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I totally missed last #GBBD, and I was going to skip this month as well, but I’ll just share one pic.

early mums

I’ve noticed signs of fall popping up more and more often. Yellow leaves on the ground, and mums that I stopped pinching back too early already working on blooming (oops). And I actually find myself wishing for fall. It’s been such a hot and miserable summer (we’ve been in a drought for most of it, then we’ll drown in rain for a few days, then back to drought), that I’ve already given up on all of my hanging baskets and most of my annuals. They just look terrible. Thankfully I put a soaker hose in my new raised beds, otherwise they’d be in the same sad state. Things are blooming – rudbeckia, helenium, and gaillardia mostly. But nothing looks great.

This year’s gardening lesson learned? I get way too much sun to use coconut coir baskets. In fact, I may give up on hanging baskets almost entirely next year. If I was home and could water them 2x a day, it would be one thing. But I’m not and I can’t. The baskets I was excited about in the front of the house look the best, but they still look nothing like I’d hoped they would in my head. I am considering buying some hang-a-pot hangers and just doing larger terra cotta pots on the deck posts. I want to see how they work anyway, since I’m looking for an inconspicuous way to hang some small flower pots on the sides of my kitchen cabinets by the sink/window, so I can overwinter some herbs.

Also, next year I’m going to forgo small pots outdoors for the same reason. I just get too much sun, and they take too much to keep up on the watering. Those pots will be for indoors only (…if only I had the room to use them all indoors!). Luckily, it’s good timing to buy large pots at good prices. A local nursery here has all of their large glazed pots at 50-75% off right now, and I got a large, cobalt blue one last week: originally $69.99, I got it for $12. I should have also bought a large white one they had, but I resisted because it had a crack and was a bit more expensive. I think I’m going to go back next week once the bills are paid though, and see what else I can find.

I was thinking about getting some of those small pyramid-shaped trellises for the front of the house, since I may not use the hanging baskets. I was planning on planting some annual vines on them – cypress vine, black-eyed susan vine, etc. I have a height issue that I was using the shepherd’s hooks to correct. Underneath each of the hooks is a euonymous that will EVENTUALLY give some height to the area. But not for a while. As it gets bigger I’ll relocate the daylilies surrounding it. I had planned on scoring some of the trellises from JoAnne’s Fabrics. This time of year they always have their gardening stuff 70% off, and you can get some great deals on trellises and pots. Unfortunately when I went yesterday, I saw I’d missed my chance. There was almost nothing left. Oh well. So what do you think? If I can find them, would that look nice?

house - August 2010

Also, an official Bloom Day announcement! I finally bit the bullet and purchased my domain name. I’ll be working in the coming weeks (months?) in my spare time on launching this blog on self-hosted WordPress, with a brand-spanking new theme and I’ve customized myself (can anyone suggest a good, basic, 3-column WordPress theme? Having a hell of a time finding one!). I’ve already set up http://www.jennahsgarden.com to redirect to here, so if you’d like, you can update your bookmarks now. You may see less frequent posting here until I get the new blog up and running.

Happy bloom day, everyone!

#wordlesswednesday

Alice herbs

Alice

herbs

stevia, lemon verbena, julep mint, oregano, marjoram, 3x lemon basil and lime basil mix

(Click here for more on herb drying. Apologies for the quick camera phone pics. I had to catch her in the act! I decided to try to dry herbs this year on the wall art behind the kitchen table because there seem to be too many to fit in the kitchen window like last year. P.S. These words don’t count. It’s still Wordless Wednesday. Shut up.)

flora corner

I grew up in a small community off of Flora Corner Road. When giving directions to my house, you had to start with “know where the Wonder Bread is? Turn there onto the road with the cows.” Well, the Wonder Bread distributor apparently closed this month and the cows have been gone for many years. The cow fields have laid grown corn or soybeans since the cows left, and  the fields across the street have always grown corn. Ever since the cows left, I’ve always wanted to walk around that area, just to see what’s there. The houses on the road are, with very few exceptions, all older and smaller and with larger properties. Most of the people on the road have some sort of summer vegetable garden, and one of the farmers on the road grows a large crop of sunflowers that’s just gorgeous for a few weeks every summer. Another always has an interesting crop of scarecrows.

My parents still live in the house I grew up in, so I still drive down that road all the time. There are 3 new, smaller developments right at the end of the road my parents live on. But they’re not an eyesore. The homes are larger and they are in a wooded area with a decent amount of land per house.

flora corner

Now, a developer has started building homes in the spot that used to be a cow pasture. The one home that is almost complete is large and gorgeous and on a hill where a barn used to be. I’d love to live there, with 5 or 6 homes as neighbors and a few acres to call my own. But the developer wants to built more homes there. How many more? 100 buildings, equaling 1,700 more residences (including, presumably, townhomes etc). Yes. One thousand seven hundred residences on what is currently 384.5 acres of beautiful old farmland (that could, incidentally, still be used as farmland).

Our County Commissioners are set to designate this land for rural preservation, but if they don’t do it before the builders start building, then the builders win. They can build their 1,700 residences. I’m sort of horrified. But I’m also thrilled that the community has come together to fight back. Lots of residents showed up at the zoning meeting, my parents have been passing out flyers and petitions, and someone in the community started http://savefloracorner.com/ (saw the sign for the site when I was driving by last week.)

flora corner

St. Mary’s County is considered rural, but even now I have a hard time describing it as such. We have a Naval Air Base (PAX) at the southern end of the county, and that accounts for some growth. But slowly over the past few years, I’ve seen numerous stately old farm homes (that I’d always wanted to poke around in) torn down, and numerous corn fields turn into developments where homes 4x the size of mine stand on a piece of property 1/4 the size of mine. We are a waterman’s and farmer’s county – turn down many of our side roads and you will eventually end up at the river or a tributary after passing lots of corn and soybean fields (maybe even a few lone tobacco fields). I’d really like to keep it that way. We’re a Chesapeake watershed community.

flora corner

My husband and I desperately want to buy a few acres, secluded a little on some old farmland or cleared woods, so that in 15 years or so (depressing it will take that long…but that’s a different story) when we can afford to move out of our apartment-sized house and build our dream home, we have a beautiful spot to do so. Several of the places I’ve thought would be a gorgeous spot for a house or two over the years now sport about 50 homes. It’s crazy, it’s ugly, and I hate it. One of the developers that most frequently does this is actually the one that a BFF’s parents work for, so they will remain nameless. But I hate that these companies – may of them local – look only at profits and build McMansion communities instead of building a few nice homes for a few nice families in the same spot. Of course equally to blame are the cash-strapped farmers who sell to the developers instead of doing it the hard way and dividing up their property so people like me can afford it and buy for the future.

I know I have few readers who are local to me, but many of you can probably sympathize with the situation. I’m sure this is not the only area where this is happening. If you support keeping your hometown rural, I’d really appreciate it if you could take a minute and send the pre-written sample letter to the Board of County Commissioners asking them to keep my hometown rural, too. Let me know if you do – I may be able to send out some personal “thank you gifts.”

flora corner

Maybe the scarecrows will help scare them away. (I didn’t get a photo of the one he always does with a bent traffic cone that looks like a witch hat in my drive-by-shooting.)

scarecrows

[There are more barns, but I didn’t want to go behind the padlocked gate to get closer to them for photos – at least not today. They already took down one silo closer to the road a few years back.]

There are 2 plants (well, probably more) that I can say with absolute assurance that I hate.

honey locustThe first is locust trees. They are, unfortunately, the predominant tree in our yard. The roots are shallow and little baby locust trees grow from them. But because the trees are growing from the roots, you can’t even just pull them up – you end up pulling 20 feet of root that goes in, around, and between other plants and flower beds. It sucks. Plus they have thorns and still grow profusely from stumps. And rest assured mine don’t look like the one on wikipedia page. They’re ‘weed trees’ growing in what used to be a wooded area, so they’re tall and spindly and half dead and uneven and ugly. I hate them.

crabgrass

eeeeeekkk!!!

The second thing? Crabgrass. I have Bermuda grass, too, but I don’t hate it as much because it’s not nearly as pervasive. And honestly, I don’t care so much about the crabgrass in the main part of the lawn. It’s not as pretty as my parents’ gorgeous zoysia grass lawn that actually feels like a carpet, but it’s green so whatever. It would take longer than we plan on living in this house to reseed half an acre or so of lawn with zoysia (and more money). But I hate hate hate it for two reasons. First of all, it grows in the gravel driveway like crazy. I’m always having to pull it out. It’s not the only offender for sure, but it’s the most visible offender. Secondly, it creeps into my flower bed borders. If we had “good grass”, then even if the lawn needed to be cut, there wouldn’t be 6 inches of creeping grass in the flower beds.

But no amount of edging can keep out the crabgrass. (We currently have an edging of recycled tire that is supposed to look like brown mulch. I think it looks very nice…if you can find it under the crabgrass). Because it sprawls, if it’s anywhere near the edge of the flowerbed, it’ll find its way over. It doesn’t really seed IN the flower bed because I catch it, but it will do its evil sprawling rooting deal and make babies that way. It really bothers my sense of order and neatness. I hate it (did I mention that?).

It’s about the time to start taking care of such things for the fall (from what I hear, you do it once in the fall and once in the spring, right?). The lawn is hubby’s domain, but I’m willing to hear ideas. How can we take care of the crabgrass situation without using anything too evil? We are in a Chesapeake watershed area (there’s a pier off our road) and I do grow veggies in the yard. But I also want the crabgrass GONE.

While out backyard does have mostly “good grass” (we expanded the backyard when we moved in), the front yard has pretty much no “good grass,” so it’s not like we can just pull out the offending weeds, spray something there, and move on. It’s *all* crabgrass, bermuda grass, plantain weed, clover…you get the idea. We did do a weed and feed one year only to find out that that made our entire front lawn brown because, well…it’s all weeds! So then the crabgrass just came back full force with all that new area to seed itself. Obviously desperate measures cannot be taken. We can’t buy sod, we can’t till up the whole yard, etcetc. We need another option. There must be one! Help!

RUSSIAN ROSE TOMATO

russian rose tomato

Russian Rose tomato

Got seeds from: @betweenthelimes
Planting info: I started this from seed and it is now planted in the raised bed reserved for tomatoes. It gets the best possible conditions in my yard: raised bed with the most sun, and the one that is first in the soaker hose line so it gets the most water.
Beauty points: I wish I had taken a pre-slice picture of the first one I picked. It was gorgeous and huge! Size varies from huge to medium, but I don’t think there’s been a blemish on any of them. You can pick them when there’s still some green striping in the shoulder so they don’t go bad on the vine.
Taste: Mild and sweet, not tangy. Better with salt. But the consistency…the first bite I took I thought it was disgusting because it was all meat! Hardly any juice or gel at all. So at first I thought it was gross, but then the second bite I took, I liked it. Because I really like the part right by the skin most on all tomatoes, anyway.
Other considerations: The meatiness of this tomato means it holds up to slicing very well. So to me, this would make a great sandwich tomato, or could be used for tomato salads etc where you want the tomato to be able to kind of stand up to some punishment and still be a little cube or slice of tomato.
Will I grow it again? I think so. I’ll have to either save seeds or purchase some, but I really like the consistency of this one. It’s almost like a roma/paste tomato, but a slicer version. I like it!

A while back, I randomly was picked to win a $25 gift certificate from Nature Hills Nursery via a twitter contest. I browsed for a while – I really don’t want to buy any more regular perennials at this point without a plan, but they have a very good selection of shrubs that are actually sold in larger sizes. I’ve wanted a red twig dogwood for some time, but I didn’t order because I just didn’t know where to put one. I kept reading that they preferred moisture, so I couldn’t think of a spot large enough that doesn’t run the risk of being too dry. I figured I’d wait to order in the fall anyway, when it’s better to plant that sort of thing. Then I realized I had the perfect place for one!

rain barrel garden

The rain barrel garden! When we made this garden, I’m not exactly sure why, but we kind of stopped off after the a/c unit and didn’t go all the way to the back of the house. It looks fine, but it’s a pain to mow and weed whack and the grass on that side of the yard is crap anyway. I think a dogwood shrub would be perfect on that right side there. This area is east-facing, so it gets morning sun. This is also the side of the house that both gutters run off of, and the a/c unit drips to. So this is definitely the most moist area of the yard.

One problem. I can’t decide which one to get! So you get to help me decide. Below I will list my thoughts on each, then you can vote in the poll.

Ivory Halo – I love the variegated leaves on this one. Twigs are red in the winter, which I originally wanted. Per their prices, I could go ahead and get a larger size one, use my gift certificate, and just pay shipping. (I guess a 2 gallon pot is bigger than 2 feet?) My only concern here is the size – 5-6 feet might be a bit large, unless I plant it more towards the back corner of the house and not centered in that empty spot.

Kelsey Dwarf – The size on this one is ideal and it has the red twigs I wanted. But it just has green leaves all summer and spring. A bit boring. Also a bit more expensive for the size.

Arctic Sun – Yellow twig dogwood! I never even knew that existed. Are they pretty? I kind of dig the golden leaves on this one in the summertime, and it is a little smaller than the Ivory Halo at only 3-4 feet. Based on their description though, I wonder if the area will not be moist enough and if it won’t get enough sun. I think it would probably be OK. If this one had red twigs it’d be the winner, but I’m not *quite* as excited about the yellow.

Help me decide what to order in the fall! Vote below!

I’m so confused. I was all prepared to can this year so I could enjoy my tomato sauce and my salsa over the winter without having to take up freezer space. I figured I’d make it like normal, maybe add some lemon juice for acidity, then can them up as per normal. Now I’m reading that basically I should under no circumstances do that because the acidity won’t be known for sure unless I call in a scientist, and I might kill everyone who eats my salsa in January.

But to me, there is little point in canning if I am not canning my own recipe! If I do say so myself, I make an awesome salsa and tomato sauce, and I want to enjoy *that* over the winter. Not some other person’s recipe.

So…what do I do? Any ideas? Can I can my own stuff or what?

Just for kicks, since I just made a big batch of salsa and took pics with my FANCY new camera my hubby bought me for my bday last week, here’s a more step-by-step of the salsa recipe linked above. I make this every few weeks over the summer. This ingredient list might help you decide if I can can or not, too? The below made the equivalent of about 2 jars of salsa.

INGREDIENTS:
-15 medium ripe slicer and/or roma tomatoes
-large handful of cherry tomatoes (I am using sungold)
-7-10 peppers, depending on how hot you want things (I am using jalapeno, cayenne red and green, and habanero orange and green). If you don’t have enough peppers, substitute Sriracha hot sauce to make up the difference.
-about 3/4 cup of sugar
-about a tablespoon of salt
-black pepper to taste
-sprinkle of onion powder
-about a tablespoon of adobo, taco, or mexican seasoning
-this time, I also added a large handful of lemon balm because it needed to be cut back. Add cilantro if you like it (I dislike it a lot)
-possible extras: corn, black beans, chickpeas, pineapple, peach

tomatoes in the sink

peppers sungold

cayenne, habanero, jalapeno, sungold tomatoes

I highly recommend a cutting board with a nice reservoir for slicing tomatoes (this one was actually a wedding gift to my parents). Mine will be full of juice by the time I slice all these. I slice mine to the size pictured below before putting them in a large pot. The peppers I chop much more finely. (Hint: slice tomatoes with a serrated knife. It’s way easier.)
slicing tomatoes

After your tomatoes are all sliced, add the dry ingredients, then stir it all up and turn your burner on medium. Let sit covered until it starts to simmer a lot or just comes to a boil.
salsa ingredients

salsa-stirred

mixed


salsa-simmering

simmering

Once it’s been simmering for a while, turn the burner off, leave the cover on, and let it sit until it cools down a bit. It’s all ready to jar up now (taste first to make sure you don’t want to add either more hot sauce or sugar before letting it completely cool) – you just have to strain it out. I really need a large mesh colander for this and will eventually get one, but for now I just use a small mesh strainer and/or a slotted spoon, combined with holding the lid on with a tiiiiny gap and draining the whole pot. I really need to remember the colander next time I go to WalMart. If you want, save the juices! They still have all that spicy, tomato-y goodness. Use it as a marinade, or put it on low heat for a while, let it thicken, and use it as a sauce.

salsa

all ready to drain and eat

For now, since I don’t know if I can can it or not, I am just storing it in the fridge like normal. I did put some in a jar for a friend’s birthday, but it’s not “canned” so it will have to stay in the fridge. I also went ahead and froze another batch that had been in the fridge for a while. So much salsa!!

salsa-jar

jarred but not canned salsa


salsa-freeze

salsa to freeze

So….can I can my salsa and tomato sauce or can I not can them? Help.

ground cherry breadI needed *something* to do with the tons of ground cherries I had, and I finally decided on bread. We don’t use a lot of jam or jelly, so that would have sat around for a while. And I’m still not sure how I feel about them as a pie.

What are ground cherries? Related to the tomatillo, they are very small fruits inside a husk. Remove the husk after the fall to the ground and are ripe. The golden fruit inside is pineappley, citrusy, and a little creamy tasting.

This recipe is basically the bread recipe (search page for “bread” – so many recipes on there!) I found on this great GardenWeb thread. Lots of other great sounding recipes in there, too (I also made a modified version of one of the ground cherry sauces using GCs, sherry, and sugar). I was going to use my tried and true banana bread recipe from my mom’s early 1970’s Betty Crocker cookbook (and switch banana for ground cherries), but I figured I’d switch it up. This one is simpler just because there are less ingredients, and it’s also very buttery and yummy. Yet still acceptable as a breakfast food because it has FRUIT in it….right?

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1 egg
1 stick of butter OR 1/2 cup margarine (I’ve used both)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed ground cherries (and a little pineapple if you want)
whipped cream cheese (or regular) for serving

Mix together milk and sugar. Add in egg and other ingredients. The batter will be a little runny.

ground cherries

Ground cherries unhusked and husked. All of these went into the bread.

Bake in greased loaf pan at 350°F for about 45 minutes, or in greased muffin pan for about 15 minutes. Cake tester or toothpick should come out clean.
ground cherry bread

The first time I made it, we had a few slices of leftover pineapple from making my dad’s birthday pineapple upsidedown cake. I’d heard so many times that ground cherries were pineappley that I blended some of those in as well. Tasted great! Serve when still warm with some whipped cream cheese on top and it’s amazing. It’s good room temperature, but I found after taking some for lunch that it’s also good cold, which is kind of interesting.

NOTE: I was going to include a better glamour shot of the loaf I just took out of the oven, but it stuck to the pan. Still delicious, but not photo-worthy. So make sure you grease the corners of the pan well! (Loaf pictured is the first loaf with GCs and pineapple. Today’s was just GCs.)

ground cherry bread

Let me know if you make it!

egg rollsPeople are often confused when I say I’m making egg rolls for dinner, but ever since I found these little egg roll wraps, I’m addicted. This egg roll recipe I made up is SO easy it’s insane. So if you find the wraps, give it a try! I’ve only been able to find the wraps at my local grocery store chain and not at WalMart, so I’m not sure how widely available are. I use the Nasoya egg roll wraps. They’re refrigerated, and my grocery store actually keeps them in the produce section near the tofu. Any ingredients below that look/sound funny are probably available in the Asian ethnic foods aisle of your grocery store.

INGREDIENTS:
-Asian 5-spice powder
-Asian sweet chili sauce
-soy sauce (I use light for less sodium)
-one bag of pre-cut/pre-mixed coleslaw mix (found with the bagged salads)
-egg roll wrappers
-large, deep skillet for pan frying
-oil for pan frying (I use vegetable oil with a touch of sesame oil)
-duck sauce, hot mustard, or whatever you want to serve them with.

START THE OIL
Put enough oil in the pan to go up about halfway on the eggroll (or you can deep fry if you want, but that’s a pain to me) and turn the oil on medium heat. If you have a frying splatter guard, you’ll want that out.

MIX THE FILLING
Using as much if the coleslaw mix as you want (depending on how many egg rolls you’re making!), dump it in a big bowl. Add a pinch of the 5-spice (not too much or it will overpower and taste like crap. A teaspoon would be almost too much if you’re using the whole bag of coleslaw, so use that as a guide). Add about a tablespoon of the sweet chili sauce (adjust for amount of coleslaw) and a small splash of soy sauce. You can let the mix sit for a few minutes if you want, but I usually don’t. You don’t want it to be watery, but you can of course drain or squeeze it out before putting in the wrappers if it’s too liquidy.
*You can also add pre-cooked shrimp, chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or whatever else to the coleslaw mix at this point. It needs to be pre-cooked, though, because the eggrolls will only fry for a minute or so!
eggroll filling

MAKE THE EGGROLLS
The eggroll wrappers are small, so don’t overstuff them if you don’t want to make a mess while frying. A decent pinch of the filling will do. My eggroll package has instructions, but wrap them up like so:
*Note: If you want them to be thicker or the insides to be chewy (I sometimes like that chewy second layer), then double up on wrappers.

1. Put a small amount of filling on a wrapper.


2. Roll one end up over the filling and tuck it under a little.


How to roll an eggroll

3. Fold in both sides so it looks like an envelope.


home-made eggrolls

4. Continue rolling towards remaining unfolded edge. Last edge will stay in place once fried crispy.

FRY THOSE BAD BOYS
Make sure the oil is ready by dropping a tiny piece of wrapper in and seeing if it fries. You want it to fry quickly, otherwise it will just soak up oil and be nasty. If the oil is ready, use a pair of tongs and place a couple egg rolls in the oil. IT DOESN’T TAKE LONG for them to fry. I’m talking like less than a minute. Once the one side is a nice golden brown, flip it over. Note that it takes less time the longer that oil is on there. Once both sides of the egg rolls are done, move them to a drying rack or some paper towels and put in the next batch.
eggrolls
eggrolls

That’s it! Seriously! Just writing this blog post made me want some like NOW. I usually serve them with some simple stir-fry (HINT: you can use ramen noodles as the noodles!). If your work has a toaster oven, it’s a great re-heat for the next day at work – I always make extras for that purpose. I usually try to hoard away a thing of Chick-fil-a Polynesian sauce to dip them in at work.

egg rolls

YUM.

If your store has wonton noodles, you can also make some quick crab rangoon: mix cream cheese, 5-spice, and imitation crab, fill wontons, fold however you like, quickly fry.

Let me know if you try it! I should have taken a pic of the inside of one, but I didn’t think about it. I’ve passed this recipe on to a couple people already who have been amazed at how easy and delicious it is. Impress your friends and make them think you slaved over the eggrolls. They’ll never know. I won’t tell. I promise.

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