Monday, May 31, 2010

Today's Haul

It seems a bit odd to be at the beginning of summer and still be picking what are normally considered winter vegetables from my garden.  But here is what I pulled out of the garden this morning!  And there are plenty more potatoes, onions and maybe two dinners of beets left out there.

The onions look great too.  They are just about ready to be picked and put in the "cellar" to use this summer.

Friday, May 28, 2010


The beets are still producing...and I couldn't be happier!  Ya'll know that baby beets are one of my favorite foods in the Universe.  And the fact that they are still hanging in there and producing beautiful fruit is a true gift in my book.  Just look at these beauties...

They taste sweet, earthy and absolutely delicious.  Last night I made the most delicious salad with beets and the last of the romaine lettuce from the garden.  This recipe is quick and easy to adapt to individual preference. If you don't like blue cheese, use feta or mozzarella.  You don't have to put it on a bed of lettuce.  You can add orange segments, etc, get the idea :)

Beet Salad with Blue Cheese
Wash, dry, and cut up romaine into bite size pieces.
Roast beets till tender
When beets are cool enough to handle, peel, thinly slice and sprinkle with kosher salt
Lay sliced beets around the perimeter of the plate
Mound cut up lettuce in the middle
Crumble blue cheese on top of the lettuce (you could also use feta cheese)
Drizzle with your favorite, high quality extra virgin olive oil and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Buono Appetito!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Surprise Discovery

I stepped into my greenhouse today to put some stuff away and reorganize it a bit when this little wren came flying out of nowhere, just fussing up a storm at me.  She got caught in the greenhouse but finally figured out how to get out.

Well I very quickly discovered why she was so upset.  I was going to refold and stack my frost blankets that I store in the greenhouse for the season and when I lifted the top blanket, this is what I saw:  a little nest with little bitty eggs! 


Keep in mind that these eggs are tiny...about the size of my thumbnail.  I quickly covered the nest and tipped toed out of my greenhouse.  

Knowing the nest is there will keep my trips in and out of the greenhouse to an absolute minimum.  And I will be very careful if I have to retrieve something out of there.  But what a gift for the day, don't ya think? :)

Friday, May 21, 2010


OK...the honeymoon is over and the battle with the bugs begins.  The warm weather is upon us and the bugs have taken up residence in my garden AND in my patio plants...GRRRR...It's time to go to work.

These little buggers (no pun intended...really) appear so fast!  Y'all know I'm in my garden every day!  Yet in just one overnight, look what a caterpillar did to my just-emerging-squash-seedling:

And here is the little culprit...and let's just say he didn't make it home for dinner tonight...

Something is eating my hibiscus flowers (likely a big fat caterpillar that I can't find!)

and the thrips are attacking my roses

Needless to say, I'm not happy; but I'm also not surprised.  "Battling the bugs" is an ongoing challenge for home gardeners. 

When I discover insect damage to my plants, I first try to decide what type of pest caused the damage.  Insect damage can usually be identified in one of four primary categories:

1.  Injury by chewing leaves, flowers and stems--usually caused by beetles, caterpillars, doodle bugs, snails and grasshoppers.

2.  Injury by piercing and sucking plant juices--usually caused by aphids, leaf-hoppers, sharpshooters, mealybugs, mites and scale.

3.  Injury by booring and feeding inside the plant--usually caused by bugs like squash vine borers (these little suckers decimated my butternut squash crop this past fall).

4.  Injury by feeding on the roots--usually grubworms.

It's taken me time and research to begin to figure out what insects cause what damage, but I have a couple of good reference manuals and an online site that I refer to constantly.  The online site is my favorite.  It's maintained by the Texas A&M Department of Entomology and it's a great reference for identifying pests that plague us in this part of the country:  Plant Pest Identification Aid.

Most agricultural extension services or local universities have a similar aid to identify and help eliminate garden pests.  Or you can gather samples of the insects and/or the damage done to your plants and take them to a local nursery and they can usually assist in identifying the problem and the best solution.

OK, so I've noted the damage and identified the likely what?  Since I try really hard to maintain an organic garden, I try and use only natural/organic insecticides that have very low toxicity to humans and have a low environmental impact.   My favorite is Neem Oil

Neem oil and extracts are derived from the seed kernel of the neem tree fruit, which contain a complex mixture of biologically active compounds.  The neem tree is a tropical native to Southeast Asia and grows in many countries throughout the world.  It is a close relative of the Chinaberry tree, a tree very common in these parts of Texas.

Neem oil and extracts can act as both an insecticide and a fungicide (double bang for the buck).  Spraying neem products onto plant leaves kill a wide range of insects and pests.  They work particularly well on soft-bodied insects like aphids, caterpillars, mites, thrips and whiteflies.  Neem is not a quick "knockdown" insecticide; it breaks down quickly in sunlight and washes away with irrigation or rain.  It must be applied often for best effectiveness.  Although it is harmless to humans, pets should be kept away from the treated area until the leaves dry.

When used as a fungicide, neem is applied as a preventative measure or when disease is just beginning to appear.  It's effective against blight, leaf spot, mildew, rot, rust, scale and scab.  Two years ago I had a real problem with scale on my lemon tree and although it took time, persistence and elbow grease, I used high pressure water spray and neem oil to effectively and completely get rid of the scale.  I really like this product and I couldn't imagine gardening without it.  But as with any insecticide, always read and follow the label directions carefully.   

I add 1 tablespoon of neem oil concentrate to 1/2 gallon of water in a spray bottle and simply saturate the infected areas of my plants.  It's best to do this in the early morning hours and do not spray when the bees are actively pollinating your plants.  Wait until they leave your garden or apply the mixture in the evening when the bees are usually not active.

Another non-toxic but effective pesticide I often go to is an insecticidal soap, which is just sodium or potassium salts combined with fatty acids.  Insecticidal soap must come in direct contact with the insect and is no longer effective once it has dried.   But is is one of the safest pesticides on the market and is quite effective when used regularly and properly.

Battling insects is a never ending struggle in the home garden.  One must be diligent and very aware of exactly what is happening in the garden or in flower beds.  I learned this a long time ago.  A motto I try very hard to live by is "My garden's best friend is my shadow." 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Meyer Lemon Tree is Full

I can't believe my Meyer lemon tree.  It took a beating in the greenhouse this past winter and I thought it would take some time for it to come back.  But it is back and full (and I mean *full*) of little bitty lemons.  It lives on the back patio where my husband and I sit every night to unwind with a glass of wine and watch the hummingbirds battle.  The scent coming from the lemon tree is nothing short of intoxicating.  And I think the blossoms look as beautiful as they smell.  Check out these lemons!

This lemon tree is very happy living on the back patio.  It gets full sun and is bathe in daily, warm Southern breezes.  When I moved it out of the greenhouse, I fertilized it with about a half cup of Medina Growin Green and I give it lots of water.  It is thriving.  I see homemade lemonade, lemon biscotti cookies, great lemon vinaigrettes, lemon bars, flavorful marinades, lemon curd (delicious on yogurt and oatmeal!), lemon flavored iced tea, lemon and thyme new potatoes, etc, etc in my future :)

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Evening with the Hummers all know I love birds...all birds.  But one of my favorites is the hummingbird.  They are beautiful and sooooo entertaining!  Every summer I look forward to their return.  Their buzzing and squeaking and constant battling is an evening's entertainment in and of itself!  Summer would not be the same without them. 

My husband was gone a good bit of the time this past weekend.  So what else is a girl to do?  Fix herself a delicious healthy dinner (see Leftover Cedar Plank Salmon), pour herself a nice glass of Pinot Noir, grab her camera and head out to the back patio to try and catch the hummers in action.  I have to admit, it was quite a challenge to photograph them but I had a lot of fun in the process.  Here is some of what I saw (of course, I took over 100 images!)  Gotta love digital cameras :)

 They really liked the blossoms on my lemon tree but I had a very hard time capturing them savoring the nectar.  I'm going to keep trying on that one, though!  It's kind of hard to see, but if you look closely, you can see a hummingbird towards the top middle of this picture.

Darkness came and it was time for me to stop for the night.  It was a really fun evening.  And such a beautiful Texas sky at dusk.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Leftover Cedar Plank Salmon

I know...I know...this is a gardening blog, not a food blog.  But y'all, I made the most fantastic dish with leftovers that I think I've ever made.  And if you ask my sons, that's quite a feat when you consider that I was the "queen of leftovers" when they were growing up.  Meaning--give me a refrigerator full of leftovers and I can create a great meal.  (This talent was a byproduct of raising two boys on my own--nothing was wasted.)

Anyway, remember that Cedar Plank Salmon I made last week?  Well, I had some left and decided to make dinner for myself (hubby was out of town) with the leftover salmon and some of my food finds that I got at the Pearl Farmer's Market

I created this fantastic (and easy!) dish using the salmon, some beautiful watercress I got at the market and this wonderful marinated goat milk feta cheese I also got at the market.  The feta cheese is made with feta (obviously), olive oil, sundried tomatoes, rosemary and other fresh herbs.

Cook the pasta (I used farfalle) according to package directions.  Drain and toss with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Place on a plate with the watercress.  Break up the salmon on top of the pasta (the pasta will warm the salmon).  Add a few quartered campari tomatoes, the feta cheese, some of the oil from the marinated cheese and lots of freshly ground black pepper. 

What can I say?  It was delicious!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes!

Well...I did it (as I always knew I would).   I bought some heirloom tomato plants!  One day last week as I was driving home, I passed a little farm stand on one of the Farm to Market roads here in the hills.  I've bought beautiful summer produce from this guy before and he happened to be selling organic heirloom tomato plants.  I couldn't resist.  So I stopped to see what he had.  It didn't take long...I was hooked.

He told me he gets many of his seeds for his vegetables and seedling transplants from Seeds of Change.  I know this company as I've bought seeds and plants from them in the past.  They sell a good product.

Anyway, I had an empty garden bed and I decided its destiny this year was to nurture and grow my heirloom tomatoes!  Here's what I bought:

Rutger's Red - Large red globes; great for canning.

 Hillbilly Potato Leaf - A beautiful slicing tomato that produces large yellow fruit streaked with red on the blossom end.  I can't wait for this one.

Kellogg's Breakfast  - Produces large orange, beefsteak type fruit. 


Specked Roman - Long meaty fruit with jagged orange and yellow stripes.

White Currant - A cherry variety that produces tiny creamy white fruit whose skin has a faint yellow tint.  Supposed to be a superb producer.    


Yellow Pear - Another cherry variety.  I've grown these before and the skins and flesh are yellow and resemble a small pearl.  They are delicious.  I used to 
toss these to Mo as he patiently waited outside my garden fence.  

Most of these are new varieties for me, except the Yellow Pear.  So I'm very excited to see what kind of fruit they produce.  We are right on the cusp of it being too late to plant tomato transplants, but I figured I'd go for it anyway.

I dug a deep hole for each plant, filled it with water, placed the plant in and filled in the hole with a mixture of good gardening soil mixed with Medina Growin Green granules.  I then hauled two wheel barrels of cedar bark mulch and heavily mulched that plant bed.  It's beginning to get very warm (hot actually) and I need to make sure the soil stays moist and doesn't dry out 10 minutes after being watered!

I also bought one heirloom pepper plant:

El Chaco -- a hot pepper that produces an abundance of 4-inch slightly curved pods.  The fruits start off green, turn yellow and then mature to a deep orange-red color.  New for me as well.

And look at this beauty who skirted about as I was working :)  These are the little guys that Mo used to try and catch.  He never got one, though.  They are *really* fast.  Neat, eh?

I'm so excited to have such a great variety of tomatoes in my garden this year.  I'll do my best to nurture the plants along and we'll just see how these fare for me this growing season.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Romaine Lettuce is Ready!

Check this out!  I picked the first head of romaine lettuce last night.  And what a beauty it was! 

I made a beautiful, simple salad for my husband and me for dinner last night which included the romaine lettuce, orange pepper, English cucumber, slivered red cabbage, campari tomatoes (can't wait for mine!), black olives and a fresh local, feta goat milk cheese that I bought at the Farmer's Market last week.  I like to lightly dress my salad with high quality, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Texas is making some great olive oil these days and I try to keep a bottle on hand.  Delicious.

I served the salad along side a piece of fresh Sockeye salmon that we grilled on a cedar plank. It really doesn't get any better than this.

Cedar Plank Salmon is one of the easiest, most tasty ways to prepare fresh salmon.  We go to Home Depot or Lowe's and buy a simple cedar plank, like the kind you would use to build a fence.  Have them cut the plank into 15" pieces.  You'll get about 5 to 6 pieces per plank, at a cost of about $3.00.

When you're ready to cook the salmon, scrub the cedar plank with hot water, no soap.  Then soak the cedar plank in cold water for about three hours (you may have to weigh it down with a heavy can or something).

Remove the plank from the water and lay the salmon piece on the plank.  Rub the salmon fillet with extra virgin olive oil and season it generously with salt & pepper.  Heat the grill to about 400F and put the cedar plank, with the salmon, on the grill and close the lid.  Depending on the thickness of the salmon, it should cook in about 10-15 minutes.  The general rule is 10 minutes per inch of thickness of fish.  Don't overcook it.

Remove the plank from the grill, cover the fish with foil for about 5 minutes to let it rest.  Remove the salmon from the plank and serve.  I can almost guarantee that once you cook salmon this way, you'll never want to eat it any other way.  It truly is delicious.  I do hope you try it.