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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Creatures great and small

By Laurena Mayne Davis
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Creatures great and small

We’ve had our share of interesting winged visitors to home, lawn and garden lately.

Some have been helpful, such as this praying mantis, who patrols planters by our front door and hunts in nearby potted basil:

Some have needed help, such as this frightened hummingbird, which became trapped in a garage and was freed by my husband, Scott:

Others have been puzzling, such as this giant, nocturnal beetle, whose size we tried to indicate in the photo by tossing a quarter near him/her. Note to self: Giant beetles don’t like having coins heaved in their direction. You should have seen how quickly we back-pedalled:

Thanks to Google and Larry Robinson, co-owner of Mount Garfield Greenhouse, we’ve determined that this nearly 2-inch beetle is a wood-borer. We found it near our wood pile, so I’d like to believe it was feasting on dead wood and not our live trees. Did you know that an estimated quarter of the world’s animals are beetles? If they ever decide to join forces, we’re in trouble.



Visitors welcome

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In years’ past, I’ve always purchased flats of petunias, snapdragons, mossflowers or anything else that catches my eye to plant in my flowerpots on the back deck. This year, I planted flowers from seed, as part of my insistence on frugal gardening. I bought a packet of giant zinnia seeds from Bookcliff Gardens, even though I’ve never been a flower gardener and couldn’t have told you what a zinnia looked like.

I love the way they look in my flowerpots. Very bright, summery and huge, which is good because some of the other flower seeds I planted didn’t come up.

Even better, they’ve attracted visitors:













The hummingbirds visit throughout the day, giving us something to watch out our kitchen window. I think I like it better than a hummingbird feeder.

One last thought about hummingbirds. I interviewed someone from the Audubon Society for a story a month or two ago, and just because I was curious and figured she'd know the answer, I asked her where my backyard hummingbirds go in the winter. She said most of them go to Central America. Whew! No wonder they spend the entire summer sipping zinnia juice from my flowers. That's a lot of flapping for such itty bitty wings. 


Tomatillos threaten garden harmony, but make great salsa

By Penny Stine
Saturday, September 4, 2010

A garden is like an experiment that never ends, which is one of the reasons I’ve come to love gardening. Every year, I try to plant something new or improve something I tried without huge success.
This year, I was determined to improve my tomatillos. I planted them last year for the first time and liked them well enough to try again this year. Last year, my biggest mistake was overcrowding, so I spaced the plants much farther apart.
This year, my biggest issue is still overcrowding, but that’s because tomatillos are hogs. They refuse to stay in the area they’ve been allotted and are threatening to overtake everything in their path. I think they’re the hurricane of the garden.


I planted Cisneros tomatillos, which are supposed to be huge, and purple tomatillos, which are supposed to be purple. The purple tomatillos sprouted earlier and seemed hardier at first, but once they were both transplanted in the garden, the two seemed to grow at an equal pace.
The Cisneros tomatillos are much bigger and the plants are just as prolific as the purple ones. A few of the purple tomatillos are purple, but most of them are green. I confess to being an impatient gardener and I may be picking them before they’re fully ripe, but the husk gets dry and splits, which is usually a sign that it’s time to pick.

My goal with planting so many tomatillos was to have enough to make green salsa. Last weekend, I picked a colander full of tomatillos and started chopping.

I also had peaches from my favorite orchard in Palisade, so I found several tomatillo recipes and chose not to follow any of them, since none included peaches as an ingredient.

But here’s what I did:

Peachy tomatillo salsa

7 – 8 cups quartered or halved tomatillos
1 large chopped onion
3 large chopped peaches
4 – 5 cloves minced garlic
2 jalapenos, diced
1 finely diced habanero (I used 1 tsp of frozen diced habanero from last summer’s habaneros, since my habanero isn’t producing yet this year)
1 cup lemon juice
zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 tsp salt

Put everything but the lime in a large pot and cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the tomatillos are saucy. Add the lime juice right before pouring the salsa into hot, sterilized jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes.

Note: Our friends at the Extension office say to always use a tested and approved recipe for salsa if you’re not going to pressure can it. This recipe is not tested or approved. (Although I did bring a jar of it into the Sentinel, where many willing folks both tested and approved the taste.)
Before I made the salsa, I consulted several tomatillo salsa recipes from various extension offices across the country and noted that the ratios of vegetables (peppers and onions) to acidic ingredients like the tomatillos. I increased the amount of tomatillos, added the peaches (which are also acidic), increased the acidity by adding the lime and decreased the amount of vegetables by substituting a very small amount of habanero for a larger amount of green chiles. It’s still not tested and approved, but I did my best to make it safe.



By Laurena Mayne Davis
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Oh, Cabana Boy ...


Tourists aren't the only ones who like to make for the shade in sunny
western Colorado. Some plants perk up with a little shelter, too.

Faced with the prospect of another season of burnt peppers and wilted
eggplants, earlier this summer I asked my husband to assemble some
kind of shade for newly transplanted peppers and eggplants as we were
headed out for a weekend away. He hastily assembled a "cabana" of
leftover plywood, survey stakes and wire. The results were not
elegant, but were highly successful. I have big, plump peppers and
oodles of eggplants.

Next year I think I'll expand our efforts and experiment with shade
netting over even more of the garden.




Flying saucers are a big hit for summer eating

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A couple of years ago, I decided to try growing pattypan squash. The round, scalloped summer squash resembles a 1950s version of a flying saucer, although there are no little green Martians inside the squash, just seeds.

It grew better than zucchini, produced a boatload of squash and tasted better, too, according to the opinion of everyone in my family. So pattypan became a must-have in my garden.
The plants grow to enormous proportions; bigger than any zucchini I’ve ever grown, so if you decide to plant one, be sure to give it a lot of room. The one in this photo is my small plant. The big plant takes up two counties. 



They’re best eaten before they get the size of a dinner plate, although we had a huge one sitting on the counter that my husband decided to grill like a steak. Awesomely delicious. He sliced it vertically into half inch “steaks,” spread each slice with olive oil, sprinkled liberally with garlic powder, Johnny’s seasoning salt and chili powder and then grilled until they were brown.

Because pattypan is a little firmer and less seedy than zucchini, it holds up well to grilling.
I dreamed up a pattypan pasta recipe, which I’m planning on cooking later this week. Let me know if anyone wants me to picture and post it.

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