Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Saffron Harvest

A few years ago my grandma gave me a few saffron bulbs. I planted them in my herb garden and promptly forgot about them.

And I continue to forget about them every year until October when they start blooming and I suddenly notice the bright purple blossoms among the dead and dying herbs. I’m always slightly surprised. And then very excited. I love harvesting the stuff.

It’s quite easy, too. Mid-morning, on a nice, sunny day, simply pick the blossoms…

…and pull out the red stigmas. There’s always 3 in each flower. Then let them dry before putting in a jar and storing in your spice cabinet.

The saffron blooms only last one day so it is important to check your patch every day and harvest accordingly.


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The morning after returning from the cabin found me in the garden. I picked all of this:

proceeded to make my kitchen look like this:

and ended up with all of this:

Pictured from left to right: salsa, roasted tomato sauce (2 kinds), tomato chunks, and tomato juice. Not pictured: a large pot of cooked beets that got frozen, 3 bags of cucumbers (still sitting in my fridge), a few roasted red peppers (method to come soon), eggplant parmesan, and a big bag of zucchini that got turned into zucchini pizza.

Oh August, I have such a love/hate relationship with you!

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for the abundance. It’s just daunting sometimes.)

Now let’s have some eggplant parmesan. We (Brad, Tage, and I) love this stuff but it was like making Jada eat sandpaper…every bite went down hard. But don’t let her dislike of the stuff deter you. This is a wonderful late summer recipe. It’s easier on your health than traditional eggplant parmesan in that the eggplant isn’t deep fried, just lightly pan fried. And I particularly love the tomato sauce. It makes the dish, in my opinion. Simple and chock full of veggies.

Eggplant Parmesan

Adapted from The Central Market Cookbook, recipe submitted by Rose Meck

1 medium eggplant

1 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 T chopped fresh parsley

2 T chopped fresh basil

1 t salt

4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 T olive oil

1/2 t salt

2 T tomato powder* or paste

1/2 – 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Slice eggplant into 1/2 inch thick slices. Lightly fry in a bit of oil and place in a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, herbs, and salt. If you use homemade bread crumbs and freshly grated cheese, you may wish to run them through the food processor to make them really fine. Sprinkle this mixture over the eggplant slices.

In a sauce pan, simmer the tomatoes, onion, pepper, garlic, and oil for about 20 minutes. Add the salt and tomato powder or paste. Blend with a hand blender just a little to smooth it out a bit. I like my sauce to be half smooth, half chunky. Spread the sauce on top of the eggplant.

Bake at 375 for 15 to 30 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted.

Serve: 4-6

*Tomato powder: I dry tomatoes in my food dehydrator until crispy and then blend them up to make a powder. I use this in place of tomato paste in most recipes. If you want, you can stir water into it to actually make a paste but if there’s already liquid in the ingredients, I just throw the powder in.

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Peas, Peas, Peas

I bought a bushel of hull peas last week. I looked at the box sitting there and thought they looked rather daunting. So I took them over to Grandpa and Grandma. They (and I) couldn’t have been happier!

They may be in their nineties but they are still excellent pea shellers.

Tage made for some interruptions…

…but Jada was actually a big help!

Thanks to all my help, I now have 10 pounds of peas in the freezer. I never plant peas because I do NOT like picking them but maybe I will next year. Shelling them wasn’t so bad!

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Right Here, Right Now

We’ve gotten a few good soaking rains the last few days. The garden needed it. Plants were thirsty. Jada and Tage were happy, too. Little puddle jumpers, they were.

The garden abundance is pouring in the door right now. I am loving it. I plan my meals around fresh veggies instead of meat from the freezer or potatoes in the basement. It’s fun!

Currently we are consuming parsley, dill, basil, sugar peas, hull peas, red beets, Swiss chard, strawberries, onions, kohlrabi, cabbage, spinach, and carrots. Not all at once, mind you. Last night it was large spinach salads with kohlrabi, cabbage, sugar peas, carrots, grated cheese, and hard boiled eggs, a pot of cooked peas, and some fresh strawberries for dessert. The kids also ate jelly bread. Large salads don’t go over so well with 19-month-olds. At least not my 19-month-old.

And soon, soon we shall be eating zucchini!

Not far behind, I suppose, will be the green beans.

I also spied a cucumber blossom. I cannot wait to share my mom’s cucumber salad recipe with you guys. It’s a winner, that’s for sure. We eat it probably 3 times a week during tomato/cucumber season.

The chickens are still hard at work.

This one, though, seems to think she’s going to hatch some chicks. She’s had her rear parked on this shelf for two weeks but there’s nothing under her!

My little water children, again. This time making their own water puddles. And a few minutes later, Tage was sopping wet from head to toe.

Those are the happenings in the outdoor part of my little world. How are you spending these late spring days?

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Thanks, folks, for your kind words of encouragement and many prayers. It’s interesting how the internet connects people and that complete strangers have been praying for our family. Thank you!

This post was written for last week. That’s when I took the pictures. Things are growing so fast and turning so green that if I took these exact pictures again today, they would look very different!

We’ve had some lovely weather lately.

Here’s my onions, looking good.

You may not have guessed it but these are my broccolis. I have problems with birds eating my little transplants so I have to protect them for a while.

Sugar peas! I weeded them after I took the picture. Honest. I did.

Another rhubarb question: anyone know why my rhubarb insists on bolting so soon in the season? Does it change the flavor? This is the first year I’m going to harvest it but I’m not sure I want to since it bolts so soon.

Apparently when I planted my lettuce, I forgot I had already put kohlrabi in this little plot.

My strawberries are blooming. I’m so excited about this!

Lay me some eggs, Biddie!

Apple blossoms.

These are soon to be cherries. Hopefully.

And maybe we’ll get grapes this year?

These are bunching onions that wintered over and are growing again. Are onions still tasty when they send up seed heads?

These kids love to pick flowers.

When we’re outside most of the day, I tend to forget about preparing meals. Dishes like this sure are easy to prepare on nights like that. Pesto pasta is not something I grew up with. In fact, I didn’t really like basil unless it was in spaghetti sauce. But then the family I was a nanny for in Germany introduced me to pesto. And I fell in love. Who’d a thunk it? German’s introducing me to Italian food!

Every summer I make some pesto and freeze it. I also roast LOTS of red peppers and freeze them. I’m so sad. I’m almost out of roasted red peppers. And I won’t get anymore peppers from my garden until late August! Such a long, hard wait. At least I still have pesto!

Pesto Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers

1 pound pasta (I used ziti)

1/4 cup basil pesto (fresh or frozen)

1 large roasted red pepper, sliced (I’d have tripled this if I wasn’t so close to running out of them)

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve a cup of the cooking water. Drain pasta and return it to the pot. Add the pesto, roasted red pepper slices, and enough pasta cooking water to keep the sauce moving. Serve warm or room temp.

Serves: 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main

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The gardening bug has hit! Tuesday evening at 7:45 I bundled up the kids and we headed outside. I managed to plant 1 1/2 pounds stuttgarter onion sets, some lettuce, Swiss chard (for hiding, you know), kohlrabi, and carrots. Til the end, I couldn’t tell which end of the onions were going down. Hopefully I don’t find a bunch that are root end up. Plus, Jada was helping me. Who knows how those were placed. Tage just sat in his little plastic boat the whole time. Better there than running rampant through my seeds!

Recently a reader (Hi Becky!) wanted some more information on making raised beds for vegetable gardening. I’m happy to oblige!

facing east (and the grape arbor)

facing south (and the garage)

facing west (and the "little" garden in front of the wood pile)

Brad made my beds 4 years ago. He used locust wood as it’s best to use a hard wood that resists rotting longer than a soft wood. I’m not sure if you can get locust at your typical lumber yard. We had to go straight to the saw mill and order it. Actually, my dad did that for us. Thanks Pops! We got a bunch of 2-inch by 10-inch boards. Enough to make seven 4-foot by 8-foot beds. Not sure how long the boards were. (Do you remember, Dad?) They don’t have to be pretty boards. They will just get all weathered and worn in a year or two anyway. We also got 4×4’s for the posts in the corners. And Brad just informed me he used 3-inch decking screws to attach everything.

First, you cut your boards to the desired length. I’d say keep the beds 4 feet  or less in width. It gets pretty difficult to reach into the middle of the bed if you make it any wider. You can make the bed as long as you like. My grandmother had some that were probably 40 feet long and 3 feet wide. Maybe those measurements aren’t quite right but I remember them looking like long snakes in the yard.

Anywho, cut your boards. You’ll also need to cut the 4×4 posts. We made ours 10 inches long since our boards were 10 inches wide. Then you just have to screw everything together. Please remember to pre-drill the holes where your screws are going to go. Keeps the boards from splitting out at the ends. You’ll probably want 4 or 5 screws at the end of each board.

Make a bottomless box with your boards, with the corners looking like this:

garlic and spinach in need of some warmth

When you are all done building the box, place it in your desired location. A sunny place is preferred if you are growing ordinary vegetables. Place the boxes, if you made more than one, far enough apart that you can fit a wheelbarrow, garden cart, or other equipment through. We like to mulch those paths every other year with bark mulch. Actually we use playground mulch.

As for what to fill the box with, I’ve heard it’s good to put all sorts of “junk” in the bottom before topping with topsoil. Junk includes, but is not limited to, food scraps (no meat scraps or you’ll attract rats), newspaper, old books (remove any plastic covers), manure, leaves, grass clippings, etc. We only put manure in but I think the soil would be fluffier had we used some newspaper and leaves.

strawberries (front) and asparagus

Plant away my friends…spring has sprung (sort of)!

(By the way, thanks for all of your kind words yesterday in response to my little video. Maybe I’ll try another one. Any ideas what I should demo? Maybe I’ll show my face next time, greasy hair and all!)

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(I’m going to be oh-so-original and start a Wordless Wednesday thing-a-ma-bob. Enjoy!)

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