Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Growing Cilantro in Pots All Season

Cilantro.  It's difficult to describe the flavor, but it certainly packs a whollop and brings any food or dish up a notch.  When I was first growing/eating fresh herbs, I could hardly handle it's fresh, pungent, slightly lemon aroma.  I remember planting patches of it in my enthusiasm for growing herbs.  I never used it, but growing it for years finally allowed the plant flavor to "grow" on me until now,  I absolutely love it! But Cilantro (also known as Coriander), is a little tricky to grow.  It likes cooler weather and tends to bolt and go to seed (here is where the coriander comes in) in hot temps.  In other words, like lettuce, it grows and goes.  So, you have to take care and keep it harvested regularly in order to get any use out of it and replant it frequently.

This year, even though it was a very hot summer, I am growing my third planting.  I have been using pots because in this extreme heat, I am able to move Cilantro into a shaded area to grow.  It has done extremely well in the shade (late afternoon sun for a few hours) and I have kept it much longer than if it had been growing in the garden. 
I use two pots for this.  I have starts in one and when it matures enough for a picking, I start the second pot.  Once the Cilantro goes to seed (about the third picking), I pull out the old plants, freshen the soil with a little new dirt and organic fertilizer and put in more seeds.  Sometimes after the season is done.  I let the mature plants go to seed and let the seedheads stay in the pot.  This has given me a fresh start the next spring.  Always a great bonus to get free plants!

So, make successive plantings, and use pots to keep it in the shade during the heat of summer.  It also makes it much easier to grab a small amount when it's only in a pot outside the door.  I have found the amount I've been growing is enough for our table use as Cilantro doesn't dry well at all.  

New pot of baby Cilantro next to its full grown predecessors...

A very easy and delicious herb to grow and keep when given the right conditions.  I absolutely love it in "Cilantro-Lime Rice."  I use a huge handful minced up in the rice along with the juice of one or two limes.  It is a huge flavor enhancer without relying on salt.  

What's your favorite Cilantro recipe?  Blessings!!  

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Creamy Summer Squash Soup

With all the sunshine, heat and just enough rain, it's been an overall great summer to garden.  So very unlike last year, when the rain pretty much obliterated the tomatoes and caused a lot of fungal and mildew problems on other vegetables.  So, with a great summer comes great excess..., of produce that is, more specifically, squash and zucchini.  How do we overcome the glut of squash here?  That's where this recipe comes has been a produce saver and another great use for these notorious plant over-producers!  Of course I've given away countless squash and zucchini, but people will only take so much.  So, when I happened by chance to be watching a cooking show on PBS one Saturday, I found this recipe!

Summer squash, banana peppers, 3 types of basil - Red Rubin, Italian and Lemon

Not only does this recipe use summer squash, but it also calls for yellow peppers and my banana peppers totally fill the bill.  So, gathering an assortment of the vegetables and herbs together, I am ready to make some really great soup!

I like this recipe too because I am really into lemon this year and included in this love is my lemon basil.  I have grown it for years but have really neglected using it for some reason.  This year, it has become very popular in my kitchen and I have a stash of it already dried and ready for winter.  When it's fresh, it's VERY strong, but drying it calms the flavors quite a bit.  I use it both ways, preferably fresh while I have it growing.

The recipe is pretty simple and you can see what's going on here.  You want to cut up your onion and peppers to a nice size and then saute them off in a little butter or oil of your choice. It helps to do this step because it adds flavor to the soup for sure.

Assemble your other ingredients now.  I used double the amount of potatoes for this recipe because it helps to make the soup creamy.  

Chunk up your vegetables and don't worry about the size because they'll all be blended in the end.  I leave the carrots in those long pieces and cook them along with everything else, but take them out before blending.  I hand slice them and put them back into the blended soup for a bit of texture.  The original recipe doesn't do this, but I like the soup better this way.

It's pretty simple after that.  Add a quart of chicken stock, homemade  or purchased, and simmer the vegetables in the stock in a covered container until everything is soft and cooked through.  Let the soup cool and then add to a blender making sure not to fill it over halfway full.  Blend and then add remainder of the soup to blend and finish off.  Use a hand immersion blender if you have one, they work well too.

When all done, I add fresh basil to the soup that I have cut into short ribbons.  I happen to like lemon basil in mine, but feel free to use regular basil if you like.  Or another herb you may like better.  This recipe uses a lot of summer squash and I like it especially for the ones that are the size of a small baseball bat. They aren't good for much else, but this way they won't go to waste. 
I'm on my 5th batch of soup so far and plan to put away some more for winter.  The soup has become a bit addicting and I realize I'm going to want more of it during the cold months ahead.

There you have it.  Creamy without a bit of cream in it.  This soup is low-fat, full of fiber and really good as well.  Hope you'll give it a try!  Click here for the original recipe.   I keep changing my recipe every time I make it by adding different seasonings, like garlic and lime juice.  Have fun with this one!

What's your favorite basil this year?  Blessings! 

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Attracting Butterflies: Plant These and They Will Come...

Whenever a butterfly happens to fly near me, I feel like a kid again.  Not that I take off and chase them, although the temptation is always there...!  So, I couldn't allow this summer to fly by without some mention of these fabulous creatures of the insect world.  How do we guarantee their yearly visits?  That's what I'm sharing here from my experience...

There are a lot of lists out there that suggest plants that attract butterflies.  These are a great help for sure, but I've found a few "super-attracting butterfly" plants out there that really fill the bill.  They aren't exotic or difficult to grow either which makes them a huge garden bonus.

I know this post is about the plants and all you see are the butterflies.  Well, the butterflies are the evidence that these plants really do attract butterflies.  And who minds looking at butterfly pics anyway?

I actually discovered some of the best plants to grow for butterflies by "mistake" as I was planting a bit of everything and started noticing which plants really drew them in.  Take this beauty of a caterpillar for instance.  Normally, caterpillars are a gardener's nightmare, but this one is special as it turns into a "Black Swallowtail."  Also, these caterpillars are not rampant in the garden.  There's a few here and there, so they don't annihilate all your plants.  Parsley caterpillars host plants include parsley, dill and fennel to name a few.  This one is on dill, so I guess he could be considered a "Dill Caterpillar." Anyway, these are great plants to have in the garden.  They are herbs to eat and to help raise some caterpillar babies....which means, butterflies!

I didn't capture a butterfly on this Zinnia "Profusion," but trust me, the little skipper butterflies 
(about a 1/2 long) loved them!  Zinnias are very old fashioned flowers.  However, I truly love them.  They are classics and as reliable as weeds when it comes to growing.  Weeds never looked this good though.  To attract big butterflies, plant dahlia or large zinnias like some of the ones here.  Give them room to grow as the big ones get really, well, you know, big!  They'll reward you with lots of great cutting flowers and the butterflies will love them too.

This brings us to a perennial that is a great flower all around and is native to boot. Purple Coneflower or Echinacea is a classic that should be in every garden.  I've seen so many insects and butterflies on these plants, it's like a fast food restaurant at lunch time.  Also, if you leave the seed heads on, they will attract goldfinches to your garden as well.  They love to eat the seeds of this plant and it's a great economical way to feed the little guys.  I really love watching birds eat "naturally" even though feeders can be fun.

Which brings me back to the subject of butterflies and the last plant pictured here (and with the yellow tiger swallowtail in the first pic.)  This is my easiest and sure fire butterfly attractor plant and one that I refuse to not have in the landscape.  Best of all, it's a perennial, a bush and it's pretty!  Yes, I am referring to Butterfly Bush or "Buddleia davidii."  It totally lives up to it's name and is well worth every penny spent.  I've had mine for over ten years and it keeps on coming back, flowering in late spring well into August - September.  I do randomly dead head the flowers in order to keep them producing.  The flowers just get smaller but keep coming on making a continual butterfly show!  So, from someone who has grown one, this plant is the one to beat for bringing those winged lovelies in to your space.  Here's a site to purchase your own or to find out more info about them. 

Okay, this is the coolest...a monarch and yellow tiger feasting on the same bloom from a butterfly bush!

Okay, that's the low down on what I have experienced as fool proof butterfly attractors! Hopefully it will inspire you with ideas with what to plant in your space.  What flowers or plants have you grown which the butterflies love?  I would really love to hear what you have grown!  Blessings!

Linked to these blogs, Lisa Leonard Designs ,  The Prairie Homestead, Frugally Sustainable

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Canning Green Beans

One of the my first gardening memories has to do with growing green beans.  They aren't pretentious, exotic or even difficult to grow, which is exactly why they were the perfect vegetable to begin with.
Of course, with them being such an easy crop to grow, that means you have to do something with the excess, and that means canning.  
Well, at least for me.  I prefer canning as opposed to freezing.  It's just a personal thing.  I love the convenience of opening the jars and having food a few minutes away from eating.  Plus, the bonus of seeing them lined up on my pantry shelves is visual therapy.  

Once picked, these emerald green beans benefit from a good bath.  I've found it easier to just soak them a few times in a large bowl and rinse.

Once washed, snap or cut them to the size you would like to eat.  I tend to leave mine in nice size pieces as they hold up better during processing.  Once snapped, it's time to load up those jars.

Now to those jars...Not just any type of jar, but canning jars of course.  My collection includes ones I purchased and others I inherited from my mom and some I picked up at yard sales through the years.  I really enjoy bringing them out and some of the memories connected with a bicentennial jar my mom gave
Whatever your jars, make sure they are freshly washed in hot soapy water, air dried and ready to hold those beans.  

Get your lids and rings ready.  Pour some very hot water into a small bowl and place your lids in there until ready to place on your jars.  

Put the kettle on and get some water on the boil.  Add your boiling water to the filled jars. This is also the time to add whatever seasonings you want to add to your beans.  I add a light salt and garlic powder or a fresh clove.  Run a knife along the sides to release any trapped bubbles and add more beans until the jars are filled with a half inch and covered by hot water.

Wipe the rims of the jars with a fresh clean cloth and place your lids and rings on and tighten.  Place these jars in your canner and follow the directions included with the canner.  I have a 12 quart canner I've used for many years.  It was a bit of an investment, but I have gotten years and years of use from it, so well worth every penny.  

Once processed, bring out your jars with one of these and let them cool.  You'll get to enjoy hearing the pop of the lids as they seal and owning your own canned produce.  The nice thing about it all is that you control what goes into them and how they were grown.  So nice!

Here's hoping you were inspired to can something of your own this year.  A great way to start out is with a friend...I got to help out a friend a few years ago, gifted them with a Ball's Blue Book to Preserving and they've been canning ever since.  Be sure to check out more canning how-to's online.  I've listed one here to get you started.  

What are some things you would like to can this year?  Blessings!

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Monday, August 6, 2012

A Summertime Community Picnic

What's summer without the fun out-of-doors and a great picnic to boot?  Being outside is premium for me this time of year because of our cold winters.  This summer has been exceptionally hot with temperatures in the 90's exceeding twenty days and with our high humidity, that means living indoors, which feels like the winter months...bummer.
So we were so excited to go to an annual community picnic this year hosted by some friends of our family.  We've been going for over 10 years and it's a Saturday that's always a great day for us.  

This year the temperature was perfect and allowed for a great turnout as well.  Lots of people from all over our town and neighboring areas as well came for this fun event.

The picnic is hosted by a local nursery who gather in all their clients and friends to celebrate a great year together.  Their property is full of every beautiful kind of shrub and tree imaginable...

Our family group has our own mini reunion under one of the tents.

You can't have a great picnic without all the food, and everyone brings a side dish or dessert to share with everyone else.  It's a massive pot luck dinner and worth a couple of trips around the table.

The family hosting the picnic provides the meat which is pork, turkey, this year venison tacos, and beef.  It's slow roasted over an open fire pit, shredded and served.

What's a picnic without a bean salad and zuchinni?

One tent is completely devoted to folk musicians who come to play as a group for this event.  It's a wonderful backdrop of music which fits the picnic entirely.

One of our favorite parts of the picnic is the hayride which lasts a good 30 minutes.  We casually take a ride around the nursery property and some take the opportunity to enjoy sweet treats on the ride!

A perfect way to end the day!  Blessings!

Linked to Life Rearranged