Questions? Write Me at

Questions? Write me at fullcirclegardener @ cableone . net.

Preserving Backyard Fruit: Apple Abundance

My friends, I need your help.  My hubby and his friend did some apple picking for me the other day and came home with a 35 gallon tote full!  This is where you come in, I have already made 14 pints of apple sauce & froze several crust ready pies (This is so easy!  I'll have a how to post on Monday.).  How else do you use, cook and/or preserve your apples?  I'd love your thoughts, suggestions and recipes!  Thanks. :)

Happy Harvesting & Preserving! :)

Plant of the Week: Spagetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
If you haven't noticed, my brain gets caught up in themes and it has happened again. ;)  I have gotten caught up in all the varieties of winter squash.  In my research, I have discovered that there are really just three predominate species of winter squash and most varieties belong to just two of those species!  The two most common species are Cucurbita maxima and Cucubita pepo.  Last week we looked at the buttercup squash variety of C. maxima and this week I am focusing on the spaghetti squash variety of the C. pepo.

Spaghetti squash produce a fruit with creamy white rind and a dense yellow flesh that becomes stringy when it is cooked.  It is often viewed with relief, and is a favorite, among those who do not like the typical soft squash texture because of its firmer, more noodle-like texture.  This texture and stringy nature combine to give it the common name spaghetti squash.  In fact, it is probably most commonly served with a tomato sauce as a meatless spaghetti though I look forward to trying it tossed with some sauteed fresh veggies, basil and oil.

Spaghetti squash are a large vining plant that take a lot of space if given the freedom to keep on growing as it pleases and to my knowledge there are no bush varieties available yet.  This does not mean that the urban gardener cannot grow spaghetti squash.  It can be grown as part of your vertical garden whether in a backyard garden or a container garden.  Once several fruit have set, you will want to clip off the growing points to force the plant to invest all of its energy into the fruit rather than into more vine.  This will give you fewer but larger fruit and will keep the vine from getting out of control.

For more information on growing and harvesting all varieties of winter squash see my post on buttercup squash, as planting requirements are the same.

It has been years since I last had spaghetti squash, but I plan on trying it again soon.  I would love to hear about your favorite spaghetti squash recipe.  Please share.

Happy Gardening! :)

Encouraging Ripening

Last week the first day of fall nearly past before I realize it had even arrived, and today is the average first 32F frost for my area and I didn't realized until late in the afternoon.  Why do I point these days out?  Well, because whether we like it or not, garden season will soon come to an end, and there are always a few last fruits/veggies that we would like to encourage to full ripening before that finale killing frost. 

This year I have green tomatoes, pumpkins & peppers.  Not only are the plants full of green fruit, but they are still trying to set on new fruit.  The reality is that any new fruit at this point in the season is not going to reach maturity, so I spent time in my garden this weekend cutting off all of the very small fruit, the flowers and growing ends.  This makes the plants focus their energy on the fruit that are already set.  Truth is I should have done this a couple of weeks ago, but now is better than not at all and hopefully I'll have 2 or 3 more weeks of warm days for these plants to invest all of their energy into the fruit they have and I'll have an abundant ripe harvest before this season ends.  :}  One can always hope...

Have you called an end to your 2011 gardening season yet?

Happy Gardening!  :)

Preserving Backyard Fruit: Peach Zucchini Salsa

My family loves chips & salsa, and it is often an important ingredient in my cooking as well.  We go through over a dozen quarts of tomato salsa most years, so last week I decided to stretch our horizons and try a new recipe I found for raspberry salsa.  When it was all said and done, I was happy with the outcome and am already thinking about what I will do with it. :)  Almost immediately I started thinking about the peaches and zucchini in my fridge that needed using, trying to contrive how I could turn them into a salsa.  I've made peach salsa before & like to use it for a chicken recipe that my family enjoys, and zucchini has such a neutral flavor that I was sure I could use it as a filler with the peach.  I decided to take the basic recipe from the raspberry salsa I'd just finished, tweek it and see if I could create a peach zucchini salsa recipe that I would be happy with.  I ended up with a product that I am excited to share with my family and friends.  If you like fruit salsa, you will want to give this a try as well. :)

If you would like to try some raspberry salsa, I would recommend the recipe I found in "The Everything Root Cellaring Book by Catherine Abbott.

Peach Zucchini Salsa
This recipe makes a medium heat but slightly sweet and fruity salsa.

You will need:
-1 1/2 c zucchini
-4 1/2c peach
-1 1/4c onion
-1 red bell pepper
-4 jalapeno peppers
-1/2c fresh cilantro
-2 limes (zest & juice)
-1/4c balsamic vinegar
-1/4c white wine vinegar
-1 tsp cumin
-1 tsp ground coriander
-1/2 tsp ground black pepper
-1 1/2 Tbls honey

1.  Mince or chop the zucchini, peach, onion and peppers, and finely chop the cilantro.  (I find the food processor to be the quickest and most efficient way to mince most everything but be careful not to over process the peach & cilantro.)  Add to a 3 quart of larger stockpot.

2.  Add the remaining ingredients to the stockpot, stir and bring to a boil.  Gently boil about 15 minutes or until the peach pieces are tender.  Stir frequently to prevent scorching or burning to the bottom.

3.  For long term storage, pour into hot sterile jars and process in a boiling water bath for at least 20 minutes, or freeze.  Refrigerate immediately for fresh use.

Makes 4 pints  (3 1/2 pints if you can't stop 'testing' it before you get it processed! ;P)

(Note:  If you read salsa canning guides put out by the Extension Service,  they are very concerned about maintaining the correct acidity and using 'research tested recipes' when using a boiling water bath for long term salsa storage.  The recipe I have here is NOT a research tested salsa recipe.  Please make and use this recipe using your good sense.  If you ever have a canned product for which you find the lid is no longer vacuum sealed and 'pops' when you open it, throw the food item in the garbage!)

Plant of the Week: Buttercup Squash

Buttercup Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
The first day of fall arrives this Friday (September 23).  Between that and last weeks early frost/freeze in the area, I have been thinking about the fall harvest this week.  Winter squash are a favorite fall crop for me and buttercup squash is on my all time best list. ;)

Winter squash is a broad category that basically describes the shelf life of the squash fruit.  Those squash that are designated as winter squash have a long storage life if they are kept in a cool, dark and dry location (often a basement or root cellar).  Buttercup squash falls under the species Cucurbita maxima with several other varieties of winter squash including some that trace their history back to pre-anglo settlement in North America.

Plant all winter squash in the spring after the chance of frost is over or start them inside 3-4 weeks in advance.  Plant 2-3 plants/seeds in hills 6ft apart or individuals 1.5 -  3ft apart in a row.  If you have limited space, choose a bush or compact variety, or plan on trellising the vine as part of your vertical garden Mulch your plants after they are well established but before they have produced much vine.  After a plant has set on a couple of fruit, clip off the vine's growing ends to encourage the plant to put its energy into the fruit.  Your plants will need to receive the equivalent to 1 inch of rain on a weekly basis, but especially as it starts investing more energy into the fruit.  You will know it is time to harvest winter squash when the skin cannot be punctured with a fingernail.  Often winter squash are left on the vine until frost kills the plant.  Leave an inch or two of stem attached when you harvest the fruit to decrease the opportunity for bacteria and fungus to get into the fruit and cause rot.

All members of the squash family are susceptible to squash vine borers.  Precautions should be taken to prevent the establishment of the borers, but by allowing your plant to root at several points along the stem you can help prevent the loss of all of your fruit should the plants get infested.

Harvested fruit can be baked, steamed or roasted, and served mashed, cubed and caramelized with brown sugar and butter, or pureed for soup.  My family prefers it covered with brown sugar, butter and marshmallows.  How you do serve buttercup squash to your family?

Happy Gardening! :)

Preserving Backyard Fruit: Crab Apple Juice

Making Crab Apple Juice
I was given an ice cream bucket of nickle to quarter size crab apples by a friend and fellow gardener about a week ago.  At first glance those little apples seem almost worthless because they have so little fruit in each one, but they do pack a punch when it comes to flavor and make some excellent apple juice with just a little time and energy.

I got this crab apple juice recipe from my mother-in-law a few years ago and love its simplicity! :)

You will need to gather:
-a sharp knife & cutting board
-a container for scraps (throw these in the compost when you are done!)
-clean 1 gallon ice cream bucket with lid
-your apples
-boiling water
-2Tbsp Cream of Tartar
-optional sugar

1. Wash the fruit and remove all stems and flowers.

2. Quarter the fruit (half is fine if they are very small, but the more surface area, the more juice and flavor you'll be able to extract.) and place in a clean plastic container.  You need to have a tight fitting lid. I like to use an ice cream bucket.  Don't worry about the seeds; they will be thrown out in the end.

3. Add 2 Tbsp Cream of Tartar to the top of a full bucket of the quartered apples.

4. Pour boiling water on top until it is just covers the apples.  Cover the bucket and set aside for 24 hours.

5. Drain off the liquid into a stockpot and quickly bring to a boil.  Add sugar to taste if desired.

6. Pour into hot jars and process in a boiling water bath for long term storage or refrigerate and use as fresh juice. For those like me who are below 1000 ft in elevation, process pints or quarts for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.  The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2009 revision Guide 02: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Fruit and Fruit Products provides more details and times for higher elevations if you have questions. 

Happy Preserving! :)

Early Frost 2011: What I did

A possible record low is predicted for my area tonight.  The average first 32F frost for my area is Sept 26 and 28F is Oct 2 according to the NDSU Extension Service.  That makes the 26F predicted low VERY early.

A couple of days ago I posted some options for protecting plants from frost and here is what I did.

1. Watered my garden well yesterday. 

2. Place black milk jugs filled with water among my tender plants.

3. Covered everything I want to save WELL (I hope!).

4. Even covered my topsy turvey Tiny Tim tomatoes.

Here is to hoping that tonight is warmer than predicted and my garden is protected. 

Happy Gardening! :}

Plant of the Week: Onion

Onion (Allium cepa)
Since we looked at garlic last week, I thought it would be a good time to learn a little more about it's close cousin the onion.

The common onion is probably the most widely used herb in the world and is used for culinary, medicinal and household purposes.  The onion belongs to the genus Allium like its cousins garlic and chives.  It commonly comes in three colors (white, yellow & red) and can have a strong pungent flavor or a mild 'sweet' flavor.  As a rule, the more pungent varieties have a longer storage life than their 'sweet' kin and are found year round in the supermarkets.  Until recently, the sweet varieties were found in stores only in the spring, but horticulture experts have developed 'new' varieties that are available at other times.  Many of those varieties are also available to home gardeners from mail order catalogs. :)

Onions require a long growing season and are most often planted from sets, small bulbs about the size of a dime in diameter, that are purchase from a garden center.  If you are looking for some of the more exotic and/or sweet varieties you will most likely have to start them yourself 8-12 weeks before your last spring frost or mail order them.  Plant your sets outdoors as soon as the weather will permit in well drained soil and full sun.  Prepare the soil by loosening the top 12 inches and mixing in 2-4 inches compost.  They should be spaced 4-6 inches apart.  Water them so that they get the equivalent of 1 inch of water a week but don't let them set in wet soil or they may rot.

Harvest onions when the tops naturally decline and fall over.  By this point, they should also have a papery brown/yellow skin around them.  After they are harvested, set them in the sun for a day or two to cure before storing them in a well ventilated, cool and dry location.

Happy Gardening! :)

Protecting Your Garden from "Mr. Jack Frost"

Locally, we are being told to expect our first frost (30F!) this week... two weeks earlier than average!  This year is especially challenging to me as I have so many tall things that I'd like to protect, so I am busy trying to figure out how I can protect my garden in hopes of at least another couple weeks of productive gardening before I give up for another year. :{ 

To prevent frost you want to keep the micro climate around your plants warmer than 32F.  Here are a couple of options when it comes to keeping your plants warm.

1.  Cover
I have collected old sheets, blankets, tarps and any large sheets of plastic from my family and friends for several years.  On nights where we are projected to drop near or below 32F I head outside before dusk to 'tuck in' my garden for the night by covering everything the best I can. You want to make sure you do this before dark so the ground has not lost all its warmth already AND make sure the covering goes all the way to the ground to trap that heat in.

When covering your plants it is best to drape the material over a frame of some sort rather than over the plant itself if possible.  Sometimes all it takes is to place one or two stakes strategically in the garden to give some lift.  If it is not possible to drape over a structure than drape light weight covers over the plants themselves... something is better than nothing at all! :}

I use clothesline pins to keep my crazy quilt of coverings together.  I do this so that nothing gets nipped around the edges and I can keep as much warmth underneath as possible.  I have also learned that it is important to weigh down several edges so that an errant gust of wind will not carry away the covers.  

Be sure to remove the coverings in the morning after the frost is gone so that the plants do not overheat.

2. Water 
There are a couple of options here...

-Watering the soil in the late afternoon allows the water and darkened soil to absorb some of the last heat of the day.  Water looses heat at a slower rate than the plants or air.  By watering the soil you will be able to trap some of the day's heat in the soil longer and keep the micro climate around the plants warm longer.

-Water the whole garden in the late afternoon/early evening.  The concepts related to warming the soil and slower heat loss apply here as well.  The water on the leaves has the same effect of slowing the cooling of the plant and air around it.  I have observed farmers and talked to fellow gardeners who expand this concept and water all night long.  The drawback to watering all night for the average urban gardener is the cost.  When you are paying for water, it just is not very cost effective.

Note:  if you combine watering and covering, be sure to keep the cover off from the plant or you will loose most or all of what you hope to gain.

3. Radiant Heat ("Hot Water Bottles")
A simple way to heat up a small space is to create mini solar heater.  You can do this by placing some kind of large dark object(s) near your plant(s) to absorb heat during the day and slowly release it at night.  I used this concept in my small greenhouse this spring by spray painting several milk jugs black and placing them at the bottom of the greenhouse.  I also had a great uncle who would paint softball or slightly larger rocks black & place them near small plants during cold spells in the spring.  The key is to have good sunlight to warm the object during the day and then to have it not touching the plant but still close enough to share its heat at night.

I think I will be implementing some version of all three of these.  Whatever is your method of frost protection, I hope you are able to extend your garden season beyond this week.

Happy Gardening (and Garden Protecting!) :}

Ugh, SLUGS!!!

I have battled slugs since I started my personal garden in 2005.  When I first noticed them I thought, "No big deal, I can share."  By the end of that first season I had discovered that slugs DO NOT SHARE!!!  They virtually stripped my beans, kohlrabi, strawberries, ate holes in most of the tomatoes and even nibbled on the jalapeno peppers!

There began my battle with slugs and again this fall I am noticing the presence of slugs in my garden.  I have tried many of the suggested treatments for slugs and have come down to a couple of control methods that work well for me.

1. Do Not Provide Cover/Habitat - remove plant debris and keep mulch about 4 inches away from the stems of your plants

2. Remove and Squish - look in moist cool locations to find the slugs hiding during the day or hunt them out in early morning/late evening.

3. Slug Bait (family & pet safe) - It is not always easy to find child/pet safe slug bait.  I usually order from mail order catalogs.

4. Spray With Ammonia - ammonia (NH3) will kill the slugs & leave behind nitrogen in your garden. A win win in my book!

What is your favorite slug control method?

Happy Gardening (& pest control)!!! :)

Plant of the Week: Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum)
This week's Plant of the Week, comes at the request of a Facebook reader.  Check out my Facebook page for more interactions and always feel free to shoot me a question or request either via Facebook or e-mail.

Garlic is one of the most widely used herbs world wide.  Most cultures and cuisines include the use of garlic in some form.  The herbal medicine community claims it has a variety of anti-microbial properties, and don't forget that garlic wards off the roving vampire and werewolf in your neighborhood. ;)  All jesting aside, garlic is a popular herb in both the kitchen and the medicine cabinet and is a great addition to any herb or kitchen garden!

Garlic belongs to the genus Allium along with onion and chives.  It is divided into two subspecies that are easily separated based on where they grow.  The soft neck sub-species is grown closer to the equator while the hardneck is grown in colder climates.  For those of us in the northern latitudes of the United States there is no question that the subspecies of choice for us would be hardneck (Allium sativum sub. sativum).

Garlic is cold tolerant but requires a longer growing season to produce a bulb of decent size so it is recommended that garlic be planted 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes in northern climates.  By planting a month or so before freezing, the roots are able to establish and it is ready to start growth as soon as the soil warms up in the spring.  In very cold locations (like most of North Dakota!) you may want to cover with several inches of mulch to prevent winter kill, but be ready to clear the mulch in late winter/early spring.

Garlic are versatile and can be planted in most any soil but prefer soil with a high organic material content.  Select a location that is mostly sunny and incorporate 4-6 inches of compost in the top 12 inches before planting the largest garlic cloves about 2 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart.  All of the literature I read said to not separate the cloves from the bulb until you are ready to plant.

Harvest garlic when the tops start to dry out.  Let them dry out (cure) for several days before storing them.  Store harvested garlic in a cool but dry location.  Garlic can be pickled in vinegar or wine for long term storage, but do not store in oil as it can breed botchilism.

Have you grown garlic before?  I'd love to hear about it.

Happy Gardening! :)

Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day!  I hope you are enjoying a long weekend with family and/or playing in your garden. ;)  I am enjoying some time with my family and will be back with you on Wednesday with a new Plant of the Week.  :)

Vertical Gardening: Supporting Heavy Veggies

I am a huge fan of vertical gardening.  It allows me to grow much more in my garden without taking up more area of the yard.  In May I planted my garden using structures to expand the usable space and then in July I started 'trellis training' my mini-pumpkins & cucumbers.

I did not provide a structure for the jack-o-lantern pumpkins that I planted and they have taken over most of the open space in the back and west side of the garden as well as anywhere else they have wanted, including sharing the tomatoe cages with the tomatoes.  About a month ago I noticed a small pumpkin hanging out the side of one of the tomato cages.  Since the pumpkins hadn't set any other fruit that I could find, I left that pumpkin hoping for a smiling face on my front steps later this fall.  Recently I have noticed that the pumpkin is getting so large and heavy that it is beginning to pull on the plant and I'm afraid it will damage the plant soon.  This week I pulled out another section of the old t-shirt I used to tie up the vines when I was trellis training and created a sling for the pumpkin to rest in as it continues to grow.

To create the sling, I tied one end to the tomato cage, cradled the pumpkin in it, and then tied the other end onto the cage as well.  I will have to keep an eye on both the pumpkin and the sling to be sure that the pumpkin doesn't out grow the sling, but it will support the size and weight of the plant for now.  Also, I will check on the pumpkin to be sure that the it isn't pushed too hard against the structure so it changes the shape or even grows around it!

I hope you are enjoying some of the benefits and challenges of vertical gardening this year.

Happy Gardening! :)