...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tell Me the Dirt on It...

By mid-summer, you might be finding your plants slowing their production. In part that may be due to the passing of the season, but it may also be due to a soil bed that is growing weary and under-nourished. While you can't exactly till 6 inches of fabulous fertilizer into your full garden bed while plants are still making camp there, you can do a few things to enhance the quality of the soil. For starters, grab someone who might be watching Saturday morning cartoons and have him start tearing the weekend newspaper's ad bills, the non-glossy ones--if you're finished reading them--in strips while he watches his shows.

Now while he's busy, here's a good link to see the basics of initial "broadcast" fertilizing--the kind you do prior to spring planting, as well as ways to help plants like your tomatoes during the full-blown season.


So what are your options for mid-season fertilizing? One is to buy a jug of fertilizer that you can sprinkle around on the ground, leaving it to dissolve gradually and sink into the soil. You can also make compost tea to use, if you do composting. Some suburban neighborhoods don't permit compost bins in backyards, so hauling in bags from a nearby garden center might be your nearest hope for getting viable compost to use.

As for me, today, I used some age-old kitchen amendments on my garden. If you spend any of your mornings having coffee and eggs while reading the newspaper--well, you've made a great start in helping your garden soil along. These two links explain more fully why you might be adding these to the garden instead of the trash or recycle bin.


Is that child or grandchild finished shredding the paper for you yet? Here's an article you can show him so he knows why he was doing that strange chore for you.

And you, the gardening adult, might want to pay particular attention to the warnings at the last of that link about which newspaper to use. I never use the glossy ads just to be on the safe side of the heavy metals issue.
I like to use these treatments when I have an area of the garden that is "finished" with one plant but not yet host to another.

I took those newspaper strips and added them to just such a place in the garden. Finally, I find a benefit in my overly-rocky garden soil. I can put those rocks to work holding my half-buried newspaper in place until it decomposes enough that it won't blow away.

Meanwhile, my little helper looks for places to scatter the egg shells and coffee grounds. Two pointers--you want to dry out the coffee grounds a day or two before putting them on the garden, as they tend to invite mold if you put them out wet. Also, you can powder the egg shells as a great calcium supplement, but if you'd like for them to also repel cutworms and slugs, leave them as larger pieces, hand crushed, with a few sharp edges.

Today's final picture: a home-remedied swatch of garden soil in statio. Only beautiful to the visionary, but today's resting soil prepares for tomorrow's fall-crop planting.
Happy gardening!

Sabbath Rest: What Little Bird Is Enjoying Your Garden?

Often, our thoughts are so channeled toward our backyard gardens as places dedicated to our own subsistence work that we forget our neighbors might enjoy the view of our gardens through their own kitchen windows. Today's sabbath rest visits a garden that touched a life in a way many would hardly imagine.

It comes from a book called What Difference Do It Make? which is the sequel to Same Kind of Different As Me. These books offer a look into the lives of those who have a passion to help the homeless, as well as of those homeless people they touch. This particular excerpt is about a man who wants to take his gift as an artist to help addicts and ex-cons forget their troubles through creating art, even if only for a bit. " 'I don't know why art works, why it helps,' he told his world-weary audience [of homeless men.] 'I'm not a therapist. All I know is that it's powerful for me.' " In time, he made it powerful for them, too.

Time, almost like time on a gardening calendar--for him to build relationship with the men, and for him to uncover and clarify his own faulty perceptions and expectations. But eventually, he took his little corp of artists into a homeless center's garden and created something magical.

"Beautiful gardens surrounded the mission--flowers, vines and trellises sheltered in leafy canopies of shade. One day, Don took a handful of men outside and told them. 'Pick anything you want to draw. But whatever you pick, you're going to draw it eight times.'

"It was an exercise in commitment. 'Commitment and follow-through is hard for addicts,' Don said. 'They want something that's immediate. When something doesn't work quickly, they move on to something else.'

"One man picked a vine-covered trellis. But as he sketched and sketched, he focused on the trellis itself, struggling over and over to render the spots where the thin, white wood crossed. It was as though he didn't see the vines or the leaves or the flowers at all. Meanwhile, he became more and more frustrated and impatient.

" 'Slow down a little,' Don coached him. 'What else do you see here? Do you see leaves? Shadows? Colors?'

"The man tried again, this time relaxing a little, sinking into the moment, less intent on the hard detail and more open to the total picture. After a few more tries, he showed his piece to Don, who was impressed with what the man had achieved in the end.

"Art, said Don, teaches something we all need to learn, especially about people who are different from ourselves. 'To see things the way they truly are, sometimes you have to look more deeply.' "

I would venture to say gardening can be some people's "art" in this respect.

Never stop seeing your garden "new every morning."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Garden Pilgrimage

Sometimes the greatest thing you can do as a gardener is to go on pilgrimage, visiting other gardens. Sacred ones especially can offer a deeply rich experience. You may have visited botanical gardens in your earlier days as a non-gardener, but I think you'll be surprised how much more these gardens "speak" to you now that you've done some of the work of tending a garden yourself. Even if the places you visit are vastly grander than your own humble backyard plot, these gardens will still seem to "belong" to you in a way they never have before; and when you do set foot again on the soil of your own garden niche, you'll feel vastly more tender toward it.

Today, I visited a beautiful retreat center, and returned with this photo journal of my walk there...first through the formal gardens with their statuary and ordered beauty, then into the wilder wooded grounds of wood-chipped trails and quiet, sunken creeks. Take a walk here with me. Sometimes it is good to just let the weeds grow for a day in your own garden--it won't make that much difference with the weeds in the ground, but could do wonders for the ones in the soul!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today's Canner Recipes: Tomato Juice and Pepper Onion Relish

When my ripening tomatoes spill over from their spot on the kitchen window sill to also fill the dining room window sill, and the garden basket is full, too...then I know I have enough tomatoes to make tomato garden vegetable juice. And because the canner was hot--and I had almost as many peppers as I had tomatoes, I also made pepper onion relish.

There are a couple of ways to achieve tomato juice. The canning book I have advised you cut off the blossom end, remove the core, put the tomatoes and other veggies for the veggie blend (carrots, celery, green pepper, onion and parsley) into a sauce pot and simmer or 20 minutes before pressing the mix through a food mill to get the juice.

If you do a lot of juicing, however, a juicer is a handy investment.

You can see here, I have my juicer on the kitchen counter. The fruits or vegetables go in the tube at the top, pulp goes into the bucket on the left and juice into the pitcher on the right. It's quick and easy, although rather messy, but then, working with tomatoes always is. After I finished with the tomatoes, I added fresh parsley from the garden, carrots, celery and cauliflower--all leftovers from earlier canning recipes or from my salad fixings.

No matter which way you get your juice, the next step involves heating and seasoning it. Here is where you can do some personalizing. I wanted mine to have a little kick to it, so I used some Cajun seasoning mix, along with a few more fresh herbs from the garden. You'll notice I have a thermometer clipped onto the pot. The goal is to heat the juice to 190 degrees, but not to boil it. I like the clip-on thermometer because I can periodically check it while doing other things. For instance, while the tomato juice heated, I prepped the jars with lemon juice.

If you're working with an old canning book, you're not as likely to see lemon juice in the ingredients list. That's because tomatoes, historically, were more acidic. Modern varieties have had some of the acidity bred out of them, making them easier on the stomach, but less likely to preserve well in the water bath canner, at least not without a little help. A couple of tablespoons of lemon juice per jar makes up for the lack of acidity.

I also had time to get my peppers (10 green and 2 sweet red) and onions (1 1/2 medium-size) chopped for the relish, as well as a couple of hot red peppers. I covered them with boiling water first for 5 minutes, and then again with more boiling water for 10 minutes while I finished with the tomato juice. After the tomato juice was in the jars with a fresh sprig of thyme and their caps and rings were applied (see canning salsa post for how this step is done), I put the quart jars in the canner and set them to process for 45 minutes. Remember, to check the water level. Jars need 1 to 2 inches of water at a rolling boil above them for the full 45 minutes.

Then, I began working on the vinegar for the relish. The vinegar mix included 4 teaspoons of mixed pickling spice in a spice bag, 3 1/2 cups of vinegar, 4 teaspoons of salt and 1 1/2 cups of sugar, although if you need to avoid sugar, you can substitute 2 T of a liquid non-sugar sweetener. The vinegar simmered 15 minutes before I added the drained pepper mixture. Then it simmered for another 10. Next, I removed the spice bag before putting the relish into the hot pint jars.

By the way, you might notice the soup pot on the back burner. It's simmering a bisque thickened not with the authentic ground crustacean shells, but with the pulp of some of the extra veggies and herbs that I put through the juicer. (Not the tomatoes, though.) I also floated a little bacon in it as it simmered, just for flavor. The bisque along with an Italian herb bread (simply a white bread with Italian herb seasoning cooked at the rapid bread setting on the bread machine) will be tonight's entree. Not much waste for the compost pile from today's canning endeavors. About the same time the relish is ready for the canner, the tomato juice is finished processing.

While the relish is running through its 15 minutes in the canner,
I'm going to show you a picture of the tomato juice. I want to be sure you are not surprised by what you see if you try this recipe yourself. Home-canned tomato juice separates like you see here. Commercially processed juice uses flash processing with equipment costing thousands of dollars. If you want home-canned tomato juice, you'll probably have to live with the separation. On the positive side, if you float a sprig of thyme or dill in the juice, the jar still looks attractive; what's more, I've heard some upscale restaurants serve the "tomato water" as a pricey beverage option. You can have that tomato water simply by waiting to shake the jar until you've skimmed a little off the top when you open the jar to use.

Finally, the jars of relish and juice are cooling on the cutting board. After a while, I'll check the seals, making sure the lids don't flex up and down at their centers and that I can't pull the lids off with my fingers. If they're sealed, I'll add them to the pantry shelf. If not, I'll add them to the refrigerator for use soon or else re-can them. And speaking of the pantry shelf, a jar of mixed vegetable pickles from last summer should make a nice side dish for tonight's blue "bowl" special.

So the canner's benediction for today would be: may your own kitchen waft with that acrid smell of tomatoes and vinegar soon. And if a drop-by neighbor should sniff the air and ask how long your grandma is staying for this visit, then you'll know you've found your place in the summer canners' hall of fame.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Saving Seeds for Next Season

(As usual, my summer gardening shoes are left to dry at the bottom of the back stoop, as barefoot I clean the day's harvest.)

I find this to be one of the most interesting times in the gardening year. It is the time when I feel immortal as I walk down the rows. Summer plants are at every stage of development: newly planted seeds are just popping their first few leaves out to the sun, others more grown are full-bodied and offer hearty fruit on the vine, and still others grow weary of life and are ready to retire to compost the soil of a future generation. I watch my shadow fall across them all as I run inspection, looking for promising specimens for seed-saving purposes.

These dill plants are going to spend a while drying in a paper bag, then I'll put the seeds that fall from the plant matter into an envelope, label it and store them for next spring. (Although I found my dill re-seeded itself just fine without my doing a thing!)

Many different garden veggies can be purchased as seedlings. Flowers, too. But, if you plan to garden year after year, you might want to save a little money by saving a few seeds. I started today's project by doing a little on-line review. Here are a few websites that have both nice reading and good instructional videos to watch:

(This one has a dandy little list of tips and warnings if you scroll down the page a bit.)

(If you look to the side of the screen on this website, you'll see links to videos on the topic, too. For instance, this one tells how to save cucumber seeds:

You'll see in the videos how very easy it is to harvest seeds for future gardening needs.

Here I chose one of the better-looking green peppers from a pepper plant and simply plopped down on the back steps, sliced it open and scraped out some seeds. I'll let them dry for a few days and then put them in an envelope labeled "green pepper seeds, garden 2010" to save for next spring.

I also harvested zinnias for seed. I found the "ehow" website to be beneficial here, too, both with a text article and a video link:



Finally, I took a few green beans and used the "threading" technique. They'll hang in my kitchen window for a couple of weeks before I break open the pods and put the seeds in an envelope, label and store them in a cool dark place for next spring.
Time to go out and pick that yellow-ripe cucumber now, so I can get some of next year's seeds of promise from it. Happy seed collecting!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sabbath Rest

(Youngest son explores at a bed and breakfast ranch in French Lick, Indiana.)

Psalm 83:1-3 Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.
For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.

What is hidden in your garden?

Thy Hidden Ones

Thick, green leaves from the soft brown earth,

Happy springtime has called them forth;

First faint promise of summer bloom

Breathes from the fragrant, sweet perfume,

Under the leaves.

Lift them! What marvelous beauty lies

Hidden beneath, from our thoughtless eyes!

Mayflowers, rosy or purest white,

Lift their cups to the sudden light,

Under the leaves.

Are there no lives whose holy deeds--

Seen by no eye save His who reads

Motive and action--in silence grow

Into rare beauty, and bud and blow

Under the leaves?

Fair white flowers of faith and trust,

Springing from spirits bruised and crushed;

Blossoms of love, rose-tinted and bright,

Touched and painted with Heaven's own light

Under the leaves.

Full fresh clusters of duty borne,

Fairest of all in that shadow grown;

Wondrous the fragrance that sweet and rare

Comes from the flower-cups hidden there

Under the leaves.

Though unseen by our vision dim,

Bud and blossom are known to Him;

Wait we content for His heavenly ray--

Wait till our Master Himself one day

Lifts up the leaves.

--from Streams in the Desert

As for me, the suburbanite who rarely sees such "may flowers" in my daily landscape, I look instead for the flowers I don't naturally notice, despite their being everywhere. Many are "hidden" from my desensitized eyes, and I'm often surprised how many of them I find when I really look for them.

Succession Planting in the Smaller Garden

I mentioned in the last recipe post that I had my timing a bit off with my successive planting. Here's what I meant by that. Mid-July usually finds me pulling out the dying remains of some of my first summer plants--zucchini and bush beans, for instance. If I hadn't practiced successive planting, this would be the end of the growing season for those veggies. But, because I do successive planting, I have a longer growing season. I start my growing season by planting partial rows. Then a few weeks later, I fill in the row a bit further with new seeds or seedlings. Sometimes, I'll take space that a spring plant occupied and that is open again in summer and add a few more plants in that spot. With a little planning, I have summer produce most of the summer season. If you notice above, I have squash at three different stages of development right now. Below, you'll see beans in the same arrangement, from an aging, dying plant in the lower right corner to a robust bean-producer centered to a brand new seedling centered lower in the photo.
A second way to look at successive planting is by the seasons. As summer planting moves into fall, I'll show you what that looks like in the garden.

Finally, I'll offer up a link not only for information on successive planting, but also for pointers on garden arranging in general.
Gardening post is a little short today. I spent a lot of the day busy canning, but I'll catch you up on that next week!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fit-for-Company Zucchini Bread

I'm reminiscing about recipe clubs. Remember those groups? Club members would get together once a month and bring a sample of a favorite recipe for all to share, then everyone would exchange recipe cards. I remember getting a grape pie recipe that way once on a quaint little personalized card. "From the kitchen of..."

Today, we do a lot more of our recipe exchanging online. The upside of that arrangement is you have access to thousands more recipes all the time. The downside is no more free samples. Still, I'm taking a day away from the hot work of canning to invite you to a recipe party at my place. I'll make you a loaf of my favorite zucchini bread, and while we eat we can study over my new 100th Anniversary Ball Blue Book.

I'm in one of those in-between phases in the zucchini patch. Most of the older plants are getting too tired to produce much and the new ones aren't quite ready yet. I'll put in a gardening post soon that is about timing your successive plantings, and then hopefully do a better job of taking my own advice! So, not much zucchini today, certainly not enough for zucchini pickles. But plenty to offer the 2 C of grated zucchini I need for this recipe. And, because I had a small bowl of blueberries left over, I'll throw in a few of them as well.

The recipe begins by having you beat 3 eggs to a light foam. Add the grated zucchini, followed by 1 C of oil, 2 C of sugar and 2 tsp of vanilla. If you'd like to save on a few calories, replace some of the oil with applesauce and some of the sugar with Splenda. Blend these thoroughly.

Next, use a separate bowl to mix the dry ingredients, which include:
3 C flour

1 tsp salt

1tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 T cinnamon

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp allspice

After mixing the dry ingredients, blend both bowls' contents together. Lastly, fold in the blueberries. If blueberries aren't in season, raisins (3/4 cup) substitute nicely. This recipe makes enough batter for two half-filled loaf pans (as shown) or one large loaf. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes. The clean toothpick test works for doneness. Finally, a dusting of powdered sugar is fitting as this sweet bread is more like a cake than a bread.

After I make the tea and take the good china from the hutch, I'll be ready to serve you. I'll show you a nice recipe for blueberry basil vinegar. I found it in this new cookbook. Let's make it, too, before the close of blueberry season.