hope you have a wonderful day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Shade The Soil NOT the Plants! And World Vegetarian Day

Dear Folks,

I can't stress enough the challenge of believing that shading your plants in the desert garden is the right point of view.  Wrong!

Pictured is my eggplant bed, 6+ feet wide, containing 2 eggplants and a pepper plant, taken September 12, 2017.

Our edible plants need all the sunlight they can get - with only minor exceptions - to grow that herb, fruit or vegetable and give it the wonderful flavors we are looking for.

This eggplant bed is on a 7 day deep watering cycle and that is all the bed gets except for rain.  This is the bed on July 19, 2017.  Notice the mulch.  THAT is the key to successful planting here in the desert.

Because our sun is SO intense here, even in the winter, folks tend to think in terms of shade.  BUT shade can cause more problems then aid.

It minimizes air circulation which can encourage pests and diseases.

It can actually increase heat if placed too close to the plants.

And it can reduce the sunlight so much that the plants cannot get enough to grow and produce properly.

Density of planting is another factor.  When first planting/sowing you need to space out, but mulch between them and plant a bit closer together than recommended in planting/sowing directions for plants (except trees).  Cover the ground with mulch (but don't let it touch the base of the tender young plants as this can also give rise to pests getting easily to the plants.  Then allow the plants to canopy the SOIL.

My big cinder block raised bed (about 11 feet by 5 feet) looks like this now.  The tomatoes produced nicely this spring and early summer, then started to wilt some with the coming summer heat when I planted the sweet potatoes and now the tomatoes are robust to say the least, and are starting to produce fruit. 
So, my point is plan for shading the soil not the plants.  Plant / Sow a little closer together than recommended.  Mulch around seedlings or lightly mulch over seeds.  Increase mulch depth around plants, but no touching them as the grow and allow the plants to begin making their own soil-shading canopy.

My mango, started from seed is looking good. While I do have another mango tree I wanted to see how this would do in my banana bed.

In The Kitchen.

The Listarda Eggplant is not only gorgeous but so tasty with a meaty texture and robust flavor.

I like the idea of Eggplant Parmesan but I did not want to go to all that work, so I fried some up in a bit of avocado oil, and put some white cheddar cheese with some of my own dried Greek Oregano to melt over it.  SO great tasting, I made up extra to re-heat later or freeze for later!

WORLD Vegetarian Day is October 1st.

Meat eaters get a little shaky when the subject of vegetarian and vegan foods are brought up.

Vegetables as a side dish only is the beginning of a conversation we need for many reasons which could include economy and environment.  But I don't want that the focus of this post.

I want you to consider the outstanding flavor, texture and good-for-you vegetable-based options - like Eggplant Parmesan, or an outstanding Pasta Primavera with a good quality pasta (there are many great tasting, high protein pasta options).

Pick your favorite vegetables, hopefully homegrown, and decide to make it the star of a meal then add protein of choice as THE side dish.  You might find some new favorites.

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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