Garden

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“In the beginning, our plant exchange was really small,” says Elkhart County Park Department Chief Naturalist, Jerry Good. “But, it’s been growing. This will be our fifth year.”

Yesterday, DH and I traded plants with more than 60 friends and neighbors. The sun was out. We met new people. We took home a Rose of Sharon, a tea plant and yellow irises. I petted a baby raccoon.

It was a perfect day.

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One man’s excess might be another man’s garden centerpiece.

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Queen patiently waits while her family trades plants and tours the gardens.

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Steve Ganglo, DeFries Garden Park Caretaker, with orphan, Coonie.

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Who could resist that face? Coonie is being raised on half ‘n half and baby formula.

THE CALENDAR GARDEN

Designed by Jon Curtell, DeFries Calendar Garden has a section for each season. It is further divided by months. Every month features  grasses, bushes, plants and flowers at their peak. Native Indiana plants are on the outside of the garden. Horicultural displays are toward the inside.

 
Pathways representing four lunar equinoxes, form a compass leading to a pond in the middle of the Calendar Garden.

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The pond with it’s water lilies is the garden focal point. There are goldfish and bluegill, too. The bluegill were added because the park department wanted native Indiana fish. Nobody considered size. As a result, the number of goldfish is dropping.

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A patch of green amidst pink lily pads.

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Every month has a lunar marker featuring a distinct moon phase.

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One of the seasonal sections.

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May is in full bloom.

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The back entrance to the house Beth DeFries built and donated to the Elkhart County Park Department. Steve Ganglo, park caretaker and his wife Linda live here now.

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Benefactor Beth DeFries, an amateur botanist interested in preserving Northern Indiana’s native plants, donated her land and house to Elkhart County’s Park Department.

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FINALLY, it’s time to plant. I have spring fever. I want to dig in the dirt. And fill baskets with color and fragrance. But, I need to do research. I’ve used the same arrangements too long.

Baskets and beds are serious business.

In my neck of the woods, women aren’t judged by the size of their diamonds. Dresses don’t come off of racks, let alone from a designer. But, that doesn’t mean women here lead lives that are stark and without creative expression. 

Take a drive down Indiana country roads. You’ll see.

You can’t miss the pure joy expressed by chubby hand-raised calves and lambs romping together in fields. Or that of  the smiling, sparkley eyed, rosy-cheeked children outside trying to catch their pony. Or through their mother’s arrangement of pink tulips, purple phlox and blue silva intemingled with silver rocks.

It is a life I am privileged to be a part of.

I’ve been reading about new flower varieties too. Imagine petunias that don’t need deadheading or water. Or petunias that will trail for 3 feet and not be bothered by wind. I want to incorporate them in every basket.

Fortunately,  Country Garden Greenhouse’s Mennonite design team has been helpfully coming up with ideas for my arrangements.

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One of my favorite places to hang out.

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Hanging basket 1 is a spike, white lanai verbena, red calibrachoa superbells, lanai blue verbena, yellow calibrachoa (million bells).

Lanai Verbena: Lanai verbena is simply the best trailing verbena on the market today. This improved series exhibits dark green, large broad leaves with a trailing habit of up to 3 feet! Lanai verbena is drought and heat tolerant, and thrives in full, hot sun. Plants in baskets and containers also hold up very well in windy conditions.

Superbells: This new line of hybrid Calibrachoa takes an old favorite to a new level. Developed and selected for their large flowers, their resistance to Thielaviopsis, and their strong summer performance, these Calibrachoa are truly Superbells. Deadheading is not necessary. The plants are heat tolerant. They attract hummingbirds.

Millon Bells: A Calibrachoa, these plants are prolific bloomers that produce hundreds of 1” wide flowers from spring to frost. Flower colors include shades of violet, blue, pink, red, magenta, yellow, bronze, and white.

dsc02107.JPG Hanging basket 2: has a double rose begonia, a tri colored sweet potato vine, a geranium and opal innocence nemesia.

Opal Innocence Nemesia:  Abundant opalescent tri-colored flowers with a strong scent! (They smell heavenly…think lily-of-the-valley or lilac) Nemesia, the mauve pink plant shown, requires no deadheading and thrives in full sun or partial shade. It will bloom all season if fed and watered regularly.

Double Rose Begonia: Take care not to overwater. Water early in the day, water deep and water less frequently. 

Tri colored sweet potato vine: This ornamental plant provides color and interest like no other plant. They are grown for their distinctive foliage and vigorous growth habit.

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Ornamental container 3 has failproof plants, a spike, pink geraniums, asparagus fern, and vinca vines. These are perfect for my climate and will survive the care of someone like me, who waits for wilting to watering.

Vinca: Vinca or Periwinkle is a prolific heat and drought tolerant annual, perfect for hot, dry areas. It’s easy to grow, and requires little or no attention. A grower once reported that he has grown Vinca in the same location for 30 years. (I can vouch for vinca’s ability to come back on it’s own. I have some that came up unwanted and it prolifically reproduces and reproduces. It’s like a weed it is so prolific and sturdy.)

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Purple fountain grass are in the center. Around the edge are white and purple velvet nemesias. The red flowers in front are red lanai verbena.

Purple Fountain Grass: The flower heads progress from dark ruby red, through shades of pink, to buff as they mature. They are produced in constant succession so all stages are present throughout the flowering season. It makes a great center piece in a container. It is a vigorous grower that will quickly fill in any bed or container. The foxtail like plumes will appear mid summer and last until first frost.

Red Lanai Verbena:  The Verbena Lanai series is free flowering from tip to crown with flowers that are clustered in a ball providing a carpet of color. Lanai verbena is simply the best trailing verbena on the market today. This improved series exhibits dark green, large broad leaves, with a trailing habit of up to 3 feet! Lanai verbena is drought and heat tolerant, and thrives in full, hot sun.

White and Purple Velvet Nemesias have an appealing fragrance and make an excellent choice for early spring color and sales. Ideal for small pots and color accents.Upright and compact. Use in 4-6” pots and combos.

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One of many greenhouses.

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Waiting for mom.

Sigh….I’m only getting started. There is so much more to do… But the work is such a pleasure. To be continued…

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We use a lot of flowers in the summer. Geraniums are a good choice for us. They’re hardy and will  survive mild neglect.

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There are too many lovely geraniums to throw away. We decided to try to overwinter them.

We overwintered our geraniums dormant in our dark basement.

Here’s how: Storing your geraniums dormant. 

When we brought the geraniums up this spring, we didn’t take them outside right away. We were afraid too much sun, too soon, might harm them. We kept them in our garage for 2 days to acclimate to the sun that came through those windows. Then we brought the geraniums outside and sheltered them next to the wooden fence.

One of the 12 geraniums we brought inside for the winter was overwatered during our acclimation process. It turned mushy. But even so, 11 geraniums is a good start on summer flowers.

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This is what they look like after being in the dark for months. Notice the little leaves starting to sprout on the thin white stalks..

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The leaves are more developed on this plant.

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We brought this one up over a week ago to see how it did. It looks good.

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Skipper and Summer are getting winter coats.

The horses are shaggy. It’s getting dark earlier. The temperature is dipping down into the 30’s. The cats have gotten lazy. They spend their days asleep, curled up in warm balls. Our gardening has come to an end.

It is a time for reflection, for noting our successes and failures and for making plans for next year.  We will have a garden journal and note planting times. We will grow more potatoes and onions and less tomatoes. DH is getting another quince tree, two persimmon trees and cherry trees for his birthday.

In the meantime there is work to be done.

HOW TO GET THE GARDEN READY FOR WINTER

  • Cleanup: Many unwelcome pests stay warm and cozy in old plant debris, so removing it eliminates their hiding places. Rake heavy accumulations of leaves and twigs from under shrubs, roses, aspen trees and plants that had leaf diseases. To lessen the chance of disease, cut back the old, ripened leaf stalks, clean up the flower bed and remove and discard plant refuse that accumulates around the plants. Cut back perennials.
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    Shredded leaves over my tilled garden.

  • Mulch: Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of light, airy mulch, such as pine needles, shredded cedar, shredded leaves or compost. This helps accomplish two main goals. Plants such as strawberries, other berries and some herbs can overwinter if properly mulched. Mulching can also keep the ground from freezing and cracking and may prevent weed growth.

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DH cleaning horse stalls, getting manure to be dried and added to our compost pile.  His tractor has a manure attachment an Amish neighbor made for us.

  • Out with the Old: Some plants should be pulled when they are done. They only use up precious space, bind soil or make the next spring’s preparation harder and longer. Pulling the old plants for winter preparation should be done right after a hard frost.
  • Clean Tools: Clean all tools before they are put away for the winter.  Hot soapy water should suffice for most tools. Pat dry and hang up to store most tools. Dirt on tools just encourages rust on some tools. Clean all tools even if the tools seem clean. That way they will be prepared for next spring’s garden start.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN COMPOST:

Instead of paying a company to haul away leaves,  compost the leaves and return the nutrients to your garden.

Materials used for compost should include a mixture of brown organic material (dead leaves, twigs, manure) and green organic material (lawn clippings, fruit rinds, etc.). Brown materials supply carbon, while green materials supply nitrogen. The best ratio is 1 part green to 1 part brown material. Shredding, chopping or mowing these materials into smaller pieces will help speed the composting process by increasing the surface area.

Moisture is important to support the composting process. Compost should be comparable to the wetness of a wrung-out sponge.If the pile is too dry, materials will decompose very slowly. Add water during dry periods or when adding large amounts of brown organic material. If the pile is too wet, turn the pile and mix the materials. Another option is to add dry, brown organic materials.

Oxygen is needed to support the breakdown of plant material by bacteria. To supply oxygen, you will need to turn the compost pile so that materials at the edges are brought to the center of the pile. Turning the pile is important for complete composting and for controlling odor. Wait at least two weeks before turning the pile, to allow the center of the pile to “heat up” and decompose. Once the pile has cooled in the center, decomposition of the materials has taken place. Frequent turning will help speed the composting process.

Bacteria and other microorganisms are the real workers in the compost process. By supplying organic materials, water, and oxygen, the already present bacteria will break down the plant material into useful compost for the garden. As the bacteria decompose the materials, they release heat, which is concentrated in the center of the pile.

You may also add layers of soil or finished compost to supply more bacteria and speed the composting process. Commercial starters are available but should not be necessary for compost piles that have a proper carbon to nitrogen ratio (1 part green organic material to 1 part brown organic material).

In addition to bacteria, larger organisms including insects and earthworms are active composters. These organisms break down large materials in the compost pile.

For most efficient composting, use a pile that is between 3 feet cubed and 5 feet cubed (27-125 cu. ft.). This allows the center of the pile to heat up sufficiently to break down materials. The surface area of the materials effects the time needed for composting. By breaking materials down into smaller parts (chipping, shredding, mulching leaves), the surface area of the materials will increase. This helps the bacteria to more quickly break down materials into compost.

Finally, the number of times the pile is turned influences composting speed. By turning more frequently (about every 2-4 weeks), you will produce compost more quickly. Waiting at least two weeks allows the center of the pile to heat up and promotes maximum bacterial activity. When turning the compost pile, make sure that materials in the center are brought to the outsides, and that materials from the outside edges are brought to the center.

With frequent turning, compost can be ready in about 3 months, depending on the time of year. In winter, the activity of the bacteria slows, and it is recommended that you stop turning the pile after November to keep heat from escaping the pile’s center. In summer, warm temperatures encourage bacterial activity and the composting process is quicker

What to use for compost:

  • Leaves
  • Some manures (cow, horse, sheep, poultry, rabbit, llama)
  • Lawn clippings
  • Vegetable or fruit wastes, coffee grounds
  • Shredded newspaper or white, unglazed office paper
  • Trimmed plant materials
  • Shredded stems and twigs

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My mother was a tomato grower and canner without peer. 

Seriously, she was good.

Back then, my parents didn’t have air conditioning. But, that didn’t keep my mother from spending  day after day slumped over huge, steaming, graniteware kettles, doing things with tongs and filling shelf after shelf with her homegrown canned tomatoes. 

But, despite my mother’s success, maybe it is the memory of what seemed  like too many long hot hours and too many procedures and having to be totally sterile that made the discovery of a food dehydrator in DH’s barn so exciting.

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The abandoned food dehydrator waiting to be filled with tomatoes.

I also love the concentrated sweetness and flavor of sun dried tomatoes. Home dried tomatoes are less expensive than those from the grocery. They take up much less shelf space than canned tomatoes. They can be used in any recipe calling for tomatoes.

Best of all, they are easy to make.

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The first tier of tomatoes is ready.

Plum or Roma tomatoes are recommended. However, any type you want to use will work. The tomatoes should be firm and ripe, but not over ripe, which will lead to decay. For round or slicer type tomatoes cut the tomatoes crosswise into no thicker than 1/4 inch thick slices.

 Drain your tomatoes in a collander, pat slightly with paper towels, then place the tomatoes on your dehydrator racks leaving enough space between the slices for air to circulate.

 Rotate the trays if you have more than one to dehydrate. Ideally the temperature should be at 135 to 140 degrees. To oven dry: place your tomatoes on foil lined cookie sheets. Your oven temperature should be between 140 to 150 degrees.

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Be sure to turn your tomatoes over when necessary and to rotate the tiers. Some of mine are wet and need to be turned over.

Drying tomatoes will take from 10 to 24 hours. When your tomatoes are dry they should be leathery but pliable. As soon as my tomatoes were of the same texture as a raisin, I removed them from the dehydrator with a spatula. I decided to preserve them by freezing to prevent mold and used ziplock bags with the air pulled out through a straw.

 If your tomatoes come out too dry or you want to make them into flakes put them into your freezer for about 5 minutes and then crush them with a rolling pin or kitchen mallet.

 To make tomato powder use your food processor or blender until the tomatoes are ground very fine.

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1/4 cup of dried tomatoes I am going to hydrate with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

 To rehydrate your tomatoes, soak them in water or olive oil at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Using boiling water will speed up the process.

dsc00604.jpg Dried tomatoes can also be added to soups and stews during the last half hour to rehydrate. I added them to my chili on Sunday. DH said it is the best chili he has ever had!

SUN DRIED TOMATO CREAM CHEESE SPREAD

This recipe is simple and absolutely delicious.

– ¼ cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and coarsely chopped

– 8 ounces block cream cheese, softened

– ½ cup sour cream

– ¼ cup mayonnaise

– 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

– ¾ tsp. salt

– ¾ tsp. black pepper

– 1 Tblsp. Dried basil (I used 2-3 Tbsp. of fresh basil)

– A dash of hot sauce (or more if you like it spicy!)

Toss all of the ingredients into a food processor, and blend until smooth. (I just used a whisk because I like having little tomato chunks in my spread.) Chill for about an hour before serving. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container, and it will keep for up to two weeks.

– You can make this spread figure-friendly by using reduced fat versions of the cream cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise. It will taste so good, you’ll never miss the fat!

crean-cheese-3.jpgTomorrow I will use the cream cheese spread on bagels. But, DH and I couldn’t resist getting out some crackers and doing some taste testing. The spread is outstanding!

SUN DRIED TOMATO, MUSHROOM, CHEESE &

MEATBALL PIZZA

  • 1 1/2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (I used 1 can of canned)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (10-ounce ) can refrigerated pizza crust
  • sweet onion sliced thin and chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)
  • Meatballs (precooked & chopped) 

Combine dried tomatoes and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan; let stand for 15 minutes. Add canned tomatoes and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add the next 5 ingredients and cook 5 minutes longer or until liquid has evaporated, stirring often.

Press pizza dough out onto a greased 12-inch pizza pan and spread with tomato mixture; if desired, arrange onions & meatballs on top. Sprinkle with cheese and bake in a 425°F oven 12 to 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

 

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Our vegetables have spread from the counter to the table. It has been so rainy, we are trying to cure our onions inside.

Tomato cake?

Whoever heard of tomato cake?

We have given away cucumbers and onions and potatoes and tomatoes to just about everyone we know. I’ve made sauce. I’m not fond of canned tomatoes. Then, I found a recipe from who-knows-where, stuffed into a cookbook for tomato cake. I had only to read that it included an ENTIRE cup of dark brown sugar to know it was a recipe with potential.

 With cream cheese frosting, it was wonderful.

dsc00481.jpg The first step toward peeling tomatoes is to put them into boiling water until the skin cracks.

dsc00482.jpg Next plunge the tomatoes into ice water and pull the skin off.

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I’m stirring in the tomatoes, raisins, dates and walnuts. It is not looking very good.

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The cake is done and cooling before being frosted. I used a silicon baking pan for the first time and didn’t use enough support taking the cake out so it cracked. But, I can tell from the smell and what I can see I am going to like it.

FRESH FROM THE GARDEN TOMATO CAKE

Ingredients

1 cup brown sugar, dark
1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2 large eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups ripe, peeled and chopped up tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup raisins

Directions

Mix cream sugar and shortening.

Add eggs.

Add sifted dry ingredients, mixing well.

Stir in tomatoes, nuts, dates, and raisins.

Put into greased and floured 9x inch baking pan.

Bake in preheated 350’F oven for 35 minutes or until cake tests
done.

Frost with cream cheese frosting.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

Ingredients

  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Directions: In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

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Tomato cake ready to be served.

As promised, here are my SUPER, SECRET ingredients to always perfect, moist and tasty roast chicken with crisp and golden skin:

dsc00499.jpg I’ve been stuffing my roast chicken with an apple and onion for over 20 years and always had perfect results.

For a flavorful and moist roast chicken, stuff it with an a cut up apple and halved or quartered onion. Don’t bother to core or peel the apple. Butter your chicken. Sprinkle with rosemary, paprika, salt, pepper and maybe a little lemon (or not). Bake at 325 to 350 degrees and baste often.

Your chicken is done when the legs move freely and the juices are clear.

 UPDATE: Healingmagichands, http://healingmagichands.wordpress.com/ , wrote to say that she puts sprigs of rosemary inside the chicken cavity along with lemons and onions. She says putting fruit & onions inside her chicken  gives her a crispy crust with very moist and flavorful meat.

I like the taste of rosemary with chicken so much that I use it to butter the outside of my roast chicken. (And always with roast potatoes.) But, I bet my chicken WOULD be even better with a sprig of rosemary in the cavity.

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Tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden have become part of our kitchen decor.

Horse manure!

DH brags about the power of his horse manure compost as if he invented it and got a nobel prize for the invention. “George Washington swore the secret to good farming was horse manure,” says DH.

“You just wait,” he said last summer, “George Washington knew his stuff, you’ll see.”

We added dried manure to our compost pile of grass clippings and shredded leaves last fall. This spring DH tilled it into our garden. Then we used more grass clippings and shredded leaves for mulch on top.

I was hoping the mulch would prevent unwanted plants from popping up, resulting in a no till, weedless garden. That didn’t happen. We had weeds. But, DH was so right about horse manure producing garden miracles. Our one cucumber plant has produced 60 cucumbers…so far.

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Our onions shortly before they were pulled up and cured.

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The first watermelons we found. There are at least 15 on that plant now.

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An 11 pound zuchini that came from a volunteer plant on our compost pile. We didn’t find it until it had grown to this size.

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A basket full of Yukon Gold potatoes. I had no idea potatoes could be so good.

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Browning the meatballs and simmering the tomato basil sauce.

Dinner tonight featured home grown tomatoes and basil.

MY MEATBALLS

Soak in milk, water or stock;

1 slice of bread, 1 inch thick

 Beat:

2 eggs

Add eggs to:

1 1/2 lb. ground meat/I used ribeye

Saute until golden brown:

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

Add to the meat. Wring the liquid from the bread. Add the bread to the meat and then add:

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/2 chopped clove garlic

3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. oregano/I’ve used Italian Herbs

Mix and form into balls. Brown lightly in:

2 tablespoons butter

 Cover your frying pan and simmer on low until the meatballs for 1/2 or until the meatballs are firm and no longer pink in the middle.

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Cooking down the sauce.

SPAGHETTI SAUCE WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND BASIL
6 peeled, seeded and cut up tomatoes
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
 garlic, minced to taste or pinch of garlic powder
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons fresh basil (more or less to taste)

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet or saucepan combine the tomatoes,  tomato
sauce, garlic, sugar and basil. (Other herbs may be added. I really like basil and prefer just that with tomatoes.) Stir all together and simmer over low heat until thickened. More sugar and a tablespoon of butter may be added if the sauce is too acidic. Flour (1 to 2 tablespoons) may be added if you prefer a thicker sauce. Stir frequently to prevent burning.

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Homemade spaghetti sauce with fresh tomatoes and basil over meatballs & spaghetti. It was sooooooo good!

HOW TO PEEL TOMATOES

Put the tomatoes, a few at a time in a large pot of boiling water for no more than 1 minute (30 – 45 seconds is usually enough)

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then….

Plunge them into a waiting bowl of ice water.

 

 

This makes the skins slide right off of the tomatoes!  If you leave the skins in, they become tough and chewy in the sauce…not very pleasant.

 

 

 

 

After you have peeled the skins off the tomatoes, cut the tomatoes in half. 

Now you need to remove the seeds and excess water. Wash your hands then squeeze each tomato and use your finger or a spoon to scoop and shake out most of the seeds. You don’t need to get fanatical about it; removing just most will do.

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Toss the squeezed tomatoes into a colander or drainer, while you work on others. This helps more of the water to drain off. You’ll end up with a thicker spaghetti sauce in less cooking time!

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Many of my friends and neighbors hitch up their horses to go shopping.

In my neighborhood, women aren’t judged by the size of their diamonds. That would be prideful.

Nor are they judged by designer labels or gowns. Most wear calico dresses they make themselves. Veiled buns are the hairstyle of choice. A luxury car is rarer than a hen’s tooth. Ladies around here hitch up and head for town in buggies.

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Wildflowers in a field.

But, those same women whose manner of dress and way of living is known as plain…in their gardens create artistic masterpieces worthy of display in any museum. Beds of lavender phlox spring up through silvery rocks in contrast to pink spring tulips. Clumps of blue salva alternate with red geraniums. Tubs and old wagons overflow with colorful pansies. Red petunias then white petunias then purple ones line long, winding drives. Wildflowers abound in uncultivated fields.

drive-through-the-country-025.jpg A Mennonite Buggy takes the family to town.

A ride to town through the country is one of my greatest pleasures. It’s also the source of intimidation and pressure. Because I want to fit in. And before I met DH, the only flower I ever planted was a marigold.

It died.

To avoid failure, I bought expensive already done-up hanging baskets. And the prettiest flowers the greenhouse had. Mission accomplished. A piece of cake.

Only I didn’t know you were supposed to deadhead blooms once they’d wilted. I had no idea how much water impatiens drink. Or that they don’t do well in direct sun. Or that they should be fertilized.

blog-pictures-007.jpg Birdseeds fall from the feeder and grow into flowers that attract bees, butterflies and lots and lots of goldfinches.

I put my geraniums on my porch in the shade because I thought they were the nicest looking of my flowers and I wanted the people driving by our house to see them.

“Your flowers are looking wilted,” DH would say. But, I’d watered them the day before. They didn’t need water every day.

It is amazing how long and stringy and dried out toward the bottom petunias can get if they are never deadheaded. Or how soon geraniums quit flowering. And then there were the weeds in the front flower bed.

I didn’t take pictures of my flowers the first year.

blog-pictures-073.jpg My favorite lilies. There is only one bloom now, but more are budding and on the way.

The next summer I did better. Because I didn’t want to take chances, I still bought expensive already-done hanging baskets. But, I read the directions on the flower tabs. (Before buying, even.) My mother explained deadheading and gave me starts. On one happy day a lady at the greenhouse complimented me on my flowers after I told her where I lived.

That was two years ago.

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“Meet me at my garden gate.”

This spring, I did my own hanging basket arrangements. Some were even from $5 flats of “not such good looking” flowers and $1.25 geraniums purchased from kids raising funds for their 4-H club.

There were mistakes.

I accidently pulled out a bunch of what I thought were weeds. Except, the one weed I missed grew into a tall, lovely and out of place looking, lone flower, right in the middle of the bed. I didn’t have the heart to pull it.

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Another flower picture.

My beds are kind of haphazard because I forgot what I planted where last year and perennials have popped up unexpectedly between annuals on sale I couldn’t resist. But, my new flower hobby is colorful, challenging and outdoors. Digging in dirt, strangely enough, gives me the same feeling I used to have when I painted on canvas.

I am an artist living among many great masters. As religiously as any apprentice, I study their technique. And, I dream and aspire…

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The cat’s favorite napping place is under the bench. Wonder why?

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Touching up my Thyme sign in anticipation of spring and summer.

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Our trumpet vine will soon be blooming. Two years ago, before we rearranged our fencing, the horses ate it.

blog-pictures-005.jpg The trumpet vine eaters.

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 According to my husband this was the best peach pie, ever.

I made changes in the recipe because the peaches were so juicy. I also wanted my top crust to stay crispy. So, I mixed 2 tablespoons of flour with 1/4 cup of sugar. I put the sugar/flour mixture over the filling before dotting with butter and adding the top crust. (Don’t worry the top mixture of sugar and flour will cook into the pie. And, it will keep your top crust from becoming soggy.)

PEACH PIE FILLING:

 5 to 6 cups of peaches

1/2 to 2/3 cup white or brown sugar (I used 2/3 cup of white)

1/8 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Dot with 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter

DIRECTIONS: Bake the pie in a preheated 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. The middle should be bubbling.

dsc00223.jpg How to peel peaches: dip the fruit in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from the water using a slotted spoon and put into a large bowl or pot of cold water and ice. The skins will easily slide off.

Healingmagichands of  http://healingmagichands.wordpress.com/, kindly added it is important to make sure the peaches are ripe before peeling. Otherwise the peels may not slip off.

Thanks for your help, Healingmagichands!

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Peaches ripening in a sunny window.

After a couple of days in a sunny window the peaches, saved from the beetles, were ripe and ready. I had enough to make a peach cobbler and a peach pie, plus some for the freezer. 

I love peach pies, crisps and cobblers, BUT with freshly ripened organic ones, this dessert is one of my favorites. Especially topped with vanilla ice cream.

dsc00224.jpg Getting ready to make peach cobbler.

SOUTHERN PEACH COBBLER FOR TWO

(Can be doubled)

FILLING:

2 cups peaches

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tsp. cornstarch

TOPPING:

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons flour

2 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

Pinch of cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

1 tablespoon butter cut into pieces

2 tablespoons whipping cream

dsc00227.jpg DIRECTIONS:

Grease small casserole dish with butter. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel & cut up peaches. Mix peaches and lemon juice. Mix cornstarch, brown sugar and cinnamon with peaches and put peaches into greased casserole dish.

 In another bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt. cinnamon and nutmeg. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Add the cream and toss with flour mixture just until the dough is combined.

 Turn the dough out onto a flour surface and knead a few times to smooth it. Then roll it out into the shape of the casserole dish. Place the dough over the filling and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. of sugar. Bake until the top is golden and the juices are bubbling. 25 to 30 minutes.

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 The cobbler is ready to eat.

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