2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide

The 2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide is out! There are articles on making the most of a small garden space, and another on how to landscape when water is scarce.

I wrote two of this year’s stories: one on heirloom flowers, and one on garden trends.

Garden Guide 2016One trend won’t surprise most gardeners, because it’s ongoing. Our bees are in trouble. Their populations have been declining for years because of disease, parasitic mites, overuse of pesticides, and other issues.

Now gardeners are actively trying to help them, says Jeanine Standard, a spokesperson for Proven Winners. We’re using fewer chemicals in our yards and planting more flowers, shrubs, and other plants they can use for food and shelter.

Another trend: gardeners want to replace the impatiens they’ve been growing in shady spots, since the plants are still dying from powdery mildew. Standard recommends using caladiums and Browallias, although she says she thinks impatiens will make a comeback, since developers are working on their genetics.

As for trendy edibles, look for ‘Suntava Full Season Purple’ corn, available from W. Atlee Burpee & Co. It’s a stunning variety that’s purple from cob to husk to stalk. Burpee’s is also offering ‘Meatball,’ an eggplant that makes a great meat substitute in your recipes. I’ve tried them, and they’re delicious. The fruits are heavy, firm and sweet tasting.

Read about more new varieties in the issue–it’s on newsstands now.

 

Beautiful, Useful Rain Chains

Rain chain from Rain Chains Direct

A chain of hammered copper cups. The cups are open at the bottom, so rainwater can flow through to the ground.  Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

I love watching water move, whether it’s at the beach or in a puddle stirred by the wind. I love the sounds of water, too, and sometimes I know it’s raining before I look outside, because I hear the water  gurgling down our gutters.

Recently we replaced one of those gutters – the ones my husband complains about, because they get choked with pine straw every fall – with a rain chain. It was super-easy to install. All we had to do was take off the downspout and measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter to the ground, so we’d know how long the chain needed to be.

Then we attached a gutter installer, a device that holds the chain.  You put the installer into what’s called the leader hole (the opening in the gutter that directs water to the downspout). Add the chain, tighten a bolt, and you’re done.

rain chain gutter installer, courtesy of Rain Chains Direct

Here’s the gutter installer. The chain hangs from the bar in the middle. You tighten the bolt to hold the installer in place. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

To keep the chain taut, we tapped a stake into the ground and attached it. Next I’ll put some rocks from our creek under the chain to help distribute the run-off, but you can also buy catch basins to match your chain. They don’t hold a lot of water, but they add to the charm.

And rain chains really are charming, although they’re functional, too. Best of all, they don’t clog, so nobody has to climb a ladder and dig out wet, decomposing leaves.

Rain Chains Direct

Rain chains come in many styles. Some look like flowers or small cups; others are lengths of single or doubled loops. This 100% copper rain chain has aged to a soft patina. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

All I need now is rain, since we’re currently in a drought. I’m looking forward to seeing the little copper cups on my chain channel the water to the thirsty shrubs around our foundation, and to hearing it splash and tinkle. I’m watching the skies for clouds…and watching…and watching.

Thanks to Rain Chains Direct for providing the rain chain used in my review.  The opinions are my own, freely and sincerely given.

 

How To Take Care of Your Christmas Cactus

Have you kept your grandmother’s Christmas cactus growing?  I don’t have my grandmother’s; wish I did. But I do have this one, given to me several years ago by a friend from church.

When I kept it on my desk inside an artificially-lit office, it didn’t re-bloom much. Worse, I made the mistake of re-potting the first year, only to discover later that these plants like to be somewhat root-bound.

Finally, I took my Christmas cactus home and left it on my shaded porch all summer and fall. One day I realized it was studded with buds, and today—ta dah! It’s turned out to be more of a Veteran’s Day cactus than one for Christmas, because it’s already blooming and it’s not quite mid-November, but that’s okay. It’s beautiful anyway, and I know the ones in stores have been cultivated in greenhouses, so they’re timed to bloom at the holidays.

I’ve done some reading about these plants, and I’ve learned that even though they are called “cacti,” they’re really epiphytes, and they’re in the same family as orchids. They’re native to Central and South America, where you’d find them growing in the forks of trees, rooted in the fallen leaves and other debris that gets caught in the branches.

To coax your Christmas cactus into bloom, give it cooler temperatures starting in September and October, around 50 degrees F. Keep it in a room where no lights will be on at night–even a little light will disrupt the bloom cycle. It will need 12 to 14 hours of total darkness each day.

Water your plant, but keep it on the dry side throughout the fall and winter. (Overwatering can cause the buds to drop.) Don’t expose it to freezing weather, or you’ll have mush and blackened stems. You can use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer during the growing season, which is roughly April to September each year.

Or you can do what I do, and just put your cactus outside in a shady spot starting in the spring, and water it when the top soil feels dry. Bring it in when the buds start to form. Keep it out of drafts, and in a spot that gets good light–but not in a window where direct sunlight will burn it.

By keeping your plant outdoors, Mother Nature will take care of the light exposure as the days grow shorter. Of course, your cactus will also bloom before Christmas, as mine is doing right now. That’s okay…it’s beautiful! And I’m grateful for the glory of flowers 🙂

P.S. –Want to know more about caring for your Christmas cactus? Click this link to tips from Purdue University.

 

 

 

Recipes Every Man Should Know

Readers, some of you have been asking me to post recipes, and I’ve got a treat for you today! Susan Russo, co-author with Brett Cohen of Recipes Every Man Should Know, has generously agreed to let me share some of the delicious goodies packed into their little black book (see the cover, below). You can purchase a copy at bookstores, or online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If the book is sold out, just ask. Your bookseller should be able to order it for you.

You can also find more of Susan’s recipes at her blog, Foodblogga (and believe me, once you’ve tried these, you’ll want more).

I confess that I seldom post recipes simply because I’m not much of a cook–but my husband is, which makes Susan’s book even better. I just gave a copy to him for an early Father’s Day gift–sneaky, yes? He gets to cook, and I get to eat.

Ready to break out the chips? Susan’s recipe for bacon guacamole is up first. Read on:

Bacon Guacamole

6 slices bacon

Flesh of two ripe avocados

1 medium tomato, chopped

4 scallions (white parts only) finely chopped

Juice of one lime

A couple pinches salt

A couple dashes hot sauce

Small handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. Place bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook until crisp. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Let cool and chop into small pieces.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until chunky (or you can use a fork to mix).

This dish takes about 15 minutes to prepare and yields 6-8 servings.

Now, how about a main dish? Beef and beer chili is a perfect choice for a quick meal:

Beef & Beer Chili

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped

1 to 1 ¼ pound ground beef

1 ½ to 2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Several shakes of salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 (14.5 ounce) cans pinto or red kidney beans, drained

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 (12 ounce) bottle dark beer, such as stout

1 tablespoon cornmeal, optional

1. Warm oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers and sauté 5 minutes. Add meat. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in spices, salt and brown sugar. Add beans, tomatoes, and beer. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Stir in cornmeal in you want a thicker chili.

2. Serve chili hot, topped with any of the following: shredded Cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, sliced scallions, or fresh cilantro.

This dish takes 30 to 45 minutes from start to finish and serves 6 to 8.

A huge THANKS to Susan Russo, who allowed me to reproduce these recipes and photos, and to my friend Lucy Mercer, for directing me to Susan in the first place. Don’t miss Lucy’s blog, A Cook and Her Books, which is delicious and delightful and always fun to read. Ladies, you are both awesome!