Garden Musings–September 2008

I can’t believe it’s the first week of September. I’ve savored every day of this summer and I look forward to savoring the rest of it, too. It’s been excessively hot, in the mid- to high-90s and over 100 degrees almost everyday since late June with a record 31 days in a row of these temps.

Still, I love the summer and warm weather. even if it means smoke from wildfires and we had a lot of smoke this year. I’d be happy with 80 degrees 365 days per year. Although I do enjoy a good, soaking summer rain and how it soothes and feeds my garden. We had only one of those this year, back in late June before the heat wave struck. It was wonderful.

As a result of the excessive and unrelenting heat, our garden grew slowly this summer. Our vegetables ripened one or two at a time. However, since a 3-day cool spell last week, along with the application of my now infamous Alfalfa Tea over the weekend, our tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are beginning to ripen in larger numbers. We just may have a feast next week.

Oddly, the grapes have begun to ripen, too. Perhaps the sudden cool spell fooled them. Usually, we have to wait for them until the end of September. We’ve already emptied one grapevine of its bounty. However, our heat wave has returned, so we just may have to wait a few weeks for the rest.

We sat outside tonight in balmy 90-degrees and had dinner on our patio as the sun set. For dessert, we picked strawberries and white raspberries, then watched the cottontail rabbits forage amongst the grapevines and flowers. This is summer at its best.

To Your Gardening Abundance!

Cara

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Add comment September 5, 2008 heavenlygardens

Alfalfa Tea Is a Great Plant Tonic

Did you know that your garden plants love herbal tea? Not just compost tea. I’m talking about alfalfa tea. The high calcium content of the alfalfa provides a much-needed boost to garden plants and, especially, to vegetables.

Throughout the season, I like to give my garden a tea tonic boost. I usually alternate between compost and alfalfa teas. Since we have approximately 4 to 6 more weeks of good weather before our first hard frost, I decided to give my garden plants a final alfalfa tea party this week.

Most gardeners I know use alfalfa pellets, which they buy at the feed store. Since our animals eat hay, I use fresh alfalfa that is left over from the bales we purchase. I’m not fond of cleaning up the messy, wet alfalfa after the tea’s served, so I decided to make a giant tea bag.

I used an old pillowcase and stuffed it with the fresh alfalfa hay and a cup of Epsom salt to add some magnesium to the soil. Then I tied it closed with a large twist tie. Voila! A giant, sealed tea bag. I placed my giant tea bag in the bottom of the garbage can and began to fill it with water. Much to my surprise, the tea bag floated. So, I dunked it! Over and over until it was soaking wet and floating at the top of the water.

I use a 30-gallon plastic garbage can with a locking lid. You can position the can in the sunniest part of your yard. Remember to set it well away from your house because as the tea steeps, it acquires a rather pungent odor. Stir it each day for 3 to 7 days and then give your plants a drink. I usually give each plant one half gallon or one gallon of this tea, depending on the size of the plant. Add water from your garden hose to dilute the intensity.

The next day I wondered what to do with my giant tea bag. I dried it in the sun, then emptied its contents into my compost pile.

To Your Gardening Abundance!

Cara

2 comments September 3, 2008 heavenlygardens

A Garden’s Labor of Love

Today is Labor Day and most Americans are celebrating the social and economic achievements of U.S. Labor by taking a day off.

Not so for gardeners. We are a hardy lot. Like good parents, we know that we must tend to our gardens daily to reap their bounty. So I was in the garden early this morning, weeding and watering, in anticipation of tonight’s early cold snap.

The fruits and vegetables look healthy in spite of the fact that the last two nights the temperatures have been dropping 20 to 30 degrees. Tonight the weather person predicts it will get into the 30s and recommends covering frost-sensitive plants. Three days ago, it was almost 100 degrees and it’s only September 1st. Isn’t weather amazing?

In spite of, or perhaps because of, our temperature extremes, I picked the makings of a great and very large salad for our afternoon picnic with some friends. It contained endive, romaine lettuce, Mexican squash, yellow straight neck squash, celery, Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, green, red, and orange peppers, onion, garlic, both onion and garlic chives, basil, oregano, and savory.

I mixed olive oil and lemon juice for a dressing. Another dressing that adds zest to salads is Steel’s Gourmet Salad Dressings, which are available in Honey Mustard and Sweet Ginger Lime at CarbSmart.

One of the goals I set for myself each summer is to reach a point where the majority of the food on our table is from our garden. For today’s salad, everything except the dressing was from my garden.

How wonderful that felt!

To Your Gardening Abundance,

Cara

4 comments September 2, 2008 heavenlygardens

Fresh, Healthy Garden Produce Delivered to Our Table

I just love it when I can say that everything on our table is organic and from our garden. Today was one of those days.

Most mornings I take a walk around our yard to determine what’s ripe and ready to be picked that day. Then I decide on our meal menus. This morning I filled my basket with an apple, pear, 2 very large carrots, broccoli, and watermelon, as well as green beans, tomatoes, an onion, and garlic. What a great selection!

The apple, pear, carrots, broccoli and watermelon immediately landed in our <a href=”TRISTAR PRODUCTS JLPJ Jack LaLanne Power Juicer – Juice Extractor“>. I put the green beans, tomatoes, onion, and garlic aside for our dinner.

Tonight, I made my now infamous

Green Beans and Tomatos

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups trimmed green beans
1-2 large Beefmaster tomatoes cut into cubes
1-2 cloves garlic

Directions
1. Snip off the tips of the green beans, then cut or break each bean in half.
2. Use the olive oil to coat the pan.
3. Slowly heat the olive oil, then add the green beans.
4. Quickly stir fry the beans to get them started cooking.
5. Add the chopped onions and stir for 2 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
6. Add the cubed tomatoes.
7. Stir in the garlic and continue to sautee until the tomatoes soften and you can pierce the garlic with a fork.

Serve hot as a side dish. Make it a main dish by adding brown or basmatic rice.

To Your Gardening Abundance!

Cara

Add comment August 29, 2008 heavenlygardens

The Western Gardener’s Bible

Gardening in the western United States poses challenges that are quite different from those that gardeners face elsewhere.

Not only do we endure raging heat well up into the hundreds in summer, we (and our plants) suffer temperature extremes in both summer and winter that can range up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit from day to night. Prickly sage and tumbleweeds are rampant and seemingly spring up from nowhere even without water.

In addition to temperature extremes, the western states, including Alaska and Hawaii contain a range of climates from coastal to tropical to desert to rainy to snowy to high desert (at 4,500 feet above sea level and higher). And then to the opposite extreme up to 134 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, which is 282 feet below sea level at its lowest point.

If you’ve moved around a lot amongst the Western states, as we have, the Western Garden Book (Sunset Western Garden Book) is, in my opinion, the gardener’s bible when it comes to answering to some of the most perplexing gardening questions.

This 768-page book contains some of the most detailed climate zone, plant selection, and plant growth information I’ve ever seen in one place, as well as a comprehensive garden terms glossary.

It contains great photos, as well as color drawings of plants, and a wealth of information, including charts that compare various varieties of everything from fruit trees to eucalyptus to even gardening tools!

If you plan to garden in the West for more than one season, the Sunset Western Garden Book is a must.

Do you have a favorite gardening book? I invite you to share it with us.

To Your Gardening Abundance!

Cara

Add comment August 27, 2008 heavenlygardens

Blue Mist Spirea—Caryopteris

Blue mist spirea flowers create a misty blue effect waving in the breeze.

Blue mist spirea flowers create a misty blue effect waving in the breeze.

Blue Mist Spirea, aka Caryopteris, is one of my all-time garden favorites. Its blue-green leaves and bright blue airy flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The shrub grows in a rounded habit, neatly filling in empty spots in the garden or acting as an accent or border plant. The flower spikes wave gently in the breeze making the entire shrub seem like it’s dancing. Check this plant out at your local garden center or at one of the online garden catalogs such as Dayton Nurseries, which has 4 varieties: Bluebeard, Dark Knight, First Choice, and Sunshine Blue, which has yellow foliage.

Some companion plants that complement the Blue Mist Spirea include asters, campanula, black-eyed-susans, blue fescue, butterfly bush, limerock ruby coreopsis, and Shasta daisies.

Add comment August 25, 2008 heavenlygardens

Frost Protection for Your Garden

Last week, I mentioned that my tomato plants often last through the first few frosts, as long as I cover them. One year, I planted the tomatoes next to the east side of our home where they could absorb heat from the house as the nights grew colder. Although it took longer for them to ripen because they were in sunlight only through the morning hours and shade from about noon on, they produced an amazing amount of tomatoes, more than 500 weighing between one half and 2 pounds. This, on only 6 plants. So I just couldn’t bear to let them die before their time. They’d been such good producers.

Amazingly, I was still harvesting tomatoes on December 31st that year, in spite of a few light snowfalls. And, much to my delight and surprise, the plants still had about 50 large green tomatoes on them.

By New Year’s Eve, however, I was tired of going outside each evening to cover those gorgeous plants, so I decided to pick all of the tomatoes and allow them to ripen inside. To this day, I still wonder how long they would have continue to produce tomatoes if I had continued to water and cover them. As far as I know, no one else in our area has had such a long tomato run.

My point is this: Autumn will arrive in a few weeks. Depending on where you live, you may have another 4 weeks or another 8 to 12 weeks of reasonably nice evening temperatures before the first frost arrives. Now is the time to purchase row covers if you haven’t already.

You can purchase row covers at local garden centers, Lowe’s, and local nurseries, as well as online at such web sites as Gardens Alive! which sells
Heavy Weight Row Covers that keep your plants protected from early Spring or late Fall frosts. Their polyethylene Tunlcover™ Plant Protector can cover an 18-foot row of vegetables.

I recommend ordering row covers early and then setting them up, so you’re certain you know how they work. There’s nothing worse than being outside in the rain, sleet, or snow wrestling with the row cover and ending up in a frozen tangle.

Plan ahead and you can slow down your garden’s slide into Winter, as well as enjoy late tomatoes, peppers, and other wonderful veggie treats.

To Your Gardening Abundance

Add comment August 23, 2008 heavenlygardens

Garlic Eggplant Delight (for Garlic Lovers Everywhere)

Eggplant is one of the most misunderstood and often disliked vegetables in the summer garden. I’ve come to the conclusion that oftentimes people dislike eggplant because the dishes they’ve tasted have not been prepared properly.

Some restaurants where I’ve ordered cooked eggplant have actually served it only partly cooked so that, in essence, it has a bitter, raw taste and a chewy texture. Not at all appealing, even to an eggplant aficionado such as myself.

Raw eggplant is an acquired taste. Okay, I admit that cooked eggplant may be an acquired taste, too. However, add some garlic, cook ’til tender, and you have an eggplant dish that any garlic-lover can enjoy. I’ve converted many friends into eggplant eaters with this recipe.

I modeled this recipe after a dish I had many years ago in a Chinese restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area. After many failed attempts, I finally achieved eggplant nirvana, so to speak because it tasted like the dish at the restaurant. Over time, I’ve modified this dish to reflect my own taste buds.

Pick eggplants when they are full size and their skin is firm, yet gives a little when you press it.

Garlic Eggplant Delight
1 medium Black Beauty eggplant or 4 to 5 Japanese eggplants
5 to 6 large cloves garlic (or more to taste)
1 small Onion (optional)
1/2 can drained, pitted black olives (optional)
Oregano (to taste)
3/4 cups virgen olive oil
Salt
Pepper

    1. Cut off the eggplant stem and its skirt.
    2. Slice the eggplant one quarter inch thick. Then cut the slices into 1-inch-wide strips.
    3. Layer the strips of eggplant in a glass bowl, salting each layer lightly.
    4. Let the eggplant strips stand for at least 30 minutes. The salt drains the bitterness from the eggplant in the form of a brown liquid and allows you to cook it using less olive oil.
    5. If you include the onion, slice it into strips.
    6. Dice the garlic into small or large chunks depending on your preference.
    7. Drain the liquid from the eggplant and rinse it. Drain it or pat it with a paper towel to remove the excess water.
    8. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.
    9. Add the drained and rinsed eggplant strips to the oil, turning them to lightly coat with olive oil.
    10. Cook the eggplant strips until they begin to soften.
    11. Add the onion strips (optional) and continue to saute until they are translucent.
    12. Add the garlic and drained olives when the eggplant is completely soft and saute until the garlic is translucent and soft enough for a fork to pierce it. Adding the garlic last and cooking only until just done provides a more intensely garlicky flavor to this dish.
    13. Stir periodically to prevent the eggplant from burning or sticking.
    14. Remove from the heat.
    15. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve alone or over rice as a main dish or with crackers as an appetizer. Serves 2 as a main course. Serves 4 as a side dish. Truly delightful.

Many Europeans enjoy bread with each meal. You can serve Garlic Eggplant Delight with French or homemade bread. One of the best web sites I’ve found for healthy low-carb bread and crackers is Carbsmart. Their Dixie Carb Counters Easy No-Knead Bread Mix comes with directions for both traditional oven-baked bread and bread machine-baked bread. The oven-baked bread recipe is on their web site. If you prefer crackers with this dish, Carbsmart also sells several delicious low-carb crackers and chips, including R.W. Garcia Soy & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips, so you can serve Garlic Eggplant Delight like a dip. Just put it in your food processor.

However you decide to serve Garlic Eggplant Delight, enjoy.

To Your Gardening Abundance!

Cara

Add comment August 20, 2008 heavenlygardens

Planting the Cool Weather Garden

August is the perfect time to plant your cool weather garden. The wonderful thing about Autumn is that you can extend the growing season, even in colder climates, by planting vegetables that thrive in cooler temperatures.

Kale, some lettuces (such as Romaine), broccoli, peas, chard, endive, and spinach all grow well in cooler temperatures (see a list of cool weather vegetables below). I also plant more carrots, so the rabbits have something to nibble on. Amazingly, carrots I have planted in the fall have thrived through the winter months and have yielded both carrots and lush carrot tops in the Spring. So has endive, sometimes providing us with salad as early as February or March.

I buy my vegetable seeds in local stores and also from some seed catalogs. I’ve had success with both Burpee and Park Seeds. Both companies have online ordering as well as hard copy catalogs you can request.

Now is also the time to check the seed catalogs and seed company web sites for their end-of-season sales. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to visit some of those seed web sites to see what I can add to my Autumn and Spring gardens.

Here’s a list of cool weather vegetables you can plant now for harvest later this fall. Park Seeds has all of these vegetable seeds available on their web site.

Beets
Broccoli
Brussel Sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Collards
Dandelion
Endive
Escarole
Kale
Kohlrabi
Leeks
Lettuces
Peas
Radishes
Spinach
Turnips

Leeks also seem to overwinter well in our yard. If I plant them now and again in the Spring, we’ll have a Spring and Autumn harvest. If you’ve never tried leeks before, you’re in for a taste treat. They have a milder onion flavor than onions and you can use their green tops in soups and stews and as a garnish on meat and vegetable dishes.

For those of you who are diehard gardeners like me and refuse to let your gardens go fallow before their time, start planting that Autumn garden and you and your family will enjoy the fruits of your labor well into the winter months.

To Your Gardening Abundance,

Cara

Add comment August 18, 2008 heavenlygardens

August–The Perfect Time to Plant Your Autumn Garden

I just had lunch with another gardener I know. Sara and I often swap tips for growing bigger, healthier vegetables. We read seed catalogs throughout the winter months and plan and plot our spring and summer gardens when the snow is still two-feet deep outside.

We had a good laugh when we overheard the ladies at the next table say that they were getting ready to pull out their vegetable plants by the end of the month because summer is almost over.

Over? Sara and I looked at each other and laughed. We’d both just finished planting our Autumn gardens. Our mutual goal is to garden as close to year ’round as we can. I don’t know about you, but my tomatoes will last right through the first few light snowfalls as long as I cover them each night before the frost strikes.

And tomatoes are certainly lonely without lettuce and a few other cool-weather vegetables like beets, spinach, kale, chard, turnips, peas, and mustard. August is also a great time to plant rosemary, if you haven’t planted any yet because rosemary will remain evergreen in most cold climates in the 48 contiguous United States throughout the winter months. More about planting cool-weather crops on Monday.

August is also the perfect time to make sure you have everything you need to ensure that your cool-weather crops will grow well even if there’s an early frost. Back in the good old days, I used to grab my husband’s old shirts and toss them over my tomato plants to keep the frost at bay. When I mistakenly grabbed a good shirt he’d planned to wear to work the next day, he decided there had t be a better way for me to extend my gardening habit into winter.
 
The next day, that darling man went online and found what is now one of my favorite gardening web sites, Gardens Alive! a must-visit site for all avid and organic gardeners. Gardens Alive! sells beneficial insects like lady bugs, organic fertilizer, organic seeds, and Heavy Weight Row Covers that keep your plants protected from early Spring or late Fall frosts. They also sell a polyethylene Tunlcover™ Plant Protector that can cover an 18-foot row of vegetables. I’ll write more about Gardens Alive! in future posts.

On Monday, we’ll explore the bounty of the cool-weather garden.

To Your Gardening Abundance!

Cara

It’s just not Summer without a Garden

Cara’s Heavenly Gardens is publilshed three times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Add comment August 15, 2008 heavenlygardens

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