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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Put these in your 2015 garden plan

By Penny Stine
Monday, December 15, 2014

Yes, tomatillos. I've grown them for years, but this year, my appreciation for tomatillos is growing by leaps and bounds. In previous years, I usually made green salsa or just canned them with tomatoes, chiles and spices to create a Mexican sauce. After talking to a friend of mine who worked as a missionary in Mexico for several years and who used them for so much more than green salsa, I decided to simply freeze most of the tomatillos that I grew, with plans to experiment with them more this winter.

Freezing them was easy - I peeled the papery husk and washed the stickiness off, then put them in a freezer bag. I ended up without about 4 or 5 gallon bags full of tomatillos. 

So far, I've used them in pork stew, chicken stew and in the crock pot when I cooked a roast beef and potatoes. Cooking them for a long time rids them of that tart, almost bitter tang and adds a touch of lemony sweetness. They were really good with the roast beef and potatoes. Yes, even my hubby (who is not a No. 1 fan of tomatillos) agreed that the roast was good. They also help to thicken soups, stews and sauces, which is a plus. 

The good news is that tomatillos are one of the most economical crops to grow. Once you plant them, they often come back in following years, especially if you're not very good about picking up every last tomatillo that falls to the ground at the end of the season. I deliberately left a bunch on the ground, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of tomatillo plants to share with friends next spring. 


Look what I found still growing in the garden

By Penny Stine
Monday, December 8, 2014

It was such a nice day on Sunday here in the Grand Valley that I decided to go finish clearing and cleaning up my garden. I had left a few plants out there in November when I tore out almost everything. Most of them had died, dried and were obviously done.

Then I saw this Swiss chard plant, which had been hidden by the enormous broccoli plant next to it, and it looked green and healthy, like it wasn’t quite done growing. Rather than tear it out, I gave it a gallon of water to drink. I left the broccoli in place, too, figuring that perhaps the broccoli was shielding the Swiss chard from the cold. Or something like that.

The nice thing about plants surviving this late is that the bugs are long gone. In the summer, some of my Swiss chard got chewed up by those little leafhoppers that suck all the pigment out of the leaves, but that's one thing I don't have to contend with right now.

I had two other Swiss chard plants in this other bed, and you can see that they don’t look near as healthy as the other one. But I wondered if maybe they’re just thirsty and no quite ready to be done for the season, so I watered them both, too, and left them where they were.

With night time temperatures only dropping into the 20s and daytime temps in the 50s, it will be interesting to see if they grow at all in the next week.

I’m already thinking about what I can cook next weekend that will use just a few small Swiss chard leaves.  

I know, it's December and I should accept that the garden is done, but as you can see, it's just not that easy for me!


Winter herbs

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, December 3, 2014

When I planted herbs in the spring, I made certain to put the rosemary and the pesto perpetuo basil in pots. Rosemary is a tender perennial, which means that it grows best in places where it doesn’t get as cold as we get here in Grand Junction, and may survive if you bring it inside when it gets sub-zero. In previous years, I've brought in pots of rosemary, only to have them die in the house, but I planted it in this big planter last spring with high hopes in spite of my history. 

As you can see, the rosemary is looking quite healthy. The flowers in the pot have powdery mildew (and should have been pulled a couple of weeks ago, but I'm a lousy indoor gardener), but the rosemary looks good. I’ve got it in a sunny spot on the floor in my living room. The south-facing window is also a pop-out, which means that there’s no crawl space and not much insulation under the window, so the floor stays cold all the time, while the sun coming in the window keeps the air relatively warm.

Pesto perpetuo basil is a variety that’s supposed to be a perennial, too, so it didn’t try to flower and go to seed at all in the summer. I can't tell any difference in taste between this type of basil and the traditional Italian basil I also grew over the summer. 

I also have high hopes for this basil, which appears to be pretty healthy and happy in my living room. It's about 18 inches tall. Probably if I stripped every leaf from the plant, I'd have enough basil to make one or two little batches of pesto. Since I want it to last all winter, I haven't actually cut enough leaves for pesto.

I have, however, used both the basil and the rosemary for cooking, which makes me happy. Walking to the living room to pluck a few leaves before cooking isn’t quite the same as a good garden stroll in the evening, but you do what you gotta do in December.

I’m also still using sage from this plant, which is outside on the south side of my house, rather than inside, near a south-facing window. As the winter progresses and the plant gets chilled and dehydrated, the leaves will start to not look as good and fresh, but they’ll still be flavorful for cooking.  


Beautiful beets make tasty spread

By Penny Stine
Monday, December 1, 2014

Look at this stuff! Isn’t the color amazing? There is nothing artificial in it to give its color, either.
Ever since I made pickled beets from beets grown in the garden, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with them. I’m not much of a pickled eater and my husband already said that he didn’t like pickled beets.
Then I found one last beet in the garden before Thanksgiving and knew I had to do something tasty, so I roasted the beet, then peeled it and put it in my blender, along with some gorgonzola cheese, a little fresh rosemary (from the plant in the living room), a few pickled beets and some sour cream.
I blended it all together and voila! Seriously good beet and blue cheese spread for crackers. I took it to Denver when we went for Thanksgiving and everyone (even my hubby, who doesn’t like pickled beets and isn’t crazy about regular beets) liked it.
My son even said it tasted like something his restaurant would serve (he works at a fancy schmancy restaurant in Cherry Creek.)
Yay! Score another point for the garden! 


The last harvest

By Penny Stine
Monday, November 24, 2014

I took this photo a few weeks ago, at the very end of October, when I was going to do a blog about the last harvest. I never wrote about it because I realized it wasn’t truly the last harvest in 2014. It was the final harvest of the warm-season stuff before the first frost, but I left quite a few things in the garden, like kale, broccoli, beets, carrots and onions. I left a kohlrabi out there, too.

These peppers are sweet yellow oblong peppers. Some actually turned yellow. I used most of them green. The watermelon and honeydew were tasty. 

I've been checking the broccoli for little florets and have managed to continue to find a few here and there. The kohlrabi, carrots and most of the beets never did get big enough to pick, so I covered them all with straw and will hope they survive the winter. The kale held up pretty well until the temperatures dipped into the low 20s and high teens, then it wilted and appeared to die in most places. 

I have some blue dwarf curly kale in a protected area that was still looking pretty good, so I went out on Saturday and picked enough to put in a risotto and perhaps add to my Thanksgiving stuffing. I usually make a kale salad with oranges and cranberries on Thanksgiving, but I'm roasting brussels sprouts with an orange honey glaze and dried cranberries instead, so kale salad with cranberries and oranges seems a little reduntant.

When I was out in the garden, I also found a beet that was big enough to pick. 

I'm pretty sure this really is the last harvest from my outside garden this season. Fortunately, my mushrooms are still going strong in the spare bedroom. 

And soon, I'll get the first seed catalog in the mail and can start dreaming about next year's garden!

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