Fall Garden Planning

I’m starting to think about my fall garden. First frost in central KY is usually around October 10th. That seems pretty far away, but a lot of fall plants are supposed to go out 4-8 weeks before the first frost which would be August 15-Sept 12th. Some, like cabbage, need to go out even earlier! I don’t normally do a huge fall garden because I don’t like collards or other dark leafy greens and those seem to do best in the fall. This year I’m going to try mustard greens for the first time and let them go to seed to harvest mustard seeds for making pickles (I’ll be using B.alba or white mustard rather than the mustard normally grown for greens- B. juncea) . I’m also planning to do lettuce, cabbage and broccoli. Now that I have raised beds, it’ll be easy to cover the beds with glass windows to great mini-greenhouses so allow my fall planting to be done a bit  later than normally suggested and to keep my plants growing into the winter.

Here are the suggested planting dates for the veggies I’m interested in, but keep in mind that with my covered boxes I’ll be able to delay planting a bit later.

Cabbage: July 1 for seeds (oops, missed that deadline, will have to buy plants)

Spinach: August 15

Snow Peas: July 20

Turnips: July 15 (done!)

Lettuce: August 1

Cauliflower plants: July 15

Broccoli plants: July 15

Beets: July 15 (done!)

Mustard: Aug 29



I don’t know if its all the rain, or our raised beds, or what, but our cucumbers have been growing like wild this summer. They have gotten so heavy that I’ve had to prop their trellis up with poles so they don’t squish it! As much as I love a cucumber & chevre sandwich, I hit my limit on raw cucumber pretty quickly.  And that’s when I know its time to make pickles.

cuc sandwich

I love making pickles because they are so easy and make a great gift. Whenever we are invited to someone’s house I like to bring a little something as gift, and often its a jar of handmade pickles (is that weird?). When I’ve made them in the past they were good at first but after a couple of months they become too soft. And since the whole point of canning veggies is to be able to enjoy them year round, this just won’t do. I looked into it and learned about lime-pickling, where you soak your cucumbers in a lime solution for several hours, then in ice water for several hours (or over night) and it makes your pickles much more crisp. So this time, that is what I’m doing and I’m using this tutorial:

Lime Pickling Tutorial


Yesterday, some of the neighborhood kids helped me pick a big bucket full of pickles during a break in the rain which I then sliced up and put in a lime bath to soak all afternoon.


Then in the evening I drained them and put them in bowls of ice water in the fridge to spend the night.


Today I drained them and soaked them in ice water again for a few more hours and then finally drained and rinsed them. Now for the fun part. I made up three different types of pickling juice (brine?). Chris likes dill pickles so I did one pot of the basic dill pickle recipe I posted about last year. I had several request for bread and butter pickles, which are my pickle of choice as well, so I did a big pot using Mrs. Wage’s Zesty Bread & Butter Pickle mix. And finally, for comparison, I did a small pot using a variation of Emeril’s Sweet & Spicy Pickle recipe.


While these were cooking, I packed my pint and half pint jars with cucumbers and slices of onion. Each jar also got a dash of Pickle Crisp Granules. Then the jars destined to become dill pickles got about a teaspoon of chopped garlic and a head of fresh dill. A couple of jars of each recipe also got a couple of dried jalapenos, as an experiment, because Alicia said she wanted “Hot & Sweets” which I think are kind of like bread & butter’s, but spicy. I don’t have any fresh jalapenos in the garden yet, so I used dried. It’ll be interesting to taste the results!


Once the jar were stuffed full I poured in the hot liquid, screwed on the lids and canned them in a water bath for 10min.


All done! The dill pickle juice is clear and the bread and butter pickles are more yellow because of the turmeric.


You can see the dried jalapenos in some of the jars.


Now we just have to wait two weeks and then, hopefully, we will have some nice crunchy pickles!



Don’t forget, I’m not a canning expert and my posts are just meant to give you an idea of what I did, not teach you how to can. Before you do any canning of your own please read this post.

Mulberry Shrub

mulberryshrubcocktail2It is mulberry season here and our three mulberry trees pour down a deluge of berries when you shake their branches. Aside from making a big mess when you walk on them barefoot, mulberries are good for eating too! You can make jams, pies or just about anything else out of them that you’d use other berries for. Today we used them to make a “shrub”. No, not the type you use for landscaping. This type of shrub is an old fashioned way of preserving fresh fruits and berries that has recently come back in vogue. The trendiest bars now offer homemade shrubs on their cocktail menus! Shrubs are often called “summer in a bottle” because they capture the bright, fresh fruity flavors of summer and preserve them to enjoy anytime.

There are two basic ways to create shrubs- the hot method and the cold method. The cold method takes time and since we were wanted to be able to enjoy this shrub immediately we opted for the hot method. The flavor and balance of this shrub will improve over time, but is ready to use immediately.

Mulberry Shrub

In a pot on the stove, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup mulberries and the zest of 3/4 of a lemon. Bring to a boil and then simmer until berries are fully broken down. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. Once cool, strain to remove mulberry seeds and skins. Pour into a mason jar and store in the fridge.

Mulberry Shrub Whiskey Cocktail

2T Mulberry Shrub muddled with a fresh basil leaf, a squeeze of lemon, a splash of bitters and a splash of whiskey. Add crushed ice. Top with whiskey.

We have used Alberta Dark Rye (Canadian whiskey) and Knob Creek bourbon. Experiment and decide what you like best!

May Garden Update

After a bit of a slow start the garden is coming along nicely. Right after I got most of the veggie seedlings planted we had a week or more of unseasonably hot and dry weather. Even though I watered, my weak baby plants just couldn’t handle the dry heat and I lost a lot of my seedlings. I’ve still got a handful of the plants that I started from seed but I had to replace a lot of them with plants fro the garden center. Ah well, I tried! Some of the tomatoes and peppers have started putting out their first fruits and it won’t be too long before we have something to harvest.


Baby hot peppers


Tiny cherry tomatoes

The beans and cucumbers haven’t started producing veggies yet but are getting bigger and leafier every day.




Bush Beans

Cotton is a slower grower than the veggies- it doesn’t actually produce cotton bolls until the end of the summer.



Aside from the veggie garden I’ve also made a lot of progress in the flower gardens. I’ve been planting almost exclusively perennial flowers so that, theoretically, they will look bigger and better each year. This long skinny bed is brand new so it looks sparse, but hopefully it’ll fill in over time. At the far corner is a lemon grass plant which should get tall and make a nice decoration at the corner of the house. Then there are three lemon grass bushes under the window. My dye studio is on the other side of that window and I’m looking forward to smelling the lemon grass through the window. After that are six lavender plants. They look pretty scrawny right now because I got them in the clearance section of the garden center ($1 each!) but hopefully there is enough life in them to survive.


Lavender Bed

My main flower bed is right off the deck and it has several very nice, healthy plants that came back from last year and the year before. The purple flowers are salvia (gardener’s sage) that I planted last year and the green bushey ones are a really pretty yellow flower which I can’t remember the name of that I planted two years ago. There are also a couple of small carnations and a hollyhock that came back and a lovely clematis on the post. Aside from those survivors, there were some big empty spots where plants didn’t survive the winter. I filled them with pink dainthus that look like tiny carnations, asiatic lilies and yellow foxglove (the last two are still in pots in this picture). In the narrow bed at the front I have culinary sage, thyme, marjoram and lemon verbena. I think that once I get these last few plants in the ground this flower bed will be officially finished and it’ll just be a matter of keeping it weeded and enjoying the beautiful blooms!


Perennial flower bed

When I look back at pictures of this area from last year I’m very happy with the progress its made!

Preserving Bits of This and That – Part 1: Infusions

This is my favorite time of year because there is so much new life in the world. I love it when everything is blooming and growing. In an effort to capture some of that fresh new life and hold onto it for the rest of the year I’ve learned to preserve things. This week, Chris is out of town so I’ve been taking the opportunity to stink up the house dehydrating things and make a mess in the kitchen with infusions and syrups.



Right now our yard and pasture are full of some very beneficial weeds– dandelion and plantain. Both of these plants — really they should be called “herbs” not “weeds”– are excellent for the skin. Plantain, in particular, is great for any type of skin rash, irritation or itch because it is anti-inflammatory and somewhat antibiotic. This makes it both soothing and healing. They are easy to identify in the yard because they each have very distinctly shaped leaves.

Plantain leaves are broad and oval with well defined veins and smooth edges. They often have a crumpled texture.



Dandelions are, of course, easiest to identify when they are in bloom. But all of our blooms have faded by this time of year, so I have to identify them by their leafs which have a jagged toothed edge. I have heard that the name “Dandelion” comes from “dente” (tooth)- “lion” or lion’s teeth because of the shape of the leaves.



Also growing well right now is mint. We have several varieties- peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, citrus mint and apple mint (I think). I love using mint to add an extra bit of freshness to water – I just grab a sprig from the garden and put it in my water bottle. You can also use it fresh to make tea by heating it in water. Of course,  I will dry some to use in tea during the winter but mint can also be preserved in other ways, in my case, by making it into infusions and syrups. Mint syrup is made in the same way as basil syrup which I posted about here.

I happen to have some dried calendula and dried chamomile left over from last year’s garden and so, since I was making a mess already, I decided to use them for infusions as well.


How to Make an Infusion

This is so simple it doesn’t really warrant a recipe. Basically you just take some herbs, fresh or dry, cover them with oil and let them sit. If you need your infusion to be ready really quickly, heat the mixture up first. If you know you won’t be using it soon you should use dried herbs rather than fresh- if left to sit for a long time the moisture in fresh herbs can cause the oil to go rancid (trust me on this). I happen to know that I’ll be using my infusions within the next couple of weeks for soap making, so I’m using fresh herbs.

Step 1: Fill your glass jars up with coarsely chopped herbs.


Step 2: Cover the herbs with oil. You can use any oil but I’m using olive oil because its inexpensive and is used for both soap and salves (the two main things I use infused oils for). If you are heating the infusion you can use coconut oil, but coconut oil won’t work for room temperature infusing since it is a solid at room temperature.

Step 3: Put your jars somewhere out of direct sunlight and at room temperature to sit for a while. I’ve had jars infuse for several months over the winter (using dried herbs) and they are fine, but I don’t think they actually absorb any more from the herbs after the first couple of weeks unless you add more herb material to them.

Step 4: Once you are ready to use your oils, strain out all the plant material using a fine strainer or cheese cloth.

Olive oil infused with Plantain

Olive oil infused with Plantain


An assortment of infused oils

Progress on the Gardens

IMG_20150418_141347_239 IMG_20150418_143012_951Today I had a couple of new friends, Noah and Christopher, come visit on the farm and help me with the flock and the garden. First we corralled the goats in the barn to keep them out of trouble while we went out to feed the sheep. After last weekend’s shearing and then several “scary” visits from strangers this week most of the sheep were feeling pretty shy. Elizabeth and Larry were happy to come say hello and get treats and scratches though, as always!     After that, the guys and their mom Natalie and my friend Alicia helped me fill the raised bed boxes with sticks. I borrowed this idea from “hugelkultur“, a German method of building raised beds with wood at the core. As the wood rots, it slowly composts and feeds the gardens. Usually hugelkultur raised beds are built into mounds, not boxes, so I’m not doing “true” hugelkulture, just borrowing one component. DSC_0122 Then came the hard part– digging up piles of composted llama manure out in the pasture and hauling it back to be dumped in the boxes. Thankfully we have a new yard cart which is much easier to use than our rickety old wheelbarrow. Assembling it was our morning project. IMG_20150418_124021_278 Still, it takes a lot of shoveling. We only got a few loads done, but it was a good start. DSC_0123In between heavy lifting and water breaks, Christopher and Noah collected a jar of violets for me to make violet vinegar. Ever tried it? I haven’t but am eager to see how it turns out after sitting a few weeks! IMG_20150418_204526_933 After the boys left, Alicia and I installed a gutter on the roof of the garden shed (much harder than anticipated due to the crazy bush that kept attacking us, and the ridiculously hard wood of the roof eaves) .DSC_0124And then set up a rain barrel to collect water from the shed roof and feed it into the raised garden bed irrigation systems. DSC_0125Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get more manure moved into the beds. I’d like to have at least a few plants in the ground before the weekend is over!

Errands with Izzie (or- More Yard Updates)


Today Izzie and I went out on a series of errands in an effort to get a bit more done in the yard before several days of wet weather starts. Izzie is a wonderful errand companion, at least so long as the places I’m shopping are dog friendly. She is friendly to anyone who wants to give her a scratch but doesn’t lunge at people. She is good on a leash and if I attach her leash to my belt loop with a carabiner I have both hands free. If we are somewhere crowded or its inappropriate to be on the ground she is happy to be carried around in a canvas tote bag (and at 8lb doesn’t wear my shoulder out too quickly). She is also perfectly behaved in a shopping cart. This time of year, most of my errands are to places like the hardware store, Habitat Re-store, garden center or outdoor cafes – all of which are usually happy to see Izzie. Some even keep treats at the register!

2015-04-13 16.09.45Our first stop was Habitat Re-Store where we got a trailer load full of wood for $10. These boards will become raised bed gardens full of veggies. This is one of my favorite places to shop, I can find the best deals on wood, furniture and assorted building supplies AND I know that the little money I do pay goes to a good cause.

2015-04-13 13.29.11All those boards were heavy to lift so we stopped at the cafe next door for an iced coffee break (Izzie got a bowl of water, the last thing I need is a caffeinated puppy).

2015-04-13 14.11.00

Our next stop was Lowes to get supplies to install our new kitchen sink faucet. She spent most of the visit on her leash, but then we can into a big golden retriever and decided the shoulder bag might be safer. Like many dogs her size, Izzie suffers from “SDS” (small dog syndrome) and feels compelled to bark ferociously at large dogs.

2015-04-13 15.05.44-1

Then we went to a local garden center, Redmond‘s, to pick out shrubs to replace the boxwoods we dug up over the weekend. Eventually I decided on a dwarf variety of cherry laurel (cultivar ‘Otto Lukyen‘) for either side of the front step and creeping phlox for the half-circle bed in front of the walkway. I started with three phlox plants but once they get established and we are safely past the possibility of night time frosts I may add a few more to help the bed fill in more quickly.

2015-04-13 15.08.36-1

Izzie got to meet the garden center’s resident dog, Frankie. Interestingly, Izzie didn’t bark at Frankie. I guess he isn’t big enough to require intimidating.

2015-04-13 15.41.19

Walking around the garden center we got very hot – it was 80 degrees!! – so before we headed home we stopped by a local ice cream shop that gives pups their own (free) scoop of icecream when their owners buy themselves a cone. I got triple chocolate and Izzie got dog bone.

2015-04-13 15.59.20

Finally we made it back home. I could feel the weather beginning to change as the pressure dropped ahead of the storm so I quickly started digging holes for the new plants. Izzie tried to supervise my work…

2015-04-13 16.33.14

but then she fell asleep.

2015-04-13 16.44.55

I managed to get all the plants in the ground and wood unloaded before the storm hit and now the new plants are getting a nice, deep soaking courtesy of mother nature.

DSC_0118 DSC_0117

Spring Cleaning

While I’m sure the inside of our house could use a good spring cleaning (it always can) the outside was in desperate need of freshening up. We had eight large boxwoods out front that were nearly dead last year but I wanted to give them one last chance to perk up. They didn’t.

2015-04-05 14.01.31

Ugly, Dead Boxwoods


So at the top of our to-do list for this spring is replacing them. The bushes are arranged with three on each corner of the front porch and one on either side of the font step. After all the rain we had last week the soil was nice and soft – perfect for digging in! Dad helped me dig up all eight bushes while mom pruned and weeded all the flower beds out front and dug up the gardenias that (sadly) didn’t make it through the winter.

So many dead bushes

So many dead bushes

Then we picked up a couple of beautiful new hydrangeas to replace a few of the boxwoods. I’m planning on replacing the boxwoods that were by the front steps with some sort of evergreen (either a small leaf holly or a yew, probably) but haven’t found the perfect thing yet. Instead of putting in more bushes at the far corner of the porch where it is in constant shade I think I’ll put in several hostas.



Next, we need to decide what to put in the small half-circle bed in front of the walk where the Gardenias used to be. So far this bed has killed knock out roses and gardenias. What should I feed it next?


Today in Photos

Fermented Tomato Powder

2014-08-31 02.54.20This is one experiment which is neither a failure or a success but somewhere in the middle. Yes, I turned tomatoes into powder but it doesn’t have as much tomato flavor as I expected it to have and I haven’t found a great use for it yet.

I was inspired by this recipe. I packed a bunch of very ripe tomatoes into a jar and left it to sit on my porch for a while. Actually I kind of forgot about it and left it out there for 8 days. I got lots of bubbling but because it was packed tightly and sealed I didn’t have anything nasty growing in it when I finally opened it up.




I decided that I didn’t want to mess around with making a bunch of little balls so I just spread the fermented tomato mush out on a pan and set my oven on its lowest temperature setting and let it dry. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ideally I would have used a dehydrator with a temperature setting for this step so that I could make sure that I dehydrated it at a cool enough temperature so as to not harm the healthy probiotics that the fermenting created. Since I don’t have a dehydrator I used my oven on its lowest temp setting with the door propped open slightly to lower the temp even more. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once the tomato mush was completely dry I used a mortar and pestle to grind it up. I ended up with some powder and some flakes. If I’d wanted a finer powder I could have used a spice grinder (or coffee grinder). 2014-08-31 02.54.06You can see in this picture how a big quart sized jar full of tomatoes shrank down to less than half of a spice jar of tomato flakes. Because the flavor isn’t amazing and it produces so little, I’m not sure if I’ll repeat this experiment or not. It would most likely work better with paste tomatoes which have less liquid but this year we didn’t grow any. I’ll definitely be growing paste tomatoes next year so that I can make tomato paste and thicker sauce and may try dehydrating it again then!


Remember that I am not an expert at food preservation, so while you are welcome to be inspired by my experiments please do you research on safe food preservation techniques first!