Friday, October 31, 2008

Look Ahead to Winter Blooms

Summer flowers are spent, most fall blooms are fading, but winter color is still ahead. If you like to enjoy a burst of spring daffodils on your counter or end table long before crocuses pop through the ground, now is the time to start planning.

You will be able to buy forcing kits before long, but the cost can be high, and a little planning now can result in great room brighteners for January and February for not much money.

Many spring flowers can be forced, or tricked, into blooming inside during the winter if you know what you're doing.

Amaryllis and paperwhites (mini white daffodils) can be potted up any time--in fact, Amaryllis will re-bloom eventually if you keep them watered and fertilized. Other bulbs require a chilling period in temperatures around 35-45 degrees (the temperature most refrigerators are set for). You can use bulbs you have purchased to use for the yard, making sure there is no damage, and that you use the biggest, healthiest looking bulbs.

If you can spare one of the crisper drawers in your refrigerator, that is the perfect place to pre-chill your bulbs--do not store fruits or vegetables with your bulbs as they can cause damage to the flowers if they go bad. Paperwhites and Soleil d'Or can be forced in a bowl with rocks or marbles covered in water or a special forcing vase like the one pictured--just make the water deep enough to touch the bottom of the bulb. Neither of these plants require pre-chilling, but will benefit from a cool room for a couple of weeks (50 degrees would be best).

Most other bulbs prefer a longer period of chilling before you pull them out to start blooming.

Crocuses and grape hyacinths (Muscari) can be chilled for as little as eight weeks, while most other bulbs require 12-15 weeks, though Snowdrops require a full 15 weeks of chilling. Plant the bulbs in potting soil just far enough apart so the bulbs don't touch each other, and bury them so just the tips of the bulbs stick out of the soil.

The flowers will take 2-3 weeks to bloom once you remove them from the refrigerator, so plan now for spring color in January and February.


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Monday, October 27, 2008

Prepare for next year's garden

My annuals have turned brown--I believe I mentioned once before that I like to eek every last bloom from them before pulling them out for the season--and my perennials have mostly followed in their wake. Now it's time to collect seeds for next season. If your plants are totally brown and dried, you can put the seed pods into plastic bags and seal them away for now. If there is still some green, lay them out on a flat surface like a cookie sheet for a few days until they are thoroughly dried before bagging them up.

Some seeds are released long before the growing season ends, but if you haven't harvested your poppies, hollyhocks, and other plants, make sure you do before you pull or cut them back for the season. Another option for some plants is to pull annuals up by the root and give them a good shake over the area where you want them to return the next year. If you plan to mulch the bed for the winter, lay your layer of shredded leaves or straw over the seeds, then clear it away in the spring and scratch up the soil so the seeds will get covered with soil. Sometimes that's all it takes.

Calla Lilies, dahlias and other tender tubers can be dug up for the winter. Make sure there are no bad spots on the root, then store them in pine chips or saw dust in a cool, dry place for the winter. These plants won't survive freezing temperatures, but I expect when I get my dahlia's pulled they'll still be good next season even though it got into the twenties last week.

Remember those leaves make a great mulch, protecting your plant roots from the constant freeze and thaw of winter, and add great nutrients to the garden bed. It's best if you shred them first, which can be as simple as running the lawnmower over them a couple of times. Whatever you do, don't leave them on the grass through the winter as they can mat down and kill out spots in your yard. Also, don't forget to add fall fertilizer--just because the grass turns brown, doesn't mean the roots die, and your lawn will come back healthier for a little fall boost.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Keep Deer from Winter Plants

I know most people have deer problems in the summer, but around here, winter is the worst time of year. When the snow begins to pile up in the mountains, the deer begin migrating back into town for winter forage, and they stick around until the fawns are born in the spring. They can do a lot of damage to trees and bushes, so many people work to keep these animals away. Most methods of scaring away deer work on rabbits as well.

There are lots of ways to keep deer out of your garden. Here are several that people swear work for them.

I haven't had major problems at my house, but recently learned that could be my dog's doing. Apparently their droppings can convince deer to take the long way around your yard. Another option along the same vein is to purchase Coyote urin, which comes in both liquid and crystal form, and can be purchased online, if you don't have a local outlet.

Many people use movement-sensing lights. These seem to work great, but you have to move them every few weeks, so the deer don't get too used to them and decide they aren't a threat after all. If you have neighbors close by, you also need to be sure the lights won't shine into their bedroom windows late at night.

Another option is a home-made spray. My mother-in-law swears by this stuff, as do many other people who belong to a garening forum I frequent. There are lots of different recipes, but they all tend to include raw egg, hot sauce and/or cayenne pepper and/or chopped garlic. Some use water to thin out the solution, while others use yogurt or milk. In any case, an egg, a cup or water and either something hot like cayenne, or pungent like garlic mix well, let to set for 6-24 hours, and then dripped or sprayed onto your plants can really keep the deer away. The upside of the spray is that it's very inexpensive to make, the down side is that it needs to be reapplied every few days, especially if you are watering often, have heavy rains or snow storms. There are scads of recipes located here.

Another option only available in warner climes or during spring, summer and early fall, are motion-sensing machines that spray deer when they get too close. Sometimes these are in the form of scarecrows or other objects. Like the lights, these have to be moved periodically to continue to be affective. You also have to keep them attached to a water source at all times, which can be a struggle if you are having to pull hoses to different areas of the yard to water every day.

Another option would be to start out with deer-resistant plants to begin with. Many spring bulbs, trees, bushes and pother plants list on the packaging whether deer like them, but if the animals are hungry enough, even these can sometimes become Bambi's dinner.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beyond Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkins have always been associated with pies and jack-o-lanterns, but this tasty member of the squash family is more versatile than you might think. I don't know if it's because i always associate pumpkin with Christmas spices, or the moist, tasty flavor, but nearly anything made with pumpkin has always appealed to me, so here are some of my favorites.

One of my long-time pumpkin treats are those tasty cookies you can purchase in the bakery, but living in a small town, my local bakery doesn't always stock them.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
2 stick cold butter
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin
1 tsp pumpkin spice (1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, and 1/4 tsp cloves if you don't have the prepared spice on hand. I also like to add a dash of nutmeg and/or allspice.)
1/2 tsp baking soda
10 oz chocolate chips (about 1 1/4 cups)

Bake at 300 degrees for 22 minutes.


This next is one of my brother-in-law's favorites.

Pumpkin pudding cake
1 yellow cake mix (separate 1 cup)
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg
1 lg can of pumpkin mix (or plain pumpkin with sugar and spices required for pie, these are usually listed on the can)
2 beaten eggs
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup soft butter

Mix cake mix, melted butter, and egg. Press into greased 9x13 pan. Mix pumpkin pie mix, beaten egg and milk. Pour pumpkin mixture over cake mixture. mix remaining cake mix, sugar, cinnamon and soft butter (not melted butter, this is supposed to make a crumble). Sprinkle over pumpkin as topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.


Pumpkin cake roll

3 eggs--well beaten
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
1 tsp lemon juice
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp pumpkin spice
1/2 tsp salt

Spread in a greased 11"x16" pan. Top with chopped walnuts. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn out on towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Starting at the narrow end, roll towel and cake together. Cool and unroll.

Filling
6 oz cream cheese
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
Cream together and spread over unrolled cake, roll cake and mixture again and chill.


This is the easiest, moistest treat--with, or without chocolate chips, which is how I like them! And they are practically fat free (not calorie free, unfortunately).

Pumpkin muffins
1 package white cake mix
1 package spice cake mix
1 large cup of pumpkin
1-3 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients and spoon into muffin tins. One egg makes a pumpkin-cookie like texture, while three makes it more muffin like. Bake 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until they just begin to brown around the edges.

And if you have the hankering for pumpkin soup--comfort food for sure--there are tons of interesting recipes out there. I tried one printed in the paper when I lived in Utah County and really enjoyed it, it had the consistency and body of a good tomato soup. Unfortunatley I've misplaced it, but there are lots of soup recipes here.

Most of us have at least heard of roasting pumpkin seeds in the oven (250 degrees for about an hour, seasoned to --onion salt, salt, pepper, season salt, or cayenne are just a few suggestions.) but did you also know you could spread them in a baking dish coated with melted butter and cook for 7-8 minutes, or even slowly roast them in a skillet for about an hour?

And those of you who have chickens or other poultry (a growing segment of the U.S. as well as other countries around the world), chopped dried (not roasted) pumpkin seeds mixed with buttermilk make a great natural wormer (not to be used in acute problems, just for maintenance) and you can continue to eat the eggs, which you can't do with chemical options on the market.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's your blood type?

I've been researching bloody types and how they work for a story I'm working on right now and stumbled across an interesting fact. The Japanese believe that your blood type impacts your personality. I found this site that will tell you your personality traits determined by type. I was surprised at how accurate it was for me--more than 80%--even though these things are usually so vague as to fit most anyone. Here's what it had to say about me:

Your personality is..


Blood type B:
The Individualist

Positive qualities:
Creative, Passionate, Strong, Animal loving, Optimistic and Flexible.

Negative qualities:
Wild, Unsociable, Critical, Indecisive, Unpredictable and Unforgiving.

Compatibility:
B is most compatible with blood types B and AB.

Famous people with the same blood type:
Jack Nicholson, Luciano Pavarotti, Tom Selleck, Mia Farrow, Paul McCartney, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Blog, Forum etc."> ">
What's your blood type personality? If you post it somewhere, send me a link so I can check it out!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Take advantage of Indian summer

After a real cold snap last week, we've been enjoying balmy fall days, and mild nights--well within tolerance for my chickens, who still don't have plex to cover their coop window. This is the perfect time of year to get those fall chores done, from pulling out annuals that have died, or begun to look sickly after the cold temps, to planting spring-blooming bulbs--a must on my personal list, to starting those lasagna beds, which will benefit from the winter snows.

It's also time to start thinking about what plants you may want to winter sow for next spring. All kinds of plants work great if sown in containers once winter starts to really move in--and some grow best if they have that winter freeze and thaw cycle. I've been meaning to try growing trumpet vine, but the seeds won't germinate if they don't go through the winter freeze and thaw cycle first. This woody vine can be a bit invasive in some areas, and it's difficult to kill once established, but it's very cold hardy and responds well to a hard prune in the early spring. I've seen this plant climbing telephone poles, companion planted with lilacs and other spring-blooming bushes to provide summer color, or on fences. It's also very drought resistant. I'll post full directions on winter sowing soon! Now is the time to collect seeds for next spring, and most gardeners are happy to share seeds with others.

This is also a great time to process your own pumpkin. Once the Halloween jack-0-lantern frenzy is past and prices come down, I plan to slice some pumpkin, bake it until soft, then blend it and freeze for pumpkin pies and many other pumpkin treats all winter long. The seeds are also great baked for winter munching.

Fall rains have weeds popping up again as well, so don't think it's time to take a break yet!

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Enjoy the fruits of the season

Peach season is starting to wane, but you can still buy the juicy fruits at roadside stands if you know where to look. This year I bought a half-bushel box of seconds to freeze for smoothies and peach ice cream all winter. We also ate plenty cut up in a bowl with milk. My husband prefers them with evaporated milk and a sprinkle of sugar, but I think they were sweet enough already. And, of course, I couldn't pass up making a fresh peach pie. The recipe is simple enough for even a novice cook.

2 pie crusts, one for each top and bottom
4 cups peeled, slices peaches
3/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp corn starch

Line an 8- or 9-inch pie plate with pie crust, don't forget to perforate the bottom of the pie crust with the tines of a fork. Fill the crust with peaches, then sprinkle the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice evenly across the peaches. Put the top crust on and crimp the edges together. Make sure to slit the top crust to allow steam to release. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes.


Pie crust
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cups shortening
1 egg
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp water

Mix flour and salt, then cut in the shortening with a pastry tool, or a pair of forks. Note: you can mix this combination as long as you like and it won't hurt the outcome of your crust at all, so make sure you do it thoroughly. Mix the liquids in a separate bowl. The recipe I have called for a 1/4 cup of water, but I found that was too much, and I always ended up having to add too much flour when I rolled the crust out to make it manageable. Once you add the liquids, you want to handle the dough as little as possible, so mix it just until the liquid is incorporated, then stop--this is the most important thing to a successful pie crust, if you mix too long the dough gets tough instead of flaky.

Roll half the dough out on a lightly floured surface--I prefer to do so between waxed paper, but have found plastic wrap will do in a pinch. Sometimes I still find I have a spot that is sticky, so I dust that spot with flour, making sure to wipe off any excessive amount before placing in the pie pan. This recipe makes two 9-inch crusts.

I make a large batch of the dry ingredients and shortening--about six times this much--and keep in a tightly sealed container for future use. The mixture will stay good for three or four months at room temperature and I've always used it before the date passes. it works as well for chicken pot pie as it does for dessert--and we like both.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Extrac C

October is National Down Syndrome Awareness month and my friend, Rebecca Talley has put together this video of her son. It's such a touching video I had to share it with you. The music is by C.S. Bezas, an incredibly talented and friendly musician I had the pleasure of meeting a few months ago.




If you enjoy this video, please spread the word. Rebecca is doing a drawing for a free signed copy of her book Heaven Scent for those who help spread the word. Visit her blog to learn more about the details. I've read this book, it's a great young adult story.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Decorating for the Holidays

It snowed in my town this weekend, as it did through most of the state. It melted again within a day (my favorite kind of snow) but it's a reminder that winter is just around the bend. I love the way the snow looks, glistening on the plant stalks and flower heads as they bob in the morning light, but I'm ready to return to fall weather.

Landscaping isn't only about which plants to put where or what colors you want to add, it's also about adding other decorations to the yard, whether they be made of stone, glass, or other materials. Right now a number of my neighbors have straw bales, pumpkins, bunches of dried corn stalks and other Halloween/fall decorations in the front yards. Orange lights twinkle on porch railings and giant blow-up pumpkins or ghosts grace many a yard.
Those farmer's markets that are still being held as the weather turns frosty have lots of pumpkins, gourds and other winter squash available for sale. I've been eying pumpkin patches, wondering if I'll have time to carve a jack-o-lantern myself. If not, I suppose I can always turn the pumpkin into pies later on.Don't be afraid to perk up the yard with a harvest display, and if you live in colder areas, now might be the time to begin putting up Christmas lights. I know if I don't get mine done soon, the snow will start piling up and I'll be struggling with clips and strings of lights in my numb fingers and fighting not to fall off the snow-slicked ladder.


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Friday, October 10, 2008

Growing garlic

I really like cooking with fresh ingredients, garlic, herbs, and vegetables. There's just something special about it. The rest of the garden has been harvested and the snow looms ahead, but it's the perfect time to plant garlic.

Now, there are two main types, hard neck and soft neck. Most of your grocery store garlic is hard neck. Soft neck is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Hard neck, on the other hand, is planted in the fall and harvested mid summer. You can even plant some in a window sill flowerpot and trim the green part when you need to add a little kick to your dinner.


If your bed is cleaned out for the next growing season, make a little space for garlic. You can buy fancy starts, but a trip to the grocery store is all you need. Just plant the individual cloves four to six inches apart and let mother nature do the rest. Mine grocery store garlic popped up just fine this spring.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Great news

After eight + years of writing, rewriting, editing, and attending conferences, I had an LDS romance accepted for publication by Cedar Fort, Inc. I signed and mailed back the contract yesterday and am totally thrilled.

I don't have even a tentative a publication date yet, but hope to within the next couple of weeks. I'm guessing probably spring or summer next year--though of course, it could always be later depending on what they already have slotted. And of course, the title is being reconsidered, so I'll be submitting other options, marketing ideas, etc, etc, in the next week.

My next book has made it through weekly critique meetings with my groups, and is about to undergo more edits before I send it to full manuscript critiques, more edits, and eventually to my publisher (I just love saying that, MY publisher). I'll post again when I have something more to say.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tips for planting spring-blooming bulbs

Spring bulb displays are popping up all over the place, tempting and teasing with the bright color and promises of bigger, better blooms. Before you start digging, there are a few tips that will help you get a better show next spring.

Make sure the ground has good drainage. If you puddle water in the area where you want to plant the bulbs and it doesn't seep away within a couple of hours, you will need to add sand or compost to the bedding. My preference is compost or other natural items, since if you have a heavy clay soil like mine adding sand has the tendency to turn it all to cement, where adding compost of peat moss will help break up the ground and cause it to prevent puddling while still allowing it to hold water for the plants roots.

You don't want to plant flowers in a long line, since it is much more pleasing to the eye if you clump or mass the flowers for bigger impact. Taller alliums are one exception to the rule since their long, thin stems and big, showy flowers make a big impact all by themselves.

If you are planning to mass your flowers together, it can often be easier to dig out one large section of ground, set them out, then cover them up again, rather than digging individual holes. With my lasagna beds, I had no trouble sticking a hand spade in the ground and popping the bulb in behind the flat of the tool, then letting the ground settle over it. For those with heavier soil, a bulb planter can come in very handy, to remove a bit of ground, place the bulb, then release the dirt back on top again.

The general rule is to plant the bulbs with the pointy end up, about 2-2 1/2 times deeper than the bulb is tall, and don't forget to add some bulb fertilizer to the hole. If you live in really cold areas, you may want to consider going slightly deeper to provide better freeze protection. I have gladiola bulbs, which say they are for zones 8-10, but live in a zone 5/6 area, so a little extra depth and some mulch during the winter help keep these bulbs healthier during the coldest winter freezes.

When you've got the bulbs planted, water the ground well to give the roots a jump start.

Also, if you live in an area like mine and have dahlias or other tender bulbs, make a note to dig them up when the foliage dies back and pack them inside in wood shavings or a similar material in a cool place for the winter.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Landscape for less

Fruit trees 60% off.
Come dig in my yard for free perennial plants.
Thinning out my award-winning irises.

No, this isn't an invitation to raid my landscaping. I was on the KSL classified ads, a free online classified list attached to a local television station's news site, and saw all of these posted. Fall is a great time to get free or very low-cost plants, and a great time to get them established in your yard now that the worst of the summer heat is past and the winter storms are still a little way off yet. Most yard work happens in the spring before it grows terribly hot, and again in the fall once it has begun to cool off again--at least, I know it works that way in my yard.

There are lots of places to find these kinds of deal. Craigslist.com has listings for cities and regions all over the world. There are also Freecycle lists out there for areas all over the world. There are hundreds of groups just for the USA, and hundreds of other countries that also have lists. you can see if there's a group that corresponds through e-mail--usually Yahoo Groups--near you at Freecycle.org.

This is also a great way to find out where people are giving away free plants, landscaping rocks, fill dirt, decorative edging and more--and if you have something you don't need anymore, it's a great way to rehome it. Another advantage to sites like these is the fact that those plants/rocks/etc aren't going to landfills, but to someone who can use and love them. Some lilstings require you to do your own digging, but what's five minutes of digging in the dirt when you're being given fifty dollars worth of healthy plants?

As for me, I'm wishing about now that I lived a little closer to the Salt Lake Valley, and that I had another garden bed ready to accept some plants, but that'll have to wait until next spring.

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