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Archive for October 2010

Most Luxurious Plants EVER Received

October 27th, 2010

I have ordered from MANY catalog nurseries. The four carex Amazon Mist plants I received were quite possibly the biggest (for the price), healthiest and downright luxurious plants I’ve ever received. Carol O.

Deck Perennials, Annuals, Ferns…All Gorgeous

October 25th, 2010

This looks out from my entry over my small deck.  Two simple 2 x 2 frames with double shade cloth top and ends and single layer on the outer side, bungee-corded to existing railings for wind security. Left to right: top hanger is a fern, top of a Plumeria, center on shelf is a Hoya, then my prized Coleus followed by another hanger (I put both hangers from my kitchen outside to get the rain!) Below shelves are varied succulents, a geranium at far left….the Swedish Ivy in white pot inside orange pot as drain (I use commercial food containers for drain pans, as they’re stronger). Lower right side is a large Xanadu Philodendron and a Fern.  Note temp (65)….in October!

deck garden

Left section (each side is 4′ x 4′ x 7′).  Note full Swedish Ivy at right–all from ONE stem of plant I rescued from the trash at Home Depot a year ago!  Just TLC and lots of water.

deck garden

Right side, a bit closer.  Wish I knew the name of the top right hanger.  It’s a profuse grower!

deck garden

My “Baby”…I just LOVE this Coleus.  It’s doubled itself in the past month. Unreal! Note the “drain pan”: it’s what a rotisserie chicken came in. Very sturdy, not like those flimsy clear plastic commercial plant pot liners.  I use all kinds from potato salads, margarine tubs, etc.

coleus plant

The lower right closer, with a peek at my deck box.  Vital in an upstairs granny flat!

deck garden

An Emerald Queen Spathiphyllum (I think) just inside the deck door–a happy camper. It’s much bigger now; this was taken a couple months ago.

garden plant

You Can’t Beat Container-Grown Beets

October 20th, 2010

beet plantBeets make a perfect vegetable to grow in containers.  First of all, they are best eaten young, when they’re about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. So, the time to maturity is quick, but they can be left in the soil until they become 3- to 4-inch globes.  The tops are edible and may be trimmed when very young for use as salad greens, or left to reach a mature height and cooked like any other leafy greens, or even cooked right along with the beet roots.  Beets don’t require as deep a container as many vegetables with deeper roots.

Choose a container that has good drainage.  The diameter of the container is determined by how many beets you intend to grow, since you need to allow room for the globes to expand beneath the soil line.  And as for the growing medium, the richer the better.  Well-draining soil with compost or organic matter added will produce the best and sweetest roots.

Beets need a lot of moisture.  Allowed to dry out, they become tough and woody.  So, make sure to provide a minimum of 1 inch per week of water.

Follow the spacing requirements for planting beet seeds or baby plants, which for most varieties is at least 3 inches apart.  Thin any too-close plants as soon as the tops are a couple of inches tall, and then use those tops as a tender and colorful addition to raw or cooked salads.

Beets prefer cool weather, so either plant immediately after the last frost of spring, or count backward from the first frost of fall and plant far enough in advance to allow the beets to grow to your preferred size, based on the particular variety’s recommended days to maturity.  A couple of heirloom varieties that should do wonderfully grown in containers are Bulls Blood, with its deep purple-red leaves, and Detroit Dark Red, a longstanding favorite among beet aficionados because it stores especially well in root cellars.

Container gardening allows growers to choose a sunny spot on a balcony or patio, where a garden plot might not be available.  The container can be placed near an outdoor spigot, to make watering convenient. And containers can be located where pests are kept at bay.  It’s also popular to use various sizes of containers for rooftop gardening in cities.

Beets show the very tops of their globes above the soil line, and you can pick them whenever you determine the size is right, but keep in mind the smaller the globe, the more tender and sweet.  Also, the skin is smoother on small roots.  Beet skin on any age root is edible and it actually contains many of the nutrients beets are known for.  Some people find the rough texture unappealing, so a compromise might be to peel just the pits and rough spots and leave the rest. 

Beets should lift out of the soil easily if you loosen the soil gently around the globe before grabbing just above the soil line and pulling straight up on the tops.

Fresh-picked beets can be juiced, or cut into wedges or cubes and steamed, made into hot or cold borscht, or cooked and chilled to be topped with sour cream and fresh dill.  Pickled beets store for months and make a colorful, crisp, tart side dish to perk up a cold winter night’s meal.

What to do in Fall with Carrots?

October 11th, 2010

We have had a wet season and the carrots continue to grow.  Can a person cut the tops down on carrots, to slow their growth in the fall? Robert N

Answer: Carrots are cool season crops but in many areas of the country they can be grown through the summer. To have a continuous crop, plant seeds about 3-4 weeks apart. If you’re reseeding for a late season harvest, be sure to give the seedlings plenty of time before the first frost to mature.  Most varieties range from 65 to 75 days.

Carrots need space, so when you are growing them from seed, be sure to thin the seedlings when they are at least an inch tall, giving them at least an inch or more between plants. Covering seedlings with a layer of mulch will help keep them moist.

You don’t mention why you are concerned about the carrots continuing to grow.  As long as there is not an imminent frost, just let them keep growing. Cutting back the top would stop the carrots’ growth.  Since they are a root crop they need this top growth to continue to develop and send nutrients below the soil. It is important to harvest your carrots before the green growth goes to seed.

I hope this answers you question.  Happy Gardening! Karen

Frost and Freeze Protection for Your Plants, Shrubs and Gardens

October 6th, 2010

As any gardener knows all too well, frost can be a deadly adversary and often arrives most unexpectedly. Even a small cold front arriving in late summer or early fall, combined with cloudless skies and little wind can wreak havoc quickly. Mother Nature, to say the least, is unpredictable, so it is up to you to be prepared for what she throws at you.

For any freshly planted greenery, a mound of mulch around the base of the plant will help to retain heat and moisture, making your plants that much more able to survive a frost, if not too heavy or for an extended period of time. If you have warning, watering the mulch during the day will help by enabling additional moisture to be released throughout the night, keeping the air directly around your plants somewhat warmer, though the best option is to cover your new plants, in addition to the mulch. Mulch is critical to winter survival, especially if there is any chance of an unexpectedly cold and wet winter, so a good rule is to apply mulch around the base of all of your plants in the fall, even if you did so in the spring.

Plant covers are always the safest option for insuring your plants’ survival during extended periods of frost or when the temperatures plummet below freezing.  Designed specifically for the express purpose of protecting shrubs, bushes, vegetable and flower gardens from being ravaged by the effects of frost and freezing temperatures, they are reusable, easy to install and easily stored for use year after year. Manufactured of lightweight, porous fabric, they allow essential, life-giving air flow around your plants, unlike plastic sheeting or bed sheets.

Plant protector bags do not require additional staking and have a drawstring at the bottom to keep them in place, enabling you to install them quickly and easily. Row covers, on the other hand, are designed to protect tender new leaves, blossoms and young fruit and vegetables in your fall garden. You can even control ventilation by closing off the ends of the tunnels at night and reopening them in the morning. Row covers allow light and air free access while providing protection and you can leave them in place for extended periods of time.

For larger areas you may want to consider a plant and seed blanket or natural burlap, which can also double as a shade cloth during summer heat waves. Many people use one of these options for freshly planted bedding annuals that provide such beautiful fall color, or for those beds of late blooming perennials or chrysanthemums whose blooms you want to enjoy a bit longer.

As always, that Girl Scout motto, “Be Prepared” will insure that you and your plants survive the early frosts and deep freezes that can devastate your landscaping or gardens. Take stock and stock up on those protective plant covers that will best suit your needs, so that when the weather channel warns of impending frost or freezing temperatures, you can simply go out to your shed or garage and grab what you need, rather than running around town or raiding your linen closet to find something, anything to cover your plants with. That is no fun at all!

How to Can Corn—Raw or Hot Pack

October 4th, 2010

When it comes to preserving corn on the cob, the best way is to freeze it, which is a really simple process and results in much better “summer” flavor. But, if you don’t have an extra freezer or room in the freezer(s) that you do have, you may want to can it using either the Raw Pack or Hot Pack method. There isn’t much difference between the two methods. Some prefer that the corn is evenly heated through prior to canning, which some think is safer, but the flavor is pretty much the same. Corn is a low acid vegetable, which means that you should use a pressure canner in order to process it. Yes, pressure canners cost a bit more, but they last a lifetime and chances are that your grandchildren and their children will be using it one day. Our Presto® models double as both a water-bath canner and pressure canner, so you are getting two for the price of one. I have both, but only because I bought  my water-bath canner first when I was uninformed and just a little ignorant of what my needs would be. I purchased a pressure canner the following year. There are times that I use both.

I like to gather all my materials in advance so that I’m not running around trying to find them. In fact, during canning season, I have a table that I keep all of my canning supplies on, all in one place, only putting them away when the season is over. To can corn you will need:

  • Fresh corn on the cob—the fresher the better. The ideal ears are ripe, but not bloated and the kernels can easily be punctured with your fingernail and will produce milky juice. If you can’t can it as soon as you pick it or if you have bought it at the grocery store, you want to put it in the refrigerator or put it in a tub with ice on it. The sugars, which make for its sweet flavor, break down quickly at room temperature. It takes an average of 4.5 pounds of corn in the husks per each quart of processed corn. Bi-colored corn makes for really appetizing looking jars.
  • A sharp knife or the American Corn Cutter, which makes removing the corn from the cob a real time saver. I definitely recommend this gadget. Your hands can get pretty sore using a knife to take the kernels off the cob.
  • A medium-to large-sized pot of boiling water.
  • Canning jars, lids (seals) and screw-bands. Your jars should appear new with no cracks or chips. Chipped rims can prevent proper sealing and cracked jars can break while processing. The jars should also be free of rust, as should the screw-bands. The lids should only be new or never used. If you have any doubt, buy new lids.
  • A large spoon, ladle or Pyrex measuring cup with which to put boiling water into the jars once filled with corn.
  • A large bowl or bags to put the corn in as you take it off the cob.
  • Indispensible canning gadgets like a jar lifter, jar funnel, lid lifter, or you can just buy a whole kit that has everything above, and also includes a jar wrench and jar cleaning brush.
  • A towel, jar rack or thick layer of newspapers on which to place the jars when they come out of the canner.
  • A soft vegetable brush for washing off the more stubborn corn silk.

Now that you have everything you need, you can start the fun part!

Get your jars and canner prepared. The jars and screw-bands should be washed with soap and water and rinsed well. Afterwards, you can use the “sterilizer” setting on your dishwasher and pull the jars out as you need them or you can fill them with water and put them in your canner, adding enough water to go about 1/2 way up the jars. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer while you are prepping the corn. You should also put the seals (lids) in a saucepan with hot water and heat until the water is steaming, then reduce the heat to keep them hot. Don’t boil the lids. I also like to alternate my lids facing up and down so they don’t “nest” together which makes it much easier to grab one at a time.

Husk the corn, removing as much of the silk as possible. Then use the soft vegetable brush to remove the rest, but don’t bruise the kernels while doing this. Remove the kernels from the cob. If you’re using a knife, hold the cob at the small end and slide the knife down the ear. A sharp knife is critical, so you might want to consider having a good knife sharpener handy. You should be cutting about 2/3 to 3/4 of the depth of the kernels. (If making creamed corn, you cut about 1/2 the depth of the kernel and then scrape the cob with the back of the knife to remove the juice and the heart of the kernel.) The kernels will come off the cob in strips but readily fall apart while handling. You can put them in a bag or in a bowl, though a bowl is much easier to use. You might want to gently “play” with the kernels to get them to separate.

When ready you can pull your jars and start filling them with corn, using your jar funnel to make it quicker and cleaner, and then add hot water to the jars. (If you have previously heated the corn by covering it with water and heating until evenly hot, not boiling, then you can use the liquid from the corn, topping jars with hot water from the boiling pot to bring the liquid level up.) You should leave 3/4 to 1-inch headspace, which is the space between the corn and the top of the jar, to allow for expansion when processing. Jostle them back and forth a bit to allow air bubbles to escape, double-check the headspace, adding or removing liquid if necessary, use a clean, wet cloth to wipe the rims of the jars, put a lid on each and finger-tighten the screw-band snugly. Don’t tighten forcefully or use a jar wrench.

The processing time will be 55 minutes for pints and 85 minutes for quarts but the pressure will differ with the altitude at which you live. Check the book that came with your canner, use the recommendations in one of our cookbooks or you can go online and check the manufacturer’s manual or research the correct pressure setting with your local university extension service.

Once you’ve reached the allotted processing time, turn the heat off under the canner and allow it to cool down gradually. You should NOT put it in cold water or move it to a cold, hard surface. Once the pressure gauge has reached zero or you have heard the safety release valves open, then you can remove the weight or open the valve. Wait another three minutes before opening the lid and make sure to tip the lid away from you in order to avoid a steam burn. Be careful of your hands and make sure you have someplace to safely set the lid.

Remove the jars using your jar lifter and place them on a thick layer of newspaper, a towel or a jar rack to cool. You may start to hear that unmistakable metallic “pop” as the jars seal, but it can sometimes take overnight for the jars to all seal. They should not be jostled during the cooling process.

To verify the seal, check the middle of the lids. If the lid is slightly concave and does not “pop” up and down when you push, then the seal is good. If it is not sealed, the middle of the lid will be slightly convex and will “pop” when touched. If this is the case, you can reprocess it, but you might want to consider making creamed corn at this point as it makes the texture a bit mushier. You can also put it in the fridge and use it within the next week or so. At this point you can remove the screw-band if you wish, label the jar with the contents and the date and place in a cool, dark, dry place.

I always get great pleasure out of hearing that “pop” when the lids seal. I don’t care how often I can, it always makes me smile. I also tend to let my most recent canning project sit on the counter for awhile so that I can just admire the pretty jars.

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