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save tomato seeds

On 22, Nov 2010 | 4 Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

Yes, this is a spruced up picture of mold. In order to save your favorite tomato seeds for next year, you need to remove the gelatinous coating that keeps them from germinating inside the tomato fruit.

In nature, the tomato will eventually fall to the ground and for lack of a better word, rot. While it is turning to mush on the ground, the pulp and juices ferment and break down the gel around the seeds, allowing them to germinate.

Since we normally pick the tomatoes from the vine before this happens, we need to mimic the process to obtain the fertile seeds ready for germination.

Just think of this as a science experiment dedicated to the fermentation process. It kind of smells, but it is not too bad.

tseeds1-cropChoose your favorite healthy tomatoes, the open pollinated variety (the other ones won’t come true from seed). Label the jars the pulp is going in with the type of tomato and the date. tseeds2-cropSlice the tomatoes across the equator. It makes it easier to scoop up the pulp. tseeds3-cropScoop up the pulp inside the… tseeds4-crop…corresponding labeled jar.
tseeds5-cropCover the seeds and pulp with half a cup of water. tseeds6-cropCover the jar with a clean coffee filter and place in a warm place to ferment. It doesn’t smell good, so don’t place it somewhere where the smell would bother you. tseeds8-cropAfter a few days (3 or more) the mixture will ferment and start developing mold at the surface. This means the gel that coats the seeds has broken down and they can be cleaned up and dried. tseeds9-cropThoroughly remove all mold, fermented pulp and sterile seeds by adding water to the jar and pouring out everything that floats on top. After a few rinses, the water will run clear and the healthy and fertile seeds will sink to the bottom. Strain them, pour them on a paper towel and pat them dry, then spread them out to dry on a paper plate, marked with the type of tomato and the date. After they dry, place them in labeled paper bags for spring.

don’t forget the bulbs!

On 01, Nov 2010 | One Comment | In propagation | By All Year Garden

Don’t forget to plant your spring bulbs before the dirt freezes. Use only healthy bulbs that are not soft or showing signs of mold, and make sure to work plenty of bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the soil, to give your plants a good start for next season.

A few comments about planting bulbs:

– they don’t like wet feet,  a well draining soil will help them thrive; if you have heavy clay soil, loosen it up a little by adding sand.

– do not plant them too shallow (follow the instructions on the packet but a good rule of thumb is to plant twice deeper than the height of the bulb), and use group plantings for better color effect.

– if you have a small garden consider planting several overlapping layers of bulbs of different sizes and blooming times.

pickle green tomatoes

On 31, Oct 2010 | No Comments | In preserves | By All Year Garden

If you live somewhere between zone 4 and zone 6, this would be the time you walk around your garden and acknowledge the fact that the bounty of green tomatoes still hanging from the vines will probably not have time to ripen before the first frost. Grab a bag and gather them all, they make wonderful pickles for the winter months.

Here is a quick recipe for pickled green tomatoes, the time it takes to prepare it  is roughly how long it takes for the water to boil.

Pickled Green Tomatoes

You will need clean glass containers (you can be creative about what constitutes a proper pickle jar, please see picture). The only comment is to use sturdier containers because you will have to pour hot liquid in them.

However many green tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers you found in the garden: arrange artfully to fill the jars.

Carrots for decorating – slice lengthwise into 1/4″ thick slices and cut them into interesting shapes.

Drop in the jars bay leaves, mixed peppercorns, mustard seed, dried dill, and garlic cloves. If you happen to have a sour cherry tree in your yard (which would be great because they are self pollinating and bear lots of fruit), cut a few tiny branches with leaves and use them to keep the tomatoes from popping up (sour cherry tree leaves prevent pickles from becoming mushy).

In a large pot bring two gallons of water, one pound of salt, and a pint of vinegar to a boil. Wrap the pickle jar in a thick wet towel and place it on top of two or three flatware handles. (the wet towel and the metal will help conduct the heat of the boiling liquid so that the glass doesn’t break). Pour the hot water, salt and vinegar mix over the pickles until they are fully covered. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean towel and cover with card stock rounds and cellophane. Keep in a warm place until the liquid turns clear (the fermenting process should take 4 to 6 weeks), and then store in a cool location to keep over winter.

If you are interested in home food preservation, please take a look at this website:

National Center for Home Food Preservation

Besides information about how to pickle, dry, can or cure basically anything, you will find out the basics of food preserving, the hows and whys, and a lot of other interesting and useful advice.

make rose petal sherbet

On 19, Oct 2010 | No Comments | In preserves | By All Year Garden

I’m going to take the opportunity that this late bloom of Bishop’s Castle provided to present an old world recipe for Rose Petal Sherbet. This delicacy is highly praised by people who dwell around the Mediterranean, since it is a traditional middle-eastern treat that shares its popularity with the Turkish delights and the almond halva. A spoonful of sherbet in a glass of ice water is the way to serve it to guests, especially in summer, when it provides well needed refreshment. If you want to make it special, make sure that the presentation (a silver spoon and a crystal glass) matches the sophistication of the confection, but it would work without it too, because it is delicious. All rose preserves, including this sherbet, should be made of very fragrant Centifolia roses such as this one or Gertrude Jekyll.

Rose Petal Sherbet:

1/2 lb of rose petals

2/3 gallon of water

2 lbs of sugar

the juice of one lemon

Put the rose petals in a salad spinner and spin them a few times to remove the pollen that might be attached to them. Boil them with the water until the mixture reduces to about a half. Set aside and let it cool down. Strain through a thick clean cheese cloth or a coffee filter.

Simmer three cups of this clarified liquid with the sugar on low heat until it all the sugar melts and then turn up the heat. Try the sherbet periodically to see if it achieved the needed consistency. The way to do this is to drop a few droplets in a glass of cold water; if they don’t lose their shape and can be picked up with your fingers the sherbet has boiled enough. Remove the pot from the heat when trying the sherbet. As with any sugar confections, the mixture can very quickly thicken beyond the required consistency and become tough and unmanageable. While it’s still boiling, set aside two teaspoons of syrup and mix them with the lemon juice.

Set the pot aside, cover it with a wet cheesecloth and let it cool down just enough that it can be handled. Hold the pot down on a towel so that it doesn’t move and start stirring very quickly with a wooden spoon until it changes its color and starts looking like pink meringue. When it starts changing color add the lemon juice and syrup mix little by little and knead with your hands until it becomes a fondant paste of uniform consistency. The lemon juice should enhance the color to a beautiful rose pink. Put the sherbet inside clean dry glass jars and press down to eliminate air bubbles.

divide perennials

On 28, Sep 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

The picture is showing a clump of daisies, but the method will work with most perennials. Fall blooming perennials should be divided in spring, and spring blooming in the fall.

Choose a cool cloudy day, humid if possible, to divide your plants. This will put the least stress on them.

division1-cropLift the clump by digging under it with a long spade. Some plants will be hard to lift if they have been established in the location. division2-cropYou can lift the whole clump, or cut through it with the spade and lift a portion of it.  Break out the clump into smaller pieces by pulling it apart with your hands or with a pitch fork if it’s too hard.
division3-cropSelect a good location for the new planting, place the plants in the hole and water. division4-cropCover the roots with dirt and you are done.

There are no rules about how many plants you can get out of a clump, use your best judgment. Typically, if it looks like there are enough roots and enough leaves, the process should work.

Also, if you have some spring perennials that you would like to relocate, mid fall is the best time to do it.

take rose cuttings

Rose propagation is a really simple process, however the success rate is by no means 100%, so make sure to take lots of cuttings from your favorite roses; you can always move your new plants in spring if the location is not perfect. Also keep in mind that many nursery roses are patented and their asexual reproduction even for personal use is illegal. Those roses usually come with tags asserting the patent. If you are not sure, check your rose name online to see if it is listed as “under patent”. Patents usually expire after 20 years, so most of the old world roses are patent free. People swear by different methods of propagating roses from cuttings: the little plastic baggies, the cut-up soda pop bottle, the misting. I tried all methods and only found success with this one, so I’m going to recommend it. You might be wondering why the glass jar will work and the plastic bottle won’t? The answer is “I don’t know”.

Cut a healthy stem, still green but stiff at a 45 degree angle. If the cut is far from the next growth bud, cut the remainder of the stem back about a quarter inch above an outward facing bud. If you don’t the rose will do the job for you and kill the useless piece of stem.

The stem you choose should have at least one branch with 5 leaflets, this detail is important. The stem shouldn’t be longer than 6 inches. Remove any leaves and some people advise all thorns from the bottom part that will be stuck in the ground. Make sure the stem is healthy and free of any pest or damage.

“Bruise” the end that will be in the ground; this will encourage the plant to produce more hormones for rooting. You can bruise it by cutting it lengthwise or smashing it.

If you have rooting hormone, I strongly recommend it: you need to give the young plant all the help you can. Dip the stem in rooting hormone. If you don’t, it will work without it too.

Stick the stem firmly in the ground, it should not be easy to pull out. If the soil is really dry, water it. There is usually enough rain later in the fall to provide sufficient moisture for it. It is best to plant it during or after a rainy, cloudy day, because these conditions put the least stress on the new plant.

Cover the plant with a glass jar. Push the jar into the ground so that it forms a tight seal at the bottom. The jar must remain undisturbed from fall (this is the best time to take rose cuttings) until the next spring. Don’t lift the jar to see how the rose is doing. Remove the jar in spring after all danger of frost is gone.

Different roses take different times to sprout roots, don’t be impatient. You can’t tell whether a rose took  just by looking at it. Some will stay green for the longest time and not take root, some will wither immediately but turn into beautiful healthy little rose bushes in spring. The only sure sign that the stem has roots is if you see new growth at the root level, but that is unlikely to happen during the cold season. Again I have to emphasize the fact that the jar needs to stay undisturbed.

layer raspberries

On 22, Sep 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

Raspberries will do this all by themselves if you let them. They’ll arch gracefully until they touch the ground, and where they do, they will sprout roots. I actually had to pull these and replant them to document the process. If they don’t do it by themselves, you can help them along and get more raspberry canes and therefore, more yummy berries. The best time to do it is at the beginning of fall, when temperatures are not extreme any more but there is still a long way till freezing. The process is as follows:

layering1-cropDig a shallow hole and water it generously. layering2-crop_0Bend the cane into the hole and cover with dirt. Water again. layering3-cropCover with a rock to prevent it from popping back up. layering4-cropIn spring cut the offspring from the mother plant.

Garden care for the fall

At this time your garden is probably expressing the melancholy state of the growing season’s end, when fruit is ripening, perennials go dormant, and the rich abundance of summer starts to fade. Fortunately there are still plenty of faithful fall favorites to brighten up the day, such as mums and stone crops, and this blue ground cover beauty. In order to keep a bright outlook on gardening, there will be much work to be done at the beginning of fall. Here’s the list:

– clean, deadhead, weed (again!). Get rid of all the spent plants and anything that already turned brown.

– don’t forget to water, the garden is tired already, you don’t want it wasting

– gather seeds and fruit, there will be plenty of them

– don’t feed! the garden needs to ease its way into the winter dormancy

– plant cheerful fall annuals to keep the garden bright

– some of your favorite roses will start to bloom again, make sure they are healthy (we can make an exception about feeding roses, they might not bloom again otherwise). Roses are such wonderful plants that they will bloom through the first frost, long after other perennials have already gone dormant.

– if you don’t already have them, plan on getting some reliable late blooming perennials.

Crabapple fruit

On 12, Sep 2010 | 7 Comments | In preserves, wintergarden | By All Year Garden

This wonderful little tree is literally weighed down with fruit. Speaking of garden interest for the cold months, these pretty berries will attract many birds through the fall and will create beautiful contrast when set against snow and ice.

Crab apple trees are some of the most popular decorative trees, and for good reasons: in spring they put up a stunning display of rose-white flowers with a wonderfully delicate fragrance that lingers on the wind and follows you around, not strong enough to indicate its source, not faint enough to make it possible to ignore.

In the fall, the branches are weighed down by these pretty, abundant and very much edible berries. If the birds leave some, please see crab apple jelly recipe below.

In winter the remaining berries will look splendid against the white background of snow.

If you have an apple tree that is not self-pollinating, a crab apple that blooms at the same time somewhere in its proximity will solve the problem for you.

So here goes the Crab apple Jelly recipe:

3-4 pounds of crab apples

3 cups of sugar

Put the crab apples into a large pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the mixture, add sugar and bring it to a boil again, stirring constantly. Skim the foam off the top and let the jelly thicken until one droplet falling on a plate keeps its shape. Pour into jars and seal with lid.

Crab apple jelly has a beautiful bright red color that makes it excellent for adding color to creams, pastries and other deserts.

snapdragon seedpods

On 12, Sep 2010 | No Comments | In propagation | By All Year Garden

These seedpods are not ripe yet, but I wanted to share this diaphanous image of exactly how amazing the beauty of nature is. Ah, the details! Anyway, the point is that these flowers were grown from seed kept from year to year and they are thriving. Who said only flowers were supposed to be beautiful?

On a practical note, when these pods turn dark brown and bone dry, gently cut the stems with scissors and place them in a bag. The little dry pods are like pepper shakers and all the seeds will scatter on the ground if you shake them too much. Snapdragon seeds look exactly like poppy seeds; to get them out of the pods shake and tap the stems on a white piece of paper and pass them through a tea strainer to get all the residue out.