Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

August Planting and Sowing Tips and Around the Garden.

Dear Folks,

If you are new to gardening here in the desert southwest, gardening in August must feel like "what?" are you thinking.

[Pictured: Spaghetti Squash fruit has doubled in size from July 6th when I first spotted it.]

Bear with me here as I explain how seeds react to our temperatures.  From approximately May 29th to September 29th, the day time temperatures are in the high 90s to 110+ range and they do not fall back to below 90 for continuous days until the end of September. Sure we can get a 100 degree day in October, but the "cooling" trend starts near the end of August when the typical monsoonal rains start to ebb and with it the higher consistent temperatures.  What all of that means, is near the end of August the soil is cooling.

We have two main growing seasons for starting seed:  End of Summer/Fall and end of Winter/Spring.  We can of course grow things year round here, but the starting of the individual varieties is most successful if you pay attention to what I call, the plant feet (roots) liking cool or cooling soil, or warm or warming soil.

So, for the fall/winter garden we look at plants like root crops, lettuces and other greens, herbs like dill, cilantro, chervil and parsley.

I will be sort of repeating some of the above in the tips below the sowing guide, I just want to help you have the most success in your garden.

I have had great success in literally sowing seeds of cilantro, etc. at the beginning of August, ensured the seed area stayed moist (at least sprinkling each evening), and the plants emerged on or about September 1st.  Why bother, you think?  Because, direct sown seeds are generally stronger.  The germination rate will not be as great compared to starting in jiffy pellets or similar (I do that for starting tomatoes etc. in December for transplanting out February 1st), but the resulting plants are overall stronger, and we always have volunteer aka self-sown tomatoes pop up in different areas of the garden, thank you!

If you have noticed plants in your garden which self-seeded, they will usually be stronger and healthier - presuming they are in the right spot for their sun needs.

[Pictured:  My celery patch - is over 4+ wide.  This self-seeded LAST fall and took off, and I let it. I have been harvesting celery since late Oct/Nov.  I use a lot of celery and no I won't be able to use all of this, so a lot of it will be cut-and-drop mulch for beds.  The point is I took this picture as I write this blog - July 16, 2020.   Most of the plants are about 14 inches+ tall.  When I want celery I come out and get the best!]


Large selection of seed-only (sowing) planting.

Beans, Snap (bush and pole)
Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts
Greens, all
Onions, Green
Squash, Winter


Marigolds, including Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii)
Portulaca (Moss Rose)
Sweet Alyssum

GARDEN TIPS for August
    The new-to-desert gardener may be asking how can anyone plant in August, with 105+ temps.  Well consider:  If you want pumpkins for Halloween, you have to count back 90-120 days for seeding in.  These seeds will germinate in the 'cooling' soil.
    Cool weather annuals and biennials can be sown every 2-4 weeks (beginning in August) through end of January for a continuous crop through next spring.
    With food plants such as pumpkin and corn and their long growing season requirements, a one-time planting is sufficient.  AND, give the pumpkins room!
    With corn, plant in 'blocks' not 'rows' space the individual seeds approximately 6 inches apart imagining a 12 inch square, then the next square etc. you will have rows in a sense, but not the typical farmers rows.  The reason for this is pollination - the anthers of the corn knock together better with the closer planting and therefore you get more corn.
    PLANT ONLY one variety of corn a season - otherwise they may cross.  Save one or two cobs, allowed to dry on the stalks at the end of the season for, replanting next corn season
    Heavy pre-fall seed planting begins now (corn, pumpkin, etc.).
    Higher humidity can reduce moisture loss to plants, reducing watering frequency, but check with water meter regularly.
    Hold off on any major TRANSPLANTING until the fall when the temperatures drop back to prime planting weather.  Typically we do not see below 90 temps between May 29th and September 29th (other than a storm but the temp drop is short-lived).
    Chlorosis may appear particularly in the fruit trees.  This yellowing of the leaves, leaving the leaf vein showing through bright green is the result of the iron in the soil being made unavailable to the plant due to excess water in the soil which causes the iron to bind to other minerals.
    Easily treated with an application of ironite or green sand before watering.  These elements do not burn the plants and can be used as needed throught the season.  The yellowing of the leaves usually resolves within 1 to 2 weeks of the application.  Use only ironite or green sand and not a fertilizer containing it as you could overfertilize and THEN burn the plants.
    Although this is a result of a lot of water in the soil it does not necessarily mean you are overwatering, only that the additional water required due to the high heat of the season is causing the situation.  It sometimes also occurs in the winter time when the cold soil causes the same thing to happen.

HOWEVER - you CAN over water during the Summer Monsoons.  Use your moisture meter to check soil moisture after heavy rains.  You may be able to skip the next watering cycle if it is within 2 days of the rain.

SUNBURN damage:  Like frost damage - do not prune until danger of sunburn is over - the damaged plant protects the lower growth.

    Tomato plants that have continued through the summer will start setting fruit again as soon as the night time temperatures drop below 80 again. Towards the end of August to September prepare for new flowering times by pruning back about 1/3 to ½ of plant, do this gradually over several days, to give the protected lower growth time to adjust to the higher light levels.

TIME to watch for aphids and other pests that start to flock back as the night time temps dip down at the end of August.
    They like the cooling weather as we do!  The squash family (pumpkin) is particularly vulnerable so keep your safe soap spray handy (1 quart of water, 1 teaspoon each of vegetable oil and dawn dish detergent)  Shake spray, shake spray undersides and tops of leaves every 5 days as needed.  Do this in the evening so the spray does not sunburn the plants.
    With the cabbage family another food plant favored by the bugs, pour a quarter cup of light soapy solution right down the center stalk once a week (1 quart of water and a finger tip of dawn dish detergent)  Grandma would dump the used dish pan water down the plants to do the same thing.

National Farmers Market Week is August 2nd - 8th.   You can find wonderful local produce and more. And some of them will have an option for YOU to sell extra from your gardens.  Check with market managers about that.

Some fun things in the garden now:

I noticed the banana flower just starting June 24th.  This is what it looks like 2 days ago.  This is a LONG flower stalk, beginning on the right of the picture and you can just barely see more "hands" of fruit beginning on the left.  If the bees keep up with it that could be a huge (please!!) set of hands of banana fruit.  This is the only variety I grow, Ice Cream Banana, aka  Blue Java.  I am really lucky this time as the plant put out the flower at the perfect time.  In the last couple of years the flower and fruit emerged to late and were mostly killed back by frost, as it takes about 4 months from flower emerging to ripe fruit.  So I am looking forward to fruit in October.  Did I mention the fruit is amazing!! Small but so creamy with a hint of vanilla flavor.  Eaten fresh - wonderful and I make the most amazing real banana pudding. :-)

I have several critter sculptures in the garden.  This one is the most recent.  "Sunny" the sunflower with a visiting silk butterfly.

I put 'her' where we can see her - when not covered by nasturtiums in the winter - from our kitchen table.

My Turmeric is getting huge.  This picture was taken about a week ago and it is already at least twice the size and I need to trim back the grapefruit branch that is in the way :-)  As big as these leaves are this year, I am hoping for good size rhizomes in late fall.  I harvest after the leaves decline. 

I hope you are finding your garden a source of comfort and peace at this really stressful time.

Take care of yourselves and each other, be kind, be patience and be generous.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

July Planting (Sowing) Tips

Dear Folks,

Pictured - ratatouille for dinner tomorrow.  I took these pictures this morning.  I was delighted to find the Black Cherry Plum tomato volunteer the other day.

With the up/down heat/cool the tomatoes had not fared well.  The listarda eggplant, paradicsom sweet pepper and garlic will make a great meal - no squash at this time.

Another wonderful edible which loves the garden is the I'itoli onion, grown by the Tohono O╩╝odham people near by for 400+ years.  This bunching onion has the taste of a shallot with a mix of onion and garlic and is prolific.  This time of year the greens start to go down and it is time to harvest separate and replant.  During the growing time, I harvest the green tops mostly and the occasional bulb.  I love this onion so much I do not grow any others except garlic chives which seems to want to stay!

Accepting Diversity is as natural as growing food and "can" be both challenging and rewarding.  Read my perspective at the end of this blog.

New to gardening folks always comment or ask - how can you grow anything in 100+ degrees.  The short answer is that it has been done for hundreds of years.

The beginning of July is the beginning of our summer Monsoon (rain) season and certain native plants were and are suitable for starting in early summer to coincide with the rains.

Corn, beans (native Tepary) and squash were and still are grown together as the "Three Sisters" with a 4th sister of sunflowers along the outside of the sisters, to attract the pollinators.

Grown together they formed a natural companion planting technique.  The corn grows tall, the beans grow up the corn and the squash grows along the ground, controlling the weeds and keeping the soil surface cool and moist. Native Americans sowed in a manner that allowed them to create a small well containing all the seeds to allow for ease of watering since they had to carry the water to the plants and direct water or filled ollas.  Ollas are UNglazed terracotta pots with small openings - less evaporation - partially buried in the ground in between plantings - installed before sowing.  The filled pot wicks moisture into the soil around it on a constant level.  Click here to read up on ollas and how to make your own.  While traditional clay is most used, you can create a similar watering device with a CLEAN plastic gallon jug, pierced all the way around with tiny punctures.


Armenian Cucumbers pictured are actually a type of melon with a cool cucumber taste and actually do well in our heat.

Most of the planting in July and August is by seed for fall production/harvest. Consider this: If you want pumpkins for Halloween, you have to count back 90-120 days for seeding in. If you do not have a bed prepared or in mind for planting now, get your bed(s) ready.

Beginning July 15th
Seeds Only Planting:

Beans, Tepary
Luffa Gourds
Musk Melons
Squash, Winter       

    Sown areas need to be kept consistently moist and the seeds will germinate based on soil temperatures. [Cool weather seeds can be sown now and will give you a jump start when the soil begins cool later on.] Lightly cover with loose soil and loose mulch to keep the area moist.

    Sprinkle sown beds EVERY evening until you see them break the soil surface. Then you can start watering more but less frequently to encourage the roots to go down.
    Higher humidity can reduce moisture loss to plants, reducing watering frequency, but check with water meter regularly.  It is possible to over-water - then followed by under-watering - causing plant stress.
    Tomato plants are unable to set fruit when the Night temperatures stay in the 80s.  Maintain the plants through the summer and you will get a fall crop of fruit before frost.
    Sun damages plants in the summer time, as frost damages them in the winter time. As in frost damage, try to leave the sun damage at the top of the plant alone, if you can, as it protects the lower portions of the plant.  Pruning for fall can start at the end of August through the beginning of September when the monsoon ends and night time temperatures fall below 80.

Accepting Diversity is as natural as growing food and "can" be both challenging and rewarding.

The virus has shaken my world (more on the below).  However with the murder of a Black Man by a police officer calmly killing him shook me to my core.

I grew up in a First Responder family -  Firefighter Uncles and a cousin.  My sweetheart partner is a retired Fireman/EMT.

I have a cousin who is a police officer.  I HAD another one who was murdered on the job several years ago.

The push back has been almost as horrible as the murder.  The whatabout'ers are side tracking the point.  Hundreds of years of being a target because of their skin color.

BUT I did not grow up a "target" because of my skin color or ethnicity.

As a white woman, growing up back east, I remember wincing as family and friends made ugly ethnic and racial comments, but I never challenged them. Privately the same people would say it was nothing and they were friends with ...

This quiet "oh well" then-reality has now come back to haunt us.

BUT I did not grow up a "target" because of my skin color or ethnicity.

I did not grow up in a well-to-do family - we did not have a lot, but did not want for food, although sometimes the variety and nutrition were lacking.  I lived with hand-me-down clothes until I got my first job.

One of my family was so smart he was able to qualify for scholarships to the best colleges.

BUT I did not grow up a "target" because of my skin color or ethnicity.

I have to, and want to, do more to support everyone.  People are afraid for a variety of reasons - including the virus which is impacting so much of what used to be normal.

I want to have conversations with people about how to ease their fears. All people need to be heard regardless of opinion - without violence.  If someone who disagrees with me can tell me why they feel afraid and fear the future I want to hear them.

I was recently diagnosed with a new health challenge.  I am limited for my safety to how much I can interact with the public because of the virus.

But I am here via email and facebook messaging to have conversations with whoever wants to calmly and politely discuss their point of view and fears.

Take care of yourselves and each other,
Be kind, patient and supportive of all who need our help and support.



 -- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

June Planting Tips and Around the Garden

Dear Folks,

I hope you are enjoying the cool down before we leap back into the 100+ temperatures.

I like to talk about our summers being like winter in North Dakota - you hunker down and make do.  BUT that is not the whole of it.  Many of our vegetables and herbs LOVE and need the heat and all of that sun. Tomatoes and Basil for example.

The real issue is not the air temperature but the soil temperature, which is why I and others talk mulch, mulch, and more mulch.  It cools the soil and roots, minimizes evaporation which maximizes your water usage and creates the optimal environment of direct sun for the tops of the plants and cool soil for their 'feet'.

June, July and August are a lot about going and coming.  The picture at the top is of my Turmeric - just last week I was looking to see if it had sprouted - nothing.  Then yesterday "boom" there it was about 14 inches tall already! FYI the yellow you see in the center of the leaf is the sun peaking through branches of the citrus tree right beside the area.

Then there is my celery which had happily reseeded not only in the designated greens area but here, there and everywhere.  It is all going to seed or will be going to seed, so I wanted to get some to freeze.  I dry a lo of my herbs, but I thought since I mostly use his much celery in cooking I figured flash freeze and bag up for later use.  I still have some in the garden (some is a euphemism for way too much) which I can still harvest until they flower.

My greens and herbs bed this winter has given me so much joy, I plan on continuing this each year.  I stuff them into sandwiches, soups, stews, under and in salads, including tuna and egg and I also use a ton of them in cold grain salads like a mix of barley and quinoa.

About gardening in the Summer.  You could call summer our transition planting/sowing time. There is active growth and production (such as the tomatoes and basil mentioned), along with sweet potato leaves to use as greens, and melons.

June and July is about sowing foods which will produce in the fall and some of them will produce in the summer.

Fall production like winter squash needs to be planned for by sowing in May-July to have them for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Plan ahead on things you would like to sow in July and August. July is the Monsoon sowing time for things like winter squash, corn and beans (Three Sisters).  Then the middle to late August we start sowing - fall herbs and veggies.  Root crops may require a very cool long growing season.

Head varieties of foods like broccoli and brussel sprouts also need a long cool weather growing time.

Like wise all the greens and herbs like dill, cilantro, chervil and parsley like the cool weather, so - sow early and often on the greens and herbs to continue to harvest all winter into spring.

June Gardening

Cucumber, Armenian
Luffa Gourd
Melons, Musk
Peas, Black Eyed
Peppers, Chiles
Potato, Sweet

USING existing plants you can under- seed with:  Basil, Chives, Shiso, and Epazote


Roselle, Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) (not too late to direct sow seeds)

    June through August in the Desert Southwest is the equivalent of winter in North Dakota — you maintain what you have planted, taking special care of young or sensitive plants. With the exception of August when the heavy pre-fall seed “sowing” begins, it is a good idea to hold off on any major transplanting until the fall when the temperatures drop back to prime planting weather (below 90 daytime).
    Our Flower Mulching technique can be used to protect young plants by canopying the soil around them, placing the flowering plants very close to the base of the young plants.
    Heavy watering requirements may result in yellowing of leaves due to iron deficiency, especially of fruit trees (Chlorosis).  Apply Ironite or Green Sand before next watering to correct.
    Sowing corn for fall harvest, plant ONLY one variety at a time, so you can save some dried corn after harvest for re-sowing.  You can sow corn twice a year.

Use your moisture meter to determine if you need to change the frequency of watering adjusting to the higher temperatures.  Did you know you can actually over water when the humidity starts ramping up in July?  Again use that meter.

Begin looking into what you will be sowing mid to late July and Early August for fall growth.  If you want winter squash or pumpkin you need to count backwards from Halloween or Thanksgiving 90-120 days for sowing.  Also you can seed in winter herbs such as Cilantro, Chervil, Dill and Parsley in August and the seeds will germinate when the soil begins cooling.  You need to make sure the sown area stays moist.  Light Leaf cover helps.

Around the Garden - More 

My Caper is starting to put out flowers.  While the caper most know to folks is the "unopened" flower bud - I wait for the fruit which follows to harvest to brine and store.  This is such a gorgeous flower and it only lasts about 1 day then fades.

Black Tail Watermelon is one of my favorites for size (small to medium) and taste - delicious!

I sowed seeds back on February 18th and the seedlings were coming along nicely, but I was concerned because they had managed to get outside the cardboard tube I use to keep the pests from getting to the tender stems.  They were going along nicely until about 10 days ago when I came out and they had been cut at the soil level. Grrrrr.  So, I went on to soak more seeds for a couple of days and put them in - making sure they wound up inside the tube - on Thursday.  I was absolutely amazed they sprouted on Monday - 4 days later!  This is a picture this morning.  I put a bit of leaf debris to provide that mulch effect I talk about.  There are multiple seedlings so I will watch and choose which is the strongest.  The chicken wire collar is a bird deterrent :)

I hope you have a great Memorial Day Weekend - remember our fallen heroes while enjoying your BBQ, AND be safe, be kind, and be patient.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Fruit: When is it ripe, can you pick green, is it over-ripe?

Dear Folks,

I have been harvesting different fruits and even potatoes from the garden this past couple of weeks and I thought about how I/we know when to pick.

Long time gardeners learn over time.  I thought some tips for those new-to-growing may help avoid disappointment, except for the birds they are always going to add to disappointment.

And they can be one of the deciding factors on when to pick fruit.  More on that below.

First up is my Barbados (Acerola) Cherry tree. This is not a true cherry like many are familiar with.  First, it grows here in the Valley were many of the sweet types will not.  It produces cherries about 3 times a year with the heaviest production right now.

The beauty of the Barbados, because the birds love them, is they can be picked as soon as they have some red color and will continue to ripen at room temperature*.  They ripen fully to a deep, deep red.  They have an apple, sweet / tart taste and I really enjoy them while my sweet was disappointed they were not the sweet cherry type.  They do have 3 large seeds in the middle so I either pop the whole think in my mouth and chew gently to dislodge the seeds, or eat around the center holding like an apple.

*ROOM Temperature ripening - I discovered some years that the old put on the counter or put in paper bags produced limited results.  It may be our desert conditions or something else. But, I accidentally discovered THE perfect ripening method for undamaged fruit (damage will cause them to rot, not just ripen).  I had rinsed some peaches that were "sort of ripe" and put them on my dishrack and just left them there for a couple of days because I was doing other things.  When I picked them up the wonderful aroma told me they were ripe and boy were they delicious.

So, ripen on a rack (not metal) which produces air circulation around the fruit - place so they do not touch each other. (see my apricot picture below). I actually have a special glassware flat rack I use for ripening fruit.

Apricots will ripen if you pick early BUT - they have to have color on them.  If you pick green they will stay green and hard.

Apricots grow much like peaches singly or in clusters (depends on whether you thinned but that is another story).  We know when the apricot are getting perfectly ripe when I come out and there are 1 or more on the ground under the tree. We have a lot of duff under our trees intentionally so that softens the fall, but we find some had already been pecked.  I pick up ones that are undamaged then go around the tree and, holding my hand under them tap them.  If they are perfectly ripe they fall right into my hand as 2 in the picture did - the other 2 were already on the ground. Apricots have a very short and fast season so we never want to let them go to waste.

Birds are a serious challenge when you are growing fruit.  They want it too and as my sweetie notes, they will go to one peach or apricot peck a hole and move on to another un-touched one.

In the Peach collage if you look at the upper right corner of the top picture you will see the bird damage.  My sweetie grew up on a peach and walnut farm and not waiting until they are perfectly ripe to pick, just feels so wrong to him. However with the birds ever diligent on damaging the fruit, and the fact that they will ripen if picked early - he decided to pick all the remaining fruit.  We picked the best near ripe and put on the rack and we sliced, sugared and froze the remaining ones in portions for later use.  Still so much nicer than store bought.

So many of the peaches brought into the supermarkets are picked not quite ripe, that should not be an issued, BUT we have found them 'pithy' when my guy could not resist buying them when Our season is over and is constantly disappointed.  I believe they have chilled the peaches for transport at too low a temperature.

I will mention tomatoes as another fruit which will continue to ripen if picked a little unripe.  I do not have any to show you - just a few of the very tiny cherry tomatoes - the rest are not near ripe yet. Tomatoes were the other fruit I discovered ripened nicely on the rack around the time of my peach-ripening discovery.

Mulberries and Strawberries are a fruit which does NOT continue ripening after you pick them.  They are fully ripe when they pull easily - don't tug - from the plant.  I have been harvesting Mulberries for over a month now, but it is comping to an end.  The strawberries are in the middle of their major production right now. I get about 3 fruiting times a year from this variety.  Because I had to focus on peaches and other harvesting, I've had to harvest strawberries as I had some time and I dearly want to make strawberry jam with our wonderful White and Red Alpine variety, so I am collecting in small batches as I have time and freezing them.  When I have enough later on it is JAM TIME! :)

One last fruit I want to mention is Eggplant.  My preferred variety is Listada De Gandia and like the White Casper I have also grown, is tender and tasty and does not need the traditional salting like the big purple variety and you can eat the skin, if you choose.  I like to let them get to about 5-6 inches or so in length before picking, while they still have the glossy surface.

You have to watch your eggplant - when they start to turn yellowish they are getting over-ripe.  Some can still be edible but the more yellow they get the more bitter they get until they are inedible. I took the picture on the 8th of May and harvested it today at about 4+ inches because it was just barely starting to show yellow.  It will be fine.  Bottom line always pick eggplant which is glossy and not turning color.

Not a fruit but a root - I did harvest my Potatoes too.  Here in the Valley we harvest potatoes late April to early June after the plants start to decline.  While "some potatoes" will grow during the summer, they do not do well (Except for sweet potatoes but that is another species) in our heat.  I save the smallest potatoes in a cardboard box in the crisper (away other types of moist veggies) for replanting next January 1st.  Future potato salad and more :)

Next I have to cut garlic scapes to ready the garlic for final forming of the heads we all love and use.

I hope you are enjoying your garden.

Stay safe, look our for yourself and each other, be patient and be kind.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Flowers In The Garden

Dear Folks,

I thought I would show you some of the flowers in the garden this past week and month.  My hope is you can relax for a few minutes and enjoy this tour of my blooming garden

Nothing says spring like flowers, and in some cases the promise of fruit.  With the exception of the Amaryllis flowers, these are either edible or fruit producing.

This first picture is my Barbados Cherry aka Acerola (Malpighia emarginata).  She has been in the ground for several years and gives me cherries about 3 times a year.  This winter she took a really frost / freeze hit and I thought we were going to have to do major pruning.  The tree is/was healthy, then when the warm weather came on she put out new growth all over including the frosted branches.  We may still do a bit of pruning, but as you can see we have flowers and fruit.

This Amaryllis is a pup from a bulb my Dad gave me back in the 80s.  I still have the original bulb plus this and several other ones planted around the gardens.  I love the beautiful blush and look forward to it every year.

Nothing says spring like sunflowers. This wild one was so lovely in the morning sun. These wild sunflowers are here there and everywhere and each year we try to remove after flower before they spread their seed but last year we missed - a lot the opportunity :)

My non-wild ones - that I intentionally planted have not opened up yet, but looking forward to them.

This Carrot flower is just so stunning.

I still have carrots in the garden to harvest - this one I am going to let go to seed and catch - at least I hope to catch them this year.  Last year for a variety of reasons I was not as diligent in the garden (like with the wild sunflowers) and the result was a ton of carrots came up and in surprising places - like under our dump trailer on the other side of the property! The variety is Chantenay and is the only I grow now, as the flavor is awesome no matter the size.

This Carrot Flower Bud just opening up with a visitor may wind up being one of my all time favorites and was a happenstance one morning.  The ladybug is a very welcome visitor to the gardens.

The opening flower bud is only about 1 1/2 - 2 inches across.  I was so lucky to spot one morning while meandering through the garden.

The appearance of this and other Garlic Scapes means I can get ready to cut them back and look to lifting and drying my garlic in a few weeks.

Scapes are a short-season delicacy for many gardeners.  They are stir-fried, roasted or sauteed and added to foods.

If left to open, the scape produces a typical allium flower head, sometimes seeds.

On the other side of the flavor spectrum these strawberry flowers and fruit are one of our favorite additions to our garden where they grow as a companion next to (and sometimes throughout) our asparagus bed.  These are Alpine Strawberries - small but with an amazing flavor. We have both red and white growing.

Speaking of flavor the Pineapple Guava (not a true Guava) Feijoa sellowiana, has the prettiest and most amazing flower.  Those white petals taste like a piece of candy so sweet!

The fruit is actually the lesser tasting although still nice in its own way.  Like an astringent Kiwi, you have to let the fruit fall to the ground in November to know it is really ripe.  We rely on the thick duff under the tree to cushion the fruit after falling. 

My Arizona Wild Rose is till producing these sweet and lightly scented roses and it just a joy to see them.  This wild rose does not have the spectacular budding and flowering of some of the 'domestic' heirlooms (which I love too) - the open faced bloom is just so nice to admire for its simplicity.

I dry the petals along with other edible flowers to use as garnish for meals.

Stock (Matthiola incana) flowers are not only pretty fragrant and tasty.  They are related to broccoli and are another petal I dry.  These dark purple reseeded heavily in the gardens last year and are always a welcome addition.

It wouldn't be a garden without an old fashioned Hollyhock. I have attempted to keep colors true over the years - I have had maroon, white, pink etc. but hollyhocks have a genetic mind of their own and freely cross so I just gave in and let some plants come up in an appropriate place, i.e., where they won't shade other plants with their height and I can still enjoy them.  They too will freely re-seed ALL over. :)

When I mention re-seeding, I can't forget my Nasturtiums!  They have populated the gardens for years and I let them as they are known to help with some pest control, plus those gorgeous leaves and flowers are edible and I use them a lot in salads through the winter. Even making "Dolma" from the bigger leaves.  I have a nice mix of colors in the garden from pal yellow with splashes of color up to a dark red.

Cilantro is all going to flower now and the pretty little flowers will eventually produce the spice "Coriander" one of the most interesting herb to spice plants, because the seed tastes nothing like the fresh leaf.

Borage (Borago officinalis) flowers are the most interesting, sometimes called "Star Flower" and you can see why.  The flowers and leaves are edible with a light cucumber flavor.  The flowers make a stunning garnish.

Bachelor Buttons (Centaurea cyanus), another old fashioned garden favorite is just going and going!

(Those are some of my Johnny Jump-Ups around the Buttons.)

I am going to try and catch the seeds.  It has been a long time since I last grew them and since they are "so" happy in their current spot I want to make sure I have them next year to enjoy. 

My last flower, Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium L, is primarily a medicinal plant, the flowers and leaves can be eaten.  I grow it (and it was another one that re-seeded a lot in the garden last year) for the fragrant leaves when you brush against them AND the bitter leaf when chewed will usually stop a headache for me.Those flowers are another one that says spring!

I wish you an enjoyable day.  Please stay safe, be patient, take care of yourself, and each other.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Saturday, May 02, 2020

Recipes Inspired by The Garden Bounty, and Around the Garden

Dear Folks,

I had been having so much fun with my greens/herbs bed this winter, I missed it when they faded with the heat.  So...I picked up some organic baby kale and arugula and added some of what I can still harvest from the garden to make a batch of mixed greens.

[Pictured: Alpine white and red strawberries, I'itoi Onions, parsley and red celery.]

I love this option for salads, soups, stews, pizza etc.

First some fun things from the garden.

One of my fabulous Amaryllis blooms - just so awesome I look for it every year.  One the other end are the Barbados (Malpighia emarginata) Cherry Blossoms.

But the center image is the one I hope you can see, in fact - I will share it near the end of the blog post by itself.  I was doing one of my morning meandering through the garden to an area which still has a bunch of carrots and some are going to flower.  I looked over and there in a partially opened carrot flower (about 1 1/2 inches wide) was a ladybug!!!

Another fun happening in the garden was my squash seedlings.  I sowed 2 areas with some Summer Yellow Crookneck and one area with Spaghetti Squash.  The Spaghetti Squash is in the center.  Here is the fun thing.  They came up in 7 days!!!  I had soaked them for 2 days and that always hastens germination, but this might be a record.


Using the greens:

To my I'itoi onions, red celery and parsley I added the baby kale and arugula.  In the bowl I have fresh spearmint from the garden.

I chopped everything but the mint (center picture), then divided the mixed greens up - right picture:  left pile is mint and some of the mixed greens - for Tabouli ; the jar in the center contains a portion of the mixed greens (no Mint) I am freezing for use in soups and stews later on, and the right pile is for a Tortilla Pizza.

Tabouli  - one of my versions

A refreshing salad of grain - usually couscous or cracked wheat, and a lot of parsley and spearmint (not peppermint), lemon juice, olive oil, chopped tomatoes and S&P to taste. In my version I cooked up some Barley. Ingredients are flexible as to how much but you want a really nice mix of the greens to the grain.

I can eat bowls of Tabouli it is so refreshing and tasty.

Barley, cooked and cooled
Mixed Greens
Chopped Spearmint
Lime Juice (my limequat tree)
Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
Tomatoes, chopped.

Make a tangy version of vinaigrette - instead of 1 juice to 3 oil - make it about 1 juice to 1.5 - 2 oil so you have the citrus forward.  Add S&P.  Shake well.

I used the pot I cooked the barley to mix everything (after draining any excess water off the Barley), then added some of the dressing, gently toss (don't mash the grain), add more dressing if needed (it should not be soupy).  Taste and adjust salt if needed. Serve and enjoy.

Tortilla Pizza

I started played around with tortilla pizzas in the toaster oven some years ago.

The thing I love about toaster oven pizza is that it is satisfying. Using pre-cooked foods makes it fast, and it is perfect for a lunch for two or snacks. Preparing the ingredients takes longer than cooking!

I finally realized I needed to use two with shredded cheese sprinkled between them to make a crust that did not fall apart.

For this version 2 whole wheat 8" tortillas.
I used a bunch of the chopped greens
My Tomato Sauce (my version of Marcella Hazan's "Crazy Sauce" (see below)
some pepperoni slices
chopped cooked bacon,
Both White Cheddar (I did not have any Mozzerella on hand and Parmesan (for topping) cheeses, shredded


I use a Pyrex pie plate, sometimes the cheese melts past the edges of the tortillas - saves a mess.

Set your toaster oven on "toast" and the highest temperature setting.

Put about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese between the tortillas, place in the pie plate,
Ladle tomato sauce on, add shredded greens, scatter pepperoni and bacon on top.
Add shredded cheddar and Parmesan.

Turn on to toast and set timer for about 7 minutes, check and go 1-2 minutes more if needed, but you can usually smell it when it is done.  I can usually get it done to my satisfaction at about 7 minutes.

Remove, cut, serve and enjoy.

My Tomato Sauce Version of Marcella Hazan's Crazy Sauce.

This is the most luscious, velvety and tasty sauce you will ever have - truly not low calorie but who can resist such an amazing sauce once in a while.

Original recipe:  Uses Canned Tomatoes, Butter, onion, salt.  That is it!!

I did make the recipe my first time as called for in the original except I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned and I could not bring myself to toss the onion at the end, so I minced to add to the sauce. It was wonderful.

As I usually have herbs like Greek Oregano, Bay and Basil growing in the garden, I could not pass up using them, and I always use fresh tomatoes so the cooking time is usually about 2 to 2.5 hours.

My Ingredients:

I had a happy opportunity to buy a bag of about 4-5 pounds of fresh tomatoes for $1 - yes one dollar.  It was on the discount produce rack and they were in great condition. I chopped up. I do not peel or seed tomatoes for my sauce but I do cut out a hard core if necessary.

Sprigs of Greek Oregano
4-5 of my bay leaves
1 stick of salted butter
half of a red onion, minced
about 2 tablespoons of EVOO
NO Salt
Glug of white wine

Everything into the pot bring to a high simmer, lower to low simmer, cover and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours.  Stir occasionally.

About half way through I used a potato masher to mash about half of them - I still leave a lot for texture.  Taste at the end to see if it needs anything - never does except what to put it with :)

I got 7 cups out of this, some I shared, some I used and the rest I froze for later.

I hope some of these recipes encourage you to try them AND to consider growing some of the ingredients.

I will leave you with the hope you stay safe, enjoy and expand your garden, be patient and share what you can.

My Ladybug in A Carrot Flower.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Around The Garden, Bugs good and bad, and more.

Dear Folks,

If you are like me, a bit of cabin fever (maybe more than a bit) is setting in, and I am cruising the garden looking for more things to do (I have a list and I need to get back to it - but not "exciting" stuff :) or just looking for something interesting or even a bit exciting, anything to take my mind off the things I can't do now.

Last week I spotted a ladybug larvae on one of my plants and just kind of said oh that's nice, went on my way and then thought - duh - camera! But of course by the time I got back to the area that day it was gone - hopefully munching aphids.

Ladybug larvae always make me think of a black and red cross between an alligator (many people think they look like that) and a dragon.  The picture above is from the Entomology Department of University of Kentucky.

What I did get a picture of yesterday, was the pupa stage of Ladybug life cycle.  The larvae enter pupa stage then emerge as the adult Ladybug we all know and love.

It is kind of hard to tell but the black "things" are aphids, not quite as clear because I needed to zoom in on the pupa.

 By the way the plant they are on is Chervil, sometimes called Chinese Parsley.  It has a lovely, delicate anise/licorice flavor herb.

So those are the GOOD bugs.

I also managed to pass over (I will look at that later) yellowing of a volunteer tomato plant in the back part of the garden.  That was oh, about 7+ days ago.  Then, I wanted to get a look at that plant because the fruit on it may have ripened.  When I checked the day before yesterday I saw it overwhelmed with Red Spider Mites.  You can see the webs in the picture.  I immediately made up the Safe Soap Spray (recipe below) and used it - even though it was morning and the sun was going to hit it.  This spray is good on the soft-bodied insects like aphids and spider mites, but because of the oil, it is best to use at dusk to keep the fresh oil from creating a magnifying glass effect on the leaves, BUT I needed to hit it right away.  The good news, when I went to spray the plant again yesterday evening the healthy foliage, the mites had not gotten to, looked good.

You can read up on Spider Mites and control including beneficial insects here at the U of California site.

You will note in that link they mention hosing the mites off first - I could not do that at first, but I am planning on it tonight, then will check how things are going to tomorrow evening.

Safe Soap Spray
1 teaspoon each Dawn Dish Detergent
and vegetable oil
1 quart of water.

Put in spray bottle shake (you need to keep shaking to keep the formula mixed) and spray the plants ALL over, get the nooks and undersides of leaves.  With Spider Mites you should spray 3 evenings in a row then observe.

NOTE: if using the spray with aphids which are also prevalent now, you need to spray 3 times minimum 5 days apart to kill adults, new hatchlings and the next wave of hatchlings, then monitor.

Fun Things From The Garden

I dry many herbs and also edible flowers to use in cooking or as a garnish.

The herbs I had drying in the refrigerator* were ready to jar up and put in the pantry, and make room for more to dry.

Left to right are:  -bay-rosemary-oregano-thyme-sage - the sage I actually bought from the store (organic) everything else came from my gardens.

I picked my pink wild Rose, purple Stock, Johnny Jump-Ups, and Nasturtiums.  One of the things on my meal agenda is to make "salad" sandwiches like Tuna or Egg, cut the sandwiches in quarters and dip the fresh edges into the dried flowers.  When I get around to that I will post a picture :)  I also have in mind to a cheese ball and roll in dried herbs and petals.

*I have a shelf over the drawer in the frig which is perfect for drying things because it is 1) out of the way and 2) my "baking" wire racks fit perfectly up there.  I spread the flowers or herbs on paper towels on the racks and leave them until perfectly dry (REALLY important because any moisture could result in mold in the capped jars).  Modern refrigerators with their constant moisture removal produces a "freeze-drying" - meaning cold drying and keeps more of the color and flavor of dry herbs and flowers.

I have been harvesting our Mulberries and Strawberries (Alpine white and red).  The Mulberries are almost done, but it has been a treat this year.  The last couple of years, once the tree started producing, I was often busy doing other things.

I am trying mightily to look at the stay-home-orders as a bit of a silver lining.  I have harvested a bowl of mulberries every day for over a week.  I am freezing some in batches to use later.

Ditto on foods like carrots and beets from the garden, roasting them up and freezing some portions to use later.  My freezer is getting almost too full!

In my next post I will share flower pictures from the garden and also 1 or more recipes.

Meanwhile May has several food appropriate National Days and a Week.

May 2nd is National Herb Day a day to celebrate herbs in all their wonderful usefulness.  It is the first Saturday in May, followed by a National Herb Week.

May 3rd is International and National Permaculture Day.  Permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.  Many of us already practice much of this ecosystem, buy saving and re-sowing seeds, using our own plant generated mulch and compost, and choosing plants which enhance each other.

May 4th - 10th (Mother's Day) is National Herb Week.  The is the first week in May which ends on Mother's Day.  I think that is so appropriate as many of us remember our Grandmothers and our Mothers who used herbs to help us growing up.

Why don't you challenge yourselves to find a new-to-you herb - culinary not medicinal - and learn how to grow it here in the Valley or wherever you live and what foods go well with it.

Two final things.

We took a picture near the beginning of the month when we had the last storm.  Just as the sun was setting - the clouds and sun combined to light up our neighbor's tree in a spectacular way.  You would never know that tree is a dusty looking dull green. 

Timing was right on, as it only lasted a few minutes.

And finally our good friend Jim Pipkin decided to do a solo backyard campfire concert playing some of my favorite tunes he wrote.  Jim is a song writer, singer, musician and story teller.  Kick back with a favorite beverage and put your feet up - about 25 minutes.

I hope you are able to garden, to enjoy the nurturing, harvesting and using.

Be Kind, Be Patient and Be Safe,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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