Recipe: Radishes harvested a-plenty. Now how to use them?

During this past weekend Keepsake Collector harvested all of our radishes. Here is a small sample of the harvest. This variety is French Breakfast. Did you grow radishes? How was your harvest? IMG_6488

Now that we have so many, what to do with all these radishes? Radishes are enjoyed in salads of course but did you know that they can be made into their own side dish, used in any slaw or roasted in the oven with olive oil, kosher salt and a splash of lemon juice? For example, look at this surprising recipe for Roasted Radishes and tell me what you think.

If I could eat Latin American food every day, I would be very happy. I just love it! I haven’t always felt this way, but the Midnight Gardener and I have lived in Mexico, Costa Rica and South Florida, and I just fell in love with nearly all foods from these regions. The food served there is so fresh, robust and earthy.

The combination of lime, cilantro, and a little kosher salt is amazing, and surprisingly, when you add radish and a few other ingredients to these flavors, the result is an added kick of delight to the overall taste. Try sliced, raw radish as a garnish for the savory pork and hominy soup called Pozole, to homey Black Bean Soup, or the stew of beef, bacon and and beans known as Carne En Su Jugo. Even more simple, sliced or julienned radishes make a fantastic topping for any taco.

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The radish is a true Latin Food enhancer. Please give it a try! Take it a step further by making this great recipe for a Radish-Cilantro Taco topping:

Ingredients

½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

6 radishes, trimmed, washed and diced

4 green onions, chopped

1 small avocado, diced

1 teaspoon fresh jalapeño, seeds removed, if desired, and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 half of a lime, juiced.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparations

Combine all ingredients and mix. Add lime juice, kosher salt and pepper to taste. Increase the amount of jalapeño if you would like to turn up the spice. Allow the flavors to combine for 30 minutes. Serve with any Latin Foods. Delicious with tacos!

 

The photo “Fish Tacos with Radish Salad and Salsa Verde” by thebittenword.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

L is for: The Love Apple

Memories of my early childhood include many scenes from my family’s garden. Close your eyes with me and visualize an 8-year-old girl with red hair and freckles at that playful but awkward stage, who’s newly banged-up shins and pink, sun-kissed nose are the rewards of a glorious Saturday spent playing outside in the heat of the summer. She is kneeling in the furrow of a garden row. In her hands she holds a treasure, discovered amid the dark green foliage beside her. It is shiny, and bright apple red, and she presses it with both hands to her face for an enormous bite. The delicate skin ruptures and a juicy torrent covers her cheeks and hands. Gulping and slurping with great satisfaction, she bends forward for a second bite and the tomato squirts onto her shirt and dribbles between her fingers, making dark, wet spots on the soil at her feet.

Only a homegrown tomato could make such a delicious mess. Tomatoes are simply my favorite food of all time. I eat them right off the vine all summer long. Most people agree that a store-bought tomato offers no comparison to one picked from the vine and devoured moments later. If there is one summer vegetable (actually a fruit) that most people will make any effort to grow themselves, it is the tomato.

I am hopeful that this is going to be our best year for tomatoes. Don’t you also hope for the same every year? Yesterday, I “potted up” some of our tomato seedlings. Tomato plants require a lot of sunlight and summer heat for the fruit to flourish and ripen—two things which are not abundant here in the Pacific Northwest. To grow well and reach its full potential, a tomato plant requires considerable effort from the gardener. Please keep this statement in mind as I tell you my love story.

I have deemed my husband, the Midnight Gardener, as a tomato whisperer. In January he combs the seed catalogs to select the best varieties to produce the best tasting tomatoes in our short growing season. The tiny seedlings are nurtured under lights with automatic timers and placed on heating mats. As they grow, they receive meticulous care: they are monitored daily, watered from the bottom at the root and are gently blown with a fan to simulate the outdoor weather. Generally, he plants 36 to 40 tomato plants each growing season. Last year I begged him to plant less. He agreed! I felt happy until I learned he had thirty-three seedlings. Wow! A lot less work.

My husband has tried IMG_4282[1]all kinds of tomato varieties: Pruden’s Purple, Green Zebra, Sun Gold Cherry, Brandywine and Legend to name a few. My personal favorite is the yellow-fruited Taxi. So…so…soooo good; sweet, but not too sweet, with a little tang and a delicate, thin skin. Try it! At the peak of each tomato season he creates a blind taste test of all the varieties he has grown that year and asks me to declare the winner. Taxi has so far always been the winner, although two years ago, Hillbilly very nearly edged out Taxi and took the crown.

Here is where the love story comes in…my husband does not eat freshly-grown tomatoes. He does not eat them at all. He finds them to be squishy and will slide them from his plate to mine if ever one arrives from a restaurant kitchen. My tomato whisperer grows tomatoes because he wants me to enjoy my favorite food! He will often remind me that the French called it “pomme d’amour” or the Love Apple. He loves me? He loves me not? Oh, he loves me–36 tomato plants tells me that yes, he loves me!

I am going to tell you a secret–I do not enjoy planting these dozens of tomato plants every year. The Midnight Gardener grows tomato seedlings like a champ, but as we approach summer I plant them in the garden. It is not fun! I have to think all the positive thoughts in the world to finish the task. Last year my father-in-law patiently worked with me until they were all planted–so nice.

My weekly message this Wednesday is in the form of a simple equation.

Love = Doing what you don’t like doing, or don’t want to do to give another person joy. 
True joy for me= the Midnight Gardener’s joy.
True joy for him=my joy.
And that’s my Love (apple) Story. 
IMG_2572

Laundry Room Seedling Nursery

I spent several hours this weekend moving tomato seedlings from seedling trays into large pots. I noticed that Jennifer has already told you that I grow too many plants. If you ask me, the problem, more specifically, is that I allow too many plants to live! Gardening books tell us to plant extra seeds in case something goes wrong. I start tomato seeds in small trays, for example, and I may plant two seeds in a cell. As the small seedlings emerge and begin to grow, I’m supposed to then choose the best and eliminate the other. Instead, I often tease the tiny seedlings apart and transplant both into pots. Volià–just like that we end up with dozens of extra plants.

1 (3)I’m worried that I didn’t get to the tomato seedling earlier. The plants look a bit stressed. I was just too busy when the time was right. I hope they will soon return to stretching out their roots in the luxurious space of  their new pots and that their leaves will again be vibrant and resume vigorous growth.

When I was  new to gardening we purchased a lot of seedings from nearby nurseries. As I gained experience, I wanted to grow specific varieties that could not be found as seedlings. I wanted to grow these varieties for a number of reasons–primarily because they were adapted to my region, but also because they were known to be superior in flavor or some other quality. While the varieties could not be found as seedlings, the seeds could be purchased.

And so I determined to grow the seedlings myself. I begged for some space in the laundry room and I purchased some equipment and supplies. Prior to planting, I fill seedling plug trays with moistened sterile seedling mix and I prepare small plant labels for each variety.  Once the seeds are planted, I place a clear plastic dome over the tray to ensure the conditions stay ideal. The trays go under lights on a top shelf in our laundry room. The shop light hanging there (this one from Home Depot) has six T8 fluorescent bulbs in the daylight color range (6500K), which makes the room seem as bright and cheery as a sunny morning. The lights are plugged into a simple timer, simplifying their operation. A heating mat controlled by a thermostat encourages germination and a small fan ensures healthy air movement and realistic conditions. I observe the plant trays carefully, and I water the seedlings as needed.

After a several weeks the now larger seedlings are transplanted into larger pots filled with a perlite-rich potting mix (I use this one as it ensures good drainage which is important here in the Pacific Northwest) and relocated to lighted shelves in our unheated garage in order begin the process of hardening off the seedlings as they adapt to the powerful sunshine and outside temperatures. On sunny days I relocate the seedlings out of doors, and I return them to the garage each evening. I watch the weather in order to be aware of cold snaps and rainy or winds days, and I keep the plants watered.

All this is a lot of work, but the result is that we can grow a garden of amazing varieties that succeed in this area and provide delicious results!

Grow well,

The Midnight Gardener

What’s in the Garden? Weeds? Oh my!

Weeds, weeds weeds. IMG_6039[1]
The last two weekends I have had no time to plant because all I can do is fight the weeds. It’s a problem we have because fall turned to winter before we had a chance to take our normal precautions to prevent weed growth. Now we have massive dandelions, bull thistle, stinging nettle and plenty of grasses. After many hours of work, I have one row in the big garden, two raised garden boxes and one flower bed that are weed free. It is a long process! I know for most folks, weeding is drudgery, but for “unusual me” it is generally soothing and something I don’t mind. Of course, when it takes up Saturday after Saturday it even wears me down!

Today I wanted to share the tools and techniques I use to banish weeds from our garden. We generally use five methods: the human power of a strong back and pair of hands, small hand tools, a propane weed torch, other organic weed killers and gas-powered mechanical tools.

Human Power

Hand weeding is essential–get the weeds out while small and young so that they can’t go to seed and produce thousands of additional weeds–but this work can be hard on your body! Be sure to stretch out! Take advantage of the winter months to strengthen yourself and prepare for the spring.

Maybe try my newly favorite approach. After cancer treatment I was a weakling. I had no strength and my motivation was low. A good friend of mine encouraged me to start doing yoga once or twice a week to regain my strength. Yoga? I had to think about it for a while, but I did start and the strength and calming mental health effects I gained from yoga classes have been so worth the effort. Yoga is great for women AND men, so guys, don’t you be afraid to try it. Yoga has also been beneficial for me, being a person who now has one less lobe to my lungs, because the breathing techniques that are a part of the sessions help me to feel well, instead of out of breath and wheezing by the time I finish my exercise. In preparation for gardening, yoga strengthens your back muscles! I found it is excellent for gardeners who are always bending over to plant or pull those weeds. Build your strength with yoga, my friends!

Did you know that gardening counts as exercising? Please read the following article from WebMD if you need the evidence Get Fit by Gardening. I was very happy with this information because I spend so much time in the garden.

Protect those hands! Here is my favorite pair of garden gloves linked from Amazon.com Nitrile Garden Gloves. These are in nice colors for the ladies, but they also come in black if that works for you. Be certain to pay attention to order your size, you want them to be like a second skin.

Favorite Hand Tools

Bypass pruning shears I’ve used a lot of different brands. This pair surprised me because they were still in great shape even after I left in the rain for too long. Oops. I often misplace hand tools in the garden. Luckily these are affordably priced on Amazon.com.

This is my favorite Weed Digger. I like the wooden handle. This one doesn’t come apart like so many plastic-handled tools I’ve owned. I am also not impressed with the thicker shaft models like the Fiskars brand, because they are hard to drive into the soil to get underneath the weeds well. We use these weed diggers often with the many dandelions in our gardens and lawn. Our kids also use these hand tools to earn money (and when they need time to think about their problem behavior.)

My husband, The Midnight Gardener, powers through weedy patches with a stirrup (also known as an action hoe). We’ve owned several over the years and all worked reasonable well. Our soil can be rocky, so a good quality steel blade is important so the hoe can be re-sharpened and will hold an edge. One winter he wanted the Swiss-made Stirrup Hoe from Johnny’s Selected Seeds so much that he bought it for himself as a gift one holiday season. I remember thinking, “That was expensive!” Now I love it and don’t use anything else.

Burn Those Weeds

Okay, we do occasionally use a propane garden torch. Correction–The Midnight Gardener uses a propane torch, a.k.a. Gardening Flamethrower. I am too afraid of burning something down. We have an agreed upon rule that he can only use it if I am home. There is some history there that (cough) we don’t need to go in to (let’s just say that we may have had a little fire incident that wouldn’t have turned out well if I hadn’t been there and quick with the garden hose). A quick pass of the torch kills many weeds. It is most useful for large scale weeding away from delicate plants, such as along borders, pavers, ditches and rocky, hard to weed areas. Amazon.com has well-priced and basic model Weed Burner to which you add your own propane tank, such as one from a BBQ grill.

Organic Weed Killers

We plant cover crops at the end of the gardening season. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we often use a mix of winter rye, crimson clover and vetch. The result is a dense canopy that covers and protects the soil from winter erosion. These lush, fast-growing plants block weed seed germination and out compete all else. As a bonus, these crops are cut down in the spring resulting in a large quantity of organic material that amends the soil with nutrients just in time for spring planting.

We’ve used rolls of plastic sheeting for effectively killing weeds in large areas. It isn’t a quick solution, but is very effective when left in place for months, such as when preparing new garden beds. The black plastic serves as an occultation cover, denying light to the turf or weedy soils. Clear plastic sheets can be used over soil to kill weeds, and pests through solarization, which concentrates the sun’s energy in the top 12-18 inches.

When we invest the time to do things right, landscape fabrics have been the answer for weed free walkways, borders, around trees and the like. For many years we’ve used the 4 ft. wide commercial quality products carried by discount clubs and big box stores. Recently we found a local source for Dewitt Sunbelt Woven Ground Cover and have begun to use it due to its durability.

A lot of gardeners have made use of vinegar for killing weeds. This is something I’m learning about. Understand that this isn’t common household vinegar, but is something much stronger. The potent stuff can contain 20-25% acetic acid, and may be called horticultural vinegar where you live. Where I live there are laws about its sale and use, and safety precautions to be considered, so please do your own research.

Gas-Powered Mechanical Tools

If you have a large garden or yard, the right tools are time savers. A rototiller can be useful for breaking up new garden beds or adding large quantities of organic matter, but for us it isn’t something we use frequently because of the impact the machine has in pulverizing the soil and destroying the soil food web. A year ago we invested in a high-impact set of garden tools that rule! The Stihl Kombi System in my opinion rocks! This system consists of an engine component and attachments that allow you to cut, trim, edge, prune, cultivate, blow, and sweep. You buy the separate attachments you need. We have found the time savings to be worth it. We bought our system at a local Stihl dealer and it has saved us so much time and effort!

And this my friends is all I can recommend to help you in your weed fighting efforts. All this work inspires me to do more for weed prevention–but that is another subject for another time.

Off I go to do what? Yes, of course it’s time to weed again.

 

 

Half Way There..Surviving & Thriving

Today I am stepping away from my garden to share with you my good news. Good news nope, Great news! On Friday, I celebrated two and a half years of freedom from cancer!! The Midnight Gardener and Clever Girl went with me to my two and a half year check-up with my Doctor, Kimberly Costas. We looked at the scans together and they looked perfectly clean from anything cancerous. I am of course happy, delighted and relieved.

My heart continues to be so full of gratitude to God for his constant goodness, for a gifted surgeon, and supportive team of Doctors and of course for amazing family, friends and church family. I celebrate you!! Cheers to a great six months!! Jen

Never Boil Another Egg Again!

Perfect Steamed Eggs

Yes I know eggs don’t grow in gardens but they do come from chickens, that live on farms, where gardens grow. Oh, well I just had to share this recipe because it is still close to Easter right and my enjoyment of hard boiled eggs increased immensely after I received this recipe.

One day I was outside weeding in my front garden beds when my neighbor Jim stopped by to give me the best hard boiled egg recipe ever.  When I read the title I was surprised because it said, “Best Steamed Eggs.” I was intrigued. I tried it and I haven’t boiled an egg since. Steamed eggs turn out tender, with no grey edges around the yoke every time. They are so easy to peel the shells just slide right off. Just follow this simple recipe.

Ingredients

10 eggs, salt & pepper to taste. (That’s it!)

Fill a steamer with around four cups of water and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling place ten eggs inside the steamer, cover with a lid. Next, set a timer for 14 minutes. When the timer finishes immediately pour the hot water out of the bottom of the steamer. Then fill the steamer with cold water enough to cover the eggs. Let the eggs chill in the water for 5 or so minutes. Finally, crack, peel, sprinkle with salt & pepper and eat. Perfect every time. If you want fancy steamed eggs use a sprinkle of crystal salt.

Adapted from a recipe given to me by my nearly 85 year old neighbor Jim. Thanks, Jim!

R is for: Reliable Easter Egg Radishes

It wasn’t until I became a gardener that I came to appreciate the lowly radish. One of the earliest vegetables to germinate in the cold spring soil, I find delight each spring season when I spot these tiny green seedlings against the expanse of dark, wet earth.

Now, if you want to introduce and involve children in your gardening efforts, look no farther than the radish. Find a packet of seeds labeled “Easter Egg Radish.” The packet will include a blend of three or four varieties of radish seed, each of a different color. Radishes are also ideal for kids to plant because they want to see results quickly. While no seeds sprout immediately (magic beans?), radishes go from planting to harvest in a short three to four weeks. When harvest time arrives, the children will be surprised to discover a colorful bunch of crisp radishes–purple, pink, white, and crimson–hiding just under the soil. Come on! Get the kids in your life a packet of these seeds and the results will be rewarding for all. 

The Easter egg radish colors are delightful, but what is best about a quality variety of radish seed is that it is hard to mess up! You can trust that if you plant a radish seed, a tiny green plant will come up because they are the most dependable seeds in the garden. Even if you think you can’t get any seed to grow, just follow the direction on a packet and plant a row of radish seeds and you can consider yourself a gardener!

Radish seeds are always reliableimg_5532

 

My radishes are already up. They are pretty, right? Okay, okay, I know they need to be thinned a little. I tend to plant too many seeds. 

Easter means new life to me. With spring the earth comes alive again. In Christianity we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the knowledge that He lives again. We feel peace as we contemplate our faith in this truth, and our certainty that He is with us, that He knows us and that He is reliable without question.

I have needed to wait on the Lord (Isaiah 40:31) and His timing on many occasions in my life. With some trials, He has taken me to the end of my rope and to where it seemed to me I was dangling from a piece of dental floss. But there have also been so many times when He answered my need in a hurry, to my great delight and wonder. Here is just one of those remarkable stories:

As I wrote in “F is for: Fluffy Soil,” I have known since my fight with ovarian cancer at age thirteen that I would not be able to give birth to children. With time I came to recognize that the blessing of adoption could be my way to grow a family. And later, when I married, my husband and I prepared our new life together to be centered around this desire. When he finished graduate school, the time came for us to complete our adoption paperwork and then wait. We had been told the wait could be long, and we had prepared for that eventuality.

We also expressed our righteous desire to welcome a child into our family through prayer and fasting. While we thought the wait would be sooo long, it wasn’t! Within only a few short months we got a call from our adoption agency with the news that we should be expecting a child in the spring of that year. This would be a little baby girl, a tiny 5 pound 14-ounce peanut. God had heard my prayers, my husband’s prayers, our parent’s prayers, our family member’s prayers, and His answer came so quickly that all were astounded. Including this little lady into our lives filled us with joy, and so Clever Girl was given the middle name “Joy.” 

God taught us through this sweet child that we could trust Him and He blessed us over time with opportunities to adopt three other wonderful children. Now these three darlings did not come as quickly as the first. In truth, my trust in Him was weak on many occasions, but in time I learned again and again not to doubt Him. Reflecting back on these challenging times, I should not have doubted His timing because each of our children joined our family at what we recognize was the perfect time for us. I see this now–I just couldn’t see it at the time, and I wish I would have always lifted my spiritual gaze to a place of faith instead of focusing in the intensity of those moments.

We can be assured that God is reliable. We, as His impatient children, need to set aside doubt and fear and trust Him enough to wait patiently for His perfect time.

Reliable Easter egg radish seeds will grow without fail. Plant them. Trust God. Plant your faith in Him and He will help you grow. And sometimes you will be astounded how quickly it comes to you too.

T is for Tulips…Plant Them Deeply

We live in Washington State, not far from the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Spring is the time to visit and tour the fields when they are covered with thousands of tulips or daffodils. The first time we visited I naively traveled all that way to find fields of daffodils in decline and fields of green tulip plants not yet in bloom. I learned that year how important it is to check the bloom status when planning a trip. Prior to the next visit, I called the Tulip Festival’s phone number to ask when the tulips would be in full bloom. The person I spoke with was kind, but I did hear a tinge of exasperation in the response, “Like it says on the website, tulips do not bloom according to a precise calendar date—rather, the schedule for blooms is weather dependent.” I’ve now know to check the website to ensure the fields are in full color before we trek to Tulip Town.

Like the farmers and gardeners who create the displays at the tulip festival, I also made a great effort this past year to plant tulip bulbs in mid-October. I do this so that as April approaches there will be brilliant spots of color amid the grey scenery and dreary spring rains of the Northwest. This year is no exception. I planted a lot of bulbs and the first of my tulips are about to bloom. But let me stray from the subject of tulips for a moment…

Growing and changing as a person is not an easy task. Developing ourselves takes faith in God, a willingness to trust Him and to do the hard work, and it helps if we have patience and are persistent. With my own growth in mind, I set a goal for myself during my second fight with cancer. I wanted to memorize an important scripture in hopes that I could come to understand the lesson that God had for me in that very difficult time. I planned to work on my goal while undergoing the many radiation treatments in order to distract and occupy my thoughts.

My radiation treatments happened each weekday for six weeks. At each visit I had to lay in a large machine called a linear accelerator. Technicians used laser crosshairs to ensure I was positioned precisely so that the machine could deliver focused doses of radiation to the desired target locations inside my chest with minimal damage to the surrounding tissues. During the treatments the machine moved around me to deliver the radiation from multiple directions.

While I didn’t feel physical pain during the procedure, it did come later each day as the cells in the affected areas reacted to the powerful radiation. However, I did experience considerable anguish during each treatment! From the moment I was positioned in the machine I was required to be completely motionless and remain that way until the treatment was over. (Oh, and there is the fact that you must do this while at the same time being exposed… This is because the alignment cannot be established and maintained if clothing is in the way.)

I am terrible at being still. It is torture to me. That is where my goal came in. I would lay still and work on my goal as the minutes ticked by slowly at a snail’s pace. I kept repeating the scripture to myself, reciting it over and over again, and I did this each weekday for 6 weeks. I prayed during that time too, and I thought a lot about my children and my family. These practices were the only way I could maintain the stillness and make it through the treatments.

I didn’t memorize the scripture. I tried and tried. I remember lying there and just trying to remember only three or four of the words–but they would be just out of my reach. It seemed to be simple goal–just one scripture. Ridiculously easy for most, but try it with a chemo brain, lying absolutely still in a machine that is moving around you and all while in a minor state of undress!

Reflecting on it now I realize I was planning to be an overachiever! It may seem silly but I still don’t have this scripture memorized. At first I was disappointed in myself. “Why couldn’t I memorize it?” I despaired. But after some time and quiet reflection, I realized that I had achieved something more valuable than rote memorization of those words. I gained deep within myself a profound understanding of the message in that scripture. There was no rushing in this planting, there was plenty of time. The understanding I gained is so deeply planted in my soul that it influenced me to change.

Just as the tulip’s bloom is weather dependent, so is the changing of one’s heart. My life’s weather was incredibly stormy when this scripture was planted over and over again. The repetition created the perfect conditions for my heart to be softened and for God’s words to be planted deeply and as He intended—so that I could act upon the desire to change.

Italian Tortellini Soup

I am going to start this page by sharing an award winning soup recipe. Italian Tortellini Soup. Award winning you say? Yes that is right, award winning!  The office where I used to work holds an annual soup competition. Employees prepare entries and each office selects their favorite soup, and sends the winning employee to the regional soup cook-off. This recipe was my office’s winning soup and at the region competition it was declared the overall regional winner. Great recipe! My supervisor was so delighted when my recipe won that she and another co-worker plastered my wall with pictures of soup cans. It brightened the office for a couple of weeks.

Where did the recipe come from? We had a neighbor who had Italian family roots, and she shared this soup with my family. We loved it. That was about 10 years ago. I’m glad that I asked her for the recipe. She gave me a copy of her family’s cookbook, The LaFrance Family Cookbook. You’ll love all the healthy garden produce that is the highlight of this recipe.

(I have a little secret–over the years I adapted the recipe to simplify the preparation and to take advantage of the bounty of my summer garden all year long. I now make the recipe with my own homegrown tomato sauce, which makes it extra delicious. I’ll share the adaptation soon, it is not included in the recipe below. What follows is the inspirational recipe that was given to me.)

Italian Tortellini Soup

Ingredients

1 lb. Italian sausage (bulk or remove the casings)

1 cup onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 2 cans diced tomatoes)

5 cups beef stock or canned beef broth

1-8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 large zucchini, diced

2 large carrots, thickly sliced

1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced

½ cup of 100% grape juice

1 tbsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. dried basil (or 3 tbsp. fresh)

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

8 – 10 oz. fresh cheese tortellini (results are also good with frozen tortellini)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Fry the Italian sausage in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl.

Remove all but one tablespoon of sausage drippings from the Dutch oven. Add the onion and the garlic to the Dutch oven and sauté until translucent. Return the sausage to the Dutch oven. Add the stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce, zucchini, carrots, bell pepper, grape juice and the herbs / spices. Simmer on low until vegetables are tender.

Add the tortellini to the soup and cook a few minutes until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with a sprinkle of with Parmesan cheese.

Pruning Fruit Trees

Saturday was sunny and not too cold, the perfect weather for pruning our fruit trees. Does pruning also hold a bit of mystery for you? I have studied the topic, and while the basics were clear, it remained a mysterious art to me for years. Even though the authors offered guidelines, photos and some diagrams, because those images didn’t look like my trees, I was still left uncertain. By applying the guidelines and my limited sense of esthetics, I started experimenting. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I still often wonder whether I’ve done it “right.” I am not yet an expert home orchardist, but I am learning. The trees are healthy and we get good amounts of fruit, so I know I’m doing some things well.

What have I learned?

  • I prune the fruit trees during the late winter while the plants are dormant.
  • Because I know that a blunt tool can lead to unintended damage to a tree, I sharpen my tools frequently. This step also makes the work easier.
  • To prevent the spread of disease, I keep my tools clean and the cutting blades disinfected. I repeat this between trees. To make this easy, I use bleach-free disposable wipes.
  • I know how to use four pruning cuts (pinching, heading, thinning, shearing) as appropriate and I understand each will result in corresponding change in the growth of the tree.

Pruning Resources:

Pruning Basics from OSU Extension Service

Pruning Your Home Orchard from OSU Extension Service

Fruit Trees: Training and Pruning Deciduous Trees from UC Davis Cooperative Extension

Disinfect Your Tools to Prevent Disease

 

The dormant season is also an ideal time to plant trees.

  • You can purchase trees sold as “bareroot” plants, growing in containers, or with their root ball wrapped in burlap.
  • I prefer bareroot trees for two reasons: 1.) they are relatively lightweight which makes them easier to move and plant, and 2.) the roots are visible such that I can determine their condition.
  • I have planted fruit trees from containers, and those trees have flourished for the most part, but I have also found trees for sale that had been in the container too long and had developed circling roots that could strangle the tree, and wouldn’t venture far into the surrounding soil leading to a less healthy and potentially unstable tree.

Planting Resources:

Planting Your Bareroot Fruit Tree by UGA Extension

Planting Bareroot Trees from Fine Gardening Magazine

 

Garden well,

The Midnight Gardener