Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Adventures in Canning

I've found a fun way to use what I grow (and what I buy)--canning!
I started in July after discovering a plethora of canning blogs, starting with Tigress in a Jam. It was too late to join in the can jam, but really inspiring nonetheless. I have a cookbook obsession, so I picked up several books as well, notably Linda Ziedrich's two tomes, The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves.
  • I started easy, cherries in brandy. I had experience making limoncello, so that was a no brainer--except for picking out a decent brandy.
  • Next I tried peach butterscotch, decadence in a jar. Thanks, Well Preserved!
  • My first pickle was watermelon rind, an unusual southern thing I had never tried. I love using the whole fruit. I tasted it before canning, and it was pleasant even though I am not a huge clove fan. The verdict will come when I share this at Christmas.
  • Next I decided it was time to try a jam, using the Italian prune plums I love and a little cardamom. This did not set very well, so I definitely need practice, but it is great in oatmeal and yogurt.
  • Okra was the big success in my garden this summer. I froze much of it, but I had to try pickled okra, a pickle success too.
  • Summer was fleeting by this point, so I infused more liquor, this time with lemon verbena from my garden, a recipe from a neat little book called The Herbal Pantry.
  • My Grandma made amazing pear preserves, but mine need work. I tried a raw pack, and I guess "they" are right that you should cook the pears. The texture is not super, but the flavor is just as great as when they were ripe. They also look lovely in a brown sugar syrup.
  • Pear jam was also not a complete success. I ended up with "pearamel," another decadent sauce.
  • Pears also went into vodka, though I think the subtlety of Asian pears is overpowered by the spices I included.
  • Quinces became a bit of an obsession in late fall. The preserves are waiting for the perfect recipe, and the jam set beautifully. The quince brandy may be too much of an acquired taste.
  • When organic citrus appeared in the stores, I was eager to make marmalade. Put 'Em Up! has a simple recipe. It seems much easier than jam (I guess the pectin in citrus helps). This was super fun and tasty.
  • Oranges also went into the vin'orange from Imbibe magazine.
  • Finally, I wanted to make something savory and I found this red onion relish at Kitchenette.
A half-year of canning down, much more to go.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Obsession with my new garden

Here it is, just like when I planted it, minus some leaves.
This garden is on hold until spring, when I'll fill it out, but in the meantime, I am happy that I chose plants well--not always a guarantee with me--especially with this Itea. Look at that color--and it's holding its leaves in this brutal cold!
The Clethra is not as impressive, though, full disclosure, I let the plant get a little water stressed in its pot before I planted it. Of the two varieties, one is definitely more attractive, but this is where my not-always-choosing the right plants comes out.

When plans go awry

After the cold-tender Dahlias and Hibiscus were cut down, a huge gap in my front yard garden plan revealed itself.
Right there in the middle, where the evergreen Pieris used to be, and where now sits an opportunistic violet, is the space begging for a tall, narrow plant.The Pieris is now is a shady spot, where it is much happier, even sporting buds for spring's blooms.
The new plant does not have to be evergreen, but it does need winter interest if not, so maybe a beauty berry:
But I have been wanting a deciduous native holly, so that sounds like a good plan. I'll just have to cringe when I see the empty space until early spring.

I love it when a plan comes together

I doubt I have ever posted photographs of my "driveway garden." It really just doesn't photograph well. I broadcast a shade-loving mix into the empty area soon after moving in, and over a year later it finally looks decent enough for a photo. I get copious blooms in spring and summer--and there are even some Dianthus and forget-me-knots blooming now.
When I heard our electric meter was going to be replaced, I added the stepping stones so my plants would not get trampled, and I think that tiny bit of structure made all the difference.
Maybe next spring I'll get around to replacing/repairing the cheap solar lights and putting up a trellis to cover the meter and cable box.

Need Motivation. . .

. . . and chainsaw. Half cord of apple wood, waiting.

Winter Fresh

The first harvest from the winter garden was radishes and delicious spinach, which we ate raw with a caper and raisin pasta. I did not thin the radishes too much, but they are still producing well enough.
There are many more radishes waiting to be plucked from the greenhouse, along with slowly growing mesclun mix and carrots.
We've got dill, parsley, and cilantro to get through the winter, plus tons of arugula--if you have not had fresh arugula, you have not had it!
The fava beans looked pretty sad this morning when I opened the greenhouse flap. They might only function as a cover crop.
The mystery Brassica (broccoli?, Brussels sprouts?) are doing great though.
So, I'm no Eliot Coleman, but the winter garden at the very least provides some salad and herbs. More important, it will give me a great head start in spring.

Hawkhead returns

I am thinking this is the same Cooper's Hawk that I saw eat a morning dove last year. You can see it has grown and its coloring has changed. It flies over the yard from time to time, and I often hear a ruckus in the neighbors' trees--after the birds all scatter.
Yesterday, I almost had a perfect view of it when it landed in a small tree mere feet from me. Too bad I moved before I realized it was the hawk, and it flew to this oak tree perch. It stayed a while, and I felt bad that I might be disrupting meal time after a squirrel made it all the way across the top of the fence without becoming a meal. The birds that visit my feeder are under constant threat, as (more happily) are the voles. Cornell says I can take down the feeder for a few days, but I figure the birds understand the threats to their existence. Nature's way and all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fall Color

I guess fall makes up for what's coming.


New Garden (Clethra, Itea, Hydrangea, and Serviceberry):

Neighbor's tree (I think an oak):


Mexican sunflower:

Japanese maple:

Oak-leaved Hydrangea:



Dahlia and Camelia:

Blueberry and Calendula:

Asparagus berries:

Fall crops

Radishes are doing great--I am experimenting with not thinning them and letting them fight it out. French breakfast radishes are so narrow, I think it will work fine. In between the rows are the spottily germinating beets and parsnips.

The spinach and arugula seedlings I purchased from the farmers' market are doing well, with the latter recovering from the cabbage worms.

The fava beans--a delicious winter cover crop, are coming in nicely. (here with cilantro)

The dill and parsley are happy too.I found lots of lettuce cropping up--from the plants I let go to seed in summer. I spaced them out today and thinned the carrots.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pest Problems

I've been pretty lucky in the pest department. The exception is the cabbage worms (technically caterpillars), which devour everything in the Brassica family (broccoli, arugula, etc.) They are pretty easy to hand-pick (then drop in a bowl of soapy water). I dispensed with a dozen in one day. This is the culprit, a pretty white butterfly: They are declining now with the cold nights, and the seedlings have survived, albeit with some holes.
Now my only problem is identifying my various Brassica plants--in a rush before summer vacation, I put my seedlings out without labels, not really confident they were going to make it (next year, I'm getting a light setup). I eventually planted them: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale, but I won't which is which for a while. I can identify the kale (above). I'm really hoping this big one is a brusssels sprouts plant. but broccoli would be great too:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New, Native, Shady Garden!

The rest of the shrubs are finally planted--that only took a few weeks (including two very long days of digging and pulling English ivy)! We now have two large beds where there was basically nothing before.

At the rear end of the fence, Clethra and Itea join an existing oak-leaved Hydrangea. The Clethra and Itea both have white flowers in long stalks or racemes: Clethra in summer and Itea in spring. The Hydrangea sort of has blown-up versions of that flower. All have great fall color.
At the front end of the fence, Itea and Clethra join the newly planted serviceberry and an existing red-twigged dogwood (you can barely see the red twigs on the left in this photo, and the maroon Itea blends in with the mulch at the base of the tree).
In between the two beds, there is a pile of the grass (and weeds) I removed to make the rear bed, along with fallen leaves. That pile will break down to make a good base when we connect the two beds in spring. I'm thinking a large Fothergilla will be a good choice there (a cousin of witch hazel, another small tree I was considering).
I really want to get some sweet shrub (Calycanthus) in there somewhere too.
Maybe some Aruncus (goat's beard).
But I'm far from finished. I have a list of smaller scale plants to finish out this native garden bed. All of the spaces between the shrubs will be filled with an assortment of the following shade lovers:

Pologonatum (Solomon's seal)
Tiarella (foamflower) and/or Heuchera (coralbells)-- more white racemes (do you sense the trend?)

(I know this as black cohosh, but it has many common names ... and more white racemes)
Anemone (the native white one)
and definitely some ferns and other interesting native ground covers. Yes it looks sunny in these photos, but this is fleeting morning sun. For most of the day, this area is shaded by surrounding houses and trees.

I have given this bed much more consideration and planning than any before. Starting with the larger plants (one tree and several shrubs of various sizes) was vital. Next spring the test will be to place the new groups of plants appropriately and in the right numbers--repeating elements such as color and flower form. I just have to not overdo it with the white racemes. It is hard to resist buying one of everything at the garden center, but having large clusters of the same plant is important.

This is in contrast to the rear garden bed, which is a hodgepodge and more of a "test garden," where I figure out what works. There will likely be lots of improvements to that garden next summer, including creating continuity with this new garden. I think the flower forms of the lavender, blazing star, and butterfly bush will tie in nicely, but I am fine with having a riot of color for cutting back there. Now what will I do until spring?