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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!

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!

…that problem being that the plant is HUGE and there are no luffas on it. (Yes, it’s the luffa/loofah like the sponge. It’s not a sea creature, it’s a GOURD! I know, amazing, right?)

I had 2 planted on this trellis, and I was kind of glad one ended up kicking the bucket, because this one is huge! It was planted at the same time as the 2 cucumbers next to it and there is no comparison. Well…except for the fact that the cucumber plants are actually making a lot of cucumbers.

cucumber

There are a lot of flowers on the luffa (which I only see in the AM (the flowers not the whole plant)) and there are always ants and other pollinators over there, but I have looked and looked and see no sign of actual fruit.

proof of pollintor

There are just little clusters of things that I assume are to-be-flowers (you can see them in the pic around the flower) at the ends of all the vines where the tendril out. Any ideas why there are no luffas? I was all excited about this plant! I planned to make some luffa sponges for gifts for xmas.

At least it makes pretty pictures...

I know I have spoken of pretty weeds before, but this weed has long been my favorite. The first time I saw it, I think I spent 10 minutes trying to get my camera to focus on the impossibly tiny flower so I could have a photo of it. The flower is about half the size it is when you view the picture below full-screen. Can you imagine how gorgeous it’d be if it was huge? Reminds me a little of a hibiscus. Very hard to photograph because it’s so small and I can’t manually focus my camera, but the outside is a peachy color and there is a small purple ring inside.

pretty weed

This little guy has chosen to grow in a spot in my flower bed where it actually looks sort of “on purpose,” so I’ve let it be. It’s pretty well-behaved and stays in a little clump. And with even the drought-tolerant plants starting to look rough lately (we’re in a “moderate drought” here in Southern MD and have gotten about 10 minutes of rain in the last month and a half or so), you’ve got to have a little respect for the weeds that are pulling through. I also can’t help but notice the wild daisies lately, as well as the Queen Anne’s Lace – a favorite of my grandmothers, and one I actually often pick for bouquets in the office when I walk around the block to get out for a bit.

Anyone have an ‘official’ name for this weed?

Also an official WELCOME! to all the Googlers who were looking for a different kind of pretty weed. 🙂

#wordlesswednesday

A few months back I was approached by Ethel Gloves on twitter and asked if I’d like to be one of the few people try out a new kind of glove they may be offering. The new gloves, I was told, would be vegan and made from synthetic fibers, and should be cooler and allow for more dexterity than the other Ethel gloves. Already a fan of Ethel, I said um…hell yes! as per my usual response to being asked to review something.

proof of their superspecialsecretness

These have actually quickly taken over from my cute blue Ethels as my go-to gloves. I have a more sturdy pair of Womanswork gloves I wear for mulching and more heavy-duty tasks, but these are my defaults now (though I still use my other Ethels, which I have several pairs of). Here are my thoughts…

PROS
-fingertips seem sturdier. My old ones busted through when mulching last year, but I feel like these could take it. Still will prob use sturdier ones for mulch, though, just because.
-consequently (because they’re stronger), you lose some fingertip feel, but not a lot
-wrist elastic keeps dirt out, just like on all ethel gloves (BIG bonus! I hate when dirt and mulch get in the wrist and stuck in the fingertips!)
-more lightweight – the only time I felt I needed to rip them off was when planting small seeds. You can feel what you’re doing very nicely (due to thinner palm). Also good on HOT days!
-vegan is nice if you’re looking for that. esp if the cost is about the same as other options.
-usually i just rinse out my gloves very well with a hard stream of water and hang them in the shed to dry. I wash them every once in a while, but usually just rise. With the regular ones, they tend to get very “hard” the next time you go to put them on after that (they loosen up, but it’s weird at first). These didn’t seem to do that to quite the same extreme, which is nice.

CONS
-well, they’re not as cute because they’re just black. lol 🙂
-again, while the palm dexterity is great, you lose some in the fingertips. I think it’s a good tradeoff though – I would rather not have my nails poke through the fingertips than have fancy fabric.
-they seemed a bit shorter than my other M size ones (the elastic came lower on my wrist, almost to my plam), but I’ll chalk that up to a trial size. Fingers fit fine, but the palm seemed smaller. Still a much better fit than the standard women’s gardening gloves, which is Ethel’s main claim to fame (and a valid claim!).

I haven’t machine washed them yet, but I spray them down with a strong stream from the hose after wearing them and they’re still in great shape after 2 months of regular gardening wear!

If the price point is the same, I think I’d probably buy these from now on because of the fingertip issue (especially if they also came in cute prints). While I love my other ethels, I’m careful not to use them while spreading mulch or doing more hardcore tasks, because I have fingernails and they have poked through past pairs. In these I don’t feel like it would be a problem. And it almost feels like it’s because of they STYLE of the fingertips, not just the material. The way they’re sewn so the strip goes across the finger, maybe? Not sure, but it makes things seem more sturdy to me.



In action while making my succulent wreath:

Disclaimer: I received this item from Ethel Gloves to review, good or bad. I receive nothing in return for posting a good review versus a bad one – these opinions are my own and are an honest review of the product mentioned above. I read reviews extensively before purchasing almost anything, so I’m happy to review things so others can do the same. Let me know if you find this review helpful!

A couple months ago I was contacted by Allsop Home and Garden to see if I wanted to check out some plant tags for them. Allsop is a pretty cool company – all family owned and all the products they sell they design themselves. Their solar lighting is really gorgeous, as are their plant tags.

tags

my usual plant tag style

I was intrigued by the plant tags because it says that if you use a gel pen (it originally said ballpoint, but they changed it to gel), they are washable and you can re-use them year after year! For some reason I can NEVER find a grease pencil that works well or is sharpened (suggestions welcome), so I just usually end up using a permanent marker that fades mostly by the end of the year and I re-mark it (I just mark my annual veggies). Not the best system, so I was intrigued by these super cute tags. At $15.99 they are a bit pricey, but worth it to me if they are re-usable AND renameable.

When I got them, first off I was REALLY impressed by the packaging! It’s freaking adorable and TOTALLY gift-worthy.
Allsop

The pieces themselves also feel very sturdy. The plastic is actually kind of rubbery and bendy, but doesn’t feel like it will crack. The metal stakes are very strong – I couldn’t bend them with my hands at all. I brought home a gel pen from work, matched the pictures to the “feel” of my tomatoes (ie pink thing for Russian Rose, yellow thing for Sungold), and filled them out. I may just have a crap gel pen, but I did have to kind of write over the words twice to get it to any level of darkness. Very cute, though!
Allsop tags

allsop tags

CUTE!

So…how have they held up? Well, I put them up on 5/2/10. They have held up very well in my opinion! I will say that they have yellowed a bit (a bit more since this pic, which is a few weeks old), but they are still sturdy and look cute.

allsop tags

yellowed a little

I wanted to leave the writing on a while before attempting to wipe off the writing, so I did that a few weeks ago after I took the above pic. It suggests you use water, soapy water, or water with some alcohol. I figured I’d take the best of all 3 and used a clorox wipe. Unfortunately, even after a bit of scrubbing and fingernail scraping, it still looked exactly like the photo above and didn’t wipe off. I should have taken it in and tried again with soapy water, but I didn’t. I will try that at the end of the season and hope it works because I probably won’t grow all these same varieties next year and definitely want to reuse them. It may also be the fault of my aforementioned crappy gel pen (though the pen was definitely a gel pen as required). Not sure.

So…would I buy them again? I think I would definitely buy them as a gift for a gardener. They are adorable and very well packaged – very gift-worthy. For myself? Though they are pricey, if they worked with the wipe-off factor I would consider getting another pack for my veggies. I am going to give the wipe-off test a more intensive try in the fall and will re-evaluate.

All in all though, Allsop is a very cool company with some unique products that you should definitely check out!

Disclaimer: I received this item from Allsop Home and Garden to review, good or bad. I receive nothing in return for posting a good review versus a bad one – these opinions are my own and are an honest review of the product mentioned above. I read reviews extensively before purchasing almost anything, so I’m happy to review things so others can do the same. Let me know if you find this review helpful!

Last year the only veggie seeds I saved were for Peachy Mama peppers. We got these lots of times from the CSA I was a member of, and while I normally don’t like peppers except in salsa, I actually liked the sweet, fruity taste of these. Knowing I probably wouldn’t join the CSA this season, I saved a ton of Peachy Mama Pepper seeds. They’re an heirloom variety and really the only mention of them on the web I can find hooks them up to my former CSA. I’d save the tops with their seeds when I used them and leave them on the window sill to dry out.

This year, come seed-starting time, I dug out the little package I had made of seeds marked “peachy mama” and lovingly started them (also a few that were still in the dried pepper tops). They did very well! I even donated some to the Sotterley Plant Exchange. I planted mine in my garden. The bigger, it got, the more tomato-like the plant started looking. “Huh, weird,” I thought. “This must be an odd pepper plant!”

peachy mama

Buddha puts his hands up in confusion.

Except now my odd pepper plant is…making tomatoes?!?!

I have several problems with this:

  1. I DID NOT SAVE ANY TOMATO SEEDS AT ALL! Didn’t even try!
  2. These appear to be pear tomatoes. I did not grow or eat pear tomatoes at any time last year.
  3. I swear, those were Peachy Mama Pepper seeds I planted!!!

So I give up. I moved the pepper plants that surrounded it (and would have been appropriately spaced, had these 3 also been pepper plants and not mutant pepper tomato plants) to the bed where the broccoli and brussels sprouts were pulled up from. We’ll see what kind of tomatoes I get. But I am still UTTERLY CONFUSED, considering points 1 and 2 from above. wtf?!?

And now some other veggie garden pics, just because.

tomato bed

tomato bed - with 2 pepper plants, marigolds, and baby zinnias

veggie beds - back

A back view of the veggie beds, with proof you CAN see them (very well) from the road.

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