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Firecracker Penstemon
While much of the country is suffering from a truly awful winter season, those of us who live in the Southwest are having the exactly opposite problem.

This has been a very warm winter season, with the exception of a few freezing nights back in December.

With temps 10 – 15 degrees above normal, we have been enjoying temps in the 70’s.  

I have seen some signs of our warm winter including the fact that I have ditched my slippers and am going barefoot every chance I get.  Plants have begun to emerge from their winter dormancy and people are asking me if they can prune their frost-damage plants early.

In regards to the pruning question, there is still a chance of Southwestern residents getting a spell of freezing weather before we approach the average last frost date.  So, pruning too early can actually hurt your plants if by some miracle temps dip below 32 degrees.


But, that may not stop everyone from grabbing the pruners.  If you happen to be one of these impatient pruners, make sure that you cover your recently pruned plants if temps dip into the low 30’s.

In the meantime, enjoy the glorious weather!
I love growing herbs in my garden and one of the reasons is that they thrive in our hot, dry summers with minimal fuss.  
 
I must admit that I sometimes forget to make use of my fresh herbs, or sometimes I have more than I need. Some frost-tender herbs like basil don’t grow in winter in my garden – so either I have too much in the summer and almost none at all in winter.
 
Well, no more! Did you know that you could freeze your fresh herbs so you could use them during the winter months?
 
I tried this with my chives earlier this summer and it was so easy to do.
 
Here is how to do it:
 
Choose your favorite herb…
 
 
 Wash them.
 
 
Chop them into the desired size.
 
 
I just love chives.
 
 
Place your chopped herbs into an ice cube tray, filling up each one about 3/4 of the way full.
 
 
Fill up with water, taking care to allow a little room for expansion since water expands when it freezes.
 
Put in your freezer for a few hours.
 
 
Once frozen, pop out your ‘herb cubes’ and put them in a freezer container or plastic container and store in your freezer.

 

 Now, whenever you need fresh herbs when you cook, add a few ice cubes to your favorite sauce.
 

**You can also freeze herbs into ice cubes using olive oil instead of water, if desired.

 
Another great way to preserve herbs is to dry them.I talked about how to do this in an earlier post –  “How to Grow and Dry Herbs”

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I hope you enjoyed the grand tour of my edible garden that I created in my side yard.


Today, I would like to show what is happening in my original vegetable garden…


As you can see, there is a lot growing in this area.

Among the vegetables is a giant sunflower, pots filled with ornamental plants AND vegetables and hollyhocks that have finished flowering can be seen alongside the garden.

Off to the right side, you can see my container corn.

And yes, those are plastic patio chairs inside my vegetable garden.  (I’ll explain why later.)


This edible garden is actually made up of three parts.  My original vegetable garden was a fenced in square space.  Like many gardeners who like to grow their own food, I realized that I needed more space – so we added on an extension a couple of years ago…


The third part of my edible garden consists of vegetables growing in containers along with ornamental plants…



I currently have zucchini growing in the closest pot along with a jalapeño plant, parsley and sweet potato vines.

The middle pot is filled with a Thai pepper plant, chives, cucumber, celosia and kangaroo paw.

The third (and my most favorite container) has a bell pepper plant, cinnamon basil, green & purple sweet potato vines, dianthus and angelita daisy growing inside.


The outer vegetable garden is filled with sunflowers and bush beans.

Our family loves to eat ‘string beans’.  They are easy to grow and to freeze for later.


Here is something that you may not know about growing beans.  “They make their own nitrogen, so you don’t need to add any nitrogen fertilizer.”  

In fact, if fertilize them with a fertilizer that contains nitrogen – it can cause them to grow beautiful leaves, but not beans.  That is because there needs to be a balance between the other major nutrients – phosphorus and potassium.

If you do apply a fertilizer, make sure that contains a low amount of nitrogen.

I have lots of cucumbers growing in the original vegetable garden along with a couple of pumpkin plants.

As a child, I grew up calling cucumbers ‘gurkens’, which is what they are called in German.  I spent some time when I was young, in Germany, visiting my grandparents while my grandfather was working over there.

I love cucumbers and we eat them 3 or 4 times a week.


It can be a little hard to spot ripe cucumbers.  Most of my cucumber plants are growing up onto the trellis, but sometimes you can find cucumbers growing on the ground.  You need to move the leaves aside to see them.

I like to eat cucumbers with salad, using my grandmother’s top secret’ salad dressing recipe.

I only wish that I could grow cucumbers and leaf lettuce at the same time….


Okay, back to the patio chairs sitting in my garden.

Why on earth would I place chairs in my garden?

Well, they are an easy way to provide shade for vegetables that quickly wilt in the full sun.


And so, that is what is going on in my edible gardens this summer.

**I am excited to share with you a gardening video that I made for Troybilt as a part of my involvement with the ‘Saturday 6″.
I’ll debut it for you on Monday 🙂

The gifts are wrapped and the house is decorated for Christmas.


I do still have to clean my house and start baking goodies for Christmas Eve dinner.  My mother-in-law is bringing her famous lasagna, so I only have to focus on side dishes and dessert – yum!


I am fairly prepared for the holidays at this point.  Tonight, we are expected to experience our first freeze of the season.  I needed to harvest the remaining green peppers and tomatoes today before they were harmed by the frost.  So, I went out this morning to my vegetable garden to harvest the remaining green bell peppers on my two pepper plants and my tomatoes.


I had some big peppers left along with some smaller ones…


It is amazing how hidden the peppers are under the leaves of the pepper plants.  But, I got them all.

Then I got to work on my tomato plants.  They are over a year old and I decided to start over with new tomato plants this coming season, so I will let them go ahead and freeze.

I did however, pick off the green tomatoes.

When I came inside and poured out my bounty, I was surprised at how many green vegetables I had.


I got to work at cutting up my peppers and diced them before putting them into freezer bags.


Over the next 8 months, all I have to do is take out  as many diced peppers as I need.  

I realize that I probably should have ‘flash frozen’ them by placing the diced peppers on a single layer on a baking sheet until frozen before putting in a freezer bag.  That way, they are separate and come out of the bag easily.

But, I am a bit lazy and don’t like to wash extra dishes so when I need some diced peppers, I simply bang the freezer bag on the counter, which loosens them so I can take out the amount I want.

Now, all I have to do is decide what to do with all those green tomatoes.  

I could make a green tomato salsa OR I could let them ripen.

What would you do with green tomatoes?