2014 Fall Sale & a Friendly Plant Swap

Have you ever been to or hosted a plant swap? A few of my friends have started getting together in the spring and in the fall to trade plants and I attended for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It’s a really nice way to get rid of the plants you need to thin out.

plantswapplants

photo credit: Modern Sauce, the lovely hostess of the 2014 fall plant swap

I took oregano, lemon balm, sedum, bee balm, lilies, and cannas. Others brought hostas, hellebores, and iris. Everything found new homes, and then we piled in a car and went to the wonderful Green Thumbs Galore Fall Driveway Sale. Everyone bought a few plants and we joked that next year we’ll be bringing cuttings from our purchases to the swap!

There are lots of reasons plant swaps are fun. You get to hang out with people who have at least one common interest. It’s a fun way to get ideas on how to deal with problem areas in your yard or garden. We talked about things we’d like to do, someday. One person wants to learn more about propagation; I want to learn more about fruit trees. Plus, you might end up with some new plants!

One attendee said the best thing about a plant swap is that if the plant dies, you can blame the person who brought it. That seems reasonable enough to me!

From the plant swap, I brought home some hellebores, for the only shady area in my yard, and some rosemary cuttings. The hostess had a big rosemary plant. It’s the only one I’ve seen that survived last year’s extra hard winter. I’ve got 10 cuttings in water. If they root successfully I’ll take most of them to the next swap in pretty little pots.

greenthumbssaleplants

Photo credit: Emily Fazio, plant swapper extraordinaire!

At the sale, I got Russian sage, a crocus, and some gaillardia. I’ve wanted Russian sage for years. It is a beautiful color and has a really wonderful texture. A friend used to grow it and include it in gorgeous bouquets of cut flowers. Gaillardia is simply cheerful. I love the bright color and long blooming period. The crocus was completely an impulse buy — I’m not even really sure what the bloom of a crocus looks like!

The combination of the plant swap and going to the sale was great. I hope that it becomes a set in stone tradition.

 

The Apple Jelly Saga — Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my first attempt at making apple jelly. (spoiler alert: it didn’t go well) As promised, this is the sequel to that post. It’s a good thing the apple trees were productive this year…

The Second Attempt

Making true apple jelly means extracting the juice from the apples. In all my research, it seemed that most folks cooked the apples until tender then hung them in a cheesecloth bag or strainer over night and let the juice drip down into a bowl.

Since making the jelly on my own was a failure, I decided to get the family involved on the second attempt. The apple trees grow on the family farm, after all. We didn’t have any cheesecloth, but we did find a new, clean, white undershirt — you know the kind commonly called a “wife beater.”

We cooked down the apples, then pulled the shirt over a huge mixing bowl. Of course when we put the apples into the shirt, it just fell down to the bottom. Since we are creative people, and there were about 10 of us trying to come up with a solution, we knew there had to be a way! There was: duct tape.

We taped the shirt to the bowl so that it wouldn’t fall down, put the apples in, and covered the whole mess. The next day…there was about ¼ cup of juice in the bottom of the bowl. I still don’t understand why our brilliant idea didn’t work. But, since it takes about 7 cups of juice to make a batch of jelly we were out of luck. Again.

At this point, I was ready to abandon the entire idea of making a sweet, preserved treat from the apples. I was leaning heavily toward slicing them and making half-cooked pies to freeze and use all winter. Because apple pie, right?

The Third Attempt

Then, I came across this recipe for Rosemary Infused Apple Preserves, and noticed that

I left the rosemary instead of removing it like the recipe instructed.

I left the rosemary instead of removing it like the recipe instructed.

you used the whole apple — no need to extract the juice! I had to try one more time. Happily, the same day I made preserves, I’d promised to show a cousin how to bake homemade bread. We ended up with fresh, hot bread and homemade preserves. At the same time! It was a moment of culinary bliss.

This recipe resulted in something that seemed more like applesauce than it did anything else — but the most flavorful applesauce I’ve ever had. Since I’m a rebel, I didn’t really follow the recipe. Here’s what I did instead:

  • Peel, core, and chop the apples
  • Cook until they are soft, with a few sprigs of rosemary
  • Taste
  • Add the desired amount of sugar (I used significantly less than the recipe called for)
  • Squeeze the juice of a lemon in
  • Cook until the sugar is dissolved
  • Mash and stir until you have a consistency you like
  • Load into clean, sterilized jars and process in a water bath


I haven’t tried it yet, but these preserves would be delicious with a strong cheese. Or maybe with a pork roast. Definitely on breakfast toast. Next year, I’m skipping the jelly attempts and going straight for these preserves!

Bringing In the Trees

I like to have a few houseplants. They cheer me up in the winter, and a few potted plants scattered through the garden in the summer add interest. Plus, it brings back childhood memories. My mom had a schefflera that she bought in a small pot — maybe a one gallon size — that grew into an enormous plant that she loved. I remember her washing each leaf individually with soapy water when it got infested with aphids.

But things can get out of control…Right now, I have a red rubber tree, an orange tree, a orange treelime tree, a palm tree, a hibiscus, a corn plant (that would become a tree if I put it in a bigger pot), a peace lily, and a cactus — and a house with a few, small windows. Each one of my houseplants has a story, and I love them all, but it may be time to let go of a couple.

The palm and peace lily were part of a dish garden that someone sent when my mother-in-law passed away. In my mind, they are reminders of her. I don’t think I could part with them unless they were going to stay with one of her other children.

Similarly, the orange tree belonged to my father-in-law, aka Pap or Pappy. He took care of it for 30 years! He kept it on a table and supported the branches with strings attached to hooks in the ceiling. He didn’t take it out for the summer; it stayed on a table on a little sun porch where his washer, dryer, and deep freezer were. Several times when we visited for Christmas, it had tiny oranges all over it. They never got quite as big as golf balls, but they did exist!

When Pappy’s loved ones noticed what meticulous care he took of the orange tree, they added to his citrus collection: he also had a lime tree and a lemon tree. My brother-in-law took home the lemon tree, but we ended up with both the lime and the orange. They are not doing as well under my care. They are living, but in the last three years we haven’t seen an orange. (Probably because I’m not a faithful with the fertilizer. I understand they are heavy nitrogen feeders.)

My children gave me the cactus. It is one of the toughest plants I’ve ever seen. When they gave it to me, it was very small, and had one of those colored balls from another plant grafted on top. The ball on top collapsed and seemed to rot away. I gave it up for dead and put the pot in a window sill in my laundry room and forgot about it. At some point, the pot got knocked off and it landed on its side between the wall and the dryer. Unbelievably, when I found it, it was still alive. I repotted it and it started growing. A year or two later, it developed black spots all over one side (it may have gotten too cold next to the window). Again, I figured it was a goner, but it recovered again. That thing will probably outlive me and my kids!

The red rubber tree came from Aldi — the grocery store. It was $2 and in a one-gallon pot. It was cute. The red rubber tree LOVES living at my house. It’s huge. Giant. Behemoth. It’s five feet or so tall, and at least three or four feet around. I think that I love it simply because it appears to love me so much. Alas, it’s the one that really needs to go — partly because it’s so giant, and partly because it doesn’t honor anyone’s memory.

But the point of this post is that things can get out of hand if you have too many houseplants. We brought the citrus trees in last week when the temperature threatened to dip near freezing. The orange tree is in the middle of the kitchen and pokes me every time I open the oven or the fridge. I have no idea where the rubber tree will go. Every window will have as many pots crammed around it as possible. At least we’ll have good indoor air quality, right?

 

The Apple Jelly Saga – Part 1

Last winter, I planted several apple trees — two in my yard, and four at the family farm. Of the two in my yard, one is doing spectacularly. It needs to be pruned, but is healthy and growing well. The other was the victim of a small accident — my husband cut down a small mimosa growing on our fence line and it fell directly onto the apple tree, breaking most of its tender branches and splitting the trunk all the way down to about a foot off the ground. But it came back! I couldn’t believe it when I found new growth all around where it had been split. We’ll see what it does next year.

Of the trees at the farm, one appears to be dead, another is living but suffering, and two others are doing well. I’ve tried to identify the pests and/or disease that killed the first one, but apples are susceptible to so many different things. We are lucky to also have two fully mature, producing trees at the farm! They are old — they’ve been there as long as I can

They may not be grocery store pretty, but they are farm fresh delicious!

They may not be grocery store pretty, but they are farm fresh delicious!

remember — and no one is sure what variety they are. The fruit is small, splotchy red, and very slightly tart.

This year, they both produced heavily so I decided to try my hand at making apple jelly. Then I read some recipes and decided to try apple preserves instead! What I actually ended up with could be more accurately described as apple flavored syrup with pieces of apple…Here’s the recipe I (sort of) followed: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/caramel-apple-jam.

I say “sort of” because I did things out of order, which, no doubt, was the downfall of my preserves. I put everything in the pot together and simmered it until the apples were tender, then brought it to a boil and then put it in sterilized jars. It didn’t gel. Live and learn,

The jars look nice, anyway!

The jars look nice, anyway!

my friends.

On a positive note, that apple syrup will be perfect for sweetening oatmeal and for eating with pancakes. AND — there are plenty of apples left to try again. This time, I’m going to go with a traditional jelly recipe, and follow the instructions much more closely. I’ll let you guys know how it works out!

 

Growing Daylilies from Seeds

Are the pods ripe? If it’s been about 7-8 weeks since fertilization and the pods are beginning to turn brown or open up at the tips, the seeds are ready to be harvested.

Collect the seeds and soak them in warm water overnight. The next day, put them in a zip-lock type bag and place the bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.  Daylily seeds require a minimum of 4 weeks cold stratification before they will sprout.  Important: Label your bag prominently so your harvest won’t accidentally end up on your dinner plate.

daylily seeds

daylily seeds

When you are ready to plant the seeds, remove the bag from cold storage.  Check first.  Have the seeds already started to sprout?  If yes, you can go ahead and plant them.  if no, add some water to the bag and leave out in a dark and warm location. For the next week, check daily to see if seeds are starting to germinate.  If there are no white feet popping out, put the bag back into the crisper for a week as the cold period needs to be extended a bit more.

It’s time to plant, what to do?
Plop seeds into pots filled with potting mix and place in a warm and sunny location.  How deep to plant?  Some sources recommend covering with about an inch of potting mix, others suggest they will do fine gently pushed on top of the mix as long as they are kept moist.  I either bury them or cover the pot loosely with piece of plastic kitchen wrap because I tend to forget to mist them as frequently as they like.
Watch for green leaves and once the plants are about 5-6 inches tall they can be planted out in your garden. Soon, you’ll have completely new daylily varieties – that may or may not look anything like their parents – growing in your garden.

Saving the Heat

Have you enjoyed a plentiful pepper harvest this year? Are you wondering what in the world to do with all your peppers? Recently a Green Thumbs Galore customer mentioned that he and his wife uses ice cube trays to freeze peppers. Over the winter they use more cubes for hotter dishes. We thought it was a brilliant idea!

One lesson that I learned the hard way is that it is best to wear gloves when you’re working with peppers. Some people say that rubbing lime juice on your hands will protect them, but Belle has had no luck with this method and I’m not willing to take any chances. It’s also a very good idea to not touch your face. I was making salsa with fresh, hot peppers one time and ate a tomato. I inadvertently touched my lip and it burned for hours!

If you’d like to try the freezer method, chop your peppers finely, put them in the trays, then top the trays off with water. After they are frozen solid, remove the cubes and put them in freezer bags. You can then just add the cubes to soups, chilis, casseroles, or whatever you want throughout the winter.

Peppers can also be frozen whole or sliced in half. Wash them and make sure they are completely dry. If you are slicing them, you can either remove the seeds or not — the best thing to do is whatever you would do if you were using the peppers fresh. You’ll want to freeze them individually before putting them in a bag in order to prevent them sticking together in the bag. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and stick them in the freezer for a couple of hours, then put them in freezer bags, date them, and pop them back in the freezer.

Another way to make your pepper harvest last all year is to make pepper sauce. Pepper sauce is so simple and so versatile you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it every year. All you need is a glass bottle with a cork or a cap, vinegar, peppers, and whatever spices you like. We usually use garlic cloves and black peppercorns. Heat the vinegar but not to boiling. Stuff your peppers, crushed garlic, and about a teaspoon or so of black peppercorns in your jar. Fill the jar with hot vinegar. The mixture doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and if the vinegar runs low, just add more. Pepper sauce is excellent with greens, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and cornbread.

If you prefer hot sauce, the ingredients are nearly the same. The difference is, you cook the mixture until the peppers are soft, then you puree it and pour it into your jars or bottles. Add ingredients or spices as you like. The beauty of working with peppers is that they are so flexible. You can make your sauce hotter — pureeing the peppers makes the hot sauce HOT — or not, you can add onion, or salt, or even a little sugar. It’s nearly impossible to ruin hot sauce or pepper sauce.

What is your favorite way to preserve your pepper harvest? Jalapenos

Jalapenos

 

 

Late Summer in the Garden: Sadness with a Tinge of Relief

With a mixture of regret and anticipation, we sat on the porch watching the leaves of the poplar trees blowing across the field, and noticing the poison ivy vines were bright red. Late summer has arrived in Tennessee, and for those of us who have spent the summer in

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

the garden fall brings about the prospect of less work, but also fewer dinners featuring amazing fresh vegetables. Of course, the heat will continue through September and there will be plenty of fall chores to do before we are plunged into the dreary months of winter.

The green bean vines that have been so productive all summer are beginning to yellow, as is the second planting of crookneck squash; the spaghetti squash has done all it can and the onions have been pulled. We have jars of green beans, tomatoes, and kohlrabi chow chow put away and we are waiting for the corn to ripen so it can be stored as well. This is the time of year when we begin to make end-of-summer relishes, soup mixes, chow chow, salsa, and try to use up the last

The coneflowers have gone to seed -- which makes the birds happy!

The coneflowers have gone to seed — which makes the birds happy!

bits of produce however we can.

At this time of the year, the garden begins to look tired, but there’s beauty in the drooping vines and yellowing leaves.  Right now in our garden the corn is tall and flowering and the bees are almost symphonic. The contrast between the plants that are almost finished and those that are coming into their fullness is nice.

There are just a few times of year when you can feel the seasons changing. Late summer is filled with a strange mixture of emotions. There’s pride, and often enough regret for the garden projects that didn’t go well. There’s some relief, mixed with sadness, in knowing that the heat and light of summer will soon be passed.

Do you find yourself longing for cooler temperatures by the end of summer, or do you wish it could go on forever?

The Finest Figs

Have you ever eaten a fresh fig? Figs have almost no shelf life, and so are not usually sold in grocery stores. Unless you are lucky enough to either have a fig tree in your yard or you have a friend with a fig tree, you may not have had the pleasure of eating a perfectly ripe fig.

One of the great pleasures of growing edibles is the ability to grow things you can’t easily get a the store. For instance, even though you can usually purchase heirloom tomatoes in a rainbow of colors when they are in season, you can’t usually buy marinara sauce made from heirlooms. But if you grow your own, you can make whatever you like from them!

2014-09-03 15.13.16 (Small)Figs are delicate. They have a delicate flavor, and they don’t pack or ship well. They are best consumed within hours of being picked. Of course, if you have a tree full of figs, you may not be able to eat them all as soon as they are ripe — though Belle tells me that she and Jeff wish every year that their tree would produce more figs!

There are several ways to use ripe figs, from recipes like bacon wrapped figs to making fig preserves. Here are some great directions for freezing figs from pickyourown.org. Then, you just thaw them, and eat them whenever you feel the need for a taste of summer.

Belle and I had lunch at Community Pie a couple of summers ago and she ordered sweet fig pizza with prosciutto, Gorgonzola, kalamata olives, goat Gouda fig preserves, and arugula, and it was absolutely delicious! If you make your own fig preserves you’re sure to find plenty of creative ways to use them, as long as you don’t eat them all up on toast, which is probably what I would do.

Fig trees are easier to grow than many other types of fruit trees, and they make a lovely addition to the landscape. Figs should be planted in the spring, so you have plenty of time to plan and order yours!

 

Perfection Is For Supermodels & Magazines

Looking at perfect garden photos in magazines or online can have the same effect on my self esteem as looking at photos of models. They both bring unfavorable comparisons to mind. Even looking at my neighbors’ gardens can send me into a gardening depression. Nevermind the fact that photoshop and/or professionals were involved in creating the  gardens in the photos (and the supermodel photos), or that my neighbors are mostly retired and have more time to spend gardening than I do. None of that matters when I am afflicted with garden envy.

Green Thumbs Galore, and especially Renaissance Corner, give us a place to be unvarnished. In that spirit, I’m going to show you images that wouldn’t ordinarily make the cut. The images that are just a little embarrassing. The ones where you can tell how much fun outside the garden this summer has been.

Deep breath. Here goes:

weedy garden 1

 

weedy garden2

weedy garden3

Whew. That wasn’t so bad.

There are bright spots of lovely blooms in each of those photos, and just like I choose to focus on my sparkling eyes rather than my wrinkles surrounding them when I look in the mirror, I choose to see the flowers, not the weeds.

Your garden, in all probability, is not ready to be photographed for a magazine spread. And that’s okay, because, really, how often are average gardens the subject of magazine articles? The most important thing about your garden is that it brings you joy. No matter how badly the morning glory is choking the hosta, or how ugly the coneflower seed heads may be, the gold finches are happy, the cardinals keep visiting, and I smile every time I step outside.

Sharing your own uncut, unvarnished photos can be quite liberating. Please feel free to post yours in the comments, or share a link to your own blog, or share them on our Facebook page. It will make us all feel better!

 

Planning a Winter Vegetable Garden

There’s nothing quite like putting those first few seeds in the ground in the spring time. But, there is something to be said for sowing in late summer, too. I look at our giant garden right now — and even though there is a blister on my thumb from snapping beans — feel sad that there will be months when I won’t be able to walk out and get a tomato or a squash for dinner. This year, we are going to have a fall/winter garden so the fresh food can go on!

The most important part of planning a winter garden is counting days. For plants like beets, which do well when it’s chilly but can’t take frost, you look at the days to maturity and the average first frost date for your area. For example, I want to grow some Chioggia Beets this fall. It takes 52 days for them to reach maturity. The average first frost date for Chattanooga is October 15. Today is August 18, so I better get the seed in the ground…immediately!

Other plants, such as spinach and kale are frost tolerant, so the counting of days is less important. We will mix together turnip green, mustard, spinach, and kale seed and broadcast them for a mixed greens patch that will provide beans right up through December or so. That’s the plan, anyway.

Lettuce matures quickly and doesn't mind cool temps, making it an excellent fall garden option.

Lettuce matures quickly and doesn’t mind cool temps, making it an excellent fall garden option.

There are plenty of vegetables for a fall/winter garden: onions, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, greens, and many root crops. It’s not exactly the same as a bounty of tomatoes and corn, but even a little bit of time in the garden and fresh produce on the table does a body good! Do you regularly grow fall and winter vegetables?