Jazz up any meal with Pesto

Just spent time with some amazing Alabama master gardeners in a workshop where we all got “Jazzed up’ over pesto!

Pesto is simple in nature with nutritious ingredients that anyone can make plus it is a great way to use plants that you have growing in your kitchen garden, flowerbed or even in the yard.

We made pesto by hand the old fashioned Italian way by first adding some kosher salt to the mortar followed by peeled garlic cloves, nuts, herbs, oil and cheese. A pestle was used to mash and grind the ingredients against the bottom and sides of the mortar.  This was done in a layering fashion by repeating nuts, herbs, oil and cheese until the desired amount and texture was achieved.

We also used a food processor to make pesto, employing the pulse button after the addition of ingredients until we got the texture wanted.

The really fun part (beside sampling) was choosing the combinations of veggies and herbs, seeds and nuts.  I brought spinach, chickweed, swiss chard, parsley, cilantro, sage, garlic chives, lemon balm, French sorrel, rosemary, oregano and thyme from my garden and a bunch of kale that I picked up at Green Door Gourmet Farm.  I also brought basil leaves from my freezer since it is just two early for that tender annual.  My mint wasn’t tall enough to harvest so I stopped at Publix’s grocery and picked up 2 organic mint plants, jalapeño peppers, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raw almonds, pecans, walnuts, limes and lemons plus cheeses.

Here are the recipes we used in our class to make scrumptious pestos.  I hope you will try making pesto and remember to experiment with different veggie and herb combinations and don’t worry if you don’t measure everything perfectly…and have some fun with it!  Get your friends and children in the kitchen to have a ‘hands-on’ experience they are not soon to forget.

Always start with the hard items (garlic cloves and nuts or seeds and the like) pulse a few times until they are evenly chunked.  Add veggie/herbs and cheese and then with the motor running pour in olive oil (slowly) until you like the texture.   Salt and pepper to taste at the end.

Spinach

3 cloves garlic

½ cup nuts

2 cups spinach

½ cup parsley

3 T oil (more for saucier pesto)

 

Sorrel Pesto

2 cloves garlic

¼ cup nuts, or seeds

2 cups sorrel

¼ cup lemon balm

1/3 cup parsley

1/3 cup cheese

3 T ricotta cheese

½ lemon freshly squeezed

¼ cup olive oil

 

Chickweed pesto

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups chickweed

3 T Sunflower seeds

½ oil

½ cup cheese

 

Mustard

3 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pecans

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup sunflower seeds

2 cups mustard greens

½ cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

Savory Sage Pesto

2 cloves garlic with skin removed

1/3 -1/2 cup walnuts

½ cup sage leaves

1 cup parsley

1/3 to ½ cup Olive Oil

1/3 to ½ cup asiago, romano or parmesan cheese

 

 Swiss Chard and Cilantro

2 cloves garlic, skin peeled

1/3-1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds or nuts

1 cup swiss chard leaves torn with center stem removed (save to dip like celery)

½ cup cilantro

1 Jalapeno, seeded and chunked

½ lime squeezed (juice)

1/3- ½ olive oil

1/3 cup parmesan or asiago or romano cheese

 

Chocolate Mint – Dessert Pesto

Great with fresh strawberries or thin it down with fruit juice and pour over fruit salad.

 

2 cup chocolate mint leaves

2 Tablespoon sugar or honey or 2 fresh stevia leaves

1/3 cup almonds

1/3 – ½ cup olive oil or try using fruit juice

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

 

 

Decorate and Cook with Gourds, Pumpkins and Winter Squash

Nothing says fall like colorful leaves, nuts, acorns, cornstalks, and pine cones and of course pumpkins, gourds and winter squash.  The cucurbit family offers vivid colors, shapes and textures that we associate with autumn and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on some to stack, pile and display in simple creative ways.

This week I had the opportunity to share some decorating wisdom with the Westhaven Garden Club in Franklin, TN where I pulled out all the stops to share my tips for quick and easy, fresh from the garden and oh so Martha ideas for indoor and outdoor displays.

Here are a few of the decorations ideas we put together.

#1 If you collect cool flower pots, now is a good time to get some out and simply stack cute little pumpkins on the top.  Line them on the mantle or table. Terra cotta pots look great too.

 

#2 Using a 3- tiered container or stacked cake plates lay different gourds, mini pumpkins and winter squash on the tiers, add colorful leaves, bunches of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, lamb’s ear or sage.

#3 Pull out a tray and add 3 pie pumpkins (if your tray is smaller try one) stack up and add small bumpy gourds, mini winter squash (I used mini turbans) and pumpkins.  Add in dried hydrangea blooms, pine cones, bunches of herbs and greens, berries, nuts and anything else you find from the garden.  You can add candles – (make sure they are elevated above dried material) or a little bird nest and bird like I did.  Let your imagination be your guide.

#4 Outside – use urns and simply set large pumpkins on top.  Add an herb or grapevine wreath to the top of urn before setting pumpkin on.  Gourds, mini pumpkins and squash can be laid around the edge of pumpkin right on top of wreath to finish off.

#5 Fill a large glass cloche with little gourds, pumpkins, pine cones colorful leaves and the like then carefully put a glass cake plate on top of filled cloche then oh so gently flip over.  You can use a glass cake plate with its own cover too.

#6 Use a rustic basket or wooden bowl and simple arrange all the above materials or just use colorful lumpy, bumpy cucurbits for a stunning coffee table showstopper.

 

*Growing pumpkins, winter squash and gourds is pretty easy if you keep in mind the following tips:

Use fresh seed every year as all cucurbits will cross-pollinate.  Varieties

are plentiful, no need to create new ones.

Plant several seeds per hill (mounded up soil), thin young plants so there

1 –  3 per hill.

 

*In small garden spaces plant bush type varieties or trellis (many types of

winter squash, small pumpkins and gourds do well growing vertical).

Monrovia’s arbor of curcurbits – fabulous!

My garden arbor of curcurbits

*When planning where to plant cucurbit seeds, remember the bigger the

fruit, the more vine and leaves it will need to produce (more space).

*Plant large hard-shell gourds (like birdhouse, dipper, etc) May, small

decorative gourds, pumpkins and winter squash in June so they

don’t mature before fall when it is cooler and in season.

*Mulch around plants with straw to help suppress weeds and hold in

(I like to use a layer of newspaper covered with straw)

*Fertilize with a triple 15 or use compost.

*Avoid overhead irrigation (trickle works best) and late night watering to

keep fungus problems to a minimum.

*Be watchful for pests. Cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, squash

bugs and aphids all are partial to cucurbits.  Fungus can be a problem

as well.  Use conventional or organic insecticides and fungicides when

needed.

*To avoid spraying insecticide try floating row covers to keep pests out

while allowing sun and rain in; use a Q tip to hand pollinate.

*Should you decide to grow a record size pumpkin, try

‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ or ‘Prizewinner’ hybrid; allow only one pumpkin

per vine to grow and see how large it can get!

 

Harvest pumpkins, winter squash and gourds when the skin or rind is too hard to dent with your fingernail and is colorful.   Some experts recommend washing pumpkins, squash and gourds with a 5% bleach solution right after harvesting to kill any fungus helping to extend their life.   Allow autumn cucurbits to cure by placing them in a dry warm location for a week or so.  This will heal up any scratches and make the skins tougher.

For winter use store pumpkins and squash in a warm (50 to 60 degrees) place with plenty of space and air circulation to keep them from rotting prematurely.

Gourds are edible when they are young and tender but most people grow them for their lumpy-warty, quirky and cute personalities to be used as decoration or for various craft projects like ornaments or bird houses.

 

To dry gourds try one of the following methods:

  1. Air dry indoors or in a green house in a single layer on a flat surface (leave plenty of space between gourds)
  2. Use a dehydrator (obviously only those small enough to fit)
  3. A convection oven set between 100 and 125 degrees

It could take a few weeks to months (depending on size) to air dry and usually a couple of days in the dehydrator or convection oven.

After gourds are dry, you can use steel wool or a stiff brush (a little water is sometimes helpful) to remove any black marks (fungus growth) if you like although sometimes fungus marks can add even more character to gourds.

After the “fall harvest on the front porch” season is finished don’t just pitch pumpkins and winter squash in the compost pile (unless they have frozen and are rotting).

Pumpkins can be peeled, chunked, steamed or baked then mashed to use for pumpkin pie, although some varieties are better to use then others.  However, winter squash can be used in the place of pumpkin and in fact most pumpkin you buy in the can at the store is really winter squash or a combination of squashes and pumpkin.

Winter squash has as many flavors as shapes and colors; bake a spaghetti squash whole until tender and fork out the stringy meat which resembles the pasta it’s named after.  Acorn squash cut in half and baked with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup is a sweet and nutty treat.  Basically steam, bake or stuff just about any squash for a healthy addition to the dinner table.  And don’t forget about the seeds.  Both pumpkin and squash seeds can be salted and baked in the oven for a nutritious snack.

 

SEED SOURCES

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Catalog has wonderful pictures and descriptions that include history at   www.rareseeds.com .   Other sources include Seed Savers @ www.seedsavers.org, Thompson and Morgan @ www.thompson-morgan.com,

Seeds of Change @ www.seedsofchange.com, Johnny’s Select Seeds @

www.Johnnyseeds.com, Fedco Seeds @ www.fedcoseeds.com  and Stokes @ www.stokeseeds.com.

 

Look for pumpkins, winter squash and gourds at local Farmers Markets…they are easy to spot!  Should you decide to plant some for yourself next year here are a few fun and flavorful beauties to consider.

Pumpkins:  Musquee De Provence – wide, squatty, ribbed and peachy color

Jack be Little – tiny, squatty in a variety of golden orangey hues

BabyPam – little 5”x5” orange with great sturdy stems (I grew these in my garden on a trellis this year and from one plant I harvested 39 mini pumpkins)

Casper and Lumina White – both white skinned with orange flesh

Rumbo – fleshy, squatty, light orange, sturdy stem and stackable

 

Winter Squash:  Red Curi – tear drop shape, 5-10lbs, orange-red, rich flavor

Turks Cap – orange, green, red, white striped, unusual shape

Table Gold Acorn – bush type, golden color, nutty flavor

Shamrock – unusual tri-shaped, sea green color, flavorful

Pink Banana – large peachy-orange, great form

Jarrahdale –it is called a pumpkin but it is really a winter squash,

Cucurbita maxima; an Australian heirloom variety grown for its

Unique blue-green skin and its deep orange colored flesh.

 

Gourds:  Tennessee Dancing – tiny bottle neck green & white

striped (ping pong size)  Rediscovered in Primm Springs, TN – actually

can spin like a top.  Easy to dry – use for Christmas ornaments, table

arrangements or string as garland.  I grow these on arbors, so cute!

Speckled Swan – unusual shaped, green with white speckles.  A bird

(I’m guessing) planted this one in my garden where it quickly grew up

the fence and produced a gaggle of long necked gourds that looked

like geese making great fall decorations.  Later after they dried, we

made some into bird houses.

Bule – looks like a big apple covered in warts – great texture, bluish

green… interestingly weird.

Crown of Thorns or also called Ten Commandments – shaped like a

crown with 10 finger like projections pointing inward – light in color,

decorative and good eating in summer season when it’s young.

Cici’s easy pie crust

In a pie plate combine:

1 cup unbleached flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

2 Tablespoons Flax seed (whole or ground slightly)

A pinch of sea salt

½ cup oil – vegetable or coconut

Mix with a fork until well blended then add:

¼ cup milk

Mix well then with hands pat out crust to fit pan

 

To cook Jarrahdale Pumpkin: Place whole squash in the oven with some holes poked in the shoulders.  Place cookie sheet under to avoid oven cleanup.  Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or so – until it is tender.  Cool then cut in half, scoop out seeds then scoop out orange flesh.  Freeze any leftovers.

 

Home-grown squash pie

In food processor add:

2 eggs

½ -3/4 cup sugar

Blend then add:

1 ½ – 2 cup jarrahdale pumpkin, cooked

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 ½ cup milk

 

Blend together and pour into un-baked pie crust

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, turn down oven to 350 and bake

Additional 45min to 1 hour until knife comes out clean.  Enjoy!

 

Breakfast at Emily’s …..Daylily Garden


A breakfast in the garden starting at 6:30am, what a wonderful idea I thought to myself when I received the invitation. A perfect time of day for a gardener who is used to getting up early to beat the heat…especially this year in Middle Tennessee where it has been in the mid-90s for the past 19 1/2 days without a drop of rain (but who’s counting).

Baked breakfast casseroles, baked garden soil and plants, and half baked gardeners (oh wait, that’s just me) all commiserating and admiring the beauty of Emily’s garden and appreciating all of her hard work so that friends could come and enjoy.
As I walked through the garden with Emily, she showed me her favorite daylilies and told stories of where they came from, the lilies heritage and the people who hybridized them. Emily’s mom handed the love of daylilies down to her and she has poured that into the lives of her girls.

What fond memories children have when they spend time in the garden with parents and grandparents. I raised my children in a garden and now I am spending time with my grandchildren who can’t wait to go to CiCi’s garden each time they come to visit.

One can learn a lot of an experienced gardener like Emily Robertson, who so graciously shares her garden and her knowledge with anyone who wants to learn. Here are a few pointers about growing daylilies from Emily:

Plant daylilies in full sun for the best flower show.

Buy daylilies with a double fan (the green leaves) unless specified for best success rate. A triple fan is a good idea for Spider varieties.

Dead heading isn’t necessary but helps to keep a pure cultivar as daylilies can cross.

Daylilies bloom for one day only (hence the name day lily)

Daylilies make lovely cut flowers and buds will continue to bloom but will have to be dead-headed in the vase to keep the arrangement looking pretty.

If you are showing daylilies, live head the night before a show by pulling off blooms and leaving the buds which will open in the morning. This will keep old blooms from discoloring or oozing onto new blooms.

Join a daylily society or club to learn more and to trade lilies when they multiply.
Clubs also have sales where you can buy plants at reasonable prices while supporting the association.

Daylily flowers are edible, Emily thinks yellow and pale yellow are the sweetest flavor, stir-fry the buds, use the flowers in salads and on cakes.

Emily uses a time release fertilizer around daylilies in the spring.

When planting new daylily clumps, Emily adds compost or alfalfa pellets to the hole.

Monty’s Joy Juice is a wonderful natural foliar fertilizer and Emily’s favorite.

Ideally, dormant oil sprayed on daylily clumps once a month in January, February and March help to keep bug problems to a minimum.

Divide every five years; be careful not to plant to deep. Soil line should be where green meets roots.

Best time to divide or move daylilies is May thru the end of September. When one procrastinates and suddenly it is November (no one ever does that, right?) No problem, Emily lays a brick on the east and west side of the fan (leaves) to add heat and to keep the roots from heaving out of the ground during the winter. A trick she learned from her mother.

Alfalfa pellets will heat up in the hole during the winter which helps when you divide and plant later then you should.

If you divide or move in the heat of August cut some maple branches and make a tee pee over the plant. The leaves help the plant to transition in the heat and sun as they shrivel and dry up. Another trick Emily learned from her mom.

When temperatures remain above 90 degrees for a spell, daylilies will go dormant and don’t need excessive amounts of water. Water sprinklers can cause heat dormant lilies to rot.

A local Tennessee source for daylilies, Daylily Cove, Franklin, TN – Al Brewer, 615.790.3306

The Girls Get a New Coop

Coriander and Cilantro finally got some new digs. My husband and I, well okay, mostly him, built a new chicken coop or hen house. I can say hen because He says I can’t have any more roosters…but before you start feeling sad I will tell you that it is okay.

I love to hear a good rooster crow first thing in the morning and one of the evil twin hens actually crows. No kidding – I have recorded it and have witnesses that can attest to the validity of that statement. It is so cool, who knew? God is So Good!

The chicken coop is special to my husband because it didn’t cost him a dime; only his (and my) time and labor. At first he wanted to build something of an A-Frame style…probably because it is functional and easy. When he presented the idea I guess he figured out right away I wasn’t a fan. I explained that it kind of made sense but that style just didn’t have any ‘cute’ factor. If I have to look at it and visit it a couple of times a day forever (or as long as I have chickens) then I would like a something a little different.

He asked me then what I thought and of course I was prepared. I gave him my laundry list of wants.
1. A hinged window where I could see them and they could watch the world go by from their perch and I could open up for ventilation on hot summer evenings.
2. A hinged screen behind the window to keep the girls safe and could swing in for easy access to the coop for cleaning or whatever.
3. A nest box on the outside of the coop level with the floor (so baby birds couldn’t fall out) with a hinged roof for easy access to gather eggs.
4. Boards spaced about an inch apart for the floor with chicken wire stapled to the underside so predators couldn’t get in.
5. A planter on the front where I could put hens and chicks, Sempervivum tectorum…I wasn’t asking for a living roof after all.

He simply looked at our pile of recycled and on-hand materials and said we would have to go scouting for more stuff to make it happen. So, we went over to our friend Paul’s house and rummaged through his leftovers from various DIY projects and found all kinds of cool things we could use; tin, a window, rough sawn planks, and a couple of spindles the dog had chewed.

Another friend, Cindy cleaned out her garage and contributed some more wood scraps to our growing pile in the driveway. She also consulted on the mechanical aspects of making a comfortable home for the chicks while making it easier to clean up….like leaving a space between the floorboards so I could just hose out all the chicken by-product down the drain if you will.

Now we were ready to begin. Because I want to have 6 hens we knew it would have to be at least 12 sq feet. But that really didn’t matter because the piece of tin we absconded with was 3’ x 4’ and that was a perfect roof piece – lucky for me and the girls…exactly 12 sq feet. So that piece of tin was the beginning of our zero cost coop journey. My engineer husband sketched out a rough drawing on the back of a used envelope and we were off and running. It was a challenge at times to piece together a coop to my specifications without running out to the hardware store but my hubby made it happen in just a few short days.

The girl’s new coop was ready and waiting. We were giddy with excitement partly because we wanted to see their reaction and mostly because they would no longer roost on our bathroom widow sill by the back kitchen door. It seems they took up residence there while I was in Switzerland last month…hmm, who thought that was a good idea? Chicken poop on the porch…Interestingly they chose the bathroom window sill don’t ya think? Chickens have a pea size brain but sometimes I think they must use a tad more than the 8% we do.

With great ceremony I swooped up both chickens and opened the window and pushed back the screen and let them in. Then I had the brainy idea I needed to put one on the perch with a view. As I put Cilantro on the perch, Coriander flew the coop right through my pretty window. No respect. No worries I knew where to find her shortly as it was getting late in the day. You guessed it perching on the window sill. I grabbed her and told her she was going to love her new home. I gently put her in and stood back to watch. Cilantro was singing in the nest box twirling straw, getting everything just right for her egg. Coriander went to pacing and whining; funny how they have such different personalities.

A few days later, our four year old grandson came for a visit. He couldn’t wait to see the evil twins in their new coop and look in the nesting box which was just the right size. He opened the roof and saw three perfect eggs and the look he gave me was priceless! We gathered them up and took them inside where BaBa made an omelet with ham, cheese and lots of veggies from the garden …Yum, yum nothing like fresh eggs first thing in the morning.

The Dirt on Soil

Spring is in the air…and a gardener’s thoughts turn to dirt, well soil actually as my ole college professor would remind us. “Dirt is what you get under your nails, here at UT we study soil”, he would say. We gardeners look for every opportunity to get our hands covered with the stuff. It is therapy for the soul; the aroma of fresh soil released into the air as we dig is exhilarating. It is also exercise, which one realizes later, after digging in the dirt for any length of time. I usually hurt in places I didn’t know I had muscles, but after a few digging sessions this too passes and I get back to the big strong farm girl that my husband married!

Soil talk need not be boring if you remember that it is the foundation to any garden. In fact soil is probably the most important ingredient to a successful, healthy gardening experience. It is worth the extra effort, patience, time and $$ to be sure it is right before planting anything. By starting with the proper soil, many problems like insect damage and plant diseases can be avoided, giving you a beautiful, lush, productive garden.

Composition of soil should be half solid material and half open or pore space with living organisms (that’s right, soil is alive!), decaying matter and minerals thrown in for good measure. Sound complicated? Not at all! Think like a plant, in order to be healthy the roots need to be able to penetrate the soil and go deep enough to find good moisture and take up needed nutrients. DeWayne Perry, UT extension agent/soil specialist of Williamson County tells me that soil is all about physical structure and content.

Now this is the fun part, become a soil sleuth… What is your soil made of? Is it loose, friable and rich in organic material? Does it drain well after a rain or do you notice that your plants wilt soon after a rain and require additional watering? Has your soil been compacted and is hard as a brick? Do you have a new home and realize the top layer of your soil has been removed and no one left a map to tell you where it went? Next, Find out if your soil is fertile and the pH level by taking a soil test. Your local Ag Extension Office can help you with this. It is simple and in a few days you will get a report that tells you the available levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, minerals and pH levels. This report also recommends amendments to add if needed.

Okay, you have analyzed your soil composition and found out you have perfect, wonderful rich, fluffy, drainable soil. No? Not to worry, we can’t always choose the perfect soil situation in which to garden but we can work with it to make it productive by amending. Armed with your type of soil knowledge and soil test you are ready to get to work. If you are reading this and wishing you could have done something before your garden was planted, it’s all right, test your soil and add amendments now. It will just be more time consuming to work around established plants, but they will love you for it.

Organic matter is the number one recommendation to help improve just about any soil condition. Compost would be my all around choice as it alive with microorganisms, provides nutrients (a natural fertilizer), drainage, texture to retain moisture and benefit root growth. Add a one to two inch layer and work in to your current soil. It also is great to use as mulch.

If you have the brick-type, compacted soil you may want to build raised beds and fill with compost or a soil product.

Be creative and be kind to your dirt, it will be the beginning of something great!

Here are two great places to buy compost in the Nashville, TN area:

The Compost Farm of Franklin. They sell compost in bags or bulk and will deliver. http://www.compostfarm.com/

Second Wind Farm Compost, Pick-up at the farm or get it delivered – call Larry Mochera at 615.943.8354 or email him at secondwindfarm@united.net

It’s a Bird, a Plane…It’s a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth!

While taking pictures this week of my kitchen garden critters I spotted this feller (or maybe gal) on the ‘Blue Chip’ buddleia (dwarf butterfly bush). I snapped a couple of pictures so I could get a better look later and to help with the identification.

At first I thought perhaps it was a cicada killer which is exciting in its own right but it acted more like a mini hummingbird as it flitted from bloom to bloom and it had a fuzzy body. When I looked at the pictures on the computer screen I realized it was indeed something else. I did some ‘thumbing through’ the internet and found out it is a hummingbird clearwing moth.
The hummingbird clearwing moth or Hemaris thysbe, if you will are unusual in the fact that most of their cousins in the sphinx moth family are nocturnal whereas this little gem likes to be seen in the day and flies about meadows, forest edges and flower gardens. With a wingspan of about 1 ½ to 2 inches they dart from bloom to bloom in a hurried feeding frenzy that tends to blur their distinctive clear wings.

Many people mistake this moth for baby hummingbirds which now explains all the stories I have heard from excited gardeners about teeny tiny hummingbirds visiting their flowers. If in doubt look for antennae and a spindle-shaped body…you may have to look fast or try my trick and take a picture so you can slow them down and get a close up look on the computer screen.

In early spring, females lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. The larvae that hatch have an obvious horn on the rear end and they’re especially partial to cherry, hawthorn and plum trees…good to know there is another use for the wild pit cherry trees besides propagating more cherry trees in all the wrong places in my yard. Here in the south there is often a second brood to hatch in late summer or fall.

The Evil Twins

Meet the latest addition to the coop, Cilantro and Coriander. It took these chicks a while before I named them or even decided if they could stay. A couple of times I’ve threatened to let them fly back home to Louisiana where my son got them. For a while now I’ve simply referred to these girls as the evil twins. A name they earned shortly after moving in with Cornbread and Taco.

Taco had been sitting on 7 or so eggs and I was looking forward to hatching some chicks and we (well actually Taco) was getting close to the 28 day gestation or birthday. Along came the twins and to my horror they broke and ate the eggs.

I didn’t know the latest addition were carnivores…if I had known I would have waited to introduce them into the coop (or in my case tractor); but too late for all of that.

Since that time the twin bantams (can’t remember what kind they are, if you know please tell), have settled down and stopped their egg eating escapades. They have actually become productive chicizens so I guess they can stay. I did separate them into their own living space which may have helped them shape up too.

Last week I started leaving the door open on the tractor (cage) and let Cilantro and Coriander free range if they so desired…since they are my least favorite I wouldn’t be so upset if Annie the garden dog ate one accidentally (I know forgiveness is a freeing thing and I’m really over the dirty tactics these little devils first employed). Each night I find them perching back in their coop.

I left the other pair of bantams (Cornbread and Taco) in their house as a beacon or homing device for the twins in case they got too far away and forgot where they lived.
Yesterday I left Cornbread and Taco’s door open so they could join the twins out on the range if they felt so inclined. After a couple hours of debate they decided to throw caution to the wind and start exploring the new found freedom.

Thankfully last night just past dark with help from my I-phone light I found them all high, dry and safely perched. Cornbread and Taco happily bunked in for the night with the twins in their house. That rascally rooster! I battened down the hatches and said good night…another day another chicken adventure.

Just Us Chickens!

Meet the latest addition to the garden, Cornbread (on the left), Taco on the right… a fine pair of BB Red Old English Batams (as near as I can tell). I know, I know I should have named them Charles and Diana but somehow Cornbread and Taco was all that came to mind when I saw them…besides the grandkids think I did a fine job. At 2 and 3 1/2 they know good names when they hear them!

Cornbread is a late riser so he doesn’t crow until about 7am. I should say he starts crowing late morning then periodically throughout the day whenever he gets his feathers ruffled and starts feeling large and in charge.

Taco has a timid personality; clucks sweetly and produces eggs half her size every other day. I don’t know how she does that but I salute her each time I gather her eggs…wow is all I can say.
This pair came in a chicken tractor so I move it and them around the yard.

A chicken tractor you say? Yes. A simple lightweight house or cage that I can lift a tad and push to a new location whenever the chickens have “scratched” or eaten their fill of weeds, grass and bugs. This chicken tractor business is great for establishing a new garden site or cleaning up the garden at the end of the growing season where the chickens do all the work of clearing out the weeds, work up the top layer of soil plus fertilize all in one step.

While we were in England three years ago we met the resident gardener, Henryk, where we stayed. He and his wife, Krystyna were from Poland. I found myself explaining all about chicken tractors. Mind you in my explanation there was a lot of hand motion and broken English and I was quite sure the young man thought I was just another crazy American gardener.

We stayed in touch with Henryk and and his wife Krystyna, even after they moved back to Poland and bought their own place. Last summer we had the opportunity to travel to Poland to visit them.

After we settled in, Henryk took me outside to explain (with a lot of hand motion and broken English) how he built a chicken tractor to clean up his back yard where the previous owners had thrown trash. After he removed the bulk of the rubbish, the chickens scratched out the weeds, small pieces of debris and broken glass in the back yard making the total clean-up complete. Plus they had fresh eggs to eat. Needless to say he was happy with the results and couldn’t wait to tell me…I guess my charade type ‘garden speak’ is better than I thought!

Reasons to go to the Bloom n’ Garden Show 2010 – Herbs in the Kitchen Garden

First good reason to go to the Bloom n’ Garden Show at the Ag Expo just off I-65 this weekend, April 10 and 11th is to hear me speak…‘Herbs in the Kitchen Garden’ – 11:30 on Sunday

What can you expect to find at the 2010 Bloom n’ Garden? Plants of course and many different types. Sedums already planted in these Hypertufa lightweight pots by Bobby Stacy at Stone Gardens. How cute would be one or three sitting on your porch? Full sun, low water and ready to go, doesn’t get much easier than that!

Herbs and lots of them this year…folks are always asking where they can find these – well, here you go two days of herbal shopping bliss. Rustic Greenhouse has a plenty of herbs and other perennials. D and H Interiors as well a several other vendors have herbs including lemon verbena, Bay trees, lemon grass, various sages and other harder to find herbs…check it out.

Kris from Bagbey House of Franklin, TN has garden decor for house and porch, I can see why he is smiling…a mix of new and old to delight any gardener.

WCMGA President Anne Knauff and Jackie Wiggishaw (sorry if I misspelled your name Jackie) are ready to assist anyone who has any questions about the silent auction. So many wonderful items and plants to bid on this year. This money goes to help with local nonprofit projects of the Williamson County Master Gardeners like scholarships and grants.

More herbs for the discerning gardener at D and H Interiors. They also have antiques and new pots that look old. These sisters search high and low for old gardening stuff for people like you and me who like to mix it up in our home and garden spaces.
Who wouldn’t love to entertain with a living centerpiece in their dining table? There are so many great gardening ideas this year…bring your camera and take pictures…I did 🙂

The Bloom n’ Garden show would happen without Norm and Betty Bright, this year’s volunteer event chairs. Say hello to Mike Smith who is the Master Gardener Advisor and the person who helps to keep Betty and Norm sane! Not in the picture but definitely a BIG part of the show component is Susan Bryd. Susan coordinates all the volunteers each year for the show and what a job that is. It takes lots of willing Master Gardener Volunteers to run this show and Susan knows them all and keep everyone on track. Thanks ya’ll for all you do so gardeners like me can come and learn, get ideas and shop for plants and gardening products….you are the best!

Here is an ‘Amazing Plant Stand’ that will make a tiered planter out of most anything you have in the garden shed, garage or attic…if you can put a hole in it, it can become a unique and attractive planter. Old buckets, watering cans, tins, pots of all sizes….check it out for yourself.

Who would suspect this colorful bird (the one on the left) to be a Master Gardener? Come and meet Scarlet, the 2010 mascot. Watch as she plays peek-a-boo with you and I think she even talks. Terry Ely is the owner/trainer and has lots of tricks up her sleeve.

Gotta love a girl who has a dream and acts upon it. Meet Lauren Graves who designed a perpetual garden record book. Such a great idea to keep you and your garden organized. If that is not enough, Lauren uses her gardening grandmother’s quotes throughout her Planner and on note cards that are sweet, endearing and inspirational. Did I mention this is good for years? Such a deal…come buy one for you and some extras for your garden nut friends! In case you miss the show – you can always some on her website http://www.cabintiger.com/

Of course no self-respecting garden show would be without gardens! Mike Hayes has put together an awesome garden that makes me want to grab my banjo and a rocker on the front porch and pick a while…maybe I should call and see what my banjo gals “The Belles” are up to….or not. No matter, come and check it out for yourself. Shop plants to your heart’s content and go home and get them in the ground or pots. I love spring – see ya’ll there!

Got Moles?

Moles are at the top of the list when it comes to “what critters bug gardeners most”. These homely little guys with very bad eyesight (they can distinguish night from day) create cities of tunnels under the yard.

These little “dirt tossers” or as I like to call them, underground aerators (gives them a more positive spin, don’t you think?) are actually after the earthworms, grubs and other insects under your yard – not plant roots as many folks think.

According to Wikipedia, which we all know is never wrong, moles paralyze their prey and store them in underground larders to be eaten in the form of live worm and grub sushi later…interesting, right?

Moles are insectivores not rodents. The boys are called boars and the girls sows (that would have never occurred to me either) and you will be happy to know they only produce 3 to 6 pups per year and may only have a 50% chance of survival. But no one really cares about proper names all gardeners want to know is how to get rid of the pesky varmints.

Interesting Mole Facts according to Ohio State Extension:
– Moles can dig surface tunnels at approximately 18 feet/hour.
– Moles travel through existing tunnels at about 80 feet/minute.
– Moles contain twice as much blood and twice as much hemoglobin as other mammals of similar size. This allows moles to breathe more easily in underground environments with low oxygen.
– A 5 ounce mole will consume 45-50 lbs of worms and insects each year.

Natural Measures of Control which probably never really get rid of moles but might discourage them or aggravate them for a short time. In fact sometimes moles may only stay for a short period of time and move on to better hunting grounds lulling you into a sense of a short lived victory (they usually return) but, these are just a few suggestions which might be worth a try.
1. Don’t over-irrigate the lawn as this may cause moles to tunnel closer to the surface.
Plant barriers such as daffodils, marigolds, alliums, garlic, mole plant and Castor beans. Castor beans are poisonous if ingested by people.


2. Mix up a batch of Castor Oil concentrate of 6 oz Castor Oil and 2 oz T Murphy’s Oil Soap or dish soap to 1 gallon of water. Add 1 T per gallon of water and spray on the lawn. Reapply after rain.

3. Find a comfortable chair and a garden fork and position yourself next to a new tunnel and wait for movement then jab or stab unsuspecting mole. My neighbor does this…who has this kind of time or patience????

Sure-Fire Methods of Control are usually worth the effort and aftermath if you really want to rid your yard and garden of these pesky pests. Remember prime hunting season for moles is early spring and fall.
1. Traps, not for the squeamish gardener but they definitely work. Instructions are included on the box when you buy them.

2. Cats. I know this because my neighbor’s cats leave dead moles on my doorstep. I’m thinking they do this as penitence for the fish they devour from my pond…I can only hope they catch the moles in my yard!
3. A Jack Rustle Terrier. Annie, our resident JR digs moles on a regular basis…sometimes I have to re-plant what she digs up with the mole but a small sacrifice. I have had offers to rent this mole killing machine but I don’t want the moles to get wind of it. Annie went on vacation once for 3 weeks while we were out of the country and the moles had quite a party. I came home to new tunnels and three drowned moles in the pool. Poor eyesight and short limbs (even if they look like paddles) are not a good combination for water hazards. I snapped this picture of Annie yesterday with my IPhone just before she ran under the porch to bury her newly dug treasure.
4. Liquid Fence Mole Repellent Worms seem to really work. Plus they are economical. Cut the rubber-like worms in half before inserting them in fresh tunnels (sorta like fishing without the bobber). The complete instructions are on the package.
5. Dynamite – oh wait, that’s illegal and oh yeah dangerous and messy. No need to get desperate, you can always call a mole catcher (yellow pages) to get rid of your mole population for you.

Moles obviously taste terrible because the cats give them away and Annie does a victory run around the yard then buries the critters only to dig them up later and roll in them (lovely scent).

However, moles were once trapped, skinned and sold to be used as powder puffs (according to my friend Diane and she knows a lot about pioneer living). Nice to know those rascally moles are good for something!