Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Testing Seeds before Planting

The seeds in attractive packets are on display in various stores and I am browsing and looking and in most cases the companies recommend sowing after all danger of frost has passed.  It is still too early to direct sow herbs but this is a good time to start the seeds indoors.

Most of the time, I have bought enough seeds for sowing,  but sometimes I have miscalculated big time; however, there are times when I want to stagger the planting.  How is that for an excuse?

For the early planting of Oregon Sweet Peas, I had a large bag of seeds left from last year.  It looked as if I had not used any at all.  What to do?  Do I sow the seeds and hope that they germinate or do I just throw the seeds out?

I like to use all the seeds that I have bought or saved so this is how I tested the peas:

I soaked a paper towel and laid it on a flat surface near the kitchen sink. I then spread out  ten (10) seeds on the towel and covered them up with another wet towel.  I kept the towels moist at all times.

Considering that it will take about eight (8) days for the seeds to germinate, I kept checking for any sign of growth.  I found that eventually all 10 of my seeds germinated so it was a 100% success.  If half of them had germinated, it would have been a 50% success or failure.  You do the math.  For me, it was a no "brainer".

Even if all the seeds had not germinated, I could have sown them, just sown them closer together or more in a "hill."  Still, it is no guarantee that all the seeds will germinate, grow, and produce.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Hearty Chicken Soup

At this time of the year, there is little point in going outside to do any yard work or gardening; it is best to hunker down until the weather warms up.  Granted, it looks very nice when the sun is shining, but let's heat up the kitchen and make a hearty chicken soup.

I am fortunate to live near a country store that has butchers who make the best cut of meat, pork, and chicken.  They even tell me how to cook the meat.  The other week, they had whole chicken at a reduced price and I wanted something to warm my weary bones in this cold spell.  What is better than chicken soup?

When I got home, I washed the chicken and removed the the innards and as much fat as I could.  I stuffed the chicken with a cut up orange and a few slices of onions.  I then put it in the slow cooker and dashed some pepper and paprika on top of it to give it some color.

My husband and I got several meals out of the chicken and I finally put the left over chicken and bones into the stockpot to make a basic broth for my soup.  As the chicken and bones came to a boil, I skimmed off the scum.  It did not have to simmer for a long time since it was already cooked.

Once the chicken with the bones in the broth had cooled down, I removed the edible pieces and put them back into the stockpot.

Some ingredients for my chicken soup:
Chicken broth and chicken
Cut up potatoes and carrots
Cabbage and collards
Onions and minced garlic

While the chicken was simmering, I cut up carrots from the garden and finely cut up cabbage and collards, also from the garden, to add to the soup. I finely chopped up a yellow onion to add to the pot along with the minced garlic. The last of the fall/winter tomatoes also ended up in the pot along with cubed white potatoes.  (Snap bean, butter beans, broccoli, and cauliflower will do fine in the soup too.  In other words, I am using whatever left over is available.)

My soup looked more like a stew so I added water and to add some "heat" to the soup, I used a little bit of red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste at serving.  This is one hearty chicken soup that warmed us up on a recent cold day.  It was simply delicious when served with toast and cheese.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Planting Sweet Onions

One of the home improvement centers had a new and fresh supply of winter plants and herbs to plant.  I also noticed Sweet Onions from Georgia and another kind of Sweet Onions from Texas.  I passed them by because I didn't think I had any room in the garden.

On this fair weather day between the cold snaps, I've been out and turning the soil and removing old plants and weeds.  Come to find out, I did have room for a row of onions.  Back to the nursery I went.

I wanted to get the newly purchased sweet onions in the ground before the expected rain for tomorrow.

The onions were covered with dry dirt so I put them in a bucket of water for a short soaking while I fixed up the row in the garden plot.

It was so much easier to pull the onions apart after the soak.  They just slid apart.  The dry set seemed to be a tangled mess.

I made a furrow the length of the garden about 12 feet and about 2-3 inches deep.  I planted the onions about 3 - 5 inches apart.

I had visions of large juicy sweet onions growing in the soil for the next three months so I wanted each onion to have plenty of room to grow and develop.  If it does get down to freezing or threat of frost, I will cover the tender green tops of the onions with left over hay.  That should keep them warm.  When the weather gets warmer, it will be easy to gently remove the hay with a rake and use it as much.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pickled Carrots

We have the best and the most nutritious vegetables in our garden and we are able to eat fresh from the garden the year around.  What we don't eat fresh, I freeze and pickle, and share with seniors at the Activity Center.  At this time, the carrots are ready to harvest, but we cannot possibly eat them all, so why not pickle them?

I pulled up carrots, about two hefty bundles, washed them, and cut them up to fit pint sized jars.  After washing and cutting up the carrots, I put them in cold water to keep them crisp while I prepared the jars and the vinegar solution.

I used jars with rings and screw tops that I had washed.  Let's keep it clean, shall we?  I added a slim ring of yellow onion on the bottom of each jar.  I also added seven coriander seeds to each jar.

I prepared about three (3) cups cider vinegar and one cup water and let it come to a boil.  I added a tsp minced onion (store bought), a scant tbs dried red pepper, and a bay leaf.  I let this mixture come to a boil and it was ready.

While the vinegar concoction was coming to a boil, I packed the carrots into the jars and screwed on the tops (but not too tight).  The yield was four (4) jars and the vinegar solution covered all four with a tad to spare.  It had little to do with my measuring, but more with luck.

I put the four jars on a towel in my stockpot and let it come to a boil.  I turned the heat down and let it simmer for twenty (20) minutes. I carefully drained out some of the water and then was able to remove the jars and eventually put them on a shelf for use at a later time.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Planting Potatoes in Hay

If I don't have boiled potatoes for my main meal, an integral part of my meals is amiss.  The best way to eat potatoes is with the skin still on them because the vitamins and other nutrients are just below the surface and most often the skin is so thin that it is not a problem as long as the potatoes are well scrubbed.  Some potatoes are most delicious and I can't resist to add a dab of margarine.

All I need to know about potatoes is that they contain vitamin B6 that helps to break down the carbohydrates during exercise (Dr.. Earth's Home Grown Food).  Exercise in my blog means tilling and preparing the garden for a late winter or early spring planting.

The potatoes also have fiber that helps lower the cholesterol and supports the digestion (Dr. Earth)
A Bale of Hay
The other day, I made a trip downtown to the good folks at  Standard Feed and bought five (5) lbs each of White and Red Potatoes.  In addition, I bought a bale of hay!  The devil made me do that, I believe.  Let's have some fun in the hay!

Actually, I planted some of my own seed potatoes that already had rather well developed eyes.  I had six (6) of them for testing, say.

Making your own seed potatoes takes about 4 -5 weeks.  Most often, store bought potatoes are processed to resist sprouting.

I had prepared the potato patch for a rather conventional planting.  My only question: do I cut up the potatoes with eyes or do I plant them whole?  What do you do?

A Seed Potato Nested in Hay
I went back to the patch and dug a furrow about half a foot deep and loosely filled it with hay.  I planted the six potatoes, whole, in "nests" in the row of hay.

I planted the taters a foot apart to give them plenty of space to grow.  I added more hay on top and to prevent the hay from blowing away I covered it with a thin layer of my homemade compost.

Once the shoots appear, some gardeners continue to cover them with more hay as they appear.  Apparently, no "hilling" is needed .  I have also been told that it is so much easier to retrieve the crop of potatoes from the hay.

It will take 60 - 90 days for Irish potatoes to mature.  I expect it will take a bit longer for my potatoes to mature.  I'll be looking for new potatoes in middle of April.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Garden Flag

I received the most beautiful garden flag for the holidays.  It is too beautiful to be hanging in the garden.  I must find another place for it.  I have made a copy of the motif that I am sharing with you.

The motif has my flowers on it.  It has blue bells and daisies growing every which way.  They are definitely my kind of flowers, randomly picked, and randomly painted.  These flowers are placed in different pots.

This was a funding event to make some money for a school project at my granddaughter's school.  I think that it was extraordinary nice of her to think about me and to know what kind of flowers that I like.  I am so proud of that little girl.

My granddaughter often suggests that we should stop by a road side and pick wild flowers.  "Look grandma" she'll say, "they are just the kind you like."  If possible, we pick a few but we more often take a picture or make drawings and color the flowers.  You think that pink is her favorite color?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Yard Work in January

It's a gloomy day in northeast Florida but the one bright moment is dreaming about the one billion dollar lottery; however, the yard work never seems to be done or when it is completed it is time to start all over again.  So, let's see what there is to do in the yard in the middle of January.

This is a good time to put your root balled Christmas tree in the ground and make sure that it gets a sufficient amount of water but no fertilizer at this time.  It's also a good time to transplant other bushes and trees that you'll dig up or buy at a nursery for your landscaping.  Make sure that your hole in the ground is plenty large to let the roots spread out and absorb the nutrients.

This is not a good time for pruning spring-blooming plants such as azaleas, redbuds, and fringe trees.  By all means, remove dead limbs and branches and the professionals recommend that you do not use any paint to cover up the cuts on larger branches.  It has none or little effect on insect or diseases that may attack your trees.

There is something wrong with this picture:  My azaleas are blooming and it's well into winter.  I looked them over this afternoon and they are also putting out new greenery.  When do I prune them?

Now that most of the oranges are gone, generously spray the dormant fruit trees with horticultural oil when it is a calm day and the temperature is above 40 degrees C.

Roses may be pruned (unless they are blooming, like mine are).  At the time of the pruning, remove the brown leaves from the bushes and from the ground below to reduce potential disease problems.

While waiting for the lottery drawing, I have better go outside and remove the winter weeds from hedges around the house and put down some mulch to keep the roots from freezing.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Conserving Citrus Fruit

Happy New Year and Happy Gardening!  So many things have been going on for the holidays and there has been little time for gardening.  William Blake wrote:  "In seed time learn, in harvest time teach, in winter enjoy."

This fall/winter, the weather has not been conducive for gardening;  it's been too hot and/or its been raining.  But I have been able to enjoy the broccoli, some greens, tomatoes, and carrots.  The cabbage has been filled with rainwater and more or less rotted.

I realize that I am being shallow for complaining about the weather when so many areas in this country and elsewhere in the world has flood problems, cold, snow, and ice.  I am fortunate to have my Back Forty to care for without too many problems.

To change the subject--I have often admired the glass jars in grocery stores that are filled with citrus sections.  Why can't I do the same with the grapefruit that are ripening and going to waste if I don't take care of it?

How I Conserved Citrus 

First, I made a Light Sugar Solution by mixing three (3) cups of water and one (1) cup sugar and heated it on the stove in a pot and stirring until the sugar melted.

For each quart jar, I used one (1) large grapefruit, peeled and cut into section.  I also used sections of two (2) Satsuma oranges which are small and packed them tightly and added the sugar solution.  I inserted a fork into the filled fruit jar and stirred gently to get rid of air bubbles.

To each jar, I added a bit of broken cinnamon, a few whole cloves as well as a few whole spices.

I put a small towel in the bottom of my well-used stock pot, inserted the three jars, and filled the pot with water to cover the jars.  The towel will keep the jars from rattling when boiling.

When the water came to a boil, I turned the heat down and let it simmer for about 10 minutes and let the jars cool in the pot.  I did empty some of the water and tightened the lids but not too tight.  When completely cool, I put the jars into the fridge.

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