Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why small pots/containers kill in the desert summer heat.

Dear Folks,

Why am I posting a video of an annual valley tradition of frying an egg on the road?  Because the thermometer shows the temperature of 162.5. [Picture is a still from the video.]

Regularly and constantly I try to help folks understand just how HOT pots and containers can get in our summer afternoon heat.  This applies to the top 3 inches of exposed soil.

I was wondering when the annual fried egg picture / video would show up this year and went searching and found one from last year and "Bingo" I thought - this is perfect for showing just how REALLY HOT surfaces are in our summer afternoons.

WHY Small pots kill plants.

This is THE TEMPERATURE range (actually up to 180) for any exposed surface in the summer afternoon here.  Sidewalks, asphalt, sides of containers, block walls etc.

I hope this helps you understand why your cute pot or very small and shallow container garden is going to cook your food plants before you get them harvested. 

You put a plant in a 1 gallon black pot in the middle of your garden, and you quickly learn just how making adobe bricks works.

When choosing a pot make sure it is at least 20" across.  When building raised beds, make sure the depth is at least 18 inches and a minimum of 2 feet wide x 2 feet across.

And ALWAYS plant at least 6 inches in from the sides to allow the soil to insulate the roots.

Use mulch even in containers, but keep 2 inches away from the base of the plants to keep snails, slugs and sow bugs from the tender plants.

You can purchase my books and planting calendars through the sidebar here on the blog.

Like my facebook page.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

If You MUST Transplant in Hot Temperatures, Use a Wicking Bottle!!!

Dear Folks,

Just a short post here to illustrate using a wicking bottle (poor man's version of those pretty but useless glass blue bulbs) to stabilize and get good growth on a transplant.

The point is to water the gardens regularly BUT to also add several of these bottles of water for the first couple of weeks to ensure the plant's roots start to settle in.  Then gradually expand out the days between adding a bottle.  Choose a day when the garden is watered to add the next bottle as you increase the number of days between adding the next bottle.

What I did not show in the video is I added more mulch around the plant and placed the "chicken wire hat" (see other videos on my channel on using chicken wire hats) around the plant to protect.

If you are wondering how the papaya did, unfortunately I took the "hat" off to soon and later on a critter broke the main trunk and the plant never recovered.

My Youtube Wicking Bottle Video

If you are not familiar with how this works, the wet soil and full bottle of water creates a vacuum.  When the soil begins to dry it "wicks" the moisture out of the bottle to re-wet the soil.

The plastic bottle may actually collapse if the vacuum is really strong.

You can use any bottle, wine bottles make good options and can be re-used.  The plastic bottles can also be re-used if the vacuum does not crack the plastic.

Sometimes you can always plan ahead for when you get a much coveted plant, so give the wicking bottles a try to give your treasured plant a better opportunity for success.

My books and gardening calendars (48 herbs and also the month-by-month calendar) are available for purchase in the sidebar.

Have great day, keep cool and enjoy your garden bounty!

One more helpful tool for your bees and butterflies and other pollinators in this hot weather.  A dish filled with beads or pebbles to let them get a drink without drowning.  They may leave your pool alone.

Place the dish in the shade to keep from heating or evaporating too fast.  There even some better ideas pictured on the internet.  Pet watering dishes with bottles to auto-refill (like the wicking bottle principle) with the base filled with pebbles. Cool creativity to help our pollinators!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, June 16, 2017

July Planting Tips and Looking towards Fall. Fun Roots to Grow!

Dear Folks, 

The Pre-Monsoonal Heat Blast is here and I'm talking planting, actually sowing seeds in July!

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, start preparing the soil ASAP if you want an early fall growing start. 


Sunflower,  Roselle/Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa), and amaranth seeds anytime in July.

If you have not planted your sweet potato slips yet get them in the ground no later than first week in July for best harvest potential in the fall.  Remember you can eat the leaves during the summer for a lettuce substitute in salads, sandwiches etc.  (A recent study reported the leaves may have even more good things for you than the tubers!)

WEEK OF JULY 16TH Seeds Only Planting: Anise; Cantaloupe; Caraway; Chervil; Cilantro; Corn; Dill; Fennel; Luffa Gourds; Musk Melons; Parsley; Peppers; Pumpkins; Squash, Winter. See My June Planting Tips for June Sowing and about gardening density.

Sow seeds under existing plants where possible to help keep the seeded area cooler, moister and out of site of the birds.

These cool soil loving plants will germinate as the soil begins to cool later on.  Sowing now, in the ground, gives them a jump start and by-passes transplant issues later on.

[Pictured is my chervil seedlings, seed was sown August 1st and I spotted these Sept 25th.  I planted inside a cardboard tube collar with mulch around the outside.  This was two years ago.  Last year the plants re-seeded and the seedlings were up by the end of September, again reacting to the cooling soil.]

IF YOU are transplanting this time of year use leaf-type mulch to keep the soil surface cool around "but not touching" the transplant  -- keep about 2 inches away from base of plants to keep the pest bugs away from the tender stems.  The mulch should be at least 2 inches deep.

You should harden off the plant(s) by exposing to direct sun for an hour the first day (then back into shade, but NOT inside) and increase by an hour each day until it is in the sun for about 4 hours, then transplant.   
Ginger, Turmeric and Horseradish - if you want to try growing these, get some nice healthy roots, even better if they have some buds on them.   Find a mostly shady, healthy, well drarining spot in your garden and plant the ginger or turmeric about 2 inches down, the horseradish as deep as the root covered by 1-2 inches of soil.  My patch pictured is in the shade of a large citrus tree (north side) and gets a bit of sun first and last thing of the day. These have re-sprouted from last year's planting.

WATERING: Higher humidity can reduce moisture loss to plants, reducing watering frequency, but check with water meter regularly.   You can actually over-water in the height of our Monsoon season, so make sure you use the water meter.

Ginger Re-Sprouting - June 15th
Chlororsis can occur (yellowing of leaves leaving the veins bright green) caused by too much water causing the soil iron to bind with other minerals making it unavailable to the plants.  Add ironite or green sand and the leaves will return to normal in about 2 weeks.

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

July is a good time to think about the Three Sisters (Monsoon) gardening concept.  Corn, beans and squash.  The beans can be Tepary (bush) although traditionally the Native People planted vine beans which grew up the corn stalk, while the squash covered the ground, keeping it more weed free, minimizing water needed and providing an all but complete diet.    They also planted sunflowers on the outside to draw away pest bugs.

Start Planning For August Sowing!  What do you want growing in your fall/winter garden.   Many root vegetables should be planted successively (do you really want 10 feet of carrots maturing all at once?).  Some roots vegetables can take 100+ days (Parsnips) but you have shorter maturity types of carrots and beets.  Head plants like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower can also take 100+ days.  So Plan And Plant (sow) accordingly.   Consider sowing every 2-4 weeks through February for most of the non-head varieties.  Get your seeds for head varieties in by late September to ensure all that cool weather for growing healthy plants.

Stay cool, drink water and enjoy your garden.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

You can purchase my planting/sowing calendars and books through the sidebar links.  These calendars are for the desert southwest, deep south and all areas USDA Zone 9b and above.  Planting times are as much about day light hours and soil temperature as air temperatures.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

National Herbs And Spices Day - June 10th

Dear Folks,

Today is National Herbs and Spices Day!

I'm re-sharing my post from April on how I dry my herbs from my garden.  Two ways:  In the Sun and In The Refrigerator.

[Pictured in jars are dill and cilantro and drying are Chervil and Parsley.]

I have jars and jars of my own dried herbs to use individually or together in our meals.

Click on this link to read the entire column on drying.  Drying herbs and more.

Besides just simply using basil or oregano in your meals, think about making your own signature blend(s).

Then take the creativity to the next level and make your own dried bouillon - incredible taste and NO SALT.

I discuss the bouillon in the drying herbs post but the above link takes you through the whole process from drying to grinding.

There is an easy way to make your own blend.  Your own blend will be uniquely you if you follow this simple method because it is all about your sense of smell.

Put a dried or fresh bit of herb in the palm of your hand, rub to release the oils in your hand.  Smell it, if it smells good to YOU, it will taste good to you.

Next add another herb to the first, rub together and then give a sniff.  If it still smells great, add another one, and another.  Putting 4 or 5 herbs and spices together will give you a blend uniquely yours.

Not sure where to start?  Start with Thyme.  If you look at packages of blends on the grocery shelf, you will find thyme is almost always included because it is considered an "anchor herb" in blends, around which everything rotates.

I created my own proprietary blends some years ago and the ingredients ranged from just 3 up to 17!  So the options for you are limited only to your sense of smell and taste.

In honor of National Herbs & Spices Day, be creative and make your own great aromatherapy in the kitchen!

Not growing enough herbs in your garden?  Purchase my PDF Herb Planting Chart for the Desert Southwest and USDA Zone 9B and above. It covers 48 culinary herbs you can grow and use yourself.  The link is in the upper sidebar here.  There is a preview available see "preview" under the picture when you click on the link.

. . .

There are still 2 more days to purchase the new PDF e-bundle on handling everything from emergencies to homesteading and sustainable practices.  Click here.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

New e-Bundle PDF offer - Sale open through June 12th

Dear Folks,

The Self-Reliant School folks have a new e-bundle you may find very helpful.  $29.97 which is 90% off the total value of $309.67 for 30 e-books and additional bonus offers.

If you are trying, or interested in trying, more Do It Yourself projects around your home, this prepper e-bundle is for you.  It is not just for emergencies, but more self-reliance with some real money saving concepts.

This $309.67 value of 30 e-books, plus bonus offers, is just $29.97 for the PDF downloadable files.  You have the option to purchase on a flash drive or you can purchase both the downloads and the flash drive.

This e-bundle sale is available through June 12th

Alternative cooking techniques and recipes
Seed saving and gardening
Edible and medicinal wild plants
Creating a wholesome, healthy food storage
Learn about bushcraft and primitive survival
How to build the ultimate bug out bag
The blueprint to a first class first aid kit
Preparing for extreme weather
Plus learn how to do more things yourself, manage a small homestead, and much much more!

The list of e-books is on this link with titles, authors and descriptions.

SRS is donating $1.00 from each sale to a Veteran's support charity.  Gary Sinise Foundation.

Some of the bonus offers are (books listed first then bonus offers and purchase options):

Sun Oven - $164 off a Sun Oven package
Trayer Wilderness Academy - 1 month membership free
MadeOn Skin Care - Free bug block (just pay shipping)
Seeds For Generations - 25% off seed purchase - Beyond Off Grid - 50% off Beyond Off Grid course & 25% off DVD + online access pass
Pioneering Today Academy - 1 month membership free

FYI - I do not have a book in this bundle, however, I thought it worthwhile enough to share with you..


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, June 05, 2017

Root Vegetables With Cheese and Cool Link to Interesting Vegetables to Grow

Dear Folks,

Yesterday for our Sunday breakfast I cooked up Chantenay carrots (THE best carrot in the garden), Purple "Molokai" sweet potatoes and regular potatoes all from the garden, covered with some cheese and topped with a fried egg!

Since I had the Molokai sweet potato, I did not include my own purple Irish potatoes as I had when I made a great potato salad for our Memorial Day BBQ.  (I called it my Red, White & Blue Potato Salad -- I make mine with a citrus/avocado oil dressing, not mayo, and herbs from the garden.)

Back to the potatoes for breakfast.

Oh boy was this good.  Our Sunday breakfast is our weekly big breakfast treat, eggs and bacon and I mix up the methods; sometimes I make up a small pot of savory oatmeal and top with an egg, other times it is just simple egg over toast, and when Deane makes breakfast he scrambles everything together.

In the pan I would be using for the eggs, I simmered the diced potatoes for about 8 minutes in salted water until knife tender - I did not want them to be mushy.  Drained, then I topped with shredded cheese (Monterey Jack in this case) then fried up the eggs.  I cook the bacon (no nitrate type) in the microwave to reduce the fat.

We like eggs many ways, but I used to have the worst time getting fried eggs that were perfectly cooked, until I read and saw a demo on the old America's Test Kitchen on how to cook the perfect fried eggs.  The total time involved is anywhere from 2.5 minutes plus to more depending on how many eggs you are cooking.  This was a genius tip.  The video is difficult to find, so here are the steps.

Crack your eggs into a bowl - best to use eggs at room temperature.  TIP:  Crack eggs on a flat surface not the edge of a bowl, you will be less likely to end up with shells.  Season the eggs while in the bowl.

Heat a pan on medium high.  It needs to be screaming hot - takes about 4-5 minutes, seriously.  Add 1 teaspoon / tablespoon oil and swirl around until it shimmers.  Have eggs and cover ready.  Once the oil shimmers add 1 teaspoon / tablespoon of butter.  Swirl quickly, add eggs and cover and set the timer for 1 minute.

Here are the ratios:  I only do 2 eggs, and use a teaspoon of the fats.  If you have a large pan and more eggs go with the tablespoon.

Once the timer goes off I count while looking through my clear cover for the white to look "more set" - then -- and this is the important part - remove, still covered to a cool burner and reset the timer for 1 minute.

Again check through the cover when the timer goes off and maybe give it more time.  With my two eggs in a small pan, my eggs are usually done in total of 2.5 minutes.  About 1:20 for each of the two steps.

Immediately serve your perfect fried eggs.   The first time you do this it will take you a bit to learn your pan / eggs / timing / stove (electric/gas) but once you have it figured, and enjoy fried eggs you will love the technique.

The reasons this works is:  1) screaming hot pan - most people don't really let the pan heat up enough; 2) JUST enough cooking time, and 3)  Removing the still very hot covered pan to continue slowly finishing the cooking on a cold burner.

Two things I forgot with our breakfast meal.  I meant to drop some chopped onion into the pan with the potatoes for the last minute, and I forgot to sprinkle the eggs with chopped celery leaf from the garden.  Flavor flourishes that add just a bit more to the meal.

MORE cool vegetables to consider for your garden.

I have a reader in Spain and she and I share what is growing from time to time and she mentioned Yakon and Crosne two cool vegetables, I checked out when she first mentioned them last year.  At the moment I don't have a place for them, but decided to refresh my memory and found this really cool site on "24 forgotten" vegetables.  You NEED to check this out and decide if you should be growing any of these.  I do grow the purple/blue potatoes.  I need to spend some time (probably today) and carefully go through the list

While the link title is "For Vegans & Vegetarians" omnivores will love these too.

When you get to some of the neat sounding veggies like Crosne, they reminded me of Jerusalem Artichokes which have the same crinkly texture and I had seen a very cool video on how to clean these types of veggies without needing to peel them (and lose a lot of edible flesh).   Of course I can't find the video, but the gist is you rinse the roots, shake coarse salt all over them, wrap in a cotten towel and roll back and forth, scrubbing the roots with the salt.  The resulting roots are partially salted too, although you can rinse again if you like.

Ending this post with a picture of my lovely Conehead Thyme.  This lovely and aromatic herb has a combination flavor of thyme, oregano and savory.  Delicious on your food, and gorgeous in the garden.

You can find my gardening calendars and books for purchase on the sidebar here on the blog.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

In the Garden and Kitchen - May 30, 2017

Dear Folks,

Every time I step out our front door this time of year in the morning, the Chocolate Flowers incredible cocoa aroma greats me.   Berlandiera lyrata aka green eyes is native to our southwest and should be in every valley garden.  Each flower blooms in the early dawn hours and fades when the sun hits it so, it is one of those few plants you want with morning shade to appreciate the wonderful scent.  Use the flower heads to when making your own sausage as the Native Americans did.  (Cocoa, chili and coffee make great additions to sausage spiced foods.)

My caper plants are producing berries and I have started to pick them for fermenting. These olive-like fruits are a wonderful addition to salads, pastas and just as a side nibble at meals, or any way you would use olives.  Growing these plants is a truly cost savings choice.  When you think of the cost of a tiny jar of caper buds, along with allowing the plant to fruit instead of picking the buds off, the value of a jar of berries means you have a wonderful and valuable addition to your cooking ingredients options.

Caper Berries Fermenting/Brining
Fermenting these and other vegetables is so easy.  You need a salt (1 teaspoon of kosher salt to 1 cup of hot water, cooled - double or triple as needed) solution, optional bit of whey from organic yogurt, a jar, another jar to weigh down the veggies so they are completely covered in the solution and 1-3 weeks depending on the vegetable.  I use an 8 oz mason jar filled with a bit of water, to weigh the caper berries down in a 16 oz jar, lightly covered with paper or plastic (just to keep dust out) and set aside on your counter out of the way of drafts and changes in temperature.

Another of the edible flowers in the garden blooming one after the other is this gorgeous red/burnt orange daylily.  Daylilies are edible.  Do Not mistake the lovely but not edible exotic lilies for these simple garden favorites.

And who does not love tomatoes, sweet peppers and apricots.  We are at the last of our apricots, but the tomatoes and peppers are still putting out fruit, oh boy!  The small sweet peppers (including the green one) are "Lipstick" type and the ribbed one is a "Paradicsom" variety from Hungary.  Among the tomatoes as the bottom of the picture is a "Cream Sausage" sweet and mild in flavor, these are fun to grown and the birds have trouble seeing them because they are not red.

The Paradicsom is from a 2 years old plant I got from Suzanne Vilardi -- all of her plants are wonderful.  You can find them as some at nurserys and farmers markets around town.  Suzanne and I collaborated on the Caper Growing project in the valley, which successfully resulted in Arizona grown caper plants from seed.  Check our Suzanne's site for where to purchase transplants.

Mexican Oregano
I grow three Oreganos, one of my favorites is Mexican Oregano, a large shrubby relative of Lemon Verbena (which I also grow).  This Oregano is wonderful in broad usage in the kitchen.  While Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgaris hirtum)of the Italian flavor uses has a great peppery bite, the Mexican Oregano ( Lippia graveolens) lack the bite of the Greek, but not the great flavor and is just a tad on the sweet side, lending itself to a wide variety of ethnic dishes.

For our Memorial Day BBQ I made Home Grown Red White and Blue Potato Salad and I was tickled that the only thing I did not grow was the avocados to make the oil I used and the salt and pepper.  Aren't the colors lovely!

I make a limequat / avocado vinaigrette for these type of salads.  Once the potatoes are finished cooking, and drained I put them back in the hot pot and while they are hot I add some oil so that the potatoes absorb the oil better. I wait until they cool, drain off any extra oil, add the limequat juice, salt and pepper (sometimes I add one of the dried oreganos).  For this salad I used the red, white and blue potatoes, sweet peppers, celery, Ii'toi onions and sweet basil.  It was a hit.

If you would like some other recipe ideas, may I recommend my Niece's new blog.  Allison was trained at a Le Cordon Bleu school but after working at commercial kitchens for several years decided a career in the kitchen was not for her, but still loved cooking.  So she started a weekly blog of menus and began developing recipes with foods she loves.  Check out her blog (At The Kitchen Sink) and tap into her creative cooking spirit.

Please share my blog with family and friends.

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My calendars and books are available for purchase on the sidebar here.

Have a fun time in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Memorial Day - Honoring and in the Garden, On The Grill and More

Soy Beans - see text below
Dear Folks,

Memorial Day is a time to honor our fallen military heroes (Veterans Day honors the living), many of us get out and also fire up the grill and enjoy the great outdoors and backyards.

Pause and honor those who have made it possible to actually have a gathering.

I like "Packages from Home" a local non-profit (Glendale)- they send packages (like much loved snacks) to deployed Military around the world.

Raise your flag and/or participate in a Memorial Day celebration.  Here is a link for events and activities around the Valley for 2017.  Check out the Pioneer Cemetery event (Pioneer and Military Memorial Park, 14th Avenue and Jefferson Street, Phoenix. Free).

Read up on the Flanders Poppy associated with Memorial Day.

In the Garden.

In the picture above, I show harvested Soy Beans - each bush ripens all at once, so be ready to get the pods when young (if you want edamame) or allow to go completely dry for storage.

Heading into June there is not a lot to sow/plant.  Here is the link to my June Planting Tips post.

I tend to be a random / flexible gardener.  While I plant/sow on a certain calendar** reference for best success, I also like to have celebration plantings.  October 1st is for planting Garlic.  January 1st is for planting Potaotes (Irish type).  I think I'm going to start a new tradition -- Memorial Day for sowing Blackeyed Peas and Soy Beans, both love the heat going into the summer and give you two things -- food and nitrogen back into the soil.  In July you can plant the native Tepary Beans. (How about making the Tepary Bean planting a July 4th tradition!)  The Tepary is a southwest native and part of the Monsoon garden as they take off with the beginning of the Monsoon rains and grow well into the summer for harvesting in late summer / early fall.

Check out this cool dense planting technique, which would great for the peas and beans and also for sugar pea sowing in the fall.  Any gutter could be used or you could just densely plant in the ground as shown.  I thought this was such a great idea I wanted to make sure you saw it.  Your soil needs to be healthy and well amended to support the dense growth.  If you have had a problem with birds etc. eating or digging up your carefully planted seeds, you will appreciate this method to get the plants going in large quantities to ensure you have a great crop.

Don't forget to get your sweet potatoes planted too.  They also love and need all the summer heat to produce well.

At The Grill/In The Kitchen

At the Grill:

BBQ HERBS. With Memorial Day and July 4th coming up we all like to think about cooking outdoors. Some tried and true ways with herbs on the que:

BASTING BRUSHES: If you are basting foods, make a basting brush out of stiff pieces of herbs like rosemary, woody basil or thyme or savory. Allow the brushes to soak a bit in the oil or marinade before using.

SKEWERS: The stiff or woody sprigs of herbs make great skewers. Pierce food to be skewered first, for easy insertion of the herb. Soak herbs for 1 hour before using to prevent the herb from catching fire. Rosemary is frequently used, but try others (my favorite rosemary and pineapple). If the sprigs are a little too flexible, try using 2 or 3 sprigs at once.

HERB SMOKE: Soak the herbs for 1 hour before using and add to coals in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

HERB OILS AND MARINADES. Infuse any of your favorites in olive oil or make marinades with fruit juices. Allow marinades to "work" for 1 hour.

DRY RUBS: Rub herb mixes or make pastes out of the herbs with a bit of olive oil or melted butter, and pat or rub into food before grilling.  (Perfect for a butterflied chicken, turkey or pork loin.)

HERB WRAPS: A wrap is food encased in herbs and either grilled in a foil pouch or rested on the grill. If you don't have enough herb to completely wrap the food (like lemon grass leaves). Sear food one minute on each side and lay the herbs across the top and finish cooking without turning. Fish will work very nicely this way.

Make a nice herb flavored potato salad and serve in edible containers like pepper halves or cucumber or zucchini boats.

If you are growing bananas (yes they do grow here in the valley) how about a luscious homemade banana pudding for dessert!

I adapted a basic egg-free vanilla pudding recipe for this treat.

Homemade Banana Pudding

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar (I use organic and you can use less if you like)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of butter
1 cup coarsely chopped banana

Shake cornstarch and 1/2 cup of the milk in a capped jar to mix well (no lumps to deal with).

Mash bananas slightly with about 1/4 cup of the milk.

Bring rest of milk, sugar, and salt to high simmer on the stove, stirring constantly.  Slowly add milk/cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly.  Add milk banana mixture and increase temperature, stirring regularly until the mixture thickens.  Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter, stir to mix in well and pour into pan or individual cups.  Cool and chill in refrigerator.

We loved how this turned out!

As a child, pudding was one of my favorite treats and still is.  Wholesome, nutritious and really great tasting.

I hope your Memorial Day celebrations are fun, safe, memory producing and tasty!

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** My calendars and books are available for purchase on the sidebar here on the blog.

Share this post with family and friends.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady If you enjoyed this post, subscribe below by entering your email, to get all my posts!

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

June Planting Tips and Summer Gardening with Density

Dear Folks,

It is that time of year when we start to plan for the heat.  If you are new to Valley gardening it may seem like it is all about the heat, but really it is about understanding desert growing.

[Pictured is my strawberry bed - you can see how the edges of the bed are drying and dying because of the exposure to the rock and bare soil because of the heat, taken in July last year]  I discuss DENSITY below.

The Native Americans planted IN THE SUMMER, foods like squash, corn and beans, referred to as Monsoon or Three Sisters, these staple foods thrived with the Mediterranean-type climate we have here in the valley.  And this type of gardening highlights one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of growing through the intense summer sun.  DENSITY.

So many gardeners fall into the mistake of thinking they need to canopy or shade the plants, yet edible plants need a lot of sun to grow the fruit, leaf, root or seed you want to harvest.

The seeds for these 3 foods were planted close together, so the plants could easily be watered together and the squash surrounding the tall corn and bean vines would canopy the soil, not the plants themselves.

If choosing to erect shade structures, gardeners can make the mistake of too dense, too close which actually holds in more heat. Think of the last time you were under a tent or umbrella on a very hot day and just how hot that actually felt.

Plant densely for better success in the summer gardens.

[Pictured is one of my large pots planted with sweet peppers and purslane (edible plant) to canopy the soil and begin hanging over the edges of the pot to shade the sides also.  This picture was taken June 8th last year.]


From approximately May 29th until September 29th, we will not see daily high day time temperatures below 90 except for the times of storms and rains.

We can expect approximately 110 days of 100+ degrees through out the summer.

Going into June the temperatures start to rise, with humidity levels staying pretty low, and before our seasonal "Monsoon" time (early July).  While we associate this coming seasonal activity with thunderstorms and rain (we typically get a large amount of our annual rain fall in the summer and again in mid-Winter) the Monsoon is actually a shift in winds bringing in competing air flows and a rise in average humidity levels.

BUT before the Monsoon time comes we have an historic sudden spike in day time temperatures in about the 3rd week in June.  We have had some history making temps during this time (126 was one whopper year), so you should be prepared for that in terms of monitoring your plants watering needs.

AND to make it a little more challenging, it is possible to over water your plants in the heat because you may be going on surface moisture rather than using a water meter (probe) to actually check moisture levels of the plants.  Wilting in the middle of a very hot day is NOT an indicator of needing water, necessarily, but many plants fold their leaves to retain moisture.

If you are watering properly for your plants needs and when there is an intense heat spike, you may see yellowing of the leaves between the veins indicating chlorosis, an indication that iron is unavailable in the soil to the roots.  This is easily remedied by adding ironite or green sand to the soil and the plants will green back up in a week or 2.  Chlorosis happens when 1)  there is a lot of water added to the soil, which binds the iron to the clay minerals OR 2) it can occur in the winter in very cold soils.

If you use a schedule for watering, and water deeply with drying periods in between your plants will adapt to your schedule.  As an example, my mature gardens are watered every 3-4 days in the mid-summer depending on how hot the year is, while they are watered every 5-6 days in the winter.  I add or subtract time as the seasons shift through cold to hot then back to cold.

June and the early part of July are light sowing or transplanting times.  Transplanting in particular is challenging in the heat if you do not harden off your plants because the plant will be trying to stabilize roots while dealing with very hot air and soil temperatures.

How hot is the soil?  The top 3 inches of BARE soil, sides of containers, asphalt and concrete, walls etc. is about 180 degrees on a typical summer afternoon.

Sowing rather than transplanting is best, with light mulch applied to help retain moisture while the seeds germinate.  Sprinkle the seeded areas every evening until you see growth, even if the bed is watered regularly.

In mid July to early August we start sowing the fall plants like winter squash (pumpkin), corn, the cabbage family can be sown mid-August and herbs like dill, cilantro, chervil, parsley can be sown and will germinate as the soil begins to cool in later summer.

JUNE PLANTING:  Cantaloupe; Corn; Cucumber, Armenian; Eggplant; Gourds; Luffa Gourd; Melons, Musk; Okra; Peas, Black Eyed; Peppers, Chiles; Potato, Sweet; Purslane, Egyptian Spinach -- USE existing plants as cover, under-seed with:  Basil, Chives

EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:  Portulaca; Sunflower, Roselle/Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

GARDEN TIPS:  Hold off transplanting (seed in only) until fall when the temperatures drop back to below 90 during the day.  IF YOU find you need to transplant something at this hot time use my FLOWER MULCHING technique.  Purchase a six-pack of flowers and visualize a 12 inch circle. Plant the main plant in the middle with the flowers planted close in surrounding the main plant.  The flowers will canopy the soil while the main plant stabilizes.  Harden off ALL the plants first by exposing to sun 1 hour the first day, then bring into shade (not inside) then 2 hours the second day until the plants have been in the sun for 4 hours, then you can transplant with less shock.

Don't be afraid of the sun, it can produce incredible flavor in your food.

I am away from the computer for about a week, my monthly unplugging and spending time with family, but will be happy to answer questions when I return.

Like my facebook page and please share with friends and family who want to grow food!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Life is a Bowl of Cherries & Apricot, World's Best Carrot and Garlic / Weather Conundrum

Dear Folks,

We have been enjoying ripening fruit.  Pictured are my "cherries" and the first apricot off the tree.

The cherries are from our Barbados Cherry Tree planted February 2016.  It gave a few cherries last year but is now loaded.

Malpighia emarginata, Acerola cherry is known for its very high Vitamin C content along with a host of other vitamins.  It is evergreen and a pretty tree with pink flowers.  Once the fruit begins to turn color, it finishes ripening very quickly so you need to get them before the birds.

The taste is a sweet tart like an apple.  It did not have the sweet cherry taste I was hoping for so Deane could have "real" cherries here but I am happy with the flavor.  Each cherry has 3 seeds, so be aware.

Apricot season in the valley is very short 20, maybe up to 30 days so we grab them while we can.  We have found the fruit best when it just pulls from the stem or even better if we catch it when it just falls from the tree.  We keep a lot of duff under our fruit trees so we can harvest from the ground, most of the time, without damage to the fruit.  (Our Pineapple Guava is the same - the fruit if fully ripe when if falls from the tree.)

THE world's best carrot in my opinion is the Chantenay.  This carrot is outstanding, seriously, no matter what size you pick it at.  Obviously I left this one in and will be cooking up today, but trust me on this variety, it will not let you down in flavor, ever.

You can find the seeds at Baker Creek or other heirloom suppliers.  It was introduced in 1929.

OUR winter was one of the mildest on record.  I just finished compiling the chill hour data for the period ending March 31st and the overall change from last year was a whopping 40% less chill hours and in a couple of areas if was 50% below the previous year.  Amazing.

This weather pattern was evident in a lot of up / down temperatures but also in many gardens how the plants responded, with earlier than normal flowering, start/stop growth or changes in insect behavior (more gnats etc.).

The one rather dramatic result was my garlic.  Pictured is the garlic bed mid-November.  I expected a nice crop of regular garlic and the elephant garlic (the thicker leaved plants on the right in the picture) along about now I would have cut off the flower scapes 2-3 weeks ago and the garlic would be drying on my fence.

This is what the bed looked like a couple of days ago.  I was not paying enough attention to the plants.  I had noticed back at the beginning of April that some of the plants had obviously died back and just chalked it up to the strange weather.  But when I dug up a died-back plant, it was only a thick bulb at the base (like a fat scallion). No head of cloves!!

Garlic needs the FULL chill hour affect to create individual cloves.  The scape (flower head) comping up signals the plant is ready to 'finish' and usually I notice the scape coming up, wait a bit then cut it out and in a couple of weeks the plants begin to yellow and it is time to pull up and hang to dry out in the shade.

The plants NEVER created scapes.  If finally dawned on me that this year's winter never got cold enough.  We are in one of the milder areas of the valley and with our chill ours less than half, the plant could not produce the individual cloves.

Originally I thought, well I will just dig them all up, slice and sun dry them, but I am re-thinking that and may just leave them in the ground and see if the winter of 2017/18 forces the heads to form.

Some lovely flowers around the garden.  I finally found a happy place for a Gardenia in my garden.  Right now it is pretty much in full shade most of the day with some overhead sun at noonish, more sun in the winter when the deciduous trees are leafless.

I planted it last June 1st and while it had flower buds on it when I bought it, it promptly dropped them, so I just waited and the plant got happier and happier!

One of the hollyhocks bloomed and it is one of the Black ones and I am delighted. I will probably cut out all of the other plants to, hopefully, ensure all the seeds run true.  The edible flower hollyhock is quite happy to cross colors and I want this one to stay true for years to come.

My purple oregano is flowering.  Not the best tasting of the oreganos but the flowers are so pretty.  As they fade they drop purple/lilac colored confetti on the ground or deck.

I hope you are enjoying your gardens as much as we are.

I am always happy to answer questions.  You can find me on facebook and like my page.

You can purchase my books or gardening calendars in the sidebar here on the blog.

Have a wonderful thyme in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Herb Week and Herb Day

Dear Folks,

Tomorrow, May 1st, begins National Herb Week, which ends on Mother's Day, May 7th.

National Herb Day is Saturday, May 6th.

Each year the week begins on the Monday before Mother's Day.

[All of the herbs in the picture are grown in my gardens. I have also grown or grow many more.]

There are so many national "weeks" and "days" you can find one for any food or activity, but to me, this is a real and logical celebration of plants which provide us with flavor, aroma, healing and just plain ways to feel good.

Herbs are the original medicines from which most modern drugs are founded on, albeit, the modern ones are mostly now synthesized to allow for patenting and also to exponentially increase the potency.

In your life you probably use herbs or essential oils and may not even know it.

Your body lotion may contain Calendula for it's soothing properties. The petals are also used in foods as a "poor man's saffron" for its distinctive color.

If you ever had a toothache and used clove oil to ease the pain. That oil is sourced from the same plant which gives you the flavor for baking, and interestingly, it is one the main essential oils which give Sweet Basil it's well-loved flavor. Other basil varieties may have cinnamon, lemon or lime essential oils too.

Peppermint may be in your lotions to ease muscle aches.

Lavender provides the wonderful fragrance in some cosmetics, but is also in cleaning agents, herb blends and is used to ease headaches and as a sleep aid.

Herbs have been used in centuries old liquor recipes.

In fact, most culinary herbs also have medicinal properties. Basil and mint for stomach issues, thyme for respiratory, rosemary for antibacterial action, and sage to help digest fatty meats.

NOTE: Herbs which are ONLY medicinal should only be used with expert guidance. I suggest culinary herbs for their medicinal qualities because they are safer to use by the average person, but even a good thing can be overdone. Be aware of your, and your family's, allergies and sensitivities.

This week and for Mother's Day put together a bouquet using herbs from your garden and fill the house, decorating the table, with these wonderful and useful plants.

Celebrating Herbs!

Click on the link above to read about 25 different herbs and spices.  2 years ago I created a series of posts celebrating 25 herbs and spices mentioned in the Bible with history and recipe ideas.

Once you pull up the link you can search for an herb by name. I hope you enjoy these posts.

A quirky recipe I read* 30+ years ago . . .

Lavender Scented Salad Dressing - and - Wood Polish!

1/8 cup olive, avocado or good vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vodka
10 drops essential oil of lavender**

Mix all together and shake well when using.

For polish apply and let sit for a minute or two to the furniture or panel and then buff. The vinegar dissolves the dirt and grease and the alcohol helps the oil sink in.

As a salad dressing this would be nice, lightly dressing a salad of tomatoes and lettuce, salt and pepper to taste. Other herbs like rosemary, oregano or thyme could be added to taste. Dressings can also be used to baste or marinate meats or fish.

* Unfortunately I don't recall where I read it, but I knew it would be fun to try.

** ONLY use true essential oil of lavender if you are using this for food. Food essential oils should ONLY be used with a carrier oil, never directly on food or your body.

What are you planning for National Herb Day and National Herb Week?

Make it a great week for herbs in your garden and kitchen!

My simple herb planting chart shows when to plant 48 different herbs here in the valley and all USDA 9b zones.  This PDF will allow you to have it handy on any device which reads PDFs.  Click here or in the upper side bar to purchase - $5.00

My recipe books are also available for purchase in the side bar.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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