Garden, Plant, Cook!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

12 Days of Christmas - 11th Day of Christmas

11th Day of Christmas - January 4th


You still have time to plant fruit trees in the garden, and look forward to all that wonderful fruit in a couple of years. We just had our first navel orange of the season — the peaches and apricots will begin ripening in late April to early May.

Fruit trees and chill hours — specifically stone fruit such as Peach and Apricot (citrus require no chill hours) — need a certain number of chill hours to set fruit. The wrong tree in the wrong climate (temperature zone) may give you lovely flowers but it will not set fruit if its chill hour requirement has not been met.

While heavily researching chill hour requirements in our desert gardens a couple of years ago, I discovered, after the fact, the reason why some of our plum trees, and one of our peach trees, never fruited well — we are in a warmer ‘zone' within the valley and the trees we got needed more cold. While we thought we were choosing the proper chill rated trees, we did not in a couple of cases

What's A Chill Hour, is the name of a booklet I wrote about this factor in choosing bare-root or potted trees for your garden. There is a lot more detail in the booklet, but the gist is this: a chill hour is the amount of hours, calculated from November to March, where the temperature falls below 45 degrees. Stone fruit trees like cherry require anywhere from 900-1200 chill hours in a season to properly set fruit. Our valley zones range from as low as 250 (some areas of Mesa etc.) to 700-900 — some areas of central Phoenix around the Encanto area to Queen Creek.

Varieties of fruit trees adapted for the mild desert climate (many were developed in Israel — remember how similar the climate there to here), require far less hours, and we have a very nice selection from which to choose, but you have to know not only the chill hours of the trees you are looking at, but also the chill hours of your neighborhood. The difference can be dramatic even within a mile of you, and therefore a neighborhood nursery may have trees which do well in the geographic range, but not do well in another section of the valley. For example if a peach tree rated at 400-450 hours, sold in an Encanto-area nursery, were to be planted in our gardens in the east valley, they would not fruit because our neck-of-the-valley is much warmer.

One ‘barometer' of cold in a neighborhood is whether bougainvillea bushes frost all the way to the ground each winter — if they do you are in a much colder area of the valley, if not a warmer area.

Herbs: If you love basil as I do, start seed now inside for transplanting later (late February) to give you a jumpstart on this glorious herb. A basil or chili butter-dipper peach half on the grill this summer is a cook's delight While starting the basil seed, start tomato, eggplant and peppers too.

We are only a month and a half approximately from transplanting these frost-tender plants, so save some well-cleaned gallon, water, or 2 liter soda bottles to use as cloches in the garden when you transplant. With the bottoms cut off they make great transition ‘green-houses' and you can use the cap as a humidity regulator. Take the ‘house' off on sunny days, put back on at night. They can be removed completed when all frost danger is past. How do you know when frost danger is over? Look for some signs in nature: consistent ant activity, flowering mesquite, or night-time temperature predictions that are not below -mid to high 40s into the outer lying areas.


A sunny salad with lots of flavor and good for you (and seasonal) ingredients.
2 oranges, peeled and sectioned (make sure to catch any juice)
6 red radishes, shredded or thinly sliced
1/2 cup fennel leaf "feathers" (loose packed)
2 tablespoons almond oil
1 tablespoon cider or rice wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Use the ‘feathery' leaves from bulb or leaf fennel -- reserve bulb for other meals. Blend oil, vinegar and salt. Gently toss with orange, radish and fennel. Serve immediately.

Tangerines are in season now and add a lovely sweetness to this recipe. The challenge for most folks with tofu is its blandness, but that is what is great about it, because it picks of the flavors it is cooked/mixed with. You always need a pinch of salt with tofu

1 cup cubed extra firm tofu
½ teaspoon dried savory (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
Zest of 1 tangerine (or orange)
1 tablespoon tangerine juice
1/4+ teaspoon salt to taste
Olive oil
Place cubed tofu in bowl, gently toss with zest, savory, juice and half the salt. Take a clean 12 oz. jar and pour a little olive oil in bottom. Pile mixed tofu in jar (being sure to scrape bowl juices and spices into jar), and add rest of salt to top. Cover with additional olive oil, cap tightly and turn jar to mix well. Turn several times over one hour and serve or refrigerate — will keep for approximately 4-5 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
Serve over mixed greens, or on crackers or slices of apple.
TOFU TIP: Press extra liquid from extra firm tofu by placing in a bowl, covered with plastic of flat plat weighted down with a 1 lb can, then cube.


I grew up in a firefighter family (3 uncles and a cousin were Captains) and love a wonderful retired firefighter, so I have a very special place in my heart for our guys and gals who pull their boots on every morning ready to face whatever the day brings.

Deane is probably typical of the average firefighter or police office in that he does not think he is a hero or brave, because he has never actually saved someone's life at risk of his own. He bridles at the word hero and bravery.

I have a different take on it: Anyone can be a ‘hero' in the sense that they bring unlimited mental and physical fortitude to a sudden and horrible situation and sometimes make amazing rescues for which they should be given every honor society has to offer.

But I think someone is a hero and brave when they willingly go into a fire, face a crazed criminal and also when they put their boots on in the morning and are ready to do that for real that day whether it happens or not.

One of Deane's son-n'laws is a Fireman with the Mesa FD and I was so impressed during a swearing in ceremony of the appreciation by the department of the ‘bravery and sacrifices of the families' who support their guy or gal being a firefighter. I always thought of the families of police and firefighters in the war-time reference — they also serve who only sit and wait.

The 100 Club is a local organization supporting the families of fallen and severely injured Arizona Police and Firefighters. You can donate online via a paypal button.
100 Club
5151 North 19th Avenue
Suite 204
Phoenix, Arizona 85015
(602) 485-0100
Toll Free: 1-877-564-0100

Old Time Radio:

Some of my personal favorite old time radio programs are the detective shows including Nero Wolfe, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar and Nick Carter Master Detective. These type of detective or mysteries are considered ‘soft-boiled' as opposed to the tougher or suspense type, with some fun twists.

Here is an episode from Nero Wolfe "Deadly Sellout" starring Sydney Greenstreet.

Merry 11th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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