a view of the garden in early fall

IMG_8407It has been a busy summer and even though fall has arrived, things are not slowing down!  We have picked a freezer full of vegetables and I have canned more tomatoes than I can count!  Here are some photos of the garden to give you an idea of what we have been up to.  Above is a lousy photo of one of our ginger lilies in bloom-they are so fragrant!

IMG_8410Back in May, I brought home 7 tire planters from the Urban Gardening Festival.  This one is full of shade loving plants and they have really filled in, now I need to figure out how to keep it alive over the winter-these plants are not cold hardy!

IMG_8413The other 6 tires look like this and I just replanted them with fall flowers-now they need to fill in.  The strawberries have spread like crazy and we are hoping for fruit by the bowl next year.  The strawberries have also helped the rhubarb crowns get established and we were able to harvest from each plant.

IMG_8414Gate greeters-love the little faces that greet me as I enter the garden.

IMG_8417The chair planters I made this spring have filled in.

IMG_8418How can you not love sedum?  These plants are so hardy and can survive the neglect they sometimes get in this busy garden.

IMG_8419Love the colors and textures they add too and bees love the blossoms.

IMG_8420All of this heat has been just what the peppers needed and they are coming in by the bowl.

IMG_8421Poblanos

IMG_8422Sweet banana

IMG_8424Roselle Hibiscus is one of my favorite plants in the garden.  This year I am experimenting with jam.  The first batch is in jars but I see room for improvement and will be making more.

IMG_8428Someone asked me why I planted flowers in the garden.  The short answer, I like them!  But more importantly, so do pollinators and butterflies.  This little skipper is drinking from a noodle bean flower.

IMG_8432New to us this year is Cardinal Basil.  Those flower heads can get as big as a softball and the leaves are huge as well.  The flavor is an intense, classic sweet basil flavor and it has made its way into a lot of tomato sauce this summer!

IMG_8440The change of seasons means a change of plants.  Extra Dwarf Pak Choy is actually ready to harvest and we have picked some already.

IMG_8442The last of the canning tomatoes-finally done with it for the year!

IMG_8446Where ever I go in the garden, they watch us work

IMG_8447Lady Bird, our only Americauna hen is a little shy in comparison to the others

IMG_8449The watermelon jungle.  First one we picked wasn’t ready and the chickens ended up with a nice treat.  This one looks ready to go.

IMG_8451Glass chicken.

IMG_8452The bottle tree.

IMG_8456The flower tower

IMG_8459Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are one of the best heirloom beans.  We let a bunch go to seed so we will have plants next year.  We can also dry out the seeds and cook them like other dried beans.

IMG_8463Finding an egg in the box is something that never gets old.

IMG_8470We harvested the sweet potatoes and pulled up about 40 pounds from the six plants in the bed.  So, there you have it, what we have been up to the last couple of months.  Come back and visit soon!

if the garden gives you rhubarb, bake a cake!

IMG_8379Rhubarb is not easy to grow in the south.  The high heat and humidity make it challenging for this Siberian transplant.  Some of the varieties can survive in our area, Nashville zone 7a, such as Victoria, Canada Red, Cherry Red or Valentine, but afternoon shade is the key.  Plant the crowns on a Northern slope or in an area that gets shade in the afternoon so that the soil temperatures stay cooler, be sure it gets plenty of water too.  In my garden, I have four Victoria crowns growing, the most commonly found variety here in Nashville, and I use large, plastic bread racks to provide shade for the plants during the hottest periods of summer.

IMG_8384This year, I was surprised at how quickly all of the crowns grew and I was able to harvest some stalks to both make this cake and to freeze for later.  One of my favorite cakes to bake is an upside-down cake.  Being able to turn a fully decorated cake out of a pan is so much better than having to frost and decorate layers.  As beautiful as it is, the stalks made me think of celery-luckily, it didn’t taste like celery!

IMG_8385This recipe is a work in progress and I am not posting it here but it is based on a Persian Love cake made with pistachios, lemon zest, cardamom and rosewater.  To decorate it a little after turning it out of the pan, I sprinkled chopped pistachios and rose petals around the edges.  Because this was a large cake, 9″x13″, I took it to a Master Gardener meeting and potluck dinner, I came home with a very small piece; I ate it for breakfast the next day.

Blackberry-Lime Julep Cake

IMG_8296Well, it goes without saying, I have neglected this blog lately.  As spring approached, things in the garden at home and in the Demonstration Garden got busy, very busy.  As we have worked to prepare the Demonstration Garden, a small team of volunteers worked on getting the word out.  The result, a chance to tape two segments for a local TV show, Talk of the Town.  The plan, tie the garden into the Royal wedding happening this Saturday.  The result, a Blackberry-Lime Julep Cake and opportunity to talk about flowers.

While the cake the royal couple chose sounds delicious, I had to give it a southern spin.  Spring in the south means horse races, lots of flowers and a bit of bourbon drinking in the form of  mint juleps.  For a cake, those things all work well.  Elderflowers are not easy to come by but blackberries are so I decided to make a cake that combined blackberries and lime with a rich bourbon buttercream.  And for those of you that are shaking your head and wondering about the mint, I chose to use it to decorate the cake.  In the photo above, you can see Mountain Mint, False Blue Indigo, Red roses, Blackberry blossoms, Cilantro blossoms, Chamomile blossoms, Tansy leaves and Thyme.  If you want to use fresh flowers or herbs to decorate a cake, be sure that they have not been treated with any chemicals.  These all came from the garden and were grown without any chemicals, and with the exception of the Tansy and the False Blue Indigo, they are all edible.

And because I love to swirl colors together, I marbleized the layers of the cake and I suggest you do this too!  The pale green color of the lime batter contrasted nicely with the purple blackberry batter.  Honestly, you could do this with blueberries as well, the recipe was adapted from one in my first book, Sky High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes.

IMG_8308

Blackberry Julep Cake

Makes 1 (8-inch) triple layer cake to serve about 16

 

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon freshly grated lime zest

½ teaspoon salt

7 egg whites

3 cups cake flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/4 cups milk

Blackberry-Lime Preserves, recipe follows

Bourbon Buttercream, recipe follows

Fresh flowers, mint sprigs and blackberries for decoration

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 3 (8”) cake pans, line them with parchment paper and grease the paper. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter with the sugar, lime zest and salt until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg whites, 2-3 at a time, beating well between additions and stopping to scrape the bowl.

2.  Combine the flour with the baking powder and whisk gently to blend. In 2-3 alternating additions, beat the dry ingredients and milk into the butter mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times. Beat on medium-high speed for about 1 minute to smooth out any lumps and aerate the batter.

3.  Scoop out 1 cup of the batter into a small bowl. Divide the remainder equally among the 3 prepared pans, smoothing out the tops with a rubber spatula. Mix 2-1/2 tablespoons of the Blackberry-Lime Preserves to the reserved batter and blend well. Drizzle heaping teaspoons of this blackberry mixture over the batter in the pans. Using a skewer or paring knife, swirl the blackberry mixture in short strokes to drag it down through the batter but take care not to mix it in.

4.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto wire racks, remove the parchment paper and allow them to cool completely.

5.  To assemble the cake, place a layer, flat side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread half of the Blackberry-Lime Preserves over the top. Place a second layer on top of the first and spread the remaining preserves over it. Finally, place the third layer on top of the second and frost the sides and top of the cake with the Bourbon Buttercream Frosting. Arrange the flowers, mint and berries around the top of the cake and the serving plate.

Blackberry-Lime Preserves

Makes about 1 cup

3 cups frozen blackberries, fresh or frozen

¾ cups sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1.  If using frozen blackberries, allow them to thaw and the juices to accumulate. Place the berries and the juice into a blender. Puree the berries and pass them through a strainer to remove the seeds.

2.  In a heavy medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the blackberry puree with the sugar, lime juice, lime zest and the ginger. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking, stirring often, for 20 minutes, until the preserves have thickened and are reduced to 1 cup.

 

Bourbon Buttercream

Makes about 3-1/2 cups

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons Bourbon

2 eggs

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablesoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1.  In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar and Bourbon. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to boil with out stirring, occasionally washing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees F, on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove from the heat.

2.  In a large mixer bowl with the mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs briefly. Slowly add the hot syrup in a thin stream, pouring it down the sides of the bowl; be careful to avoid hitting the beaters or the syrup will splatter. When all of the syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is very fluffy and cooled to body temperature. This can take 15 minutes or longer.

3.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and gradually add the softened butter 2-3 tablespoons at a time, beating well between additions. As you’re adding the last few tablespoons of butter, the frosting will appear to break, then suddenly come together like whipped butter. Beat in the lime juice, and the frosting is ready for use.

 

Sky_High

Many thanks to Tuwanda Coleman and Talk of the Town for the opportunity to tape the segments and for promoting the Urban Gardening Festival.  To see the segments from Talk of the Town, follow these links:

Blackberry-Julep Cake

The Royal Bouquet

winter blues

IMG_8150To say it has been cold here is an understatement.  Yes, I know that plenty of places are much colder and covered in snow, so what!  We moved south to escape snow and frigid temperatures and the last two weeks have been brutal here.  So rather than dwell on the cold or debate who has it worse and all that, let’s just look at photos from the fall taken out at the Demonstration Garden in Ellington Ag Center.  Before the frost.  When it was still warm…  Mexican Sage in bloom.IMG_8151Love the fuzzy blooms, so do the bees.

IMG_8155Vietnamese coriander in bloom.  So delicate and tiny.IMG_8158The swamp monster that tried to eat the garden-Swamp sunflowers in bloom

IMG_8159The swamp sunflowers were about 8 feet tall and they are spreading out.  Don’t they look beautiful with the Burning Bushes?

IMG_8168Want to plant something that bees and hummingbirds love?  Fill your garden with salvias and one of my favorites is Pineapple Sage.  The leaves smell like a pineapple lifesaver candy when you rub them and they are edible meaning you can use them as you would most other edible herbs.  Honey bees love them and if you have a colony nearby, you might just find enough of them in it to make the whole plant buzz and vibrate.  Hummingbirds will visit them too but only if they stay in your area through the fall.  Pineapple sages tends to put this show on late in the season and this was taken around the first week of November.

IMG_8176Just look at those pollen baskets!

IMG_8170We built this out at the Bee Garden and we are hoping that beneficial insects are nesting here.

IMG_8172IMG_8179This garden is just full of color and blooms.

IMG_8180Our climate here allows for tropical plants to grow and thrive during the warmer months but the fruit never has a chance to mature and ripen.

IMG_8185We can only dream about bananas; these did not make it and were killed by frost shortly after I took the photos but while it was blooming, the wasps and bees loved the nectar and pollen.

fresh picked rhubarb buckle

IMG_7712Rhubarb is not commonly found in southern gardens.  The intense heat and humidity just do not suit the plant well.  In the demonstration garden, we have learned that the best way to grow it is to plant it in an area that does not see the intense light and heat of afternoon sun.  In the back of our vegetable garden, we have a shady area and in it are two rhubarb plants that are a green variety which seem to be better suited to our growing conditions.

When it comes to harvesting rhubarb, I really do not know much about when or how much to take.  Since the one plant has more than tripled in size since the spring and has stalks over an inch wide, I figured it couldn’t be a first year plant and decided to harvest about a third of it.  After all, we would be needing cake for our Saturday morning get together in the garden and a rhubarb buckle made with stalks from our own garden sounded perfect to me.

IMG_7721Color is not generally an indication of sweetness in rhubarb but the manner in which it was grown can be.  Hot house rhubarbs that have been forced are generally sweeter than those grown outdoors naturally.  This crop was pretty tart and I decided to let it macerate in sugar before adding it to the cake.

IMG_7728Having chickens in our own garden has been a wonderful experience.  When we moved into the new house, we added a few more and the littles have begun laying!  We have one Americauna hen who has been laying tiny green eggs.  We haven’t had the heart to crack them yet, but at the rate we are going, we will have to or run the risk of being buried in a pile of eggs.

IMG_7730Buckles are one of my favorite summer fruit cakes.  This particular recipe is so versatile that by making simple substitutions, you can have a completely different cake each time!  This time though, I kept it pretty simple and just substituted rhubarb for the usual sour red cherries.

IMG_7731 The name “buckle” comes from the manner in which some of the fruit sinking while some of the batter rises up during the baking and this can give the cake a “buckled” appearance.

IMG_7732With the final addition of a walnut crumb topping, the cake was ready to go into the oven.

IMG_7736The buckling I was hoping for was not as pronounced and I suspect that it may have needed to macerate longer or I may need to increase the amount of rhubarb in the recipe.  Looks like I will have to make another soon to test the theory!  Despite that, it did make a nice sweet-tart layer of filling between the cake and the crumbs, the perfect treat after spending several hours digging and pulling weeds.

IMG_7739Fresh Rhubarb Buckle

with Walnut-Oat Streusel Topping

makes 1 (8″x 2″) square cake serving 12-16

2-1/2 cups sliced fresh rhubarb

1/3 cup (2-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) unbleached all purpose flour

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup buttermilk

walnut oat streusel topping, recipe follows

In a small bowl, toss the rhubarb with the first listed sugar and allow it to macerate for an hour to produce juice.  Add the flour, toss to coat it evenly and set aside while you prepare the cake.  Make the crumb topping at this time and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour an 8″x 8″ cake pan.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the second listed sugar, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scrape the bowl after each addition and mix well.  Sift the flour and the baking powder over the batter.  Fold a few times, add the buttermilk and fold completely until no streaks remain.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and level it.  Top the batter evenly with the rhubarb and all of the liquid in the bowl.  Sprinkle the streusel over the cake and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour and 15 minutes.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes and then turn it out onto a tray and invert it onto a rack to finish cooling.

Walnut-Oat Streusel Topping

makes 1-1/2 cups

1/2 cup (2-3/4 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup (2-1/4 ounces) rolled oats

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup (1-1/4 ounces) chopped walnuts

Place the flour, oats, sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl.  Using your fingers, mix the ingredients.  Add the butter and rub the cubes into the dry ingredients until clumps begin to form.  Sprinkle the walnuts over the mixture and toss together to combine.  Use this immediately or store in the refrigerator for as long as three weeks.

The original version of this recipe, made with sour cherries, can be found in my book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe

Gardening with water runoff in a stream and pond

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Living in a mountain setting generally means having to manage storm runoff at times.  Luckily for my mother, the previous owner of the property finished drainage ditches with stones.  For the most part, all she needs to do is keep them clear of weeds and debris.  However, she is currently recovering from a bad fall and cannot get out into the ditches to do the work.  If you look at the slide show above, you can see how badly one small section of the stream and the pond filled in with forget me nots.  As is with all weeds, digging them out is best and I filled the bushel basket I was using about 6 times with plants pulled out from the stream and another two or three times with the plants growing in the pond.

Once everything was cleaned out, I reopened the trench that runs down the hill to the pond and began contouring the sides of the stream bed with rocks.  If there was one thing I did not need to worry about, it was having enough rocks to do this.   Never in all of my years of gardening have I encountered such a large amount of rocks in the ground and it made the work challenging.

Once I had the stream bed finished, I started adding plants for color.  Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’, is such a dainty little plant that will not reseed vigorously but will grow near stream beds.   Did you know that this plant is not actually grass?  True fact; it is a member of the iris family and my guess is that is why it likes to be near water.

After clearing out the stream bed, it was so muddy and barren that I decided to try some plants that I know will spread; Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ (commonly called Bugleweed) and Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (commonly called Creeping Jenny). Only time will tell if they also enjoy frequently moist soil.  After just over a week, both are showing some growth.

IMG_7620Let me just say that I am not a landscaping expert.  My first idea was to shingle the rocks starting at the top.  The thought was that the flow of water would be slowed down from hitting the cracks and crevices created by the rocks.  It did slow the water but it also created many little pools of water and as I stood out there in a down pour watching, I realized that I needed to try it in reverse order.

IMG_7665Because I had previously hauled all of the rocks to the stream, reversing them was a fairly quick task.  For my second attempt, I started at the bottom and shingled them upwards.  So far, it seems to work better but I suspect that in time, I will have to come back and truly dig out the stream bed to create a deeper channel that I can line with rocks.  For now, this works.

IMG_7642As I gathered rocks, I tried to pick them for shape and color but also for moss.

IMG_7638Lichen also makes nice markings on the rocks.

IMG_7636Because this is a mountain stream, mosses were a must and there is also no shortage of it here.

IMG_7667By carefully digging out small ferns, I was also able to add them to the rocks.

IMG_7625Once the stream was finished, I began working on the pond area.  The person who built the stream bed had it all flow down hill into a small pond which acts as a basin to hold most of the water.  The area is terraced and has a dry bed as well as a wet bed where the water from the stream flows in.  Almost the entire yard is shaded or has dappled sun light which makes it easy to use plants like hostas but beware, deer will eat them and the pond is fenced in to keep them out.IMG_7645The flowers on shade plants generally are not as showy as their sunny counterparts.  This tiny spike of pink blooms on the Tiarella Pink Skyrocket, commonly called Foamflower, it your reward for taking the time to look closely at the plants in the garden.

IMG_7676If you recall, about a year ago, I posted here about my mother’s garden.  In that piece, I mentioned how she is a gardener of things rather than plants.  This meant that I spent some time rearranging the statues in the garden as well.

IMG_7623In the wet area of the pond, I had the chance to plant some water lovers; Iris versicolor Blue Flag and Iris sibirica Sparkling Rose.  Keeping them company is a Ligularia stenocephala Little Rocket (commonly called Leopard plant or Ragwort), Lobelia speciosa Vulcan Red (commonly called Cardinal Flower),  Pulmonaria Raspberry Splash (commonly called Lungwort), Phlox divaricata Blue Moon (commonly called Wild Sweet William or woodland phlox) and Astilbe chinensis v. taquetii Purple Candles.IMG_7628One of the surprises in the yard is the large quantity of native Jack in the Pulpits growing.  With a small trowel, I carefully dug a few smaller specimens up and moved them into the wet area as well and near the center of the photo, you can see the trio of leaves from a single plant.

IMG_7649Ligularia in bloom makes a statement and is large enough to be easily seen from the deck.

IMG_7647The pulmonaria and the phlox have adapted well to their new homes.

IMG_7651The cardinal plant has show quite a bit of new growth; the bright green leaves will turn darker with age.

IMG_7674This is the first time I have tried gardening in my mother”s yard and everything I have planted is an experiment.  Between the growing conditions and the deer, I am hoping for success.  After seeing the amount of growth on this Cardinal plant in just one week, I am encouraged!

IMG_7680Whoever did all of the stone stacking and terracing gets the blue ribbon!  When the stream empties into the pond, it comes over this pile of rocks and collects in the basin which is lined with cement.  Years of water have led to lots of ferns, moss and lichens but I think I like the reflection best.

IMG_7682On my next visit, I hope to bring help with me along with a mattock; that hose needs to go!

IMG_7683

there’s gnome place like home…

IMG_7587Long story short, I am staying with mom while she recovers from a fall.  While out in the yard, she fell, broke her leg and had to have a rod inserted to support the bone.  Thankfully, she is well on her way to returning to normal but it will take some time and for the next few weeks, I will be here doing all of the things she cannot do and some of the things she does not care to do, like baking cookies.

IMG_7600Leaving my garden for a month was rough.  We had really just begun to get the summer crops in and there is still much to do to eradicate the bermuda grass.  Here in PA, spring is still in the air and the trees have only recently leafed out.  In case you haven’t visited this blog before, I have posted photos of my mother’s yard before.  In her community, deer are prevalent, and as a matter of fact, there are several grazing in the yard as I write this.  Because they eat everything, including plants that they shouldn’t, mom gardens with things rather than plants.  As you walk the yard, little statues and hidden treasures will become obvious.  Of course, gnomes have a mind of there own and we never quite know where they will pop out and surprise you.  Standing stock still and looking like a statue, you will almost think that someone placed them there on purpose…

IMG_7602Moss grows all over the yard because it is shady and moist.  This little cherub spends his time watching the yard but if he knows what the gnomes are up to, he isn’t telling anyone.  He sits and stares in disbelief as raccoons and squirrels come to the basin to drink water.

IMG_7604This little guy seems to be guarding the front door.  We throw peanuts to him from the deck but he usually lets the squirrels eat them.

IMG_7607The yard is so lush and green right now that the only color that pops out is red.

IMG_7611All over the yard are these tiny blue blossoms, wish I had my wildflower book with me!

IMG_7612When you walk the yard, you really need to watch where you are going, it is easy to step on the residents.  This moon face greets all that visit the pond.IMG_7617It must be nice to have the time to lounge in the woods all day.

IMG_7576Mom is not a big fan of chocolate so I made a batch of crispy lemon cookies with a small amount of anise seeds thrown in for fun.  Since I do not have my cookbooks here to flip through, I used this recipe from Taste of Home magazine.  They really are crispy and for the most part, I followed the recipe except I used fresh lemon zest instead of the extract, threw in a half teaspoon of anise seeds and scooped them out with a #70 scoop.  Because I am unfamiliar with the oven here, I lowered the baking temp to 375 which allowed them to spread out nice and thin but I did have to increase the baking time by 2-3 minutes.  The review, mom tested and mom approved; this recipe is a keeper!

Happy baking and gardening and if I were you, I would keep an eye on those gnomes-just leave them a cookie every now and then, that should keep them happy…

 

building garden beds from the soil up

img_7420Although the space we have fenced in was once the site of a very successful garden, it hasn’t been maintained in years.  Then as if to add insult to injury,  some thoughtful person seeded it heavily with Bermuda Grass.  Really heavily-inches thick on top with roots half a foot deep.  What a nightmare!!!  We started the process of building the beds today and in 4 hours time, we only finished 3 (4’x4′) beds.  This is going to take a while to do and we may not have much of a garden this spring.

The first thing we did was to outline the beds with string.  Using shovels, Darry flipped the top 8 inches of soil and we spent a lot of time shaking out the roots to save the soil and remove the Bermuda Grass roots and rhizomes.  Along the way, we threw many larvae, worms and beetles at the chickens who were watching our every move! img_7426My good friend and fellow Master Gardener Shirley always tells me that Bermuda Grass is meaner than a snake and if you try to rip it out, it gets even meaner.  She is absolutely right about that!  Each jointed area is a node and it has the potential to become a complete plant.  It isn’t enough to just pull it out, you must remove all of the little pieces or you will have lots of new little plants!  We spent at least an hour sifting the soil as we turned it to remove as many little pieces as we could.

img_7428Once the soil was prepped, we spread the contents of a bag of Black Cow Composted Manure over the surface.  We didn’t have much to work with and bit the bullet and purchased a bunch of bags to use.  As far as purchased compost goes, this stuff works pretty well.  We then cut used leaf bags to cover the surface of the bed.  Our hope is that the paper will help cut back on the weeds and Bermuda Grass from sprouting in the beds.

img_7429Since we haven’t found an arborist to supply us with wood chips yet, we are using a combination of cardboard and leaves to control the Bermuda Grass in the walkways.  Free leaves and cardboard make this project a lot more affordable and keep stuff from going to landfills.

img_7431We purchased a dozen broccoli starts to test our method.  To plant each start, I cut an “X” in the paper and folded the pieces underneath to create a hole.  Then I used my hands to make a hole and plant each start.

img_7432It isn’t the prettiest bed I have ever seen but it should work!

img_7433We are also without rain barrels which means using city water and decided to top each square with straw.  If all goes well, this layer of straw will help conserve the water so that we do not have to pay Metro for tap water.  The added bonus, the paper and straw will also break down over time and help improve the soil.

Be sure to visit the blog regularly to see the progress of our new garden.

baking from the garden; cucumber bread

IMG_6786Gardeners have preferences when it comes to the plants chosen each season and I am no different than most.  In my flower beds, I always include a mix of herbs and edible flowers as well as those that will attract beneficial insects and help repel the destructive ones.  My vegetable garden follows the same plan and tucked in between the crops are many of those same herbs and flowers.  Companion planting is another of my strategies in the garden but honestly, I haven’t seen a huge improvement by following the does and the don’ts of plant location.

This year, like every other year, I have planted cucumbers in my garden.  The selection of varieties chosen include Marketmore (both #70 and #76), Homemade Pickles, Charming White, Lemon and Tendergreen.  The weather pattern this summer has been challenging and while none of my squash plants survived and produced fruits, the cucumbers have done well, at least, two varieties have.  Homemade Pickle plants produced enough cukes that I have completely stocked my pantry with pickles and relish and I have enough gathered now to make one last batch of relish.

Making salads with cucumbers is another one of my favorite summer activities.  While I enjoy adding slices to green salads or just mixing the slices with a little rice wine vinegar, honey and chili flakes, I decided to try something different.  With more Tendergreen Cukes than I could eat, I thought about a loaf of bread and what it might be like with cucumber puree in it.

IMG_6790The previous photo is a Homemade Pickle and this one is Marketmore #76.  In the past, Marketmore #76 has been a great producer, this year, not so much.  My thoughts are that the weather has affected the yield but more importantly, I think the soil is still lacking.  If you have been following this blog, you are aware that we started this garden from the ground up two years ago and this is the first year that we are planting in the ground.  Lots of layering with materials such as compost, leaves, coffee, chicken litter from our hens and eggshells has greatly improved the structure but I think it needs to be amended further and turned as well as given a season off to let the nitrogen levels fix.

IMG_6792The tendrils are amazingly strong and these plants would sprawl out all over if I give them a chance.

IMG_6769For my first batch, I peeled, seeded and pureed some cukes.  The pale green liquid was added to a hard roll recipe and the dough was shaped into batards.  My thought was to keep it simple and I added a few dill seeds to the mix.

IMG_6775Once baked, it was nearly impossible to see that the cucumbers had an effect on the dough.  The interior of the loaf is nearly white and the crumb is a tiny bit compact.  Not the results I was hoping for but still a good loaf of bread.

IMG_6780After giving it some thought. I started a second batch of dough using a different recipe.  For this batch, I left the skin on the cukes but removed the seeds before pureeing.  The liquid was a much darker shade of green and had little flecks of skin in it.  For the dough itself, I settled on a recipe that used a Poolish style starter to develop more flavor in the dough.  After letting the flour, water and yeast mixture age overnight, I mixed the dough using a method that does not include kneading the dough.

There are several good books out there that use this method but I chose to follow the Country Loaf recipe found in Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and found here in this New York Times Recipe.  To clarify, I did not use his recipe, just his method for mixing, shaping and baking the dough.

IMG_6781As you can see, the inclusion of skin gave the dough a good amount of green color.  The little flecks of skin provide some visual interest and a little texture, as well.

IMG_6799Using a lovely little banneton mold that my husband gave me, I was able to give the loaf a nice spiral pattern on the surface.

IMG_6806As you can see, the interior has a tint of green to it and a few green specks here and there.  The crust baked up crisply and it tasted wonderful while still a little warm.  The problem, it just didn’t taste like cucumber, at least not while it was warm.  Once the loaf cooled and sat for several hours, the flavor of caramelized flour and dough from the crust of the bread was no longer the predominant flavor.  The subtle, earthy and almost sweet, flavor of the cucumbers was fairly obvious.

This loaf recipe is a work in progress and if all goes well, it will be part of my next book.  Until then, I will have to make more bread and test it for flavor and color, and you will have to forgive me for not including a recipe that is only half done!

if the garden gives you cukes, make pickles, lots and lots of pickles

IMG_6646When I was plotting the garden earlier this year, I planned on using a large amount of space for cucumbers because I think nothing beats a freshly picked cucumber when making a salad.  Whether it is a bowl of lettuce topped with tomatoes and cucumbers or a bowl of slices in a hot-sweet, vinegar marinade, cucumbers are one of my favorite guilt-free pleasures.  This year, I made sure to plant plenty of them so that I could have them all summer long.

In the past, I have tried to grow pickling cukes too but haven’t had much luck with them.  While at the feed store stocking up on chicken scratch, I came across a package of pickling cucumbers from Livingston Seeds and appropriately titled, Homemade Pickles.  According to the website, the vines only grow 2-3/4 feet, mine grew vertically on a trellis and I can assure you, they went at least 6 feet a piece!  Allow them plenty of space and if you go vertically, give them a sturdy structure with plenty of surface space to grab onto.  Since I pick them regularly, almost daily, they have continued to produce a pretty good amount for over a month now and my pantry is beginning to look like a pickle shop!

When I am going to can pickles, I like to boil the jars and lids to sanitize them.  My canning pot holds a lot of water and can seal about a dozen jars at once.

IMG_6661The light in the kitchen is beautiful in the morning.  It is one of the things I like most about our home.  The windows allow a lot of light in and in the summer, we can go most of the day and into evening without turning on lights in the kitchen.

IMG_6665These cucumbers have good flavor, soft skin and did not get bitter even when left on the vine too long-a few got missed in the leaves, swelled up and still did not turn bitter.  These have been soaked overnight in a brine and are draining while the jars boil and the vinegar mixture is prepared.

IMG_6669When I make dill pickles, I like to add a few mustard seeds and a pinch of dill seeds.  Fresh garlic, crushed red pepper, black peppercorns, dill from the garden are added to a boiled mixture of cider vinegar , water and salt.

IMG_6671If you like to can, I highly recommend picking up a pot that comes with a basket.  It makes putting the jars into the pot and removing them so much easier and safer.

IMG_6672The other tool I recommend, a pair of canning tongs, seriously, if you do not have them, buy them.  Too many times I have tried to use regular kitchen tongs and have scalded my hands on more occasions than I can count!

IMG_6673The pickles are packed into the jars with the spices and herbs and then the boiled vinegar mix is poured over them leaving about half an inch of space.

IMG_6677When the tops are put on, be sure not to screw the bands too tightly.  Nothing is worse than removing the jars from the water bath only to see that they have crimped and buckled because the bands were too tight!  Load them into the basket and then lower it into the boiling water.

IMG_6689After a boil of 10 minutes, raise the basket and remove the jars to a rack to cool.  Listen for the lids to pop as they cool.  If you find that some haven’t popped and appear sunken in the middle, put those in the fridge and use them first.

IMG_6690The recipe I used recommended allowing the jars to sit for 3 weeks to age and allow the flavors to develop.  Since I have been making these pickles a few jars at a time, I decided to open one today and taste them.  They did not disappoint!  One thing about this recipe, no alum was used and despite that, they were pretty crispy, for a pickle anyway.

IMG_6692The color has changed dramatically over the weeks.  These will be enjoyed with many sandwiches…

IMG_6678Sandwich-Sliced Dill Pickles

(not sliced, speared)

adapted from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich

makes 6 -8 pints

5 pounds pickles with blossom ends removed-I only had 3.5 pounds but used the full recipe and yielded 5 pints plus one half pint

6 tablespoons sea salt, divided

2 quarts plus 3 cups cold water

2 cloves garlic jar each jar

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar

4-8 peppercorns per jar

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds per jar

pinch of dill seed per jar

1-2 sprigs fresh dill per jar

2 3/4 cups cider vinegar

Quarter the pickles into spears or cut into 3/16 inch slices, make sure to cut the blossom ends off and remove the stem end as well.  Place into a large non-reactive bowl.  Dissolve 3 tablespoons of the salt in 2 quarts of cold water.  Pour over the cut pickles, cover loosely with plastic and place a plate on top to weight them down.  Allow them to sit at room temperature for 12 hours.  When ready to can, dump the pickles into a colander in the sink and allow them to drain completely.

Place the canning jars and lids into the basket and lower it into the canning pot.  Fill the jars with water and then fill the entire pot so that the jars are covered by 2-3 inches of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil and allow the jars and lids to boil for a few minutes.  Raise the basket and using canning tongs, carefully lift and drain the jars one at a time.  Place them upside down on a rack to drain and dry.  Do this for the lids as well.  Keep the water at the boil, adding hot water if much has evaporated.

In another smaller, nonreactive pot, bring the vinegar to a boil with the remaining 3 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of salt.  Stir to dissolve the salt and then turn off the heat and keep it on the stove while you pack the jars.

Place the spices and herbs into each jar.  Fill the jars so that the spears are snug but not so tight that they are crushed against each other.  Pour the hot vinegar mix over the pickles, leaving about a half inch of space.  Wipe the rims, place the lids on and screw the bands so that they are secure but not tight.  Make sure the water in the pot is at the boil.  Load the jars into the basket and carefully lower it into the pot.  Boil for 10 minutes, raise the basket and remove the jars with the tongs.  Place them on a rack and allow them to cool completely before storing in a dark, dry place.  Check the lids, if any have not popped and inverted, place them in the fridge, allow them to age for a couple weeks and use them first.  The remaining jars should be ready to use in three weeks.