Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Beauty In The Garden, and Blending In.

Dear Folks,

Just some fun pictures from the garden yesterday.  I have a terrible time with lighting (sun, shadows) to catch the beautiful lavender, lilac or white colors, but these two both turned out so lovely I could not decide, so I'm showing you both!  Not the best tasting Oregano, but the beautiful flowers, oh my! Origanum laevigatum 'Hopley's Purple' Oregano
Blue is sometimes hard for me to capture, but I finally got what I think is my best picture yet of the Azure Blue Sage.  Another not so great tasting but these blues are stunning.  Salvia Azurea.

This pretty Red House Finch is probably surveying for the ripening fruit on my Acerola Cherry (Barbados) Tree.  We do share, I just try to grab my fair share of the fruit before the birds :-)

The critters which blend in range in the gardens.  This Desert Iguana is not exactly blending in, more like sunning itself on the just coming back lawn, but I am so glad s/he stopped because up until this picture I have been unable to get even a good LOOK at them they are so fast.   Mostly vegetarians they do eat some insects.  Glad they and the other lizards are in the gardens.

Now for real blending in "Betty" the Northern Bobwhite, the cute little quail we rescued when she was filled with Cholla thorns is quite the master as blending in.  She has decided to stick around and we are delighted, if not concerned about her future.  We just have to let nature take its course as they "covey" type birds are not usually loners.  This species is endangered

I hope you too are enjoying your gardens and "neighbors".

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, May 14, 2018

June Planting Tips, Around the Garden, and Thinking Ahead to July and August

Dear Folks, 

Getting into the hot part of our year in the desert garden, some new to gardening here may think there is nothing to grow or would be growing.  Not so, fellow gardeners.

--If you live in USDA Zone 9b and above this information is also helpful as it is not just about temperature, it is about daylight hours and the plants that love the warm long summer days.

If you sowed or transplanted your basil last month, it should be growing lushly, maybe even needing pinching for bigger leaves* and -- good news -- Basil LOVES THE HEAT!  As long as your soil is healthy, the plant(s) are in full sun and breezy areas and you water wisely (deep) your basil will reward you with abundant growth all summer.  Likewise your tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant should be producing or near producing.

*Pinch back basil to increase energy into bigger leaves and USE those flowers and what you have pinched.  I added my Dark Opal and Sweet Italian Basil to a grain salad I made the other day when we had friends over for dinner on the patio.

Tomatoes will take a break producing fruit after the night time temps stay in the 80s, but keep that plant healthy and it will produce again in the fall when the temps drop back down.

Squash, Peppers, and Eggplant will produce all summer long.  Peppers like some afternoon shade.

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.


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 (2 varieties will cross).  You can sow corn twice a year.

    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.

In The Garden Now

Lots of fun things growing in the garden now.

Cantaloupe - I was a bit later than I wanted to be getting my seeds in the ground. Got some heirloom Petit Melon from a friend, but because I was late, I purchased an organic cantaloupe plant and after hardening it off, popped it into the ground near the emerging seeds.  Using one of my chicken wire hats to keep the critters off while they get going.

I have a baby cucumber and a baby crook necked squash coming on.

Many of the plants I started early were negatively impacted by the up/down weather. Some plants which should have really taken off earlier were delayed and some which should have been harvested already were also delayed by the increased heat. 

Global weirding at work! 

One plant I was really happy to see up is my Turmeric.  This will be the second and a half year of growth.  Last fall I harvested some roots for use, so happy to have that available in my garden.

Peanuts are doing great!  I am delighted with this new attempt to grow them and decided on a large pot, as they require space to be able to bend their flower heads down into the soil and I needed to keep track of that action.

Flowering in the garden are my hollyhocks and my celery.  I will be catching the celery seed for use in the kitchen AND re-sowing next fall.

What is fun about the celery is the one flowering in the picture is my "kitchen trash recycle" where I replant the bottom of an organic celery bunch.  I am still waiting for my red celery to flower.  This past fall and winter excessive heat delayed my celery coming up (it reseeds itself), so I buy organic when I need it and replant the base.  The picture showing it in a chicken wire collar for protection from the birds (not sure why they like to dig it up but they do) transplanted in November after soaking in a dish for a couple of days.  Fun in the garden stuff! 

The plants which I am most concerned about are my garlic.  The excessively warm fall and winter have delayed and may have stunted the garlic.  I barely have a few scapes from the regular garlic while the elephant garlic which did not bloom last year and I left in the ground, did produce scapes last month, so I will harvest those.

These very small and below normal size scapes on the regular garlic are just coming on now.  They should have been growing more than a month ago and I should be harvesting my regular garlic right now.  I am going to wait until the plants begin dying back and then pull them and hope for the best.

Last years crop never matured and interestingly unlike the elephant garlic which re-grew in place, never came back up.

So to explain.

Garlic requires prolonged chill - not necessarily freezing - to produce a head of cloves.  A normal planting / growing season here in the desert is plant October 1st or no later than October 31st to have the longest time in the ground and harvest around mid-May.

With the mostly commonly grown varieties called hard-neck, after a nice winter of chilly to cold weather the plants come up, produce a scape in the spring (between March and April.  You wait until the scape top reaches the height of the leaves and cut it off as the base. Then a couple of weeks later the plant begins to yellow and die back.  You carefully harvest and hang to dry in a shaded area and in a couple of weeks when the exterior is papery you have garlic which can be stored and used as needed.  As I noted, hoping for the best.

So much of my gardens are just a delight and producing, so I am happy with what the gardens have and are giving us.

Planting at the best times, usually creates wonderful bounty year round here in the desert or USDA Zone 9b+ gardens.

For easy reference on when to plant, you can purchase my perpetual calendar with monthly sowing/planting tips and garden maintenance information - click on the link here, there is a preview you can check out.

Have a wonderful day in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Harvest, Use, Preserve and Making Bouillon Powder!

Dear Folks,

Recent harvests from the garden and preserving through sun and refrigerator drying, have given us some great foods to enjoy now and then later.

Our Moro Blood Orange is still giving us nice fruit into May.  Rather than just eat one orange, we pick 2 or 3 and section, keep in the frig and snack on them through the day.

Peaches, tomatoes and Acerola Cherries are more of the lovely fruit we are gathering.  LOTS of tomatoes coming on from last year's vines which did not just give up but gave us fruit until about end of January and re-started putting on fruit again in late Feb to Mid March and we are reaping the bounty now.  The Acerola Cherries, one of the super fruits, is giving me several every day, if the birds don't get them first.  I've learned to pick not-quite-ripe to beat the birds as these are one of those fruits which continues to ripen after picking.  Our dear Florida Prince Peach is getting quite elderly (21 years old) but has given us some fruit this year.

So that is the "pretty" offerings.  Now for some gnarly but still great veggies.  Our Chantenay Carrot - one of my absolutely favorites for its outstanding flavor no matter the age or size - gnarly or pretty.  And one of the red beet varieties.  We had quite the time with all of the roots crops this year as the fall and winter excess warm weather delayed both the seed germination (they like their soil cool for germinating and growing) and good growth, so while I was checking regularly for good harvest size, I got distracted with other things in the garden and just let these go.  I still have more to harvest and cook up.  After trimming up, I roasted most of these and saved some of the carrot for my dried bouillon recipe (below).

I have a major concern this year that I will get a repeat of NO garlic, as happened last year due to the excessive heat and insufficient chill hours.  I did get "some" garlic scapes this week and with the tomatoes I am planning on roasting these together to make the base for a sauce.

So, garlic also needs chills hours to eventually produce the head of cloves we look for.  I got nothing last year, no scapes ever appeared.  I am a little more hopeful this year, however these scapes are under-sized.  We shall see if, when the plants start to die back, there is evidence of clove formation.

In the meantime, I harvested two not-matured-garlic and a huge leek.  I trimmed all, removing any hard core, kept the white bulb and a smidge of green from each (composted the rest).  I finely minced the garlic and finely sliced the leeks and put them on one of my trays to dry in the sun (garlic on the bottom).  I will jar up, label and keep for use when dried leek or garlic will do.

In the past, just an FYI, I have used a garlic press to extract the "meat" of garlic cloves and then sun dried them.  The consistency is more granular from the formed garlic cloves.

I harvested a bunch of my celery (red and green). I love growing this in the garden as I can just cut however many stalks I want without pulling up the whole plant.  These nice batch is ready to use fresh (I chopped in a salad) and drying in the frig AND for use in my bouillon recipe.

Here is some of the celery drying on my rack in the refrigerator.  This mimics the commercial freeze-drying process with the constant removal of excess moisture in a cool environment.

Now for the Bouillon.

I wish you could smell and taste the aroma and flavor of this blend of vegetables and herbs from the garden.  I started doing this a couple of years ago, after reading what EXACTLY is usually in bouillon powder or cubes and wanting to leave OUT the things I did not like in them.  I searched around for recipes, change a lot of the ingredients (things like chicken broth or beef broth powder - OUT) and thought about what I PUT into my own stocks/broths when I make them.  I wound up with about 2 ounces dried or approximately 2-3 tablespoons. Sounds like a little, right?  You will find if you choose to use this, a little goes a long way.  Think about the way you may choose to use dried rosemary or thyme in a recipe and use that measurement as a guide.  I use to help a soup along, I've used in salad dressings, only adjusting salt, sprinkled on steamed or roasted vegetables, and tossing foods like cooked grains or pasta with some.  Limited only to your imagination.

Ready to Dry.
I needed to make up a batch.

Everything in this mix is from my garden.  Carrots, I'itoi onion tops (a shallot like flavor), celery, sorrel and sweet potato leaves, basil, rosemary, conehead thyme and some sweet peppers.  I also added some slivered asparagus I had dried earlier.

You may be wondering about the "greens" in addition to the obvious carrot, celery, onion and herbs and why no garlic. [Note: you can see how much the mass has shrunk to dried state.  It is VERY important that you spread out things to dry completely dry so you do not have any mold issues.]

The greens give extra flavor and "fullness" to the blend and I think adding garlic to the base blend may limit use.  You can (and I do) add garlic to some of the ways I use this outstanding flavor. [Pictured in the collage is everything dried, piled ready to grind and then ground.

I do not like to lose any of the great flavor so I poured some water in the grinder and measuring cup, swished, and added to my stock "bucket" in the freezer, all ready for the next time I am making stock.  I put parings of carrots, celery, onion and chicken bones, pieces of herbs I did not use etc. in this bucket.  Makes a great tasting soup base.

Ratios for making your own.

Ratios are approximate - I used about 50% more carrot than the onion and celery (equal amounts of those).  For the herbs and greens about the amount called for in a recipe for soup or stew 5-6 sprigs total.

The celery provides some of the salt taste without adding salt as it is naturally higher in sodium than the other vegetables.

Because of that you should always taste first when using to flavor a dish before reaching for the salt shaker.

I hope you do try making your own. I think you will be delighted with the results.

Have fun with your harvests!

Reminder.  If you are interested in another opportunity to take advantage of the "Grow Your Own Food Workshop" videos and more you will need to register to be put on the list and you will be offered an opportunity to purchase access to all of the videos, but you can watch the introduction videos free. The Workshop starts May 16, 2018.   Click here.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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