Apple Overload

Sometimes — in the garden, in work, in home life — you just have to face that big task and DO IT! That was my situation on Sunday when I finally faced up to the massive pile of apples waiting to be processed.

The apples.

The apples.

To say this has been a good year for apples in Minnesota is an understatement. Everywhere, the apples have been prolific, perhaps due to our late but very wet spring or maybe (in my case) to my apple cider trick, which once again led to lots of pollination of my two apple trees.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been picking and processing for several weeks. I tried giving away some of the apples and had a few takers, but this plastic bin was still out front on Sunday morning. So, I started peeling and prepping and ended up with:

12 pints of applesauce;

4 baked, then frozen apple crisps;

4 apple pie fillings, now frozen, to which I will add crusts at the appropriate time.

My trees still have a few apples on them that are too high for me to pick, even with a very clever apple-picking device that my neighbor gave to me. I will pick those off the ground as they fall and either eat or dispose of the fruit.

More than two bankers' boxes of peels, cores and bad bits went to the compost pile.

More than two bankers’ boxes of peels, cores and bad bits went to the compost pile.

 

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Fall Container Idea

Fall container completed in less than 20 minutes.

Fall container completed in less than 20 minutes.

A week or so ago, while I visiting my daughter in Chicago, I happened upon a fun idea for a simple fall container. The container (shown below) was on display at the Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago. The container itself was large, wide and made of terracotta. It was filled with an assortment of gourds and squashes. Simple, and very pretty.

The inspiration for my fall container

The inspiration for my fall container

I knew that was an idea I could easily replicate at home, and I had just the container to do it with. A couple of years ago, I bought a small, metal horse trough to use as a planter. I ended up making it into a small water feature this year, which I had emptied out a few weeks ago.

At the Northfield Farmers’ Market last Friday, I found an assortment of squashes. One of the sellers was also selling bouquets made of ornamental cabbage and kale. Cute! I bought one and decided to use it as an accent in the container. The kale and ornamental cabbages are basically cut flowers, so I needed to keep them in water. To set up the container and keep the squashes elevated, I flipped a couple of pots over and set them in the trough. Then I filled a couple of tall canning jars with water and placed one in the back of the container and one in the front.

Pots elevate the gourds and a jar of water keeps the kale fresh.

Pots elevate the gourds and a jar of water keeps the kale fresh.

I put the kale in the water jar in the back and three of the cabbage in the water jar in front. The squash were balanced on the upside down pots. It looked nice, but I had one more cabbage and a pumpkin left. I put the cabbage in another jar of water set inside a colorful container and set the pumpkin down in front of the trough. Voila! Instant fall container.

Once I had everything bought, putting the container together took less than 20 minutes.

I’ve tried a couple of fall container ideas before including planting a pumpkin here and here. What’s your favorite fall container idea?

Fall container in less than 20 minutes!

Love the texture in this arrangement.

Posted in Container Gardening, Cool Stuff to Try, Decorating, Fall Gardening | 4 Comments

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Ready for a long roast in a low oven.

Ready for a long roast in a low oven.

The tomato season is about to close, so about a week ago, I bought a nice batch of beautiful cherry tomatoes. I didn’t grow cherry tomatoes this year, but slow-roasted tomatoes are too good not to have on hand. They could not be easier to make either.

I poured about 3 tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet, then rolled the tomatoes around in it so they were all covered. I salted them lightly and ground some pepper over them. You could also put a couple of cloves of garlic (in the skins) on the tray, too. Then I set the oven to 225 degrees, put the tomatoes in and forgot about them. About six hours later, they were soft and wrinkly. I put some in a jar and covered them with olive oil and put the rest in freezer bags for later use.

Yum!

Yum!

These are like candy. They make a great addition to a salad or slice some soft cheese on a cracker (gouda is good-a!) and top it with a tomato. Instant hors d’ourves elegance.

 

Posted in Canning and Preserving, Recipes, Tomatoes | Tagged | 2 Comments

Ratatouille Rumble

For a simple ratatouille, you'll need onions, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, garlic and herbs.

For a simple ratatouille, you’ll need onions, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, garlic and herbs.

Ratatouille may be one of the most delicious late-summer garden recipes. Traditional ratatouille includes eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers and tomatoes, but since the dish is essentially a vegetable stew, you could add green beans, yellow squash or anything else that is fresh and suits your fancy.

A while ago, I paid a visit to Sam Kedum’s Nursery in nearby Hastings to buy some tomatoes for preserving. While I have had a decent crop of tomatoes this year, it has not been huge and most of the tomatoes I grew were slicers that have been quickly consumed in salads and on BLT sandwiches. At the nursery, which includes a community-supported agriculture farm, I also bought cherry tomatoes for drying (recipe to come next week) and some peppers, eggplant and zucchini, which looked firm and delicious.

You can find lots of recipes for ratatouille on the web and mine is a modified version of Alice Waters’ take. Feel free to adjust vegetable and seasoning amounts to suit your own taste and veggie supply.

Ratatouille

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 onion, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 large or 2 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2-3 colored peppers, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

5 Roma tomatoes, cored, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup  white wine (optional, but tasty)

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Cut pieces about the same size.

Cut pieces about the same size.

Cut up the eggplant first, then salt the pieces and set them in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes. (Cut up the rest of the veggies while the eggplant is meditating.) After 20 minutes, rinse the eggplant and pat the cubes dry. Heat up a large pan — I love my big cast iron skillet — so that’s a good choice, if you have it. Add about half of the olive oil. Add the eggplant cubes in a single layer and cook for about 3 minutes. Then, move the pieces around for another 3 minutes and remove the eggplant from the pan. (It will be only semi cooked.)

Add a bit more of the oil to the pan and add the onions. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and cook the onions for about 4-5 minutes, stirring often until they are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Push the onion, garlic aside (but still in the pan) and add the a bit more oil to the pan and add the zucchini. Let it sit in one layer for about 3 minutes to get a bit of brown on it, then stir with the onions for another 2 minutes. Add the peppers and stir everything around together for about 3 minutes. Add more salt and pepper if you like and the 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes. Push the veggies to the sides of the pan and in the space in the center, squirt about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Move that around with your spoon or spatula for about a minute to cook the paste a bit, then add the wine and the tomatoes. Stir the eggplant back into the mixture, and let it all cook together for about 10 minutes.

Ratatouille could be eaten as a main course with cheese on top or as a side dish to grilled chicken or fish. The flavor improves upon sitting, so leave it in the fridge a day or so for optimum deliciousness. I planned to take a photo of the finished product, but we ate it all before I had a chance.

What’s your favorite way to eat your fall vegetables?

 

 

 

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Parsley Paradise: Time to Preserve Herbs

Parsley, garlic, salt -- yum!

Parsley, garlic, salt — yum!

This year, I decided to edge some of my ornamental beds with parsley. I got the idea from The Wildlife-Friendly Garden.  The author suggested parsley be planted as a decoy plant to keep rabbits out of the vegetable garden. I haven’t see a lot of rabbits in the vegetable garden, so maybe it’s working. (I also haven’t seen a lot of chew marks on the parsley, either, so who knows?)

The result is, I have a LOT of parsley in my garden! I like parsley — it’s probably my favorite herb, but now I need to figure out what to do with it all.

I’ve been making pesto-like spreads from it, which I will freeze for addition to soups, sauces or vegetables during the winter. I also tried Margaret Roach’s approach of rolling the herbs into a log in a freezer bag. Then you can cut some of the herb roll off anytime you need it.

The other night, I decided to try a recipe from a new book I’m reviewing called Preserving by the Pint. This recipe involves chopping the parsley finely with garlic and salt and then setting it on a plate to dry. The idea is you will have a homemade spice mix to sprinkle on cooked dishes or in salad dressings. The garlic odor got a little strong in the house, so I had to set it out in the back porch. After 48 hours (the suggested drying time), it was still damp. I gave it a couple more days, but I think our August weather was too humid for outdoor drying. Time for Plan B.  I took the mix, added more parsley and some basil, a bit of olive oil and whirred it in the blender.

Plan B -- a delicious salty herby mixture.

Plan B — a delicious salty herby mixture.

I froze several packets of the salty herb mix for using in soups and on vegetables. Last night, I broke off about a teaspoon of it and added it to some cooked broccoli. It was incredible and added just the right bit of herb and salt to the vegetables.

What’s your favorite way to preserve herbs?

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Soil Test Results

Almost every garden book starts with the admonition to “get a soil test.” I hate to admit it but in nearly two decades of active gardening, I have never had one — until this summer.

Some of my vegetable garden boxes have not been performing as well as I thought they should be over the past couple of years. When one area of the garden looks bad and the rest look OK (or better than OK), then soil may well be the problem. I had a coupon for $2 off the standard University of Minnesota soil test courtesy of the Hennepin County Master Gardeners’ Learning Tour, which I went on in July. So, I got out my trowel and collected samples of the soil from a couple of places in the boxes, and took it down to the soil test office at the U’s St. Paul campus. Within a week, I got the results back in the mail.

The results were both surprising and not. In the “not surprising” category, I found out that my soil is a bit alkaline. It has a pH of 7.1, which is slightly high. The ideal pH for growing vegetable is 6.0 to 6.5, some say 7.0. It might be hard to lower the pH much because the water in our area is very alkaline (like 7.5 to 8.0) and that’s the water I use on the garden. Plants generally grow well up to a pH of 7.5, so I likely won’t try to adjust this much. I may see if I can find some more acid mulches (such as pine needles) and use those in the vegetable garden.

Also “not surprising” is that the soil has adequate levels of nitrogen and a high percentage of organic matter — 10.5 percent, which is pretty good though lower than the 19 percent required to have “organic soil.” My potassium levels are in the normal range at 158 parts per million.

What struck me as surprising was the extremely high levels of phosphorous in the soil. The report did not list an exact number but my soil has more than 100 parts per million of phosphorous. A “very high” reading is 25 parts per million. What does that mean? Well, according to this university article, it may mean the composts and manures that I have added to the garden were high in phosphorous. I do use a lot of compost and it generally comes from my own yard or the city compost pile. I’ve also added aged chicken manure to this garden in the past. This University of Wisconsin article on soil tests says that high phosphorous readings are not uncommon in urban soils and that it’s best to avoid “balanced” fertilizers, which most organic fertilizers are.

The U of M recommended that I use a fertilizer with no phosphorous and more nitrogen than potassium. (The exact ratio recommended for me was 30-0-20—that’s nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium or NPK—for you fertilizer geeks.) I’ve done a bit of online searching and most fertilizers with that rating are commercial fertilizers designed for golf courses or other turf-heavy spots.  I’ll be looking over the winter for some low-phosphorous options, preferably organic.

Phosphorous is not bad per se. It’s vital for root growth, for instance, but too much phosphorous can promote weed growth (yep!) and lead to stunted plants. Apparently too much phosphorous can also affect plants’ abilities to take in zinc and calcium, which are essential nutrients for vegetable crops.

My plan was to spread a lot of leaf compost that I made this summer over the vegetable gardens this fall. I’ll be doing some more research to see if that is still a good idea. I’ll also be taking soil samples from some of my other garden beds. Knowledge is power, as they say, and the more you know about your garden, the better you can tend it.

Have you ever had a soil test?

 

 

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Dairy-Free Basil Gelato

Dairy free basil gelato -- lime, coconut, basil, yum.

Dairy free basil gelato — lime, coconut, basil, yum.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Julie introduced me to Basil Gelato, a creamy, delicious mix of milk, cream, eggs and sugar flavored with lots of whirled up basil from the garden. You can read the recipe through the Notes from Northern Gardener blog. The one problem with the gelato was the color was just a bit too close to Army green.

I wanted to play with the recipe and also see if I could make a version that was dairy free for all my lactose-intolerant friends and relatives. Since the original recipe called for cream, the natural dairy-free replacement was coconut milk. I tempered that with some almond milk and added lime because coconut, basil and lime go so well together in Thai foods. To deal with the color issue, I decided to steep the basil in the ice-cream base rather than whirl it in a blender. The result is just slightly green and totally delicious.

Dairy-Free Basil Gelato

Ingredients

1 can (13.6 ounces) coconut milk (NOT low-fat)

1 cup almond milk

4 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar, divided

1 tsp vanilla

pinch of salt

2 cups basil leaves

1 lime (used for zest and juice)

Method

Rinse and dry the basil leaves and set aside. In a sauce pan, mix the coconut and almond milks and 1/2 cup sugar and set them on a low heat to warm. In a bowl, mix the four egg yolks, vanilla, salt and 1/4 cup sugar and beat with a whisk (or a mixer) until they are lighter in color and thickened slightly. When the milk mixture begins to steam, ladle about 1/4 cup at a time into the egg yolk mixture to bring the temperature up slightly. After about three ladles, you can add the eggs to the milks and continue to cook the custard, stirring regularly. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will be thickened slightly. Remove from heat and add the basil leaves. Let the mixture steep for at least 30 minutes as the gelato base cools.

When it is cooler, add the zest and juice of a lime. Then strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the basil leaves. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to cool even more. If you have an ice cream maker, get it out and set it up. When the mixture is cool, add it and process until you have gelato. If you do not have an ice cream maker (I don’t), pour the cooled mixture into an 8×8 inch pan that you have lined with parchment paper or wax paper. Put it in the freezer and take it out every 30 minutes and stir it up to mix the icy bits around. In about two hours, it will be frozen and close to ice cream texture. You can cover the pan with plastic wrap and keep it in the freezer until it’s time to serve.  When you serve it, set it out on the counter for about 10 minutes to thaw before scooping.

This would be great as dessert after any spicy meal.

 

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Minnesota State Fair Potted Plant Show

Cacti on display at the Minnesota State Fair potted plant show.

Cacti on display at the Minnesota State Fair potted plant show.

I’m not much of a houseplant or cacti grower, but I sure admire people who can keep a plant healthy and lush through the winters in our harsh climate. That’s one reason I usually stop by the MSHS Potted Plant, Cactus and Succulent Show at the Minnesota State Fair.

This year’s show will be held the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22, and now is the time to get your entries ready. The show features categories for growers of everything from African violets to patio petunias, orchids, coleus, roses, begonias, all types of succulents from aloe to sedum, figs, cacti of all kinds and dozens of other species. See the entry information for a complete list of categories.

Not flashy, but a beautiful and healthy looking plant.

Not flashy, but a beautiful and healthy looking plant.

Entrants should bring their plants to the Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 20. Judging will be done that evening, with ribbons awarded for each category. Judges may also name a Grand Champion and Reserve Champion as well as special awards for exceptional entries.

The show is open to the public during the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22. It’s well worth a visit for any plant enthusiast.

Posted in Amazing Plants, Houseplants, MSHS News | Tagged | 1 Comment

Cherry Harvest and Clafoutis!

My small ‘Bali’ cherry tree is especially productive this year. So far, I’ve picked about a gallon and a half of nice cherries off the tree and there are plenty more where those came from. I’ll be picking daily over the next week or so, or until the birds clean out the rest.

A very small portion of this year's harvest, ready for baking.

A very small portion of this year’s harvest, ready for baking.

This is by far the best crop I’ve had from my cherry tree, which has been in the ground about eight years now: abundant cherries, no pests, and the birds haven’t cleaned out the tree even though I did not put a net on the tree this year as I have in the past. I attribute some of that good harvest to the pruning we did last fall, which opened up the center of the tree and improved air-flow through it.

‘Bali’, sometimes called ‘Evans’ cherry, is a sour cherry, discovered by the Canadian horticulturist Ieuen Evans in the 1920s. The trees stay relatively small — mine is under 10 feet tall. It’s a pretty tree for a smaller landscape and is covered with delicate white blossoms in the spring. The cherries are pretty, too, and make a great pie, cobbler or — what I did Saturday — clafoutis. A French confection, clafoutis lies somewhere between custard and a pancake. It’s easy to put together and, in my mind, works as a breakfast as well as a dessert.

Here’s the recipe I used, which is enough to fill a standard 9-inch pie plate:

clafoutis tight

Cherry Clafoutis

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; thoroughly butter (or use spray) a 9-inch pie pan

Cherries

Clean and pit enough cherries to fill the bottom of the pie plate–2 to 3 cups. Because my cherries are sour, I covered them with about 1/3rd cup of sugar and rolled them around so the cherries were coated with sugar.

Batter

3 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. milk (I used whole)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt until well combined. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate it. Then, add the milk and whisk. The batter should be similar to a thick pancake batter. Gently ladle or pour the batter over the cherries in the pan. You want even distribution of cherries in the clafoutis. Bake the clafouti for 45. It will be puffed (though hopefully not so lopsided as mine was!). Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

This tastes wonderful fresh from the oven as is, or you could put a dollop of whipped cream on it for even more decadence. I also ate a piece for breakfast the next morning and that was wonderful, too.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Garden Travel

The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen's King's Garden.

The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen’s King’s Garden.

My husband just completed a five month teaching assignment at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden. While work and family obligations kept me from joining him, I did manage to visit a couple of times, and we did a lot of travel around Scandinavia and the Baltic. For me, travel often means visiting gardens.

We saw several wonderful gardens and it will probably take a few posts to digest it all. You can learn a lot about a country and its history and culture by visiting public gardens. Take Copenhagen, for example. Just walking around, it seemed clear that Copenhagen was a vibrant, artsy city with lots of bike traffic and trendy dining (expensive, to0). But it’s also a city that loves its gardens — after all, it is home to Tivoli Gardens, the park that inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.

We didn’t make it to Tivoli, but loved walking through two side-by-side garden refuges in the city center. King’s Garden is essentially the front yard to Rosenborg Slot (Rosenborg Castle), the 1606 fortress built by King Christian IV of Denmark. The park is meant for strolling, but it has several elements of interest to gardeners, especially the large formal garden, anchored at one end by the statue of the Dowager Queen Caroline Amalie, who was carrying a bouquet the day we visited.  For someone whose home garden is casual to the extreme, the boxwood hedges, perfectly aligned in a diamond pattern, with lavender and roses inside them, was impressive indeed. Sometimes order is relaxing.

The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.

The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.

Just across the street from King’s Garden  lies the Copenhagen Botanical Garden. This garden is part of the University of Copenhagen and functions as a research garden as well as a display garden. It also had a cute garden shop, which sold plants. (Unfortunately, you can’t bring those home on a plane!) Inside the garden gates are three museums and an enormous conservatory for tropical plants. The grounds are expansive and include a large rock garden, a pond, a variety of test and display gardens. The paths took you through sunny areas and deep shade and a wide range of soil types. The rock garden was especially impressive and I recognized many of the plants there as ones that would grow in our climate as well.

Below is a gallery of photos from the two gardens. Do you visit gardens when you travel?

 

 

 

 

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