Friday, August 27, 2010

Time to get the Garden Ready for Fall

It may feel hot and muggy in these dog days of summer, but this is the time to get the garden beds ready for fall planting.  As I cut back last years wildflowers and saved the seeds I decided to keep the base of the plant in tact and left some leaves on it to see if it will come back in the spring.  The leaves were still green, so my guess is it will.  I love to see what plants naturalize in my garden.  Annuals to some areas of the country become perennials in my garden!

I decided to dig out the hollyhocks that somehow found there way into my vegetable garden.  They took up too much precious real estate.  Out came the wild amaranth and anything else that was not going to produce food for me this winter.

The sweet pepper plants are holding their own fairly well this summer so they were allowed to stay - one of them is now 18 months in the garden and still producing red sweet peppers! In fact, you will find that sweet peppers will bounced back in the fall and produce another crop!

The basil is doing well, too. There are 2 eggplants that have not produced any fruit yet, nor flowered, but I will leave them in for now and see if they come back once it cools down again.

I also started to amend the soil in another garden bed.  I used my own compost and mixed it in with the existing garden soil with a shovel and water it well with rain water from my rain barrels.  I do a section every few days and it makes the process seem like less work.

The seed nursery is also started - I am using the broccoli seed from my own plant.  I bought some peat pellets (they expand to almost 2 inches when wet) and placed a few seeds in each one last Saturday morning.  By Monday they had sprouted and they are now taller then the little hot house I created using a plastic lettuce container I got from the grocery store. 

These little hot houses work well because they keep the moisture in so the seed scan sprout.  I also use the clear plastic clam shells.

Another thing you can use to make your own small seed starting pots are the cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper.  I just cut them to about 2 inches tall, put them in one of these little hot houses, fill them with potting spoil and plant the seeds.  Then when the seedlings get big enough the entire roll can be planted directly into your garden or a larger pot if the garden is not ready or you wish to give them to someone.

Paper rolls cut for pots

October 1st is the target date for planting seeds into my garden beds.  I may start a few more seeds before then, but mostly seeds in the ground this year.

What about you?  What are your plans for your edible garden this year??

Happy Digging,
The Garden Goddess

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Herbs are Easy to Grow in the Desert

Yesterday and I had a great interview with the East Valley Tribune about an upcoming Herb Gardeneing class in Mesa on August 25th. Here's the story - nice job!!  Just click the story title below my name.

Doreen aka The Garden Goddess

Group sows seeds of herb cultivation in desert

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Prickly Pear Juice Making

Today was my first foray into making food with a part of a cactus!  Here in AZ and in many other arid climates, the Prickly Pear cactus grows everywhere.  It is used as a landscape plant in people's yards as well as in public spaces. The fruit of the Prickly Pear is a bright red and often called a tuna.  The pads of the prickly pear are called nopalito.  Both of these are often found in the stores here in Phoenix, but when buy it when you can pick it for free from your yard?

Both fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that may help keep blood sugar stable.  However, I suspect that after I make this yummy juice into a syrup, it won't be so blood sugar friendly!

Here's a quick step by step description of the process:

Pick the tunas when they are really red to ensure they are ripe.  There is a short window of time before the birds start to get them so keep watch on your cactus plant! Bring them into the house to wash them and scrub off the clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids.   We used a stiff vegetable brush to scrub them and held on to them with a tong.

There is no boiling or cooking involved in this process!

After they are washed, put several in a blender (a food processor would probably work, too) with just a little water and give it a good whirl to pulverize them into a pulp.  We didn't even bother to cut them into smaller pieces, we just let the blender do the work!  Looks really pretty doesn't it?  At this point the seeds and any other small spines still remain, so it is important to strain this through cheese cloth.

This pulpy substance will be too thick to strain through the cloth on its own, so you will need to squeeze it through the cloth,  This was the messy part.  It is best to use a colander to further strain out any seeds and of course you need a bowl or pitcher to catch the juice!

That's all there is to making the Prickly Pear tuna into juice.  Now I can further process it into syrups, jellies and then use that for all kinds of things like candy, cocktails, lemonade, smoothies and whatever else my imagination dreams up!

Here's a trivia fact for you - The Prickly Pear Cactus is the state plant of Texas!

What is your favorite way to use Prickly Pear Syrup??

The Garden Goddess,

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Exploding Artichokes are a Wonder!

Notice the small seed near the penny
Last week I noticed something odd on the workbench in my garden shed. There were these fluffy ‘things’ with a seed on the end. They reminded me of a dandelion when it has gone to seed and the seeds take flight. But these were much larger, yet they danced lightly on the surface of the table when the air moved as I passed by. I look around to see where they came from – and I saw it! The artichoke I was drying on the table top was exploding with these seeds.

Articoke flowering
Disappointment was the first reaction – I was drying them so I could keep them around for a while. The pretty purple flower that emerges from the tight flower bud we usually eat was lovely. My neighbor told me I could dry them and use them in flower arrangements. I was dismayed when it started to fall apart and send its seed into the wild.

But then I thought - COOL - this is the full cycle of the artichoke plant. What a wonder to see it go from the small transplant that was planted in my garden last October to these tiny seeds that become airborne with the lightest breeze.

I have been amazed time and time again this year as I have allowed several plants to mature through their full cycle and not just pull them out because I had eaten them.

Artichoke plant before the bloom
This is yet another chapter in the journey my garden leads me through. I have enjoyed saving the seeds of the plants this year and will continue to do so, keeping those that do well in my yard/garden and composting the rest.

I took a trip up to Cornville, AZ last month to meet with one of the greats in seed saving, Bill McDorman, founder of Seeds Trust, a 25 year–old family seed company. I had a lovely tour of their gardens and their seed workshop where they lovingly and carefully package the seeds. I am excited about their upcoming 8-day Seed School. Whether you just purchase seeds from Bill, or register for the Seed School, I know you will be humbled by the wonder of seeds. I may never buy a transplant again!


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