Good Show!

It was not what I had intended for my garden this year. A meager plant assortment is what I am referring to. I referred to my garden as the “salsa” garden. Why I called it this is because it mainly consisted of ingredients for salsa or pico-de-gallo, one of my personal favorites. Very abundant in garlic, tomato, tomatillo, pepper, and herbs. In addition, there was a wonderful show of the African marigold I purchased from Thomas Jefferson’s seed collection. A modest showing of zinnia and a smaller French marigold. And a very disappointing show from the snap dragon, another one of my personal favorites.
This was most definitely the year for herbs. The wonderfully peppery Genovese basil has helped me produce some of my best pico-de-gallo ever. (should have entered it in the county fair) As well as several batches of pesto. I have found that following the classic Betty Crocker recipe, but cutting the oil by half and adding twice the basil has made my pesto very pungent. Just the way I like it. Otherwise, it is a very oily weak tasting pesto. By adding twice the basil makes the pesto thick. This I find is helpful when adding dollops of it onto pizza, pasta, onto bread, mixed in with salad, I guess I could just go on, but you got it.
I must share with you my “new” discovery of the use of basil in my pico making. About two years ago (I have been making pico for at least 18 years, thus the ” around the word new) I was becoming bored with my pico. It seems crazy looking back on it that I could ever become bored with one of my most loved foods, but it is true. So I did something very old fashion, I picked up a cook book. Yes an old fashion book with lovely photos of food to entice you into wanting to make them. And in reading some of the combinations, I came across one I had never tried before. Instead of cilantro as the supporting herb in the pico, basil and mint were used. Hummmm, this I had never considered. We all know that basil tastes like summer, and so does mint. What a great idea to use two of the most summery tasting herbs. Genius! This small discovery has taken my pico making to a whole new level, truly. If people enjoy fresh pico-de -gallo, as I do, actually I treasure it, they go mad for it when they taste this “new” version of my old pico. So all this talk of my pico-de-gallo and I must share my “formula”.
5-6 chopped drained heirloom tomatoes
1 chopped red or green pepper
1/2 chopped Vidalia onion
1 – 1 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper
3 minced garlic
1/2 of a lime’s juice
1/4 t. salt
2-3 minced sprigs of mint
5-6 minced lg. leaves of Genovese basil

Now, all of this is to taste, of course. At times I want more of a lime flavor so I use more lime. Other times more garlic, etc.. This is just a general guideline. One tip I would like to share is, I drain the tomatoes so that the other flavors show up better and so the pico is less soupy. I also freeze the tomato juice to use in the winter as a base for making soups. This I can tell you is so amazing tasting. And truly adds a surprising amount of summer happy tomato flavor to a winter soup.
Another basil that has done amazingly well this year is the Ayurvedic herb Tulsi, which means holy basil in Sanskrit. I have been harvesting it and am drying it on old window screens elevated by rounded mid-sized stones. This free herb drying contraption is in my laundry room on one of the shelves I use for starting my plants.
Tulsi is one of the most wonderfully sweet-smelling herbs I have ever had the pleasure of growing. It produces a typical size basil flower, but the flower is a light lavender color. I am wondering if Mother Nature is giving me this gift of abundant Tulsi because the farmers almanac is calling for a snowy winter. Snowy winter perhaps equals a winter filled with colds and flu? Thus the gift of Tulsi. For Tulsi is a herb that is antiviral, promotes sweating, and treats fever. Perfect for a tea to treat cold and flu.

mixed herbs drying

mixed herbs drying

Tulsi

Tulsi

Drying Tulsi

Drying Tulsi

I have canned tomatoes by themselves. And I have canned tomato and basil together. This is in preparation for making winter time pico-de-gallo. Which is such a lovely surprise for friends and family when I  bring this along for gathering. Nothing like having a taste of summer in the winter!

I have also canned several jars of tomatillos. The abundance of the tomatillos were great. The tomatillo I have canned by themselves, as I am undecided what I will choose to do with them into the fall and winter months.

I have also just started on my harvesting and canning of jalapeno peppers. These are my favorite peppers and I have several ways I will preserve them this year. In the past I have canned them in 1c. honey & 4c. cider vinegar, brought to a boil and poured over top of the packed jalapeno, and given a boiling bath for 15 minutes. This is a great combination because the first taste is the sweet honey followed by the acidic cider vinegar, lastly receiving the punch of the jalapeno pepper. Nice! I have allowed several of the peppers to mature to their bright red color. This makes for a very attractive canned pepper.

Jalapeno's just taken from hot bath

Jalapeno’s just taken from hot bath

I am going to try, for the first time, to make jalapeno jelly. As well as making chipotle peppers. This consists of drying and smoking them. I do not have a plan for this yet, but it is something I have been wanting to do for several years now. My husband, Tim, is quite creative and I am confident he will devise a plan for my chipotle pepper dream.

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Tomatillo

My sea of tomatillo

My tomatillo forest

A butterfly & a bee

A butterfly & a bee

I just spoke of the Year of the Flower. Now I need, yes need, to speak of my Year of the Tomatillo. If you have had the misfortune of not enjoying these little wonders, well come on over. I’m sure I have enough to share! Really!

It may seem ridiculous to some to be angry or irritated with a plant, but that is exactly why I currently have a “bumper” crop of tomatillos. I purchased a new packet of tomatillo seed last year. One of my very favorite seed folks in my neighboring state of Virginia, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I looked through their catalog in the winter, of course, and found these seeds. They sounded perfect for me, seeing as how I am a huge fan of heirlooms. “Authentic” mexican tomatillo. How wonderful I think, in my warm winter home with the gray, brown, dull-seeming winter scape out doors. I forgot about the word “authentic” in the plant scene. Authentic….natural….wild….self-seeding…..bramble…..wanting to be everywhere…..can live on and out grow many others. And that is just what this lovie has done. And it is very well deserved on my part.

Back to the being irritated at plants part. This “authentic” tomatillo plant did, well, all this and more. I now seem to be not only feeding my family tomatillo foods, but I am also feeding the pollinators. The butterfly, honey bee, and bumble bee absolutely love this plant. And I will love and embrace it this year. I will not turn an overly taxed back to my tomatillos generous offerings.

Busy honey bee

Busy honey bee

Bee proboscis.

Looking closely, witness the bee’s proboscis (tongue) at work.

I have sent my sister and niece off with a huge bag of them this day. My sister saying, no I can’t take them all. Me saying please, you saw how many more I have out there! She grows them, but they are weeks behind me. Just sharing the bounty!

Though last year I turned my back, this year  I will can, pickle, preserve in any way, freeze, eat fresh, and give away these many, many tomatillos. Because this is the Year of the Tomatillo, well at least in my garden!!

Being mindful

reclaimed bird bath water

reclaimed bird bath water

If everyone was just, lets say, 2% more mindful of their actions, I think things would turn around for the environment.

A small mindless thing I was doing today got me thinking, again, about this concept. I was running the hot water, waiting for it to go hot. You know, you have done it many times before. But what do you do with that water? Simply let it run down the drain? Or do you do “the right thing” (Ok I’m off the soap box for now) and capture it? It’s clear that I chose the latter.

Mind you, my house plants are out for the season now. So, I had to do the outdoors “trek”. Oh, how very inconvenient, but not really for me.  And my outdoor plants were very grateful, I’m sure, for my extra efforts. It has been a bit too dry here in the metro D.C. area of late. I had to take 3 trips, but I felt that the water was well used.

Now that simple gesture was mindless for me, but sadly, a great thought for many. I work with the public and gently remind people, trying not to soap box it too much, of their simple duty to the environment, such as catching water.

Rather than preaching, I prefer to give suggestions. Better received.  And let me tell you, I have plenty of suggestions!!! Even something as simple as offering a clean bird bath. 2%, that is all.

Looks like the flowers have it.

Bumble bee's working

Queen Anns Lace
Queen Ann’s Lace

If you pay attention, you will find how nature decides from year to year what is going to be the “stars” for the year, and what will be out. This year , at least in my yard and gardens, it is the flower.

This very much pleases me seeing as how I am a huge fan of flowers. They lift my spirits and give the beneficial insects their nectar and pollen. The abundant flowers this year do not require my attention. This is very key to me now that the chickens in my life have been consuming too much of my attention. (Side note: the baby chick that was taken in by the surrogate hen showed up dead with no apparent injuries 3 days ago. Very sad.)

It was told to me by a new friend that is a herbalist, that Queen Ann’s Lace can be used as birth control. Haven’t looked into this yet. I do believe she said in tincture form. I do wonder why Mother Nature has blessed my gardens with so much of it this year. Hummmm, to be pondered.

Bee Balm with bumble bee

Bee Balm with bumble bee

The bee balm I have in my gardens I was given about 10 years ago. This lovely herb loves to move around the garden. So it must be watched so it will not upset you with its playful behavior wanting to visit everywhere, invited or not. It is easy to manage though, having shallow rhizomes.

Bee balm is an antiseptic for wounds and acne. And, makes a nice added bit of sweetness to a herbal tea as well. Nothing like making your guests inquire  why you have flowers floating in their drink. Just for fun you know.

I find it difficult to cut for my own uses when I see how much the bumble bee’s love the flower. It has a fairly short blooming period. The leafy parts stay intact for some time. I would suggest placing this herb in the back of a garden as a tall green back drop.

2 bumble bee's working the flower

2 bumble bee’s working the flower

I have to say, of the volunteer flowers this year, I think the purple cone flower, also known in the herbal world as Echinacea, is my favorite. Talk about an easy flower. Bumble bees go mad for this flower. And I tell you the cone on it truly smells like honey. I should know since I have two honey bee coloniels.

In the past 3 years I have had a wonderful come back from my Echinacea. I thought I almost lost it about 6 years ago. It is not like the bee balm or Queen Ann’s Lace for showing up uninvited, but it will move around the gardens.

The root part of the plant is used in medicines for immune boosters. I have to say, I just can’t bring myself to dig up the plant and harvesting its roots. As I think we all know, harvesting the roots of the plant, unless you are very careful, will kill it. I just love the flower too much to harvest the whole plant. But maybe, just maybe, if it starts the garden party like the other two, I will bring myself to harvesting its lovely helpful roots.

Playing with nature..well trying to help?!

wating for siblings

waiting for siblings

I thought it was a good idea to purchase Rhode Island Red eggs off of eBay for my setting hens. The pullet roosters weren’t up for “the task”. So why not purchase some fertile eggs. Rhode Island Reds go with my desire to keep the heritage breed alive & well. I have had success with surrogate mothers in the past, and not.

It seems we are in the “or not” right now. My New Hampshire hen hatched out 2 baby chicks today and killed one & tried to kill the other. This was before my 8-year-old ,chicken tending daughter found the injured baby. Well, thank the stars we have an incubator. So no more eggs for that Momma. We took the remaining 5 into the incubator.

Didn’t want to raise more baby chicks myself, but if I must, I guess I will. It’s better for my mental health than having left the chick to be pecked to death!! Besides, there is hope for me. The other Mother that is setting hasn’t hatched out a chick yet. I could sneak the babies under her. (There is no way to sneak a baby chick anywhere, they peep too much!) That is to say that one of the other eggs hatch. But, the one my daughter saved looks like the Mom was trying to take its neck off. I will need for that to heal. Chicken are very cruel to the injured. One of the traits I do not like about the birds.

If you could see them be the “sweet Mothers” I have seen most of the time, you would understand why I bought those Rhode Island Red eggs on eBay. Nature is a strong force, and I was trying to aid. Only for the better!

In the mean time, I have a fussing baby chick on my kitchen counter!