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I love living in the desert Southwest.


I really do, except in August.  That’s when I start to tire of the long, hot summer and yearn for fall.  By September, the days begin to shorten and the weather begins to cool and I plant my cool-season vegetable garden.


One of the things that I love most about gardening in the desert Southwest is that you can grow fruit and vegetables all year long – even in the midst of winter when most of the country can only dream of growing things outdoors.

 Where else can you look outside and see delicious vegetables coming up and picking them fresh for your table in January?


Oh, and how about the citrus fruit that not only provides us with sweet, tart fruit – but also adds bright color to our desert gardens?

Over the next few days, I thought that I’d share with you what I have harvested from my winter garden in hopes that you will be inspired to grow your own desert Southwest winter garden.

Even if you don’t live in a mild winter area, growing vegetables is not all that different in other regions, except for the calendar.  So, you can always pick up some helpful tips from vegetable gardeners who live in other places.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my first-ever success in growing a vegetable that has given me problems in the past.

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Baby Watch Update:

Our second-oldest daughter, Rachele, is expecting her first child soon!  She is in the Navy and currently stationed in California – about 7 hours away from us.

She is being monitored closely because of the baby’s low birth weight and now the latest ultrasound shows a lower level of amniotic fluid.

Rachele has been seeing having weekly ultrasounds, stress tests and seeing the doctor.  On her last visit, she was told that they may have to induce her maybe a week early.

So, what does that mean for me and my husband? Well, I had to reschedule a speaking engagement on “Updating Your Landscape”.

Our plan is to hit the road as soon as we get the call from her that she is being induced and/or in labor. Hopefully, we will get there before the baby does!

Meanwhile, I’m off to pack my bags!

Earlier this week, my husband and I were doing some last minute Christmas shopping, which included as stop at one of my sister-in-law’s favorite stores.


Next door, stood a grocery store – but not just any grocery store.  No, this grocery store describes itself as a “boutique, gourmet market” and it has the prices to match.


My husband wanted to go inside to see what types of food they had – I think he was hoping for samples.  He is also much more adventurous than I am when it comes to food and gets excited when he hears the word ‘gourmet’.


So we ventured inside to the fancy grocery store, which looked like anything but a grocery store.  There were pine scents being wafted about and I saw about thirty Christmas trees decorating all the aisles.


What really got my attention while walking through the store was the produce section.


This section of the store was rather dark, except for the produce, which had bright lights showing the perfect-looking vegetables.

I’ve never thought of the produce section of a grocery store as beautiful, but this certainly was.


The vegetables were perfectly displayed and I must confess that I almost wanted to eat kale because of how nicely it was arranged.

Seriously, there was not a single wilting leaf or blemish to be seen.  It was almost as if the vegetables were airbrushed and Photoshopped.


The other side was arranged with brightly colored citrus fruit.  

I would be afraid to pick any fruit, or vegetables for that matter, in fear that I would cause a cascade of produce falling to the floor.

Needless to say, we didn’t see any samples and the prices were so high that we walked out after looking through the store.

I did enjoy seeing how fancy a grocery store could be.

How about you?  Have you ever shopped at a “boutique, gourmet supermarket”?

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The baby countdown has officially started!

My second-oldest daughter is having her first baby in January and we are so excited.

She is going in for weekly monitoring right now since the baby is underweight from where it should be.  But, the doctor isn’t worried and as long as they are monitoring her closely, I’m not too concerned – just a little bit concerned 😉

Sadly, our daughter can’t come home for Christmas (she is in the Navy and stationed in California), since she is too close to her due date.  But, we sent off her packages to her and my aunt and her family, who lives near the base, will have her over for Christmas.


In the meantime, I am getting ready for my annual Christmas cookie baking with my kids, granddaughter and nieces and nephews.

Every year, we make and decorate cookies that we serve at our family Christmas celebration.  The kids love showing their parents the cookies the decorated.


Last year, we make sugar cone Christmas trees.  The kids loved spreading buttercream frosting on sugar cones and then decorating them.

This year, we will be making chocolate, peanut butter Christmas trees – Yum!  I’ll be sure to post photos and a ‘how-to’ next week!

Do you have a vegetable garden or have you thought of maybe starting one?


Four years ago, we planted our first vegetable garden.




The kids were eager to join in the fun and helped us install our new garden.

We created a raised vegetable garden that measured 7 x 8 feet for a total area of 56 square feet of space for vegetables.

Although I have grown vegetables as a child and again as a horticulture student – this was our first time growing vegetables on our own.

It has been an incredibly rewarding an learning experience.

After the first year, we enjoyed our little garden so much, that we added an extension…


Our garden was fenced to keep our dogs out.

It was so great having even more space to grow vegetables.  You can view how we built our vegetable beds, here.

Those of you who grow vegetables, probably won’t be surprised to hear that we took it even further.  We created an edible garden along the side of our backyard, complete with our largest raised bed and added fruit trees and berries.

But, back to our original vegetable garden.  This is the garden that I see from my family room window.  Besides growing vegetables, it is also where I have masses of flowers growing, which attract pollinators.


Hollyhocks grow year after year, with no help from me.  I planted hollyhock seeds 4 years ago and since then, they come every year.

The hollyhocks are located just outside of the raised bed and get enough water from the vegetable garden.

Every year, I am never certain what colors of hollyhock will come up.  Some years, I have had white, red, pale pink and magenta flowers.


This year, it is magenta.


Nasturtiums always play an important part in my spring vegetable garden.  They help to repel damaging insects from my vegetables AND they add beauty to my garden as well.

They usually come up from seed, beginning in February.


This is the last of my leaf lettuce for the season.  Hot temperatures will cause it to ‘bolt’ soon and make the leaves taste bitter.  In my garden, this usually occurs in mid-May.

The blue lobelia came up on their own from those planted the previous year.


Onions are beginning to flower and I will harvest them once the tops die back, which should be around late May, early June.

I like to dice my onions and freeze them for future use.


My garden also has an unlikely plant growing next to my carrots – Pink Wood Sorrel.  I received a cutting of this plant from a fellow-blogger from Oregon.  Surprisingly, it thrives in its corner in my vegetable garden.  

The flowers appear throughout spring and then the entire plant dies down in the summer before growing back in the fall.


Along the front of the extended vegetable garden, sit three containers filled with a combination of flowering plants, vegetables and herbs.  It is very easy to grow vegetables in pots and you can read how to here.


The newest addition to this area of the garden is a Meyer lemon tree.  I realize that it looks rather sad, but there are quite a few new leaves beginning to bud and a few, tiny lemon fruit beginning to form.

The chicken wire is a temporary barrier for the dogs.  Eventually, we will remove it.

We selected a Meyer lemon tree because it is slightly more cold-hardy then the ‘Eureka’ variety.    Meyer lemons are sweeter them other lemon varieties because they are not a true lemon – they are a cross between an orange and lemon tree.  As a result, they are slightly sweeter then your typical lemon.

The only downside to Meyer lemons compared with ‘Eureka’ is that they are thorny.


Strawberries, malabar spinach and garlic are also current residents in my first edible garden.

But, this time of year – my favorite plant in my edible garden isn’t edible – it is my 12-foot tall hollyhocks.

So, how about you?  Do you have an edible garden, or are you thinking of starting one?

Springtime in the garden is my favorite time of year.

Cool-season flowers are still in bloom while summer-bloomers are getting started.  The garden is awash in colorful flowers, vegetables, young fruit AND a few bugs and suckers.

I have two areas in my backyard where I grow edible plants.  Today, I invite you to take a tour of the largest edible garden, which is located along the side of my house.

Apple trees – April 2014

At the back of the garden, are two apple trees that I planted last year.  

They have grown so quickly.  This is what they looked like last year…

Newly planted apple trees – February 2013

What a difference!
I’ll admit that this area looks rather barren.  There used to be flowering shrubs up along the wall, which we took out in order to plant edible plants.


Usually, you have to wait a few years before you apple trees will produce fruit, so I was very surprised to see small apples forming.


This is what they look like now.  The apples will ripen in June and I am all ready to make homemade applesauce, which tastes so much better then store-bought.  
I wrote a post about how to make applesauce, which you can view here.

Blackberry flowers

Against the wall, behind the apple trees, are a row of blackberry bushes.

One of my favorite childhood memories are those of the blackberry bushes we had growing in our backyard in Southern California.  We would try to pick all we could before our dog would eat them.

Blackberry bushes are surprisingly easy to grow and there are thornless varieties available.  Unfortunately, some of my blackberry bushes are not thornless 😉

They are covered with flowers and small fruit.  BUT, I also saw something else on my berries…


Orange/black bugs covered a few of my berries.

I hadn’t seen this type of bug before, so I got to work on researching what these were.  Turns out they are the juvenile form of stink bugs – not good.

Evidently, they are fairly resistant to organic pesticides.  You can pick them off and squish them.  


The chives, garlic, parsley, thyme and sage are doing very well in my herb container.  However, the purple petunia is beginning to fade due to warming temperatures.  So, I will pull it out soon.

Flowering Sage

I don’t add flowers to my herb container during the summer.  I usually let my herbs flower, like my basil and sage.


At the same time we planted our apple trees, I also added two peach trees.  I was surprised that this tree produced 19 small peaches just months after we planted it last year – that is not normal.  I used them along with peaches from my mother’s trees to make peach jam.

This year, the same tree has decided to put it energy into growing just 2 peaches – which is normal.  They are huge!  I love to look out my kitchen window and see the fruit slowly ripening.

While admiring the peaches on my tree, I noticed something that did NOT make me happy…


Can you see what the problem is?  SUCKERS!  And I don’t mean the sweet candy that your grandma used to give you.

Fruit trees are grafted onto rootstock and occasionally, the rootstock decides to send up its own branches.  They are called ‘suckers’ because the ‘suck’ up the nutrients that would otherwise got to your fruit tree.  

To learn how to recognize and get rid of suckers, click here.


Underneath my apple and peach trees, I have garlic growing.  Garlic is a very helpful plant.  In this case, it helps to repel borers, which are beetles that lay eggs on the bark.  After the eggs hatch, the larvae bore their way into the trunk of the tree, often killing it.


Small fruit is beginning to form on my orange tree.  Like other fruit trees, it can take a few years before producing substantial amounts of fruit.

Our orange tree has been in the ground for 2 years and we got three oranges last winter.  I was so excited that I wrote an entire post about it.


Looking toward the vegetable garden, my artichoke plant is busy.  It has 9 small artichokes growing.  

I have a confession to make…

I don’t like eating artichokes.

But, the plant itself is very attractive and is often grown as an ornamental because it is a perennial and lives for more then 1 year.

I do have plans for these artichokes though.

– I will cook a few for my husband, who loves them.

– I will dry a few for fall arrangements.

– And, I will allow some to bloom – the flowers are gorgeous!


The purple violas in my rusty, old watering can will soon fade as the heat rises.

I do not plant anything in it during the summer months because it is too hot.  The soil temperature in small containers, literally ‘cooks’ the roots of plants.  Stick with planting larger pots for the summer and let your smaller containers take a break.


At the beginning of this post, I showed you a picture of my edible, side garden from the opposite side, near the wall.

This is the other view, looking in.  Toward the left side, are two ‘Summertime Blue’ Eremophila shrubs.  

Can you guess the last time that they were pruned?

3 years ago!

I love these shrubs and their bright-green foliage and purple flowers.


Bell-shaped, lavender flowers appear spring through summer.  This is a great ‘fuss-free’ shrub for the garden.  It is hardy to 15 degrees and thrives in full sun.  A definite must for the southwest garden.  

For more information about ‘Summertime Blue’, click here.

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Well, that is what is happening in one area of my garden.  

I invite you to come back next time, when I will show you my other edible garden, which is in full flower.  *I will also share with you the rest of our adventure when we hosted three young girls for the weekend from the Ugandan Orphan’s Choir.


Is you home decorated for fall yet? I am still working on getting my house ready for the fall holidays.  


Normally, I am content to buy a single pumpkin and set it in the middle of my dining room table.  But, after seeing my mother’s beautiful fall centerpiece (above), I decided to try to do something a little more creative…


So, I decided to challenge myself to see what I could come up with for my own unique fall centerpiece by taking a visit to the produce section of my local supermarket.  I was determined to look beyond the normal fall offerings of pumpkins and Indian corn to see if I could be inspired. 


Surprisingly, I found quite a few vegetables and fruits that would look nice in a fall centerpiece.  So, armed with my cell phone camera, I started taking photos of some of my favorites…

Acorn Squash

Now, I don’t like to eat squash at all.  I still remember hiding the cooked squash in my napkin that my grandmother would try to get us to eat.

Spaghetti Squash

BUT, squash looks great when used as a fall decoration.

Butternut Squash

In fact, I have even seen Butternut squash decorated as a ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ with a ghost face colored in using black markers.

Artichoke

Okay, artichokes are another vegetable that I don’t like.  But, they look great in arrangements, so I bought one.

Pomegranates

Finally, I found something that I do like to eat AND decorate with – pomegranates.  I love their deep color, don’t you?

Oranges

Limes

Let’s not forget citrus, which is always beautiful no matter how you use it – whether in a bowl in the center of the table or as part of a larger arrangement.

Heirloom Tomatoes

I admit that heirloom tomatoes aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when creating a fall centerpiece.  But, their deep and rich colors would accent any centerpiece.  Tomatoes won’t last as long as the other produce I have profiled, so use for a few days and then eat them.

Mangoes

How about mangoes? 

Apples

Apples are great for decorating the tabletop.  I like to use them at Christmas time as well.

Red Pears

I don’t think I have ever noticed all of the different types of produce that my grocery store had before now.

I did come away with a few things that I will attempt to create a centerpiece out of.  I promise to share it with you later.

In the meantime, I did find myself captivated by the unusual pumpkin offerings at the store…


Aren’t they beautiful?

I selected one for my centerpiece.  When I got home, I excitedly showed it to my kids, who to my surprise, were not happy about it.  They asked, “Is this the pumpkin we are going to carve?”

I assured them that this pumpkin is for decoration only and will hopefully last until Thanksgiving.

I did promise them a ‘regular’ pumpkin for carving later on.

So, when you head to the supermarket this weekend, take a closer look at the produce aisle and see what you can use to create your own ‘natural’ fall centerpiece.
Last Friday, my mother came over for dinner and brought with a box full of sweet, tart goodness…


Don’t these plums look delicious?

There is a single plum tree on the family farm that is incredibly prolific.


Every year, I look forward to making jam ever since my mother taught me how 3 years ago.

I usually have enough jam to last our family an entire year plus more to give as gifts to teachers and friends over the Christmas holiday.


After my mother left that evening, I got right to work and made my first batch of plum jam.  

This time, I left the peels on the plums, which dissolve during the cooking process and create the beautiful ‘plum’ color.

Other years, I have peeled the plums by boiling them first for 40 seconds.  It is a rather tedious process, but some people prefer plum jam without the peels.

For me, I like to make things simple – so the peels stayed.

Every summer brings a wonderful fruit harvest.  First are the peaches followed by the plums.  In a couple of weeks, I will be busy with the apple harvest.  I got a new recipe for apple caramel jam that I can’t wait to try out.

For more information on how to make your own jam, check out my post “A Harvest of Peaches and Jam”.

**It may be hot outside, but there a lot growing in the garden.  Join me every day this week as I post what is happening in my garden.