Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gardening in the old country.

It's been so wet this week in Ireland that even the stone statues in my Mum's garden are taking shelter! My Husband and I flew home last Friday, the day after the Master Gardener graduation. It's only rained twice in the week that we've been here so far - once for three days and then for four days. We've had all kinds of rain too - mizzle, drizzle, bucketing, pelting and even sideways rain - actually, mostly sideways rain. Gale force winds have kept it interesting in the garden.
Today was payback time. I helped my Mum in her garden - only fair after all the help she has given me in mine. The big difference is that here it was wet and windy, but surprisingly invigorating and after shoveling the contents of her compost bin into her new raised beds, I was even down to short sleeves - until I set the shovel down and quickly cooled down.

I was enamored with her PVC raised beds. I don't think they'd last too long in the Californian sun, but I liked how light they were and how easy it was to position them.
After filling two of them with compost, we finished them off with a finer grade potting soil, a birthday present from her neighbors - what would you do without neighbors? It looked just like chocolate cake and reminded me of the lovely cake Mareese made last week.
And here's some she made earlier:
Planted with onions and garlic. and another one with a bountiful crop of Bok choi. 
And like mother, like daughter - Mum too, grows potatoes in anything she can find. Here she has a crop growing in used fish boxes that she found when she was beach combing. How's that for reduce, reuse, recycle?
The massive cherry tree that towers over her garden promises a load of cherries in July. Some of the fruit has already started to pinken. No problem with chill hours here.
And I'd love to be here for the strawberries ripening also.
There is a song that describes Ireland as being forty shades of green. In the next photo there also seems to be forty shapes of leaf!
Mums garden is full to the brim of lush vegetation and not a single irrigation pipe needed. It is the main advantage of gardening in Ireland.
When I was four years old, apparently I told my mum that Ireland was like TVs. When it rained it was like watching a black and white TV (of course, way back then there was plenty of those around!)
 But when the sun came out it was like watching a color TV.
I caught this picture during a brief sunny spell (about 10 seconds long). As we worked away out side in the wind and the rain the most sensible member of the family was to be found curled up on the sofa.
 Byddi Lee

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Master Gardener Graduation - the icing on the cake!

It struck the fear of God in me when my husband offered to carry the cake out to the car. Now, you may call that an overreaction, but you just have to see this cake! I'm not saying my husband is clumsy, but my collection of chipped cups and plates has dramatically increased since I met him. I sure wasn't taking any chances...

My friend, Mareese, designed and made this cake for the Master Gardener class of 2011's graduation (i.e. my Master Gardener graduation - yay!).  I'm extremely proud to be able to say that I helped her. I'd like to think we had the perfect blend of expertise - hers, cake making, and mine, cake eating - oops  - I meant gardening. Well, I did make the wee melons (after Mareese blended the colors for me... so I suppose that means I just rolled it into a wee ball),
the miniscule hook-neck squash,
the perfect little pumpkins,
the tiny tomatoes (Mareese did the basket - I kept messing it up!)

and the itty-bitty carrots, which can actually be pulled whole out of the soil. Mareese did the carrot tops.

In fact, Mareese did all the green stuff, oh, and everything else - like actually baking the cake, the frosting, doing the piping, the basket and spade, and the soil - I wish my soil looked (and tasted) that good!
Not to mention that she tutored me in the art of dying the icing fondant stuff and give me tips on how to roll it out and mold it.  Her attention to detail is astonishing, from the tiny spade (notice the silver metal part) - sorry about the focus -  it was extremely hard to photograph, it's so tiny,!
to the ridges on the carrots.
And just look at the grass and the wooden pattern on the fence post.

It's all edible. If I wasn't such a cake fiend, (especially for icing - yum yum yum) I'd declare it too good to eat. Though, all of Mareese's cakes are like that. You think, how can I possibly eat this gorgeous creation? Until you take the first bite and then OMG! Her cakes are the best I've ever tasted, and lets just say, I've tasted quite a few cakes in my day. She truly is a baking wizard.

And judging by the reaction of the other Master Gardeners (did I mention that includes me now?) and the lack of cake leftover after the Graduation party, I can honesty say that I'm not the only fan of Mareese's cakes. Thanks Mareese xoxo - it tasted even better than it looked!

Byddi Lee

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thyme for tea.

Inspired by a Master Gardener talk at Guadalupe Gardens, I went home in a foraging frame of mind.  Joan, the speaker and also my mentor during Master Gardener training, had mentioned making herbal tea and I was eager to experiment.  It had never occurred to me to make tea from my own herbs.
There are a host of great reasons for drinking tea made from herbs in your garden.  First off, they are easy to propagate and grow. Then, it is as simple as picking the leaves (and flowers in some cases), and after a quick wash, pouring boiling water over them and letting them seep for a time, which varies with the type of herb and strength of tea you want. There are fancy gizmos for separating out the leaves once the tea has brewed, but a simple sieve or piece of muslin will keep the leaves out of your cup, though leaves in the cup never killed anyone!

The second great reason is the sustainability of home herbal teas. The gas mileage in “conventional” tea and coffee is horrific if you consider where they are shipped from. Off-set your conscience by walking to your backyard and handpicking a few leaves from your favorite herbs.

Great tasting tea is an obvious reason for making your own.  Joan recommended a Stevia and Lemongrass tea. I reckon Stevia would be great in any tea if you have a sweet tooth, and of course, without calories. My Stevia has only just germinated, so I combined lemongrass with Yeurba Beuna – yummy.  My husband then suggested lemongrass and ginger – spicy and very interesting – yes; I’m still talking about the tea!

In fact, lemongrass was good even on its own and can even help with lowering cholesterol, which brings me to my final point.  Herbal tea is so downright healthy it’s disgusting! Those fresh picked leaves are packed with all the good stuff – vitamins, antioxidants, chlorophyll and many other things which all attack a list of ailments and fortify our body systems.  Experiment with combinations of herbs, but be careful never to include poisonous leaves like those from the tomato/potato family.

There are too many combinations to list here but google the herbs in your garden and you’ll get a plethora of ideas.  Here are some to get you started.

Chamomile tea is great for relaxing.  Use the flowers in this brew last thing at night if you have trouble getting to sleep.

For those of you lucky enough to have ginger growing, great, though shop bought roots will also work.  Ginger is good for fighting nausea and upset tummies, and it also helps to ward off colds.

And if you missed nipping that cold in the bud, thyme is a remedy for colds and flus (and a ton of other things too). 

After all the hard work done by Dalton and Parker last weekend, spreading mulch in the back garden, I can now sit back and admire the blooms for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (below), and declare that it is now thyme for tea!
A rose by any other name!
Matilija poppy - you can see why it gets called the "fried egg plant."
Nigella "Bridal Veil"
Bush Mallow
Mariposa lily
Fence lizard saying' "Does my bum look big in this?"
Seen enough blooming flowers? Well, on yer bike then!

 Byddi Lee

Friday, May 6, 2011

Some ideas are better than others!

Yep, The hottest day of the year to date and of course what happens? My free wood chips arrived from my arborist pals at Andersons Tree Care. Thus, I arrived home today to a driveway full of aromatic, bug inviting organic matter.  The Scrub jays are going be ecstatic - the neighbors, not so much!
After last Septembers shovel-a-thon, I've recruited Dalton (my neighbor's son) and his buddy Parker to help me spread all of what you see above, over what you see below. I call that a good idea!
We hope to get it done in one day (Sunday) - watch this space!

Another idea that is nearing fruition - I've been experimenting with growing potatoes in bags and pots.
As they grow, I just roll the bag up and add more compost. Potatoes don't like to get too hot, so I have covered the black pots in aluminum foil to reflect the sun's heat. Another alternative would be to paint the pots with white latex (emulsion) paint. I used the empty bags that the compost came in. They are white so won't get too hot. The taste will tell if its been a good idea or not.

It was a bad idea not to spray for peach leaf curl. My nectarine got heavily infested by peach leaf curl this spring. There was nothing I could do about it once the leaves broke bud. But it dropped all those deformed leaves and has put on a whole new coat of healthier looking leaves. It will have to be treated with a copper spray in the autumn. This is still considered organic practice, and I've no other choice but to do it even though I hate the idea of using any chemicals.

Still, it has set fruit, but the graft doesn't look like it will do much this year.  I hope it comes back next year.

If you love something set it free - or so the saying goes. I had a Plectranthus 'Mona Lavendar' growing in a pot in the house that was threatening to take over my living room. After researching this hibrid and checking that it was not on the invasive list nor was likely to 'escape,' I planted it outside in a shady spot by the front door.
It was developed in South Africa, can do well in sun or shade - the plants in the sun are more compact - and needs well watered. I hydrozone my plants and have this is in with primulas and begonias. It's a small patch that I do water daily and don't feel guilty about, seeing as how I've given the rest of my front garden over to drought resistant natives.

The Mona Lavendar has gorgeous pale lavender bell shaped, one inch long flowers that blossom unpredictably.

And my last brilliant idea this week helped me deal with the glut of lettuce and scallions that my garden is now producing - Lettuce soup. It was delicious. I was able to find all the vegetables in the garden except the garlic - which was grown in Gliroy, just down the road. Here's the recipe:

Lettuce and scallion soup

2 cups scallions finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped or minced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 head of lettuce (or medium bowl of mixed leaves)
5 cups of stock (I used home made chicken stock but you could use vegetable stock or just water)
1/4 cup of coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/2 to 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or you could try lemon juice)
Salt and pepper to taste

1)   In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat until hot.
2)   Add scallions and sprinkle with a little salt and saute for about two minutes.
3)   Add garlic and saute for another two minutes.
4)   Add stock, potatoes, and some salt and pepper.
5)   If the lettuce is older and tougher add it now. If you have tender leaves, simmer the soup for 10 minutes before adding the lettuce.
6)   Simmer for another 7 minutes then add the basil.
7)   Simmer for another 7 minutes or until everything is soft, then add the vinegar.
8)   Blend in a blender or with a hand blender

With its rich green color you could have fun freaking out your kids and telling them it is frog soup. Perhaps not a great idea if you actually want them to eat it though!

Byddi Lee