Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Love in a Package

I am a long distance grandmother, and my granddaughter has been ill, on and off, for the last two weeks.  I can't be with her to wrap her up in a warm blanket, hold her, and tell her that it's going to be all right.  What is a grandmother to do?  How about making strawberry scones to send?  It's love in a package.

It rained this morning, but after a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up cream, butter, and sweet Florida strawberries, I made strawberry scones when I returned home.

In a large bowl, I mixed 2 cups of flour, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 tbs baking powder, a dash of salt and a sprinkle of nutmeg.  I washed and chopped up the berries to avoid big chunks in the dough.  Separately, I measured out 1/3 cup of cream and added pure vanilla extract for taste.

In the bowl with the flour mix, I scissored in 6 tbs of unsalted butter and added the strawberries.  After stirring this, I finally added the cream.  I turned out the dough on a floured spot on the table and kneaded until well mixed.  I had to add more flour because the dough was not firm enough--a bit runny.

While the oven was heating, to 425 F degrees, I formed small balls (12) and put them on a greased cookie sheet.  I let them bake for 15 - 17 minutes, watching the scones carefully turning a pale golden brown.

In addition to the strawberry scones, I sent store bought chicken soup, a summer sausage, a few cans of ravioli and some M&Ms.  I also included a small blank book to fill with various stickers and crayons.

I send care packages with love rather often.  It's not important what I send but it's a way of keeping in touch with my granddaughter and her family, to let them know that I am thinking about them.  Stay well, little girl!

Monday, February 25, 2013

To Prune or Not

Since it is rather late in the season for pruning the roses in northeast Florida, I would leave branches alone that show a vigorous growth.  Cut out branches that are crossing each other.  Rake up dead leaves on the ground that may be disease ridden and dispose of them properly, not in the compost pile but send them out for the waste management to pick up.  Mulch the rose beds with pine straw or pine bark to keep the ground moist and the weeds at bay.

I recently moved three Evelyn Roses that I planted in honor of my granddaughter's birthday a few year's ago.  They were in a dark and dank spot by the pond.  I moved them so that they may bask in full morning sun for a few hours.  They seem to like it, putting out fresh greenery, and even a bud or two.

Th azaleas are in full bloom.  Leave them alone for the time being and enjoy their colors.  Once they have ceased blooming, trim off the wilted blooms and even up the new growth.  Go gently with the shears.  Let them grow and become their own bushes in their own right, if you know what I mean.  After the blooms are gone, fertilize only if the azaleas are young.  If you do fertilize, follow the direction on the fertilizer created for azaleas.  In general, full grown and well developed bushes do well by themselves; however, they do like the acidity of pine straw or bark mulch.

In a recent article in The Florida Times-Union, the Master Gardner on Call, wrote that it is your preference to prune the hibiscus or not.  I have enjoyed the red blooms on my hibiscus all winter long. It is growing straight up, reaching for the sun, and I will let it.

This is also a good time to prune the Crepe Myrtle.  By that I mean snip off last year's dead blooms.  If there are branches touches, prune them too.  Do not under any circumstances go berserk and cut off healthy branches to make knobby distorted knees.  It is a misconception to prune the Crepe Myrtle that severely.  Yes, it is ugly!  You may have seen them on median or under utility wires along the road side.  It amazes me that they will grow and blossom.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Making Grapefruit Marmalade without Pectin

At the liquor store, I demanded a small bottle of cheap whisky.  The clerk rattled off names and prices.  I informed her that I was making grapefruit marmalade.  She rolled her eyes and I settled for Black Velvet.

This season, I have failed miserably to preserve citrus fruit.  The marmalade wouldn't gel.  In a last ditch effort, I searched the Internet for recipes and found Australian Annabel-Langbein's Blog for making grapefruit marmalade without commercial pectin.  The grapefruit contain enough of its own pectin.  The preparation of the fruit takes about 45 minutes and the actual cooking time is about 1 hour and 35 minutes.  It makes almost a gallon of marmalade.

You need about 10 medium sized grapefruits (about 5 lbs/2 kg), 5 lbs sugar, and a 1/2 cup of whisky is optional.  Quarter the grapefruit and cut thinly.  Put the fruit in the big non-corrosive pot you'll use for cooking.  Add 4 cups (1 liter) of water and let stand overnight.

The following day, put the grapefruit pot on the stove on high heat until boiling, turn down the heat, and let it simmer for 40 minutes.  After the 40 minutes are up, stir in the 5 lbs of sugar, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and let simmer for an additional 55 minutes.  Now you are done cooking.

To prepare your jars and lids, simply put them in the dishwasher on high heat.  This takes care of the sterilization as far as I am concerned.  I like to seal my jars with a layer of wax that I heat in a double boiler consisting of two sauce pans with boiling water in the larger and the wax melting in the smaller one inserted in the large pan.  Do not overheat.

If you want to test to see if the marmalade is really going to gel, chill a saucer in the fridge, remove it after a few minutes, and drop a teaspoon of your marmalade on to it, and tilt it a bit.  Annabel writes that is should form a thin wrinkly skin on the surface of your marmalade and it's done.

This is where the whiskey comes in:  Drink it!  Oops!  It's supposed to be stirred into the marmalade before pouring the golden mass of grapefruit into the jars.  Good job!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Wise Owl in the Park

Some mornings, I wake up to a terrific commotion in my Park.  The winged sentries--the ospreys, the crows, and an assortment of smaller birds are screaming, crowing, and twittering.  What is going on?  I wobble out of bed to look out of my bedroom window to see the birds circling and swooping down and about the cedar tops.  Oh, gee!  They are ganging up on the wise old owl in the pine tree.

When the sun came up, I went outside to look for the owl.  I didn't see him him but found his generous droppings, his calling card, on the garden box by the pond.  Thanks.

The droppings gave me a hint as to where I might find the owl.  I looked up and scanned the huge trash tree behind the cedars and sure enough, there he was, all burred up and alert.  The wise old owl is more protected in the trash tree away from the exposed lone pine.  He was awake. He was watching me!

We don't know what kind of an owl he is, but we are guessing that he is a common barn owl who have chosen wisely to visit our sanctuary.  Sometimes, we hear the owls calling to each other in the stillness of the night.  It is somehow comforting.  Whooo!  Whooo!

Come grow with me!  Tomorrow, I plan to make grapefruit marmalade.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Planting Roses in the Landscape

My bundle of a fabulous Grandiflora and two Hybrid Tea Roses came with explicit planting and care instructions.  All I have to do is soak the pots with the roses remaining in them while digging future homes for them.  I have removed the bottoms of the pots so that the roots may wander freely once in the ground.  I have mixed the soil with commercial cow manure and now I am ready to plant the roses.

The information on the Grandiflora named Queen Elizabeth said that it will produce a lovely blend of carmine-rose and pink blooms on long stems.  It will also have dark, glossy, leathery foliage foliage.

Queen Elizabeth is flanked by the Hybrid Tea Roses:  a long lasting Olympiad that will bear crimson flowers and ideal for cutting.  The other one is a delicate lavender tea with a delightful name--Moonlight Magic.  It will have a "wisp" of light fragrance and medium green foliage with strong disease resistant stems.

I inserted the roses with the pots in the designated holes, patted down the soil around them and gave them a generous watering.  Finally, I put pine straw around them to keep the moisture in the ground and slow down the growth of weeds.  I am holding off on fertilizing until a good growth has developed.

I've heard that it is difficult to grow roses in Florida but it is doable.  Unfortunately, pesticide and insecticide must be used to combat fungus and black or brown spots.  "Dead heading" (snipping off) the spent blooms is a good practice to promote growth and new blooms.  It makes the roses look more attractive, too.

The words Treasure House, without address, were printed on the green plastic bags that housed the roses when I received them.  I cannot find this company on the Internet.  The roses were packed in Tyler Texas.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Romantic Valentine

A Romantic Valentine Day's Lunch

On our Back 40, my husband and I have cleared out a small area for a park bench, an Adirondack chair, and a low table for a romantic luncheon for two on this Valentine's Day.

I have set the table with a rugged white and red table runner (actually, a throw rug), cloth napkins, flatware, and delicate glasses for wine.  I have also arranged red Azaleas in a ceramic vase.

What are we having?  I have cooked carrots and garden peas for doctoring up a can of Hanover Clam Chowder soup.  I have made peanut butter sandwiches with homemade strawberry jam on whole wheat bread.  My husband have bought a bottle of Chardonnay which will go well with the PBs.

For dessert, we are sharing the obligatory box of chocolate, a small box, and sweet Florida strawberries that are now in season.

However, it is not a good day for a picnic with heavy clouds and threat of cold rain.  "Pick up the bottle of wine and the glasses and let's go inside," my beloved tells me.  Who am I to argue with such a flirtatious invitation?  "But first I have a surprise for you that I want to show you," he says.  Now my curiosity is peaked.

He takes me by the hand and I follow to the south side of the house.  "What is it?" I ask. "Roses for my Valentine," he declares and gestures with his hands to three rose bushes tightly bundled up and leaning against the house.

"I deal with you now," I say with a big smile on my face, "and I will deal with the roses tomorrow,"

Monday, February 11, 2013

Making a Compost Pile

Now that I have my late winter/early spring garden started, I have grass and weeds scattered around the plot.  Now, what?  I am starting a compost pile in the far corner of my Back 40.  Yet it is near the garden and it will be convenient for emptying the grass clippings later in the season.

I am saving all organic matter generated in the kitchen, putting it in a large bowl to heap it onto the compost pile in the evening or the following morning.  I save coffee grounds and egg shells, leftovers from making salads and slaw, citrus rinds and fruit peels.  I include pasta, breads, and cooked vegetables in this concoction.  BUT absolutely no meat and bones of any kind--fried, cooked, or sauteed.  This will create an odor as it decomposes and most likely will attract dogs and other critters.

Believe it or not:  an organic compost pile does not smell.  It may not look attractive at times, but I then cover  the pile with pine straw, dead leaves and dead grass that I have raked up.

Every so often, I "turn" the pile using a hoe fork.  I just move the pile from one spot to another.  It is easy to manage early on but at the end of summer, I am sure to wonder how I am going to use it all.  I have now recycled the organic kitchen scraps and yard debris.  It is all right to use the compost in the garden before it has totally decomposed--it'll be used as mulch.  

When I remember, I toss a bit of fertilizer onto the compost pile and water it as well.  This way, it will percolate and rot faster.  As time goes by and I keep turning the pile, it will become "black gold"--beautiful black soil for a happy gardener.


I still have tomatoes and peppers to plant as well as lettuce and a few basic herbs.

How about a romantic Valentine's Day?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Starting a Small Spring Garden

My name is Margareta and I am an avid gardener together with my husband of many years.  This is my blog about my small year round gardening in a serene beach community in north east Florida.  I plan to share with you my vegetable gardening and landscaping as well as trellis and border fence making.  I also have many other yard projects going on; so, come grow with me.

Starting a Small Spring Garden

Let's aim for creating a 10'x10' garden plot in full sunshine, away from trees, and near the kitchen.  With a spade and a strong back, till or turn the soil to get the grass and weeds out.  You may want to supplement the soil with cow manure bought in a 50 lb sack from your local garden center or home improvement store.  Shovel out a shallow trench around your area to make a border around the garden.  

To Grow Potatoes:  Buy red or white seed potatoes at your local garden center.  It is a preferred method to halve or quarter your seed potatoes depending on where the "eyes" are located.  I prefer to set the whole potatoes in the ground.  Either way, they will grow just fine.  Dig two furrows, a foot apart, and space the potatoes close together if cut and leave a foot apart for the whole potatoes leaving them plenty of room to grow.  Cover them up and as time goes by and the greenery starts showing, you will need to hill the potatoes up.  Thepotatoes are hungry, so feed them well with a common garden fertilizer and water sparingly.

To Grow Green Beans or Snap Beans:  You will find beans in bulk at some seed store or ready packaged in garden centers.  My preference of snap beans or green beans is named 'Contender".  To sow the beans, make a smooth furrow or two, depending on what kind of result you have in mind.  In each furrow, make two shallow furrows with the handle of your garden rake.  We are doubling up on planting the beans.  Make sure that you have room to walk between the two furrows for weeding, watering, feeding, and harvesting.  I usually wait until the beans have come up before I sprinkle a bit of fertilizer, nothing heavy handed, around the plants.  

How to Grow Broccoli:  Broccoli plants are still available at garden centers and they are healthy looking.  A  nine pack of Packman will give you a 10' row, if you plant them close together.  I like the togetherness because it gives the weed little room to grow, or so I hope.  Water your broccoli, let them take root in your garden, and then fertilize sparingly every two weeks.  Sometimes, I let the broccoli bloom out to attract butterflies and bees.

Finally, you don't have to do all of this at one time--stretch it out a little.  It is supposed to give you pleasure and exercise, right?  That, my fellow gardeners, will have to do for today.  We will continue with more planting tomorrow.  Happy gardening and growing!