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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Pucker up, baby

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In my quest to grow something besides grass and weeds in the shade, I've been planting more herbs. Some people grow them just because they're pretty. I want to grow them and then do something with them. If that something involves tastiness, it's even better.

When you start doing herbal research, you end up reading about homegrown medicine, even if you really want information about savory seasonings. Turns out, herbal vinegars are supposed to cure or prevent everything from bubonic plague to high blood pressure. Who knew? I didn't.

Four thieves vinegar is one of those healthy vinegars, with various recipes that have been around for hundreds of years. Most include garlic and lavender, among other ingredients. Legend has it that in the middle ages, four thieves used to raid the homes of people who had recently died of the plague. The four thieves never got sick, and when they were caught, they said they'd reveal the recipe for their plague-prevention vinegar if they were released. Hence, the four thieves vinegar.

There are many recipes online and since I wasn't interested in warding off the plague, I tried one that I thought might taste good. As you can see, it looked pretty in the jars when I first made it back in July. You have to let it sit for several weeks and allow the herbs to infuse the vinegar with all their flavor, minerals and whatever mysterious elements ward off disease.
After eight weeks, I strained off the soggy herbs and put the vinegar in old wine bottles for use. I've been lazy, and have just used straight vinegar on cucumbers, as a marinade for shrimp and veggies and as a marinade for grilled chicken. I think it's all good, but my husband says its a bit overpowering and a little too vinegary.
Ha! We'll see who's overpowering the next time bubonic plague sweeps through the Grand Valley! 


Can you beet this?

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Although sometimes I plant something because it's pretty (like the red okra), usually I plant something in my garden because I want to eat it. Up until this year, I never wanted to eat beets.
My mom grew beets in the garden when I was a teenager and then she added even more sugar when she cooked them to create a thick sweet sauce.... aka Harvard beets. I think she also may have pickled them. Although I didn't hate them back then, I don't really want to eat them as an adult and my husband was pretty vocal in his disdain for beets, so I never planted them.
Then I talked to Beth Morris-Feely, who used to be at Redlands Mesa Golf Course and is now the broker at the Bridges in Montrose. She told me she grew lovely beets in her Montrose garden and baked them, wrapped in foil, like a potato.
Seeds are cheap and my gardening buddy, Jan, was willing to split a pack of Chioggia beet seeds, which are kinda cool-looking, with a bulls-eye coloring.
I've cooked them as Beth suggested and have to agree with her. They are wonderfully good with nothing but a little butter, salt and pepper. Even my husband, who insisted he didn't like beets before taking his first bite, like them baked.
In fact, we liked them so much that I bought another pack of beet seeds and planted them in July, hoping for a fall crop. I couldn't find Chioggia seeds, so I planted just plain red ones. 
Being somewhat adventurous and always on the hunt for something I can deep-fry, I decided to make beet chips the other day. Although the recipes said to slice them with a mandolin slicer, I don't have one. So I sliced them with my food processor, as you could see in the photo.
I set my deep-fryer to 375 and fried until I guessed they were done. I thought they were pretty good, but my husband surprisingly said he preferred them baked. He thought they tasted too sweet after I fried them.
I haven't poked around my July-planted beets to see if the beets are developing, but I'm hoping they're happy and still growing. Baked beets in the cooler weather will be lovely.  


Treasure hunting with my grandson

By Penny Stine
Monday, September 24, 2012

There's something about digging for potatoes that always makes me feel like I'm about five years old, digging for buried treasure in the yard. So when my five-year old grandson came over to our house this past weekend, we went out to the garden looking for potatoes.
I planted viking purple potatoes this year, with seed potatoes from Park Seed. The first two potato hills we dug were duds. Each hill contained exactly one potato. Not exactly thrilling for buried treasure-seeking five-year olds. Then we hit the jackpot and found about seven potatoes under one plant.




Then we turned our attention to the carrots.

Pulling carrots was even more fun than digging for potatoes, even if the carrots were tiny.





I roasted the potatoes for dinner, and we also had the raw carrots we pulled. Both were a huge hit.

I've still got a couple of potato plants in the garden and at least three in my straw bale, but the plants haven't completely died back yet, so I'm going to hold off digging for another month.  





I think taking Taylor out to the garden and showing him how to pull the carrots and find potatoes was the real treasure. 


Too many cucumbers? Make pickles!

By Penny Stine
Friday, September 21, 2012

I went out to my garden last week and found a few lemon cucumbers. I love lemon cucumbers because they're not so huge that you eat one cucumber for an entire week. They're also never bitter, and they have a nice, fresh taste. 

We eat cucumber salad, with tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar and feta cheese (and anything else that's coming out of my garden or the fridge - like red peppers, onions, peaches, pickled garlic, black olives or green olives) several times a week in August, September and into October. One lemon cucumber is usually good for two people, especially when you add other ingredients. 

Lemon cucumbers, once they get going, produce a lot of cucumbers. We can't eat that much cucumber salad, and they don't last at all. Three days in the fridge and they're starting to turn rubbery. Although my husband and I don't eat a ton of pickles (actually, neither one of us eats any pickles), I thought I'd make some refrigerator pickles. 

Refrigerator pickles are just that - they go directly from the bowl you make them into a jar or plastic container and into the fridge. They must be kept in the fridge to guarantee that they won't go bad, and most recipes usually say the pickles will stay crunchy for a month or two. I confess that I've kept them in the fridge for six months or more (I told you we don't eat pickles) and they're still fine. 

Because I gave away all my dill, I couldn't make refrigerator dills. which seem to be the most common type, with loads of recipes on the internet. I've been experimenting with herbal vinegars all summer, however, so I decided to make hot mint pickles. (I made a mint vinegar with red chiles and garlic earlier this summer.) 

They taste pretty good, and I really will try to remember to eat them. In my case, it's not that I dislike pickles, it's just that I don't like them so much that I make much of an effort to eat them - even when the effort only involves walking downstairs to my spare fridge, opening the jar and snagging a few pickles!

At least the jar is pretty. It will be a nice decorative touch, which no one will ever see, since they're sitting on a shelf in my spare fridge. 


September flowers

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I don't have time to post my usual long and rambling entry about something I've grown that's good to eat, so I thought I'd put up a photo. I didn't plant any of these flowers; they all came up from seeds that last year's plants dropped. Although this bed is pretty, I've decided it's going to be my herb bed, so I'm pulling up the flowers if they come up next year.

Sure, I will... and I won't let tomatillos grow all over the place, either. 

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