Sunday, November 20, 2016

It's Bone Broth Season!

Nothing has improved my cooking more than using homemade bonebroth in my recipes.   I started making this a couple of winters ago because it was supposed to be good for me . . .  and because it was so warm and yummy to sip a cup of it on a cold winter evening!   I was a little slow to click in to what that rich flavor could add to my recipes.    I like to make mine in a crockpot and cook it for 24 hours or more.   The actual recipe varies from time to time, depending on what I happen to have in the refrigerator.   Here is my basic recipe:

Start with the bones from a roasted chicken - or if it's Thanksgiving week, the bones from your Thanksgiving turkey.   I try to buy chickens that are labeled hormone and antibiotic-free but I am not above buying a grilled or roasted chicken at the grocery store and then using those bones.   Add celery stalks (or the ends of celery stalks and use the celery in your dishes), 1/2 to 1 onion (quartered), two or three carrots, a bunch of parsley, and a couple of bay leaves.   Toss in some whole peppercorns and cover with water.   I use filtered water.   Now turn your crockpot on and set the timer for 24 hours.   I've read it takes this long for the marrow from the bones to leach into your broth.

The first winter that I made bonebroth, I did it on the stovetop.  I had to constantly add water to the pot and was afraid to keep the burner on over night.   I cook with gas and running the burners for 24 hours to make broth ran through LOTS of propane - and turned out to be very expensive broth!   That's when I switched to the crockpot and I love this process.   It cooks slowly enough (even on the high setting) that I don't have to add extra water.  This gives me a nice, richly colored broth.

This is what the chicken and veggies look like after a day of simmering.    Remove them from the crockpot with a big straining spoon.    You won't be able to get ALL of the solids - at least I am not patient enough to get all of the solids out during this step.   At this point, I may add some more spices.   It really depends on what my plan for the broth is.  If I'm cooking with it, I don't bother with more spices.  But if the broth is for sipping, it probably needs some salt and pepper - and a little tumeric or cumin can be tasty too. 
Let the broth cool for 30 minutes or so and then it's time to strain it.   My system is above.    Look at that color!   I made this with a couple of turkey necks and a part of a chicken carcass.    I only had part of a chicken carcass because still haven't trained all my family (i.e. my husband) not to through away chicken bones that are in the refrigerator . . . . 

I know you saw the broth in the last picture, but it was so pretty I thought I'd show you another picture of it!
The final step is to put it into jars.   It usually makes about four quarts.   I just drink what doesn't fit into the jars.   It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for 3-6 months.    You can freeze it flat in plastic ziplock bags or in a jar.   For the freezing, I like the bags but for the defrosting and using, I like the jars.    If you freeze in a jar, freeze it first without the lid, leaving room for expansion.   After being frozen for a day, you can cap the jars.   Otherwise, you are risking some broken jars.

Here's a printable version of my recipe.

If you haven't tried bone broth, I hope  you will.   It's super easy, super tasty, and super good for you!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Repotting the Unfriendliest of Plants

I don't do many container plants and when I do, I try to make sure that they are easy-care as possible. Translate to low water plants and BIG(ger) containers.   Last spring I gathered up some small pots and put them together in a mixed succlulent-ish container.   I thought I had the nice mixture of size,  texture, and color.   One plant was the cutest cactus with long, soft looking, yellow thorns in a 8 inch pot.   I had bought that little pot to decorate for a party and the cactus had just stayed exactly the same for 4 or 5 months.

I don't remember, but that little cactus must have been rootbound because once it got its roots into a larger pot of soil, it grew . . . and then
grew some more.   Within a few months, it looked like this.

The cactus was taking over. 

Time to re-pot and this cactus is COVERED with LONG spines.    First things first . . .   I am using a new terra cotta pot so it needs a good soaking.   If I omit this step, the clay will suck all the moisture from the potting mix.   Instead of watering continually post-planting, I'd rather just soak the pot pre-planting and then water normally. 

The first time that I transplanted the cactus, a piece of folded newpaper was the only tool I needed.   It could work again . . .   Well, the newspaper hack was helpful to hold the cactus while I added more potting mix.   To actually remove it from the pot, I ended up taking it to the lawn and very carefully removing it with a shovel.  (Hand tools didn't keep even a gloved hand far enough away from those spines!)  There were actually three cacti growing together so I split them up and shared with a friend.  

And the finished product   It has room to grow BUT I will be happy to let it become rootbound.   I sure don't want it to get too big for me to handle!

I wish I knew what this little guy is.  But as it grows and blooms, maybe I'll be able to identify it.   Frankly, I'm not very good with cacti.   

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why Yardmap?

Lately, I've been binge-listening to Margaret Roach's gardening podcast and was interested to hear about Cornell's Yardmapping website!     Actually, the correct name is Habitat Network and it is a joint project of the Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.   The mapping program is called Yardmap.  It holds a group of tools to help you map your property and, then, to manage your property in a manner which attracts birds, butterflies, and bees (my words, not theirs).   Of course, all the information that you share with your map helps the scientists learn more about these little creatures.  

Here is my map and the basic breakdown of what is there.   The first few times I worked on it, the property was just listed as "home" - so very generic!  I had always wanted to give our home a name but anything I came up with either sounded stuffy or just didn't ring true.   So, I swiped a friend's community garden's name - because it fits here too!   The first thing we hear when we go outside are the mockingbirds!   And there's nothing stuffy about mockingbirds!

Back to YardMap.   Here is how it works, more or less:

  • The site finds your property on GoogleEarth and then you outline the property.  That's the quick part.   Note: I didn't say that's the easy part because the entire process is pretty easy . . .  but it can be a bit time consuming, especially as you are learning.      
  • After you have outlined your garden, or yard, or yarden, you mark what areas are grass, buildings, pavement, dirt, native forest, water, wetlands, etc. 
  • The final step is that you place your individual trees, shrubs, compost bins, bird feeders, bird houses, bird baths, etc.   Here you can use an INFO tab to add all sorts of details.   
At this point, you start getting feedback -  Habitat Network will feed pertinant articles about how you can make your property more nature-friendly.    Remember the site is hosted by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology (which is a fancy-schmancy word for "birds")  

This is a citizen-scientist project, where non-scientists help collect observations or data from more locations than a scientist could alone.    Besides feeling good about helping out, I expect to learn a lot along the way.  In fact, I have already learned quite a bit.   The mapping has been a fun process and I know that it will help me make Mockingbird Farm more bird friendly.    Won't you join this project?  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Divide and Repot

Last week, I got a tour of some friends new home - and their very large new backyard.  We talked about some of south Texas plants they aren't familiar with and helped identify the fruit trees, herbs and vegetables left behind by the previous owner.   They have a number of big glazed pots with lush plantings - some that were not looking too hot after the move.   After a discussion of where they were growing before - shade or sun, Matt pointed to one pot containing a plant that he felt just needed to be pulled out and tossed.   When he grabbed it and yanked, the entire rootball came out.  It looked like there was very little soil left in the pot. 

Can you say root bound?   

This has such an easy fix.   Divide and repot.    

I like to spread a tarp, plastic tablecloth or old sheet where I'm going to work preferably on a waist high table.   With a serrated knife, either divide into smaller plants or cut away the old and/or dead parts.  Also, cut away the bottom 1/3 (or more) of the rootball.  Now, you're ready to repot your plant with fresh potting soil and possibly plant a few more pots with the extra material.    Empty everything left on your tarp into your compost bin and enjoy your not-so-new planting.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blog Reading

I find it hard to keep up with all my favorite blogs - some are in my Blogger reading list; some are in my WordPress reading list; and some are just linked to Cultivating Paradise.   I have found that I don't like email notifications of new posts.   Too many emails in my inbox makes me hyperventilate.  All of this means that I pretty much have to be on a computer to read blogs posts.   Recently, I came across a phone ap called Bloglovin and I have hope that I can easily access all my favorite blogs on my phone or iPad!   Keep your fingers crossed.   If you have Bloglovin, you can follow me here.   And here's a little eye candy for all my gardening and nature loving friends!
 Queen Caterpillars feeding on dill plants.   In a few weeks, they will (hopefully) become beautiful butterflies!
 Zinnias, bachelors buttons, basil, and sage cut from my daughters garden.   Here's a great reason to garden!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Benefits of Being a Lazy Gardener

I've be feeling a bit guilty about letting our edible garden go to seed and weed.   About 10 days ago, I noticed that anywhere from 25 - 50 Great Southern White butterflies have taken up residence in the garden.   The only flowers out there are artichoke (yep, I never bothered to harvest the chokes) and rosemary, so I don't have any idea what they are feeding (nectaring) on . . . .      Every night, most of them, including the one pictured on the right,  bed down in a large planting of canna lilies.  

I did  read that cruciferous vegetables are host plants for this butterfly.   But most cruciferous vegetables are a winter crop in my Southern garden.   The pretty little butterflies seem pretty indiscriminate about which plants they hang out near and light on -  the artichoke, asparagus, bolting kale, fennel, along with grass weeds that have gone to seed  . . .   My fear of removing what has attracted them led me to not pull or trim one single horrible looking plant.   This afternoon, when I went out to cut a kale leaf for a smoothie, the kale was covered in caterpillars!  

A quick google search verified that these are indeed Southern Great White butterfly larvae!    If you want to see the entire life cycle, visit this post by the Dauphins, a couple of butterfly experts in south Texas.   They captured every detail in some fabulous photos!   The chrysalis isn't as pretty as some, but I will be on the search for them in a day or two.  

If your schedule - or the Texas heat - keeps you from keeping your garden as tidy as you'd like, don't despair.   You may get to play host to some lovely little creatures, too!  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Identifying Texas Sabal and Washingtonia Palms

Living in the Rio Grande Valley, it's easy to take for granted the beauty of our native and naturalized palms.  There are many thousand varieties of palms and 15-20 of them are a common sight in this area.   I think we should all be able to identify the plants and trees growing in our landscapes - along with the birds and butterflies that frequent them.   One of the advantages to learning to identify different palm trees is that it makes you take a closer look at the plant, which leads to a greater appreciation of each palms unique characteristics.

Let's just talk about two of the most common palms down here - our native Texas sabal and the
Mexican Fan Palm
Mexican fan or washingtonia palm.   The untrained (or unobservant) eye would say they look the same.  They are both tall with large fan leaves.

The Mexican fan palm grows 36 inches a year, maturing at 80-100 feet.   Although it's not native, it has naturalized here.  Birds have spread the seeds through our brushlines and native habitat.   A few people even consider it invasive.  But it is a wonderful food source for many birds.  We have been lucky enough to observe a flock of small parrots feeding on the ripe fruit.  We kept hearing something hit the ground - it was the seed they spit out after consuming the fruit!   Mexican fan palms line the highways and many boulevards throughout south Texas.   It does well in parking lots, grouped in large open areas, and in the landscape of a tall building.   In a typical residential landscape, it may look more like a telephone pole than a palm.

Texas Sabal
Texas sabal palms are the only palm native to south Texas.   They grow from deep south Texas south to Central America.   Sabals are slower growers, adding 1 or 2 sets of fronds each growing season, which amounts to about a foot a year.   Mature height is 40 or 50 feet but I rarely see any taller than 20 - 25 feet.   It used to be rare to see one growing in the wild, but birds have done a great job of spreading seed.   Texans use sabal fronds when building palapas.    Sabals retain their 'boots' (leaf ends) for a very long time, giving the trunk a heavy cross-hatched look like the palm below.    It is both drought tolerant and salt-tolerant, making it a great choice for coastal plantings.

Similar but not the same.  Here are the differences to look for:

  • Texas sabal has a smooth frond stem with no spines; Mexican fan has short, dark thorns along the base of the leaf stem.
  • Texas sabal has larger fronds (5-8 feet wide) than the Mexican fan (3-5 feet wide)
  • Texas sabal has a larger, fuller canopy.  
  • Texas sabal trunk is thicker than a Mexican fan's - about 30" in diameter - and it is more likely to have its boots. 
Take my challenge to learn to identify different palm trees growing in south Texas!