Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Mulberries!! A garden "ornament" and a Discount from My Publisher

Dear Folks,

I will be taking a few days off to be with family.

In the meantime I have Mulberries!!

I am so excited.  I also discovered I have to check the trees daily to catch them ripe and before the birds find them.

This is Dwarf Morus Nigra I purchased from Baker Creek 3 years ago.  I got them into the ground in August 2015 after getting them stabilized in pots first.

This is the first year for fruit.  They are small but sooo sweet.

This may not seem like a really big deal, but it is to me.  As a child my sister (when she arrives today I am going to be able to give her some our childhood treats!) and I "discovered" a "blackberry tree" near us and the family did not mind our climbing the tree to get to the fruit.  I had no idea it was a Mulberry until the last decade or so.  Just really did not know what the plant was, only that it was a short tree (our neighborhood had HUGE trees) and it had blackberries on it.

Taking the factors together I finally figured it had to be a dwarf mulberry and found them for sale on Baker Creek.  The listing shows it as a Dwarf Everbearing. Hope so :-)

My Publisher Is Offering A Discount

If you have been thinking about purchasing one of my books or calendars for yourself or as a gift, this would be a good opportunity to save.  My calendars are applicable to the desert southwest AND USDA Zone 9b and above - because it is not just about temperature it is about day light hours too.

Expires  April 19 at 11:59 pm ET

The code is entered while you are checking out and it is case sensitive.

Use code TWENTY18

20% on all PRINT calendars and books - does not apply to PDFs or ebooks

My Publisher - click here for the page. 

Solar Fountain
Managed to catch the spout of water!

We do not have ornaments as a general rule in our garden -- the gardens ARE our ornaments, however I really enjoy certain accents like moving water and maybe eventually a fire pit.

Some years ago I was fascinated with a small solar fountain at a friend's house.  It consisted of a solar panel tethered to a small pump which was in a small black pot, but could have been in a small pond. Anyway I went looking at the time and periodically since then and those setups are available and the challenge I saw for our small patio seating area was room for that arrangement.  Our backyard is 99% garden!

Recently I want searching again because the days and evenings are so lovely to sit out now, and low and behold there is a new type of Solar Fountain - all contained in a small "disc" about 9 inches wide and bingo, I ordered one and I am delighted.  The bowl is temporary as I want to find one of those colorful patterned bowls to put it in.  The fountain has suction cups on the bottom but is designed to float, so any body of water will work.

A couple of points.  The birds will love this so you need to make sure there is always water in the bowl.  I clean it every other day (tossing the water in one of the garden beds) and you need to keep the vent underneath free of debris.  The birds are "busy" in it so I am thinking of putting a bit of a mesh over the vent to make sure nothing gets in it.  We had it stop one day and I was puzzled and then my guy just blew in the top hole put it back and it was pumping again!. E.g., the mesh I am thinking about and you may wish to also.

The unit comes with several spray heads, but I really just like the "spout".  The sun needs to be full on for continuous running but I find it kind of fun to watch it 'bubble' intermittently as the sun moves around the patio for the day.  This unit does not "hold" a charge, just so you know.

Here is a link if you want to check it out at Amazon - may be available through other sources.  Besides the size, the price was also attractive to me. Under $20 vs over $45 for the other type of set up.

I have another garden ornament to show you in a future post when I get it set up the way I want.  That will probably do for the ornaments for the time being until we figure out a fire pit arrangement.

Have a wonderful day in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Around The Garden and Roasted Vegetables - 3 Ways of Wonderful!

Dear Folks,

When the Azure Blue Sage starts to flower I know it really is spring.  It is sometimes difficult to capture the incredible blue of this lovely little flower, but this is close.  Not the tastiest of the sage, but the flower is so worth having in the garden.

Harvesting asparagus from the garden.  For some gardeners the Holly Grail is tomatoes and I can agree most of the time. However for the 6 or so weeks in the early spring when we can cut and use our asparagus straight from the garden, they are sure a close second.  At this point I am pulling about a half a dozen spears from the garden each day.  And finally roasted a bunch and froze for later use.  I've shared my soup recipe before and it is also below in this post.  I'm thinking when I harvest my potatoes later I will enjoy making the soup with not only my other veggies, like my I'itoi onions and asparagus but also my own potatoes - Yum!

One of my caper plants is in full flower bud production mode - about a month ahead of schedule as I did not prune back this year.  It is really tempting to run out and start collecting the buds at this stage (isn't the flower just drop-dead gorgeous) but I am holding out for the berries which follow.  A lot more fruit for the effort, literally as the berries are way bigger than the unopened flower bud and just as tasty - maybe more so.

My Pineapple Guava flowers are the "candy" of the garden.  The gorgeous flowers are edible and the white petals are like eating a piece of candy, really.  The fruit that follows in late fall is good (like an astringent kiwi) but we think the flowers are just so delicious, it is hard not to eat them all which would seriously impact having fruit later on.

I shucked the last of the sugar peas for use in a pasta dish.  They only need to be added to the boiling pasta in the last 1-2 minutes and they are perfect that way, although we have enjoyed the raw shucked peas in salads too.  I don't want to rush the seasons because we have so much I'm looking forward to from the garden this spring - early fall, but in truth I can't wait to harvest sugar peas again next winter.

I mentioned in prior posts on roasting my asparagus and other vegetables and it is now my current passion as each veggie is ready to harvest.  So far I have roasted our asparagus, carrots and sweet peppers and I can't wait for the next ripe veggie to add to the list.

In the picture I have roasted the tender tips on the left - you know how you bend the asparagus to find the tender vs. tough stem, but I just could not bring myself to waste all that delicious taste of the harder stems.  So, I par-boiled the diced tough end for 5 minutes, then roasted along with the tender parts and they both turned out tender, delicious and ready to use in the recipes below.

I made the recipes over a 2 or so week period, using the roasted vegetables and other ingredients for each meal.

Just flat out great tasting and good for us too!

So first the roasting.  This step is repeated in the soup recipe.  Use the roasted vegetables in the pasta primavera or salad as desired.

Roasting Garden Vegetables

Prepare a pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Rinse and dice the vegetables. Spread out on the prepared pan and sprinkle with a bit of oil of your choice.*  Toss to coat.  Season with cracked black pepper and salt.

Roast for 5 minutes.  Stir once, then roast for 5 more minutes.  Very firm vegetables, like carrots may take an additional 2-6 minutes.  You can check for tenderness with the tip of a knife.

And, they are ready to use right away - my Deane loves them just like that as a side vegetable at a meal - or incorporate into any of the recipes below.

*If you are going to be using a pot or bowl when using the roasted vegetable immediately after cooking, I like to save a step, add a bit of oil to that pot or bowl, toss the raw vegetable to coat, THEN, spread out on the cookie sheet, S&P and roast as directed.

Pasta Primavera

This is an easy recipe to make all in one pot but it requires keeping an eye on the pasta as it cooks.  The idea is to have used up ALL of the water by the end of cooking.

Pasta of choice (for this kind of recipe I like to use Orzo, but any favorite pasta will work nicely)
Water - equal to twice the amount of the pasta - EX 3/4 cup of orzo will use 1 1/2 cups of water
Roasted vegetables - I had red sweet pepper, carrots and asparagus - ratio is your choice
Shucked sugar peas
Shredded cheese

Bring water to a boil, add salt, and pasta and set the timer for the recommended time.  Watch and stir as needed - it is possible you may need to add some additional hot water.  Add sugar peas the last 1-2 minutes of cooking.  Just before the pasta is done stir in all the rest of the vegetables.  Serve, and add shredded cheese to melt on top and enjoy.

Roasted Vegetable and More Salad

The same roasted vegetables - asparagus, carrots and sweet pepper made a great salad.

I added chopped up marinated artichoke hearts
Snipped I'itoi onion tops
Juice from a couple of my limequats
Cracked black pepper and a bit of salt (the marinated artichokes have some salt in them)

The ratios are your choice.
Chop the artichoke hearts into small pieces reserving the marinade.

Add all the veggies to a bowl.  To the reserved marinade (add more if you need it), mix in the lime juice.  Taste for balance of acid to oil, and add pepper and soil to taste.
Dress the salad, don't add to much, just enough to coat all the ingredients.
Serve and enjoy.

And finally - soup!!

I am so in love with this soup, I can't wait to make it again.

I posted two versions before:  A broccoli, potato, cheese soup and an asparagus, potato, cheese soup.

Roasted Vegetable, Potato, Cheese Soup

Asparagus Soup With Cilantro & Dill
You have a choice of making this a low calorie version without the cheese and served as a light side or appetizer to the meal.

Makes two servings

2 tablespoons of avocado or olive oil (Or substitute melted uncured bacon fat for oil or a combination)
2 cups of chopped vegetable of choice
1 potato
4 ounces white American or cheddar cheese or cheese of choice (cheese is optional)
handful of I'iotoi Onion tops (or scallion tops or onion of choice)
2 cups of water
salt and cracked black pepper

Broccoli Soup with Stock Flowers & SugarPeas

Garnish of edible flowers, raw sugar pea pods chopped or snipped herbs

An immersion blender works best for this, or you can use a counter blender working in batches and return to the pot to continue cooking.

Heat oven to 450, prepare a pan with aluminum foil.

Cut vegetable.  Large dice OR cut small bunches of veggie like broccoli

Clean and cut potato into about 1 inch chunks - I leave peels on, I put them in the 2 cups of water and do not rinse as I want the extra starch

Snip onion tops
Shred or cube cheese and set aside

Snip herbs for garnish or prepare any garnish of choice and/or edible flowers.  Set aside

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium size pot.

Spread vegetable in pan, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of oil over, season with some salt and cracked black pepper, stir and roast for  5 minutes.

TIP save time -- put 1 tablespoon of the oil in the pot you will use, add the vegetable, toss to coat then spread in the prepared pan and proceed.  Does a better job of coating the veggie.  Then add the final tablespoon of oil to the same pot and proceed.

While the vegetable is roasting, heat oil, add onion to hot oil in pot, stir and reduce heat and set timer for 5 minutes.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring as needed.

When timer goes off, add water and potatoes to pot,  bring to a boil, add a bit of salt, cover and cook at a low boil.

Stir the vegetable and roast for 5 minutes more.  When the vegetable is finished add to pot, keep at a low boil, cover and cook until all are tender - about 7 minutes.

Using the emersion blender puree.  I like to leave some chunks in the soup.

Add cheese to melt, stirring into the soup to combine.

Serve with garnish.  Squeeze a bit of lime juice over each bowl.

I hope you try these recipes with your own garden goodies!

You can find my calendars and books on Amazon or my publisher's sites.

Have a wonderful time in the garden and kitchen!

My Publisher Site Page


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

May Planting Tips

Dear Folks,

Time for my monthly planting and gardening information.

But first news from the garden now.

Through the end of April I will be harvesting the last of our Asparagus for eating. THEN I let the plants grow all of their "feathers" (fronds) all through the summer and winter, and we cut the plants back to the ground around December 15th or so.  The fronds feed energy bay into the roots for more production next year.

I was so pleased with the way my dense plantings of sugarpeas performed this winter, I decided on a tomato/cucumber "hedge".  Normally I allow, and recommend, my tomato plants to sprawl, which keeps them "out of" the heat high up and down nearer the moist ground.  The except is if you plant a hedge or forest of them where their combined size and associated humidity help the plants.

The zig/zag hogwire (hardware cloth) trellis was what worked so well with the sugarpeas and I am looking forward to it assisting with this tomato/cucumber hedge.  Most of these plants I grew in my greenhouse, some of the cucumber plants I sowed extra seeds in and one of the tomato plants was a volunteer.  We shall see.

I LOVE my Johnny Jump Up lawn each year, filling the space with green and then a parade of lovely little faces.  These edible flowers are just plain fun to grow, freely re-seed each year (some winding up in garden beds which is just fine with me.

My limequat keeps us in limes pretty much all year as limes and lemons tend to flower and produce fruit multiple times through out the year.

I used the lime juice to make a salad dressing and to squeeze over soups.  Gives them all that nice sparkle.

I tucked some last minute tomato and eggplant seedlings into a bed with cardboard tube collars to protect from bugs and one of our chicken wire "hats" just to visually keep the birds away.

I have been using chicken wire "hats" in different shapes and sizes for years to get young plants going well protected from the critters.  Works great.  After a while I can take the hats off and the critters, unable to get to the plants, have basically forgotten they are there.

Slivered raw asparagus, lime juice, fresh cilantro, dill and chervil finely chopped all wound up in this barley/quinoa salad I made for a friend's party.  I added other veggies too and topped with a piece of Dark Opal Basil I pinched off to make the plant bush out and some Johnny Jump Ups parading across the top of the salad.

I hope you use your edible flowers whether something like the Johnnys or others to decorate and enhance your meals.  I have floated them is soups too!

May here in the desert garden means 'hot' weather is coming for sure.  This year we had an unusually warm winter and our first official 100 degree day was April 10th.  Several days later our HIGH temperature was 25+ degrees cooler!  Global weirding as its best.

May Gardening Tips

Artichoke, Jerusalem
Beans, Soy
Fig Trees
Fruit Trees (With Care)
Melons, Musk
Peppers, Sweet
Peppers, Chilies
Potato, Sweet
Squash, Summer
Squash, Winter
SEED IN:  Basil, Chive (Garlic or Onion), Epazote, Egyptian Spinach (Corchorus olitorius) Perilla, or Catnip-- making use of the canopy of flowering or vegetable plants.


Impatients Wallarana
Marigolds, including Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii)
Roselle (sow)
Scented Geraniums

    By the end of the month harvest the rest of your potatoes, keeping the smallest ones as “seed” potatoes for next January — store in cardboard egg cartons in your crisper -- don't store near other vegetables or fruits.

Planting sweet potato, and sowing Roselle and Egyptian Spinach will give you a wonderful selection of “lettuce” leaves options all through the summer.
    As more and more flowers open and fill the air with their perfume, all the pollinators enjoy the garden as much as you, including bees.
    Swarming is where a new queen goes looking for new digs, taking with her some of the workers (as many as 50,000).  Swarming bees are a challenge to deal with because of the Africanization of the honey bee population.
    But intelligent handling of any contact will not result in a problem for you. First, the bees are not interested in you.  They are usually filled with honey for the new trip and interested in finding a new house before the supply runs out.
    Wear white or light colored clothing while gardening.
    Do not do stupid things to bees!  That should be self-evident, but some of the reports of bee encounters makes me wonder how we have survived as a species.
    If you are near a swarm or they get near you:
    a.  Move slowly and do not make aggressive moves.
    b.  Walk slowly to a house or car and get inside until the swarm moves off.  Keep all pets, children and other people from the area.
    c.  Do not go into the pool!  If the bees have been aggravated, they--will--wait--for--you!
    d. Usually the swarm will move off within a short time.
    e.  If they do not move off, then you have to call a professional service or the fire department.  They will kill the bees.  They do not have a choice because of the danger — and you do not have a choice as a homeowner — they either have to kill the swarm or you have a hive full of dangerous 'neighbors.'

Transplanting and Sowing

This time of year we are in one of those transition times, where going from mild to hot can occur in one felled swoop of heat.

Transplanting vs sowing can be a challenge as transplanting can stress the plants.

1) Harden the plants off by placing in the sun 1 hour then moving to shade, next day in sun 2 hours, move to shade - repeat until the plants have been in the sun for 4 hours and you can transplant then with a whole less stress and shock to the plant.  If the temps are already in the 90+ range double the days for each hardening, e.g., 2 days for 1 hour, then shade, 2 days for 2 hours then shade.  Your plants will thank you by being less likely to die as soon as they are put in the gorund!

2)  Use my "flower mulching" technique for transplant in warm/hot weather.  Get a six pack of flowers at the nursery and either plant your target plant (basil for example) and surround the basil with the flowers (about 5 inches apart), OR plant all at the same time -- imagine a 12 inch circle and plant the basil in the center and 4-6 flower plants around.  Flower mulching canopies the soil and shades the sides of the basil, while allowing the basil to get all the sun it needs.

Use edible flower plants like impatiens wallerana and portulaca to provide 'mulch' around the new transplants.  You can also use Sweet Allysum another edible flower but it can be a bully if it is really happy.  The portulaca does the gardener the supreme favor of dying off completely when the cool weather comes in the fall, although it may reseed next late spring.

3) Sow seeds under existing plants, just under the edge of the plant/flower canopy.

Both the "flower mulching" and the "edge sowing" are variations of the "nurse plant" concept seen in the desert where the cactus seed settles at the base of a Mesquite tree.  Shielded from birds and other critters, the seed, is held in place, watered with the rain and grows up with the mesquite protecting it.

Consider SWEET POTATOES to be planted in late May through early July.  They need 90-120 days of warm weather to grow properly.  I've planted in huge containers and in-ground using leaf cover as I do with the Irish potatoes.  In fact I sometimes use the same bed, planting the sweets after I harvest the Irish.

In case you don't know sweet potatoes, unrelated to the Irish (Solano) family, are completely edible, tuber, leaf and vine.

The sweets can produce an amazing amount of leaf and vine cover so be prepared.  Some varieties are more bushy than others.

Seed Saving

Catching the seed from winter crops like sugar peas, lettuces, celery, parsley, radishes etc. is a way to save money AND get stronger plants the next year.  “Regional adaptation” grows plants more and more suited to your backyard and the area you live.  Remember to perfectly dry them.  I store in paper envelopes labeled with harvest date, in a cool, dry, dark place until next planting time.

Looking at head to June and July, there is little suggested planting options for June, but by mid-July be ready to start seeding (not transplanting) for the fall garden.

If that sounds counter-intuitive, think about wanting pumpkins for Halloween or Thanksgiving and count backwards 90 - 120 days.

Mid-July you can under-seed tomatoes (choose short-maturity varieties) and basil for a fall crop, if you do not have tomatoes or want more.  Tomatoes give us two crops a year (spring and fall) if planted in February.  They stop setting flowers in the middle of the summer because the nights (not the days) are too hot for the pollen to activate.

Save Wood Herb Stems

Harvesting or pruning herbs?  Save woody parts to throw on the grill coals the last 15 minutes to add herb smoke flavor to the food - or better yet do it from the inside out, use woody, soaked branches of herbs to make kabob skewers.

Have a wonderful time in the garden and kitchen!

P.S.  Thank you to all of you who watched the Free Grow Your Own Food Workshop videos.  Thank you also if you chose to sign up for the full workshop.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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