Category Archives: Vegetables

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?

 

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.

 

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Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)

This past spring while wandering my Door County, 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.

Finally Fixing the Rabbit Fence

There are so many garden pests, but rabbits have to be right up there at the top of many gardener’s list (unless you have deer, then that’s a whole different issue).  Last summer I posted in “Oh Those Pesky Rabbits” about the issues I was having with rabbits eating many of my tender young vegetables.

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For many years I hadn’t had issues with rabbits.  I had installed chicken wire fencing a few years back to block rabbits from getting through the cedar fence.  But as the years went by, both the cedar and chicken wire fences has become damaged, removed, soil levels changed and generally the whole anti-rabbit fence system became ineffective.

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Last year, I found these cute babies in the yard, just waiting to attack my gardens.

rabbit nest

By the time I realized I had such a big problem, the cedar fence was almost impossible to get to because of summer foliage.  So I was going to have to wait until spring  to fix it.

Last week, Daisy and I scared a huge rabbit out from under the shed who fled across the yard, escaping through this giant hole in the fence.  It was time to get this problem solved!

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Off to Home Depot I went to get some chicken wire, wire cutters and a staple gun.

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After trying out a few staple guns, I ended up getting a light duty Stanley TR45.  I hope that it’s strong enough, but I had trouble squeezing anything more powerful and I didn’t want to invest a ton of money.

Success!

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The staple gun worked just fine for this job.

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I think this will keep out the rabbits!

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I finished off the rest of the yard in an afternoon, and now will enjoy a nice glass of wine celebrating a job well done.

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While I raise a glass to the rabbits, my next puzzle to solve is keeping Daisy out of the peppers.  Check out “Little White Pepper Thief” to see what that problem is.

westie

Homegrown Spaghetti Squash

I have to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of squash.  I’ll grow zucchini and summer squash and eat them all summer, but don’t necessarily love them.

zucchini

At the grocery store, I pass the pile of winter squashes and look, but they just confuse me.

winter squash

What would I do with it?   Does it need to be peeled?  Which one is which?  I have on occasion brought one or two home and they sat in the kitchen, making me feel guilty until they became rotten and I’d throw it away.  My friends all seem to have great recipes for soups and salads, or just roasting and eating.  Not me.  I realize it’s bordering on irrational.

Two things have conspired to get me to finally cook spaghetti squash.  My husband had a side of spaghetti squash at a restaurant, loved it and suggested I try to cook some at home.   Then my mom grew some in her backyard garden this past summer.  I was really impressed with how great her harvest was and she gave me a couple when I was up visiting in October.

Mom also told me that she had read that as long as part of then stem is attached, it won’t go bad.  So when she harvested her squash, she left a couple of inches attached.  She also cured them for 10 days in the heat of her sun porch.  I think she did a good job hardening them off, since they held up really well without any special storage.

spaghetti squash

This was the first time she had ever grown any kind of fall squash so were both going to experiment with them.  I was challenged.  I wasn’t going to let these two beautiful squashes go to waste so I needed to figure something out.

After a very interesting internet search, I found that many recipes were very heavy on cheese, so trying to stick to a low-sodium diet necessitated some creativity.  I finally settled on just a simple roasting, and then sautéing with butter, garlic and parsley for the first time.

There seemed to be no consensus on how to roast the squash so here’s what I did.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

spaghetti squash

spaghetti squash

Place the halves cut side down on a roasting pan and roast until softened, about 45 min.  It’s done when you can easily pierce the skin.

spaghetti squash

Remove from the oven.  Using a fork, scrape the fleshy spaghetti strands from the peel.

spaghetti squash

You can serve as is, it has a wonderful mellow flavor all on it’s own.  I sautéed it briefly in some butter, garlic and parsley.  There are so many things you can do with spaghetti squash.  You just need to be willing to try new things 🙂

What’s your favorite winter squash?

 

Another Fall Garlic Crop In The Ground

Last year, I successfully planted my first crop of garlic.

garlic

You can read about it in “Planting Garlic” and “Warding Off The Vampires“.  I love reaching in the cupboard and pulling out some home-grown, delicious tasting garlic.  I even have a little terra cotta garlic keeper handy right next to the stove.

terra cotta garlic keeper

This past fall I planted another, bigger, crop.  I was a little late in ordering, but was able to get Music, Purple Glazer and Susanville garlic from Territorial Seed Company, as well as French Shallots.

Territorial seed garlic

Next to garlic, I love cooking with shallots!  I’m still using some of last year’s harvest and looking forward to more.

growing shallots

Music and Purple Glazer are hard-necked varieties and Susanville a soft-necked variety.

Planting season is 6-8 weeks before the likely hard frost date for your area, so I planted mine in mid-October, although this winter that was too early.  Can’t plan for crazy weather though.

Last year, I planted in two different locations in the yard, and one was definitely more successful than the other.  Not sure why the difference, but this year I stuck to the raised beds in the backyard where I had success last year.

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I also planted a bunch more in our new property in Door County, WI.  Lucky me–it came with a great raised bed all ready for planting!  I’ll talk more about that another time, but I’m excited to have another place to garden and explore.

stephi gardens

Before the cold and snow came, I was not surprised that I had green shoots coming up from the softneck Susanville garlic.

fall sprouting garlic

Not too worried, the same thing happened last year after planting.   I just covered them with a nice layer of mulch and they should be fine.

Can’t wait for the early spring garlic scapes to appear from the hard-necked varieties.

garlic

I wasn’t sure what to do with them last year, so they went to waste.  Not this year, I’m going have fun experimenting 🙂  In the meantime, I’ll just keep enjoying my harvest from last year.  So far, all the stored garlic is just fine!

Are you still using any of your stored garlic?  Or trying to grow it for the first time?

 

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Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2016!  I truly appreciate all who have visited my blog this year.  Here’s a look back at some of my most popular posts of 2015!  

Tomato Florida Weave

1.   Taming My Tomatoes With A Florida Weave:  My tomatoes were a mess, so I tried something new to try and keep things in order.
 

 

 

Blue Jay

2.    The Blue Jays are Back (and That’s Not a Good Thing):  What to do when you have nuisance birds at your feeder?

 

 

 

Garlic3.  Warding Off The Vampires:  This was my first try at growing garlic.  Easier than I thought and definitely worth the effort.

 

 

 

Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze4.  So Long Beautiful Maple Tree:  Sometimes things go terribly wrong with plant.  In this case, construction and cold brought about the demise of our beautiful Freeman Maple

 

 

IMG_38415.  November in Chicago:  This fall was quite an unusual one.  Here in Chicago, the plants were quite confused as to the time of year and it made for an interesting fall.

 

 

clematis wilt6.  Something’s Wrong With the Clematis and Clematis Stem Wilt: An Update to Something’s Wrong With The Clematis:  The wet spring affected a lot of plants.  Many of us saw some terrible die back of our clematis due to Clematis Stem Wilt.  Hopefully next spring everything will rebound.

 

westie7.  Little White Pepper Thief:  Apparently Westies love peppers.  I didn’t get any sweet or hot peppers from my garden this year because of my little thief 🙁

 

 

rabbit nest8.  Spring Surprises:  Even when you think you know everything in your garden, you get surprised!

 

 

 

Callicarpa9.  Beautyberry Bushes:  Did They Survive the Winter?  After a winter like we had, I thought I had lost my new bushes.  But, they are one of the last to leaf out in the spring, so I’m glad I was patient.  

 

 

IMG_349510.  Fall in Northern Michigan/Stumbling Upon Club-Mosses:  This was one of my favorite posts of the year.  Not only was fall in Northern Michigan stunning, my mom and I stumbled onto a forest area full of a club mosses.   Very cool to see and explore.

 

..and a few of my all-time most popular posts:

Curled Leaves On The Bushes (August 2014)

Creeping Thyme Problems (April 2014) and an update in August, Oops, September Garden Update 

Painting Rock Garden Markers (February 2014)

Pelicans In Illinois (September 2013)

Our Family Christmas Tree (December 2013)

Hope you keep visiting, I have all kinds of ideas to keep everyone in the gardening mood all winter.  

Remember, you can also find Stephi Gardens on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and  Twitter.

 

Warding off the Vampires

Well not really, but that’s what I think of when I see the garlic curing in the screen room.

Garlic

Last fall I planted garlic for the first time (see “Planting Garlic”) and I can happily say I probably have enough harvested this summer to carry me through the winter.  I planted 3 different varieties, 2 hardneck (Chesnok Red and Purple Glazer) and 1 soft neck (California Early) from Botanical Interests.

chesnok red garlic

Softneck varieties tend to grow in a wider variety of climates and can be grown in warmer areas, last longer in storage and are good for braiding.  They also tend to be a little milder in taste.  Hardneck varieties require some time in frozen ground, so are not recommended for warmer climates.   In the spring, they produce a tall edible stem called a “scape”  that should be cut and can be used as a mild garlic seasoning.  The hard neck varieties are also generally known for their stronger taste.

I planted the cloves in 2 different locations and one location definitely did better than the other.  Within a couple of weeks of planting, green sprouts could be see popping up as expected.  Then winter settled in and the garlic just had to hibernate and do its thing. I tried to mark it clearly, but as usual by spring I only sort of knew where it was planted and which variety was which.  Typical 🙁

By early spring, the garlic was sprouting.

garlic

By late spring the hardneck varieties were sending up scapes.  I trimmed them to send the plant’s energy into producing healthy garlic heads, but unfortunately didn’t get around to using them in any recipes.  Next time for sure.

garlic

garlic

By July, the garlic was ready for harvest.  How do you know when to harvest?  It can be a little tricky, but usually you want to wait until several lower leaves turn brown, but the top leaves are still green.  Harvesting the garlic is easy, but you need to be gentle.  Unlike onions, you can’t just yank it out of the ground.  Too easy to damage the head or accidentally tear off the leaves.  Garlic cures better when the leaves are still on.

So grab a trowel and dig gently around the bulbs to loosen the soil.  Be careful not to hit the heads and damage the tight cluster of cloves.

garlic
Gently pull to release the garlic from the soil.

Garlic

Gently shake off the dirt, without disturbing the head.  It’s fine to leave some dirt on the head and roots, it’ll come off easier when it’s dry.

Garlic

Now it’s time to find a spot to cure the garlic so that it’ll be ready to store for the winter.  Garlic should be cured in a protected area, like a garage or porch, out of direct sunlight and where there is reasonable air circulation.  It should be hung with the leaves  and roots still attached.  I hung mine in the screen porch.  On particularly hot days, I turned on the overhead fan to keep the air circulating.

Garlic

Curing can take three to eight weeks and you know it’s done when the roots are dry and shriveled, the leaves completely brown and dried, and the skin feels dry and papery.  This step should not be skipped or the garlic will not last properly through the winter.

Once done, the leaves and roots are trimmed off, and the remaining dirt gently brushed off.  Be careful not to expose any of the cloves.  The garlic is now ready for storage.   Garlic can be stored in any type of breathable, dry container such as mesh bags, paper bags, cardboard boxes or ceramic pots with holes.  Under perfect home storage conditions, the garlic should keep for 6-8 months.  Ideally to achieve that, the garlic should be stored in a cool, dark room with good air circulation.  Not always easy to do, but just do the best you can.  I am going to store some in an unfinished part of my basement and the rest in an open container in the coolest cupboard in the kitchen.  Kind of a test to see what works better.

garlic

garlic

No matter what you do to store the garlic, never put it in the refrigerator or store in a sealed container.  That will lead to early sprouting and the garlic will quickly become bitter, soft and moldy.  Time to toss it if it starts to sprout, it’s spoiling at this point.  Most importantly, NEVER  store raw garlic in oil at room temperature.  This can lead to botulism and death!

As a last resort if your garlic seems like it’s not going to last as long as you’d like, it can be safely frozen.  It will change the flavor and texture to freeze raw, so to help preserve the flavor the peeled cloves can be put in oil and stored in the freezer (but again, not in oil at room temperature).  Other ways to store garlic include drying, dehydrating or even turning it into garlic butter.

I’ve already ordered more garlic for next year.  I was a little late ordering, so this year I ordered Music, Purple Glazer and Susanville garlic from Territorial Seed Company.   Can’t wait to get it in the ground.  It’s not too late to order yours, but act quickly.  Lots of varieties have already sold out so you may need to check around a few sites.   Planting season is 6-8 weeks before the likely hard frost date for your area, so it is quickly coming upon us here in zone 5.  Some reputable places to try are Botanical Interests,  Territorial Seed Company and Burpee Seeds.  Do you have a favorite place to order from?

Wherever you decide to order it from, don’t try to use the garlic you buy from the grocery store.  Much of that garlic, unless locally grown, has been treated to prolong its life during storage and transportation.  Some may sprout, but anything you get to grow from them will be of undesirable quality.

Happy Planting!

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August, Oops, September Garden Update

A while back I thought I was getting caught up, but then sending twins off to college this fall proved to be quite a time consuming effort!  So the garden has been a bit on auto pilot for a little while now.  Thank goodness it got off to such a good start this spring.  Here’s some tidbits on what I would have written about, if I had had the time 🙂

There was a family of chickadees that must have nested and fledged near my feeders.  For weeks, I was so entertained by the hilarious antics of the 3 young chickadees that truly behaved like little kids.

baby chickadee

baby chickadee

I got a lot more green peppers and Mariachi hot peppers as the summer went on.  Unfortunately, Daisy was not at all dissuaded by munching on the hot peppers and continued to eat almost all this year’s pepper harvest (Little White Pepper Thief).

green pepper

Surveying the garden for her latest snack…

Westie

A couple of years ago this patch of creeping thyme was a disaster.  I wrote about it in my earlier post, Creeping Thyme Problems.  I was skeptical that the severe pruning was going to help, but it has.  It looks gorgeous and lush, and smells awesome when I walk on it to get to the garden hose.  So if in doubt, cut away, it’ll be better for it!

Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme

I didn’t get many sunflowers this year thanks to the bunnies.  But I did get this one, beautiful Evening Sun Sunflower.  Made me smile.

Evening Sun sunflower

Thankfully Daisy doesn’t seem have found the tomatoes or basil. I don’t ever seem to tire of fresh tomato salads.

tomato basil salad

The raspberries I planted in the spring flourished over the summer.  I even got a few tasty raspberries in the late summer.  Looking forward to having the plants mature and getting lots of berries.   What did I plant?  See my previous post “My Raspberries and Strawberry Plants Are Here!”

raspberries

Two of my clematis plants got a terrible case of Clematis Stem Wilt earlier this spring (What’s Wrong With the Clematis and Clematis Stem Wilt).  I was hopeful that the plants would survive and I think they did.  Both plants put up a couple of new, healthy looking stems that looked good until the last few days when something has decided to munch on the leaves.  We’ll see in the spring how they look.  At least there’s hope.

clematis

The petunias were home to lots of pollinators.  This bumblebee was fun to watch as he dove deep into each flower.  He seemed to really prefer the dark pink over light pink.  While I have no decent pictures, I had hummingbirds also visit my yard late this summer.  I don’t always get them, so it has been a treat the last few weeks to have them visit.

petunia

How was your garden this year?

(BTW Go Hokies! Go Blue!)

Little White Pepper Thief

Now that I had replanted my peppers after a “failure to thrive” issue (Not a Great Year for Sweet Peppers), I was all set to harvest bushels of sweet green and red peppers.

Green pepper

But the new plants just didn’t seem to be putting out many peppers.  I thought I saw peppers growing, but then they’d be gone.  It wasn’t the rabbits, none of the leaves were ever touched.  It was very puzzling.

Until we were out barbequing one night, and  Daisy went exploring around the yard like she always does.

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Westie

Westie

Right in front of us, she went over to the garden and popped a pepper right off the plant, laid down and munched happily away!

westie

Now I have to add dogs to the list of garden pests!

westie