Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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Wanted squash, got a snake

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I was poking around in my garden last night, trying to see if I could figure out what kind of squash plant was in a corner. With all my squash trials this year, I have no idea what survived. I was tickled pink to see this, since that little flying saucer means that this gigantic, healthy plant is a pattypan squash plant.

I love pattypan squash. It’s so versatile and tasty. You can use it in place of any type of summer squash, and one good pattypan plant should produce plenty of squash.
I decided to go scrutinize the squash plant growing in my small, backyard garden area to see if I could see any type of squash forming, so I’d know what kind was growing out there. When I got close to the garden box, I heard a rustling and saw a quick flicker of serpent skin gliding through the onions.
I did not scream like a little girl (although I was tempted). Instead, I decided to go back for my camera and a small stick, which I threw into the onions and grass, in hopes of making the snake come out and pose for a photo.







As you can see, I was successful, although the snake refused to smile.
The snake did not appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere, and kind of moved out, stretching across my small backyard garden box.









I decided the squash would wait for another day.  Needless to say, I will toss a small rock or piece of wood into the weedy/grassy/onions before I get close to the garden area, since the squash is also spreading in that direction, where the snake has no doubt made a nest and has hatched kazillions of little baby snakes in my garden. 


Tomatillos vs ground cherries

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I grow tomatillos every year because I like to use them in Mexican cooking. I made Howie pose in front of the plants so you can see how tall the plants are. As you can see, he’s somewhat anxious about his modeling career, hence the laid-back ears.


This year, I’m also growing pineapple tomatillos or ground cherries (I’m pretty sure they’re the same thing) just because I was curious about them.
They’re related to tomatillos, and as you can see, the plants look similar. They’re a little lower to the ground, however. I took this picture a week or two ago, and in that time, the plants have seriously gone bonkers.



They’re much more overgrown and jungle-like.




The little ground cherries seem to grow on the underside of the leaves, which makes them difficult to see. You’re supposed to wait and harvest them after they fall to the ground, and according to one website, it said that the paper-like covering protects them from bugs while they’re sitting on the ground patiently waiting for the gardener to come along and find them.

This is a lie. The first ground cherry I picked from the ground had an earwig inside the outer covering. I haven’t found any earwigs since then, however, so perhaps the covering slows the bugs down a little.

The taste is hard to describe. They don’t taste like tomatillos much at all. They don’t really taste like pineapples or cherries, either. They are sweet, however, and can be eaten raw. They’re supposed to be good in salsa, too.


As you can tell by this pic, they are a lot smaller than tomatillos. I didn’t realize I had any tomatillos that were ready to harvest until I saw these ones lurking under the leaves. Every year, I wonder what else I can do with the tomatillos besides cook them in salsa (or soup, stew, sauce for fish/chicken/pork) and last night, I found a slew of recipes here, although many of them are for soups, stews and sauces for fish,chicken and pork. 

I also found a recipe somewhere else that mentioned a salad with watermelon and raw tomatillos (I think, although I don’t know where it was) and something else that sounded interesting. I'll have to experiment with that. The sweetness of the melon might make up for the tartness of the tomatillos, although I'm not sure. 
I put one of the tomatillos in my grilled veggies, added one to my morning smoothie and put the others in the freezer for canning sometime later, when I have more tomatillos.


I used the ground cherries raw in a cucumber/peach salad. I also added some cilantro and goat cheese. I thought it was pretty tasty.  


An interesting type of basil

By Penny Stine
Monday, July 28, 2014

I love growing herbs in the garden. I also like growing them in pots, especially when I can bring them inside in the fall and have them survive in the house during the winter.

I bought this rosemary bush last summer and managed not to kill it when I brought it in the house. I almost killed it by leaving it out one night this spring when it got colder than I thought it was supposed to, but as you can see, it’s doing fine now.

There's also a petunia and an elm tree sprout growing in this pot. 

I hate elm trees. My neighbor has a gigantic one that sends seeds flying all over my yard. I've got elm trees growing everywhere. 

This, believe it or not, is a basil plant. I know, it looks nothing at all like regular basil. It tastes just like Italian basil, though, and it doesn’t seem to go to seed. I think I bought it at Bookcliff Gardens, although I’m not sure. I believe it’s a perennial plant, but isn’t hardy enough to survive winters in western Colorado, which is why I put it in a pot. I’m hoping it will be happy in a sunny window all winter long, too.

Although my I-phone camera does tend to make things wash out in broad daylight, the plant really is that color. 





See, this is what it looks like close up. The leaves are light green, with white tips. 

I think it was called “pesto perpetuo,” although the scientific name is ocimum x citriodorum. The scientific name for Italian basil is ocimum basilicum. I have no idea what the difference means, but I do know that I’ve been using both all summer and I can’t tell the difference.  


Veggie cubes for winter breakfast

By Penny Stine
Friday, July 25, 2014

A year and a half ago, I started making fruit and veggie smoothies for breakfast almost every day. A garden really helps, because you go through a lot of produce when you’re drinking at least two types of fruit and three types of veggies every day for breakfast.


Last year, I made frozen kale cubes almost every week once my garden was in full swing, since my kale was growing gonzo. This year, my kale has struggled, but my Swiss Chard is better, so I went out to see what I could pick last night.







I got two giant bowls full of greens.I separated the kale and steamed that, since I have a lazy thyroid and there are some experts who say to limit the amount of raw brassica-type veggies in my diet. Cooking is supposed to help, so I steam kale before putting it in my Vitamixer.










I didn’t bother to cook the Swiss Chard. Although I got the idea on someone’s else’s blog last summer about making kale cubes in the summer, that person added a little water to the kale before blending, just to get it going. I decided to add watermelon instead, which I did all last summer.







Then I crammed the steamed kale, raw Swiss chard and several hunks of yellow watermelon into my Vitamixerand ran the blender until it was a nice, thin liquid. (It didn’t take long - maybe 30 seconds).  I poured the green juice into ice cube trays, froze it overnight and popped out the cubes this morning and put them in a gallon freezer bag.


Last year, I filled about 10 gallon freezer bags full of kale cubes before winter put an end to my efforts.
Needless to say, I didn’t have to buy any kale to add to wintertime smoothies.

Last year, I bought the watermelon from the Green River growers who go to the Teller Arms Market in Grand Junction. The little yellow watermelon in these pics came from Sprouts.

I’m hoping to have a few watermelons of my own to use later this summer. Look at how cute they are and how well they’re doing in my flower pots!  

I'm not sure why I stuck a watermelon seed in this pot. Not only is the pot a lot smaller than my two other pots with watermelon, I also planted cucumbers in the same pot. I think it may be a little overcrowded... but it's got a watermelon.


Yes, you can grill that

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I’m attempting to grow broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale this year. The kale that I planted from seed didn’t come up, and the kale that always overwinters and gives me kale most of the summer went to seed. I have a small patch of kale that’s doing OK, but nothing like I’ve had in previous years.



We eat a lot of kale, so I’m kinda sad about that, especially since we love roasted kale.

I was eyeing my broccoli and wondering about the leaves. As you can see, this broccoli isn’t forming a giant head of broccoli, but the leaves are beautiful. It's growing in a fairly shady corner, which could explain why the head is about two inches in diameter rather than six or seven. 


I googled the edibility (is that a word?) of broccoli and cauliflower leaves and discovered that yes, they are edible. I decided to try roasting them like I do kale and went out to the garden to see what I could find.

The Brussels sprouts leaves are pretty and they're just hanging out... waiting for the sprouts to do something. 

They're a long season grower, and I won't harvest the actual sprouts until late fall. What a good idea to pinch a few leaves here and there while I'm waiting for the real crops!

I ended up with a basket full of broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts leaves.The broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts leaves were all bigger than the kale leaves. 

Last night, it was a kajillion degrees and I didn’t want to turn on the oven. I was already grilling pork chops , so I figured I’d try grilling the leaves. I tossed them with olive oil and soy sauce, just to try something different.
I found a recipe that said to use a grilling basket, but my grill basket is small, so I simply laid them directly on the grill. We have an older Traeger grill, which doesn’t have an exact temperature control - I had it turned on high for the pork, which was probably more than 400 degrees.

At that temperature, it didn’t take long at all - so if you try this at home, don’t throw a bunch of broccoli leaves on the grill and go weed the garden while they cook. I turned them after 3 − 4 minutes and then took most of them off the grill after another minute or two.
They were crispy, charred and kinda smoky. My husband thought that grilling added an entirely new flavor sensation. Normally, I’m the one who hogs most of the roasted kale, but he had seconds (and maybe even thirds) last night. He wasn’t fond of my roasted beet salad with goat cheese and plums, which I adored, so I let him fill up on kale.  

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