Ode to Lavender

I awoke this morning dreaming of lavender. I adore everything about lavender.

The Fragrance: exotic yet tender and sweet.
The Blossoms: intense purples and blues and even dusty whites and pinks.
The Herbal Essence: healing, calming, sedating yet inspiring.
The Foliage: lavender plants paired with sages and blue fescue grasses in a blue border.
The Smudge Stick: foliage, stems and blossoms mixed with white sage purify home and heart.
The Oil:  condenses all its attributes and essences in a single drop.
The Woody Stems: reminders of the Mediterranean climate it adores and fragrant thrown on a campfire.
The Seed: easy to germinate and though perennial can often produce flowers the first year.
The Plant: low maintenance, sturdy, tolerates even thrives in drought.

Lavender is a wonderful plant to think about in the fall.  It continues to bloom a bit, even after killing freezes. Stalks of lavender blossoms erupt through mats of fallen leaves offering food to the bees and encouragement to the gardener.  Lavender reminds us in the fall how many home-crafted gifts from the garden we still can make.

Friends who don’t wait till the last minute to make holiday gifts have been busy turning lavender into treasures to be shared with friends.  Julia makes the most exotic of lavender gifts:  white chocolate lavender popcorn.  She also infuses jams with lavender.  Sarah takes lavender essential oil and mixes it with the unscented all natural body lotion from Costco or mixes the oil with rose oil and bath salts.  I mix the oil with spring water in a mister for spraying the bed linens. Elise grabs leaves and stems and flowers that have dried on the plant and with adjacent white sage and a little twine created those smudge sticks that cost $10 at the health food store.  A bit of purple ribbon for wrapping all these simple creations turns Lavender into a thoughtful gift from the heart.

May your dreams be so sweetly scented.

Popcorn recipe:http://www.howsweeteats.com/2012/07/white-chocolate-lavender-vanilla-popcorn/
Photo credit:  http://www.pcart.com/MarioLavenderFieldsForeverD5142546Oil36x36.htm

 

End of the Growing Season

We had our first big snow…just six inches but very cold and wet followed by more snow and below freezing temperatures so one might easily assume the vegetable garden is done for the year.  It certainly looks forlorn outside my window.  But fortunately Nature is kinder than than.  For reasons I can’t quite fathom, lettuce that freezes if it’s too far in the back of my refrigerator can handle quite a lot of extreme temperature especially when it’s well insulated by snow.  I expect that when the sun returns in a couple of days, I’ll be able to brush away any remaining snow and harvest excellent crispy sweet lettuce.  Hardier greens like spinach and chard can even be exposed to the air and frozen solid at 8 am but then be perfect and ready to eat by noon with a little mid-day thawing.

The warm season plants like basil and tomatoes have no chance in the cold.  Basil turns brown below about 35 degrees.  Tomatoes don’t taste nearly as good once night time temps dip into the 30s.  Squash leaves croak right at 32 although sometimes the ambient heat from the ground will keep the pumpkins and winter squash edible even though the air is freezing.  Still, the warm season plants are done. Corn on the cob is a memory held by the dried stalks turned into Halloween decorations.

The root crops are another story.  Carrots and beets improve with each freezing night.  As long as you can pry root crops from the freezing ground, you’ll be rewarded with intense flavor and sweetness that improves even more if you roast the vegetables with some olive oil. Many a picky eater who refused to eat turnips or rutabagas, finds November turnips roasted with rosemary and thyme to be irresistable.

The growing season might be over….but the eating season has just begun!

Photo credits: http://knitspot.com/?p=737;

 http://wasatchgardens.wordpress.com/page/2/

 

Curing Winter Squash

All winter squash improve greatly by having a curing time.  Most of us inadvertently cure our winter squash without even realizing it…by leaving it on the counter or a shelf until we get around to cooking it. Curing is keeping the squash at a warmish temperature (70-80) for about two weeks.  If the growing season is long in your area and the squash is ripe before temperatures start to freeze at night, squash can cure perfectly well just sitting in the field.  Here in Colorado this year, we had a hard freeze that caused us to run out, cut all the squash off the plants and bring them indoors.

What is it curing actually does?  Even though you have picked the squash from the vine, it doesn’t “die” but continues to breathe or respirate (a creepy kinda of thought of all those pumpkins on Halloween porches “breathing.”) Respiration is a good thing because it means the squash are still vital and full of life to nourish you. What curing does is lower the temperature so the respiration slows down. During the curing time, many of the starches in the squash convert to sugar making for a yummier squash.

After keeping the squash at room temperature for 10-20 days, you can then move the squash to a basement, cool garage or unheated room where it will last for months.

Some helpful tips on storing winter squash:

Space the squash so they aren’t touching one another.

Don’t put the squash directly on a cold garage or basement floor. They need to have air circulation around them and will be more likely to rot at the spot where they are touching the floor. Put it up on a shelf or on a board.

Don’t try to cure and store acorn and delicata squashes…they don’t keep well and should be eaten soon after picking

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-24-c.html

 

Heirloom Tomatoes 2012

What were your favorite tomatoes this year?  Or should I say who were your favorites since we do have relationships with our plants!

We had a killing frost so it is officially the end of the tomato season, although just the beginning of the “what to do with green tomatoes” season.  My neighbor, Leah Bradley, is a gifted local artist who works in oils and had an Open Studio yesterday. What a delight it was to walk in to a room full of paintings of heirloom vegetables.  Tomatoes everywhere and vivid kales, eggplants and pears. Even gnarly tomatoes that had viruses and blights this year were remarkably beautiful seen through her eyes.

There were lots of tomato diseases this year, so be sure to clear all that diseased foliage out of your garden beds and into the garbage (not back into your compost).

Who were the garden award winners in your tomato category this year?  Some of my buddy gardeners have been voting for Juliet, Red Beefsteak Heirloom, Brandywine, and Sweet 100 Cherries.

Photo Credit:

Leah Bradley http://www.leahbradley.com/portfolio3-11/portfolio3-11.html

 

 

Cover Your Soil!

Winter winds will come and steal your soil away if you’re not careful.  If you value your earthworms and the compost that naturally forms on top of your soil under plants, figure out a way to get your soil covered this winter.  Here in Colorado we can have 100 mile an hour winds in January, so we take this seriously.  We also have to take seriously the fact that anything we use to cover the soil needs to be securely attached to the ground.

Here are some of the ways I’ve covered garden soil:

Cover Crops.
These require the most planning and the most work in Spring of tilling the crops in….but
they also provide the most benefit to the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients. NOW is the time to get your winter rye or clover planted so it has time to grow before the soil gets too cold.

Leaves.
Leaves are my favorites because they become leaf mold and can be dug into the soil in Spring.  In Fall, I spread as many leaves as I can all over perennial beds and over the open vegetable bed.  In the perennial beds, the other plants tend to help keep the wind from whisking all the leaves away.  Out in the open vegetable bed, I spread 6 – 12 inches (if you have that many) of leaves on top of the soil  Then I put dozens of heavy plastic bags filled with leaves the neighbors have tidily vacuumed and mulched up on top to hold the loose leaves down.  If the bags aren’t heavy, I put rocks on top of them.  Not a pretty winter garden….but the earthworms thrive in the moisture and warmth under the plastic bags. In Spring, I can spread the leaves in the bag as a mulch on the garden.

Cardboard.
Newspaper by itself blows away too easily, but cardboard, if secured by rocks and bricks, does a good job of holding in soil and moisture.  Make sure the soil is watered before you put the cardboard down.  A layer of leaves and or newspaper under the cardboard will give the worms and microbes something to eat.

Plant a wildflower meadow.
Do you have an area of your yard that you don’t really need for vegetables or perennials? Keep the soil healthy and the garden beautiful by seeding a wildflower meadow.  Fall is an excellent time to plant a mix of wildflowers or even a mix with grasses and wildflowers that will be beautiful for years.

However you decide to protect your garden….you’ve worked hard to enrich the soil and keep the worms and microbes happy.  Help them to stay home and not blow off in the wind or desiccate in winter sun.

Photo Credits:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/dustbowl/
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/winter-cover-crops

 

Why do Leaves Turn Red in the Fall?

Because the Wind told them they were naked and they turned red with embarrassment.

There’s a Native American story that says it’s because hunters in the sky killed the Great Bear and his blood spills on the trees. (When the hunters cooked the bear, fat from the pot spilled and turns some of the trees yellow.

Scientists have a story that the trees stop producing chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what make leaves look green. When it disappears, the leaf’s true color (red or yellow or orange) shows through.

I’m at an awkward time of life when there are no young children in my life.  No one to tell me riddles. No one I can tease like my father teased us by telling us very tall tales that we never quite knew whether to believe or not.  No one like the old Cajun guy who lived down the street who never answered a question with a straight answer but told a wild story about the bayou.

So if you know any kids or myth makers or sacred story tellers….can you ask them why leaves turn red in the Fall?  That chlorophyll story is a little hard to believe and kinda boring if you ask me.

P.S. When I was looking for a photo of fall leaves, I found this great photo of fall leaf nail art!…  Something about the absurdity of all the trees in the land turning colors and falling to the ground demands an explanation only children or art can tell!

Photo Credits:

http://robinmosesnailart.blogspot.com/

http://divergentmegacosm.tumblr.com/post/31260057002

 

Taking Care of the Bees & Other Creatures this Fall

What’s your favorite flower this year?  That’s the question our local gardening magazine posed to its readers this issue.  Many candidates came to mind, but I realized my criteria in Fall for a good flower is one that blooms late to feed the bees and other pollinators that are still around scrambling for nectar and pollen to sustain them or their babies through winter.

So my favorite flowers right now include the dandelions that have responded to our recent rains with a bloom worthy of Spring.  Every time I see a dandelion now, I don’t respond with a desire to pull it, but with a word of encouragement because it’s not a weed when it has a happy bee gorging in the middle of the flower.

Other favorites that are feeding bees and other pollinators:

Cosmos are tough annuals, and still blooming despite some frosty weather.
Scabiosa has won my garden awards for several years for being the last flower blooming in November.  It’s one flower I keep deadheading instead of leaving the seed because I know it makes new flowers as long as it can.
Violas and Pansies planted now will make flowers to please me and the bees during warm spells this winter.

As always, there’s one really important thing pollinators and especially bees need in Fall:

WATER.  At my house the seasonal ditch dried up in August, and standing water is rare in our arid climate.  I keep water in the bird bath and in the flat little saucer with pebbles for the bees.  I notice signs that other bigger creatures like the squirrels and rabbits and field mice sneak water when I’m not watching from the bird bath top that I left sitting on the ground. I got pretty angry with the ravenous rabbit over-population this year, but when I see one lonely bunny hunkered down in the dry leaves under the trees, I can’t help but leave water out for her.  I know I’ll be rewarded with hungry baby bunnies in the Spring, but as the cold winds of Fall send chills through the gardener, my heart goes out to all the creatures who live outdoors during the long winter season.

Photo Credit: http://annapolismarshwalker.blogspot.com/2011_09_01_archive.html

 

Grilled Stuffed Sweet Cherry Peppers

From the Gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

2 dozen sweet cherry peppers
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese grated
3/4 cup provolone cheese grated
4 slices prosciutto diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cappers diced
1 tablespoon fresh basil

Cut out stems and core of the peppers with a vegetable peeler or small spoon.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl except the peppers of course, and mix well. Stuff the peppers with the filling and thread onto wood skewers filling side up. Make sure to soak the wood skewers in water for a few minutes so as not to burn.

Grill over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes keeping the filling side up.

You can serve these as an appetizer, side dish, or what I like to do, on top of pasta. Enjoy!

From Mike’s summer garden, sweet cherry peppers and basil

 

Fall Leaves: They Aren’t Just Pretty

Get ready to collect some manna from heaven!  Leaf mold is one of the best amendments a gardener can add to the garden.  And it’s super easy to make and free:  All you need is leaves and time.  Create a leaf pile somewhere it won’t blow away but will get snowed and rained upon and break down gently in its own time.  At the end of a year (or two if you live in a more arid place), you’ll have the treasure of broken down leaves, wet and almost compost-like.

Leaf mold is valuable in several ways.  It is the result of fungal breakdown, so in addition to adding organic matter to your garden you’re also putting lots of beneficial fungi in the soil.  It’s a good way to add valuable minerals to soil because tree roots are pulling nutrients from deep within the soil and depositing those nutrients in their leaves, which then get deposited in your garden.

There are two easy ways to get leaf mold.  The absolute easiest is to live somewhere humid with lots of deciduous trees like North Carolina and just go out into the woods and find places the leaves have drifted over the years.  Reach down under a soft squishy pile of leaves and you’ll find leaves from previous years broken down and moist and crumbly, often with earthworms happily working away.

If you don’t have your own woodland or if you live here in the arid plains of Colorado, the process needs a little helping along.  In my neighborhood, a gardener on a busy street put up a sign in front of her house:  “Bagged Leaves Wanted.”  People hate to just throw leaves in the garbage, so in the spirit of recycling, they drop them off at her house all hours of the day and night.  She takes the first 1000! or so bags for her garden and leaf mold pile and her goats (Apparently goats think dry leaves taste like potato chips.) The rest of us gardeners in the neighborhood take the next 1000 bags strangers drop off for us.  They tidy their yards to get rid of leaves and we add all those leaves to our garden because we know they are manna from heaven!

Photo credits and for more how-to info and video, check out Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening magazines.
http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/making-leaf-mold.aspx
http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/basic-leaf-mold