Author: Heather (page 2 of 8)

Weed ID Books: A Review

In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, my next plant id book review will focus on weed identification. An obviously important part of becoming more “weed aware” is to know the names of the weeds you are looking at. Once you know the name of the weed then you can start figuring out what to do about it.

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National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Did you know that this week (February 27-March 4, 2017) is National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW, for short)?

Well, now you do. Continue reading

Wildflower ID Books: A Review

The snow may be melting here, but I know that getting new snow is still a very real possibility. And it could happen all the way through April. Or May. Or even June. I remember a couple years getting snow in June. But luckily from here on out any new snow we do get probably isn’t going to stick around for too long.  Well, at least down here in the valley. There is still plenty of snow in the mountains – and that’s a good thing – but the truth is, I’ve already started dreaming about summer, and hiking, and wildflowers.

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Winter

snowshoeing, Art Nord trail, Ogden Valley

Snow covered conifers get me every time. I love ’em!

Winter

The now fell softly through the night

And in the morn, behold

A glorious picture crystal bright

To my vision now unforlds.

 

I gaze with wonder and delight

At such a scene as this.

The earth is robed in purest white,

And nothing seems amiss.

 

For every tree and every bough

With reverence bending low

Seems as in prayer for tender care,

And the peaceful scene below.

 

And on each bough and each fine twig

A thousand diamonds shine,

And cast their sparkling glory forth

A picture most sublime.

 

The fool, and he alone hath said

In his heart, “There is no God,”

But all around us men can see

His marvelous works of love.

— Emma Thornley —

Cookie-Sheet Apple Pie

I think I’ve mentioned before how I’m not a food blogger, and I don’t really aspire to be; this space is mainly about gardening. Gardening, however, often leads me to the kitchen and cooking and baking are generally a big part of my life; a lot of my favorite family memories involve food in some way or another. So when fall rolls around the food-blogging world seems to go crazy with pumpkin-spice-everything, for me, when fall rolls around I think about apples. Apples in the form of cider and pie to be specific.

“It’s easy for any of us to claim no time for cooking; harder to look at what we’re doing instead, and why every bit of it is presumed more worthy. Some people really do work double shifts with overtime and pursue no recreational activities, ever, or they are homeless or otherwise without access to a stove and refrigerator. But most are lucky enough to do some things for fun, or for self-improvement or family entertainment. Cooking can be one of those things.” – Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Not any old apple pie will do. Sure, there is a place for the deep dish varieties, or the Dutch versions. Or the picture perfect lattice-topped classic. But the version I dream about is this apple pie. It’s not fancy, and it definitely won’t be winning any beauty contests. But it is delicious; that I can promise. Also, you don’t have to worry about any sort of fussy lattice work, or carefully transferring the crust into a pie dish since it can be rolled out directly in the pan (at least the bottom crust), which is a bonus in my world. And, best of all, it makes a superb breakfast the next day. If you have any left over, that is.

apple pie on a cookie sheet

Since there are only two of us, I usually make only a half-cookie sheet sized pie. But I make the whole crust recipe and freeze half of it until I want to make another pie.

There are all sorts of opinions about which apples make the best baking apples, and McIntosh usually don’t make that list. They are soft and cook down to basically mush, which makes them excellent for sauce, but not for something where you want the apples to remain looking like apples. That being said, McIntosh are my favorite, and I really love them in this pie; I kind of like the uniform mash of apples. So what I’m saying is, you can choose whichever kind of apple suits your fancy.

I know you’re probably not looking for another apple pie recipe, but give this one a try sometime and let me know what you think.

Cookie Sheet Apple Pie

Crust

  • 3 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 Tb sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups shortening (I use Crisco)
  • 1 egg, separated
  • milk
  • cornflakes or saltine crackers

Filling

  • 20 raw apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together. Cut in the shortening. Place the egg yolk in a measuring cup, beat slightly, then add enough milk to bring it to 2/3 cup. Add to flour mixture and stir with a fork to make dough workable. Divide dough on half and roll it out to fit your cookie sheet. I like to get it started on the counter, and then finish tolling it out on the sheet itself. Sprinkle with a couple handfuls of corn flakes or saltine crackers.

In a large bowl toss the apples with the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Place the apples evenly on the bottom crust. Roll out the remaining dough to fit the cookie sheet, and place on top of the apples. Crimp the edges, and add crust vents in the top. Beat the egg white and brush over the top.

Bake at 400 F for 1 hour, or until golden. When cooled, drizzle with a powder sugar glaze. (Powder sugar, a bit of lemon juice or vanilla extract, and enough milk to get it to the consistency you want).

Eating Local All Year Long

Each year in September is Utah Eat Local Week which is meant to highlight all the great local agricultural (and other) products and inspire people to eat locally grown and produced foods. This year, when Eat Local Week rolled around, I had just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which chronicles a year where her family tried to eat as local as possible. I don’t know that I’ll ever be quite that ambitious (or have enough land to grow that much food on), but I do like the idea of growing your own food.

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Tomato, tomahto

It’s funny that when I think of summer garden bounty I always think of tomatoes first. It’s funny because here in Northern Utah they don’t really start coming on in force until the end of summer. And that is where we are at now; the very end of summer. Fall officially, or atsronomically, begins on Thursday (meteorologically speaking, it’s been feeling like fall for a week or so now).

But guess what? Tomatoes are still to be found aplenty; slowing down, perhaps, but still around. I can still enjoy a fresh tomato with practically every meal, and hopefully I still have time to bottle some for the upcoming winter months (babies tend to have their own plans, I’m discovering, which aren’t always conducive to preserving fruit).

Whether or not I get to the tomato-bottling project, I did want to record a few notes about the tomatoes I planted in my garden this year. This is probably more for my own benefit than for anyone else, but maybe it will help you in deciding what kind of tomatoes to plant next year in your garden.

This year I planted five different varieties. There were more options available, and I considered buying one of each, but in the end the research technician inside of me came out and said, “do you really want to try and compare that many? Limit the variables!” I listened to that voice, and came away from the greenhouse shop with two cherry tomato varieties and three types of slicing/canning tomatoes. What follows is my very non-scientific review. I promise I’m much more detailed in my other research endeavors.

Since the cherry tomatoes were the first to ripen, let’s talk about them first. I planted them in my bucket garden where I could easily keep track of them, and easily harvest and eat them. Here are my thoughts about the two varieties I planted this year:

  1. Supersweet 100 – the tag indicated they mature in 65 days; according to Instagram, I harvested the first ones around July 27, so without knowing the exact day of when the plant was started, I’d say that timeline is pretty accurate. These tomatoes were pretty uniform in size (maybe about a U.S. nickel-size diameter), and ripened up to a lovely red. Though the name says they will be “supersweet”, I found them to have a pleasant, though definitely prominent, acidic note. I wish I had some quantitative measurements on the  yield I’d probably plant these again, but if other options were available I wouldn’t have a problem trying something new.
    Cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, supersweet 100

    The Supersweet 100 tomatoes are what you typically think of in a cherry tomato: cherry red color, and cherry-sized.

     

  2. Sunsugar – these were said to mature in 75 days; again, according to Instagram, I harvested the first ones around August 2, so my guess is this timeline is also fairly accurate. These tomatoes had a wide range of sizes, from very small to largeish (about a U.S. quarter-size in diameter). I found these to be much sweeter than the “Supersweets”, and much to my pleasant surprise they were a bright orange when fully ripe. My first few were perhaps a little under-ripe, but I learned that they only got sweeter and more orange with time. I will definitely be planting this variety again.

    tomato, cherry tomato, sunsugar

    This bright orange color means they are ripe and ready to eat.

As for the other tomatoes, I planted the following varieties: Early Girl, Better Boy, and Hamson (also known locally as DX-52). I don’t have a lot to say about these because my garden was so neglected this year due to my pregnant self’s lack of motivation to weed. I chose Early Girl so I could have some early slicing tomatoes, but I didn’t harvest my first one until well after my cherry tomatoes were ripe, and I’m pretty sure well after any of my grandpa’s were ripe. Better Boy is supposedly known for producing abundant fruit, but as of this writing, I have picked maybe two tomatoes from it. I planted the Hamsons so I could have some tomatoes to bottle, but again, I have harvested a paltry dozen; enough to eat, but not enough to bother with for canning. I knew it would grow well, since my grandpa swears by it, and this is the only kind he grows. It was bred by a USU Extension Professor to grow well in Utah conditions and be able to hold up well under the canning process. Unfortunately for me, it was not bred well to produce abundantly even while neglected. Here’s hoping I have more motivation and time next year.

 

My Summer of Growing Both a Garden and a Baby

During these last few weeks of waiting for my baby to arrive I’ve been thinking about how things (babies, in particular) grow. I really think it’s quite a miraculous process. And maybe we can blame it on all of the BabyCenter weekly updates comparing my growing baby to a random piece of produce, but I got thinking about other miraculous growth processes – like my garden, for example – and how they are kind of the same.

Growing a baby and growing a garden. I mean, sure, they are both living things, but at first glance that seems to be the only similarity. One happens on the inside, one on the outside. One you can eat or put in a vase when ready, the other you probably shouldn’t. But as I’ve been doing both this summer – growing a baby and a garden – I’ve realized that there are some things that are true for both.

First, let’s talk about water.

I’ve written specifically about watering your lawn or garden a couple of times this year, and in every house plants post I mention something about watering, and really, I could probably spend more time talking about it (and most likely will at some point). It really is that important for growing healthy plants.

sprinkler, beans, garden, watering

Keeping that garden, and that baby-growing body, properly watered can sometimes be a delicate balance.

Well, it seems that proper hydration is the answer to a lot of pregnancy complaints too. Have a headache? Try drinking more water. Feeling Braxton-Hicks contractions? You’re probably dehydrated, so drink more water. Swelling up? Here’s a glass of water.

The problem with drinking all this water is that, like when you over-water your house plants and it starts to leak out the catch trays, over-watering yourself may also lead to unfortunate leaks. Or at least increasingly frequent trips to the restroom…

A word on nutrition.

Earlier this month I gave an update on my bucket garden and mentioned how much better my tomatoes were doing this year because I had actually fertilized them. I’ve also discussed the nutritional benefits of compost over at the Longbourn Farm blog, and given a brief explanation of what that sometimes-confusing fertilizer label means here. Though plants technically make their own “food” through the wonderful process of photosynthesis, having the proper nutrients available benefits growth and increases yield. Both good things for that garden you are growing.

lettuce, spinach

I mixed in some extra fertilizer to the potting soil when I planted my lettuce and spinach this year, and got some early, healthy crops.

While I don’t make my own food in quite the same way plants do, eating well is important for both me and my growing baby. And it seems to me that my prenatal vitamins are doing the same kind of thing as the fertilizer – supplementing what is already there (through what I eat) to grow a healthy baby.

s'mores, campfire, mountains

So maybe making s’mores isn’t the best nutritional choice, but it’s summer time, so s’mores must be eaten.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Oh time. Sometimes it seems to fly by and sometimes it drags on and on and on. Especially when you’re waiting for those tomatoes to ripen or that baby to make her appearance. When growing either plants or babies there are general timelines for reaching “ripeness”; but for both they are really just guidelines. Sometimes it takes longer than the 75 days it says on the label before you can pick that juicy tomato. And sometimes babies show up earlier (or later) than that magical 40 week deadline. Gardens and babies both seem to have their own timetables.

flowers, bucket garden, patio garden, pink zinnia

Though all the zinnias were planted at the same time, you can see there were a couple early-birds among the bunch.

Excitement about “milestones” helps that time to pass more swiftly.

From the moment a seed germinates or starts to sprout through the soil I get excited and love to follow its progress. I often come in to the house reporting to my husband things like “ooh, you should see how much the lettuce is growing!” or “my zinnias have buds!” or “the tomatoes are almost ready to eat!” Whether or not he really cares is a mystery because he always responds encouragingly.

He does get more excited about the “milestones” of growing a baby, though. Maybe not exactly about my monthly (and then weekly) doctors visit updates: “the baby’s heart rate was ___” or “my blood pressure was ___”,  but definitely about the big things (which have been the best parts) like actually seeing the progress – the ultrasounds, watching my belly expand, feeling the kicks, etc.

Comparing our growing bellies with my sister-in-law.

Comparing our growing bellies with my sister-in-law.

The ultimate milestone for gardening is picking that perfectly ripe fruit or enjoying that perfectly beautiful blossom.

This sunflower was a welcome volunteer from last year's flower garden.

This sunflower was a welcome volunteer from last year’s flower garden.

By the time you are reading this, I hope we’ve also reached that ultimate milestone of growing a baby: meeting her for the first time.

Understanding the Fertilizer Label

Have you ever found yourself on the fertilizer aisle at the garden center overwhelmed with all the different options? My sister and my sister-in-law both did earlier this year. (And I really hope I helped them out when they texted me with questions.)

But I had almost forgotten about those incidents until I mentioned last week in my garden update that my cherry tomatoes were doing much better this year, thanks largely to the additional fertilizer I gave them.

So I thought I’d share a quick and brief explanation of just what those fertilizer labels mean. Continue reading

Gladiolus – the August Flower of the Month

You know how there are birthstones? Gems for each month that are kind of like horoscopes or something in that they supposedly reflect the qualities or characteristics of the people born that month? Well, there are birth month flowers too, it turns out. Continue reading

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