Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

ITS Tomato Time Again

Friday, September 14th, 2012

I was lucky to have my tomatoes come on and get beautiful and plump at the end of the season. I was getting ready to leave town and I saw that I had baskets of them and  I realized that I really wanted to can them this year. It had been probably ten years since I had last canned tomatoes. I was worried that I might have forgotten some secret, but it is very straight forward.

Get your equipment together.

Your quart jars and lids( use fresh lids every time you can unless you have those pretty glass lids that I haven’t tried yet but want to use because of their elegant beauty)

The large enamel pot for the boiling water bath, the jar caddy that helps to set the group of jars into and lift the jars out of the water bath

A tea kettle of boiling water to pour over the lids to sterilize them

A pot to boil water in for the removal of tomato peel

Colanders for your washed tomatoes and peeling tomatoes both

Drop the tomatoes into boiled water for one minute only… a little longer if the skin doesn’t readily peel away from the fruit, but watch it closely as too often I have forgotten and then the fruit of the tomato just isn’t as firm and pretty in the can or I should say JAR. You end up cooking it a little. It is easy to forget as you are peeling the tomatoes that you just put another batch in the hot water. I try to remember to put on the timer so I don’t let them sit too long in the water. Notice how long it takes yours. It can vary with the age of tomato and the variety all have their individual traits. Yes every variety of tomato has its own personality. Some are delicious and firm to slice, some are super watery and have so many seeds that they aren’t very good to can because your later soups and sauces made from them will have too many seeds. If you are making tomato sauce or soup, you can strain the seeds out or even squeeze them out of the tomato when you are preparing them for cooking…. So when you take the tomatoes out of the hot boiled water to loosen the skin… then you want to put them into a bowl of cold water or I often put them in a colander and run cold water over them.

As you are going along you are putting the lids of your jars in a bowl and pouring boiling water on them to sterilize them. You can let them sit until ready to screw on the filled jars. Do not take them out of their hot water bowl before or they start becoming non sterile immediately.

You get ahead of your self with the peeling or skinning of the tomatoes and filling a bowl… Then when you have them ready fill the jars. You can fill the jars to the brim with the tomatoes. Fit as many in as you can because after they are canned and out of the ” boiling water bath” they will be taking up much less space. See in the finished photos how much the tomatoes deflated and left space in the jar. Those jars were packed full.

The time in the water bath depends on the size of the jar or the type of vegetable. For tomatoes in quart jars it is about 45 minutes. After you take them out and set them on the counter to cool, you may need to tighten the lids. Do so CAREFULLY as these jars are boiling HOT. The lids will become concave as they become sealed in this vacuum cooling process. The ones that don’t seal you can process again in the bath. If you just can’t get one to seal, change the lid and if that happens to you again like it has for me for some unknown reason( I blame the redwood forest Elves), then just put it in the refrigerator and use it as soon as possible.

If you have enough after your harvesting projects are done, home grown and home made products make great gifts for the holidays. Take a jar of your canned or dried and oil and garlic soaked tomatoes to a friend for a gift. There is a lot of love in that jar.

Elixirs… Simple Syrup to Make Unique Cordials… Rose, Peppermint and Lemon Balm

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Simple syrup is the base for some wonderful beverages. I really don’t like throwing sugar in anything that doesn’t need it, but the special syrups you can use to flavor your sparkling water or your champagne cocktail aren’t just sugar… And they sure must be better that your cola or other store bought soda with the added caramel coloring and gums and ridiculous preservatives. Just water, sugar, fruit, flower, herbs… Last year I made the Elderflower Cordial. I made that again for my last night at Aromatherapy Class … the exam and last meal together. I met some really cool people there. Unique as ever you would run into anywhere. We all grew up a little together in the process of learning about plant essential oils and the reaction on the human body.

But the Elixer!

First,  making my elderflower… I had noticed that the wild elder flowers were starting to leaf and bloom on the highway as I drove up to San Francisco on Highway 1… awesome commute to the city, with the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. At the bottom of Bonny Doon Road where I turn up to my mountain paradise, I have seen the elders flowering here also. I stopped on the highway last year to pick some and stepped into and reached over poison oak to get at the aromatic flowers. Again a hazard at the riverside plants at the bottom of the road, the stinging nettles are around the elder flowers there. I tried to find a way to some plants without the nettles so close, and as I thought I had missed them, sure enough my thumb grazed a hairy stinging nettle stem and my foot, wearing a flat open shoe, brushed against some nettle that I had not seen. So that was an experience. I was worried that the red itchy blisters would be bothering me for days, but before I even thought to put the aloe vera and lavender blend on the rash, it was already diminishing in  intensity. Within hours it was gone. Whew!

So I came home, made my Elderflower Cordial for the class party, and it needed to sit for two days steeping so I was on schedule. Then later, during that sleep challenged night, I thought  wow… I have some blood oranges and wouldn’t they make a beautiful syrup! So I got up and boiled my water, added the sugar and grated the peel of and sliced the naked grated peeled blood oranges and set them in to steep. I had picked some mint that day and so I thought what a nice way to have your blood orange… with mint! And two days later, it was!

And the Color! Brilliant!

I must try it with tequila or vodka for a stronger beverage.

If you come up with some beverage ideas please share them with us.

The aromatherapy class assignment was to make foods and beverages to add essential oils to. essential oils I am learning are very capable of healing our emotions and our bodies. I added a drop of the lemon Essential Oil to the Elderflower cordial, and to the blood orange I added the Peppermint essential oil. Mint is great for the memory, for muscle aches,  and for respiration, clearing the sinuses as for allergy.

Try making an elixer with flowers, fruit, herbs. I am trying Roses and mint and lemon balm right now. I had it for my second aromatherapy class at a pot luck exam day. It was a hit and I didn’t steep it even for 24 hours. I will put the rest back into the refrigerator for a day and see if it draws more rose flavor.

I also tried a syrup made with Kumquats and mint last month that I took to a friends house. Everyone loved it and it is an interesting beverage for children and your friends who aren’t drinking wine. Festive and unique. Elegant in a wine glass or in a tall ice tea glass. A sprig of mint, a slice of lemon or orange, or a flower, violet, pansy, rose… Beautiful!

So…

Just walk out into your garden and pick some roses, some peppermint and that lemon balm that is growing wild everywhere and you keep pulling it out and cutting it back.

Container Planting, Be Creative

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Gardening is so not my thing. I like digging in the dirt, getting my hands dirty,  I love the results when the work is done right.  I just don’t have the stick-to-it attitude required to keep up with weeds and bugs and garden pests.  We don’t even have a lawn, we do however, have a deck and it’s great for the kind of gardening I can do.

Container gardening is fun and easy for those of us who don’t have a green thumb, and in places like Vermont where the danger of frost lasts well into May, it’s a way to start early.  Your potted plants can easily be placed in a sheltered area.

Be creative, use what’s available, experiment.  One year, I found an old dresser by the curb, it was pretty so I brought it home, took it out to my deck, tiered the drawers, and used it as a planter.

I’ve seen bathtubs, coffee cans, laundry baskets, washtubs, wagons and even an old commode used as planters.Use your imagination, hit the second hand stores and yard sales.  It’s a great way to re-use and re-cycle. Just make sure your container provides drainage, poke holes in the bottom and add an inch of gravel, stones, marbles or broken pottery so water has a place to seep. Do use large containers, the smaller ones can’t hold enough water on those hot summer days.

I searched the web and came up with a couple of sites with great ideas, one even has a dresser!

Jo is our gardening guru, I defer to her in all matters related.  Check our gardening section for more info,and If you have a question, click here.

The Winter Garden… Much to Do

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

When you live in a temperate climate, there is always something needing to get done in the garden. It gets chilly but the plants are still growing. Some dormant but the roots are getting strong and growing deep as the upper plant is resting. If you can still find bulbs at your nursery, pick them up and plant them in the ground or even in a pot. The daffodils and tulips were gone, but I just picked up some freesias and crocus. You can still order on line for spring planting too: freesia, ranunculus, anemone and lilies.

Time for the bare root trees and shrubs at the nursery. First check the sale plants. There could be just the peach you were looking for, potted in the sale area at a discounted price.

Special items such as tree peonies are bare root at the nursery now.

Something quite incredible… They take for ever to grow but the surprise of the stunning flower… Careful! Be watchful and aware or you might miss the bloom. I have some tree peonies that have only had one flower for 5 years… Can’t wait until it has several more. But patience….

In the milder climates it is time to plant roses and fruit trees. Right now without the rain from the gods, as we are having another very dry month in California and throughout much of the country, you will have to be sure to water. When you plant trees in the fall and winter, they get a strong start in the earth as the roots grow underground while the plant above is resting. Different for the winter blooming plants of course. I once planted a whole huge forest of Camelias when it was February into March and they were laden with blooms.

This isn’t really the right timing. The flowers fell and the plants were a bit stressed. The energy put into bloom takes much of the plants energy and planting them in bud challenges the plant and you should be careful to be sure it is deeply watered and even give it some fertilizer, like fish emulsion or manure tea. My Camelias are doing well now three years later, so it was fine in the end, but I am sure they were a bit miffed at being planted while they were so busy putting there energy into blossom… Excuse me…

Fish emulsion is a nice way to water in some nutrients. You can add it to a watering can if you have a small garden or potted patio or deck garden.

Manure tea? You can take your bag of chicken or steer manure and put a couple of handfuls into the watering can and steep for a half hour or so and just water it into the pot.

Cutting back roses, vines, pruning the orchard.

Adding manure and compost to the garden so the rain will wash it in during the winter months.

A bit of a workout in the Garden? Raking is a meditation and, if done briskly, a nice bit of a work out. Shoveling, digging, and planting a nice sized bare root tree is also good for the muscles and a bit of cardio and weight training, but be careful when lifting as the posture or lack of it that you exhibit can cause some muscle tension later. Use your core, don’t slouch and lift things from below. Bend and turn from the hips not the lower back. Remember that a slightly bent knee rather than straight knee is good support and protects the knees and the lower back.

I love to rake leaves. It is something you can do with a rhythm of motion and try to, instead of thinking of the things you need to do at work, at home, or even let go of that cloud of the confusing relationship your in, and listen…. The leaves blowing, the birds are all around always you just sometimes don’t hear their scuffling under the brush and low shrubs… soft little steps waiting to come in when you leave and pick at the bugs you have uncovered with the rake.

I just heard one of my Hawks out early this morning. So happy that they have settled in on my property again. Not good if you have the very small dogs or little chicks running around on the lawn, but I am hoping they take away some of my rabbits this winter. Sorry bunny’s, but the kids are gone and there is no more Easter egg hunting around here… At least at the moment. Leave the vegetables alone and go where the children are living down the road.

The rabbits ate all my greens that I planted this fall, chard, kale, lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower. I hope to replant soon as these are the good winter crops. The weather is so warm right now that I was daring enough to buy some seeds. Peas, sweet peas, get ready to plant these in March, but with this fair weather in February I might set some in the soil now.

Arugula in The Winter Salad Garden

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

In my aromatherapy class we are all asked to bring a meal in the evening as the class goes from 5 to 9:30 and you need to break and recharge with such a long span of time. A woman in the class brought a great fresh salad of arugula and radishes with green onions all from her garden in February. Here we are in the midst of winter and having a garden meal even with radishes sown in December! I always think of Radishes as being a early spring and all summer vegetable. Actually they don’t like it too hot or they go off into flower and seed even before finishing there lovely succulent watery, crispy, ball form.

Arugula does well in cooler weather. It will make it through the summer heat, but most of them go off like a rocket into flower… Another name for arugula: rocket. So we can plant the greens right now, all winter where there isn’t snow. It can even withstand a bit of frost.

I brought along some of my tangerines and sugared violets, mint and lemon balm leaves as a celebration of the fragrant plants we are studying. This health conscious group didn’t even complain about the white sugar… it was organic, but sugar and fairly white  nevertheless, but not a lot, just a dusting on the fragrant botanicals.

Bee Cause

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Bees have been disappearing at a alarming rate and  there is a certain chemical that is suspect for  being part of the problem.

Bees are known for producing honey, and while that industry is certainly an essential one, it’s not the only reason why we need bees. Governments throughout the world are trying to combat a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, first observed in North America in 2004 and which subsequently moved to Europe. America has lost 36.1 percent of its beehives since 2007. Perhaps because bees are considered “bugs,” they don’t get the same attention as a mammal facing extinction.


But we should be paying attention to bee survival: bees are essential to the human food supply. USA Today warns that if we don’t do anything to protect the bees, we might end up reverting to diets composed solely of bread and water. Insect pollination supports one-third of human crop growth, and of this number, honeybees are responsible for 80 percent. What sort of crops? Apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, cucumbers, strawberries and peaches, just to name a few, the article says. And since cows depend on bees to pollinate the plants they eat, we’d also be without meat if all the bees died off.

This link will give you more information on the chemical that may be partly responsible for the disappearance of the bees.  It gives you the opportunity to send your opinion to pressure the EPA to ban this poison from our environment and help the bees. Hurry, the deadline is tomorrow.

Fungus Festival… in Santa Cruz of Course!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Last weekend was the Fungus Festival in Santa Cruz. I haven’t been to one in years. Last time I went it was at our lovely, humble, small Santa Cruz Natural History Museum located in a beach neighborhood with a whale sculpture in front for natural history interest and for the kids to climb on and learn from and enjoy.

Now they hold the Fest at the Louden Nelsen Center, a rather nondescript building that functions as a community center just blocks away from the central downtown Pacific Avenue hub.

My buddy in mushroom foraging didn’t think the specimens would be very good as the last 6 weeks have been dry and the fungi found for display would not be beautiful any longer but drying up without the vibrance you would want to see in them. He was right. He didn’t join me.

I wasn’t disappointed, however as I had wanted to catch a talk on medicinal mushrooms and I did. The speaker was a local renown acupuncturist, herbalist, and writer, Christopher Hobbs. He spoke briefly on mushroom nutrition before getting into the medicinal history and use of mushrooms. The mushroom has been valued in chinese medicine for thousands of years. When I have more time I will share some more of this information.

There were mushrooms trinkets for sale, mushroom books, mushroom art, and mushrooms to grow at home. I bought some “plugs” that I can introduce into some of my rotting logs up here in Bonny Doon, California. I am so excited! I think I will drill a hole into some partially rotting logs and hope for some success. A mushroom garden for my culinary pleasure and health and well being. Maitake, shitake, blue oyster, hericium or lions mane, and the powerful reishi.

Hopefully I will find time to share some more information later… so many kinds of magic in a mushroom, healing, nurturing and the interesting ways that they grow and spring out of anywhere and everywhere.

Winter in the Garden… Some Thing’s Lurking Out There…

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

I am back home from Christmas in Colorado where there wasn’t much snow, but I had a few good days of skiing despite the bad conditions. Now back to the garden chores that I left behind.

We had a fierce wind in early December and I am still cleaning up from that. Raking is a good meditation. You are looking at everything on the ground, like the little volunteer seedlings that you might want to move somewhere else where they would have a good chance at survival.

If you are renting a house that has a yard, you may find the yard work a nice opportunity to get yourself outdoors. Even in the  winter a nice bit of raking can get your mind out of a rut and the fresh cool air into your lungs.

Just yesterday I was doing just that. I let the chickens out and stayed near them as just a month ago I had lost a few to a predator and I don’t know how or who got in through my fences and closed gates. I am raking away with my guineas and little chickens clucking around me and I look toward my little buddy Ozzie, and say a hello to him, and as I am talking to him looking at him 5o feet away from me, I see a creature skulk behind him passing on the trail to my house just 10 feet behind my dog OZ. I said “Hey you! What do you think you are doing!?”.

I couldn’t quite see what it was with it’s head hung low and close to the ground, but I think it may have been a bobcat. OZ was confused by my concern and he could see I was looking behind him. I ran around to see what it was and so did OZ. We didn’t see it but by now OZ had caught a scent.We didn’t find him and I stayed near the girls and kept a wary eye out while I continued my work.

I have another hour before the chickens will go into the coop on their own at sundown and I don’t want to walk away but I do have to use the powder room and remembered I have the oven on roasting vegetables for the vegetable stock that I want to make. I forgot about that. So I race in, turn off the oven, pull out the almost over roasted almost crisped vegetables and wash my hands and am turning to go back out and I hear the guineas going crazy( they are loud little birds) and the hens clucking in alarm and I ran outside. I see some feathers on the fresh dirt that I just raked two hours before. Fresh feathers then! Sh*T! Not again!

I race around trying to catch the scoundrel. I don’t see it. OZ is being helpful in scampering around trying to find the mysterious stealth visitor. “Too bad you followed me into the house OZ. Wish you didn’t have to shadow me always and you could have watched after the girls!” I am thinking…

I count the chickens and whew!… They are all here. It must have been one of the big dark cochins as the feathers that I see on the ground were almost black. I see both of them and I can’t even tell which one is missing feathers! Close Call!

Well maybe I’ll keep the chickens inside for a while and let the bobcat have a go at the rabbit population. I could use the help of a predator, but come on now little CAT, the chickens are easy prey, the rabbits are what you’re after!

Fall Bulbs! Buy Them Now! Plant them now for Spring Magic!

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Some of you are the lucky ones who have the bulbs multiplying in your gardens and fields every year. I have to plant my bulbs in gofer baskets and even when I do, those pesky rodents find them and climb into the basket and have a feast. Most bulbs do multiply over time if you don’t have these varmints sneaking around in your garden. My rodents and rabbits are multiplying, not my bulbs… That is just wrong.

Tulips are all about color. If you have room plant a fun assortment and enough to pick for bouquets.

Use them for color in the border all around as a landscape feature.

Grape hyacinths make a wonderful border display. They will multiply if the gofers don’t find them. They even have a sweet light fragrance and are fun in small bouquets.

Crocus along with the grape hyacinths make a smashing border display.

Daffodils…. mixed or in mass of yellow or white types. They naturalize and are wonderful to have available for winter and spring bouquets. The classic large yellow sturdy daffodil is King Alfred. Others that I love include Mt. Hood, Sterling,

Narcissus: Daffodils are narcissus and also narcissus refers to the multiflowered stems of the very fragrant little flowers like paperwhites, the very fragrant Barret Browning, Geranium, and the tiandrus daffodils like my favorites Thalia, Actea, and the Pheasants Eye.

There are still some bulbs at my local Garden Centers here in Santa Cruz.  Shop by catalog and see all the varieties to choose from and look for the height of the flowers. Some tulips are 12 inches and some 22 inches tall. It makes a huge difference as to where you are going to place it in your landscape urban or wild.

Peaches and Plums… Summer fruits gone too soon.

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

While plums and peaches have been out of my garden for a month now, when I was just back in Vermont at the Farmers’ Market, there was a great abundance of these stone fruits. There is nothing like freshly harvested peaches and plums.

Of all the fruits that are imported in the winter from other countries, the stone fruits just never make it here all right. They are picked too early and never reach a good ripeness in the markets or on your counter. The texture and the flavor are never right. The time to enjoy them is right where they are grown and picked in your area.

Alice Waters has been a proponent of seasonal local food and that we are meant to be eating what we can pick right now. Zucchini squash in the summer and acorn squash, that grow in the summer and yet can be stored in the winter should be appreciated and celebrated as a nice winter vegetable. So with the fruits… Plums and peaches are at their best and wonderful in the summer and in the winter, you bring your apples up from the cellar where they store pretty well… Or you can preserve your stone fruits in a jelly, jam or dry them( last summer’s Peaches!) to enjoy long into the winter months.

There are so many different plums that ripen to colors so varied like black, purple, rose, yellow, green… Varieties such as  Santa Rosa, Greengage, Jefferson Greengage, Victoria, Blue Tit, Black Ruby… And some plums can be dried into prunes to store and enjoy later. . In addition to these orchard varieties, there are wild fruits growing all around and yes there are plums out there along the roadside too…

When I was just back east there were apples everywhere I looked… Along the rivers edges that had just been over flowing and raging with the water from tropical storm Irene. I was looking at the river rock dispersed everywhere along my favorite walking road, and along with the round rocks in the riverside pasture, there were the round apples, the work of good old Johnny Appleseed of course.  All over the east there are apples, and who was it who scattered the plums all over the country… Peter Piper picked pickled peppers, but who was is that ran around planting all the plums? I don’t recall a story about her?

My parents have the purple leaved flowering plum, or perhaps it is the the purple leafed sand cherry an ornamental tree mostly planted for its lovely purply-red foliage color and the prolific fragrant flowering in Spring… Their fruit , though small is sweet and delicious, is virtually ignored. the foliage and flowers are said to be toxic so be careful around children and pets who will want to put almost anything in their mouths.

I have had several “wild” plums growing on my property and removed a couple because they were growing leggy in the shade, were looking rather sickly, and produced little fruit, but still I miss those few plums I might have had from them.

My friend Andre tells me that Wallace Stegner wrote about the plums in the mountain canyons outside Salt Lake City. Wild plums so wonderful an experience to this famed writer.

Peaches and nectarines are a blend of color from rose to pink to orange and yellow all on the same fruit. A color blending like on a mango. How does the Great Mother of Nature come up with these beautiful color schemes?

I had been wanting to make a fruit crisp for years. My Mom always made a great Apple Crisp, but I loved the Peach Crisp even more. I hadn’t found the reason to bake these in years( single with kids old and moved away), but when I saw the fresh fruits at the Farmers’ Market( moved from Londonderry to the Long Trail School a couple of miles away as Irene had left debris in at the Londonderry site), I just knew it was time. Cindy was cooking dinner for friends the next day and perhaps I could offer to make a crisp. At least when I am back east I know I will have dinner or lunch with the other MOMS, the Vermont Mother/ Sisterhood I like to refer to my group of women friends back there.

So here is a recipe for a Peach or Plum Crisp.

Squeeze an orange and add grated orange rind, and a quarter to half teaspoon of cardamon to the plum crisp.

The plum s on the left and the peach( and raspberry) on the right ready for the crisp topping to be added.

I baked these in round pans because I didn’t have a square pan. You can also make individual servings if you have the right size pan to bake them in. You want them to be deep enough so there is plenty of fruit below the Crisp topping.

So Cindy and I are both thinking about these summer fruits. She was just talking about her Peach Kuchen yesterday. Enjoy them now because they are almost gone. They are already gone in my California neighborhood.

And I discovered some information I wasn’t aware of at all. The magic powers of peaches and plums that are said to help prevent and fight cancers.

…. And looking at all things peaches and plums, I remembered this sweet book from my boys youth. We all loved it and I need to pass it on to some of their friends who are having babies. Each Peach Pear Plum… I know it so well… “Each peach pear plum, I spy Tom Thumb… Tomb thumb in the cupboard, I spy Mother Hubard”…. and I can go on… Very simple… I love the illustrations, and interactive guessing book for the youngest book lovers. You don’t even have to know how to read to enjoy this seeking and finding, “I spy”  book.

Enjoy