Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fall Planting Continues, and Frost Is On The Way!

Last week we really had a scare as temperatures were forecast to dip down to 30 degrees. It was rainy and cold after work, and the trusty stack of old sheets were grabbed, potted plants massed together, and more of the tropical plants hurried inside. No matter how much time I think I have, or how organized, that first frost always causes a bit of chaos. Wet, windblown, and chilled, everyone was covered. Even the dahlias were tucked in that night since I just couldn't believe it was already time for their blooming to end.

That night it only got down to 34 degrees.

Now that I, once again, have a bit of time, I really need to get things done. There are still about 20 plants, from ferns to lilies to clematis that need planted. Oh, and the bulbs. I don't even want to talk about the number of bulbs we have to plant. Today was damp and a bit drizzly, but I managed to get some things in the ground.

It might frost again tonight.
Last week I found a few sad looking Japanese maples shivering on a clearance table for about $8 each. Now that I am Hell bent on adding some trees to the Shade Garden, I thought these slow growers would be great. That is, if they survive the winter without being eaten.

This one is Acer palmatum 'Wolff', also called Emperor I. It is hardier in colder climates since it breaks bud later in the Spring, avoiding late frosts. It can grow up to 15' tall.
The second little maple is called Red Dragon (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Red Dragon') and will grow 5-8 feet tall, and about 5 feet wide. Since his size is a bit smaller I planted him closer to the house, just behind the curve of little boxwood. Japanese Maples are slow to moderate growers, and he will take about 15 years to reach his mature height.
Several hydrangea in the Hydrangea Border, despite their autumn foliage, are still happily blooming.

Another look at the new boxwood "curves" into the Shade Garden. I really am loving the way these look, and how healthy they seem to be. It will mean more burlapping this winter, but even if the investment was small (these were the super cheap boxwood plants I bought a month or more ago) I still want to protect them. 
They do seem happy. Many have bounced back from my rather hard pruning.

I've never seen a hellebore I didn't like. Indeed, somehow I ended up with far more than I thought, buying them whenever I saw them on sale. I planted one...

...two (notice all of the little columbines popping up from seed)...


...and four. I think there are still two more.
Five more little boxwood have been planted in a curve from the older, large boxwood at the corner of the patio. I also divided and replanted the edging of muscari.

Out in the garden I am testing one of the inexpensive grow tunnels I found for $5. I've planted a late crop of mesclun and some carrots. The mesclun should do fine, the carrots I will probably end up heavily mulching with leaves and harvest them in the spring. I have another of these tunnels that I think I might use for turnips and beets. Just a bit of an experiment as we go into winter.

The tomatoes are fading fast, but the nasturtiums I underplanted in their pots are looking gorgeous.

A vibrant yarrow is sending up some late blooms in one of the perennial beds.

There is a rather large crop of late red and gold raspberries in the Berry Patch. There is so much work to do out here with the raspberries and gooseberries and weeds and pruning the currants. It might need to wait until Spring.
The cutting bed is still giving a bounty of fresh flowers. The cosmos are out of control.

The zinnias are fading fast, but still putting forth a brave effort to give a few more bright blooms.

So lovely. It's easy to forget that Fall is here and frost is on the way when looking a cosmos flower in the face.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Meatless Monday-Squash and Apple Soup

Continuing with the month of October's Meatless Monday theme of soup, this one is a dandy! I ran across this recipe while revisiting an old favorite, Everyday Food Fresh Flavor Fast, and had to make it. I couldn't find the recipe online, and I hate posting recipes when I can't link to them, but this soup really is so good, and I couldn't find anything close, so here it is anyway.

Hopefully Martha won't be mad at me.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and finely chopped
2 1/2 cups unsweetened apple cider
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 1/2 cups water
6 cups squash puree
salt and pepper
In a 400 degree oven, place three whole acorn squash on a baking sheet. Old, stained ones work perfectly. Bake for about an hour, turning every fifteen minutes or so. Honestly, I only remembered to turn them once and they were fine.

Cut them in half and remove the seeds and "gunk".

The soft flesh comes away from the skin easily with a spoon.

If you would like to skip all this work (although, really, it's not that much work) you can use three 12oz packages of frozen squash puree.

Homemade you should have about 6 cups from about 7lbs of squash.

Did you know there really was a Granny Smith? Her name was Maria Ann Smith, and had moved from England to New South Whales, Australia, with her husband in 1839. They bought an orchard and, in 1868, the Granny Smith was born (although it wasn't called "Granny Smith's Apple" until 1891).

Cook the onions until golden and beginning to brown, 4-6 minutes. Add the apples and cook an additional 3-5 minutes until softened. reserve 1/2 cup of the apple and onion mixture for garnish.

Then add the cider, ginger, and water. Bring to a boil.

 Add squash puree. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes and then lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until soup thickens.

This soup is, in all honesty, Autumn in a bowl. So delicious. The recipe said it was enough for 4 as a starter, but I think it made a bit more than that. Minus the garnish and a swirl of plain yogurt, the soup can be frozen for up to a month. Or just heat up leftovers from the fridge for the next three days, if it lasts that long.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gloomy Day Applesauce

There really is nothing better than an occasional rainy day off. Working in the garden is impossible, so your focus can turn to indoors where you can do a bit of cleaning, do a bit of cooking, and do a bit of, well, nothing. Rainy fall days are wonderful.

With Apple Season at it's peak, and a huge selection to choose from, I bought several pounds the other day with the intent to make applesauce. Tuesday turned out to be the perfect day for this, and even caused me to grab another 8 or 9 pounds Tuesday afternoon.

Martha's recipe couldn't be easier. 6 lbs. of apples, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1 1/2 cups of water.

Not peeling the apples is what will make the applesauce pink. The red skins will tint the finished sauce. If you want golden apple sauce you can either peel the apples or use golden skinned varieties.
The apples begin to cook down quickly. I used a mix of Gingergold, Cortland, Gala, Red Rome, and McIntosh.

The remains. The apple cores were given to the squirrels to enjoy.

Almost there.

Once the apples are cooked down you can remove the skins with a pair of tongs.

Or if you have a food mill you can make it even easier on yourself and use it. The sauce won't be quite as lumpy, but it saves a bit of time.

Some to give and some to keep. I didn't add any sugar, but if you want sweeter sauce (although this is truly pretty sweet) start with about 1/4 of a cup. You could also add cinnamon or nutmeg, vanilla, or slice up a few pears and toss in. If you aren't processing the jars the applesauce will keep for about a week in the fridge, or you can freeze it for up to 3 months.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Meatless Monday - Borage Soup

We grow borage in the garden as a companion plant for tomatoes. For whatever reason, the leaves of the herb confuse the mother Five-Spotted Hawkmoths, and keep them from laying their eggs on the tomato plants.

Native to the Mediterranean, borage does quite well as an annual in our Zone 5b-6a (we moved into Zone 6 in 2012, though this mild summer makes that hard to believe) and reliably self seeds. In fact, we've only had to sow borage seeds once. Grown for culinary and medicinal purposes, I've only ever used it to make soup although it is sometimes used in salads and raw has a cumber-like flavor. This time I used this recipe (via cascadia kitchen), and using a potato to thicken the soup rather than rice gives it the flavor of a "green" potato soup. And yes, it is very, very green.
Wash the leaves well, as they can be very gritty. I didn't have any problem with the stems, even though some of the leaves weren't as young as I would have liked.
I did double duty, and while the potato was boiling away at the bottom of the pot, I went ahead and did all of the other veggies in batches.
I used vegetable stock, and used two cups since I, believe it or not, didn't have any white wine. When I warmed up leftovers I added a bit more to thin it out a little.
A steamy shot of everything being mixed together. Popped it in the blender after it cooled a bit and...

Voila! Borage flowers are one of the few truly blue flowers that grow in nature. Bees love them, another reason we plant them in the vegetable garden, and they are edible and often used to decorate cakes and desserts. They look nice in soup, too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Move Indoors Begins

Every year, when the first cool night is in the forecast, I begin to worry. As my collection of tropical plants has grown over the years, space in my apartment has not. I've brought home a passion flower and the third stephanotis vine I purchased this year (they grow perfectly well in the front windows of the Penthouse), and the tree ferns and elephant ears will come home with me as well. Everyone else, however, won't move far. Last year we made room in the smallest bedroom at my mom and dad's, and the south facing window was all they seemed to require to survive. This year I want to try to make them thrive.

First, however, I needed to clean them up. Better to make sure there are no hitchhikers on them before they move inside. I managed to move all of the citrus in today, as well as cleaned up all of the agave. I still need to decide where the birds of paradise will live, as well as the banana that I almost killed last year (which has grown back stronger than ever). But the jasmine, agapanthus, a larger passion flower, the fig trees, and the scented and common geraniums will all find a place in the house. Sorry mom and dad!
The locust trees have wasted little time dropping their leaves.

The little leaves get wedged deep in between the leaves of the agave. The spines of the agave don't make it very easy to get them out. This variegated agave should be repotted, but I might just top off the soil and wait until the spring. All of the agapanthus, like the one on the right, will also need to have all of the leaves removed.

This was the first summer for this alocasia. He will be easy to move home to the corner of the Penthouse's living room.

This guy, smuggled back from Charleston, South Carolina, is a bit older and a bit bigger than when he moved outside this spring. Indeed, this guy is thriving. I'm glad I kept both in their plastic pots so they will just need to be lifted and hosed off rather than dug and replanted before coming inside. I forgot there are two other smaller elephant ears that I guess will move in with mom and dad.

Everyone gets two spray downs at least a week apart before moving day. I started last week, so everyone who moved inside today received shower number two.

Before spraying, however, each plant gets a thorough check-up. Almost everyone requires a little washing behind their ears, or between their leaves.

This weird, fuzzy kalanchoe beharensis is moving to the Penthouse. It's also called the "Fang" plant because of the little "fangs" on the underside of the leaves. They will grow 3-5 feet, and hopefully this one will eventually be a centerpiece to a planter in the summer.

A little plantlet has already begun to grow as well, so I'm hoping this new addition will do well over the winter.
The last agave gets hosed off and cleaned up of dead or broken leaves. The agave are pretty resilient and do fine being overwintered indoors. I've always wanted one of the giant blue agave, but I might have to wait until we have a bit more room.
Or a greenhouse.