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?

 

Mystery Plants

Do you have plants in your garden that are a mystery to you? Being a very relaxed gardener, I usually have a few mysteries in the garden: plants that I just don’t know much about. At the moment I have two. One is a seven foot tall beauty that looks like some variety of rudbeckia.

mystery yellow flower

mystery yellow flower

The other is, I think, in the mint family. I didn’t expect these beautiful flowers.

mystery purple flower

mystery purple flower

In the spring time, I wrote about a different kind of mystery — when you plant something, like an iris or a tulip and you don’t know what the bloom will look like. You do, however, know what an iris or a tulip generally looks like. In the case of these two plants, I had no idea. A friend sent them to me in early spring when they were both basically just roots in a clump of dirt. She didn’t know the name of the yellow one, and I’ve forgotten what she told me about the purple one.

Watching the foliage grow, then seeing the flower buds develop, and finally enjoying the beautiful blooms made for an entertaining summer. They are adding so much color to my late summer garden, too — which is nice because it seems like the majority of my flowers are spring bloomers.

Have you had any surprises this summer? Or, have you ever planted something having no clue what you would end up with?

 

It’s Your Garden, Grow It (or Not) If You Want To

If you hang around with gardening-types, it’s bound to happen. You’ll eventually come across someone who criticizes your garden choices. They may think you should be growing more native plants, or more edibles, or more heirloom varieties. You may encounter someone who feels that your method of weed eradication is inferior to their own. The criticism may come in the form of helpful “advice”, or it may be outright. Either way, it could well make you feel uncomfortable.

Don’t let it.

If you have put seeds in the ground, gently cared for seedlings, watched birds flutter among your blooms, or watered your plants on a hot day, you deserve kudos for cultivating life.

Gardening is a creative endeavor. It allows us to enjoy color, texture, and scent in a way that other creative pursuits cannot. People choose to garden for a million different reasons, and nearly every one is good. Maybe you grow your own food in a conventional vegetable garden; or perhaps a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your dining room table makes you happy so you have a cutting garden; some people garden in order to attract birds and butterflies; others grow herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes. The point is: it’s your garden, grow what you want to.

At Green Thumbs Galore, we love to encourage people to try new things. We are happy to share our favorite plants with you, and offer our tips and tricks. But, if you choose to do things differently, you still get a pat on the back from us!

cat walking in plants

Newman in Ice Plants

Celebrate your Garden

Last night, a lovely Friday night with a gorgeous, bright full moon shining down, my family began what is sure to be a long process: preserving the harvest. We’d picked beans several times through the week and picked even more before sitting down to string and snap them. Next came washing and canning. We managed to get 14 quarts canned by midnight; there are that many more to process today.

We expect there will be that many each week until the end of the season. In the meantime, the okra is quickly ripening. We aren’t sure yet just how productive it will be, but it could well be just as generous as the beans. Since pickled okra is a family favorite, we will be happy to have plenty of jars on our shelves. I’m not so sure how we will feel packing that 130th jar.

Canning

Canned fruit. Picture courtesy of J. Sc.

Then, there are tomatoes. We have fewer tomato plants, but there will certainly be enough that some of them will need to be preserved. So far, the squash has produced in smaller quantities, but within a month or so, it’s likely there will be quite a lot of it as well.  And the corn…barring any groundhog or crow attacks, we are expecting somewhere between 800 and 1200 ears of corn.

All of this leaves out the grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and apples. There will be much smaller quantities of those to deal with, but we do want to try some jellies. The question is: how much can people who have other jobs and other responsibilities get done? The truth is, some of our harvest is likely to feed the birds, or will add nutrients to the soil as compost.

We’ll do what we can, of course, but we probably won’t get every bit of value from this year’s harvest. And that’s okay. There won’t be any guilt for not getting that last jar of beans canned, or making that last batch of chow chow. Instead, we will celebrate the achievements of the season. We’ll count our jars and feel a bubble of pride, and look at the stacks of bags in the freezer and know we did just fine this year.

It’s easy to let the responsibility of the garden become a burden. Avoiding vacations, spending every free moment either picking or processing the harvest, and worrying about what you aren’t getting done when you are doing anything other than garden related chores can suck the pleasure right out of your garden.

Do what you can and don’t sweat the rest. Very few of us are subsisting from our gardens, so it’s unlikely you will go hungry if you miss a few beans or a tomato hits the ground. Enjoy what you do harvest, and celebrate your garden!

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam. Picture courtesy of S. B.

Playing Favorites

Each year, I try to choose a favorite in my garden. I’ve been thinking about this post for a few weeks now, trying to decide which flower would be named my 2014 favorite. I wanted it to be a new plant, but instead, it’s one that has matured and become even more beautiful: my pond lily:

pond lilyA friend bought a new house and it had a small pond, but the liner leaked. It just held a small, icky puddle — and a pond lily. She asked if I’d like to have the lily in my pond, and since I have trouble saying no to any plant, I took it home.

It was sitting on the edge of the pond and  one of my dogs ran past and knocked it over. The pot floated to the top and I thought it might not survive. But it did, and this year, there are two or three blooms each day.

They are a glorious pale pink with beautiful yellow centers. The leaves are beautiful too, with shades of green and red. The frogs love them and hide among them all the time. Even though it’s a tad invasive, and I’ll probably have to pull some of it up, for now, the pond lily is the favorite flower in my garden.

What is your 2014 favorite?

Violas, Violas Everywhere

Weeding.  There no other garden chore that is so destructive and satisfying at the same time. With elbow grease, plastic, paper and heavy mulching, we’ve managed to remove many undesirable plants from our garden.  One of the plants that has been defying all our efforts to this time has been violas.  Not African Violets but those little, pesky, violet spring blooming flowers that pop up in lawns and shady areas.

This year, I am sparing them from the sharp edge of the weeding tool.
Why?  Sweet Violet Sirup.
On our walking trip along the Le Puy Way of the Camino de Santiago this summer, one of the most refreshing drinks we encountered was chilled violet water made from home-made violet (viola) sirup. It’s the French answer to Iced Tea and much tastier.

Here’s the recipe:
1 cup viola flowers, remove stems and rinse. Put into a glass (Mason) jar.
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the flowers and let mixture sit covered for 24 hours.
Put mixture in saucepan, add 1 cup sugar and bring to a low boil, stir until all the sugar has dissolved.  Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth, label bottle and store in a cool place for up to 12 month.

A little of the sirup goes a long way; add to plain or sparkling water, ice cream, etc.

Viola Plant

Viola Plant