...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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sabbath Rest: Charles Swindoll Reflects on Autumn

Of all the seasons, autumn is my favorite. There's a feel about it, a distinct and undeniable aura that surrounds it...Those leaves are a part of it. What color, what artistry! Crisp frosty mornings also help. What a refreshing change from oppressively hot afternoons and weltering nights! Along comes Thanksgiving, a nostalgic reminder that God has indeed 'shed His grace on thee.' The firewood is cut. The pumpkins are getting bigger. Our hearts are overflowing.

Let's think of autumn as a season of reflection. Time to gain new perspective. To stroll along the back roads of our minds. To think about what. And where. And why. Such visits through the museum of memory never fail to assist us in evaluating the way we were and establishing the way we want to be. This implies change, another reason autumn seems to represent a season of reflection. It's during this season the foliage changes. And the weather changes. And the time changes. Birds make their annual journey southward. Squirrels finish storing their nuts...With incredible consistency, all creatures in the natural world act out their individual pageants without external instruction or some script to follow.

Quietly, without flare or fanfare, God moves upon our lives, taking us from summer to autumn, a season when He mysteriously writes His agenda on the tablets of our hearts. Patiently He waits for change to begin. Without exception, it does. And we reflect on that as well.

Close your eyes for a moment and consider what God has been doing deep within your heart. Allow me to remind you of something you may have forgotten. It's a quotation from the New Testament:

...God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in His grace until His work within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.

(Philippians 1:6, TLB)

If autumn, the season of reflection, has come, expect your roots to deepen. Count on it. Yet be assured of this, the Lord God specializes in roots. He plans to deepen you and strengthen you. But He won't overdo it. He is sovereignly and compassionately at work. We are more impressed with the fruit. Not God--He's watching over the roots. We like the product. He emphasizes the process. Remember, "He who began...will keep right on...until His work...is finished."

So we can boldly declare, "Come wind, come weather. Welcome autumn!"

--from Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Winter-prep for the Burrow

Or...the garden comes indoors.

Frost. That end-all moment when life in the garden changes seasons "for good" and the soil takes its rest. The first serious frost hit our area recently, prompting me to make that final shift into fall and winter mode. The last three scrawny tomatoes sit in the kitchen window, a last few peppers hit the crisper drawer. Was it really only a week ago, I pulled this last basketful of salad-worthy produce from my garden? That little plot of ground has been more than faithful this year, providing a long season of fresh fare to the family's dinner table. How quickly things can change--yet another larger-life reminder that all gardens offer to the attentive grower.

One of the transitions that lessens the starkness of a growing season's end is the march of potted plants to their indoor setting. (OK, I'm the one who marches, the plants just come along for the ride.) I particularly like to grow some of my herbs in pots--despite their less prolific growth in pot versus in ground setting. I grow them in the pots for the very purpose of bringing them indoors. The rosemary plant on the left is now making its second winter appearance indoors and is as hearty as ever.

But indoor gardens are completely different from their outdoor cousins, so for the next couple of posts, I'm sharing tips on houseplant care from Emilie's Creative Home Organizer.

  • Regarding ferns: ferns love a tea party. Dump your leftover tea into fern pots. A used tea bag planted in the soil will read beautiful, healthy ferns. Ferns are a bit sensitive to chlorine in tap water, so let the water sit overnight before watering. This allows the chlorine to evaporate. Ferns also like to be misted.

  • Save that old barbecue grill that you plan to replace next season. Use this one as a conversation piece by painting it, filling it with soil and planting flowers or vines in it.

  • Melted snow contains minerals that make for good plant water.

  • Pots of sweet basil in a near a doorway repel flies.
  • Repot only when needed. Spring is the best time because it favors new growth.

  • Before using an old pot to replant in, clean it thoroughly with hot water with a squirt or two of regular dish washing detergent. Let the pot soak for several hours in a solution of one part chlorine bleach to eight parts water. Rinse well and dry, then reuse. This will help to prevent the spread of plant disease.

  • To make an indoor plant display, cover the floor with a heavy-duty plastic bag to protect it from water or soil stains. Then cover the plastic with ceramic tiles and set your potted plants on the tiles.

  • Four tablespoons of dish washing liquid in one gallon of water will get rid of red spider mites on your plants. Spray the plant weekly until there are no signs of the mites. I also had mold in the soil of some of my plants. I used a solution of one tablespoon of vinegar in two quarts of water, and watered weekly with the solution until all the mold was gone.

  • Rather than throw the water out every time I boil eggs, I let it cool down and water my plants with it. It is packed with growth-stimulating minerals.

  • On the same line, cool the water in which you've cooked spaghetti or potatoes and use it to water your plants. The starch is good for them.

  • On the kitchen window, a row of herb plants that you can grow from seed or buy in three-inch pots will not only be decorative, but will add some distinctive flavor to gourmet dishes.

  • Brighten the dining room with an indoor window box of impatiens or leaf lettuce.

  • Going on vacation? Simply put all your house plants in the bathtub with a few inches of water. They will drink the water as needed.

  • Schedule your indoor plant feedings the first of every month. You'll never forget to do it, and your plants will reward you with renewed vigor and beauty.

  • Dust plants with a hair blower set to cool.

  • Cracked walnut shells, marbles, or stones can be used to provide drainage at the bottom of a houseplant pot.

  • If children or pets keep knocking your plants over, try double-potting. Put the plant and its original pot inside another, larger pot with rocks or gravel between the two.

  • Cats are territorial, so don't position a pot in the cat's favorite place in the sun. Also, if your dog likes to people-watch through the window, leave that spot free.

  • Plant a garlic clove beside a houseplant to keep all types of pests away.

  • If you're not sure whether a houseplant needs water or not, poke your index finger a inch into the topsoil. If there is still moisture, don't water. If it's dry, do.

  • Water from an aquarium is perfect for fertilizing houseplants.

  • During cold winter months, a room filled with houseplants will benefit from the moisture provided by a portable vaporizer.

  • Here's a novel but effective way to grow parsley indoors. Slice sponges in half and sprinkle with parsley seeds. Arrange the sponges on dishes in a sunny location, keep them moist and watch your parsley grow.

  • Treat an ailing houseplant by dribbling a tablespoon of Castor oil on the soil in the pot; then water thoroughly.

  • If you think that worms in the soil of your potted plant may be eating away at the roots, place a slice of raw potato on the surface of the soil in each pot. The worms will crawl out to get at the potatoes, and you can capture them.

  • If you have the space, you can grow vegetables indoors. Lettuce does especially well when grown under fluorescent plant lights. Plant your lettuce garden in the basement, attic, or anywhere the temperature stays between 65 and 70 degrees in the day and drops a little at night.

  • If you pinch new shoots at the growing points, you'll encourage branching, which produces more growth for flowering.

  • If you suspect that one of your houseplants has a pest problem, attach a pest strip, then cover the plant for a few days with a clear plastic bag. By the time you remove the bag, the plant should have perked up.

  • All plants need adequate light if they are to grow properly. Here's a way to test how much light your plants will get in a given location: place a sheet of paper where you want to put a plant, and hold your hand a foot above the paper. If your hand casts a sharp, well-defined shadow, you have bright light. If all you get is a blur on the paper, you light condition is shady and you will have to choose your plants carefully or consider supplementing the available light.

Houseplants need a little more TLC overall than those that grow in the natural elements. Don't we all! When cold weather sets in and we come indoors for good, those little chance encounters by the side of the garden no longer present themselves, and we just might get a little lonesome for face-to-face visits.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, now is the time to turn thoughts more intentionally and appreciatively toward remembrance of those whose company we enjoyed under the summer sun. A post is coming soon about how you can take some of that stock from your summer canning and drying and kick it up a notch for a homespun holiday gift.

Happy re-positioning!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sabbath Rest

Care to join me as I read my daily devotions? Chuck Swindoll shares this one that I like a lot! While some of these critters aren't favorites of the gardener, and some are only frequenters of the wide-open country garden, they nonetheless make their appearances in the larger gardening world. They also make great characters in this cautionary tale that reminds: be yourself!

Once upon a time, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world. So they organized a school.

They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming; in fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying, and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to drop swimming and stay after school to practice running. This caused his web feet to be badly worn, so that he was only average in swimming. But nobody worried about that--except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. He developed "charlie horses" from overexertion, and so got only a "C" in climbing and a "D" in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was severely disciplined for being a non-conformist. In climbing classes, he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there.

Swindoll concludes the devotional with this final advice:

Stop comparing. Enjoy being you! There's plenty of room in the forest.

(Or in this blog we might substitute, room in the garden!)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ode to Yellow

It may be an insult to call someone yellow-bellied, but in the growing world, this color is magical. What other color shows up even as the last spring snow is melting only to hang around until the crunchy, dead leaves of autumn are clustered around it? So today, I offer a photo essay to that quirky, faithful friend, a photo essay taken from the store I've collected this year, as well as from the albums of my own quirky, faithful friends.

Yellow, thanks for showing up one more time in the mums and the turning leaves, seeing us through the last of this growing season. Know that we'll be looking for you next spring in the crocuses and daffodils, the forsythia and the tulips.

(And just so this post doesn't seem too whimsical, I added this link. Thoughts of forsythia made me remember that fall is an ideal time for planting new bushes. If you're of a mind to put some in your yard soon, here are a couple of starter-links as you research your options.)

"Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so." Genesis 1:11

May we be as enthusiastic to fulfill our "purpose" as our yellow friends appear to be!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Last Round of Planting for the Season

It is the time of year for making that last round of fall planting before hard freezing occurs. Depending on where you live, it may be too late to get another crop of lettuce and radishes, but peas, spinach and garlic can be planted late to "over-winter" with the peas and spinach offering you a crop very early next spring!

I planted these underneath the cucumber trellis (formerly known as an old, abandoned piece of playground equipment) so that I can throw a blanket over it on a light-frost night, thereby prolonging the season. But the garlic will stay in all winter. It's how garlic grows best.

If you've done your soil amending well, you should still see some of these fellows around when you dig to plant the garlic. Their presence means your soil is still worth their efforts!

I'll leave you with a few links to surf as you consider growing your own garlic...a promise to yourself that you'll pick up this gardening thing again next year!



And if you prefer, a video link as well:


Happy digging!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Garden Pilgrimage...the Forgotten Garden

This month's garden pilgrimage is to a Southern Indiana gardenscape. What makes it unique is its history, for as a garden, it has been abandoned for hundreds of years. Centuries ago, Native Americans grew their crops here along the Ohio river, but now all that is left are commemorative waxworks in a little state museum, painted papier mache tributes to the corn and squash and sunflowers that were once cultivated here.

They call the place Angel Mounds because Angel is the surname of those who last privately owned the land. But now you could call it angel mounds simply because this land once so fruitful for man has been left to the angels for its tending.

Garden Helper came along on this pilgrimage. It"fit" with his Native American unit in school, so the outing began with the perfunctory visit to the museum.

It quickly proceeded, however, through a back door that led to the forgotten gardens and token rebuilding of native villages.

A large footbridge separates the museum from the acres of mounds, a bridge crossing what was once a useful stream to those farming here. Almost as though the water itself participates in the story-telling, that fish and canoe-laden stream has become nothing but a tiny thread of water, hardly even requiring the bridge that still spans it.
What did we find on the other side?

We found that eventually, even snakes abandon some places.
But the trees remained--growing ever larger in girth.

We found tiny butterflies, smaller than the smallest fallen leaves, sitting quietly in the sterile dust.

We found we walked a world more prone to flaunt its texture than its color.

We found our focus drawn away from what was near at hand to explore what was background and hidden behind...that which was most obvious grew fuzzy and less interesting to us.

(At least, that's what accompanied my imagination. I can't say what thoughts roamed through the mind of the young one as he silently looked up into the boughs of the ancient trees.)

We found that if we took our leisure we discovered treasures hidden in the litter, like the lavender dragonfly who posed for me here.

And, under that inspiration, we found that if we took our leisure, we discovered treasures hidden in the litter of our minds, as well.

We found the wind likes to work and to play here.

And flowering weeds came into their own, receiving the dignity of being the most beautiful thing still humble enough to grow here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sabbath Rest--That Which Is Written in Stone

(I've had to take a break posting to make space in my schedule for a death in the family. I'll be back next week. In the meantime, join me contemplating the parts of a garden that last longer than just a season...)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Apples Aplenty

Apples aplenty! That's what you realize you have, when 20 minutes of work in the orchard becomes 20 hours of work in the kitchen. So many choices for things to do if you picked a versatile variety!

Today I'm taking one more look at jelly-making; this time, using the no-sugar-added pectin option. With especially sweet fruit, you can save on calories by making these jellies. Or, if it needs a little sweetening, use a bit of honey. And speaking of saving, if you've been canning with me through out the summer, you might now have some half-pint relish jars ready to recycle. Don't leave them sitting 1/8 full of vinegar in the back of the refrigerator. Pull them out, wash them and recycle! This is the time when canning actually starts to save you money instead of costing. All you may need to buy as you recycle jars is a box of new lids.

You may need to buy lids and rings--both are available option. Make the decision based on the quality of the rings you have. If they are showing signs of rust (see pic of lid on left as compared to good ring on the right) then you should throw them away. Rust can affect the quality of the seal on the jar in canning.

This sparkling pink apple juice came straight from the apples as per the work of my juicer. The juice combined with the pectin (brought to a hard boil that can't be stirred down) served as the full work of this jelly recipe.
If you are making nothing but jelly and have a juicer like mine, all you need to do is cut off the blossom end of each apple and feed it into the machine. But I wanted to use the pulp for other apple recipe--like apple cake and apple-almond bread, so I cut the apples into chunks and discarded the cores and seeds. Here you see a bowl of pulp that measured about half the pulp I gained from the pitcher of juice shown.

Most boxes of pectin come with a variety of cooking and canning instructions right in the box. You'll find jelly-making is pretty easy if you have a juicer, or if you take the super-easy short cut of simply buying bottles of juice.
If you want to go the most traditional route, the boxed pectin also gives directions for you to make the jelly by simmering the fruit in water and then allowing the "mush" to drip through a jelly-bag overnight; but to save time and trouble while maintaining the freshness of flavor, I bought a juicer. I use it most specifically for my apple and tomato recipes.
That's not to say, though, that I don't have and use a few recipes for healthy juices just for the drinking. In fact, I used the excess juice of about 4 apples and combined it with the juice of 4 carrots and a couple of stalks of celery. This simple juice blend completed a reviving snack when combined with a handful of roasted almonds. (Also left overs from the ones I'd chopped some of them for the apple nut bread.)
While the apple jelly processed in the canner, I perused recipes in an old church cookbook I bought at a garage sale. I found one I decided I have to try. Although it is not an apple recipe, it had too promising a name to ignore: a dessert called the "Better than Robert Redford" dessert.

One thing about the no-sugar-added recipes you should know, they tend to be somewhat runny compared to their sugar alternatives. If you do add some sugar (or honey or Splenda) to give it body, you have to bring the mixture back to a boil and boil it hard for 1 full minute after adding the sweetener--but those directions are likewise included with the no-sugar-added pectin.

A last note, if you feel like making the jelly a little less mundane. Check out the website link for a recipe on apple-rosemary jelly. (It is shown with the regular apple jelly above.) And if the children turn up their noses at herb jelly, say what I say: live a little!


Thursday, October 7, 2010


We laugh, we cry, we say goodbye...The garden season is ending soon. Friends make the comment, "I picked the last tomato yesterday." Or, "I finally pulled out my cucumber plants today." I, too, and reduced to a mornings picking yielding only the fixings for a single salad. But even as I say goodbye to some of my big-producers, even as they begin their days decomposing into their next state of matter, if you will, nevertheless, I find delightful surprises presenting themselves in my garden.

For instance, I too, considered pulling this cucumber plant a week or so ago but left it a little longer. I went back to it again this week with the same intention. But as I pulled the vine from where it had grown into a patch of marigolds, I found one delightfully full-grown cucumber ready to pick. A last two blossoms made me decide to leave it for yet another week.

And what should decide to pop up in front of the dying zinnias? Baby dill seedlings. I pulled the "intentional" crop of dill weeks ago, but now have new dill to use in seasoning the dilly green tomatoes or dilly green beans I'll no doubt soon make soon as a fast-approaching frost utterly ends the days when things ripen on the vine.

Another self-seed payoff came in the form of baby onions. I left an onion flower lying in the onion patch a few weeks ago...and today I'm seeing new sprouts right between the lettuce and radishes and the mature onion plants. We'll have green onions with the few last salads of the season.

And when I pulled the last zucchini monstrosity, I found under one of its broad leaves a crop of tender new basil plants. I'd let some of the other basil go to flower, and though that parent basil's leaves turned a little bitter, this new basil is the beneficial result!

Taking my cue from the garden itself, I decided to bring that spirit indoors, tucking little vases of wildflowers--some of the last color from the wildflower garden--in nooks and crannies of the house.

Happy surprises!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Much Ado about Apples...

Our apple saga left off last time with a return trip home from the orchard. The story picks up today with a classic lunch menu: peanut butter sandwiches, enhanced with the honey apple butter, a side of garden salad tossed in creamy cucumber onion dressing and a handful of fresh raspberries. As we ate, we perused the cook book for apple recipes.

Garden Helper became Kitchen Helper for the afternoon. His first recipe to make was yet another childhood classic: candied apple rings. (Although we made apple slices.) The recipe calls for a cup of water, a half cup of cinnamon candies (red hots, we used to call them) and a quarter cup of sugar.
Kitchen helper stirred while the candy melted and as the apples simmered, taking periodic breaks to warm his hands "over the fire." The apples should simmer until transparent but not to the point of growing mushy.

We considered other recipes. Kitchen Helper discovered apples are quite the versatile food! But for now, he was ready to change hats once again and become artist in residence.

The apples cooled in the juice, and as they were cooling, the artist took apple rings with the cores intact and used them for apple prints.

Although the exposure leaves something to be desired, I thought I'd include a shot of the "finished work" when the apple prints were complete. Between this one and the large, red apple painting he made, a new season begins on the refrigerator art gallery.

In the end, a tasty jar of cinnamon candied apples is ready to go into cold storage, and we have enough red hots and candy corn left for a dish on the side board. A place of honor, considering the sideboard is usually reserved for homemade bread; but candy trumps bread this time of year anyway!
Next up, we'll use more of the apples...probably in jelly and muffins. Happy peeling!