Friday, September 30, 2011

Strawberry Take Over in Evergreen Garden?

Evergreen Garden Site 2006.  Project began 2007.
       This spot in my front yard looked cool, green and inviting, but in reality wasn't used for anything.  Just more lawn to mow.  I decided it was the perfect place for an Evergreen Garden, which would eventually provide both a sound and visual screen between the road (on the right) and the house.  I visited a local greenhouse for plants, expecting to choose between a half dozen or so trees and shrubs.  I found both more plant choices and more help than I expected and came away with pacific juniper, old gold juniper, dwarf Alberta spruce, Bosnian pine, Holger juniper, eunymous, birdsnest spruce, weeping Alaskan cedar, sea green juniper, Wichita blue juniper, blue rug juniper, American holy, white pine and a few other selections, totalling about three dozen plants.

Evergreen Garden, Fall 2011.  The tallest tree, in the
center of the cedar path, is the Weeping Alaskan Cedar.
       My husband helped me dig holes and set the plants. I figured on enlarging the mulched areas around each plant as they grew until the entire area was grass-free.  That proved to be more digging than I wanted to do each spring.  I tried laying out pool liner (left over from the water feature project) to kill the grass, but I didn't have enough to cover the entire garden--not by a long shot.  Reluctantly, I gave up being Green and used Round-up. 
        Then I struggled with the question of what to use as a ground cover.  Buying mulch for the entire area was way outside my budget.  Luckily, during my search for plants for a Master Gardener volunteer project, I discovered a local nursery that specializes in wild plants.  They recommended a combo of wild strawberries and common cinque-foil.  I planted flats of these in late July of this year, plus a few wild strawberries that I grew from seeds.  I used cedar mulch to mark paths through the garden. I even expanded the garden area, eliminating the grass between the two sides of our U-shaped driveway and the western edge of the garden, visible to the left in the photo.
Front yard of wild plant nursery owner. 
This mass of wild strawberries and cinque-foil is
what I envision as a  ground cover in the
Evergreen Garden
       The strawberries I planted here look very little like the stunted ones I see in the wild.  The ones from the nursery are well established already and are sending out lots of runners.  The ones in the foreground are the plants I started from seed.  They were less mature at planting time and that shows now.  I tried some sweet potato vines as ground cover too.  What the rabbits didn't get are doing well.  The garden's west side is edged with a few hundred daffodil bulbs.  I've read that they'll serve as a block against grass. 
       From the outset, the goal here was a pretty barrier against the traffic on the road in front of the house.  I probably won't live long enough to see this garden reach maturity, but while it's getting there, I hope to be enjoying the view and eating lots of wild strawberries.  Yum. 

Baby Moon Garden Awaits Dragon

Stick-like Pecan tree and a bench
mark the beginning of Moon Garden
          Here grow lavender, thymes, daisies, comfrey, sage, forget-me-nots, wormwood, and a profusion of other plants with silver leaves or white or blue flowers that seem to glow in moonlight. Well, they're here in my imagination. That spindly little tree in the center of the photo on the right is supposed to reach a height of sixty to seventy feet.  When, and if, it really does, my plan for a Moon Garden here will have to be rethought.  In the meantime, I figured I could replace the grass with plants that shine in the dark, sort of.  I find it ironic that nearly all the plants I've identified for this project require full sun.
         In the photo on the right, the edge starting on the lower right and going behind the bench will have a lavender hedge.  That's in place, although the plants are difficult to identify because they're so small.  Red creeping thyme has a good start at filling in under and around the bench (below).  Perhaps by next summer I'll be able to sit and swing my feet
Sam sitting in the path in the Moon Garden
over the herb to release its fragrance.  A cedar chip path runs in front of the bench.  To the left of the bench is a ground cover I discovered at a local greenhouse.  It's Blue Cupflower.  I purchased two pots and divided the many small plants so that it's already covering two or three square yards with two-to-three inch tall growth.  I've yet to view the pinkish flowers by moonlight; I was expecting a bluer flower that might show up better at night, but I do like the spreading low growth.  Most of it is out of the photo, to the left.
       More thyme grows around the pecan sapling, including some Silver Thyme.  The person I bought it from didn't know it's listed as a Zone 7 plant.  She says she's had no trouble growing it here in Zone 5.  If that's the case, it'll be perfect in this garden.  I planted some Dusty Miller (lower left corner), but it hasn't been doing all that well.  Cute little Sam has pulled  at least one of them completely out of the ground. 
       The biggest handicap with this project remains my husband's insistence that he run a pipe line from the house to the barn, right through the garden-to-be.  I was hoping that he'd get this started (done) soon after he announced his intention.  Hasn't happened yet.  The concrete dragon sculpture I want to create on site would sit squarely over this pipe line, so I can't do more than think about it until the pipe is laid.  To compensate, I thought about making a giant frog to sit in the front yard.  Haven't gotten to that, yet, either.  I'm laughing at myself as I type this because I've never made more than a stepping stone in concrete and now I want to sculpt a dragon.  Okay, so maybe I should try something really small first, like a sculpted frog steppingstone.  If I can do that and make a mold, I can have frogs all over the place!  Another project for next year, when I can work outside.
       Oh, in case you haven't met him already, Sam's the puppy, a golden retriever/German shepherd mix that promises to pass thirty pounds before he's three months old.  He and my gardens will grow together.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Guild Progress

         If you read the July post regarding my Apple Guild, you may recall that the basic idea with a guild is to create an ecological system on a really small scale, including a wide variety of edible plants.  The established guild is supposed to maintain itself with very little aide from people.
        With all the projects I took on this summer, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked for playing in the old orchard.  I weeded the area, laid down mulch for paths, and planted what, for the most part, I had on hand.  Considering the amount of effort I (didn't) put into the project, I'm a bit surprised and pleased at the results.
Apple Guild spring of 2011.
Apple Guild fall of 2011.

       There's a lot of green in the Fall photo to the right, and very little of the green is weeds.  In the foreground, in front of the bird bath, is lemon balm.  Across from the bath, behind Sam, there's catnip.  Walk down the path between the bird bath and catnip to the sweet potato vines with dill weed growing in the background.  Tiny asparagus plants are hiding on the left behind the oldest tree in the orchard.  A little further along the path and you round the second oldest tree and pass a patch of strawberries.  These are an unknown domestic variety I found growing in the trees near my mother-in-law's old strawberries patch.  They escaped from the garden many years ago and were barely surviving in the heavy shade.  They seemed so wonderfully tenacious that I had to rescue them and see what they'd do in a more favorable site.  They're thriving.  That may change once the tree grows some branches to replace what we trimmed in March.   
Nasturtium's, lemon balm, yarrow
        Loop around the big tree and on the right are lots of lemon balm, nasturtiums, and a little yarrow.  Yarrow has a reputation for being invasive, but in this case I may welcome its spreading.  Among other uses, it strengthens nearby plants.  The nasturtiums are, of course, an annual and will be gone soon, but they seed profusely.  This, too, is good, since I've discovered that nasturtium buds and seeds make great capers.
       The recipe I found for these capers is combine and refrigerate in a glass jar:  one quart white wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons pickling salt, 1 thinly sliced onion, 1/2 teaspoon each allspice, mace and celery seed, 3 peppercorns, and nasturtium seeds (or buds) fresh from the garden.  Drop the seeds into the jar as they become available.  The recipe didn't say how long to let them meld before use, so you can taste one now and then to see how they're doing.  They have a peppery flavor that goes well with chicken, fish, in salads and well, experiment to find what tickles your tastebuds.
       There aren't too many other plant varieties in the guild as yet:  a few rhubarb to provide mulch; chives as a rabbit deterrent; hardy kiwi which is going to require a support to grow on; comfrey to act as a barrier to grasses.  I'll believe that when I witness it!  I'm sure I'm not remembering everything.  I know there's some poke weed that I haven't pulled. It's one of the plants that will draw nutrients from deep down, but there's so much poke week around here that I'm trying to get rid of the stuff, not cultivate it.  Yes, the very young shoots are edible, but I've never been hungry enough or adventurous enough to risk eating them.  Mother's wort is another problem weed, even if I do find it listed as an herb.  Even the chickens won't touch this plant so it must be hand-pulled.
       Several times during the summer, I've rubbed or cut off some of the new growth on all the trees.  If I didn't do this, I'd have something out there resembling green-haired monsters, there has been so much rejuvenation.  But I won't do this any more until spring since my references say that pruning in the fall is generally a really bad idea.  Spring will also be the time for finding more plants to round out my guild.  I have bee balm and St. John's wort growing elsewhere.  Perhaps they'll be moving next year, along with anything else that looks promising.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Let's Try Juicing Some Carrots

       I brought in seven pounds of carrots yesterday for use in a variety of ways.  Six cups, coarsely shredded, went into Carrot Pepper Salsa last night.  One and a half cups, finely shredded, found its way into Carrot Cake Jam this morning.  That left a pile of carrots.  I washed and peeled them all for juicing.  Never having used a juicer before, I kept putting it off.  Every time I walked past the bowl filled with those lovely golden carrots, one found its way into my hand and disappeared, like magic.  Yum.  Then I cut a few up for pasties for dinner tonight.  I began to worry that all the carrots would be gone before I got around to trying to use the juicer, so I sat down and read the directions that came with the Waring Pro Juice Extractor that my daughter "loaned" me.
       I don't know if she's going to want it back because, in exchange, I loaned her a sixteen quart stock pot.  She'd never used the juicer; she's already used the stock pot several times.
       I learned that I wasn't supposed to peel the carrots, just scrub them, and they didn't need to be cut up unless they were too big to fit the hopper.  The booklet also said that the juice should be drunk immediately, or at least during the day it's made.  You may remember that I've already commented elsewhere that carrot juice does not freeze or can well.  I read that when you first start drinking this stuff, you should start with small amounts and increase your intake gradually, and it's recommended that you drink it between meals, not with them. 
       I found most of this rather unappealing.  The juicer takes as much space as a four-slice toaster, more counter space than I want to dedicate to something I don't expect to use daily.  Of course, the company making the juicer hopes that I'll do exactly that.  So, anyway, I juiced some carrots.  It was easy.  Clean-up took longer than the process.
       I like a smooth drink.  For example, for myself I'd buy pulpless orange juice. What came out of the juicer required, by my standards, further screening.  I poured it through a sieve and took another sip.  Tasted like carrots, without the crunch.  No surprise there.
       If you detect a lack of enthusiasm here, you got that right.  If for some reason I couldn't eat normally, like, for instance, if my jaw were wired shut following surgery, I expect I'd use a juicer daily, even several times a day, processing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  Would fresh carrot juice be a workable choice in an emergency situation?  Probably not, considering that you need electricity to produce it.  Then again, "fresh" means just that.  Juicing during the summer is fine, but how about during the winter?  The carrots I over-wintered in sand last year tasted okay, but I expect they weren't nearly as juicy as when they were plucked from the ground.  I'm not ready to put the machine away, but the juicer won't be sitting permanently on my kitchen counter.  Even more than before, I favor my carrot soup over fresh juice.
       Excuse me while I return to the kitchen to cut up the rest of those carrots, blanch them and package them for the freezer.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

There's a Puppy in the Garden!

Sam the day after he joined our household
       That puppy is growing like a weed, averaging about half a pound a day.  His name is Sam, in memory of the very large black lab that was a member of my husband's family when we met.  His birthday is July 10 and he already weighs more than 22 pounds.  We expect him to grow to around a hundred.  We adopted Sam as a playmate for our lab/great Pyrenees mix after we lost our older dog to cancer.
       I'd forgotten how much a puppy is like a child and how much work is involved in raising a dog. Sam is busy reminding me, and also reminding me how delightful a puppy can be.
       The first time he accompanied me into my vegetable garden, he was less than eight weeks old and only a day away from being taken from his birthplace, mom, and eleven brothers and sisters.  I was after tomatoes.  He was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar plants.  He tried hiding under the vines.  Mostly, he wanted me to pick him up and cuddle him.  A few days later, we entered the garden again.  He still liked sheltering under the vines, but didn't dwell there.  There were too many other options to explore.  He had a great time rolling down the ledge and into the potatoes.  Rolling in the bed of soft carrot tops was even more fun, and helping me collect ground cherries was totally cool! He ran off with what he may have thought of as a ball, but I identified as an onion.  The last time I collected tomatoes, he tried to climb into my partially-filled bowl.
       I've seen him sight his first butterfly.  Watched him try to determine if the water coming out of a hose was something to be played with.  Had his help when I'm pulling weeds; he wants to grab them out of my hands--not being at all careful to miss my hands with those needles he has for teeth.  He likes to bite leaves off living plants too, particularly nasturtium and lilies.  
       He's still small enough that we worry about letting him outside unaccompanied.  Mostly, we're concerned that a hawk might swoop down for him.  Then there are the coyotes.  There are a lot of them around the farm, but we've never seen any inside the Invisible Fence area.  They may not know why, but they do know what line Nightshade, our adult dog, will not cross.  They'll sit on the other side and tease him.  Nightshade respects that line all around the house so he isn't likely to lead Sam where he shouldn't go, but as the puppy grows, so does his curiosity and adventurousness.  So Sam is always accompanied, if only by his big (adopted) brother.  
Learning to play together.

       When Nightshade came to live with us as a puppy, it took three days for his new, older brother to accept him.  Likewise, it took Nightshade three days to accept that Sam is now a family member.  At first, their play was tentative and cautious.  Now they tear around the house and yard showing teeth and tripping each other up, all in fun. Well, sometimes, Nightshade gives me a very put-upon look.  Sam can still walk under Nightshade's belly.  That won't be the case much longer.
       Sam has so much to learn.  Right now the paths through the yard mean nothing to him.  He races around the trees in the Children's Garden, nipping plants as he goes.  Nightshade stays on the paths watching him, waiting for the puppy attack; the paths are where they are because those are the paths Nightshade follows.  He habitually turns onto them even when that means he travels twice as far to get where he's going.  This seems to be a canine thing, so I have little doubt that Sam will pick up on it eventually.  We're teaching him a new vocabulary, introducing him to the leash, trying to housetrain him.  Of course, he's learned already that he can trust me.  When I call him, he races to me and plops his rump down on my feet, then looks up at me with those big brown eyes, ready to rest his chin on one hand while the other caresses his soft ears.   
      He and the cats have yet to reach an understanding.  The first time Sam came eye to eye with our thirteen pound Pickle, Sam ran.  I'd have turned tail too, if someone my size looked at me that way!  When Pickle runs now, Sam pursues.  Peachfuzz has been making herself scarce.  They'll work it out.  
       Right now the pup is wiped out from a busy day keeping track of us while we cut down trees in the yard and removed the brush.  Tomorrow we hope to split wood.  He won't like the noise, but I'll wager he'll keep us in sight while he and Nightshade play.             

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Barnful of Shit for the Taking?

       This past winter a neighbor housed cattle in a barn that hasn't been mucked out in years.  They were literally up to their chests in filth.  Because I needed manure for my garden and because I regard this sort of treatment as cruel, I told him I'd clean out his barn.  He owns a lot of land but doesn't farm it himself and has no use for the manure, so he said I could start as soon as, weather permitting, he got the cattle out.  He agreed the job needed doing and that better I should do it than that he should.
View of barn interior through gate at back door. 
       He finally did get the critters out, then it started raining, the weather became sweltering and I had surgery on my right hand.  I finally got over there several days ago and got to work.  The barn is about 20x32 feet.  The shit at the back door was eighteen inches deep, but the floor seems to slope upward from there and there are apparently two levels under the muck.  Say the average depth is a  foot.  Twenty times 32 times one divided by 27 equals 23.7 cubic yards to be pitched with a fork and ferried with a Ford Ranger.  I planned on keeping the loads small so I wouldn't have to climb into the truck to unload.  At two loads a day, I could accomplish this daunting task in a month, if the weather cooperated.  I suggested to my husband that we rent a piece of machinery to help with the work, but he remembers feeding bunks in that barn.  He fears that machinery would be damaged by that since all that's visible now is a few pieces of lumber sticking up here and there.
       Several years ago, before we moved out here from town, I put in a drain field using a shovel and a wheelbarrow.  Since then, the difficulty of every job I've undertaken has been judged in relation to that one.  This barn thing comes close in difficulty.  Then, I dealt with trees and roots and hard-packed soil, working in the open air.  This job stinks, as the manure is still fresh under a two-inch crust. It would only get more noxious as I got further into the building where there's less air circulation and more flies.  None of this comes as a surprise.  I could deal with this.
First load of manure waiting to be unloaded
on existing compost pile.

       What I'm having a problem with is me:  in particular, my limitations due at least in part, I hate to say, to my advancing age.  Earlier this week I was over there slinging shit, dealing with a sore back and a neck that hurt so much I could hardly turn my head.  Afterwards, the fingers on my left hand tingled from carpal tunnel syndrome.  The nurse at my doctor's office warned me that if I continue this task, I could damage myself permanently.
       I rarely back away from a task I've set myself, but I'm going to do that here, on the advice of that nurse, my chiropractor, my husband, and what may be an attack of good sense.  Giving up bothers me on two levels.  At the personal level, I hate to admit that I can't handle work of this nature with the same aplomb as a younger me, and I really would like to have more of the manure than I've moved to date.  Then there's worry that the barn might not be cleared before cattle are again housed there.  I've called the owner to tell him my decision, but just got the answering machine.  Sure hope he'll do right by those creatures that depend on him for their care.    

Monday, September 12, 2011

Must-Have Small Kitchen Accessories

       We all have favorite small kitchen aides.  For me, there was that small paring knife.  Using it was so ingrained that I never considered how inadequate it was for some of the jobs it performed.  I wore that blade down so much that I eventually had to throw it away.  For years, I made cookies according to the recipe:  "drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased cookie sheet." When I opened a home-canned jar, I continued to use the two-piece lid to keep the contents fresh.  I used two knives to cut shortening into the flour for biscuits and pie crust.  Sometimes, these were acts of frugality; more often, I simple didn't know any better.
Top left, counter clockwise: plastic lid, pump sprayer, pastry cutter,
wire whisk, chef's knife, small scoop, needle-nosed pliers,
 can opener,paper scissors, kitchen shears, timer, four
tablespoon measure, scale.
       Now I do, and I'd like to share this list of a dozen small accessories that make kitchen chores so much easier.
       1.  Plastic screw-on lids for mason jars.  So many uses.  For example, use on home-canned jars after you've opened them, and for sealing jars of dried herbs.
       2.  Pump sprayer for oil.  Mine contains olive oil, and I use it instead of a store-bought non-stick spray. 
       3.  Pastry cutter.  The secret to light baking-powder biscuits and flaky pie crust. 
       4.  Wire whisk.  This works so much better than a spoon! 
       5.  Chef's knife.  My husband is always lecturing me about using the right tool for the job.  This is just as important in the kitchen as for the handyman.  I can't believe how much faster and easier cutting goes with this wonderful tool.
       6.  Small scoop.  Baking cookies is a number one requirement in my grandmother job description book.  I like using this scoop.  (So do the grandkids.)  It can also serve to make small meatballs and, probably, watermelon or other fruit scoops.
       7.  Needle-nosed pliers.  I use these to remove plastic rings from bottles before they go into the recycling bin, and to open "easy-open" lids that I couldn't otherwise get a hold of.
       8.  Manual can opener.  I've never met an electric can opener that worked well and lasted long enough to justify its cost.  A good manual works just as fast, without the noise or electricity.  As a matter of fact, it's a good idea to have one in the kitchen and another with your emergency supplies.
       9.  Scissors.  Two of them.  One pair of good kitchen shears for cutting meat and herbs, for instance, and a second pair for cutting any sort of packaging.
      10.  A Timer.  I like one that you set once, press a button when it rings, and it resets for the same time.  This is so helpful when I'm blanching gallons of something at the rate of two cups to a batch.  I have to admit it can get confusing in my kitchen when this little timer plus the timers on the stove and microwave are all working at the same time.
       11.  Four Tablespoon Liquid Measure.  The biggest problem with this little gem is that I use it so often that I forget where I put it last and have trouble finding it for the next task.  I measure two tablespoons for lemon juice for a large glass of lemonade, three tablespoons olive oil for pizza crust.  It's especially helpful in halving recipes now that I'm cooking (mostly) for only two.
       12.  A Scale.  Just how much is "three peppers"?  I love recipes that give ingredients by weight.  If a serving size is given as two ounces and 200 calories, I can measure the food.  This is a great way to keep from cheating on a diet.  We measure coffee grounds before grinding them fresh.  I weigh the bread dough to be sure the loaves are equal in size, the pizza dough before I roll it out to make small rounds to go into the freezer, produce as it goes into freezer bags so I'll know how much I've put up, packages to be mailed, and....  And other stuff. 
       Could I list another dozen items that I find indispensable in the kitchen?  Let's see: cutting broads in sizes to fit different tasks; measuring cups and spoons; a variety of knives suitable for a variety of job; good quality pots and pans, including stock pots;  food strainers; serving spatula; cooking spatula; rolling pin; wooden spoon; corkscrew; potato masher, food chopper.  Gee, I think that's more than twelve, and there's no mention here of canning equipment!  But that would be an entirely different list.
       The twelve accessories listed above are, except for the scale and chef's knife, inexpensive.  I think they're all worth having.  Just wanted to share that thought with you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Diet Changes for a Master Gardener

       During the basic Master Gardener class we were told that as MGs we should try new (to us) plant varieties so we can better advise others.  Experimentation in vegetable gardening has led naturally to experimentation in the use of the produce, and, for me, changes in what I eat.
Second year asparagus plants.
       My first, pre-MG, attempt at raising asparagus resulted in three spears, which I cut and cooked that same evening for my husband.  He rhapsodized about their flavor and urged me to try some of the next harvest.  Unfortunately, there was no next harvest because I'd cut the first spears before the plant was established.  Oops.  I now have three asparagus beds.  One is located in the apple guild.  These plants are this year's grown-from-seed babies.  I have yet to see if they'll thrive under the less-than-ideal conditions out there, but asparagus is a weed so it should be pretty even if not particularly productive. The second bed is last year's from-seed plants.  I expect this patch to produce my main crop, which I can start harvesting next year.  The third bed consists of transplanted roots from survivors of my mother-in-law's lost patch, which hadn't been cultivated in decades.  The spears from this were huge and we ate some this year.  I'd never had fresh asparagus and disliked what I had tasted.  Days old spears from the store don't come close to the wonderful taste of of fresh asparagus.  Fresh asparagus is definitely an addition to my diet.
       This spring I caught part of a Dr. Oz show where the doctor said that everyone should eat sweet potato every day because it's sooo good for you.  My experience with sweet potatoes had been canned stuff drenched in butter and brown sugar and baked for Thanksgiving.  Yes, it was good, but eat it every day?  There had to be other ways to fix it, so I went looking on the internet, chose some recipes, purchased some sweet potatoes at an organic market, and experimented.  I was surprised at the goodness of oven-baked sweet potato fries.  So, okay, I need to grow sweet potatoes.  I discovered I could grow them here in Michigan if I start them early in the spring in the house (see post of sweet potatoes for details).  Unlike asparagus, which is best really fresh, sweet potato flavor improves with curing.  I haven't even dug up my sweet potatoes yet to see what sort of crop I have, and when I do dig them, I'll have to wait weeks before I can savor their flavor.
       I've always liked the idea of soup more than the actuality; that is, soup sounds great, but I rarely actually ate it.  That's changed.  Last year's bumper tomato crop demanded more options for using the bounty.  I tried a soup recipe I got through the Ingham County Extension office.  I no longer buy the canned stuff.  In addition, I was inspired to look for other freezable homemade soups.  I made sweet carrot soup and split pea soup.  These are wonderful side dishes during a cold winter day.  The split pea soup is a meal all by itself.
Homemade with Homegrown Wheat
 Although I've made my own bread for years, only recently have I started using some home-ground flour along with unbleached store-bought.  This year I even grew a few pounds of wheat.  What a rush to say I made my bread from scratch--starting with planting the seeds!  But whether homegrown or purchased, wheat freshly ground adds more flavor, nutrients and texture to bread.  Cornbread made from fresh homegrown, home ground meal is another treat.  You can use any corn (field, Indian, sweet), but we like it best made from sweet corn.
       In my search for new ways to use my produce, I've tried a variety of jam and salsa recipes.  Last fall I made tomato jam.  My thought was that the jam would substitute for the tomato in BLT's when fresh was no longer available.  I learned that nothing substitutes for that juicy, tart, fresh tomato in a BLT, but the jam makes a tasty substitute for Miracle Whip in some sandwiches. This year I have an abundance of carrots so I tried a carrot cake jam.  Oh, this is good!  Also a carrot pepper salsa.  I've never been a salsa fan, but I could devour a half pint of this for lunch.  I made peach salsa too, after canning half a bushel of this fruit.
       Half a bushel may not be enough.  Nothing beats canned peaches for good eating.  Last year's peach crop was rotten at the core.  The ones I bought this year are perfect.  My husband wants me to put up more.  I love them with vanilla yogurt, or in a salad with cottage cheese.  For salads, I've been buying French dressing, but I want to get away from the high fructose corn syrup and artificial food colorings, so I've canned a tomato soup base for a homemade recipe I found on line, except that that recipe's first ingredient was store-bought canned soup.  Not around here; not anymore.
       I've grown a few herbs for years, but haven't really gotten into the habit of using them.  Oh, sure, I've added oregano and parsley to my homemade pizza sauce, but what to do with some of my other herbs?  I've just discovered basil butter, a mix of 3 cups chopped basil, half a cup of butter, and two teaspoons lemon juice.  The other night I poured some olive oil into a frying pan, added a chunk of frozen basil butter, then some diced garlic.  I cooked this gently for a few minutes, then added spaghetti and served with popcorn shrimp.  That was a total of fifteen minutes prep time.  My husband and I both thought this was a great combination.  I think it will be even better with unbreaded shrimp sauteed with the basil butter.  It seems to me that this basil butter is a great base for all sorts of pesto dishes.  I'd never served spaghetti with anything besides a traditional tomato-based sauce so this was a terrific discovery.
       About that homemade pizza:  Last year I bought a frozen pizza kit from my daughter for a fundraiser for her church.  Having everything ready in the freezer for preparing pizza was just too convenient.  I looked for a way to have this with homemade crust.  I had tried unsuccessfully many times to freeze crust.  I found that all I had to do was bake the crust for three or four minutes at 450 degrees before freezing it.  So simple, and when the grandchildren visit, it's a simple matter to give them each a pizza crust suitable to their appetite and let them make their own pizza with all-homegrown ingredients.  Works for me too whenever I want a fast meal.   
       I won't claim that gardening is "fun."  This is such an overworked word.  It's "satisfying" and, it appears, nutritionally smart for me.  I looking forward to more changes in my diet as I learn more about the food I grow.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Too Many Carrots - Second Edition

Tendersweet Carrots fresh from the garden.
       At the time of the first Carrot post, I'd frozen carrots and made carrot soup, also to freeze.  Since then, I've made a carrot pepper salsa that I like, even though I don't generally care for salsa, and a carrot cake jam that my husband says may replace my homemade strawberry jam as his favorite.  Recipes for both of these are in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, 400 delicious and creative recipes for today. 
       I'm still buried in carrots.  I had estimated that the twenty-five pounds I'd already processed  for the freezer was about a third of what I could expect to harvest.  Looks like I'll be digging up closer to a hundred.  I'm at forty-three pounds and counting.
       I'd planned on canning some of this bounty, but I discovered that none of the three varieties I planted (Tendersweet, Scarlet Nantes, Danvers Half Long) are recommended for canning.  I'm reluctant to put in all the work involved and risk inferior results.  I sort of compromised here:  I made carrot pickles.  Two batches.  I'm hoping that the pickling process will overpower whatever deficiencies these carrots might evidence in simple canning.  I'm banking that it's worth the risk, because the grandkids love carrots and are always asking for pickles.  The store-bought pickles I normally stock contain food coloring, which only the oldest grandchild tolerates.  With any luck, carrot pickles will substitute.
       An options I hadn't considered was juicing carrots.  I have an old model Vita Mix, which is supposed to juice, but upon checking the owner's manual, I found that I need a press to finish the process theVita Mix only starts.  I did grind some carrots in said machine, and hand pressed a cup of juice.  It was really tasty, like, well, carrots.  My husband checked juicer prices.  I simple don't believe we'd use one enough to justify the cost.  However, it turns out that my daughter (Adventures of a Thrifty Mama) has a brand new juicer that she's willing to "loan" to me. 
       There remain four problems with juicing.  A pound of carrots makes only 8 oz of juice.  The bulk goes to pulp.  If you don't use the pulp in baking, you've lost the fiber and a large portion of your product.  Carrot juice is best used fresh; it does not can or freeze well.  To have fresh juice, you must store the carrots.  I mentioned overwintering some last year packed in wet sand in the basement.  I have tried leaving the carrots where they grew and covering them with a heavy straw mulch.  They keep just fine this way--all winter long, because I never get around to getting out there in the snow and cold to uncover them and dig them out.  But these are options available for those who really want that juice during the cold winter months.  I'd rather have the hot soup I talked about in the August 31 post.
        I still have far more carrots than I can possibly use, even with sharing with family.  Anyone around here want to volunteer to take some off my hands and spare me from the spectre of carrot waste?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Day of the Herbs: Catnip, Mint, Basil.

       I spent hours today harvesting, washing, sorting, and tying catnip, peppermint, and basil for drying and freezing.  I must say that the pleasure of breathing in their scents is reason enough to grow any or all of these, but I wondered what uses I might make of them, since they all grow in my gardens.  What a little research revealed surprised me. 
My cats  We refer to them as the twins.
       When I think of catnip, my first association is of cats and their fondness for this herb, but catnip isn't just for felines. I admit that I planted catnip in my Children's Garden after my daughter informed me that it had applications involving children, but I had no idea it had so many uses beyond intertaining cats and the people watching them.  Before the importation of tea from China, English tea was a catnip brew said to invigorate the system while calming nervousness and relieving cramps.  I find more than one source that suggests an infusion of catnip tea with honey to relieve colds and fever by inducing sleep and perspiration--without raising the body's temperature.  The tea is said to aid against colic and restlessness in children, and headaches and upset stomachs no matter what your age. 
       My sources warn against boiling catnip leaves; infuse only, they say.  Apply a poultice of mashed flowering tops to external bruises.  Use catnip to repel rats.  Wow.  All that and you can rub it on meat as a flavoring and eat the young shoots in a salad.  Make candied catnip leaves by glazing the leaves with a mix of equal parts egg white and lemon juice, then sprinkling with raw sugar.  Dry for a day or longer before serving. 
       Have I tried any of these?  No, but I've been experiencing serious night cramping in my legs.  I'm wondering if catnip tea will help.
       I have made iced peppermint tea as a cooler for hot summer days and mint jelly, which goes especially well with pork.  Mint can also be used in sauces, vinegars, syrups and in desserts.  My personal favorite is mint chocolate chip ice cream, but I'm never made that.  Fresh leaves add taste and color to new potatoes, peas, fruit salads and drinks.  Grown near roses, the plant deters aphids.  Leaves deter ants, fleas, and mice.  For centuries, mint sprigs have been used to sweeten the air in a room.  Cold mint tea treats hiccups and flatulence.  Leaves macerated in oil are used to massage migraines and muscular aches.
       Even more than the other two, I love the smell of basil, but I've never known what to do with it.  Recently I made basil butter, suggested for use on pasta, eggs, vegetables, and fish.  It really dressed up the cod nuggests I cooked one night for a quick, easy dinner.  My husband said several times that we should have that again.  I tried it on a spaghetti side dish a few nights later.  Again, it met with approval, but I thought it could use some garlic and olive oil.  Basil butter is simply three cups finely chopped basil mixed with half a cup butter and two teaspoons lemon juice.  It will keep frozen for up to six months. 
       Basil is best torn with fingers instead of chopped.  Add it to your cooked dishes during the last minute of cooking.  Use in salads and in tomato dishes, in pesto sauce and to flavor vinegars.  The plant is supposed to deter flies.  Use basil in bath water.  Basil tea is an aide to digestion, and in oil form is used to treat mental fatigue.        
      With all the applications these herbs offer, it's surprising we don't hear more about them.  Well, maybe not so surprising since we can grow them ourselves, and don't have to pay someone else to process them into nice little pills for our benefit and their profit.  Obviously, I'm new myself to the herbal arena.  I'm looking forward to learning more.