Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Incredible Edible Sunflower - More Fun Facts

Dear Folks,

Yesterday while harvesting some parts of the sunflower for my series, I noticed a lot of sap along the exterior edges of the sunflower leaves.

Cool Factoid!  Guttation!

The sap was sticky and sweet and I knew from earlier research (see note below about grape pearls) that it was not a problem, but a curiosity.

"Guttation is the exudation of drops of xylem sap on the tips or edges of leaves of some vascular plants, such as grasses."  -- wikipedia

"...root pressure forces some water to exude through special leaf tip or edge structures, hydathodes or water glands, forming drops."

I thought that was a pretty cool, new-to-me piece of information.

Another aspect of growing sunflowers in your garden is the Allelopathy attraction of sunflowers to aphids.  Notes on sunflowers as the 4th sister in the Three Sisters (Monsoon) growing practice of the Native Peoples was the fact that sunflowers drew aphids away from the other plants (corn, beans and squash).

I had a recent opportunity to see this in our gardens.  Two points about dealing with aphids:  1) you can use safe soap sprays to your advantage, but 2) you need to do so in such a way that a) it does not harm the beneficial insects, while b) allowing enough of the aphids to draw in the beneficial insects.

In the first picture below you can see that aphids have started to swarm on one of my sunflowers.

In the second picture you can see an assassin bug (the cavalry arriving) cruising one of the sunflowers.

For those of you becoming familiar with the good bugs/bad bugs in the garden, you may think the picture of the assassin is a leaf-foot.  Though a little similar in appearance the feet are different, and more difficult to see in the picture are the very, very long front legs of the assassin.

I did use the spray in the recommended 3 times over 15 days - no more aphids!

Grape Pearls:  About a month or so ago our Staci noticed white spots of something she thought might be pests on her grape vine stems.  I thought it looked like sap from the picture she sent and found out it was "Grape Pearls" a type of sap.

"Grape pearls are small sap-like, fluid-filled balls that are exuded from surface cells of rapidly growing grape vines. They appear most commonly in the spring and are often confused with mite or insect eggs. Some vines have many grape pearls but the pearls can appear singly or in smaller groups. They are usually found on the underside of leaves but can be on shoots as well. Grape pearls, also called "sap balls" are of no consequence to the vine." --

If you missed the first post in my new blog series on the sunflower, click here.

You may find some of my publications helpful with gardening in the desert for vegetables, fruits and herbs, or ideas for cooking with your harvest.

My publisher site is here.

Have a great day in the garden.  (P.S. Rainy time is a good time for transplanting - it helps the soil seal to the roots of the plants.)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Incredible Edible Sunflower - First Leaf

Dear Folks,

Over that last half dozen or so years I have learned just how truly edible this beloved-flower is.  So I am going to do a series of posts (leafs) on all that is wonderful about this Americas Native and one of my top favorites to grow in the garden for total enjoyment.  (Pictured - one of the large ones leaning over - I call this Sunflower On My Shoulder, Makes Me Happy!)

The sunflower originated in the Americas and some archeologists believe it was domesticated before corn (2000 BBC approximate).  It was introduced to Europe in the 15th Century and cultivars made their way back to America later.

The fact that we live in the sub-tropical desert makes it even more important - I think - that all of your gardens of edibles include this multi-tasker of a plant.

Helianthus annuus is the official name of the wild, roadside herald of summer.  The wild sunflower produces many small flowers, whereas the domestic varieties which now come in a wide range of colors (from white to dark, dark maroon) produces 1 large flower with a few smaller side flowers.  The sunflower is a cousin to the artichoke which explains its edible qualities.  Jerusalem Artichoke another "branch" of the sunflower family is grown for its edible root tubers.  See my prior blog post here on harvest of the Jerusalem Artichoke (called "Sunchoke").

The height of the sunflower plant varieties can range from 3 or 4 feet to over 12 feet.  Many of the domestic hybrids are in the 5-7 range.

I have grown many of the colors in my garden over the years.  All are enjoyable, my favorites though are the bright yellow and red varieties.

The uses of the flower are truly amazing.  The Native People grew is as a "fourth sister" in their Three Sister (corn, beans, squash) growing concept.  The seed was eaten or ground into meal/flour.  Even the dried stalks were used as building material by the Native Peoples.

The sunflower provides enjoyment in other ways.  The Birds - particularly the finches are just delightful to watch grazing them.  You can build what I call an "Edible Playhouse."  Sunflower Houses are a very old, and enjoyable garden theme.  I discussed these with a little mockup at the "Mesa Celebrates Day," last weekend.
(The pictures are a collage of Gold Finches enjoying one of the wild sunflowers in our gardens, and a sunflower house picture I found on the internet.  The original source of the picture disappeared so I cannot give proper credit - if someone recognizes it as theirs I would be happy to give credit.)

Over the following "leaves" of this series I will discuss all the different edible parts, share cooking ideas and pictures.

Edible Parts:  Pretty much the whole plant.

Young stems, leaves and unopened flower buds.
Pared disc (head).
Seeds for chewing, sprouting, pressing for oil and flour/meal.
Roots (references to some use in medicine)

Give some serious thought to growing a sunflower house - google sunflower house and image and you will come up with many ideas.  In our desert gardens a sunflower house through the summer would provide a welcome shade area for children, grandchildren and the child-in-you to retreat.

The good news is you can plant sunflower seeds NOW.  Pre-soak overnight or up to 3 days (changing the water each day) and plant 6 to 12 inches apart in full sun.

Plant Sunflower Seeds from February through July - and you will have blooms from May through October.

You can read up more history of the Sunflower over on wikipedia.  And here at National Sunflower Association site.

Fun facts to look up about sunflowers:   "phototropism" and "fibonacci numbers"

For fun check out information on "May 1st International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day"

Make It A Sunflower Day!!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jam Bread - or what to do when you Can too much fruit!

Dear Folks,

I had a challenge - I stopped "putting up" our fruit because I was over-loaded with canned fruit from several years ago and no place to put more.

And then we had a beautiful crop of pineapple guava and citrus this year and after a while you can only eat or give away so much.

Two pieces of information coalesced into my creating a jam bread recipe - and finding a marmalade recipe I could really enjoy.

The marmalade post is here.

Quick Breads or Cake Breads are well loved additions to the table - frequently made at holidays (like fruit cake) in a loaf pan in the form of a batter made with fruit, nuts, sugar etc.

With all my preserves available I decided there had to be a way to use jam/preserves in a quick bread.

It took me a while to find several types of recipes I could cobble together to make one that sounded like it would work - and it did :-)

Let me make this important note.  I use the WHOLE fruit, I use organic sugar (but not as much as most recipes call for) and lemon juice when I can my fruit.  With my jams you get mostly fruit when you enjoy it.

So I feel real good about sharing my jams with others and knowing it is wholesome in all that the word means.

Cathreine's Jam Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I have not found more was needed, but adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 1/2 cups jam/preserves
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or any nut you enjoy) 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 and spray loaf pan - set aside
  2. In one bowl sift flour salt and baking powder
  3. In another bowl whip eggs to frothy, add sugar and oil and mix very well. Add jam and mix well.
  4. Mix in flour until batter is well mixed, stir in nuts.
  5. Pour into prepared pan and bake 45-50 minutes.
  6. Cool on rack, slice and enjoy!
The jar pictured was from my first marmalade making back in February.  I froze the exact amount needed for the bread and thawed it yesterday to make the bread.  I love the color!

A note on this and my soda bread recipes - I refrigerate or freeze these as there are no preservatives to keep them at room temperature.  They freeze and thaw really well and refrigerate well for a week or two (if they last that long).

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

If you enjoy my recipes you may like my cook book available in PDF and Print form


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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Marmalade and Red Celery

Dear Folks,

I discovered an outstanding recipe for making marmalade from our citrus.  I first made some several weeks ago.  I did not can it because I wanted to see how very small batches (1-2 fruit) turned out.  The verdict was "great".

So the other day I made three versions and canned them.  The hardest part of this recipe is deciding how big you want the pieces of fruit.

Historically I was not fond of marmalade - to me they were overly sweet jellies with a few pieces of fruit in them.  I am a jam/preserve kind of gal, not a jelly person.  If it is a fruit something I want either the whole fruit or 100% juice.

A recipe in the Edible Phoenix Spring 2015 issue by Molly Beverly, got me re-thinking because she used the WHOLE FRUIT, minus the seeds.  Okay now we were talking my idea of a 'jam'.

As good as Ms. Beverly's recipe sounded (check out her other recipes on the link for using an abundance of lemons), I wanted something with less sugar.

I found a blog (Living On A Dime) post which was more to my liking - I still tweaked the amount of sugar, but the surprisingly small amount of water was just perfect.

If the recipe seems too easy,  1 fruit, etc. the wonderful thing is you can double, triple etc. You can, easily in the time it takes to cut the fruit and cook for 15 minutes, make a small batch that morning, enough for breakfast or using later in the day!

Our Community Table as the Farmers Market had end of the season Meyer Lemons.  I picked our navels and Moro Blood Orange, making 3 different batches that day.  Each batch consisted of 5 fruit, so I ended up with 3-4 half-pints of each flavor.   I think they look like sunshine in a jar!

Catherine's Marmalade

1 citrus
1 tablespoon water
1/4 to 1/3 cup of sugar per fruit (I use organic cane sugar) - 1/2+ cup for lemons or grapefruit to taste

Wash the fruit well if there is any dust or debris (I find bits of leaves etc. sometimes that have dropped and embedded in our navels and blood oranges).

Cut the ends off, slice in half lengthwise and remove any seeds.

Very thinly slice the fruit, catch all juice.  You can quarter and quarter again lengthwise if you want smaller pieces.  This is the most labor intensive part.  Living on a Dime suggested a blender.  I tried a mandoline and finally gave up and just sliced with a knife.

In a sauce pan combine the water sugar and any juice.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add fruit and simmer for 15 minutes.

Pour into mason jars and cap.

If you want to can, I chose to hot pack (immediately after cooking the marmalade) in a waterbath for 15 minutes for half-pints.  (Follow normal canning procedures to sterilize the jars and heat the lids.)

The other great thing about desert gardens is the ability to do small batch canning throughout the year - unlike 4 season climates where you are sort of locked into doing gallons and gallons at the end of summer before winter sets in.

If you do not can, refrigerate after it cools down.  Use up within 3-4 weeks.

Beside using as a spread on toast, glaze seafood, chicken or pork with marmalade.  I also make a "Jam Bread" - essentially a quick bread/cake with my preserves and marmalade will work also - going to make one next week and I will post picture and recipe.

Celery in The Desert Garden

I started growing RedVenture celery in the garden several years ago and it now re-seeds freely here and there.  The red means it has some lycopene in the stalks.  The flavor is a bit more strong and 'salty' than typical garden celery.  Besides the idea of having it growing conveniently in your garden, I only need to cut the number of stalks I need for a recipe.  I also sun dry or refrigerator dry leaves for later use.

Kitchen Recycle Celery

Some purchased vegetables can be "recycled" into the garden to regenerate more harvest.  Examples are onion or scallions - cut the bottom 1 inch with root and plant level after soaking for a couple of hours or overnight.  You will have green tops to cut in a few weeks.

One of my favorites it the bottoms or organic celery bunches.  When I do not have enough growing, I buy an organic celery bunch, cut the 1 and a half or 2 inch bottom off, soak overnight and then plant level.  The picture shows one planted January 4th and harvestable tops the end of March.

Waste not - want not :-)

Have a great day in the garden and kitchen.

 -- Catherine, The Herb Lady

My calendar, books etc.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Calvary Arriving to Handle Aphids

Dear Folks,

Several days ago I posted about that the aphids have arrived and using safe soap spray.

I am very careful in using the spray to make sure the good bugs are not among the aphids - and I should have noted that in my post.

Sooooo, the reason to be careful using the spray is also about not spraying willy-nilly.

One of my mantras has been the good bugs (predators of pests) don't show up until you ring the dinner bell, i.e., there has to be some aphid activity to draw the bugs in white hats in.

So here are some good guys who I saw this morning.  The ladybug, of course, but lesser known is the assassin bug. The larvae, young and adult are all good aphid hunters.

It is also important to note that many of these good bugs can bite, they are, after all predators.  Let them do their job and they will reward you by multiplying.

On that same note, many of the larvae, juveniles and some adults need nectar so having something flowering in the garden at all times is good for you and the beneficial insects.

So to the beneficial insects - be a good-bug host, and they will go forth and multiply.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Calendar (PDF and Print) and Books

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Aphids Are Here! The Aphids Are Here!

Dear Folks,

The one down side to getting into our lovely weather in the spring is the aphids like the cool night temperatures also.

The reliable safe soap spray is a way to deal with these soft-bodied pests.  Hard bodied insects like the leaf-footed/squash bug require different measures, such as keeping debris picked up and away from the base of plants and Hard Hosing as soon as you see them.  You can also use neem oil sprays on those pests.

Sunflowers (I learned recently) draw aphids, which is a good thing, but then you need to deal with them.

Here is a composite picture I took of one of my sunflowers Saturday and this Morning (Monday), which shows the before and after of the 1st cycle spraying (more on that below).

I know it is difficult to fully see what is happening but there are many dead or dying aphids in the right half of the picture

SAFE SOAP SPRAY and how to use it most effectively.

1 quart of water
1 teaspoon Dawn dish soap (I recommend the original)*
1 teaspoon of vegetable cooking oil (I keep old no-longer-useable-oils for this purpose).

Mix in spray bottle.

How to use:
1) if the bugs are really bad, hard hose off as best as you can.
2) shake (shaking is important, the ingredients do not stay mixed) the spray bottle as you spray, top and bottom of leaves and down growing center (this is particularly important with the broccoli family)
3) REPEAT!  5 days later and 5 days after that.

If you do not repeat the spraying 5 days apart you will lose the advantage.

What is happening is the 1st spray kills most of the adults and just hatched young.**
The 2nd spray kills those which hatch after 1st spray (the soap/oil does not, unfortunately damage the eggs).
The 3rd spray kills any stragglers.

Watch for new activity and deal with it the same way.  You may have to do this 2 or 3 times before our temperatures rise into the 100 range, when the aphid activity will decline substantially.

They will come back in the fall when the temperatures drop back down into the below 100 range, so keep this spray recipe handy.

*Original Dawn is still used to help sea birds damaged and endangered by oil spills.  I consider it the safest option for this spray and the little that goes into the soil will do no damage.

** Live-bearing aphids, a real problem for the broccoli family, do not lay eggs and are more difficult to control if you do not follow the spraying regime properly.

WHITE FLIES are a form of aphid and can be treated the same way.  The challenge with these type of aphids is that is is almost impossible to control completely, their numbers are in the 10s of thousands, but you can minimize the damage by following the spraying regime, beginning with hard hosing off first.

My Calendar shows the soap spray on March.   While both the print and PDF versions are dated 2015, the information is applicable year to year.

The PDF version is $6 and can be downloaded into all of your devices that have Adobe or other compatible reader, with a single purchase price.

You can find the print version of the calendar and my other publications here.

Do not let the bugs get you down, you can deal with them AND enjoy your garden at this lovely time of year.

Have a best day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, March 27, 2015

Homemade Sodas

Dear Folks,

I have a "thing" about the amount of garbage sodas for sale - mostly aimed at children.

So here are some great homemade sodas to help you and the family kick the junk habit. (the pictures is from Ms. Dudash's article in The Arizona Republic, March 13, 2015) All have some nutrients, and yes they are sweetened, but you can choose one of the real Stevia products (like Sweetleaf) to substitute for lower calorie (I say lower because many are made with some fruit juice so there is natural sweetness - but you also get Vitamin C along with other small levels of vitamins and in some minerals).

What child does not enjoy options?  You can have the base ready for action whenever there is a group or party.

Your base is a sweet condensed mix, either a 100% frozen juice concentrate (no sugar added), thawed or a flavored (you choose) syrup.  Example:  Many children enjoy orange soda.  All you need is thawed 100% orange juice concentrate to make a glass of orange soda.  There is a 100% frozen juice pineapple orange that is a nice version.

1/4 cup base to 3/4 cup chilled sparkling water, ice if you like and there you have a cold, refreshing glass of wholesome beverage.

The sparkling water can be any you like.  FYI Club soda has sodium in it, seltzer does not.  Many artisanal waters have micro nutrients.

First up is a neat recipe from Michell Dudash who did an article for the Arizona Republic.

This is a base for a Cola, which makes up to 14 glasses.  You store the base until you want a glass.  This is probably the most ingredient in these recipes, but since you are making a base for 14 glasses it is worth the extra time.

Ms. Dudash also shared some homemade versions of fast food favorites like Chicken Nuggets to get your children enjoying homemade fast food.

Bon Appetit Magazine posted a slide show of 12 homemade sodas.

TIP:  When making the ginger ale - don't throw away the ginger after making the base.  Save the slices, roll them in organic sugar, let air dry and you have candied ginger for nibbling or baking.

TIP:   If you make the lemongrass lime leaf soda and do not have Kaffir lime leaves you can use lemon or lime tree leaves from your own trees, just add 50% more leaves.  All citrus leaves are edible and have the scent and flavor of the fruit.

If you just wish to have some flavor, like the flavored seltzers available, muddle some fruit in the bottom of a glass, maybe add a piece of mint, top with chilled seltzer and ice and you have a refreshing drink.

Now that we are getting into the warm times, you should have some wholesome beverage options available to make refreshing and healthy drinks.

Have a best day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

My publisher's site

For you gardeners - my "perpetual" calendar will give you the information for best gardening success in the desert - when to plant, tip and garden maintenance information.