Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

When Pigs Fly! "You can't grow that in the desert." YES, you can.

Dear Folks,

A dear friend gifted us with a little metal statue.  We don't typically put art in the garden, because our garden IS art.  However this little girl flying pig (I named her "Daisy Mae") immediately brought to mind the oft-repeated statement and generality - "You can't grow _______ in the desert."

The comment/statement is made so often, that people take it as truth because they fear the summer heat, or they tried planting tomatoes in June (wrong time), or stuck a new shrub or vegetable plant in the ground without hardening off, or the local chain nursery sold it, so it must be planted "now.", or, or - the list goes on with folks either trying to replicate the timing for gardening based on where they came from, or because they simply presume "they" can't do it correctly.

Let's do a reality check on what is grown, typically, in the desert.

Grass!  If I was going to choose one plant which puts the "you can't grow that here" statement to test, it would be grass.

What do people do to have a lawn in the desert?  They pamper, nurture, feed, water -- a lot -- and as one wag put it, use precious resources to grow something, they then cut down and THROW AWAY what they just cut!!

Here is real reality check, if you ate the plant, it can probably be grown here in the desert.

If you compare the actions required to have a green lawn in the desert to growing plants you eat, you will spent less everything growing food instead of lawns.

Daisy Mae, the flying pig, is surrounded by my Bradford watermelon plant still going strong on October 8, 2016.  I have yet to harvest the last - very large - melon and the plant is still putting on flowers.  It remains to be seen whether we get more fruit, but the point is, I planted a couple of seeds, in an automatically watered bed, augmented the watering in the early weeks, and then let nature take its course.  No more anything, no extra fertilizer, cutting, or daily/weekly maintenance.  The only 'extra' thing we had to do was to occasionally 'herd' the vines back into the bed.

Maybe you have a gravel covered yard and think you are saving money.  This is where our sun and heat IS an issue.  "Pea gravel, volcanic rock and similar stones have a high capacity for absorbing and retaining heat, which they then release as the sun goes down. Rocks also reflect a lot of heat off of their exposed surfaces. The combination of the two factors can increase the day and evening temperatures in the area and make your house hot, especially when you have these ground covers near your exterior walls."  Which translates into higher A/C costs to compensate.

The utility companies frequently publish how much savings you achieve by lowering or changing your temperature settings during the summer.  If gravel raises the average outside air temperature by 10 degrees or more (it does),  your a/c has to work harder to compensate for all that reflected heat off the gravel.  Electricity cost savings can be put into "greening" your yards with food plants, which create cooler zones, provide eye appeal and you can EAT the plants instead of cutting them and throwing them away.

Edible Ground Cover Plants Instead of Grass or Gravel:

BETTER than Grass or Gravel!
It can be as simple as growing squash (pumpkins or zucchini) melons (cantaloupe or watermelon), sweet potato vines, or tomatoes and let them sprawl all over the bare ground (YES tomatoes - they actually produce better in the warm weather sprawling instead of staking).  Gives new meaning to a "ground cover" which 1) cools the surface temperatures, 2) makes attractive foliage and 3) provides food (fruit and the edible sweet potato leaves along with the roots).

Think outside the lawn or gravel for better, cooler, more useful plants!

If you are need to my blog, or new to gardening in the Phoenix Metro area, check out my recent post on what to plant / sow in October.

Have a great day in the garden,

Please share if you enjoy my posts, thank you!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Chervil, Sunchokes, a Sea of Pumpkin and Sweet Potatoes, Beans, "Spinach", Ginger, Eggplant & Jam Bread

Dear Folks,

The other day I posted a picture of my Cilantro sprouting.  These are volunteer re-seeding from last season's plants.  Well, the next day I found my Chervil has also voluntarily re-seeded. WIN!

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Artichoke, aka Sunchokes, are flowering.  That means when the flowers fade in a few weeks I can harvest this healthy and delicious potato alternative.  The beauty of growing these in the Valley, is we can get harvests twice a year.  Now and again in the spring.

The Upper Ground Sweet Potato Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Vine share a raised bed and you can see, a "sea" of leaves.  Looking forward to harvesting for Thanksgiving or earlier, IF the baby pumpkins thrive.  Fingers crossed!

The Blue Speckled Tepary Bean I planted on July 1st is starting to put out pods.  It is sharing a space with the back of the Roselle, but does not seem to mind, yet. :-)  I really need to plan for success better next year!  Something I preach often, but don't always apply to my gardens where I want to just "tuck" some extra things in and then bingo, everything loves the spot but then competes a bit for sun etc.

My friend Jacq Davis over at Epic Yard Farm, introduced me to Egyptian Spinach for salad leave substitute during the summer.  Wonderful option along with my sweet potato leaves for sandwiches, and in soups and salads.   Egyptian Spinach aka Molokia, is not spinach but Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis, the leafy green part of the fiber plant Jute. The plant is in flower and producing seed pods, while still producing tasty leaves for us.  I am really looking forward to harvesting the mature seeds for re-sowing next spring, to have more fresh "greens" options during the heat.

The ginger I planted August 20th are really happy in their new, best location.  I now have another sprout on each piece I planted.  I wrote about this before.  I have been growing ginger for a number of years, but as we had to remove and replace trees the sun exposure increased on their former happy place and they did not like it.  So this new area is mostly shaded with good indirect sunlight.  Hoping they good a good growth streak going before soil temps cool in the winter. Then looking forward to them jumping up in the warming soil in spring.

I got my eggplant seeds in very late this year, so I am just now getting fruit coming on.  Looking forward to harvesting for marinated eggplant and maybe some ratatouille :-)

Preserving The Bounty!

If I have a good harvest of some of this bounty from the garden, I will probably can some of it.  I've been canning for a number of years and the WONDERFUL thing about gardening year round here is you are not restricted to canning in a mad rush all at once in the fall.  I can as the various produce ripens through the year.  I also sun dry a lot of my bounty and store in canning jars.  I've been trying to get away from using plastic containers as much as I am able, and the canning jars are perfect for storing.  TIP 1:  Remember when storing dried herbs etc. the mantra is:   cool, dry, dark!  This also applies to your canned foods.  There was a very good reason why Grandma stored her canned goods in the cellar.  Better food color retention and less exposure to temperature variations.

Speaking of preserving.  Even with canning in short spurts I can wind up with a lot of canned jams/preserves.  Wondering how to make room for the newest batches, I developed My Jam Bread recipe a while back.

Most folks are familiar with quick breads, aka sweet cakes baked as a loaf.  Many of them are filled with fruits and nuts, like the Christmas Fruit Cake.  The usual recipe calls for chopped fruit, dried or fresh and some liquid and sugar.  I got to cogitating on exactly what the ratios of the typical recipe were and realized my jams/preserves were 3 ingredients combined: fruit, liquid, sugar.  Bingo.  It took two tries to get this right and now everyone enjoys these sweet, fruity, nutty breads.  Here is the link to my post on the Jam Bread.  I would add one extra tip.  Add a 1/4 cup more flour if you think your batter is too loose.  Adjust cooking time if you double the recipe and make two loves.  Just use the toothpick test to make sure they are cooked in the center.

Pictured.  I made and canned Blood Orange Marmalade and used it to make this Jam Bread.  Speaking of Marmalade, I found a wonderful recipe idea for making REAL marmalade - not that jelly with a few pieces of zest in it.  Real, honest to goodness preserves using the whole fruit (except the seeds).  If you have citrus growing check out my recipe for marmalade from any citrus.

I do use and recommend Ball/Kerr canning jars.  When they started introducing their heritage colored jars a couple of years ago, I had to start getting them for use with my dried herbs and other non-canned storage like grains, pasta and beans.

TIP 2:  My first year of canning my jams quite a few years ago, I made the mistake of choosing the wrong size for much of the peach and apricot jams.  I chose to use quart and pint jars.  Sounds like a good idea, right?  Wrong, because unless you can use the whole jar after opening, with no preservatives, the jams have a short life in the refrigerator - plan on 1 month tops.  For us it is just the two of us and my guy likes to have variety which means multiple jars open in the frig.  The first year and a half I had to toss a lot of jars after they molded.  My new recommendation is to use 4 or 8 ounce jars for your canning purposes.  By the way, my Jam Bread recipe uses 1 1/2 cups of jam for one loaf.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, October 03, 2016

Garlic Planted, Cilantro Re-Seeded, Baby Pumpkin, Me and Roselle, Brining

Dear Folks,

The rain yesterday did two things in my gardens, settled in the garlic I planted on Saturday, October 1st and saved us a watering day.

We got nearly a half inch which means the gardens are nice and wet and do not need the scheduled watering.  Pictured is a clove Elephant Garlic being planted.  Beside that clove are regular garlic ready to be planted.  Plant garlic cloves with the pointy side up.  This will be the center stalk from which the mature head of cloves comes from.

The Allium family includes onions, chives, shallots, garlic, leeks and elephant garlic.  The familiar common Garlic is Allium sativum, while Elephant Garlic is Allium ampeloprasum.   Elephant Garlic is actual a form of leek - on steroids!  It has a milder flavor compared to common garlic's strong, even zingy flavor.

Both grow well here in the valley.  If it looks like I planted too close together -- I did on purpose.  I planted 39+ cloves of common garlic and 8 of the Elephant type.  I always plant extra by planting 3-4 inches apart, so I have "green garlic" to harvest like scallions through the fall/winter/spring.  This delicious addition to your cooking ingredients is a "scallion" only with garlic flavor instead of onion.  Harvest when the greens are about 8-10 inches tall and the clove has swollen slightly.  You can replace with another garlic clove to continue the harvest capability.   Instead, by harvesting every other plant as I need during the cool times, the space between widens allowing more room for each clove to grow to head size.

In April start watching for the plant to send up its flower stalk, called a Scape, it's spiral growth continues and you cut them off when they reach the height of the leaves -- this year it was early May.  Scapes are an edible delicacy only available about 1-2 weeks a year.  Once the Scape is cut off, watch for the leaves to begin turning yellow, about 2-3 weeks later.  This is harvest time. 
Gently dig each plant out, brush off the dirt and hang to dry in a shaded area in the garden or patio.  When the outside skin turns papery it is ready to store.  You can use the green tops as you would scallion tops.  Even the hard center stalk can be used to flavor broths, stews, soups and then removed at serving time.

From the aromatic to the gorgeous, this is my Roselle Hibiscus sabdariffa, now reaching taller than me and beginning the flowering stage moving toward harvest of the gorgeous lemony/cranberry flavored Caylx.  The entire plant is edible.  I've been using the leaves in place of lettuce with their tangy flavor.  While the caylx is known for its high Vitamin C component (if you see "hibiscus" or "red hibiscus" as an ingredient in teas - this is the plant), the leaves also have vitamin C as do the flowers.

Meanwhile, my Cilantro re-seeded and I spotted the new seedlings last week.

I love my gardens.  Many of my favorite plants freely re-seed coming back year after year.  Successive generations of seed is "regional adaptation" at its best.  The seeds which come up naturally are the strongest in your garden.

For this reason I urge you to direct sow if you can.  All of the seeds may not come up, but those which do will be the hardiest.

I am excited about the prospect of an heirloom pumpkin.  I have baby pumpkins on the vine, which has a mind of its own and has spilled out of the raised bed and ranging towards the trees.  I am going to let it roam and just try to keep it out of harm's way while it, hopefully, produces "Upper Ground Sweet Potato Pumpkin" reported to taste like sweet potato and once grown in Thomas Jefferson's gardens at Monticello.

In an "inspired" moment I decided to sow the pumpkin seeds in with the sweet potato, because the SP provided some "nurse" shade to the seed area.  It worked nicely as you can see a bed of sweet potato and pumpkin vines.   I hope to be harvesting pumpkin and sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving.

And, finally I decided to brine more of the Caper buds and berries and have set them to 'work' on the counter.  This is a fermentation brine with no vinegar and when I tried it for the first time, the buds turned out great but the berries not so much because I waited to long to pick them.  This time I picked the berries younger.  What I am looking for is that the berry seeds had not matured turning dark, and that I picked the berry while the seeds are white and immature.  The dark seeds proved to be very bitter, while the berry it self was tasty but not worth eating.  We shall see.  I want to be ready for next spring when the plants start budding and begin a large fermentation jar where I will pick buds regularly adding to my caper version of the old fashioned pickle barrel.  The food you are brining needs to be held completely covered under the liquid so I have a pickle weight wrapped in cheese cloth and tied with a string to allow me to lift and re-position any that rise to the top.  I have a light plastic food cover over it (not seen in the picture) to keep dust off, but allow any bubbles to escape.

That is all for today, folks.  I am always happy to answer questions.

Be sure to check out my youtube channel where I post short videos with helpful tips.

Have a great week in your fall garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady


P.S. I started a Cafepress "store" where I chose some of my favorite photos from the gardens and put them on t-shirts and other things.  The link is in the sidebar.  I welcome feedback and/or suggestions for products you might like to see offered.

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Disclaimer: Clicking on links on this blog may earn me a small commission if you purchase something. Your price does not change.