Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Jam / Fruit Cake and More from The Garden

Dear Folks,

I have written about my "jam bread" before.  When I realized I had 3 dozen jars of my own homemade jam plus other gifts, I decided I needed to find a way to use them up faster.  When you look at a typical fruit bread "cake" (sometimes called quick breads) it is flour, salt, sugar, fat, baking powder, some liquid and fruit and nuts.  I decided to experiment a couple of years ago and discovered I could use jam as the "fruit and liquid" to create a moist and delicious cake.

With the holidays coming I wanted to try two things:  to create a fruit cake which everyone would love and to bake them in canning jars and "can" them for keeping. Below I will give you the basic recipe and the additions added to make a more filled "fruit cake" like you usually see.

Canned cake.  I read a blog post by a sustainable farmer and thought I needed to try that.  I did "can"  one of my batches last spring and it turned out "okay".  I say that because it did keep - I opened a jar one month later and the cake was just as I sealed it up baking day.  The problem was the bottom burned some.

Back to the drawing board as they say.  The old fashioned way of making cakes in cans was to put the can in a pan with boiling water while baking - bingo!  Burning problem solved.

Getting the right amount of batter in the jar is the next challenge.  Too much and it will overflow.  In the pictures you will see 2 sets.  One I filled just a hair over half way and the other about 3/4.  I reasoned that if the more filled one "domed" I could just "squish" it down with the lid, and that worked great.

The next phase will be whether the seals (I heard all the nice pops) worked well and the cake keeps.  In one month I will open 1 each of the half filled and 3/4 filled and see if they are okay (no mold etc.)  Meanwhile we are enjoying the rest of them and sharing them with friends.  They are delicious, moist and filled with fruit and nuts.

You need to make sure you have the new lids ready for when you pull the pans out of the oven.  You need to cap IMMEDIATELY to create the safe seal.

You can make this cake in a loaf pan.  If you decide you want to can them, make sure you WIPE the edges of the jars before putting in the oven, so you have a clean surface when you put the lids on to create the perfect seal.

Baking time is going to be different depending on the size of the jars you choose to use and how much you fill them.  In this case the half filled jars were ready in 45 minutes,  The more filled jar needed another 5 minutes.  Over all plan on 45-60 minutes depending on the jar you use.  The toothpick should come out clean but not squeeky clean.

I doubled the batch you see in the pictures

Jam/Fruit Cake
I try to use organic ingredients like flour, sugar etc. where available

2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of oil (I like avocado but any of your favorite could be used)
1 1/5 cups of jam
1 cup of chopped nuts

To the recipe shown I also added 3/4 cup of pumpkin seeds and 3/4 cup of chopped candied roselle petals - I wanted the red and green to show in the finished cake.  See my post on Roselle and candying the petals - they have a lovely cranberry flavor.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If using loaf pan, grease and set aside - this recipe makes one typical loaf.  After batter is made pour into pan and bake 45-50 minutes.

If canning, make sure your mason jars are squeeky clean, you can put in boiling water for 5 minutes to ensure they are sterilized and place upside down on a towel while you prepare the batter.  Have new lids and a ring for each jar ready.  I would recommend going with either an 8 ounce or 16 ounce jar - not bigger.  Have a towel on the counter where you will put the hot jars.

Have one or two oven pans which will hold the jars and boiling water.  While the oven heats up and you are preparing the batter, bring a pot of water to boil.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together in a large bowl.  In another bowl, beat the eggs, add the sugar and oil and beat well.  Stir into the flour mix.  When combined well add the jam and nuts and stir well to combine.  If adding more nuts and fruit add now and stir well, they will thicken the batter more.

Spray each jar with cooking spray or grease with butter.  Using either 2 spoons or a large scoop fill jars between half and 3/4 full.  Wipe edges of the jars very well with a wet cloth.  Place jars in pan spacing them evenly out.  Pull out the oven rack part way, place the pan in the center of the rack and carefully add boiling water to the pan about half way up.  Slide in the rack and bake for 45 - 60 minutes.  Test at 45 with a toothpick.

When done, quickly remove each jar, cap it tightly and put it on the towel for cooling.  Let cool.  You should hear all the caps ping.  If any do not or they do not seal, make sure to use that jar up first.

I will post again in a month when I open the jars to check on their stability.

IN The Garden

My sweet potato patch and a tomato plant that went crazy once the temperatures dropped out of the 100s is loaded with green tomatoes and I'm harvesting a few tomatoes every day.

I will be checking the sweet potatoes to see what is a good size for this weekend and Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile I have been using the sweet potato leaves for salads, soups and sandwiches.

It is that time of year when our Pineapple Guava fruit is ripening.  This is a crazy fruit to gauge when ripe, so we finally just decided that if it is on the ground and bright green it is ripe.  The flavor is like a slightly astringent kiwi.  You cut them in half and use a spoon to scoop out the fruit.

Microwave meals are a quick breakfast or lunch for us when it is just the two of us.  This is my crust-less quiche or you could think of it as a Frittata.  Use a microwave safe bowl.

Microwave Quiche for Two
2 eggs
1/2 cup of milk
2/3 cups of shredded cheese of your choice
1/2 to 1 cup of shredded greens / herbs (I used sweet potato leaves, basil, and some chopped I'Ioti onions)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional:  Chopped cooked bacon, ham or in my case I used some chopped salami

Grease bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs well and stir in everything else. If the batter looks a little too thick add a tablespoon or two more of milk. Pour into grease bowl, and microwave for 4 minutes, but watch - every microwave is a bit different.  It will puff up and then collapse a bit when you remove it.  It will be VERY hot because of the cheese, so be careful.

Divide and plate up with fruit on the side for a nice light meal.

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Just for fun -- if you are a fan of Pinterest - I have several boards where I post fun ideas, recycle or using herbs.  Click here.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

December Planting & Gardening Tips

Dear Folks,

December brings not only holidays but gardening maintenance and the continuing opportunity to successive sow your winter vegetables and herbs.

Keep kitchen "trash" recycling in mind.  You can replant celery, leek, and scallion roots to get a second harvest.  Pictured is a celery root taken November 11th - I planted it November 6th after soaking for a couple of days.  I do grow celery but when I don't have it in the garden, I buy organic and replant the root.

Successive sow sugar peas, leaf lettuces and greens, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, cilantro, chervil, dill and parsley for a continuous crop.  Pictured is the flower of my Magnolia Blossom Sugar pea - isn't it gorgeous!

December is the time to prune or cut back some of your perennials.  Around December 15th, cut asparagus back to the ground.  Your deciduous trees should be pruned and shaped by December 31st to get it done before they burst into bloom again.

Don't wait until all the leaves drop off, sometimes nature does not cooperate getting all the leaves out of the way.  I always laugh when the "fall" of our fig tree leaves occurs, all at once (mostly) on a windy December day (not October!) and we walk out to the garden to find a HUGE pile of leaves under or near the fig tree.

Plants you DO NOT prune are tender perennials which may sustain frost damage, but are not killed.  Leave the damage parts on to act as a protective "blanket" until spring when the soil begins to warm again.

My Upper Ground Sweet Potato Pumpkin is still green, but really healthy.  While checking it out, I discovered some new "possible" baby pumpkins, and watched for the blossom to open up and discovered bees working the blossom, but I still got a q-tip and helped some too.  Pictures of the pumpkin, baby pumpkin with flower waiting to be pollinated, male flower and the bees doing their thing.

Baby Pumpkin & Flower
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.

Male Pumpkin Flower
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 Ironite or Green Sand to compensate for mineral bonding "chlorosis" (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.


Peach tree borer pests - consider using  "dormant oil" or "horticulture oil" spray on trunks to soil line (not branches) after pruning deciduous trees.


December PLANTING:

Anise
Asparagus
Beets
Bok Choy
Broccoli
Cabbage
Caraway
Carrots
Cauliflower
Chamomile
Chervil
Cilantro
Dill
Fennel, Leaf
Fruit, Bare Root
Fruit Trees
Greens
Kohlrabi
Lavender
Lettuce
Marjoram
Mustard
Myrtle
Onions, Green
Oregano, Greek
Ornamental Cabbage/Kale (Brassica Oleracea)
Parsley
Peppers (seed)
Primrose (Primula Vulgaris)
Radishes
Sage
Savory
Spinach
Strawberry
Thyme
Turnips
Watermelon (by seed December 15 and after)

EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:

Carnation (Dianthus)
Chamomile
English Daisy
Jasmine Sambac (Arabian)
Nasturtiums
Pansies
Primrose
Scented Geraniums
Snapdragons              
Stocks (Matthiola)
Sweet William (Dianthus)
Sweet Alyssum


Have a best day in the garden and kitchen!




You can purchase my books or calendars through links on the side bar here on the blog.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Pumpkins and Other Fun Food Options

Dear Folks.

Today I'm sharing some links to interesting and fun food-related articles and events.

Pictured is my Upper Ground Sweet Potato Pumpkin taken the other day.  I sowed the seeds direct on July 5th.  Hoping it is ripe for Thanksgiving but regardless I intend to enjoy this heirloom to the fullest.  Be sure to read the article I've linked to below on all the edible goodness of pumpkins.

Edible Phoenix is one of the "Edible Communities".  They produce a quarterly magazine, have a website and on that website they have a calendar loaded with food-related events in Arizona.  Click on a date and get a list of food-happening in Arizona.  Lots to choose from.

Next a nice article from the Permaculture Institute on Pumpkins.  Eat the seeds, flowers, pumpkin "fruit" and even the leaves!!  Check it out.

After you read the article on pumpkins above, check out my blog post on stuffed pumpkin.  A great side dish for any meal and a good main dish for a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving or other holiday.


I shared this following link yesterday on facebook but it is so helpful I am making sure everyone sees it.

Source: Wiki-Commons
Food forest, canopy, under-story - all words that describe a totally edible landscape of foods plants working in sync to maximize space and resources.  When you understand how a food forest works, you can easily see the use of the idea here in the desert garden.  Click here to read this article.  The picture is an excellent illustration of the concept.

On a different note, back on October 9th I did a post on what to do to prepare if the "storm" (disaster, unemployment etc.) hits you and your family.  Making some plans - and always tend your garden - is just wise.

Part of that is planning to have optional income sources aka "streams".  Check out this interesting article on creating additional income streams for yourself and your family.

I hope you find all of these tips useful and keep on tending your garden!



-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Cold / Cool Weather and Flu and Colds call for Soups and Broths!

Dear Folks,

Soups are always appealing to me, but particularly when the weather starts changing and I see the leaves falling I want soup!

While soup is good for when you are not feeling well or are chilled from being outside, these soups can actually help you stay well or recover more quickly because of the all the great nutrients in the herbs and greens.

Here are several I encourage you to try, hopefully with bounty from your own gardens, but do find your local farmers markets to get the best ingredients.

Good For You Broth
aka nature's "penicillin"

From my book "Edible Landscaping in the Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate"

You can make as just a broth to sip, or add noodles and carrots for simple lovely tasting soup.

http://edibleherbsandflowers.blogspot.com/2008/12/hot-sip-for-cold-weather.html

Herb Soup
From my book "101+ Recipes From The Herb Lady"
Don't be deterred by the idea of an herb soup.  This delicious soup is just perfect for a cool day or when you are needing a lift.  This is from an old post of mine, do swap out the herbs and greens for your preference.

http://edibleherbsandflowers.blogspot.com/2013/10/herb-soup.html

Green Harvest Soup
Adapted from a Magazine Recipe, again use herbs and greens of your choice.  This is a lovely too look at and delicious to enjoy soup.  Like the Herb Soup, swap out the herbs and greens for those you prefer - or what you have growing in the garden.  I would use sweet potato leaves along with the sweet potato, maybe sorrell leaves, roselle or Egyptian Spinach leaves.

http://edibleherbsandflowers.blogspot.com/2009/02/green-harvest-soup.html


Next:  Use this time to make your own dried vegetable bouillon to have on hand with your garden bounty.

Homemade Dried Vegetable Stock/Bouillon

http://edibleherbsandflowers.blogspot.com/2015/05/homemade-dried-vegetable-stockbouillon.html

 


And another recipe for a "herb soup" I just saw on the internet, like a combination of my herb and harvest soups

http://omnomally.com/2015/10/04/immune-boosting-garden-herb-stock/


One more soup!

Potato Soup with Herbs

Trying to duplicate the potato soup my mother made, I decided to add herbs from the garden -- a lot of herbs!  :-)

I have to say I think I got my mom's basic flavor and added my own touch to this type of comfort food.

You can easily make this vegan by using a choice of best non-dairy "milks".  OR a very good vegetable broth.  I have made a potato soup in broth before and with the right herbs and spices it is also excellent tasting. 

http://edibleherbsandflowers.blogspot.com/2010/11/potato-soup-with-garden-herbs.html

One last tip.  I usually have a lot of greens and herbs growing year round in the garden. When I make soup or stew I usually shred a lot of any or all of the varieties and either add to the bowl before ladling the hot food over it - or top as a garnish to stir in each bowl.  This fresh burst of flavor adds both texture and goodness (preserving the nutrients etc. because they were not "cooked") to the bowl of food.

You can find my books for sale through links on the side bar.

I hope you make soup - soon!


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Roselle - How do I love thee!

Dear Folks,

I thought I would post more on the Roselle shrub.  This member of the Hibiscus family is a powerhouse of Vitamin C and antioxidants.

(Hibiscus sabdariffa) called Sorrel in the Caribbean and in Latin America and Flor de Jamaica in Mexico, is a tropical native of West Africa.

The flowers, leaves and swollen calyx are all edible.  The flowers only last 1 day and then the calyx begins to swell.  Starting out only about 1/4" by 1/2" long, the mature calyx before the seed pod matures can be between 1 1/2" and 2 inches long and a little less than that wide.  See this link for health, culinary and livestock feeding information.

The leaves are great in salads and because they grow so strongly during our hot weather are one of the "greens" is use in place of lettuce including on sandwiches or shredded into soups and stews.  In other parts of the world, the tangy leaves are pickled.

Harvesting means breaking open the calyx, removing the spent flower if it has not already dropped out, removed the seed pod (toss in compost), and breaking the "petals" of the calyx off the seed pod base.

Ready to dry or freeze.
Rinse and dry and now you have the fresh petals ready to use fresh, dry or freeze.

While the traditional use is as a beverage/tea/punch served hot or cold and sweetened, there are other fun ways to use this delicious cranberry/tangy food.

The other day I decided to make syrup while candying some of the petals.  Both turned out delicious and the candied petals really taste like sweetened cranberries.  The one thing I will do differently with my next patch of candying is to use fresh from harvest.  I chose to use thawed petals and they did not stay firm as I had anticipated.  While the thawed petals did have a firm quality to them, it was not enough to handle the boiling.  To candy bring 2 cups of water and 2/3 to 3/4 cup of sugar (I use organic) to a rolling boil.  Add rinsed roselle and boil at a high simmer for about 25 minutes.  Carefully strain petals and put on parchment or plastic wrap to dry.  Store syrup in the refrigerator.  Allow the petals to completely dry and store covered in a cool place.  Like other candied fruit you can choose to roll the slightly cooled petals in more sugar - I did not.

I like to use my homemade syrups to make fresh soda drinks.  The usual ratio is 1/4 cup of syrup to 3/4 cup of ice cold seltzer, or sparkling water of your choice.  Club soda is an option but has sodium added.  I am not a lover of sodas (I like a root beer once in a while - preferably in a root beer float :-), I do enjoy drinking seltzers in the warm weather with or without flavoring.

Sun drying the calyx is a piece of cake anytime we have sunny days over 85.  Use plastic or parchment paper or wire racks to dry. Cover with paper towel or netting to keep the bugs and birds off while drying.  The petals don't usually take more than 1 day to dry, but if not totally dry bring the trays back inside so they do not reabsorb moisture from night air and then just put them back out to finish drying.  (I was lucky enough some years ago to purchase just the trays from a dehydrator set up - giving me plenty of space to sun dry my bounty.)

One of the fun ways I have used the dried petals (fresh would work too) is to top a homemade turkey soup.  I had some soup last year and thought - hmmm - turkey and cranberries.  The contrast of the hot delicious soup with the cranberry/lemony flavor of the dried petals was really nice.  The petals softened slightly with the heat.

I am going to make some Roselle Jam with some of this year's harvest and I am going to make another version of my "Jam Bread" (a fruit and nut quick bread cake - think Christmas Fruit Cake only better) with pumpkin seeds (green) and some of the candied Roselle (red) which I think it is going to be wonderful.

My Jam Bread was the experiment result of realizing I had way too many jars of my homemade jams and those gifted to me by other cooks and I NEEDED to find a way to use up the jam.  When I got to thinking about fruit and nut cakes (quick breads) I really considered what went into them and saw that it was a liquid (water, milk etc.) and fruit and saw my jams with maybe some additional fruit plus nuts would work just fine and it did.  When I make the next jam fruit cake I will post pictures and the recipe I came up with.

Growing Roselle

Roselle loves-the-heat!  For valley locations and USDA Zone 9b and above sow the seeds directly in the ground in a full sun location or at least 8 hours at day, at the end of April, beginning of May.  Anywhere else you need to wait until the soil warms after last frost and you need to plan on an approximate 5+ months growing time.  My roselle sown at the end of April is starting to put out flower buds at the end of August/Beginning of September.  From that point the plant really goes into production with harvest of the calyx capable until into December if we do not get bad frosts. [Pictured the seeds have germinated in early May and are protected by a cardboard tube collar to keep the bugs / snails etc off - cut a 3 inch section of tube (paper towel or tp roll) and bury 1 inch of in the ground, sow the seed, and sprinkle every day with water until you see germination then start reducing the frequency and increasing the amount of the water to get the roots going deep.]

A happy plant can be 6+ feet wide and almost that tall with many branches and a 2+ inch diameter trunk. [Pictured the plant in early September putting out first buds and starting to grow longer and more branches.]

From the first flower, you can begin observing the calyx swelling quickly.  Some writers suggest waiting 10 days after the flower fades to harvest.  The longer you wait the bigger the calyx.  MAKE sure to allow as least a dozen or more to go to full seed maturity (dry).  Look for the seed pod to show split. The seed is mature enough to be viable then.

If you own poultry or other livestock, the seed is a healthy addition to their diets.  "The leaves are used for animal fodder and fibre (Plotto, 2004). The seeds can be used to feed poultry as well as sheep and the residue from the seeds oil extraction can also be used to feed cattle and chicks" -- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030881461400692X

I've probably forgotten to add some other bits of information so I would encourage you to do some of your own research and begin growing this great edible next spring.

Have a great day in the garden and kitchen!

You can find my growing calendars and books for sale on the sidebar here.


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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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.

Harvesting 

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:

Anise
Asparagus
Bay, Greek (Sweet)
Beets
Bok Choy
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage
Cabbage, Ornamental
Caraway
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celery
Chamomile
Chard
Chervil
Cilantro
Dill
Endive (and Chicory)
Fennel, Leaf
Fruit Trees
Garlic (only as green garlic)
Greens
Horseradish
Kale, Ornamental
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lavender
Lemon Verbena
Lettuce
Marjoram
Mints
Mustard
Myrtle
Onions, Green
Onions
Oregano, Greek
Oregano, Mexican
Parsley
Parsnip
Peas
Radishes
Rosemary
Sage
Savory
Spinach
Tarragon, Mexican
Tarragon, French
Thyme
Turnips

EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:

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

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.

FROST DAMAGE
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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