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It’s hotter than he**  (dare I use the word “hell”?) outside in June and while most desert dwellers can be found hibernating indoors enjoying air-conditioned temperatures in the 70’s – you’ll find a few of us darting outdoors to pick apples.



While parts of the country wait until late summer and on into early fall to harvest apples – June is apple harvesting time in the desert.


Many people don’t realize that apple trees can grow in the desert Southwest – so do apricots, peaches and plums.

The key to growing these types of fruit trees is our relatively cold temperatures.  They need a certain number of “chilling hours”, which are when temperatures are within 32 – 45 degrees F.

When summer temperatures are hovering in the 100+ range, it’s hard to recall what cold winter temperatures feel like, but it’s those chilly temps that make it possible to grow apple trees.


In the past years, I have harvested my apples from among the several apple trees located on the family farm.

But, not this year.


Three years ago, we transformed our side garden, creating a “potager”, which is a French term for a kitchen garden filled with fruits, herbs, vegetables alongside ornamental plants.

In the potager, we have the largest of our vegetable gardens, blackberry bushes, two peach trees, an orange tree and two apple trees.


The apple trees are located toward the end of the garden with the blackberry bushes growing against the wall.

This was what they looked like 1 1/2 years ago.  Since then, they have grown quickly and are filled with apples, ready for us to pick.


Today, we will head out in the morning and pick our apples.  There are so many growing, that I won’t need any from the family farm.

Normally, I make applesauce and an apple pie from apples.  This year, I will make those but will add to it.  We will also be making apple chips and apple sugar.  Who knows?  If we get a ton of apples, I may need to find more things to make with them.

My daughter, Ruthie, and niece, Sofie, will help me along with a very special friend who is their “orphanage sister”.  

**Next time, I’ll share their special story along with all the goodies we make along with helpful links so you can make them yourself with apples from the supermarket.
Have you ever found yourself intimidated by fashion magazines filled with beautiful celebrities and models who are then photoshopped to remove every little imperfection?

Believe it or not, vegetables can be portrayed the same way in magazines and online.  Articles filled with photographs of perfectly-sized vegetables without a speck of dirt on them can be intimidating to the average vegetable gardener.

Well, I’m here to tell you the truth and reveal two dirty secrets of vegetable gardening with some assistance from my little helper. 
My granddaughter, Lily, was excited to help me harvest the last of my cool season crops.

So we ventured out into the garden and pulled out carrots and garlic.  Then we harvested the last head of broccoli and picked the first of the blackberries from the bushes and cut the parsley.

This is what our harvest looked like.

I’ll admit that it looks rather dirty and messy and certainly not something you would see in a magazine.

This leads me to reveal the first ‘secret’ about vegetable gardening.

“It’s dirty.”
Think about it – vegetables grow in the dirt.  They don’t come out clean.  In fact, it can take a while to clean the dirt away. 

Lily was excited to help me clean the vegetables, so she would fill her ‘My Little Pony’ cup over and over and pour them over the carrots. 

In fact, freshly harvested vegetables leave dirt behind on counters, floors too.


And those shiny, clean garden tools and spotless gloves?  

They don’t exist in a real garden.

Okay, so we’ve covered the fact that vegetable garden is a dirty hobby – it’s supposed to be.

Now, here is the second dirty secret of vegetable gardening…
“Not all the vegetables are the same size and come out unblemished.”

Here are four carrots that I harvested from the same garden.  As you can see, they are all different sizes.

The tiny ones, came from an area where I accidentally dropped a small pile of seeds.  The large one was a result of an area in the garden that received too much water and the carrot was so big that it broke off as I attempted to pull it out.

Of course, any decent photo would display only the ‘normal-sized’ carrots – but that is not necessarily the truth of what a real garden harvest would look like.

Here is another example.  Our crop of garlic was bountiful.  But, notice that there are not all a uniform size.

While the majority of the garlic harvest was made up of normal-sized garlic heads – there were some very small and some giant heads.

But of course, that is not what you see when people typically show off their garden harvest – especially when they are to be photographed.

– First, only the most attractive vegetables are selected – those that are unblemished and a uniform size.

– Second, all the dirt is cleaned off.

– And finally, the decorative dish towels come out for an attractive background. 
I have several decorative dish towels that have never seen a dish.

I use them when I photograph vegetables, herbs, etc.

Here is my ‘perfect’ garlic harvest.  What is interesting is what you DON’T see.

All of them are nicely shaped, roughly the same size and most of the dirt was cleaned off.

Most definitely NOT what they looked like when I brought them in from the garden.

A ‘real’ vegetable harvest is not ‘photoshopped’ and consists of dirty vegetables, some with blemishes and in all sizes and shapes. 

So, when you harvest vegetables from your garden, don’t worry about perfect-looking vegetables.  Remember, it’s the taste that matters!

Do you like to try new things?


I do – especially in the garden.  I’m always on the lookout for new vegetables to try out, including some heirloom varieties, which aren’t technically new.



One year, I tried growing ‘container corn’.  You can read here how it did.

This year, I tried growing ‘White Icicle’ radishes, which are a cross between radishes and turnips.  My mother had given me the seeds and I’ve always had a very easy time growing regular radishes, so I thought I’d try these.  

They grew easily and the leaves reached over 2 1/2 ft. long!

It was exciting to pull them out and I couldn’t wait to try them.


While they were very easy to grow, I must confess that I didn’t like them.

I really wanted to and their flavor was a lot like a turnip, but they burned my mouth – much more than the radishes do.


My grand experiment last year was growing Swiss chard and afterward, I wish that I had been growing it all along.  It’s not only easy to grow, it also tastes great in salads!


I grow it both in my vegetable gardens and in pots.

So, while I wish that I liked ‘White Icicle’ I don’t.  But, it wasn’t a waste of time growing them.  You see, gardening is a grand experiment and it’s always fun to try growing new things and while there are going be some failures – there are also great successes (like my Swiss chard) when you discover what grows well that you like.
*This week, I’m sharing what I’ve harvested from my winter vegetable garden and sharing lessons learned.  Yesterday, it was broccoli and how to freeze it.

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.

***********************

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!

This past week, I was blessed with harvesting produce from two different gardens.


One was from one of my vegetable gardens…


About a 1/4 of my side vegetable garden is planted with cauliflower.  

Over the weekend, I was able to harvest my first cauliflower of the season.  

Now, I am aware that some of you may not care for cauliflower.  Personally, I like it raw but NOT when it is cooked.

I’ll share with you a little secret that I have used to get my kids to eat cauliflower…


I cut the tops of the florets off, dice it and then sprinkle it on top of our dinner salads.  It looks like grated cheese.  I also slice carrots, celery and cucumbers to add to our salads, which not only add great flavor to salads – they are also a great way to get more vegetables into my kids 😉

The cauliflower was so delicious – it tasted like butter – seriously.

The next harvest was of another kind and from a different garden…


On the family farm, my mother has a large grapefruit tree.  

Now, as anyone who has ever had a grapefruit tree can tell you – these trees are overly generous in the amount of fruit that they produce.


Luckily, my mother has 4 kids who are more then happy to help share with her bounty.

With my husband standing ready holding grocery bags, we picked some delicious fruit from the tree.

*While all the grapefruit looked ripe, some were not quite ready to be picked.  If they did not come off fairly easily when lightly pulled/twisted, then we left them alone.

If I am going to be perfectly honest with you, I do not like to eat grapefruit – at all.

But, I have another purpose in mind for my newly picked grapefruit – I am going to make a natural cleaner from it using vinegar.

I promise to blog about it soon, so hold onto some of your excess grapefruit or maybe offer to take some off of your neighbor’s grapefruit tree 🙂
Last week, I shared with you our latest apple harvest.  

My kitchen was filled with bags and bags of delicious, crisp, apples from my mother’s apple trees.  
(I don’t have any apples from my trees yet because they are too young).

I admit that I didn’t get to my apples right away.  So, they sat in my kitchen.  My granddaughter, Lily, had other ideas for the apples.

She would pick out a couple of apples from the bags.


Lily then brought them over to me.

And, proceeded to put them in my lap.

By the time she was done, I got the message she was trying to tell me….

It was time to start making some treats with my apples.

In the past, I would make homemade applesauce.   Once you have tasted homemade, the store-bought just doesn’t cut it.
This year, I was inspired to make something new.


How does Caramel Apple Jam sound?  

I found this wonderful magazine at the checkout lane (after I had glanced over the tabloids to get my weekly update on celebrity happenings 😉 


The magazine is a Better Homes & Gardens special publication devoted to preserving fruits and vegetables (I have seen it at Walmart and Barnes & Noble).  It is filled with jams, jellies, sauces and so much more.  I dog-eared half the magazine with recipes that I want to try.

Well, I decided the Caramel Apple Jam would be my first recipe to try.


The hardest part of making fruit jams is peeling and chopping fruit.  So, I finally got smart and asked my 15-year old daughter to help me.  


Chopping apples went so much more quickly with two people.  

Like applesauce, we cooked the apples and then put them through a fruit mill, which removed the peels and ‘mushed’ up the apples to the consistency of applesauce.


At the same time the apples were cooking, I made the caramel from white sugar.


Then combined the two, put it in jars and processed them with my boiling water canner.


The Caramel Apple Jam tasted so good that I made two more batches that are now sitting in my pantry.  It tastes great on toast or served warm over vanilla ice cream.  My husband likes eating it plain out of the jar 😉


With my leftover apples, I sliced them up and added flour, sugar, cinnamon and lemon and froze them.  I’ll use them later for apple pies, this fall.

How about you?  
What are enjoying eating from your garden this summer?

When I moved to the desert Southwest 27 years ago as a young bride, all I saw was a brown landscape, spiky cacti, landscapes covered in little bits of rock and very few trees.


If you had told me that you could grow any kind of fruit tree besides citrus – I would not have believed you.


Fast forward 27 years and I not only appreciate the unique beauty of the desert, but I have enjoyed my 4th annual apple harvest at the family farm.

Certain apple tree varieties grow very well in our climate.  (For information on what varieties do best, here is an earlier post I wrote about apple trees).


Summer is a busy time because of the different types of fruit there are to harvest.  Peach trees ripen first in late May followed by plums.  Early June is spent in the kitchen making peach and plum jams.


In mid-June, the apple trees are ready to be picked.

My daughter Gracie and I headed out to pick some apples.


When we got there, my mother was already busy picking apples and ‘Johnny’ my sister’s 3-legged dog was enjoying eating the fallen apples.


The trees had so many apples that the branches were hanging down under their weight.


Soda Pop, my sister other dog (and the daughter of my dog, Missy) was also enjoying a feast of apples.


Don’t they look delicious?

One of the apple trees had some trouble late last year with borers.  But we caught it early and got rid of them.

We hauled 3 huge bags of apples back home and I got ready to make some delicious things with them, which I’ll share with you next time.
*Below, is some helpful information regarding borers:

Adult borer beetles lay eggs in the crevices of the bark of apple trees – generally in the bottom 2 feet of the trunk.  The eggs hatch and the larvae tunnel their way into the trunk.


Signs of borers are small holes toward the bottom 2 feet of the trunk.  Sometimes you can sawdust poking out of the hole or even a little sap running down the trunk.

Prevention is the best treatment, but if you have apple borers there are a few things you can do:

– Take a wire (I recommend a wire coat hanger) and poke into the hole that the borer made and try to puncture the larvae.  Do this in the summer. You may have to work at this a little, but kids might have fun doing this 😉

– Paint the trunk with white latex pain.  This not only protects the trunk from sunburn, it also prevents borers from laying new eggs AND suffocates the borers already present.

If you have apple trees and want to help prevent borers away – plant cloves of garlic around your tree and let them grow.  Many apple growers report that the smell of garlic keeps the adult borer beetles away.  

By using garlic and painting the trunk of your apple trees, borers are more likely to stay away.

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.

About this time of the year, I am busy helping my vegetable gardens transition into summer.  


That means pulling any remaining leaf lettuce.  Yes, it hurts to know that I now have to buy lettuce until next fall when I can grow it again.


Even though not all of my lettuce had bolted, none of it was edible.  Once the temperatures get up to 90 degrees, the lettuce turns bitter.



For the past 4 months, I have been harvesting a few carrots every few nights to include in salads or soups.

Now that it is getting hotter and some of the carrots are beginning to flower, it was time to harvest the rest of the remaining carrots.

I didn’t use the carrots that had flowered, since they had become woody inside.

You know, one of the things that I like about gardening is how unpredictable it can be.  The two carrots, above, were growing just 1 ft. away from each other.  

The garlic was already harvested and I concentrated on pulling out cool-season annuals that were serving as companion plants.


I love my crocs!
These nasturtiums were still blooming, so I will leave them until they begin to fade.


A quick check of my warm-season vegetables showed that my zucchini plant has its first fruit (yes, zucchini is technically a ‘fruit’).

You really have to check carefully for zucchini because they can be hard to spot.

I will have to get my mother’s famous zucchini bread recipe.


Tomatoes are hanging from the vine and will soon be turning red.

In my side garden, I have two new peach trees growing.


This one has 18 peaches on it.

I planted this peach tree in January.  Now, normally, you would want to ‘thin’ fruit so that there is only one fruit every 6 inches – this creates larger fruit.  But, I was so happy to see so much fruit on my new tree, that I just left them.

Since I won’t have enough to make peach jam, this year, I will use them to make peach vinegar.

I don’t just have peaches growing in my side garden…


My blackberry bush has ripe blackberries!

Originally, I hadn’t planned on growing blackberries in my garden, but my mother had an extra blackberry plant that she gave me last year, so I planted one.

I decided to go ahead and add more this year and planted 5 more bushes.

I only have the original blackberry bush covered in fruit because blackberries form on 1-year old growth.


My family wants me to use some of our blackberries to serve over ice cream.  

I was thinking of using them for making blackberry vinegar, which I’ll use to make salad dressing.

What do you think?  Ice cream topping or fruit-flavored vinegar?

I love getting a great deal, don’t you?


Back in October, I spent $2.40 for eight heads of garlic, from my local grocery store.


I planted them and 7 months later, it was time to harvest them.


As I stepped into the side vegetable garden, I took a good look at my garlic.  It was a lot bigger then in previous years.


I started pulling and realized that it was a lot harder to pull out then last year.

It was the biggest garlic that I had ever seen in my garden and I was thrilled.

Until I realized that I had planted twice as much garlic as last year and still had to pull out all of the remaining garlic.

A couple of hours later, I hauled in my garlic harvest…

All this for an initial investment of $2.40!

I had so much garlic that I couldn’t carry it in one load.


The larger heads were almost 4 inches wide.  However, the garlic that I grew in containers was quite a bit smaller – more like the size you find in the grocery store, which was fine with me.

Now all I have to do is to let my garlic ‘cure’ for a month in a dark, dry spot.  That usually means that I put them on top of my large freezer in the laundry room.

Garlic will last about 8 months if kept in a dark, dry spot out of the heat.  I don’t think we will be able to use all our garlic.  Thankfully, I have plenty of people to share it with.

For more info on how to grow and ‘cure’ garlic, you can check out my earlier post “Got Garlic?”.