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Easy Flatbread with Grapes, Blue Cheese and Rosemary

Lucky Me! My sister and brother-in-law had to come into town for a wedding! So we all took a day or two off work and made it a nice long weekend. So, of course, we needed something to eat!

Flatbread with Grapes, Blue Cheese and Rosemary

It has become a tradition for my husband and I to drive out highway 94 to visit the wineries on Columbus Day. In October the weekends are busy with crowds of people at the wineries. They come to listen to live music, have lunch and taste some great wines. But on Monday, Columbus Day, we have the wineries to ourselves. There are no lines and we can pick the best table in the place. Although the music is nice, the peace and quiet is really nice too. Pretty scenery with a hawk or two flying above the vineyards. The weather is starting to cool off and although it is early, the trees are turning pretty reds, yellows and oranges. We spend some time together and enjoy some wine in the beautiful outdoors.

A trip to the wineries with family and friends was definitely on the list. For me, having company and house guests means figuring out some meals and, of course, some fun things to nibble. After a day at the wineries, I did not want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I thought of making focaccia. It goes great with wine! I even have this amazing recipe from some Italian friends whom have since gone back to Italy. And even though the recipe is not difficult, I wanted to do something even easier after a long day in the vineyards.

I found a package of ready made flatbread in the refrigerated section of the grocery store right next to those cans of biscuits and pie dough. Life couldn’t get any easier than that. You can also use pizza dough, if your store doesn’t have the flatbread dough.

So it was on the menu as either a light dinner or to pair with wine. Nice to have options when you don’t know how the plans will go. And so easy! Here is what I did.

Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F for at least 30 minutes. Then I ran out to the garden with my scissors to clip a few sprigs of rosemary and some chives.  I washed the herbs and chopped the rosemary pretty fine. The dough came rolled in parchment paper, so I unrolled the parchment on a cutting board. I drizzled a little olive oil over the dough and sprinkled on some sea salt and the rosemary. Then I cut the red seedless grapes in half and pressed them into the dough with the cut side down.

Slide the flatbread on to your pizza stone using the parchment and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust is golden and the grapes have begun to release some of their juices. But don’t let the crust get too crispy. Crumble your blue cheese on top and bake for another 2 minutes longer, until the cheese melts.

Slide your flatbread back onto the cutting board. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with your fresh snipped chives. The honey helps the chives stick. I used scissors and cut several chives at a time right over the flatbread. That is it! It is ready to serve and looks pretty with the grapes and scattered chives. Just cut the flatbread into squares and serve warm or at room temperature. This is amazing with a nice glass of wine.

For a party, cut the squares into smaller appetizer size bites. But larger squares are nice for lunch or dinner as well.

Good friends, family, food and wine! Throw in a Anheuser Busch Brewery tour, some winery tours, an escape room and this weekend seemed more like a mini-vacation than a long weekend.

Easy Flatbread with Grapes, Blue Cheese and Rosemary

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

1 package flatbread refrigerated dough

1 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary

sprinkle of sea salt and pepper

2 cups red seedless grapes, cut in half

3 oz of blue cheese, crumbled  (about 1/2 cup)

1 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp snipped chives

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F and a place pizza stone on bottom rack of oven. Preheat for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Roll out flatbread dough and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt. Then press the grape halves cut side down into the dough.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until a light golden brown around the edges.
  5. Crumble blue cheese on top and bake for another 2 minutes, until cheese is melted.
  6. Remove from oven, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with chives.
  7. Cut into squares and enjoy!

It can’t get any easier than that!! It pairs well with a variety of wines from a fruity rose to a dry red.

It also makes nice leftovers for lunch the next day or a snack. You can reheat in the microwave, only about 30 seconds. It still stays pretty crispy, but the cheese remelts nicely.

I will have to share my Italian Fococcia next time. It has a thicker, softer dough and is very nice!

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Hot Pepper Jelly with Thai Basil

We  love hot pepper jelly. Who doesn’t? Right? A sweet and spicy hot pepper jelly or jam made with plenty of peppers can be enjoyed so many ways. It has become a family favorite to be enjoyed during the holidays at our house making it a terrific holiday gift.

We serve it as an appetizer at Thanksgiving. Just spoon the jelly over some cream cheese or goat cheese on a pretty plate with a few crackers or toasted french bread slices nearby. Your guests can help themselves, and you can focus on the turkey. But it can also be used in sauces or directly over pork and chicken. It is great on ice cream and cheesecake too! Really just use your imagination. Peanut butter and hot pepper jelly, yes it works!

Last summer was not a good year for peppers, or at least not in my garden, so I have been looking forward to making jelly this year. It seems every time I make it, it gets a little hotter! I started with Jalapenos and you know they were not very hot. But it was still very good. Over the years, the kids have grown up and now they like things spicy. We took a road trip yesterday to see my son whom is away at college. We did the normal run to Walmart to buy the necessary snacks and electronic gadgets. And then we asked him where he wanted to go for dinner.

His first response was sushi, but we couldn’t find a place that was open on the holiday weekend in a small town. So the second choice was Thai food, and I had read about a place with good recommendations. We decided to try it. If you have gone for Thai, you know there is the 1-5 scale of heat! The waitress said that the 2 was lip numbing, so my son went for the 3 heat. It was not hot enough for him and he had to request the chili sauce. Things have definitely changed over the years.

This summer, I have been growing Poblano/ Ancho and Dragon Cayenne peppers in my garden for making hot pepper jelly. I knew that Poblano’s were mild and thought they would be good for stuffing. But the Dragon Cayenne peppers are small and red, so that should mean some hot peppers! I chose these peppers to up my” hot game” this year! I have a bumper crop of both.

My first batch, is always a test to check how hot the peppers are this growing season. They can really vary. I also grow different peppers from year to year, and so I need to decide how to mix the peppers. You can use any hot peppers you have growing or that you have picked up at the farmer’s market for this kitchen fun! As you can see I left my peppers on the bush until they turned red. This will give the jelly a pretty red color, and it will make the peppers hotter too. If you use green peppers, you can add a red bell pepper for color. I prefer this method over adding food coloring. This will also reduce the heat level for a more mild pepper jelly.

I washed all of my peppers and Thai basil from the garden in a vinegar wash, letting them soak for about 5-10 minutes, rinsed well with clean water and let air dry. I love adding the Thai basil to the jelly. It adds a great depth of flavor making the jelly extra special. People know there is something in there, but they don’t know what it is. With a side by side taste test, they liked the jelly containing the Thai basil much more. It was very popular the first year I made it.

Lets start! Gather all of your supplies. Get your large canning pot heating! I usually do a second large pot to sterilize my jars. They should be heated to 180 degrees F for at least 10 minutes and then I leave them to simmer until needed. I also heat another small pan of water. I can use this to add more water to the canning pot, but I also use it to heat my jar lids.

Be sure to chop your peppers wearing food safe nitrile or vinyl gloves and don’t touch your face! The Cayenne peppers are too small to remove the seeds, so I just pulled off the stem and chopped them in half. The Poblanos are much larger peppers, so I cut them in half and removed the stems and seeds.

I rinsed the seeds of the Poblanos off at the sink and got a little too close to the fumes rising from them every time. These are the mild peppers, so it surprised me. Beware of the fumes! I chopped them a couple of times and added them to the Vitamix with the Cayennes.

Whirl in the Vitamix!

 

 

It turned out to be about 5 ounces of peppers altogether. I also added one red bell pepper to this first batch since I had them in the refrigerator. I added the organic apple cider vinegar and pulsed the blender until the peppers were chopped, but not too fine. We don’t want a puree.

Pour the pepper-vinegar mix into a saucepan or dutch oven. Add the sugar, lemon juice, salt and Thai basil. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Stir frequently, to help release the flavors. I usually let it go longer hoping even more flavor will be pulled out.

Simmering in the dutch oven

At this point, you need to decide to make jelly or jam. If you leave all of the fruit in, then it is jam. The jam will be hotter and thicker. However, you can strain all of the peppers out leaving a pretty, clear red jelly. I think the jelly looks prettier when serving and in the jars too. Today, I decided to strain out the peppers and seeds.

Cheesecloth with peppers

I used two layers of cheesecloth laid inside a strainer, set in a bowl. I poured the hot mixture through the cheesecloth, and then used the wooden spoon to push as much juice through to the bowl below. You can also add a small portion of the peppers back into the cleared jelly. I have done this before and I really like the look.

I did not do that today, but decided to save the pepper mix and stored it in a mason jar. It should keep for a week or so in the refrigerator. I think it will add some zip to everything and anything that I cook this week.

Save for later

 

Then I poured the cleared jelly directly back into the same pot, the one used for simmering earlier. Since I did not wash the pan, it still had a few seeds and pepper pieces sticking to the sides of the pan. I am okay with these bits in the jelly. I think it advertises the main ingredient. But if you want the jelly perfectly clear, then you need to wash the pan.

Filtered jelly

Return the heat under the pan to high and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Squeeze the liquid pectin into the pot and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat to your work space. I used my cutting board and a towel to protect my counter. Pull a jar out of your simmering water and using a funnel fill your jar leaving a 1/4 inch head space with a ladle. A canning ruler is really handy, but you can estimate. Make sure the rim is clean! The funnel really helps here, but if needed, wipe the rim with a clean cloth or paper towel. Place the lid on and tighten the ring.

 

Process the filled jars in your boiling canning pot for 10 minutes. Check your elevation to see if you need to add more time! I am at 500 ft above see level, so 1000 ft or less is 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let set for 5 minutes. Then carefully remove the hot jars to a towel covered counter or cutting board and let cool overnight. Do not disturb the jars while cooling. Listen for the lids to pop!

Finished jars!

Don’t they look pretty! They are a gorgeous red color and I like the clear jelly with just a few peppers and seeds.

I then used all the remaining peppers and did a second larger batch adjusting the other ingredients too.  I had 14 oz of peppers, so I doubled everything. This one turned out to be hotter than the first test batch. Simply more peppers and no red bell pepper in this batch!

I will enjoy these all winter long…. well, if I don’t give them away as gifts. Maybe just a few gifts!

Here is the basic recipe that I followed. I always read my “Ball Blue Book guide to preserving” by Ball, before starting and check their recipes. I need the refresher to be sure I am following all of the safety rules on canning. Please read about preserving and canning before you start any canning project.

Hot Pepper Jelly with Thai Basil

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 oz of peppers
    • 2 oz Dragon Cheyenne Peppers
    • 3 oz Poblano or Ancho Peppers with seeds or without
    • 1 Red bell pepper,  chopped, optional
  • 1 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar – raw, organic
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 0.3 oz of Thai Basil, torn
  • 1/4 cup Lemon juice, bottled, organic
  • 3 oz liquid fruit pectin
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Sterilize six – 8oz. canning jars and lids in boiling water.
  2. Prepare your peppers by removing stems. The seeds and ribs are optional and these will make your jelly hotter. Place in Vitamix and pulse the blender until the peppers are finely chopped, but not a puree. Do not over blend if you want to keep some of the mixture in the jelly.
  3. Pour the peppers into a large saucepan or dutch oven.
  4. Add sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, and salt.
  5. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  6. Optional step – Pour mixture through cheesecloth for a clear jelly and pour liquid back into your pan. If you leave the peppers in to make jam, you will need more jars!
  7. Return heat to high and bring mixture to a rolling boil. Stir in pectin and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  8. Ladle jelly or jam into sterilized jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Cover with flat lids and screw on bands until finger tight.
  9. Place jars into canner with hot simmering water completely covering the jars. Water should be at least 1-2 inch above jars.
  10. Bring water to a rolling boil and process the jars for 10 minutes. Maintain the water depth and rolling boil the entire time.
  11. Turn off the heat and let set for 5 minutes before removing jars.
  12. Remove jars and set on a dry towel or cutting board to cool overnight. Leave 1-2 inches between jars. The next day, check the jar seals by pressing centers of lids with your finger. If the lid springs back, the lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary. Or you can reprocess the jar.

Properly processed, these jars can be stored for one year in a cool, dark cabinet. It is recommended to remove the bands and wash the bottles removing and food before storing. I label each bottle with the a name, heat level, any special ingredients, such as, the Thia basil, and the year.

Enjoy served with your favorite recipes!

Try Thai basil in your next jelly and let me know what you think! Do you use a different herb in your jam or jelly? Please share your ideas. I would love to hear them!

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Sun Painting- A Simple Laboratory Trick

As you know, I have been playing with Sun Painting! It is super easy and the effects are amazing. See instructions in an earlier post, Sun Painting. Unfortunately, the sun and the weather in general does not always cooperate. My backyard and deck faces southwest so it does not get early morning sun. If I wait until the sun gets overhead, it could mean that the clouds have started to move in or worse yet, a storm. You really don’t realize this until you really need a dry sunny day. I decided to start early, because the forecast had mentioned afternoon showers. I grabbed another apron and painted this one a pretty orange and brown. Perfect fall colors! Perfect for Thanksgiving!

Ready for the sun

I finished and put it out on the deck which was still in shade. But I had errands to run and it wouldn’t be long before the sun came over the house and did its job, right?

About an hour later, it was raining. I had to call my husband and ask him to bring it inside. Yes, it was extra wet now and setting in the garage. Now what to do with it? It was going to rain the rest of the day. So I decided to cover it in plastic wrap and roll it up. This is a trick we use in the laboratory to save Agarose gels. The key is to keep the paints wet! The plastic wrap and refrigeration will do just that. I left the leaves in place just encase they had started to print. I wrapped it in more plastic wrap to seal it and placed it in the garage refrigerator overnight. It should keep for several days this way.

Rolling in plastic wrap

wrapped in plastic wrap

The next day I tried again. I unrolled it and set it outside. Shortly after, the wind kicked up and my leaves blew away. So I made sure it was still wet and rolled it back up in plastic wrap. Yes, back into the refrigerator too. A couple of days later, I tried again! This time the sun cooperated and I had successful printing.

Finished apron

My colors are not as vibrant, but it has a really nice look! The brown has become almost a light purple. But overall I like it a lot. It has a very nice organic feeling to it. I think I could have added more paints to boost the color before the final Sun Printing. Maybe next time! But it is really good to know that you can save and store your project, if the sun is not on your side! I wanted to share this with you just encase you run into this problem. I have read that you can use a Heat Lamp or a Grow Light in Sun Painting. But I do not have either of these. I would really like to have Grow Lights! But that would be another project though.

I hope this helps someone else with a less than sunny day! Have you found any useful tips that you would like to share?

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Sun Painting

Today I finally got to try Sun Painting! I bought paints last summer, but it was going into fall and not very sunny or warm. So I never had a chance to try the paints. Well today, it is in the upper 90s and quite sunny. Perfect weather for Sun Painting. I picked out a couple of cotton aprons that I had bought for this project thinking that they would make great gifts. My family loves to cook and bake, and they will love a new, one of a kind apron! They were washed with fabric detergent to remove any fabric seizing and oils, and then ironed to get as flat as possible. I recruited my daughter, Courtney,  to join me in some fun!

After setting in the sun – see the leaves curling back!

First, I prepped the ‘studio’ which is my kitchen island. So I cleared everything off and covered it with a plastic-type table-cloth used for craft projects. I gathered a few things! These paints work best with natural fibers,so the cotton aprons and tote bags should work great. You will need a spray bottle for the water or a cup and sponge brush. Mason jars and a sponge brush for each paint color.

Next, we mixed the paints. I am using Setacolor paints made for Sun Painting. We chose green and purple. Not the colors I remembered buying, but they should look pretty together. The company suggests to use no more than 2 or 3 colors. I grabbed two mason jars to mix and store the prepared paints. The directions said to prepare enough for the entire project before starting. I had no idea how much paint would be needed and the directions did not say if the unused paint could be stored. The directions were to mix 2 parts water to 1 part water. I took a clear plastic disposable cup and used one of the lines on the cup as a 1 part measure. I needed to be sure it would fit in the jar, so I tried to add 3 parts water to my mason jar. It did not fit. Good thing I tested the final volume. I chose another line and tried again to add all 3 parts of water. This almost filled the 8 ounce mason jar and looked like it would be a reasonable amount of paint. I dumped the water out again. I then mixed the paint by adding the 2 parts water and 1 part paint to the jar. It was a very pretty dark green color! Courtney repeated the process with the purple paint. Again a pretty dark color. Success so far!

Adding Purple paint to the water

Mixing the paints with wooden craft sticks

Now we needed a flat surface to do the painting that could be moved out into the sun. I had a large piece of cardboard and we slid it into a large trash bag to protect it from the water. A piece of plywood or plexiglass would also work well or even better.

Armed with scissors my daughter and I went out into the yard. We needed pretty leaves! We cut a selection of leaves and flowers, because we really did not know what would work best. We flattened the aprons out on the plastic covered cardboard and started playing with different patterns of leaves and flowers. Trying to keep in mind that only the shapes would show in the final project and not the colors, we simplified and only used the leaves for this first project. We also decided to only do one of the aprons to test everything!

Playing with leaf patterns

 

Feeling pretty excited and ready, we filled a clean spray bottle with water and started spritzing the apron until it was wet, but not soaked. The cup and sponge brush worked pretty well too. But spraying was faster.

Brushed and sprayed the fabric until wet

Now we can add the paint. You can paint long sweeping strokes or patches of color using foam brushes. The paint should bleed and blend due to the wet fabric. So you can leave white spaces between colors for blending. You can spray more water to help blending too. We tried a bit of both to see how it all worked. When purple and green mix together you get brown. So keep this in mind when picking your colors. You can also mix secondary colors in the mason jars instead of on the fabric. We decided to avoid brown and kept the colors more separated.

Now you are ready to place your leaves on the wet paint in any pattern you like. The leaves should stick to the wet fabric helping them to flatten against the fabric. The flatter and closer the leaves are to the fabric the crisper your images will be. Once you are happy with the pattern, you move your board out into the sun. It will take from 15 minutes to a couple of hours depending upon the weather. You can peek under a leaf tip to check on progress.

Since I am the Herbal Faerie, we added a couple of fairies to the apron too. After 30 minutes or so, I could see that some of the leaves had started to shrink and curl and one blew away. It was really hot outside. I left it in the sun until it was pretty dry to the touch and then we peeled off the leaves for the big reveal! Okay this was the really fun part! We had leaf prints! Pretty leaf prints!! How easy was that!

After setting in the sun

Leaf blowing away!

For the first attempt, we were really happy. It was not exactly what I had envisioned, but I liked it. It is interesting how some parts are more crisp than others, and this is a good thing, because it adds a lot of depth.

Finished apron

After the columbine leaves were removed

Captured a fairy pretty well

Okay, so we learned a few things too. We liked all of the leaves, but the columbine worked really well. The ferns do not lay as flat, but turned out pretty too. So flat things will give a much more complete, crisp outline. Also your fabric has to be pretty wet so the paint can move more easily out from under your leaves. Dryer areas will not be as complete. There seemed to be a difference between the purple and the green as well. Not sure why? We will have to try this again and see if this is true. The outdoor temperature and sun will also effect how quickly the paint will dry.

I cannot wait to try this again! We have more aprons, bags and scarves to do more sun painting!

Day 2 – Okay, I had to try it again! I took two aprons this time. I had a little more confidence. My thinking was to make a matching parent and child set of aprons.  I decided to use only the green and only the ferns for an organic garden look. I used the paint that we mixed yesterday and shook it well to put everything into solution. I made the aprons wetter than yesterday. My thinking was to test the idea that the paint would move more easily and I would get crisper prints. I covered the apron in green and laid out fresh ferns in a random sort of pattern. I placed it out in the sun.

Matching child and parent aprons!

I was a little concerned, because it was much later in the day, maybe 3:00, and there were some clouds. Unfortunately, this was a problem. It wasn’t long before a very large dark cloud blew in and it became really windy. I had to bring in the project before it blew away. The aprons were still quite wet, so today was not the day to try painting with more water. But it still worked! The leaves still left nice outlines. I just left them set overnight inside to dry out.

Child size apron worked really well

The adult size was not quite as crisp

I do think the amount of water will make a difference! Now the only thing left to do is to iron the aprons to set the paint! You use the cotton setting on your iron. The high heat will set the paint. Then it can be washed in your washing machine. I am going to add the fabric detergent again to this first wash which will help keep the paint from redepositing back on the fabric. The only thing to remember is to never use bleach when washing in the future.

I can’t wait to give one of these as a gift! I believe that they will also do well at the farmers market. Let me know how your project turned out? Did you learn any tips or tricks?

 

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An Organic Garden Field Trip

I visited an amazing organic garden today.  I met Bill through our neighborhood app. Bill posted Comfrey for sale and I posted organic Rhubarb for sale. We decided to tour each others gardens. Bill’s garden is a master organic garden and he generously allowed me to take a few pictures to share with you!

Welcome to Bill’s Garden

So a little bit about the garden. I don’t even know where to begin. The bamboo trellis drew my attention first. A double row of tomatoes were trellised with a single string up to a bamboo trellis system. Each plant was full of beautiful tomatoes. Not only were the suckers all removed, unlike my own garden, but most of the branches too. This allows all the energy to go to the tomatoes and the plant is surrounded by air and light. Each plant had maybe three brances starting near the base. Then a string kept each branch heading straight upward toward the bamboo trellis pole at the top.  Removing the lower branches and leaves helps to reduce tomato blight too. And so easy to see and pick the tomatoes.

The soil was full of organic material with wood chip mulch between rows. There were five rows about 25 feet long in the main garden full of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers etc. and three more rows resting with a ground cover of buckwheat and scattered sunflowers. Sunflowers attract bees and gold finches to your garden. They both love yellow! There were also several bird houses in the gardens. Birds are natures pesticide! Attract birds with housing, water and food, and they will help remove pests from your garden free of charge.

There was another trellised garden. This one was covered in birdhouse gourds forming a tunnel that you could walk through. Most of the gourds are still small making them difficult to see in the picture, but by the end of summer, there will be many gourds hanging down from the ceiling.

Birdhouse Gourds

I have read about  growing Buckwheat as a ground cover, but I have never seen it being used. Seeing and talking to someone makes all the difference. It not only helps to rejuvenate and loosen soil, but it is a weed suppressor! I did not know this. My garden could use some weed suppressing! It also helps to attract beneficial insects and pollinators with its abundant blossoms. I think I will be brave enough to do this now. And the seeds are inexpensive from the local farm supply.

Buckwheat cover crop to the left!

Another ground cover was Oil Seed Radishes. This was new to me. Apparently, you can eat the radishes, but they were used here as a cover crop. Not as a ‘lawn’ like the buckwheat, but scattered around the garden mixed in with the tomatoes and other vegetables. Their extra-long taproot breaks up and aerates the soil in addition to drawing up nutrients for future crops. You can turn them under or just cut them down and let the root decompose in winter on their own. It attracts the earthworms down into the soil deepening your usable soil. They were nice plants and something I definitely want to use in my own garden.

Oil Seed Radish

Comfrey is another herb to grow in your garden. It has many uses, but here we are looking at the leaves for your garden. The leaves are high in nitrogen and essential nutrients that your plants need. You can add them to your compost bin as an activator or directly to your garden bed to give your seedlings a boost.

Worms? Bill raises red wigglers too! Vermicomposting! ” Worm composting is using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil amendment called vermicompost, or worm compost”. “To understand why vermicompost is good for plants, remember that the worms are eating nutrient-rich fruit and vegetable scraps, and turning them into nutrient-rich compost.” I have always wanted to produce this  soil ‘gold’. I have come so close to ordering worms. Today, I bought a gallon size bag of castings, so I am a little closer. I can make compost tea or simply sprinkle the castings into the soil. I also know where I can buy some worms …..  one day!

Compost? Bill had two types of compost bins cooking, well, actually three. He had the traditional three bin wooden type. But he also had a different version that he likes better. It was wire fencing looped into a circle. He then lined it with weed preventing cloth to hold the compost. Shown in the picture below. He had another bin of this type, but it was filled with wood chips for a primarily fungus type compost bin rather than a bacteria and other microorganism driven system. This will take longer, about two years, but it is very nutrient rich. Another thing to look into is using natural wood briquettes in your compost. Yes, the ones you put in your barbecue grill. It provides a moist, happy home with many happy nooks and crannies for your microorganisms.

And lastly, there were two very large water tanks. I believe they were 300 gallons each? He uses them to collect rain water off of his neighbors roof. It was a manual system, so there was something about running out in a rain storm to connect things. But they were also raised, so gravity allowed him to connect a hose and water the garden. The good news here, is that he only has to water the garden once a week even in this 90 to 100 degree weather. The reason? The abundance of organic material in his soil.  Oh, and another thing, he never tills the soil, but uses a broad fork to loosen and aerate. Adding more and more compost and ground cover crops each year.

Take home bounty!

Besides taking home a lot of information and inspiration for my own garden, I also took home some nice fresh tomatoes and a couple of squash to make zucchini bread. I have not used squash before for this bread, but Bill assured me that this squash would work the same. Now my coworkers can enjoy the benefits of the garden too. In a fresh baked garden treat.

What organic methods do you use?  Please share your successes and difficulties! Have you used squash to make zuchini bread?

 

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Early morning walk in July

Today was beautiful! Finally, a break in the hot, humid midwest heat. It has been unusually hot this spring and it has continued into summer, so we really have not been taking long walks. Plus my older dog is slowing down and I just didn’t think she was up to a long walk. This morning she did not want to go for a walk at all. She went and stood by the couch when I got out the leashes. She was shouting “No, not today”.  I don’t think she is feeling well. Anyway, my younger dog, Mozzie, was more than excited. So we headed out into the cool morning air taking our usual route. But it was so nice, I decided to head for the park. It is part of the Great Rivers Greenways project which is 113 miles of greenways connecting rivers, parks and communities. It is a bit of a walk to get there, through our subdivision, along the golf course, over a bridge and then along the road and into the parking lot. From here you can go one of two directions. Go left, and it is a really large loop around a very pretty lake.

Lake view with kayaks

Go right, and it is a long path with a creek on one side and a prairie on the other. It ends in a large loop at the end turning you back the way you came.

Prairie path

We chose to go to the right, along the creek and prairie. I was thinking that it is a bit shorter and less crowded. These paths are very popular with cyclists, joggers and dog walkers. So it is a great place to work on your dog’s etiquette. Mozzie could use a little social skills review. There were lots of pretty wild flowers along the path. Since I love gardening, I really enjoyed identifying the different blooms. There were thistles, Queen Anne’s Lace, Rudbeckia, Cattails, Liatris, and even  Blue False Indigo, to name a few.

Liatris and Rudbeckia

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

I don’t think that last one, the Blue False Indigo or Baptisia, belongs in a prairie, but I do love this one. I have it in my own garden too. Mozzie was more interested in the wildlife. We saw a baby white-tailed deer walking along the path ahead of us! Later he bounded across into the brush and woods. So cute! He didn’t have the fawn spots. I guess, he was a little too old for that, but he was still rather small and cute. We saw a lot of birds, but strangely no rabbits. The subdivision is full of rabbits.

Chimney Swift hotel

However, we saw one really strange animal, a ferret! Okay, I am only familiar with ferrets as pets. They are not wild animals, so one must have escaped? So then I am wondering if it could survive the winter on its own?

So I had to do a little research. Apparently, the Black-footed ferret is native to North America and once ranged throughout the great plains of North America. They have been reintroduced in some states, but Missouri was not mentioned. So it still may be an escapee from some neighborhood or maybe they are coming back into the wild? Wow, what you can learn on a walk! Mozzie did not see our furry friend cross the path. However, when we reached that part of the path, Mozzie’s nose knew he was there. He tracked him across the path and wanted to keep following those foot prints.

The other thing learned today. You should bring water on even a short walk in cool weather, because it can turn into a very long, hot walk. We tried to linger under the rare tree to cool off when possible. Mozzie was happy to get home and spread out on the cool kitchen floor. A tired dog is a happy dog.

Tired dog

All in all it was a nice morning walk in July. Back into the humid 90 degree weather tomorrow!

What strange encounters have you had on a walk? Please share in the comments!