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5 TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR JAM FROM GOOD TO GREAT

By Engrid WinslowThree jars of great jams.

 

If you are questioning whether making your own jams and preserves is worth the effort the answer would be absolutely “YES!!!!!”  If you’ve never made your own jam before check out the tutorials and instructions on these two websites:

https://www.freshpreserving.com/canning-101-getting-started.html

http://foodinjars.com/canning-101-archive/

 

 

Here are some ways that you can boost the flavors of your jams to heights that are extraordinary:

A box of 'Sure Jell" Pectin for making great jams. Pectin for making great jams.

 

  • Mix more than one fruit together! Peaches and raspberries make a great couple not to mention the classic old-fashioned strawberry & rhubarb.  Try other mixtures too and be surprised by the flavor profiles you can create.
  • Add a surprise element. Consider adding herbs or spices to your jams like strawberry with basil, apricot with rosemary, lavender and peach, pear with vanilla bean, cherry and jalapeno, pear butter with ginger,  or even lemon zest and juice to your blueberries, strawberries or blackberries to make Blueberry Lemonade, etc.  Or make limeade with lime zest and juice
  • Speaking of additions, some recipes call for lemon juice and some don’t but you will find that adding lemon juice and a bit of salt really brighten and intensify the flavors.
  • Check out some amazing books for even more great ideas.

 

Front cover of the book, "Blue Ribbon Canning". Front cover of the book, "Naturally Sweet Food in Jars". Front cover of the book, "Food In Jars".

 

 

 

 

So now you are all set and can get creative and make delicious preserves and jams to give to family, neighbors and friends.  Homemade jam and a package of scone mix is also a great hostess gift.  Share your ideas and creations with us here.

Hooray for Hummingbirds!

by Cheryl Soldati Clark

Hummingbirds may be cute little-winged creatures, but really they are tough as nails! These extremely important pollinators have the highest metabolic rate of any other animal on earth. They also have a high breathing rate, high heart rate and high body temperature. Their wings flap up to 90 times per second and their heart rate exceeds 1,200 beats per minute. In order to maintain their extremely high metabolism, hummingbirds have to eat up to 10-14 times their body weight in food every day for fuel. In preparation for migration, they have to eat twice this amount in order to fly thousands of miles.
A huge portion of a hummingbird’s diet consists of sugar that they acquire from flower nectar, tree sap and hummingbird feeders. They also have to eat plenty of insects and pollen for protein to build muscle. Hummingbirds cross-pollinate flowers while they are feeding on nectar because their heads become covered with pollen and they carry the pollen to the next bloom as they continue to feed. Several native plants rely on hummingbirds for pollination and would not be here today if it wasn’t for these efficient pollinators.
Hummingbirds are found in several different habitats, including wooded and forested areas, grasslands and desert environments. They also occur at altitudes ranging up to 14,000 feet in the South American Andes Mountains.
The male hummingbirds are usually brightly colored while the females are dull colored in order to camouflage them while nesting. Female hummingbirds rely on males for mating only and after that, they build the nest and raise their young as single parents. They have been known to fearlessly protect their young against large birds of prey, such as hawks and have even attacked humans that get too close to their nests. They usually lay up to two eggs which hatch within a few weeks. Hummingbirds can live 3-5 years in the wild, which varies by species, but making it through their first year of life is a challenge. Fledglings are particularly vulnerable between the time that they hatch and the time that they leave the nest. Larger species may live up to a decade.
In order to conserve energy at night, because they lack downy feathers to hold in body heat, hummingbirds enter a state of semi-hibernation called “torpor”. This allows them to lower their metabolic rate by almost 95% and also lower their body temperature to an almost hypothermic rate. During this time, hummingbirds perch on a branch and appear to be asleep. When the sun comes up and starts to warm the earth, it takes about 20 minutes, but the tiny birds will awake from their torpor state and start their feeding rituals.
Planting a lot of reds and purples in your garden and hanging hummingbird feeders around your yard will attract and help feed these little pollinator friends. In fact, BBB Seed has a Hummingbird Wildflower Mix specifically designed with these little guys in mind.  Please help to support these amazing creatures in your own backyard!  Pollinator Week is a reminder to support pollinators all year long!

Hummingbird Favorites:
• Penstemon• Columbine • Delphinium • Autumn Sage • Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) • Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.) • Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea) • Chuparosa • Ocotillo • Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) • Baja Fairy (Calliandra californica) • Bottlebrush • Desert Willow • Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) • Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) • Lantana • Agave • Lily of the Nile

FUN LINKS:

How to make a Hummingbird Feeder with your Kids!

Video on Hummingbird Tongues

Hummingbird Coloring Pages for Children

Baby Hummingbirds

Quit Working so Hard This Fall

by Sandy Swegel

The old adages say cleanliness and hard work are virtues. That may be true in your kitchen, but in the garden, a little sloth can save many lives and make your life a little easier.  Mother Nature isn’t just messy when she clutters up the Fall garden with leaves and debris….she’s making homes for her creatures.  Old dead leaves may look like clutter that needs to be tidied up, but it’s really nice rustic sustainable homes for many of a gardener’s best friends.

Here’s who is hiding in your garden this winter if you DON’T clean up.

Ladybugs in the garden beds next to the house.  Ladybugs want a nice sheltered home safe from wind and exposed soil. I most often find them under the leaves and dead flower stalks in the perennial garden.

Butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars) in leaf bundles. Sometimes in winter, you’ll see a couple of leaves looking stuck to a bush or tree or in a clump on the ground.  Often there’s a butterfly baby overwintering there.

Lacewing at the base of willows or in the old vegetable garden.  Insects don’t work very hard in the fall either.  Often they are eating happily on the aphids in your vegetable garden or your mini forest and just go through their life cycle right there.  They lay their eggs on the bottom of leaves and the leaves fall to the ground.  If you clean up too much, you’ll clean up all the beneficial insect’s eggs

Slugs in your hosta garden. Even slugs are a good thing to leave for the winter.  They will be plump food for baby birds next Spring.

The bottom line is don’t do a good job of cleaning up in the Fall.  Take away any very diseased leaves.  Clean up the thick mats of leaves on the lawn so they don’t encourage lawn fungus.  But leave the flower stalks with seeds and the leaves in the beds.  They insulate and protect plants and insects.

Another good reason to be a little lazy this Fall.

Photos: http://www.nashvilleparent.com/2013/07/fall-for-fun/http://antsbeesbutterfliesnature.blogspot.com/2009/11/overwintering-caterpillars.html

Why Won’t my Garden do What I Say?

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the kind of questions I’m hearing these days.  Why won’t my plant bloom?  Why aren’t my tomatoes red? Why does my garden look so bad? Why is my tree dying?  Let’s tackle a few of these questions so you can figure out why it seems your garden is disobedient?

Why won’t my pineapple sage bloom?  It’s so beautiful in the magazines. Salvia elegans or pineapple sage smells deliciously of pineapple and hummingbirds flock to it.  Alas, what I discovered after a season of coaxing and fertilizing is that it will never look so beautiful in Colorado as it does in the Sunset magazine pictures of California.  It’s one of those plants that bloom according to day length and short days to stimulate blooming.  So no matter what we do, it simply is not going to put out blooms till late August.  Since our first frost can be in September, this is a very unsatisfying plant to grow in a northern area with long summer days.

The second part of this question is “Why did all the other fancy hybrid flowers I bought in Spring quit blooming?”  Some may be day length sensitive like the pineapple sage.  Most have issues with our hot dry summer heat.  If you keep deadheading as soon as the weather starts to cool, the blooms will restart.  And there’s no changing Nature’s mind with more fertilizer or water.

“Why won’t my watermelon plants get big?” a friend asked over afternoon tea.  The answer to most questions is to put my finger in the soil. It was dry, dry, dry.  There was one drip tube on the plant but that’s not nearly enough for a watermelon which needs lots of water.  I looked up. The garden was right next to a big spruce tree. The tree was on the north side so the plant had lots of sun, but the sneaky tree roots ran all through the garden sucking up irrigation water. If you’re going to grow a plant with a name like “water” melon…you have to put a lot of water in the system.

The second most-asked question is “Why do I have so many weeds?” The answer is, alas, because you didn’t spend enough time in July keeping after them.  Who wants to weed in the heat of summer?  And summer weeds grow really fast and tall.  You can’t even blink.

The most-asked question, of course, is “Why won’t my tomatoes turn red?”  This year everybody has lots of green tomatoes but not nearly enough red tomatoes. The truthful answer is “D***d if I know. I wish mine would turn red.”  A Google search shows thousands of people ask this question.  People who answer have all kinds of pet theories about leaves and fertilizer and pruning the plant etc. I’m just learning to wait and making a note to grow more early tomatoes next year.

Nature just doesn’t work the way we want sometimes.

Photo Credit: http://eugenebirds.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

Cool Off Fast! – Agua Fresca

by Sandy Swegel

My basic remedy for hot July days is to bend over and run the hose over my head, but a more attractive and effective way to cool off is to make an Agua Fresca (refreshing water), the great fruit or vegetable drink of Mexico and other southern regions. I’ve been making Agua Frescas all weekend.

The Agua Fresca I first enjoyed from my friend Alfredo’s family was cucumber and lime juice.  Then one day we had watermelon Agua Fresca and I was in heaven.  Both were very cooling and refreshing.  What intrigued me most is that these were two of the foods my acupuncturist recommended to me.  TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has diagnoses of “heat” in the body.  I often get this diagnosis and my doctor suggests three vegetables/fruits that are especially cooling to the body from a TCM energetic point of view…not just temperature:  Cucumber, celery and watermelon.  Turns out that ancient wisdom from TCM is the same as ancient wisdom from Mexican families. “Gotta love it” as a friend says.

There are lots of recipes on the web, but the concept is simple:

Blender 6 cups water 1 pound of Fruit or vegetable:  cucumber, watermelon are traditional. Also try melon, raspberries, strawberries, celery, herbs like lemon balm or basil or mint. Sugar (to taste) 1/4  to 1/2 cup.  Lime to taste. Run the blender to pulverize the vegetables or fruit and lime.  Strain if needed. Pour over ice cubes and add mint or cucumber slice or lime slice garnish.

Variations: Slushy:  Use only half the water. Run the blender a second time filled with ice cubes to get a slushy drink. Sorbet:  Make an agua fresca and put it in the ice cream maker for 20 minutes to make sorbet. Alcohol:  Rum, tequila or vodka added make excellent drinks or sorbets!

Stay Cool and Be Happy.

Photo credits:

http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/raspberry-mint-agua-fresca.html

Gardening as Winter Looms

by Sandy Swegel

Nothing like the first deeply freezing temperatures followed by a warm day to get people in Zone 5 areas asking if the gardening season is really over if they can still tackle their garden to do lists even though Thanksgiving is around the corner.  We have two conflicting impulses…the really good bulbs are on sale at our local garden center AND there’s an inch of snow and refrozen ice on the garden bed.

What does happen to our soil in winter? Once soil temperatures are in the forties, all the creatures and denizens of the soil put themselves to sleep through dormancy or through laying lots of eggs or spores that will hatch when temperatures are warmer.  Seeds stop germinating or else require weeks and weeks at low temperature to come up.  They’re smart…no point in germinating if sub-zero temperatures in another few weeks are going to kill young growth. So the soil goes into stasis until the temperatures warm.

Here are some of the questions I hear people asking as our soil begins its freeze:

Can I still plant bulbs? Can I transplant daylilies now? Yes, if you can pry the soil open and get water to the plant, there’s a good chance your bulbs will bloom and the daylily will be fine. Daffodils especially prefer getting planted earlier to have some time to make roots. Sometimes blooming is delayed the first season, but I have had good success in planting bulbs too late…especially if I throw in some compost in the hole and don’t plant too shallowly. I’ve also had years when the bulbs just ended up being frozen mush…so plant earlier next year.

Can I put in a cover crop? In Zone 5, it’s too late.  The temperatures are too cold for seed germination.  Put lots of mulched leaves over the soil to cover it.

Do I have to water? Ideally, you got the garden well watered sometime in Fall through rain or irrigation.  If not or if there are long dry sunny spells, you should winter water.

What do I do with my Fall greens that are freezing solid? Keep eating…they get better every day.  Spinach frozen at 8 am is delicious at room temperature.  If you cover greens with row cover or a cold frame or even throw big bags of leaves over the plants, you can keep harvesting easily through January or longer if you haven’t eaten them all.

Can I still use herbs? Yep, remember where your herbs are and you can put your hand through a foot of snow for snippings of intensely flavored frozen thyme or oregano leaves.

Can I still fertilize? You can, but the soil organisms won’t be processing it.  Organic fertilizer like alfalfa meal stay on the soil and will eventually be used when things warm up next Spring.

Is there something I should plant?  Winter hardy violas and pansies don’t mind a little snow and ice.  In a sunny location, they’ll keep throwing up blooms all winter long…a surprise of color in a white or brown winter-scape. Plant well hardened off plants and keep them watered.

For more details on the science of soil in winter, check out this article from the Bountea compost tea company. http://www.bountea.com/articles/lifeinwintersoil.html

Photo Credit:

http://indianapublicmedia.org/focusonflowers/year/;

Truffles – Orange Frost Fest

Pruning for Holiday Decorations

by Sandy Swegel

I’m a big fan of multi-tasking so it’s natural that whenever there’s a garden chore to be done, I think about whether it might solve some other task that needs doing. In the Spring I schedule perennial weed digging so the roots can be thrown to the chickens for yummy spring greens.  In Summer I arrange to cut grass when I need the clippings to mulch the vegetable beds.  In Fall I pick up leaves when I need to insulate rose bushes and perennials.  One of the tasks I still want to do this year is “rejuvenation pruning” on shrubs or simple pruning on shrubs and trees that are poking me in the eye when I walk by or blocking the sidewalk.

Rejuvenation pruning is a great way to keep all your shrubs looking great.  Every year you simply cut back to the ground 1/4th to 1/3rd of the oldest branches in your bushes.  The shrub will put out new growth next spring to fill in and you’ll always have a self-rejuvenating plant.

So the multi-tasking solution here is to do some needed pruning on plants that happen to also look good, when cut, to decorate the house.  Some of the plants I’ll be pruning for Thanksgiving or Christmas are:

Branches with Berries: Pyracantha (orange berries) or Hawthorn (red berries)…be careful about thorns Cotoneaster with red berries Coral berry or porcelain berry

Branches with an interesting structure: Harry Lauder or curly willow both make nice twisty branches.  Birch stems can have interesting bark.  Yellow and redtwig dogwoods add great color.  Even simple wild plum branches can be put in the center of a flower arrangement to hold the flowers up

Evergreens: Early winter is a great time to prune those Mugo pines or spruce trees that block the driveway. Juniper and cedar trimmings offer great aroma as well as evergreen color.

So once again, twice the work in half the time or something like that.  The bushes have old wood removed, the shrubs and trees have a better shape, and the house is decorated for free with dramatic gifts from nature, brought indoors.

Photo Credit: http://liveatvillages.com/blog/?p=334http://ikebanalessons.blogspot.com/2012/10/ikebana-class-1052012.html

Thanksgiving Decorations from the Garden

by Sandy Swegel

One reason I first started gardening was so I could cut flowers to bring into the house or to bring as a gift to friends.  Almost all the flowers are finished in Colorado so it’s time to be more creative. There’s still lots to do to bring nature beautifully indoors.

Decorate with Leaves. This one is obvious.  We had great color this year with our leaves.  Warm weather in September and October turned our trees and gardens very lush and colors are extra intense.  A Google search for decorating with leaves brought a zillion images of leaf mobiles and wreaths and candle holders and art cards. At our house, a neighbor’s seven-year-old came in and just put the big maple leaves she liked in a row down the table….a perfect fall runner.

A bowl of Jack Be Little Pumpkins

photo courtesy of Becky Hansen

Display the vegetables. It takes a long time to grow winter squash. Don’t just eat it.  Put it on display for a couple of weeks. In anticipation of Thanksgiving, I get out the big platters and artfully store those big bulky squash in plain view on the counter.  Instant art.

Use your prunings.  Cut spruce branches, pyracantha berries and other colorful or weirdly shaped stems make great decorations for your outdoor pots.

Make everything into candle holders.  Hollowed out squash and apples or overgrown beets.  Everything looks festive with a tea light!

Enjoy the color and bring the beauty indoors!

Photo credits:

 http://www.preen.com/articles/pots-for-fall-and-winter

http://organizeyourstuffnow.com/wordpress/6-fast-and-easy-ways-to-decorate-with-leaves

http://www.diy-enthusiasts.com/decorating-ideas/nature-fall-decorating-ideas-easy-diy/

1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

by Sandy Swegel

Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season to the gardener.  Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil.  These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.

If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are.  They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with the green matter.  You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds.  You can keep piles of them in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.

The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do within Fall leaves is collect them.  Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener.  She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves.  Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.

So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?

Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.

Mulch the garden paths.  Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.

Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away.  That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.

Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.

Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.

Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.

Make easy Leaf Mold.  Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water.  This makes speedy leaf mold.

Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.

Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats.  Apparently, dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the backyard.

Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.

Photo credit:  http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/

Mommies Who Garden

by Sandy Swegel

So we were hanging out at BBB Seed amid giant sacks of seeds waiting to be shipped all over the US this week talking about how many different kinds of people bought our seeds and how they all gardened in their own unique way. One definite trend we see is a joyful kind of gardening practice by moms with young kids.  I spend the evening googling “mommies who garden” and found myself by moms all over the country who garden and who make time to write about it!

Naturally, there is no one “mommy” way to garden since there are moms who work outside the home, moms who homestead, moms who use the garden as a classroom and babysitter, and moms who garden as a personal respite from the chaos that being a mommy can be.  But I saw two trends I want my own inner gardener to reconnect with:

Mommies who garden:
Don’t worry so much about having the picture-perfect garden but about whether the garden is a source of joy and fun for the family.  There’s a lot of mulch to keep the weeds down because moms don’t have so much time for weeding.  There are signs of home-made art projects everywhere: hand-painted rocks, cute makeshift fences, bowls with puddles of mud.   The garden isn’t just growing vegetables or flowers. It’s having fun and growing kids.

Mommies (and Daddies) who garden:
are totally psyched about the fact that they have planted seeds and fed their family yummy wholesome food from their own garden. It isn’t just about saving money or growing organic food, it’s about all the love that went into the garden and the joy about having provided for the whole family and shared the harvest together.

So that’s our inspiration this week as Spring is struggling to return.  Let us create gardens that are fun and playful. And let’s grow some amazing food to share with family and friends and strangers.  Go, Mommies!

Photo Credit: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1
http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/815245/a-mom-s-guide-to-gardening-with-toddlers-and-preschoolers-1