Fall Seed Gathering Means Beautiful Summer Zinnias

 

zinnia

Zinnias are a great splash of color in the dog days of summer.

My friend Susan has a fabulous hedgerows of zinnias and she shared her secret as to how it looks great year after year.

zinnia

Every fall she gathers the dead seed heads, dries them and stores them in a bag over the winter in a cool, dry location. I kept mine on my unheated porch.

When the temperature is warm enough in the spring, generally not for a couple weeks after the last frost date, she coarsely separates the seeds from the rest of the dead flower heads.   Then in a shallow trench, she thickly spreads the coarse seed mixture, covers lightly with dirt and once the seedlings begin to come up, does not thin them.  Zinnias thrive best in full sun and are quite drought resistant.

zinnia seeds

I had to try it!  We collected seeds last fall from our gardens, and anywhere we could find lovely zinnia beds in need of dead-heading, including from the golf course we play at.  This spring, when the soil temperature was warm enough (usually not until after Mother’s Day here at my zone 5 home) we planted our overwintered seeds by spreading the coarse seed mixture into shallow rows.

Zinnias everywhere!  I need to find more places to plant them to enjoy all the color, but it worked.  Not as nicely as Susan’s, but I’ll get there.

Susan was kind enough to send me some more photos of her yard.  Enjoy!

zinnia

zinnia

zinnia

zinnia

I’m not the only loving the colors!

zinnia and monarch

zinnia and monarch

Soon she’ll be harvesting next year’s seed head before the first frost sets in.

zinnias

zinnias

zinnias

All ready for another year of gorgeous color!

Many thanks to Susan for sharing her photos with me. And for enticing me to make my zinnia garden even bigger next year. 

A Fun Garden to Table Kitchen Gadget-A Countertop Spiralizer

zucchini spiralizer

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I bought a Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer Pro last winter and then promptly let it sit in its box until this week.  As much as I thought it looked so cool to use, it just sat there taunting me because it also looked so complicated.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!!

I was finally prompted to get it out of the box when I began to be overwhelmed by a very large zucchini harvest and was getting tired of zucchini au gratin.  (Can’t spiralize the “baseball bats“, so those will be shredded for zucchini bread).

zucchini

I was truly surprised as to how easy this was to use.

Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer Pro

Just take out the very neatly and conveniently stored parts, pick your blade (I used the “fine shredder” blade) and prepare the zucchini.

Preparation is pretty simple.  Peel if you’d like, but it’s not necessary, and cut off the ends to make 2 flat surfaces.

spiralizer

Push onto the pronged wheel and line up on the circular coring blade.  Then start turning with the hand crank.

spiralizer

Out comes beautifully spiraled zucchini “noodles”!

spiralized zucchini

Start to finish was less than 5 minutes.  What have I been waiting for?

zucchini spiralizer

This was so fun I decided to add spiralized beets to the sauté.  With beets, you want to use gloves to keep from staining your hands.  Just cut off the ends, peel and it’s ready. Be sure to clean your spiralizer immediately to keep from staining it.

spiralizer

beet spiralizer

Because the beets are so hard, I think I need a little more practice to get perfect spirals.  But even these less than perfect, spiralized beets were just fine.

There’s lots of spiralizer recipes on the web and I also recommend Inspiralized, The Spiralizer Cookbook, and The Spiralizer Cookbook 2.0 if you like “real” cookbooks like I do.

Tonight’s sauté was simple, yet tasty and low-sodium for those looking to lower your sodium intake. I heated olive oil over medium high heat, added the beets to just barely soften them.  About 3-5 minutes stirring frequently.  Add the zucchini for about 3-5 minutes more.  Finish with balsamic vinegar.  I used Lucero’s Winter Spice Balsamic Vinegar, but there’s lot of flavored EVOO and balsamic vinegar combos to try.

spiralized zucchini beet saute

I also have a bounty of cucumbers this year so we also had a yummy cucumber salad.

cucumber spiralizer

Have you ever spiralized your vegetables?  What’s your favorite?

Hummingbird Nectar

Perky Pet hummingbird feeder

 

Once you’ve filled your yard with pollinator friendly plants and a hummingbird feeder, you need to make some nectar to put in the feeder.  It couldn’t be easier!

 

 

 

 

Recipe:
hummingbird nectar
1 part granulated sugar
4 parts water

Bring to a boil and boil for 2 min (longer can make it too concentrated).
Cool before filling feeder.

 

I've had this spoon forever, seems appropriate when making hummingbird nectar :)

I’ve had this spoon forever, seems appropriate when making hummingbird nectar :)

So for example, you want to make just enough to fill the feeder, use 1/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water.

To make enough to store for a week or so, use 1 cup sugar and 4 cups of water. Store leftover in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

Things to remember:

Change the food every 2-3 days, sooner if it appears cloudy.

Boiled and cooled nectar can be stored 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator.  If it begins to appear cloudy, or develops brown spots on the container, toss it.  It’s either fermenting or growing mold and will be harmful to the hummingbirds.

No need to add red dye.  Red on the feeder is enough to attract them and the dye may be harmful.

Never use honey, brown sugar or artificial sweeteners. Honey and brown sugar are not able to be digested properly and honey can be toxic. Hummingbirds are never on a diet, so they need the energy provided by real sugar.

Keep the feeder clean. Buy a bottle bush and scrub it out each time you refill the feeder.

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It may take a little while for these fun little friends to find your feeder, but when they do, they will be back as long as you provide them fresh food.  Seeing that they feed every 10-15 minutes to keep up with their calorie needs, they’ll be back a lot!

Hummingbirds and Monarchs

While I’ve planted a lot of flowers and plants that attract pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies at home, my WI garden is much more natural, but equally full of attractive plants.

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This wild columbine at the woods’ edge is a natural attractant, while other native and cultivated flowering plants can be found in the garden.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Continue reading

Welcoming Pollinators to the Garden

Every year I wonder if any pollinator friends will visit my gardens.  I usually can count on the bees arriving early, but how about butterflies, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths?

sphynx moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe)

I’ve tried to plant mostly pollinator friendly flowers and over the years I’ve seen a steady improvement in the number of pollinators in my yard.  Bee Balm, Phlox, Petunias, Snapdragons, Hosta among others.

Bee Balm Continue reading

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

Last year I ventured into the world of growing garlic for the first time (Planting Garlic and Warding Off the Vampires).  It was great having homegrown garlic all winter, and even into early spring.

terra cotta garlic keeper

I am totally sold on how much better homegrown is than the store bought variety, and it couldn’t be easier to grow.  This past fall, I planted another crop of garlic, this time planting Music and Purple Glazer hardneck garlic varieties and Susanville softneck garlic (Another Fall Crop In the Ground).  I doubled the amount I grew last year since I had space both here at home and in my Door County, WI garden.

Last fall brought the early green shoots that sprout before winter sets in.

garlic

This spring, it became obvious that none of the Susanville survived in either location and I’m not sure why.  Maybe it was too cold late in the late winter/spring.

But that serves as a good reminder to plant more than one variety when testing something new in your vegetable garden.  Spring also came a little later to Door County, so those plants have been a couple of weeks behind the ones at home.

garlic

And that turned out be a good thing for harvesting scapes this year.

garlic scapes

Scapes are the garlic flower stalks that twist and turn when young, and end with a terminal pod containing garlic bulbils.  It’s these young, tender, twisting and turning scapes that are a delicacy to eat.  Removing them also tells the garlic to put its energy into making the garlic bulb and not producing new seeds.

Last year, I totally missed the season and the scapes grew straight and woody.  I also didn’t really know what to do with them, so ended up cutting them off and throwing them in the compost pile.

This year I was ready, but went on vacation and came back to straight, tall, woody scapes! Ugh!!

garlic scapes

I had missed it again!  But I did have another opportunity.  I was hoping that since the WI garden was a couple of weeks behind, I might have better timing.

garlic scapes

Success!!

garlic scapes

I harvested them by snapping the scapes off at the base near the first set of leaves.  Then removed the swollen tip, and the rest is ready to use.  I used the first small batch to season some sauteed spinach with pine nuts.

garlic scapes

I usually find that garlic overpowers the spinach, but the scapes were perfect.  Just a delicate hint of garlic to jazz up the spinach.  For more recipe ideas, check out my Pinterest page.

The rest I’m going to coarsely chop, blanch for 20 seconds in boiling water and freeze to use later.

garlic scapes

The production of scapes also means that garlic is almost ready to harvest.

garlic

Ideally, garlic should be harvested when there are 5-6 green leaves remaining and the rest brown.  Fewer green leaves mean fewer wrappers keeping the bulbs tight and ultimately healthier for storage.  I’m anxious to again have garlic hanging on the porch to cure (Warding Off The Vampires).  But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the little tease of garlic that the scapes are giving me.

 

What’s In My Door County Garden?

As a gardener, one of the fun things about our new cabin in Door County WI is seeing what is going to come up in the gardens this spring and summer.  I love taking a walk around the property to see what’s changed since the last time we were there.  I know the previous owner took pride in her gardens, but since we bought the place in the fall much was already passed its prime.  So this spring has been a wonderful surprise to me!

peony

Much to my delight, there are so many interesting and colorful plants all around the house.  Some in gardens, some hiding the rural necessities and some enhancing the “yard”.

Up front, we’re welcomed by a beautiful display of peonies, irises and ferns.

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Iris reticulata “Springtime”

And all around the front step are these gorgeous, unusually colored columbine.  A favorite of the hummingbirds and bees.

Purple Columbine

There’s hostas nearby as well, but the deer are finding them to be pretty tasty.

deer damage to hostas

Luckily they don’t seem to like the Dragon’s Blood Stonecrop (Spurium Dragon’s Blood) or rug junipers.  These are great ground covers and seem to be flourishing with minimal care.

Dragon's Blood Stonecrop

In a bit of a low area, there’s a rock garden that provides a brilliant splash of purple and green.

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It’s a relatively natural property, so I’m taking delight in the daisies in the grass.  Since the grass is rather sparse, I glad something pretty is in its place.

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It’s going to be a little tough to mow around, but we’ll figure something out.

Based on the plant records she left me, I know there’s going to be lots more in bloom next time we’re there!

Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)

This past spring while wandering the Wisconsin woods, the ground was covered with beautiful, light green leaves.

Wild Leeks

I knew it wasn’t trout lilies, since the leaves weren’t mottled, but I also knew it looked familiar.  Without a flower, I wasn’t sure what this plentiful plant was.  I sent a photo to my expert and she instantly answered “Leeks”!   My mom went on to remind me when I was a kid, we had people who would pull off the road near our cabin in Western NY and scramble around in the woods harvesting them.  I knew I had seen them before.

Wild Leeks

I did a little more research and realized I had a little foodie gold mine back there in the woods.  Wild Leeks, or Ramps,  (Allium tricoccum) have a sharp flavor, similar to an onion or garlic and come into season in the early spring.  You can recognize them by their smooth green leaves that emerge from the ground, with a hint of purple on the lower stem.

Wild Leeks

You know for sure you have ramps, when you break a leaf and you can distinctively smell onion/garlic.  No smell, no eating!!

I had never used them before, so I harvested just a little to try out in a couple of recipes.  Wild leeks are actually endangered or rare in many areas because of over-harvesting and they are hard to cultivate.  Rule of thumb to maintain a healthy patch is to only pick 5-10% of a patch, or harvest only the leaves.  To harvest, it’s easiest to use a trowel and loosen the dirt to make it easier to pop out the bulb and greens as a one.  Or, just have a clean shears to trim off the leaves and leave the bulbs behind.

Wild Leeks

Once I picked what I thought was enough to try in a couple of recipes, I left the rest alone to grow and be healthy for many years to come.  I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat them right away so I chose to freeze them for later use.

To freeze, first clean off the dirt, peel off any slimy outer skins and cut off the root end.

Wild Leeks

Oh, they look so delicious and the house smells so tasty. I then cut off the white bulbs and and put them directly into a freezer bag.  The greens I blanched for 1 minute in boiling water, plunged into ice water and then placed in a separate freezer bag.

blanching wild leeks

Wild Leeks

Once things had settled down a bit, I finally was able to get them out of the freezer to try.  I decided a Wild Leek Risotto was a good place to start.

Wild Leek Risotto

Using a tasty recipe for Wild Ramp Lemon Risotto from DOC  from The Kitchn, I made my first recipe.  Yum, is all I can say.  What a perfect low sodium side dish for some grilled Copper River Salmon.

Wild Leek Risotto

I still have enough for another meal and I have a bunch more risotto options to try. Check out my Pinterest site for some wild leek/ramp ideas.

Have you tried any foraging foods this spring?

BTW, the two things that are easily confused wild leeks are Trout Lily and Lily of the Valley.  Trout Lily have mottled leaves and white or yellow flowers that will appear at the same time and do not smell like onions.  Lily of the Valley are toxic and have two or three leaves on one stem, come up later in the season, and DO NOT SMELL LIKE ONION. As one who is not keen on foraging, I can attest to the fact that wild leeks smell like onions/garlic and lily of the valley do not.  Use that as your guide and all with be fine and delicious.

Now I’m ready to try out my garlic scapes.

Checking On the Bird’s Nests

I was able to get back up to our cabin in Door County sooner than I thought and checked on the Black-capped Chickadees nest in our nest boxes.   In my previous post, Who’s In My Nest Boxes, I discovered that chickadees had laid their eggs in the boxes intended for bluebirds.  In the first box there were 6 eggs and the second 11!  I was a little nervous that the older 6 eggs might be too close to becoming fledglings, but I was pretty confident they were still young enough not to make a too early dash from the nest.  So I took a quick peak.

This was just the epitome of cuteness!  Six little immature chickadees.  Mom and Dad were none too happy, so I quickly let them be and didn’t disturb them again.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

The other nest was not as far along.  They are clearly newly hatched and instinctively looking for food.  There were still some eggs in the nest and I’m not sure those will hatch or not.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

Black-capped Chickadee nest

To give you an idea of just how tiny these hatchlings are, I took a picture from the front of the box to give you some scale.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

I also have two other birds nesting on the house.  Not near the house, but actually on the house.  On the front porch is an Eastern Phoebe nest.  It’s not uncommon for them to nest in this kind of location.  They often nest on eaves or ledges on structures.  I remember when I was a kid, we came to our cabin one weekend and a Phoebe had made her nest right on the door frame and we couldn’t open the door.  We were able to create a shelf for the nest and the mom didn’t seem to mind at all.

Eastern Phoebe nest

Eastern Phoebe nest

To keep off the nuisance birds, the previous owner had put a nail board up. Apparently, the Phoebe didn’t seem to mind.

Eastern Phoebe nest

The parents can always be found nearby.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Then just recently a Robin has set up house under the elevated back deck.  I discovered it first by walking out on the deck and scaring her off the nest right below my feet.  Scared me too!

Robin nest

Robin nest

Certainly a lot of excitement from the birds!  Do you have any nests you’re watching?

 

This Year’s Garden Planters

Each year I head to the local garden store to pick out flowers for the planters.  The results are rarely the same from year to year since I just pick what I like at that moment.  Sometimes I might like yellows, other times maybe purples, sometimes more upright, others lots of vines.  This year for the front stoop I was in apparently in a pink/purple mood.

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In the backyard, I am a creature of habit.  In two shady planters near the grill, I always put in coleus.  My local garden shop carries a great selection of coleus so every year I can mix and match.

The one lesson I learned through the years is check the height of the plants.  They can range from a few inches to a couple of feet, so match accordingly.  Otherwise that favorite may be completely dwarfed by its neighbor.

coleus planter

coleus planter

Then there’s two long planters in the backyard that always have geraniums and something low.  Usually it’s petunias, but this year I switched it up and used an annual lobelia.  I did notice in the first few hot days that they need a lot more water than the petunias.  Need to stay on top of that!  But they do look stunning next to the hot pink geraniums.

geranium and lobelia planter

The last two planters have had a variety of things going on.  I haven’t really decided what I like in them.  As it came time to plant them this year, I realized I was missing marigolds in the garden. They’ve been a mainstay in my garden ever since my first garden in NJ.  I miss how well they grew there, but as one of my favorites, I keep them somewhere in my yard.  It’s definitely one of those love/hate plants for gardeners.  This year they went in the planters with some snapdragons.  The snapdragons aren’t blooming yet, but soon will be attracting the butterflies and hummingbirds.

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These are all recently planted, so I’m hoping they’d ill in nicely through the summer.  With enough water and some periodic fertilizer they should look great.

As comparison, here’s some what these planters looked like last year…