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.

Page 108 of 121

It’s a bloomin’ shame

By Penny Stine
Monday, October 11, 2010

I have to confess, I’m not much of a flower gardener. I love them, but I know nothing. If they’re perennials that I planted more than a year ago, I probably forgot their name. I planted all my annuals from seed this year, and most of them got in a snit and refused to come up at all. 

Except for the amaranthus candelabra (that’s the big maroon monster) and the orange cosmos, which grew beyond my wildest expectations.

Since I can’t eat them, I’m not as concerned about flowers as I am about tomatoes or the potatoes, but I really tried to plant more blooming perennials and more showy annuals in all my gardens this year. In spite of the annuals that went on strike, I’ve enjoyed some kind of flower blooming somewhere in my yard since March, when the first itty-bitty crocuses popped up.

So why did I wait until everything was showing off for the last time before I bothered to cut a few flowers and stick them in a vase?

Vow for my 2011 garden: Don't just stop to smell the roses... Cut a few and put them in a vase once in a while. 


String ‘em up

By Carol Clark
Friday, October 8, 2010

Or What To Do With A Bushel of Peppers


This weekend, my friend Ann and I set out to make the traditional symbol of spicy food, good luck and autumn in the Southwest, the useful and decorative ristra.

The ristra is a string of chili peppers hung to dry for use in the kitchen over the year. You can spot them hanging outside homes and roadside stands all over New Mexico in the autumn. They are useful in making red chili sauce, pepper flakes and a myriad of other cuinary delights I am excited to discover.

Okagawas has a whole room dedicated to bushels and bushels of green and red peppers ready for cooking, roasting or stringing. We chose the New Mexico chili, but they told us the Anaheim is also a good choice for drying.

It's easy to make your own. Start with a double string of heavy duty fishing line with a washer tied at the bottom so the peppers will stay on. Use tapestry needles to string the line through the base of each pepper, tightly fitting them together and spiraling them as you load them onto the string.

When the ristra is long enough, tie a washer to the top of the string and tie on a raffia bow.

If you hang yours in a well ventilated area where it's protected from sun and weather, they should last over a year. One bushel of peppers ($22 at Okagawas) can make up to four ristras. One for yourself and three to share with friends.

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
-Harry Truman 


Guest garden

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Although I spend plenty of my free time digging in the dirt, I really do clean up before I come in to work. I don’t leave twigs in my hair or dirt underneath my fingernails. So I have no way of knowing how the woman I was interviewing the other day knew I’d be helpless to say no when she asked me if I wanted to see her garden at the end of the interview.

Well, no way except that we did happen to wander off the subject once or twice to talk about gourds and squash, but that could have happened to anyone.

So I toured her garden, which she admitted was more her husband’s hobby than hers. 

I coveted the tomatoes and the nifty trellis system her husband built.

The pumpkins made me smile (and secretly wonder if he was giving them steroids).

His tidy rows of spinach and lettuce made me wish I had taken the time to plant them both in my own garden a few weeks ago, but that would have meant cleaning up the overgrown jungle that my garden has become.

Besides, who am I trying to kid? I don’t do neat and tidy in the garden. But I have to admit, this garden does look fab.

Even his morning glories are behaving themselves. Oh well. I can always dream of next year. 


Hanging gardens

By Penny Stine
Friday, October 1, 2010

God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.
Francis Bacon

I took a lesson from Carol, and decided this short little entry needed an apt quote.

Legend says Nebuchandnezzar created the hanging gardens of Babylon to charm a homesick wife. While most of my garden is grounded, I’ve got one hanging pumpkin

and a couple suspended watermelons, although the weight of the watermelons dragged them back to earth over time.

They make me smile when I see them, which proves Bacon’s point.


Plum assignment

By Laurena Mayne Davis
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Harvesting Italian plums on the last fruit-laden tree in our backyard orchard last weekend was bittersweet. Fruit season for both birds and Davises starts with mulberries in June, then apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines and finally plums. There will be less orchard and canning work now, but no more picking breakfast off the trees in the mornings. Guess I better buy some cereal.

Harvest is a good time to reflect on what went right and what to change for the next season. Plucking blue-frosted fruit in the fall morning light, I assessed what worked: The rabbit manure greened things up nicely. The amount of water was right. We hire a licensed sprayer; I never have to worry about insects.

But there are things I'll do differently. The tree is gangly; I need to revise my pruning approach. I also had thinned, but not enough. I need to get more ruthless with my thinning.

My basketful of plums in the course of a day became Plum and Vanilla Jam and two plum cakes. My kids made plum smoothies, and I had plenty to share with my mother-in-law and a friend for their own jam. We still had a bowlful left over for snacking.

Italian plums are purple with light-green flesh. They have less moisture than red plums and are easily dried for prunes. The Plum and Vanilla Jam is from a recipe by Susan Herrmann Loomis in "French Farmhouse Cookbook." It's worth popping $6 a vanilla bean to inhale that unadulterated, flowery vanilla scent as the jam simmers.

There are a lot of delicious, low-sugar jam recipes. This old-fashioned jam is not one of them.

Plum and Vanilla Jam
5 pounds Italian plums, pitted and chopped
7 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean

Mix fruit and sugar in a nonreactive pot and cover. Let set 12 hours.
Add vanilla bean and boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low boil and skim off foam.
Cook until thickened, about 18 minutes.

(I water-bathed the jars for 5 minutes.)

This cake's equally delicious. It's adapted from a recipe by Marian Burros, food writer for The New York Times.

Plum Cake
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the above and add two eggs. Blend, then spread in the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan.
Pit and quarter 15 Italian plums. Toss them with sugar, cinnamon, and the zest and juice of a lemon. Place the plums, cut side up, on top of the batter. Drizzle any juice over. Bake an hour. Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.


Page 108 of 121

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