Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Caper, Caper, Seed Orientation, Dehydration with the Sun

Dear Folks,

Suzanne Vilardi of Vilardi Gardens and I have been working on our "Caper Caper Mystery" project for almost 3 years now.  Caper (Capparis spinosa) plant seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate.  We want to find a reliable way to germinate seed and grow caper plants for production of Capers and Caper Berries here in the valley.  (Suzanne is known for her amazing tomato, herb etc. transplants available at local farmers markets and some of the valley nurseries - check out her facebook page (above) for times and locations for purchasing.)

This is a picture of the first flower this spring on one of the 'mother' plants. (Taken May 8th.)

As we go along I will give you some history of the project and more updates.

Sowing Seeds

As a general rule I recommend soaking your seeds overnight (except beans and peas - only soak for 8 hours maximum).  This speeds up germination time (less days) and increases germination rate (percentage which germinate).

Underwood Gardens (aka Terroir Seeds) has a nice article on seed sowing orientation.  They make a good point about sowing seeds in the best position for faster growth (particularly with large seeds like pumpkin, melon, squash and beans).  Give a look.  Also they are a reliable source for non-GMO seeds.

Going into our heat, use existing plants to act as nurseries for the seed, sowing just under the edge of the plants.  This protects the seeds from birds and gives a little canopy to cool the soil.

When sowing never let the sown soil area dry out going into our heat.  The seeds may already be germinating under ground, but if they hit a dry/hot soil point, they will die before every breaking the surface.

Solar Drying aka using the sun to dry foods

Last year I was able to purchase the trays for an electric dehydrator without the base.  Why would I do that, you ask?  Because the dehydrator I like to use is the sun and it works perfectly.  (I also got the set of trays for $2 :-)

I sliced up a bunch of our apples - dumped them in lemon water to prevent browning and they are drying in the sun as I type. (I do not peel our fruit when I process it.) Some of the trays I left plain and some I sprinkled cinnamon sugar on them.  Once dried they store wonderfully in mason jars in our pantry.  In a pinch I could cook them up for applesauce or make a pie (I love snacking on them.)

Back in late March when we had some nice 80 degree days I dried some citrus slices, herbs and I tried drying asparagus for later sauteeing (the asparagus was a fail).  Herbs dry very well in the sun as did the citrus.  I can use the citrus either for decoration on foods or I can hydrate by boiling, add some sugar and make tiny batches of marmalade.  (Check out my marmalade recipes which make the most of our citrus as a real jam/preserve and note jelly flavored with a few pieces of rind.)

After the apples are done - I will make up a batch of seed crackers and dry them in the sun also.  I will do a new blog post on the crackers with recipes and post a picture.

. . .

Mark Your Calendars The Next Free Seed Share at the Mesa Community Farmers Market is June 26th, - 9 a.m. to Noon - you do not need to share seed to pick up some in time for fall sowing (which begins late July / early August).

Have a great time in the garden and the kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Find my Calendar (print and PDF) and books on my publisher's site.

Books are also available at iBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.



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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tips For June Gardening - And May Harvest

Dear Folks,

We have been fortunate to be in a mild El Nino pattern which should continue into our Monsoon time.  Interestingly a mild El Nino pattern (according to local Meteorologist Caribe Devine) historically produces more Monsoon rain than a strong El Nino - let's hope for that!

 Typically we dread going into the major heat of the summer so below are some of my tips for the garden going into June.

Temp Range 112/73
Arizona was visited by a scorcher in 1990 of an unofficial high of 126.

In addition to air temperatures, bare soil surface temperatures during a summer day can approach that of asphalt, 180 degrees!

June through August in the Desert Southwest is the equivalent of winter in North Dakota — you maintain what you have planted, taking special care of young or sensitive plants. With the exception of August when the heavy pre-fall "seed" planting begins, it is a good idea to hold off on any major transplanting until the fall when the temperatures (below 90 daytime) drop back to prime planting weather.

Typically we do not see below 90 daytime temperatures (except on a rainy day) from May 29 to September 29th.

If you have to transplant (as opposed to sowing seed) plants, our Flower Mulching* technique can be used to protect young plants by canopying the soil around them, placing the flowering plants very close to the base of the young plants.  *Use a 6 pack of your favorite heat-loving flowers to surround each transplant - about 3-5 plants depending on the size of the transplant.

Heavy watering requirements may result in yellowing of leaves due to iron deficiency, especially of fruit trees (Chlorosis). Apply Ironite (or green sand) before next watering to correct.

. . .

Deane took a bunch of pictures the other day highlighting all of our wonderful garden production.

Starting from upper left:  White Alpine Strawberry, Apricots, Apples, Indigo Rose Cherry Tomato, Peaches, Red Alpine Strawberry, Red Sunflower, Red Cherry Tomato.

The Indigo Rose Tomato is new to us this year and we love it! 

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

If you would like one of my gardening "tools" Amazon has both of my books (gardening and cooking), and you can still order my 2016 calendar as a print or PDF - you can consider it a perpetual helper to aid in sowing and planting at the optimal time for best success.

Note: If you use the Amazon links I do get a small commission for any purchases made.

PDF perpetual Calendar 

Print Calendar 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dry Curing Salami - My First Attempt

Dear Folks,

I read a recipe created by Jacques Pepin on dry curing a piece of pork tenderloin to make a type of salami (called a Saucisson by Jacques).

This turned out really tasty and I look forward to making it again.

Dry curing is usually done hanging in a net bag to allow air circulation.  In the recipe Jacques specifically that this could be done in the refrigerator.  Great, I thought!

Our modern refrigerators are constantly removing moisture which allows foods to dry -- either intentionally like when I dry my herbs on plates; or when you leave something uncovered and find the bread or carrot completely shriveled.

Dry Cured Pork Tenderloin

2 pork tenderloins, each about 1 pound
1 cup of kosher salt
2 tablespoons of light brown sugar

1 tablespoon of brandy or cognac
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence,

Cut the tips off the ends of the tenderloin (Save for another use) to have the meat the same width.  Trim silver skin off.

In a ziplock bag mix the kosher salt and brown sugar.  Add meat, seal and rub to coat.  Place in the refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight.

Have ready a pan with a drip rack in it.  Wipe the meat off and dry (the salt and sugar will have drawn out liquid).

Rub the meat with the brandy then cover/coat with mix of black pepper and herbes de provence.

Place on the rack and position in the refrigerator where the air will circulate.

It will take from 3.5 to 6 weeks to dry.  (Jacques said he liked it a little moist when finished.)

Mine was quite dry at 5 weeks so I am going to try testing at about 4 weeks next time.

"I like them when they are still a little soft, not too dry. Slice very thinly, and enjoy with bread and butter and a cool glass of wine" -- Jacques Pepin 

I found the recipe on Splendid Table from Jacques' Cookbook.

. . .

My next project is to make some homemade bacon from a pork belly - I have several recipes to choose from.  I'm not sure when I will get to it, but for sure I will post when I do.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Incredible Edible Sunflower - Third Leaf

Dear Folks,

On my series on the edible sunflower I am now focusing on the edible flower bud.

Sunflower Bud Taste Test  - April 25, 2015

The unopened flower is edible.

The general recommendations I had found was to first boil for 3 minutes, drain, then steam or boil until tender.

I cut 6 buds, 4 from one sunflower 2 from another (those 2 are the smaller ones).

I cut the bottom off 2 of the larger ones.

On the other 2 larger ones I left the bottom (bit of stem), but took off the first row of calyx petals from the buds.  This is like removing the very tough outer leaves of an artichoke head/flower.

I started 2 pots of water to a boil.

Boiled for 3 minutes, drained and immediately put into the second pot and boiled for 2 minutes, then drained.  Put the pot back on the hot burner and melted a bit of salted butter, tossed in the sunflower buds and swirled to coat.

I cut the 4 larger buds in half to show the inside and provide sampling for Deane and I.  (Note: The inside looks lavender in color - this sunflower is a red one - the yellow variety should show yellow or golden.)

On the buds I left the outer calyx leaves on - we noticed a bit more bitterness than the ones where I removed them.

The very small ones were not distinguishable.

I had tossed into the boiling water, the remainder of the true leaves and they did not have the bitter bite of the raw ones (we tasted before I cooked them).

Everyone's tastes are going to be different.  Some folks may find a second boil before the final boil (a total of 3 boils) is needed to remove all bitterness.

I would also consider salting the final water (or you can salt at the table).

Deane said it best, it is not "as good" as artichoke hearts but the flavor of the artichoke is there.  A useful substitute for artichoke hearts if you have an abundance of sunflowers.

If you have an abundance of sunflowers, using some of the buds for an occasional side dish will add a different flare to your meal.


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Incredible Edible Sunflower - Second Leaf

Dear Folks,

Everyone has most likely eaten sunflower seeds, or more commonly, sunflower kernels -- the shelled seed.

The seed can be eaten raw, roasted/toasted with or without spices, ground into meal/flour (even "Seed Butter" with a bit of oil and salt added), and sprouted.

Consider making my 'cracker' recipe with ground sunflower kernels.

The sprouts can be eaten raw, cooked in meals like stir-fry, or dried and ground into flour for 'sprouted' breads and other baked goods.  Like all seeds and nuts, flour from these great foods contains no gluten, so keep that in mind when baking with either the ground seed or dried and ground sprouts.

I have put together some information on the nutrition of some of the phases of the seed.  Use these as guides not absolutes.

In the pictures I am showing 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) of kernels.

Ground this results in a level but not packed 1/4 cup of meal/flour

Sprouted I wound up with just at 3/4 cup of sprouts at day 5

Sunflower Kernels (no hull)
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup)
Calories 102
Fat 9.01 grams
Protein 3.64 grams
Fiber 1.5 grams
Iron .92 mg
Calcium  14 mg
Source: USDA / NND

Sunflower Butter/Meal (ground from kernels)

2 tablespoons
Calories 197
Fat 17.66 gm
Protein 5.53 gm
Fiber 1.8 gms
Iron  1.32 mg
Calcium  20
Source:  USDA / NND

Sunflower Sprouts 

(Multiple these by factor of 3 to equal 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup
Calories 190
Fat 16 grams
Protein 6 grams
Fiber 2 grams
Iron 14 mg
Calcium 20 mg
Source: LiveStrong

Nutrition Sources:


Why Sprout?

So you might be wondering about sprouting seeds, nuts, veggies (beans etc.) and grains with all the great weather we have here in our desert gardens.

In 4 season climates, sprouting is recommended because they can have fresh greens all winter long.

Now look at our summers where we have wonderful beans, corn, sunflowers, basil, some tomatoes but little lettuce or greens.

So sprouting during our hot months of the year gives us additions to our salads, soups and stews, which are easy to do, can be made on a rotating basis of variety, and in a volume suited to the number of people in a home.

I used the good-old mason jar for sprouting my sunflowers - I have a sprout cap - plastic lid with holes to permit draining and air circulation.  However, there are some sprouting systems available that provide more flexibility and possible performance.

About the hulls/shells of sprouts - they can be either a pain or a boon depending on your preferences.  I saw a nice tip on a sprouting site the other day.  Use your salad spinner to 'de-hull' or 'de-shell' the finished sprouts.

I did not try this, but I do figure you don't want to be too forceful with the spinning, unless you plan to chop the sprouts anyway, as the force will no-doubt break them up some.

If I sprout black-oil sunflower seeds I plan on using the spinner as I KNOW those shells can be tough to get off.

I hope you have your sunflowers planted.  You can seed in through July to enjoy them all the way through fall.

My PDF calendar helps you plant / sow at the best times through the desert, edible garden year..

 -- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Note:  If you click on ads on my blog and purchase items I may receive a small commission.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Incredible Edible Sunflower - More Fun Facts

Dear Folks,

Yesterday while harvesting some parts of the sunflower for my series, I noticed a lot of sap along the exterior edges of the sunflower leaves.

Cool Factoid!  Guttation!

The sap was sticky and sweet and I knew from earlier research (see note below about grape pearls) that it was not a problem, but a curiosity.

"Guttation is the exudation of drops of xylem sap on the tips or edges of leaves of some vascular plants, such as grasses."  -- wikipedia

"...root pressure forces some water to exude through special leaf tip or edge structures, hydathodes or water glands, forming drops."

I thought that was a pretty cool, new-to-me piece of information.

Another aspect of growing sunflowers in your garden is the Allelopathy attraction of sunflowers to aphids.  Notes on sunflowers as the 4th sister in the Three Sisters (Monsoon) growing practice of the Native Peoples was the fact that sunflowers drew aphids away from the other plants (corn, beans and squash).

I had a recent opportunity to see this in our gardens.  Two points about dealing with aphids:  1) you can use safe soap sprays to your advantage, but 2) you need to do so in such a way that a) it does not harm the beneficial insects, while b) allowing enough of the aphids to draw in the beneficial insects.

In the first picture below you can see that aphids have started to swarm on one of my sunflowers.

In the second picture you can see an assassin bug (the cavalry arriving) cruising one of the sunflowers.

For those of you becoming familiar with the good bugs/bad bugs in the garden, you may think the picture of the assassin is a leaf-foot.  Though a little similar in appearance the feet are different, and more difficult to see in the picture are the very, very long front legs of the assassin.

I did use the spray in the recommended 3 times over 15 days - no more aphids!

Grape Pearls:  About a month or so ago our Staci noticed white spots of something she thought might be pests on her grape vine stems.  I thought it looked like sap from the picture she sent and found out it was "Grape Pearls" a type of sap.

"Grape pearls are small sap-like, fluid-filled balls that are exuded from surface cells of rapidly growing grape vines. They appear most commonly in the spring and are often confused with mite or insect eggs. Some vines have many grape pearls but the pearls can appear singly or in smaller groups. They are usually found on the underside of leaves but can be on shoots as well. Grape pearls, also called "sap balls" are of no consequence to the vine." -- http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/2009/6-3/grapepearls.html

If you missed the first post in my new blog series on the sunflower, click here.

You may find some of my publications helpful with gardening in the desert for vegetables, fruits and herbs, or ideas for cooking with your harvest.

My publisher site is here.

Have a great day in the garden.  (P.S. Rainy time is a good time for transplanting - it helps the soil seal to the roots of the plants.)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Incredible Edible Sunflower - First Leaf

Dear Folks,

Over that last half dozen or so years I have learned just how truly edible this beloved-flower is.  So I am going to do a series of posts (leafs) on all that is wonderful about this Americas Native and one of my top favorites to grow in the garden for total enjoyment.  (Pictured - one of the large ones leaning over - I call this Sunflower On My Shoulder, Makes Me Happy!)

The sunflower originated in the Americas and some archeologists believe it was domesticated before corn (2000 BBC approximate).  It was introduced to Europe in the 15th Century and cultivars made their way back to America later.

The fact that we live in the sub-tropical desert makes it even more important - I think - that all of your gardens of edibles include this multi-tasker of a plant.

Helianthus annuus is the official name of the wild, roadside herald of summer.  The wild sunflower produces many small flowers, whereas the domestic varieties which now come in a wide range of colors (from white to dark, dark maroon) produces 1 large flower with a few smaller side flowers.  The sunflower is a cousin to the artichoke which explains its edible qualities.  Jerusalem Artichoke another "branch" of the sunflower family is grown for its edible root tubers.  See my prior blog post here on harvest of the Jerusalem Artichoke (called "Sunchoke").

The height of the sunflower plant varieties can range from 3 or 4 feet to over 12 feet.  Many of the domestic hybrids are in the 5-7 range.

I have grown many of the colors in my garden over the years.  All are enjoyable, my favorites though are the bright yellow and red varieties.

The uses of the flower are truly amazing.  The Native People grew is as a "fourth sister" in their Three Sister (corn, beans, squash) growing concept.  The seed was eaten or ground into meal/flour.  Even the dried stalks were used as building material by the Native Peoples.

The sunflower provides enjoyment in other ways.  The Birds - particularly the finches are just delightful to watch grazing them.  You can build what I call an "Edible Playhouse."  Sunflower Houses are a very old, and enjoyable garden theme.  I discussed these with a little mockup at the "Mesa Celebrates Day," last weekend.
(The pictures are a collage of Gold Finches enjoying one of the wild sunflowers in our gardens, and a sunflower house picture I found on the internet.  The original source of the picture disappeared so I cannot give proper credit - if someone recognizes it as theirs I would be happy to give credit.)

Over the following "leaves" of this series I will discuss all the different edible parts, share cooking ideas and pictures.

Edible Parts:  Pretty much the whole plant.

Young stems, leaves and unopened flower buds.
Pared disc (head).
Seeds for chewing, sprouting, pressing for oil and flour/meal.
Roots (references to some use in medicine)

Give some serious thought to growing a sunflower house - google sunflower house and image and you will come up with many ideas.  In our desert gardens a sunflower house through the summer would provide a welcome shade area for children, grandchildren and the child-in-you to retreat.

The good news is you can plant sunflower seeds NOW.  Pre-soak overnight or up to 3 days (changing the water each day) and plant 6 to 12 inches apart in full sun.

Plant Sunflower Seeds from February through July - and you will have blooms from May through October.

You can read up more history of the Sunflower over on wikipedia.  And here at National Sunflower Association site.

Fun facts to look up about sunflowers:   "phototropism" and "fibonacci numbers"

For fun check out information on "May 1st International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day"

Make It A Sunflower Day!!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady