Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Be Green Ideas, Nifty Bug Trap, Mailbox in the Garden and Yummy Spring Spinach Topped Tomatoes

Welcome me back!  Well I do apologize for being gone for awhile here at For Dragonflies... my computer was giving me some issues for a bit over a week and then we have been busy here planting all the good stuff that fills our farms CSA share boxes each week and provides the lovely spread at our market tables.  But this is one of my happy places and I am glad to return!  Right now at The Garden Gate we are very busy... raising piggies and chickens and getting the raised beds and field planted.  I love the busyness of this time of year... it is exhilarating for me... I feel refreshed and alive and cherish every moment I can be outdoors.  We just planted the raised beds outside the hoop house with chard & beets today... the cherry tomatoes, lettuces and basil are growing beautifully in the hoop house beds, the sausage garden raised beds are full and growing beautifully!  Green is good in more ways than one.  I will give you some fun ideas on how to be green that won't tax your time or wallet! 

Being 'Green' has been around for awhile now and I think more and more people are finding out that it isn't that much more expensive or time consuming to do the 'green thing'.  Here are a few easy tips for those of you that want to try to make a change in improving your 'foot print'.
*Use compostable garbage bags... this way even though you have to contribute to the mounding piles of debris in the dumps, at least the plastic will break down.  We use Compostable Plastic in our fields to make our beds that we grow in.  It is corn based and breaks down into the soil by mid season by the sun.  No more piles of plastic getting burned or going into the land fills.
*Re-cycle!  If you live in the country and have to pay for trash pick up- like we do- find where your local re-cycling station is.  We purchased several laundry hampers to put our junk in- one for each paper, metal, glass and plastic.  We have several stations in our area.  Just plan on doing the drop when you are going into town.  It really doesn't take that much more time! You will be able to find one in your location in the phone book or of course you can always 'Google it'.
*If you have either flower beds or veggie gardens use your newspaper to lay under your mulch.  I love to garden but I am a lazy gardener and don't want to do a lot of extra weeding or tilling.  We lay newspaper- (not the colored sections- b&w only-)  in layers and then cover with grass clippings or straw in our veggie gardens & raised beds; in my flower beds I use wood mulch on top of paper.  It keeps the weeds at bay and helps hold the moisture in even better.  By the end of the season it is broke down completely and ready to be tilled in with the grass or straw!
*Paper towel and toilet paper card board rolls can be donated to any daycare center or school.  Of course call or go on in and ask before you do the donation.  These can be used in a lot of fun arts & crafts activities for the children... not to mention it saves tax dollars on supplies!
*Egg cartons can be given back to your farmer!  We love when our customers bring us empty egg cartons- we are happy to refill them each week and re-use!
*Plastic clam shells- you know, those containers that strawberries, blue berries, raspberries, etc. and organic lettuces come in!  We are always happy to get these from our customers- we like to re-use them in our CSA share boxes!
.... these are just a few that I can think of off the top of my head... be creative and be green!

Well we know that spring has come and along with all the beloved blooms and birds, we also get the good & bad bugs.  Here is a nifty was to get a few of the bad guys without using chemicals! 
Build a bug trap~ to get rid of those very nasty yellow jackets that love to pester us and hang out when ever we are trying to enjoy a nice meal on the patio, try this!
*First cut the top off a plastic soda or water bottle about a quarter of the way down- 2 inches from the shoulder; invert it inside its base to make a funnel, securing the edges with tape- water proof type.
*Next, mix 2 cups of warm water with 1/4 cup of sugar; mix until completely dissolved; pour into bottle.
*With a nail or screw poke one hole on opposite sides of top of the bottle, about one inch from top edge; use craft wire to create a hanger by inserting into each hole and twisting so it doesn't fall off.  Hang in a tree or where you know they are active.
The wasps will climb in to reach the liquid and will either drown or be unable to climb out!

Mailbox In The Garden... a truly charming way to add a bit of country to one of your flower beds in to mount an old or new mailbox on top of a post in your bed!  You can keep your garden gloves, trowel and scratcher right inside it... no more wondering where you left them!  To make it even cuter get one of those pretty mailbox covers or even  better hand paint it!  Of course plant some Shasta Daisies around the post to add that perfect final touch!

At market we will soon have fresh tomatoes grown right in the dirt in our high tunnels- vine ripened and delicious- right here in Michigan.  Here is a super yummy treat right here, right now!  Enjoy!
Spring Spinach Topped Tomatoes

2 cups chopped fresh spinach
2 tsp. instant chicken bouillon
1 tsp. sea salt
3 large tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated- plus extra reserved for topping
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1 cup herb seasoned corn bread stuffing
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 garlic clove
1 egg, beaten

1.  Follow bouillon instructions to make 4 cups of broth; bring to a rolling boil and add spinach leaves, reduce heat to medium; cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes; drain well.  Cool and press out excess liquid.
2. Lightly salt tomato halves and place with cut side down on 2 paper towels for about 15 minutes to absorb excess moisture. 
3. In a small bowl, combine spinach with corn bread stuffing, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, onion, butter, egg, garlic and pepper; mix well.
4. Place tomato halves, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish; divide spinach mixture over tomatoes; sprinkle with extra shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Happy Day,
Jean

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cooking & Baking with Herbs, Herbs for Pets, Lovely Lavender and Yummy Lavender Recipes

Lavender is one of my favorite herbs.  This is a garden stone I had purchased at the farmers market that sets in it.
Lavender is one of my favorite herbs; although I don't use it as a culinary herb even though you can, I am partial to it as a lovely hedge about my flower beds.  Evan loves lavender, he will often bring me a bouquet of the sprigs he has picked... so sweet. 

Cooking with Herbs is such a special treat... once you start using fresh herbs and taste the difference from the dried, it will be hard to enjoy them as much in the winter.  Fresh herbs are a culinary delight to the senses and add a flavor that is hard to beat. Many people skip herbs when baking, so here are some yummy 'Herb Additions' to your everyday meals along with some baked good recipe's!
*Make your eggs Italian- add 1 tsp. each of minced fresh oregano, basil and thyme to about 8-10 large eggs before scrambling them. 
*Savory Pancakes; try adding 1 tsp. of fresh sage and 1 tbsp. each of chopped chives and Parmesan cheese to your pancake or crepe batter- roll up thin slices of ham and/or cheese in the finished products!
*Add tarragon with some root veggies by adding 1 tbsp. of minced tarragon to cups each of grated parsnips and grated carrots.  Quickly stir fry the mixture in 2 tbsp. of butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil.
*Spice up those burgers by adding 1 tbsp. each minced fresh chives and parsley to 1# ground beef, along with 1 egg and 1.2 tsp. each salt & pepper before forming into your patties.
*Home brewed Herb Tea is so special- try adding 2 tbsp. of chopped fresh herbs to 2 cups of boiling water; steep for 6-7 minutes; strain herbs and sweeten to your desired liking.
Try 3 cups raspberry leaves to 1 cup lemon balm for a special summer drink.

Lemon Basil Cookies
1/4 cup butter
1- 8oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. lemon rind, grated
1- box Lemon cake mix
1.4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Cream butter & cheese; add egg yolk and lemon juice until well blended.
2. Blend in dry cake mix one third at a time; last portion by hand; stir in coconut, nuts, lemon peel and basil.
3. Drop by teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden in color.

Basil Pound Cake
1/2 pound butter
2 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry basil, ground fine

1. Cream butter and sugar; beat eggs and blend with creamed mixture; stir in salt and flour beating well; add basil, blending well.
2. pour into a greased, small loaf pan; bake at 350 degrees fro 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Herbs for your best friends, Fido and Kitty! 
*For Fido, grow some fennel; dry the ferns; make a sachet and add in their doggy bed or in their favorite sleeping spot.
*For Kitty, grow a patch of Catnip! Although is it yummy for kitty, it is not for humans- so don't get excited and make a tea.  Cats will go 'hog' wild over it though, so to keep kitty from eating it down to the roots, try putting a homemade box or dome made of chicken wire over the top of the Catnip; secure down to ground with ground staples.  As the catnip grows through the wire, kitty can have a treat without eating it to the ground.

Sorting Through Lavender~
There are dozens of varieties of Lavender as you can see looking through seed catalogs.  There are many shades of purples and even pinks; there are types that are good for edging and others for cutting to use in bouquets. I personally prefer Grosso Lavender for my bouquets.  I like Hidcote for my borders.  True Lavender is not as hardy and I have lost several over the years if not mulched well in the fall and if we had an extremely cold, hard winter.  There are both tender and hardy perennials, so be sure when you purchase your plants or seeds you determine your Hardiness Zone and the plants/seeds. 
*Lavender does well if protected from extreme cold & freezing and harsh winds.  It does best in Zone 5 and above.
*Lavender likes a well drained alkaline soil and full sun.
*Lavender will remain much nicer with regular pruning, otherwise it has a tendency to get a bit leggy depending on your variety.  I never trim back my Hidcote or Grosso.  Hidcote sprawls beautifully over my rock borders while Grosso makes a perfect mound with long, upright bloom spikes just perfect for cutting.
*To harvest it for drying, wait till the buds just open, or you can wait until they're in full bloom; dry stems in bundles about 1 1/2 inch in diameter, hanging upside down in a cool, airy spot.
*Use it in the laundry~ take a handful of blossoms, securely tie in a linen handkerchief and toss it in the dryer with your clothes- no more 'fake' lavender smelling clothes!
*Sprinkle dried lavender stems into the fireplace; as they burn, they'll delicately scent the air.
   
Lavender isn't just for sniffing and bouquets; try these special sweet treats and see how tasty this lovely herb can be!

Lavender Sugar
In a food processor finely chop 2 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers, stems discarded.
Add 1 cup of sugar; blend.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
Sprinkle on top of ice cream, use in tea, add to sugar cookies or sprinkle on vanilla yogurt.

Summer Melons with Lavender Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white grape juice concentrate
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1/4 cup lavender flowers, fresh or dried
4 cups of cubed melons: watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew

1. Bring water, sugar, juice concentrate and juice to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Add flower blossoms; cover and steep for 1 hour.
4. Strain flowers.
To serve, pour cooled syrup over cut melon cubes; toss lightly to coat; serve immediately.

Lavender Cookies
3 1/2 Tbsp. dried Lavender
1 cup butter
3 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
3 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda

1. Grind lavender and sugar into a powder in food processor; cream in butter, add sugar and lavender then the beaten eggs; add vanilla.
2. Sift the soda & baking powder into one cup of the flour; add to sugar mixture.
3. Alternate remaining flour with mild to make a soft dough.
4. Use a cookie scoop to form cookies; drop on ungreased cookie sheet; bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Happy Day,
Jean

Friday, May 25, 2012

Herbs: Planting, Tips & Varieties and a few Herb Recipe's!

Some of the herbs in our Kitchen Garden.  As you can see I use lots of 'containers'... An old drawer holds my oregano, several pots partly burriered have basil, old wooden tool box houses parsley and others planted around.

The end of the month... we are already through one third of this year... I certainly cannot believe how fast time keeps moving on.  Our farms winter market is over ~ 21 weeks have flown by and now the regular season farmers market which will consume the next 29 weeks our lives begins... Gardening and farming will soon take up much of each day.  I love this time of year and the feeling of exhilaration that comes along with it.  In the next few entries here at Dragonflies, I will be focusing on Herbs. We will be able to start putting out all those goodies in the gardens, decorating our porches and patios and adorning our flower beds with boundless blossoms... my favorite time of year!

Now to touch on Herbs, one of my favorite subjects in the world of gardening.  I have mentioned in earlier entries about our Kitchen Garden and the herb part of it, here is a photo of one end of it in mid-spring when basil's and the more tender annual herbs have been put in. As you can see I use many types of containers to hold the herbs including an old wooden drawer for oregano, party buried pots for basil's, an old wooden tool box for parsley.  There is thyme, lemon grass along with several other herbs planted directly in the ground around the containers.

I am going to break this up into four sections over the next couple entries;  Planting, Varieties, Tips and of course
Cooking with.


Planting:
You may be wondering where do I put herbs? I don't have an herb garden or I don't even know how to cook with herbs. Well as you will come to learn herbs are a gardener's best friend... they are both easy to grow and use. Once you get started you'll wonder how you ever did without them.  So first lets break down this section into a couple groups as well: Where to Plant and What to Plant!

*Where to Plant:
  Well, here again you have several choices which include right in with your regular veggie garden if you have one; you can create an Herb Garden separately, in your kitchen garden; or you can incorporate them in with your flower beds.  I have all of the above and so can you!  As you will find out, herbs are great friends with both veggies & flowers, they are not just yummy they are natural enemies & deterrents to several bad bugs that want to eat your good stuff!
~In my Flower Beds I incorporate a hedge of purple basil; we use them for both culinary uses as well as in bouquets- we let some of them bloom out for this reason... absolutely stunning in bouquets!  I also use thyme off set with creeping phlox along the rock border of several of my flower beds; they can be snipped through the season for kitchen use and then a few left to bloom after the phlox has finished it's show.
~If you want to have a separate section for herbs in your Garden rather than intermingling, then I would recommend using Raised Beds at one end to put them in.  Also, I would focus on one bed for your perennial herbs such as oregano, chives, sage, tarragon and thyme; another for your true annuals such as basil, savory, marjoram and lemon grass; and yet another if you can for your biennials such as parsley and fennel.  If you have rosemary, be sure to pot up and bring in the house; although it is a hardy annual, if you live in Zones 5 or lower it will not survive our freezing temperatures.
~In our Gardens and Fields I use herbs right along side of many of the veggies we grow.  As an Organic produce farm I believe in and practice completely companion planting.  Here are a few everyday ones for you to use:
  ~dill with carrots or cabbage- the dill confuses carrot rust flies, which lay their eggs on carrot roots and may deter cabbage pests as well.
  ~Basil with tomatoes will keep tomato horn worms at bay- not to mention it is believed that they encourage one another  to grow!
  ~Chives with roses to discourage insects and diseases- any allium member for that matter.
  ~Most any type of mint planted near cabbage or tomatoes to ward off the white cabbage moths, aphids and flea beetles.
  ~Oregano enhances the flavor of beans in the garden and repels insects that bother broccoli.
  ~Sage enhances rosemary, deters cabbage moths, carrot flies, flea beetles, and slugs.
  ~Plant thyme next to tomatoes where its flowers will attract bees for pollination.
Go to the previous blog post to see many ideas of companion planting with herbs.
~
We also have a Kitchen Garden which has yet another separate herb section. This is used primarily for our everyday cooking.  With us growing produce for farmers market and our CSA we need to have a little something that's just for us and where we don't have to walk out to the field or hoop house. 

What To Plant:  You may be a bit of a challenge simply because there are so many varieties of each type of herb.
There are several basic culinary herbs that I will recommend and some tips on each, along with a couple that your pets will appreciate as well.  I am not planning on going into the world of medicinal herbs simply because I am not knowledgeable enough to feel comfortable telling people how to use them.  I am completely for the use of them and I would highly recommend educating your self in this area.  I will say though that we eat a lot of raw garlic in flu season!
*Basil will never treat you wrong! In my opinion the number one most important herb- although I have a biased opinion because I love Italian cooking... so maybe my opinion doesn't mean diddly right here!
There are many types of basil's and you may seem overwhelmed when you go to purchase your plants.  The tried and true is Genovese for the truest Italian cooking.  I once purchased a variety called Italian Pesto, it is comparable to Lettuce Leaf which is so named because of the very large leaves. Greek Dwarf is a tiny leafed perfectly mounded basil, used in many Italian dishes- the leaves make it a challenge.  If you like to cook with fish and/or chicken then try lemon and lime varieties; if you are into Thai cooking get a Thai Basil- yes that is what is called-
it is anise flavored; Cinnamon basil is also available.  If you want both culinary and for bouquets arrangements try Purple Ruffles or Red Rubin, both stunning when in bloom and the leaves are very similar to a Sweet basil. 
*Parsley is my tied for second staple herb.  I use this in many potato dishes, chicken soup and of course pasta sauces.
*Thyme, oh how I love thyme... Any time we are grilling there is a bowl of Olive Oil with fresh thyme leaves soaking and infusing the oil to be brushed onto summer squash, eggplant, chicken and fish and of course pizza crust just before the sauce goes on... yummy!
*Oregano is a must have if you are creating pasta sauces and salsa too!
*Sage is an herb that we use in our Artisan Sausages that Neil creates- main staple to our famous Breakfast Sausage.
*Fennel is also all about our sausage, except this goes into our wonderfully yummy Italian sausages... not overly fennel flavored, just the right blend.  This is also for those fish lovers, fennel and butter brushed onto fish just before grilling.
*Rosemary is not one of my favorites, but many people use it on fish & chicken and in potato dishes as well.
*Marjoram is what I will use in exchange for thyme occasionally if I feel like a little something different.
*Tarragon, again great in Olive Oil for grilling fish & chicken.  Also yummy on beef roasts.
*Chives of course are another staple to the kitchen garden cook... baked potatoes smothered in sour cream and topped with fresh snipped chives, tossed into a salad or thrown in with radishes (see the last blog for a yummy Chive & Radish Dip).
*Cilantro is another must have for us fresh salsa lovers.  Good in any Mexican dish.
*Dill, certainly not least, but this one is reserved most often for canning those yummy pickles.
Again, this is just the basics to help you get started, so have fun and be adventurous, you can always find a recipe!

Here are some yummy herb recipe's to get you started in the kitchen! Have fun...

Fresh Chive Topper 
Use on baked potato, scramble eggs or anything else you like sour cream on!
Blend all Ingredients:Blend all ingredients:
8 oz container sour cream1 c or 8oz container  Sour Cream
1/4 cup shredded cheddar or Colby cheese
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped chives

Fresh Basil Dressing 
1/2 cup wine vinegar
 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
 1 cup olive oil 
6 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, minced
 salt & pepper to taste. 
Combine all and serve over fresh garden salad.
Thyme Grilled Vegetable

16 baby potato– about 1 quart
1/2 c chicken broth
1/4 c Olive Oil
2 tbsp fresh Thyme, minced
1/2 tsp salt
3 large peppers, sliced– use different colors to make it pretty!
2 c sliced onions

In an un-greased 9x13 inch baking casserole, combine the potatoes, broth, oil, thyme & salt.  Grill, covered over medium heat for about 25 minutes.
Stir in peppers & onions.  Grill 25-30 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender.

Happy Day,
Jean

Thursday, May 24, 2012

More on Companion Planting & Beneficial Bugs, Crafty Spring Sachet, Yummy Spring Dishes: Radish Chive Spread & Sorrel Soup!

Super cute & easy little sachets make
wonderful parry favors or gifts!
Evan and I picked rhubarb and asparagus today... so fun! He enjoys being outside helping so much, it is such a blessing. The other day when we were in the front garden hoeing he and Ryan were picking up all the weeds putting them in buckets to dump... well Evan wanted to do more, so there he goes with my hoe diligently working away at some weeds 'mom missed'... Hard work is something that needs to be nurtured in them while young, and when we can make it fun they want to be with us!  I am working hard at teaching these children all about gardening and feeding themselves... companion planting is an important part of this process, especially for the Organic gardener.

Companion Planting to deter bad bugs from harming your flowers & veggies is an age old practice, and one we at The Garden Gate CSA Farm practice wholeheartedly.  This practice involves working with nature a bit by attracting beneficial insects into your garden with certain types of plants as well as planting specific combination of things to deter bad bugs.  The beneficial insects such as ladybugs, praying mantis and lacewings to name just a few can be brought in by planting things they like.  If you have a kitchen garden or a small home garden incorporate as many of these plants into the garden as you can.  Herbs and flowers belong with veggies in the garden, it is what the old timers did because it worked... and it's the way God made it to be.  They help keep those unwanted bad bugs at bay without using synthetic and poisonous pesticides & herbicides.  Here are a few ideas to get you going:

*Basil will repel flies & mosquitoes
*Castor bean will keep moles and plant lice away
*Plant hyssop and it will deter the cabbage moth.                                                                                        
*When planted near rosebushes, lavender drives away aphids.
*Sage, hyssop and thyme deter caterpillars.
*French marigolds may discourage nematodes, Mexican bean beetles and white flies
*Nasturtium also helps fight against aphids, squash bugs, striped cucumber/ pumpkin beetle and woolly aphids.
*Pennyroyal gets ants to stay away.
*Add a beautiful edge of petunias in your garden and the beetles will keep away.
*Peppermint isn't only good to make tea with, but repels the white cabbage moth. I have a whole patch of it in my kitchen garden.
*Rosemary and Sage deter cabbage moth, bean beetles, carrot flies and ticks.
*Santolina keeps plant lice away.
This is such a small list of possibilities but you can get lots more ideas in "Carrot's Love Tomatoes" by Louise Riott.  This book is open most of the year for me!

Crafty Spring Sachet
To make a sachet, cut a four-inch square from a hankie. With the pattern side up, fold three corners toward the square's center. Hand-stitch the sides together. Turn the sachet inside out, press, and sew a decorative button atop the flap. Fill the pouch with dried lavender, then secure the flap with some hidden hand-sewn stitches.

Here are a couple super easy and yummy appetizers to serve at your next luncheon, or just a special treat for you and your honey!
Radish Chive Spread

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 tbsp. softened butter
1 cup radishes, chopped
1/2 cup fresh chives, chipped
1/2 tsp. salt
1 loaf pumpernickel bread

Wash, trim & dry radishes very well.  Soften cream cheese, add butter, and mex well.
Add chopped radishes, chives & salt, mix well.
Chill; serve in bowl on pumpernickel bread.
Sorrel Soup
This soup is good hot or cold as an appetizer.  When reheating, don't bring to a boil b/c it may separate.

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped scallion (green onions)
4 cups chopped sorrel leaves, washed and stemmed, loosely packed
2 cups diced, peeled potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half or light cream.
Chopped fresh chives

1. In a large saucepan, heat the butter; add scallion and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minute, until tender.
2. Stir in 3 cups of the sorrel, the potatoes and salt; cook 1 minute or until the sorrel softens and wilts.; add broth and bring to boiling.
3. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
4. Cool mixture slightly; transfer, half at a time if necessary, to a food processor or blender; process until smooth; add the remaining 1 up sorrel and the half and half; process until just combined (sorrel pieces should still be visible).
5. Serve immediately or chill to serve cold.  Sprinkle with chives just before serving.


Happy Day,
Jean




Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Choosing Perennials, Lavender Heart Card, Easy Flavored Sugar's Gift & Yummy Apple Pie Oatmeal

Flavored Sugars make a super cute gift.
See how to below

Lavender Heart Card... see how to below

Our gardens are filled with love, patience and long suffering... these are attributes that we as spouses, parents, co-workers and such strive to maintain and build in our personal character.  I believe that gardening helps us grow these virtues.  I always tell my my friends that God made me to love gardening because that was the only way He was sure to get these virtues instilled in me.   Perennials I believe help along with this much more than annuals.  My closer friends know how much I enjoy 'instant gratification' :-) ~ which is why I probably will always incorporate my beloved annuals... petunias, nasturtiums, pansies and the likes~ they are ever faithful!  Today we will look at perennials and the pro's and con's to them along with some tips & hints on maintenance.

Perennials can create a challenge for some due to the simple fact there are so many to choose from.  Several factors come into play when deciding on what, where and when.  I will touch base on what I believe to be the most important factors to take into consideration. Perennials will be where ever you place them for a long while and if they are larger plants such as shrubs and trees, you need to make sure you love what you choose!  The color of your home, whether it be dark, light or painted brick, vinyl siding or painted wood~ all play into the choices. You wouldn't want to put a white flowering pear in front of your white house- you would loose all interest because when the tree is in full bloom you would loose the tree into your home.  A pink flowering crab on the other hand would be much more stunning.
Many of the factors listed with annuals are also relevant for perennial, for instance sun & shade tolerances.
~Size is one factor with perennials that does differ from perennials.  You will be looking at trees and shrubs as well as bush types, ground covers, small to mid-size growers. 
~I would suggest that first you go to a nursery or garden center with a note book, plan on spending some serious time there.  Go through each category of plant that you are interested in; jot down what you like and the details to that plant.  If you have a really good plant encyclopedia at home, you won't need too much of the detail, but if you don't be sure to get these details- sun requirements, blooming time, height & width at mature stage and any special requirements that might be listed.
~Bloom time is one factor to pay close attention to.  You will want to be sure to incorporate plants that will give you seasonal blooming.  Here are a few more common perennials and there bloom time:
*Spring bloomers: Ajuga, bergina, bleeding heart, columbine, coral bells, hellebore, lady's mantle, peony, poppy, primrose, viola and of course bulbs such as snow drops, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and my favorite of all, tulips.
*Summer bloomers: Astible, baby's breath, bee balm, coreopsis, day lily, delphinium, dianthus, helianthus, hosta, lupine, obedient plant, phlox, purple corn flower, black eyed susan, Shasta daisies, Russian sage, scabiosa, sedum, verbena, veronica and yarrow.
*Fall bloomers: Aster, chrysanthemum, lobelia, Japanese anemone and goldenrod.
The next thing to take into consideration when you are ready to purchase is, "What size plant/shrub/tree do I start with?" Well the fact of the matter here is truly how much money and patience do you have! I most often times want the biggest bang for my buck and therefore typically will go with a smaller plant and be patient with growth.  There are a few 'slow' growers that I don't, like trees for instance.  I've done the catalog mail order and get a 'twig' in the mail, which has in every situation been mowed over, run over by a child, week wacked or dug up by an animal! No thanks~ too many disappointments and wasted time in this area.  What I do is wait until August and go to the garden centers when everything is typically marked down 50% and buy the 8' to 12' trees.  I mulch heavily and water deeply and regularly so the tree will have plenty of time to take root and make it through the cold Michigan weather I live in.  I have not lost one yet!  This is also what I do with some of my larger shrubs if they are going to be in a 'high risk' area. Otherwise I go for the small pots here too.  Mulching and watering is the key to success.
* A few other tips:
~Prepare the soil well- add plenty of organic matter to ensure adequate water and air circulation.
~Always plant the plant to the same depth of the size of the pot that you purchased it in.
~Water often the first season. This will aid the plant in developing a strong root base.
~Fertilize in spring- most growth happens during this time.  Choose appropriate fertilizers according to type of plant.
~Mulch year round- this aids in maintaining moisture and protecting roots.
~Get more blooms!  Dead heading certain varieties, such as roses will stimulate more blooming.
~Division of plants, especially Iris's and bulbs are crucial to long life and better blooming.  Be sure to read on each plant before dividing, some prefer spring, others fall!
There is so much to be said and time and space would never allow me to do it all in a day's blog.  I hope this helps you get started!

For a thoughtful gift, create on of these simple Lavender Filled Heart Cards. 
*First you will need to choose a sheet of card stock and cut to the desired size;  fold vertically in the center. Cut two heart shapes from a piece of printed muslin to fit nicely on the front of your card; stitch them together, outsides in, leaving a small opening; invert the hearts; loosely fill with dried lavender; stitch the opening closed and attach the heart to the card.  See attached photo!      

Flavored Sugars are an easy thing to make, here is a quick recipe that you can use on oatmeal or in your tea.  They make super cute gifts as well.  See attached photo!

Start with 2 cups organic raw sugar.
For Vanilla Sugar: Split 1 vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds from the bean into the sugar; then bury the bean in the sugar.
For Cinnamon Sugar:  add 1 1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon and 2 sticks.
For Cardamon Sugar: add 1/4 cup whole green cardamom pods.
The sugars will stay flavorful i a sealed container for up to one year. 

To make it gift worthy put the sugar's in pint size jelly jars; using pinking shears cut a cute piece of fabric circle 1 1/2 inch's wider in diameter than the metal lid; place fabric circle over the lid, place on filled jar and then seal with ring.  Create a cute contents label to put on the front of jar. Happy giving!

Oatmeal doesn't have to be the way grandma made it- goopy & thick!  This alternative to an already hearty breakfast goes a long way when it tastes like Apple Pie.  Sometimes we are really busy in the morning and getting a good breakfast can be a challenge.  Here is a quick, forget about it in the crock pot till morning meal that is sure to please!
Apple Pie Oatmeal

2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup steel cut oats, uncooked
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. apple pie spice
1 apple, cored, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup raisins, optional
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker sprayed with non stick spray; stir well until well mixed. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Happy Day,
Jean

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kitchen Tips & Tricks, Cute Curtain Tie Back, Herb Garden Spritzer & Citrus Raspberry Tea




Yummy & refreshing Herb Garden Spritzer... see recipe below!


Really cute curtain tie back... see how to below!

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen especially in the summer when we are busy with all the canning & freezing we do around our home.  I love to can as you will learn more this summer through my blogs I am sure!  Right now I am excited with spring and all the bounty she holds... rhubarb, asparagus, fresh greens, spinach, fresh garden tea... oh spring is delicious.  But I think all the seasons can be, especially with the season extensions that we have now with hoop houses and heated green houses at our farm.  With our Winter CSA they allow for fresh stuff all year!  Today I am kitchen mode so here are some fun ideas, tips, decorating ideas and yummy drinks to read about! Have a great day and wonderful weekend!

Handy Kitchen Tips...
"Food should be prepared with butter and love." Swedish Proverb
*If you are in need of a Cake Stand simply use an inverted bowl and a pretty plate set on top! Presto- cake plate!
*To make colored sugar for decorating cupcakes or whatever simply start with 1 cup of sugar in a zip lock bag, add 2-3 drops of food coloring, knead the bag of sugar until completely blended; lay out evenly on cookie sheet and let air dry before putting in air tight container.
*Chocolate Cut Outs are easy to make and add an elegance to your desserts.  Simply spread melted chocolate thinly on a sheet of wax paper and chill until nearly set.  Cut out whatever shapes you would like using cookie cutters, chill again, then gently peel off.  Store flat in plastic freezer containers if you have extra!
*If you soak your wooden kabob skewers in water for about 20-30 minutes before you are ready to grill they won't burn and your goodies won't stick!
*Don't open your oven door when baking especially, it drops the temp down almost 25 degrees every time- not good for those cakes & brownies!
*When you make hard boiled eggs, have a bowl with ice cubes in water ready to put them in; leave set for 1 minutes and watch the peals come right off!
*Don't have an icing piper- no problem, use a one gallon plastic bag, put icing in bag, twist top as to push down towards one corner of bag; snip off a tiny bit of corner and there ya go- pipe away!
*Use a muffin pan to put your baked potatoes in- stand them up and bake as normal!
*Need to soften butter fast and don't want to use a microwave~ shred the butter with a cheese grater, it will thaw faster!
*Your lettuce won't brown if you tear it with your hands instead of cutting with a knife.
*Cut your bacon into 1 inch bites before frying if you are going to add it to a salad or other dish that calls for crumbled bacon- no more burnt fingers because of impatience :-) !
*Use a veggie peeler to make chocolate or cheese curls- so slick and fast!
*Use cookie cutters to cut cheese into fun shapes for your appetizer tray!
*Cut the center out of mini melons or even pineapple halves to serve your yummy fruit dips; use hollowed out bread rounds to serve veggie dips in- place in center of serving plate and put veggies all around.
*Need a lot of ice for a punch bowl~ use a muffin tin to make jumbo size ice cubes that won't melt as quick. To make them extra special, boil water first and then add viola blossoms and freeze.  Boiled water freezes clear. 
*Use blue Mason can jars, small vases or pitchers to stand pretzels for dipping in, cuter & clever!
*When making muffins use an old fashioned ice cream scoop, they will all be the same size. To ensure they have nice round tops, only grease the tin half way up where the batter will stop.
*When getting ready to start a kitchen project, make sure you have all ingredients before you start!
*For faster, easier clean up start your project with a clean sink of hot soapy water, and wash as you go! No big mess at the end!
*Substitute apple, orange or pineapple juice for the water in cake mixes- adds a nice flavor!
 

Cute Curtain Tie Back & Napkin Rings
See attached photo's!
Here is a super cute idea for your kitchen or dining room curtains.  To make this nifty tie back, simply drill a small hole approximately one inch in from the end of the fork's handle.  Hold the utensil face up, then use pliers to bend the prongs back toward the handle, making sure to form a rounded C shape rather than a V.  Finish by screwing the tie back into your window molding.

Brighten up your table for entertaining with these floral napkin rings. Buy faux roses in your favorite hues at a crafts store, then sew them, singly or in pairs, onto regular hair elastics with a few stitches.


To fit standard dinner napkins, cut a bandanna into 6- by 9-inch strips. Fold each strip in thirds lengthwise, then fold in thirds width wise. Sew a button on one end, about 1 inch from the edge. (Choose any colorful loose buttons you may have on hand; they don't need to match.) Then cut a corresponding buttonhole on the opposite end of the strip.


Here are samples of the home made napkin rings described above!  Be creative and change them up to suit your decor and taste!

Here are a couple recipes for refreshing drinks... a nice change from the usual!
Citrus Raspberry TeaMy two favorite flavors of teas are raspberry and any citrus... When Taylor threw this concoction together it was an instant hit for the whole family... a bite of citrus with the earthy goodness of raspberry.

4 cups water
6 Raspberry Tea Bags
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 12oz can each frozen Orange Juice AND Lemonade concentrate, thawed
10 cups cold water
ice

1. Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil in pot; remove from heat and add the teabags; steep overnight or for at least 8-10 hours; discard the teabags.
2 Pour into a large pitcher; add remaining ingredients.
Serve cold and be refreshed!

Herb Garden Spritzer
A refreshing drink for those hot summer days that are on the way.

1 bottle (750-ml)of Sparkling White Grape Juice
1 cup Real Lemon juice
2 cups Lemon Lime soda
1 1/2 cup raw organic sugar, divided
5 Tbsp. lemon zest
2 cups lemon thyme leaves (2 bunches)
Ice
1 1/2 liters tonic water

1. In a large pot, bring first 3 ingredients and 1 cup of sugar to a boil; add lemon zest; reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 5 minutes until sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Remove the pot from heat; add 1 cup/bunch of thyme leaves and steep for 15 minutes (let set).
3. While mixture is still hot, add a few more thyme sprigs plus 1/2 cup sugar.
4. Set a 2 quart container in a bowl and fell bowl halfway with the ice.  Strain the mixture into a container; place bowl in freezer and add water to cover ice; chill until cold and mixture is slushy, about 8-9 hours.
5. Divide among glasses, then top off with the tonic water, add ice if desired; garnish with thyme sprigs.

Happy Day,
Jean

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Choosing Annuals, Keep Flowers Blooming, Mud Room Coat Racks & Yummy Breakfast Bake

The nursery & garden centers are a tempting place to go right now for us gardeners.  As we drive past we can see the happy pansies that we just know want to come home with us, shrubs that we are sure we would have just the right spot for beckon us to take them, that beautiful flowering American Red Bud would go just perfect over in the side yard... yes we gardeners are like the pet lovers that just want to give that one last kitty or puppy a nice home, we too think just one more... Well, thankfully plants are a bit easier to maintain and provide for, so on goes the reasoning away! That's OK though, pet lovers and gardener's alike love what they love and we know what makes us happy.  Right now I am busy planning our farms new Sausage Raised Bed Garden.  The boys and I just put twenty new 4x8 beds in the side yard and this will be where we plant all the herbs, peppers and fennel that will go into Neil's sausage blends.  It is very exciting to know that Lord willing this fall I will be harvesting all these wonderful things that will tease 'your' taste buds in the coming seasons.  I love gardening!

I would like to take a couple days and discuss the options and decisions that effect us when choosing between annuals & perennials.  Today we will discuss Annuals. The time for us to start making these decisions is steadily creeping up on us~ the choices of annuals will soon bombard us. We should be choosing a variety of flowering ornamental's.  Many bulbs provide early spring color, while perennials change the garden's look from week to week.  Annuals are steady performers, adding color and filling in while hardy plants mature; because they last only one season, annuals also let you experiment with different schemes, year after year.  Each year we are exposed to several new varieties and colors of petunias, marigolds, salvia's and such... which do we choose?  For me it is kind of easy... I know I like pinks & purples.  My garden's are primarily in this color range with a few splashes of yellow, red and orange from nasturtiums, marigolds and canna's.  But otherwise I stick to what I know I like~ pinks & purples.
Here are a few tips to help you when choosing annuals:
*Thinking Through Annuals:
~Annuals will give you lots of spectacular color through the season with repeat blooming.
~Annuals will grow for only one season, but some such as sweet alyssum, pansies, snapdragons and bachelor buttons will reseed prolifically!
~Annuals do a wonderful job filling in between newly planted perennials that need some time to mature. 
~Most annuals prefer a sunny location, with a few exceptions that like shade- impatiens, coleus, begonias and pansies will tolerate.
~They like containers and will be faithful bloomers as you are faithful in dead heading and watering.
~You can keep some through the winter by potting them up in containers and bringing them indoors.  If you have a green house or four season sun room, you can enjoy your beloved bloomers for a bit longer.  Some better bets include begonias, coleus, impatiens, and geraniums. 
Here are a few suggestions on types of annuals:
Tender Types: Ageratum, begonia, celosia, cleome, coleus, geranium, impatiens, marigold, morning glory, salvia, sunflower, vinca and zinnia.  These need to be sown or transplanted about two weeks or more after the last spring frost, when the soil is warm.  These annuals will not survive if touched by a frost.
Half-hardy Types: Bachelor button, calendula, cosmos, lobelia, nasturtium, petunia, phlox, annual poppy, snapdragon, verbena.  These should be sown indoors and planted outside at about the time of your last spring frost date.  These prefer cool growing conditions and can tolerate light frost.
Hardy Types:  Dianthus, larkspur, pansy, sweet alyssum, sweet pea.  These can be directly sown in the ground whenever the soil can be worked or set out seedlings in early spring.  These tolerate cold weather and hard freezes.

Keep Them Blooming!  As much as we gardener's hate to cut off those pretty flowers, it really is the best thing you can do for blooming bedding flowers. Snip off every bloom as you set the plants into your beds or containers.  This 'thoughtful' pinching reminds the plants that they should get back to the business of growing roots and stems, which will result in many more blossoms over a much longer time.

Coat Racks~ Most of us have a back entry or mud room where we come in to take our outdoor gear off.  Here is a really cute & easy project to make hanging up those duds more special.
Materials you will need:
*A board, an old piece of barn wood or something else you like, just so long as it is tall enough to hold your seed packets.
*Enough empty seed packets to cover the length of the board you have chosen.
*Wood glue.
*Modge-podge glue.
*optional- paint.
*Coat hooks.
~Take the board you have chosen and if you are going to paint it, do so now; allow to draw thoroughly.  If you want a rustic look, lightly sand paper off the edges and the center to add a distressed look; be sure to clean off all dust.
~Tack the seed packets on with a bit of the wood glue, just to temporarily hold; Apply the modge-podge over the seed packets to glue on the board- follow package instructions; allow to draw according to instructions.
~Once the glue is totally dry, put the coat hooks on as desired; hang up on the wall of your choice and enjoy your pretty project!

Breakfast Bake

Breakfast is the start of the day, so why not start off on the right foot with a hearty meal to get you rolling.  Here is a yummy recipe using Garden Gates Breakfast Sausage!

1 baguette, torn into bite size pieces
1 lb. package of Garden Gate's bulk Breakfast Sausage, cooked and drained
10 eggs from Garden Gate, beaten
2 cups milk
1 cup fresh spinach, washed and torn into bite size pieces
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1.  Arrange the broken bread pieces on a lightly greased 9x13 baking dish; top with cooked sausage.
2. In a bowl, beat eggs; add milk, salt, pepper and spinach, mix; pour over bread & sausage.
3. Sprinkle cheese over top of mixture.
4. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until golden and eggs are set.

Happy Day,
Jean

Friday, May 18, 2012

Landscape Design Tips, The Importance of Soil & Yummy Apple & Cinnamon Pancakes!

I am a Cottage Gardener through and through~ I love the free form it allows me to have... the natural flow that occurs with time... the feel that everything has been there forever.  Cottage gardens just seem happy and inviting to me~ they seem to say, 'go ahead & pick a bouquet.. take it in the house, smell it...  gaze upon it's beauty and wonder...'  Daisies, lupines, delphiniums and roses are just a few of the Cottage Gardens blooms that abound. I wouldn't even know where to begin to explain how to do other garden types.  I believe your heart becomes a part of your garden over time, it calls out to you each time you pass by and invites you in like an old friend.  Landscaping can be fun and exciting, filled with anticipation of what each year will bring, what news plants will be added, new walkways, arbors... Enjoy your gardens and be one with it, it will bring you years of peaceful abundance.

There are several aspects to consider when considering your Landscape Design. These elements will effect the outcome quite drastically and need to be planned well in advance. 
*First make your Plan~  Walk through your yard and break it into three basic areas~1. Public Spaces- your front yard and driveway; these should be neat and organized; 2. Private Spaces- patios, pools areas and children's play areas; these spaces allow for your personal creativity; 3. Utility Spaces- garbage cans, propane tanks, central air units, firewood piles and such- be practical when planning these areas. For instance, you don't want to walk across your entire yard in the winter when you want to get some firewood :-)
*Decide what your Personal Taste is~ this is probably going to be the easiest step in my opinion, unless of course you are not a gardener at heart and simply want a yard that is esthetically appealing to the eye and don't really care about personal expression.  If this is the case, I would recommend going to a book store that has gobs of magazines; look at the covers of all the gardening magazine and see what catches your eye; decide what you like and then purchase several in that category of gardening;  what is your budget? what is your time limit to maintenance?
*Take into consideration the Style of your home when choosing your garden style.  You wouldn't want to put a formal English garden with an old Victorian home.
*Blueprint your yard~  you don't have to be an architect to do this.  You can actually purchase kits at garden centers to aid you, or do as I do, just take a pad of paper and rough draw your entire property or just the area in which you want to do the landscaping.  Take into consideration where all shade, all sun and partial shade/sun areas are located.  This will make a big difference in the plants that you finally choose.  Jot down where trees, fences, ditches, buildings, sidewalks, driveways, etc. are located. 
* Make a Plan of Action~ take time to develop your blueprint and plan.  Most well done gardens are a work in progress that require time and patience, not to mention funds! Decide on all the elements that you want to incorporate into the landscape and then decide what is the most practical thing to start with.  You will more than likely be incorporating hard scape elements into the design with the plants and maybe some garden art. These would include walkways, pergola's, patios, pools, arbors and trellises. Also bird baths, sun dials, statues and any other 'art' you want.
*Choosing the plants will be another big decision.  You will need to decide on trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.  This will need to be decided upon once you choose your style.
*When deciding on the Layout, if you choose to incorporate paths, make them winding if at all possible; this adds interest and creates a feeling of anticipation as to what is coming up around the bend.  This obviously is not possible in all yards, so a way to create that feel is in your flower beds.  Instead of making a straight line edge for your beds, put curves in them to create interest.  It is amazing how this creates a natural flow that is appealing to the on lookers eye.
Different things to consider when planning:
~ do you want a veggie & herb garden?
~ do you want shrubs and trees that require little pruning
~ do you want flowering or evergreen shrubs & trees? or a mixture of both.
~ take into consideration all four seasons when choosing your plants.
~ be sure to look at growth patterns- maturity height & width, shade or sun, dry or wet, etc.

Designing and planning your garden is the fun part of gardening, but there is another very important element that is the Key to Success~ your Soil.  The following information was found and adapted from "Michigan Gardener" magazine, April 2012 issue on page 9.
"Soil is comprised of three materials: sand, clay, and loam.  The best soil has equal parts of all three.  Problems arise when there is too much of one material. Sandy soil is too loose and drains too quickly... Clay soil is too hard when dry, repelling water and making it difficult for roots to grow. When wet, it holds too much water, leading to root rot....  Spending a little time becoming familiar with the soil type in your backyard will greatly improve your gardening success.  If you need help, bring a sample into your local garden center and an expert will help you determine your soil type....  You're not necessarily stuck with the soil you're given.  Adding amendments will help create a rich, loamy composition that's a great environment for plants to thrive.  For sandy soil, add organic matter, such a peat moss or compost, to give it more texture add water holding properties.  To break up clay soil, add gypsum, pine bark fines or ceramic pellets.  It is also important to know your soil's pH as well as nutrient composition before applying fertilizers.... Tests are available for about $20...."
There is much information to be had on this topic that I wouldn't have time to get into here.  I would advise you to get a soil sample done and get your soil prepped for maximum benefits.
  
Yummy Apple & Cinnamon Pancakes!
Here is yet anther way to use Taylor's awesome pancake mixes! Be sure to pick one up at the market!

1 Package of Taylor's Bake Shoppe Regular Pancake Mix.  Follow package instructions for 1 recipe.
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 apple, cored, peeled, quartered, grated and divided
sugar for sprinkling
butter for melting to fry in

1. Make batter according to package instructions adding the cinnamon.
2. On a heated skillet melt 1 Tbsp. butter; sprinkle 1/2 tsp. sugar on top of melted butter; add 1 Tbsp. grated apple on top of this.
3. Immediately pour 1/4 cup of batter over top of apple, sugar & butter; cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 1 to 2 minutes; turn and continue to fry for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until golden.
Serve warm with maple syrup , butter and whipped cream.

Happy Day,
Jean

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bringing Children In The Garden & Yummy Veggies On The Grill!

"Any garden demands as much of its maker as he has to give.  but I do not need to tell you, if you are a gardener, that no other undertaking will give as great a return for the amount of effort put into it."  Elizabeth Lawrence, 1904-1985, Gardening For Love.
I absolutely cherish the moments that I get to be in the garden with our children.  It is quality time that I feel will make a lasting impression on their lives and hopefully create memories for them of special moments with mom teaching them about how God makes all this great stuff happen!  I love to see them planting seeds, transplanting a tomato plant in the garden, tilling up the good earth and feeling that soft, rich soil squish between their toes!  My children love to feel that they have their own little space in the garden, to grow the things that interest them, to experiment and to harvest what they tended.  It can be a challenge sometimes to include them.  It is often just easier to do it ourselves and just getting it done.  It will usually add on some minutes, well maybe even hours, with the little helpers involved! But what memories you will make, what happiness will beam in their eyes when they pull out that carrot from the seed 'they' planted. That smile, that gleam in the eye is worth more than all the saved minutes of just doing it our self.  I love everything about gardening... yes even the back wrenching weeding & hoeing, the sun burnt back of my neck and the stiff arms... I love gardening!  
Here are some fun ideas to incorporate your children into your gardening 'thyme' :-) !
Gardening With Your Children~ 

*Be sure to have child size tools for the little folks. You can purchase such items at just about any store that sells gardening supplies.  Make them responsible for their tools- to put them back, keep them clean, and be careful when using. Add a name plaque where their tools belong in the potting shed or garage, make them feel special.
*Keeping them interested is another challenge, especially with the ones that aren't that interested.  Allow them to choose what they would like to grow.  Some suggestions would be giant sunflowers, pumpkins, decorative gourds or root crops. Radishes and lettuce are quick growers and can be 'encouraging' to the one that needs a little boost in interest. They are also available in multiple colors and sizes and can really encourage interest.   If you choose a root crop I would suggest using some fun Heirloom things.  Carrots for instance offer a multitude of shapes and colors, from Cosmic Purple to Lunar White and every shade of orange in between.  Potatoes are also a fun crop.  You can purchase red, white and even blue potatoes.  Watch their eyes light up when they dig those potatoes. 
*If you don't have a spot for a garden, let them Container Garden.  You can use anything~ some fun things for the little people would be a wagon planted with some pansies, an old shoe with some Hen's & Chicks or any type of pot. They can plant herbs, flowers or veggies.  Go back to my blog on Container Gardens in the archives to get more great ideas.
*Also in the archives you will find the blog with the Sunflower House so your child/ren can create a secret room or play house. 
*Plant a cucumber plant; once the plant starts to form flowers it will not take long for it to start changing into a cucumber; once the cucumber is still small enough to fit into the hole of a 20oz. or so plastic bottle, carefully insert the cucumber into the hole.  Make sure the bottle is clear; once the cucumber 'fills' the bottle, pluck it off the plant and carefully cut the bottle off! Presto, a bottle shaped cucumber.  This would work with many types of veggies, try out a few and use different containers to make multiple shapes.
*If you grow a pumpkin plant, once the pumpkin is about 6 inches across, carefully scratch the child's name and a silly face into the skin being careful not to puncture.  Over time as it grows, the drawing will grow right along with it!
*With a stick, trace the child's name into the soil in a planting area; sprinkle lettuce, radish or carrot seed in the name. Watch it grow! 
*Be sure to take tons of pictures of your child in the garden and even photograph the planting, growing and harvesting process so those precious memories will not be forgotten.

Veggies On The Grill


As I have mentioned often, we love to grill and it is grilling season.  I will probably be giving lots of grill time recipe's so if you don't have a grill, now's the time to get one!

4-6 large red skin potatoes from The Garden Gate Farm, washed & cut into chunks with skins on
1 yellow onion from Garden Gate, cut into slivers
1 clove of garlic from Garden Gate, minced
1 cup spinach leaves from Garden Gate, washed & trimmed into bite size pieces
1 cup of Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes from Garden Gate
1 medium yellow squash from Garden Gate, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tsp. Matt's Mix Seasoning Salt
1/4 cup fresh Thyme from The Garden Gate
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
3 Tbsp. butter, diced
piece of foil wrap large enough to hold all ingredients and be folded over and sealed on top and sides.

1. In foil place all veggies; sprinkle evenly over top with seasoning and herb; drizzle Olive oil over top; put dobs of butter evenly dispersed over all.
2. Fold over the foil across the top and sides so it doesn't leak.
3. Place on top rack of grill and let cook about 45minutes to an hour. 

This goes great with any type of meat, so grill some awesome T-bones from Garden Gate to go along with it, and let your taste buds be taken to an all new level!

Happy Day,
Jean
 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rhubarb & Asparagus Growing Tips & Yummy Spring-Thyme Asparagus

Spring, asparagus, rhubarb, gardening, organizing, spring cleaning... these are all things that start happening about now in most homes.  I get this fuzzy feeling inside when the air turns warm and it gets that 'spring' smell... the trees start adding leaves... the grass greens and the ground feels squishy under your bare feet... this need to clean rushes ahead of me and I just want everything inside to feel like outside.  Rebirth and spring seem to go hand and hand... I love the way everything comes to life and the death and nothingness of winter fades behind and the re-juvination starts exploding all around me.  I get a rush every time I go outside and walk... and I also see all the work that needs done, the repairs, the weeding and so on.  But you know what, it's OK because it's spring and it just feels good!

Lets look at some of the yummy stuff popping up in the gardens and the great ways to use them. I am sure most of as children remember the rhubarb and asparagus patches and if you didn't, then now is the perfect time to start your own and create wonderful, happy traditions in your own back yards. 
Growing Asparagus and Rhubarb are one of the easiest and most rewarding things you can grow. They will live for years serving you up fresh wholesome goodness every spring with very little care. When compared to orchards and some other wonderful, yet very labor intensive crops, these two are a breeze!  Here a few simple and easy care instructions that will pay off hundred fold for you in the years to come.
Asparagus~
*If you are starting a new patch please come see me at market where I offer 2 year old crowns and I will be happy to give you these instructions first hand. 
*If you have the option you should make all attempts at purchasing all male asparagus crowns- such as Jersey Giant or Jersey Knight.  These are all male cultivers and will offer you many more stalks of that great green stuff!
*A good guild is to plant about 25 roots per person in your household. This will give you enough to feast on and even some to freeze later.  You will need a square per root, the crowns multiply year after year and you will end up with a very nice patch that will serve you faithfully for 15 to 20 years.
*You should start with at least two year old crowns and then you can harvest on the third year.
*Use earth or sea salt each spring and sprinkle as you would your food around the plot.  This kills weeds by taking moisture and the asparagus thrives on the sodium.
*Mulch in the spring and again in the fall- mulching your plants is crucial!  Mulch with compost, straw or grass clippings in the spring; it should be any where from 4 to 6 inches in depth. It will prevent weeds from taking over the area and it helps retain moisture through the season.  Each Fall add a good cover of about 4 inches of well rotted manure and then cover with a mulch to be about 6 inches in depth.
The crowns will gladly grow up through and provide you with a bountiful crop spring after spring.  DO NOT use sawdust or bark, asparagus likes a near neutral soil level.
Rhubarb~
*Is well suited to cool climates and loves to be fed!  Each fall mulch around the base of plants with about 4-6 inches of composted manure.  Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and needs this to produce heavily.
*In the spring & fall mulch around the plants with about 6 inches of straw or grass clippings. This helps hold back the weeds and maintains moisture.
*Never cut your stalks with a knife, rather grab hold of the stalk close to the ground and carefully pull the stem out. Cutting will make the plant stem 'bleed' and this will make rot a more likely problem. 
*For a heavier and longer harvest, cut the flower stalks as soon as you notice them forming.  Allowing the plant to go to bloom, will tell the plant the harvest is over and make fewer stalks.
*Never harvest more than two thirds of the stalks.
*You can start harvesting stalks when stalks are about 1 to 11/2 feet tall.  Trim off the leaves which are not an edible part of the plant.  The leaves contain high levels of 'Oxalic Acid' and is toxic to animals and humans.

Yummy Spring Asparagus

This dish goes a long way accompaning your favorite grilled chicken or fish dish!  Let your taste buds savor the fresh spring taste, the earthy goodness that flows out of this spring treat that never seems to last long enough.

1 pound bunch of asparagus from The Garden Gate Farm, trimmed
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. fresh Thyme from Garden Gate
1/2 tsp. earth or sea salt

In a large iron skillet on medium heat put butter, oil, salt and thyme in, saute for 1 minute; add aspargus and saute until crisp-tender- about 10-12 minutes depending on how you like it.
Serve with your meat dish and enjoy this spring time treat while it lasts.

Happy Day,
Jean
 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Containers for Planting


I love to set up old, chipped paint chairs in and around my gardens.
 This one sits just outside of the kitchen garden.
A pot filled with happy pansies rests on top and an old rusty tin bucket sits beside... both ready to welcome
garden walkers!




This is an old fashioned double burner canner, or 'water bather'!
I picked this beauty up at a junk yard when Neil was looking for a part! 
You never know where you'll find good garden junque!
Once again pansies say hello to all who travel through the gardens.

This is one of my favorite planters- it's an old, rusty metal toolbox!
I plant pink geraniums in it every year...
You can see where I used an old barrel in the background as a planter as well!

Have fun and be sure to read my blog below for lots more great Container Gardening ideas!

Happy Day,
Jean
 

Raised Bed Gardening, Plant Container Ideas, Yummy Savory Garden Cornmeal Pancakes and more...

Raised Bed Gardening, Plant Container Ideas, Yummy Savory Garden Cornmeal Pancakes and more...

"We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts."  William Hazlitt
 

I got the new raised bed garden over by our barn hill with Kyle & Ethan's help... They brought over all the plastic ground cover and helped me get it all down; then they hauled over all 20 of the 4x8 raised beds; they brought wheel barrows of straw to put in each one; then got some well rotted manure and topped that off; and now we got the dirt in- Neil helped too, he shoveled some dirt when my elbow started to hurt. This will be specifically for Neil's sausages! We will grown all the herbs and peppers for them. I am so excited about growing and drying all the herbs and raised beds are such an easy way to go for anyone, especially if you don't have a large area.   If you want to have a no fuss, no muss garden try raised beds, they require very little maintenance and can grow almost everything! 

Raised Bed tips on how to make & grow!*The lumber you use should be at least 10" high or higher if you want it. Although for proper root growth this is the minimum. 
*Do NOT use old rail road ties, no matter how many you get for free- they contain a poison called Creosote that will leach out into your soil, be taken up by the roots of your plants, nourish the plant and you get all the by-product in the fruit that it bears when YOU eat it! Yuck!  Stay away from treated lumber for the same reasons.  (this pertains only to those who want to grow organically!)
*Your raised beds can be as long as you want them to be, but the best width is 4' wide.  With this width you can easily 'reach' in from both sides.  You never want to 'step in' your RB, this compacts the soil, which makes proper root growth more difficult.  My farms RB's are either 4'x4' or 4'x8', these work best for me.
*Find a sunny location in your yard and decide how many you would like, or should I say how many would fit!  I would not have a stitch of grass if I didn't have boys that need 'play space'!
*Fill your box with from the bottom up with a mixture of well rotted manure, compost, old grass clippings, hay or straw and top with a rich, loamy soil. 
*After you have your box filled with all the plants you want to grow, put a layer of newspaper (NOT colored print sections) about 3-4 sections thick between your plants, top with a layer of grass clippings or straw to act as a mulch. You will have virtually NO weeding!
*Water thoroughly and enjoy your hard work! 
For a very concise book on Raised Bed gardening I always recommend 'Lasagna Gardening' by Patricia Lanza.  I also recommend companion planting with all your growing ventures. I use Louise Riotte's, 'Carrots Love Tomatoes'.  Both these books will give you a great start to your gardening ventures.


Other nifty ideas for plant containers:1.  Old galvanized chicken feeder or waterer's, tin buckets, watering cans, old metal double burner caners (see picture) enamel ware anything... be sure to put drainage holes on the bottom- unless there it is well rusted and has time worn ones, even better!
2.  Wheel barrow's or old wagons can be found at any flea market or garage sale.  You can either put the plant pots directly in the containers or fill em' with dirt and direct plant.  Either way, totally adorable!
3.  Barrels or metal wash tubs are great as well.  I have a old half barrel at my back door with a bleeding heart in it.  When it is in full bloom it is simply stunning. 
4. Old drawers, crates or even an old wooden trough (yes I have had one).  These work great in your garden's to add depth and interest.  You can plant anything in them. 
The idea's are endless, if it has a hole to put dirt in you can plant it, just depends on your taste!  The key to successful container gardening is proper drainage.
*One more tip- to save on dirt when filling very large containers, recycle packing peanuts, old broken Terra cotta pots, small plastic pots, etc.  Put these in the bottom of your container until about half filled, then pour on the dirt!  They will also be much lighter if you need to move them!


Here's a yummy recipe using Taylor's Cornmeal Pancake Mix!
Taylor's Savory Garden Cornmeal Pancakes1 Pkg. Taylor's Bake Shoppe Cornmeal Pancake Mix - follow instructions and add to batter:
1 cup niblet corn, drained                                                    
1/4 cup diced bell pepper (any color)
1/2 cup diced red onion, from Garden Gate                         
1 small peeled & shredded
carrot
1/2 tsp Taco Seasoning
1/4 oil

1. Stir together all ingredients except oil. 
2. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls into hot oil.  Cook 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Garnish with fresh chopped Cilantro, sour & cream salsa !

Happy Day,
Jean

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Houseplant Tips, Season Planting Guild, Name Bookmarks & Yummy Spinach Pie!

This the  Name Bookmark my friend made for me.
'Tis planting time! How joyous this time is for all us gardener's!  Gardening is a relief to my soul from the hum drum of life and all the expectations that surround me.  I love to care for all these little plants... nurture them... watch them grow and flourish... and then eventually harvest delicious food that feeds my family... use all the flavorful fresh herbs as well as dry some for winters use...  make lovely bouquets through the season that adorn our home!  Life is good, then you garden!  This month I am going to focus on giving some planting tips, harvesting advise, dividing and transplanting guild lines along with all the fun entertaining & gift ideas and of course lot's more yummy recipes! So sit back and enjoy from my home to yours!

I am probably not the most likely person to be giving Houseplant Tips, but I decided to give it a shot anyway.  Taylor likes them and I have had great success with my Jade Trees- they require very little care.  Recently Taylor & I were at a house warming party and I noticed the hostesses giant African Violets! I didn't even know they got that big!  Anyway, I asked if they were some new hybrid variety or something. No she said, they were not.  I marveled and said I have only ever killed them no matter what I tried- by the way, I have never read anything on them prior to this, so I probably didn't care that much anyway, but these enormous plants amazed & intrigued me.  This sparked a lively conversation on the plants & what tips several of the others had. So here are some Do's & Dont's to African Violet Care, I hope they help!
*Do:
~ water them from the bottom by using a deep set plant saucer, using hot water.                                        ~ crush washed eggs shells and put in a bowl with hot water and set the pot in it until all water is      absorbed- this gives them needed calcium.
~ Let them totally dry out and then water deeply.
~ Put them in a window where they will have indirect light.
*Don't:
~ever water the leaves.
~water with cold water- they are tropical plants.
~dead head- remove spent flowers.
These are just a few of the tips that I thought were most prosperous!

As I mentioned above I have had great success with Jade Trees.  They do not require a lot of care and grow to size according to the pot you put them in. My tree is about 3 feet tall and the trunk is about 6 inches in diameter.  It is quite beautiful and it gets a lot of ooooh's and ahhh's when friends come over. Although I will say, mine is small compared to some that I have seen.  Jade Trees are very easy to propagate- make new plants from. You can use one of three very easy methods, here they are-
1. Simply take a branch that is about 5-6 inches long and put it in a glass of warm water.  Give it clean water every 4-5 days and watch for little root hairs to start.  After it gets several root hairs plant in a pot with potting mix and watch it grow!
2. Take a branch as described above, but go ahead and bury about half of it directly in a pot with potting mix; Be sure to strip leaves off of the buried part; keep watered and moist to stimulate root growth.  Within about two to three weeks you will notice new leaves coming out of the stem.  In the meantime some of the original leaves may wither and fall off- don't give up it will live!
3. If you only have a small plant and want to grow more but there aren't any 'branches' to speak of, you can still propagate.  Take a leaf and lay on top of a pot of potting mix with the stem tip slightly in the dirt; keep moist, do not let it dry out- but don't soak; a slight misting regularly will be good in between watering's.  You will be amazed at fast it will take root and start growing.
      
It is time to start thinking about planting garden with all the early spring things that are readily available to you.  Here is a basic Planting Guild that will help you get the basics in your veggie garden through planting season.
Early Spring- that means now! Peas, onions, potatoes, lettuce, radish, spinach and chard.
Mid- Spring- around the end of April to mid May- Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, fennel. You can also do a reseeding of lettuces and radishes to keep a steady supply.
Late Spring- after the last predicted frost- end of May, typically- Beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins.  Some things you need to grow as plants at this time, not seeds- eggplant
, peppers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Plant your herb plants now too.

If a light frost does touch your late Spring crops you can save them by taking a watering can and sprinkle all the plants BEFORE the sun touches them.  Once the sun touches the plants they are burned and will more than likely die.  Certain things will only get tip burned- lettuce, chard, radishes, spinach and potatoes. These things will grow out of it if they had their true leaves.  Seedlings will need to be sprinkled.
Another easy way to prevent frost damage is to cover with light sheets, or if you want to be fancy, you can purchase 'fabric row cover' from green house supply companies.  Most seed catalogs even offer it now, but sheets work just fine for the small home gardener.  Do not cover with plastic though unless you have a way to prevent it from touching the plants.  The plastic on the plants will cause them to be tip burned as well.

A friend of mine makes these charming Bookmarks for all her family members and friends.  They are really special yet simple and easy to make.  She takes the persons name and puts a Bible verse next to each letter as it pertains to it.  I have attached a photo of it for you to get the idea. She laminates them so they will have a longer life and this adds a professional look to them. 

Yummy Spinach Pie
The spinach is in abundance right now and what else do you do with it except add into salads or steam you might be asking.  Well spinach is loaded with iron and is very tasty in many recipes including Italian Wedding Soup, quiches and lasagna.  Here's one more to add to your spinach recipe folder!

6 cups  baby spinach from The Garden Gate
, trimmed
1/4 cup sweet onion from Garden Gate, chopped
2 eggs from Garden Gate, beaten
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Colby jack cheese
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. salad dressing
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. celery salt

1.  Rinse spinach; chop and place in a large saucepan over medium- high heat; Cook covered for about 3-5 minutes, or until wilted; Drain, pressing out as much of the liquid as possible.
2.  Combine remaining ingredients; fold into spinach.
3. Spoon mixture in a well greased 9" pie plate; bake at 375 degrees for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Happy Day,
Jean

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Preserving Spring Herbs, Grilling Tips, Yummy Grilled Pizza

Our family loves to grill and it doesn't matter the season. Neil as well as the boys get the grill fired up winter, spring, summer and fall~ it is respecter of no season!  The only difference is the location; in the warm days it's on the patio, in the winter it's in the garage.  When the warm days of spring roll around it is our daily companion for cooking! Neil won't let me touch the grill~ we, the grill & I go back a long way. You see when Neil & I were dating there were two incidents that banished me from the grill side.  They now are quite funny. The first episode was when we were very newly dating.  We went to a park and Neil wanted to grill some steaks. It was a beautiful day and we were having a very nice afternoon. Neil had to use the restroom so asked me to take care of the grill. Well, I had never grilled before, but I wanted to help where I could, so of course I said yes. I don't really know what happened but suddenly one of the steaks was on the ground. Horrified I quickly picked it up and put it back on the grill, dirt side down of course- Neil would never notice, surely it would cook off.  There comes Neil leisurely strolling back with all trust in his eyes having faith I had taken care of his steaks that he was quite hungry for.  Well, it didn't take him long to realize once he flipped the steak that something went awry while he was gone.  I looked at him innocently and said it was a mistake and I was sure that it would cook off.  He was not so sure, so I said I would wash it off. It was quite windy that day, and while I took it to the ladies room and diligently washed it, the coals had died out... so in the end, the sea gulls got the steak.  I will tell the next story some other time...  
Beautiful Oregano in the Greenhouse!
*Preserving Spring Herbs...                                      
We use herbs a lot in our cooking and I am fortunate enough to have greenhouse's and hoop houses to grow in year round.  I do realize that not everyone has this luxury so here are some tips on preserving herbs starting right in the spring when many of the perennial ones are popping up right now~ chives, oregano, sage and parsley would be the main ones right now for us living in Michigan and similar climates.
*The easiest way is to simply dry your herbs using a dehydrator;  baking on a cookie sheet in a 150 degree oven until dry- length of time depends on herb- don't pile on the pan- just put in a single layer; you can also bunch and tie with rubber bands and hang upside down from drying racks, or rafters in the basement. Direct sunlight should be avoided. Parsley is the only one I don't like to do this type of drying to- although I am not sure why, but it looses it's color!  To store, keep in air tight glass jars or plastic containers.
*Freezing is also easy & fast- chives and parsley work best with this method.
*We love Pesto- make your recipe in big batch quantity and freeze in plastic containers, baby food jars or jelly jars. Remember to leave at least an inch head space when freezing!
*You can also pack 2 cups of any fresh culinary herb with 1/2 cup oil~ I would use safflower or canola- olive oil will leave a strong flavor- fill baby food jars, small plastic containers or jelly jars and freeze this way as well.  This works great when you want to baste on any meat, saute veggies or meat in, or brush on bread for brushetta, pizza crust or bread sticks.

Here are some grilling tips from Neil:

*If you love garlic like we do, try throwing a few fresh garlic cloves on the hot coals to add extra flavor to your goodies.
*Neil loves to smoke stuff~ if you want to wow your guests, try adding some hickory, apple wood or cherry wood chips or sawdust on the coals for an extra special treat. Make sure you soak the chips in water  for about hour before you are ready to put them on the coals; if using sawdust just get wet.
*If you are using charcoal, then keep a spray bottle with water to spray on the coals to keep temperature down so it doesn't get too hot.
*Neil likes to brush the grill with some olive oil before putting the food on, this helps it to not stick.

Yummy Grilled Pizza!
Last summer we fell in love with grilling pizza! The children enjoyed it both in the way of having fun because they created their own masterpieces and it was absolutely delicious.  Here is my pizza crust recipe and some of our favorite toppings! 

Crust:
2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 tsp. raw organic sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 cups flour, plus some for dusting

Toppings:
shredded cheese
fresh Portobella mushrooms
sweet peppers
onions
bacon, ham, sausage, ground beef or chicken
pizza sauce, ranch dressing
tomatoes
... these are just some ideas, use your favorite toppings


1. In a large, mixing bowl add yeast to water and stir gently; add sugar, salt and olive oil, stir in gently until dissolved.
2. Add 2 cups of flour, mix in until well blended; add 1 more cup flour, mix in well; and the rest of flour in 1/4 cups at a time until the dough is soft and doesn't stick to hands.  Add a bit more flour in until the dough feels right;  Knead dough for about 2-3 minutes until all flour is mixed in well.  Form into a ball and place in bowl, cover with kitchen towel and leave on the top of stove to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
3. While dough is rising get your toppings prepared.  Sauteing the veggies is best and making sure any raw meats are cooked.
4.When dough has risen, punch it down using your hands and knead a bit more into a ball again.  On a floured surface, cut the dough into 4 even sized pieces and roll out to about and 1/2 inch thick. The dough should be thicker so it doesn't fall apart on the grill.
5. Brush the dough with Olive Oil and put on heated grill; grill on one side for about 2-3 minutes, checking to be sure it doesn't burn; when the one side is done, remove from grill onto a cookie sheet, cooked side up; put your toppings on the cooked side; sauce, cheese, meat & veggies and add a bit more cheese; return to the grill to finish grilling- about 2-3 more minutes; put lid on for about the last minute to help melt the cheese.
Remove from grill and have your feast!  

Happy Day,
Jean