Editing the garden

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This is a ‘Duchess Blue Ice’ Aster I grew from seed. It’s worth the wait. The seed pack also has white flowering ones with the subtlest icy blue blush to the petals’ tips. 

I got to Friday last week, and felt as though I had no steam. Nothing to talk about really. This has been a truly trying year for maintaining the motivation to blog weekly. But nobody ever starts anything major knowing the way that year would transpire. I think I’ve done fairly well, gardening is a great therapist. Not necessarily to talk to, because I don’t like to talk much about troubling things, but pulling a stubborn weed, breaking the soil, firing a freshly sharpened shovel into the ground is a good way to channel one’s energy. And a good way to deplete it so I don’t have to stay up and stare at the ceiling. I’ve also switched gears at Dayjob and I’ve been doing a lot of really heavy thinking in terms of career advancement in other avenues. It’s been just a tiring week.

But I did find something to talk about today all because of my lack of desire to do any work in the garden. This is why we garden,  aside from the therapeutic purposes. To appreciate something you made, and then watch it come alive. Rather than crouching down to pull yet another damn ragweed or clover, I just harvest things, look at things, and think about the way things have made me feel.

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t really like this where this is.” Or even “I hate this in general”. Gardens aren’t meant to stay the same, unless you want them to. Nature evolves, and it’s healthy for your tastes to evolve with experience. Don’t feel bad. Give it away. Put it somewhere else. Sharing with other gardeners is part of the joy of it. I think it’s more fun when you can help them evolve and refine themselves over time. Something doesn’t work? Pull it out! That’s been my late summer focus.

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Kick the yarrow was the name of the game…

Don’t like this Yarrow. Blech. I REALLY enjoyed watching this border evolve and grow though. But it’s definitely not reflective of ME as a person and what I love. So I will gradually edit! It’s had something interesting to look at all year, from the beginnings of spring to fall. So I edited it to omit the yarrow. I replaced it with another late summer/fall flowering perennial, Echinacea (which I still have tons left to plant) that doesn’t flop over and get in the way every time I walk through. Along with Echinacea, I also planted a few shorter types of Irises, and my favorite daylily cultivar ‘Tani’. I don’t know why, but it’s just such a beauty that caught me off guard.

 

 

 

 

 

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A little better, tidier, but man those mature Sumac roots are a pain in the ass to dig around.

Moving right along…

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And this forsythia in the background… well I don’t really dislike it, but when I spent time in the summer  evenings watching Buddha, there was just…nothing catching the breeze. It’s too still here after dark when the birds go home. So I want some grass here. Some Calamagrostis maybe. In front of him on the bench, I’ll plant something too, I am thinking something very short with small white flowers, as it would light up nicely in the evenings.

There is more too. I have a solomon’s seal overtaking the rhododendron, and his brother the hops vine trying to wrap and crush the house again. They will not be here long.

 

There, you see? Some realities can be changed.

I’ll do another tomato review soon too. I wanted to review my “Pineapple” tomatoes, but alas again, I must have gotten some rogue seed in the pack, as the fruit was not yellow. I’m waiting on Black Krim and I’ll also do a review of Homestead too soon. These last two are slowpokes. Homestead started out with little fart tomatoes, but the ones in the greenhouse look like something you’d pick up at the supermarket.

That’s all. Like I said, I’m very much in my head lately. Summer is ending, that’s sad. But there’s a little rejuvenation to come with a new month and new season. New plantings and some more late veggies for the cold frame. More editing. Even if you aren’t getting dirty, you can still do work in your mind. Sometimes, making decisions is one of the hardest parts of any project.

Well, that’s all for now, really. Till I get my groove back.  Happy Monday!

Herb Harvest – Cut, dry and store your herbs for the winter months

Not to be a downer, but all things are inevitably temporary. That would also include your supply of fresh herbs. Chances are, you’ve got some herbs somewhere in the garden. I know I’ve got a pile that just didn’t really get used up. But this is the time that I decide to actually harvest and dry them so I’ll have something for the winter. Nothing compares to fresh herbs, but if you preserve them properly, you’ll have enough to get you through the winter and spring until  you get your hands on the fresh stuff again.

The easiest way to dry herbs is to get your hands on a dehydrator appliance. I got mine from walmart. You can get high end ones, solar types, or just the plug in type that sits on your counter. You’ll have one as soon as you realize you can make beef jerky with it. I’ll leave you alone to think about that for a few minutes.

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You really want to fill that basket if you can, especially when you look at your waste pile after you’re finished putting your herbs on the trays.

The first thing I will tell you about drying herbs is you will probably not  have enough. Don’t be stingy when collecting, you will use it! And you will likely find you got less of a yield from what you collected than you hoped. Make a week long event out of it. Each day, you can dedicate the day to a certain herb, and by the end of the day, you’ll have enough bottled, and can plan for the next day. Minty Mondays. Thyme Tuesdays. ..Woregano Wedndesdays.. you get the idea. I realize I am a little late posting my weekly update, but today is minty Monday, and I love mint tea. I will be using mint as my example today.

(By the way, dry twice as much oregano as you think you need because you will use it. I always regret not having enough oregano by December.)

Read your dehydrator’s instructions. I, for one, have misplaced my manual, but there’s a magical place called the internet that can give you roughly the correct temperatures and durations for drying different herbs. Although it isn’t for me, that book should be kept with your cookbooks. There will be specifications on herbs, fruit, vegetables and other items, and how long, how hot/cool the dial should be set at. Try to resist drying everything in sight. For mint, in this case (and for most herbs except for basil) I will be putting entire stems on the trays and drying them at 35-40 degrees celcius, for 6-8 hours. When the herbs are dry, you will only have to pick the dry leaves from the stems and discard the stems.

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Yep, I see all kinds of leaves I don’t want in my tea.

Collect herbs in the morning. Your herbs will be the least stressed, less wilted by the heat of the sun. All the goodness is still there before the sun bakes the crap out of it for the day. That’s another reason I wait until August to start harvesting. The heat is a little less extreme for collecting.

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yeah, pass on this one!

“Processing” for dehydration is probably the most labour intensive and picky part of the operation. You will have to really rinse them off well. I found a little green worm rollin’ down the drain along with his frass and bits of dirt. After the rinse, you have to really shake them off to get all the excess water. Then you will want to pat the herbs dry, as this really helps the drying process along a little more.

After the pat dry,  you’re going to look over your stems and look for imperfections that you don’t want to eat. Pick those leaves off. You’ll have to cut your stems to fit on the tray so no stems are overlapping. I know mine are a bit, and actually, next time I will probably take extra time to pull the biggest leaves off and lay them out single layer, since they are so easy to pull off. In the process of picking over, you will find other unwelcome surprises, like shedded exoskeletons, yucky brown/black shriveled leaf margins, and I usually don’t want to eat something that’s already been munched by a perpetrator. You’ll probably also find bits of frass that need a re-rinse off the leaves.  All of this is expected.

 

20160822_092916.jpgOnce you have your herbs arranged (artistic liberties can be taken here, but there must be an emphasis on space efficiency), fire up the dehydrator and leave it alone for a while. It’s a good time to dump out the old stuff from the jar if you had some left over (you shouldn’t really keep herbs for more than 3-6 months anyway, as they lose their freshness over time). I know, realistically, this is just not common, and I’m sure even I have some 2 year old dried up bags of something in the back of the cupboard. I’m working to improve that!

Once they are dried, you will now pluck the leaves from the stems and you can do one of two things at this point: choose either whole leaf, or crush them, either by crumbling in your fingers or with a mortar and pestle. You can do a bit of both. Or leave them whole, and crush them later if the recipe calls for it.

Always store herbs in a cool, dry place. It’s not a good idea to leave them out in the open, exposed to sunlight, or above the stove, as both of these locations will quickly degrade the quality of your product.

Now that you’ve dried your herbs, you now have another really nice gift idea for your friends! You can even mix herbs together to make seasonings. You can try dried lemon zest with dill (with a little kosher salt), or basil and oregano for pizza sauce. Be silly, or creative.

When the herb harvest is over, it doesn’t have to end there. I am serious. Home made jerky is a wonderful thing. And so are apple rings…banana chips? Oh yes.

I didn’t grow as many herbs as I hoped I would this year (and no Oregano, sadly!) but I have grown many herbs in my previous home and it’s a bit of work but there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing your herbs come from your own garden. It’s a nice down day weekend project.

Next week, I’ll be looking at my turning circle. Maybe. It’s time to start digging in and see if my drawing is going to go as I hope it will.

General Updates around the garden & More tomato reviews.

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Every year I test a package of annual seeds. This zinnia comes from Burpee’s “Chartreuse & Purple” mix. 

What an odd sensation it is to wake up the morning of August 1st, and discover the air seems to have changed somehow versus the air of July. Humidity is still somewhat present but not in the same sense. I’m slowly feeling like I would rather be outside working again, but it’s been a bit of a trial with the bugs in their peak season. But luckily the tenacious asshole deerflies seem to have dropped off for the season, and the dry weather has caused mosquito populations to drop too.  On cooler evenings, I did get to spend a couple of hours destroying weeds in the veg garden until I was no longer able to cram any more into the green bin. I don’t put weeds in my compost heap typically, unless they are young and not threatening to flower, and I definitely never put crabgrass in there.

Since the last week of updates, I have applied the two fertilizers. The first product is my own: A compost tea made with comfrey leaves. The second, I failed to tell you the name of the product. It’s called Natura 5-7-7. I applied both products on the 2nd of August. The results so far are negligible for both. There hasn’t been a lot of change, but I feel this is probably due to the lack of rain we’ve had. We just had a really generous rainfall yesterday, so I might have something to report the next time around. I definitely felt like I needed a shower after handling that comfrey tea. It’s very ripe.

I’ve also received a HUGE quantity of Echinacea in the past few weeks. They are all seedlings and divisions from other gardeners’ plants. One is a purple cultivar with subtle cream/green tips on the petals, and the others are seedlings dug up beneath ‘Cheyenne Spirit’. I am not going to plant them just yet, but the place where they will go is ALMOST ready. I may temporarily house them in another garden or grow them on until next spring. There are about 20 plants plus 2 large ones.  I want these to go into the butterfly garden (soon, formerly the goutweed garden). I’ll have an update on how that journey is going soon and I am impressed. There were a few survivors of goutweed popping up and I dealt with them promptly.

I was falling behind on keeping my deck tidy again. My launchpad is filling up again with bargain plants and gardeners’ divisions. I want to wait just a little longer before I plant these things. But the good news is, all the annuals are planted (mostly various asters and zinnias). Depending on how this week progresses in terms of rainfall, I might begin planting the rest of the plants from my launch pad.If i must wait till September, so be it. It was becoming very exhausting dragging watering cans to the back of the property just to water the trees I planted last year. I think I could almost call this phenomenon “sunshine depression.” Give me rain.

I am finding fall mums appearing in garden centers and shops. I just want to stick my face in them, close my eyes and breathe in the smell. Instantly, in my mind, it’s fall, and the air has a chill. I want to rush out and buy halloween decorations and prepare my forest for the haunted walk. I need to be patient, I’ll be crying when the last warm days of summer are gone…no I won’t. I love fall!

I think it’s also time to review a few more tomato varieties from my garden.  I have ‘Coyote’ and ‘Chiapis Wild’ tomatoes ripening quickly as well as ‘Indigo Rose’. Just as we were getting burnt out on store bought celery, we have something new to pack in the lunch.

20160812_113551.jpgI’ll start with Coyote. What a bunch of cuties! These are very tiny, currant sized tomatoes with a coloration that is mostly yellow with a paler, ivory underbelly. I decided to try out my photography improvement here. Oh my goodness! These are so delicious. The skin is very tender (not thick and leathery), and when they pop in your mouth, they are sweet with a little hint of tartness to excite you.  I would recommend this as a nice container tomato, if you want something a little small to set on your deck. I’ll be growing these both to eat and to sell seedlings next year. Each plant will give you loads to enjoy.

20160812_135138The 2nd I tasted last weekend was Green Grape. I first tried it at Tomato Fest here in the valley. Ever since, I’ve been dying to get a taste of this anytime I wanted. I will caution tomato growers that this variety is a bit hard to grow. I found it stressed really easily this summer, more so than other plants. It wilts easily, but responds fairly well to a good watering. When ripe, it is a bit green with a yellow hint to the skin. The skin is fairly tough, but kind of crisp like biting a grape. The flavor is mildly acidic, but also subtly sweet. Manimal did not like these. I must have enjoyed the first taste many years ago more than I do now, I’m not sure I will bother with this one next year. But for novelty’s sake, it’s a fun one to have in the bowl of tomatoes.

 

20160814_192738The last one we tasted recently was ‘Indigo Rose.” Manimal describes this one as having “oregano undertones” I more thought it tasted sweet and candy-like with maybe some sort of smoky and floral taste. I liked it, and growing it solely for its beauty is reason enough!

There hasn’t been a lot of other news in the garden. Harvesting has become a routine for me and the magic tomato fairy will be visiting people soon, with bagloads of tomatoes. Hopefully, I will be making salsa and hot pepper jelly soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, I entered some of my tropicals in the Valley Gardeners’ flower and vegetable show. It was a good time, as it always is, a good event to speak to other gardeners, see what they like, how they feel about certain flowers, and share what you know. If you are a gardener, join a club, because I’ve had some great conversations over the last 3 years. You don’t have to know a gardener to strike up a conversation. It will just come naturally.

Especially about how amusing my Nepenthes looked…..! People sure have very interesting imaginations!

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Have a fabulous monday, enjoy the rejuvenation that comes from a good rain!

Mint! More than just Mojitos!

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I gotta tell ya. I have some mint.

 

Not just… mint. I mean, I got… MINT. It’s there. Haunting me. It creeps around the greenhouse and looks at me. Sometimes, it pops up on the inside of the greenhouse and says hello. It’s kind of nice to walk around in the dead of winter and accidentally step on a sprig.

Maybe you’ve grown mint. It grows okay in pots, but when it REALLY shines is when it gets free. It runs. Literally. Those roots run from one end to the other, laughing the whole way, you just don’t know where it stops. You have to be so careful. But once it’s a freed mint, it’s a happy mint. It’s really hard to stay mad at such a glut of a wonderful herb. You are now questioning my sanity, I know. But let’s not get too dramatic here. Once you’ve met Goutweed, there’s no problems. Mint’s a good guy. But don’t free it.

Something, something, make lemonade when life gives you lemons. I’ve got a lot of lemonade solutions today. I haven’t got any plans yet to dig out this monster infestation. It’s nice to go out and get some when you need it.

Got mint? Don’t know what to do with it besides sniff it? I’ll help you with that.

Mojitos – I know, i know. I said it was more than just for mojitos. But if you sneered at the thought of mixing lime with mint, stop it. Just stop. Follow this recipe link and try it now.

I don’t drink a lot of real mojitos myself, due to the quantity of sugar/alcohol undermining my health progress. But I do like to crush the leaves with some lime wedges and drink it with some sparkling water and ice. I always recommend spearmint or “mojito mint” when making cold drinks with mint. It’s refreshing and sweeter.

Mint Tea – I’ve made this quite a bit in my years of growing mint. It’s dear to me because I have some digestive problems and it has often soothed them. I don’t even think I have commercial mint tea bags in my house anymore, because it’s easy to dry mint and make tea yourself. All you need is as many sprigs of mint as you’d like to dry, a dehydrator (either an oven or a dehydrator appliance, or the old way of hanging it upside down). When the mint is dry, you pluck the leaves off the stems and store it in an airtight container. Always keep herbs out of sunlight and heat. I just fill my yellow submarine tea leaf infuser with as much as I can, and let it steep for about 5 minutes. I don’t add anything, just drink it as it is. Peppermint is probably the most recommended type for mint tea, but I’ve had both. Both are good. Try them both and decide, or make a mix of both.

You could make peppermint extract. Seriously! Jazz up those chocolate cupcakes or hot chocolates!

Use it in Recipes. Most commonly used in mediterranean salads, and one of my favorite salads, Thai Mango Salad.

Pluck a few leaves and use them to infuse your water on the go. Alternatively, freeze mint in ice cube trays for a refreshing drink cooler.

Gild them in Chocolate and use them in your baking… Mmmm!

Mint is said to be an insect deterrent, particularly to ants. I can’t tell if this is true, or what distance does it remain effective. I can tell you I have mint growing wild, and I have ant nests in the vicinity of mint. Tread cautiously here. If you have had good experience with this method, speak up!

Snack on it for fresh breath. Or just chew on it while you’re wandering through the garden. You grow these herbs to enjoy. So enjoy them in their purest form. Make sure you check your teeth before you go out grocery shopping and smiling at people.

Use them in a bath. That’s right, steep your SELF in a giant tub of mint tea. It will really rejuvenate you to breathe in the mint infused steam.

Make a batch of mint jelly! I do not enjoy lamb in any shape or form, but it seems to be a crucial accompaniment. You can find oodles of mint jelly recipes online.

Make a little Peppermint essential Oil.

Now that you’ve enjoyed all the benefits of Mint,  you won’t second guess buying it again next year. You’ll just go for it! But I’m pretty sure you’ll just buy it again just because you like the smell of it.

I now want to try making some essential oil, and tea will be in my agenda soon. The big herb harvest is something I usually do every year, so mint will have its day in my kitchen.

Enjoy your week!

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August already? And some updates.

I must apologize again, I came to a screeching halt this weekend. Oh! I have to write something! What have I been doing all week that I haven’t found time to write? Well, in terms of work life, the heat has been getting to me quite a bit. One hot day runs into another, peppered with popsicle breaks and peeking in at the little Sparrow nest in the last spruce we have for sale. I come home and the last thing I want to do is be outside again. I’ve been a bad girl! I’ve been only gazing at my turning circle drawing, watching some Orange is the New Black, and, when the temperatures are manageable (as in, it is cooler outside than it is inside, and just moments before twilight) I rush outside and try to fill a bucket with weeds, or fill a  bowl with blueberries, raspberries, and pick tomatoes. I’ve also bottled wine this weekend, and spent both days with my families. It was great to be taken away from the routine of life. It reminds me that there is more to life than just what I do every day.

For the tomato situation, I can tell you there is a little regret on my end that I have expressed a little prejudice against other tomato colors, as I have only planted yellow, ivory, or orange cherry/grape types. I’m biting into these thick skinned yellow tomatoes, chasing that high that I felt when I had my first “Sunsugar” tomato. These tomatoes are sweet, lovely, okay. But they are not Sunsugars. My heart is still forever entwined in this little yellow gem that I can’t find anywhere, in seed or in seedling. Next year I’ll browse with determination.  The good thing is, now that I’ve tasted the two yellow minis I’ve planted, I can review them.

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Left to right: (unripe) Indigo Rose, Sunshine Yellow, Golden Cherry

Sunshine Yellow is the grape type tomato. I’ve had probably a few so far (it’s still early ripening season) and I found this variety to be a little on the mealy/grainy side. The flavor is mild, and probably will sweeten as it ripens, but with time also comes the risk of skin cracking, which is something yellow tomatoes tend to do. I pick them early and keep them inside to ripen, so a surprise rainfall doesn’t cause their internals to ooze out of their tight little skins.

The Golden Cherry, and this one here is actually a little underripe, is quite sweet. The skin is softer and breaks more easily than the sunshine yellow. My dad reviewed this as very sweet like candy or fruit. I would grow these again, if I could not locate the Sunsugar tomatoes.

The last one, Indigo Rose, is not ready yet. I’m told when it ripens, it will be red instead of green, but also maintain that beautiful, almost spray-painted looking flesh. I brought this one inside to enjoy its beauty, and watch it ripen. I really can’t wait till this one ripens so I can taste it. Hopefully it is as good as any black tomato.

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‘Spheres’  ..she’s blushing! 

I’ve also been observing my daylilies. It’s coming to peak season now for the scapes to open up. I’ve been admiring ‘Orange Crush’ and ‘Mardi Gras Parade’, Spheres, and Ice Cream Emperor. I have more, but they haven’t quite bloomed yet. It’s been a repetitive theme, but vegetable harvests and pretty little daylilies are prominently greeting me and distracting me from my duties of weeding and trimming.

An update on the fertilizer tea? It’s reeeaaadyyy! It smells like the gaping mouth of death. There is a scum on the surface and I’m pretty sure that there were earwigs having a party on the scum layer. I haven’t gathered up the nerve to dip my ladle into it yet, but I’m going to do that tomorrow, i swear! I also got a free sample of another fertilizer product to try. It may be late in the game, but I’m going to try it anyway. I have two rows of tomatoes, and I will experiment one row with the tea, and the other row with this other product. We will see which one looks the best in 2 weeks.

 

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‘Ice Cream Emperor’  He looks delicious!

So that concludes July, I guess. Did I do everything I planned? I haven’t done much. I’m incredibly observant of nature and what I would call “subseasons” but there hasn’t been much of any relaxation. As the days become less humid and hot, I’ll probably muster up more energy to start cutting out some grass.

So! Onto the tasks for the beginning half of the month. I already mentioned some side dressing of fertilizer. This is the time I usually top up on soil, mulch, promix, and compost. I’ll be side dressing my gardens, boosting existing spots and mulching anything that I haven’t gotten to yet.

I’ve been really enjoying Kale so far this month, I’ve made some chips, and I made a “caesar” kale salad yesterday. I want the Kale party to keep rocking in the coldframe (what a warrior! This thing just trucked through the hottest days so far and still isn’t giving up), so I’m going to do some more seeding for the greenhouse. I expect to be able to harvest Kale well into November, maybe even December, if I seed faithfully. The same for Swiss Chard. It didn’t do so well from seed in the greenhouse, so I’ll be starting it from seed probably outdoors, some in the garden, some in cell packs to be brought in for the fall.

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‘Mardi Gras Parade’  Are you tired of daylilies yet? Impossible! There are too many to say such a thing!

Carrots had a crappy year, so I’m hoping I can take advantage of some more sowings this fall outside. In the cold frame, growing is painfully slow. They just don’t like the daytime highs of 40+ degrees.

Parsley will be sown again to be planted in the cold frame. This kept well into winter in my last house. I don’t want to have to buy a single bunch of Parsley this winter from the grocery store.

It won’t be for a while but I mentioned removing some grass. Three areas are on our radar this year: We want grape vines planted way down the back of the property, in a nice sunny patch. I have a bit of a conifer collecting phase sweeping over me, and I’m going to cut in a garden to the left of the uncovered greenhouse, and that turning circle is so getting stomped on this fall for the beginnings of phase 1 (removal of several shrubs and trees).

Well that’s all for now I guess. I will make my vows to get out there, weed things (thanks again to Manimal Dad who came to weed for me again!), conduct some experiments on insect control and fertilizers, and take pictures of things that I’m not sure if they accidentally look great, or if I intended for it to be that way…  and maybe start harvesting more vegetables so I can write up my complete reviews at the end of the season round-up post.

Happy Natal day, everyone! 😀