July 25, 2014
Making berry infused vodka is incredibly simple…especially when your garden is abundant with ripe delicious strawberries, raspberries, or any other delicious, ripe berry. If you’re under drinking age, you are not invited to read on; just go eat a bunch of berries instead!
For you adult garden booze hounds, there’s no way you don’t want to preserve the sweet flavor of summer with this incredibly simple method to make berry infused vodka. While many will suggest using sugar is critical to extracting the fruit’s essence into booze, we’ve found there’s really no need to pile on the sweeteners to make a tasty berry infused vodka. Freshly harvested homegrown fruit should offer plenty of flavor all on its own.
Here’s how to infuse your booze with the tasty flavor of berries from your garden. This elixir is the key ingredient for homegrown adults-only refreshment on a hot summer day — or later in winter when you’re desperate for summer’s return.
Tools & ingredients you’ll need to infuse your booze:
- 1, 1 quart mason jar, clean with lid
- 1-2 pints freshly picked, washed & hulled berries
- 1 quart of vodka…(the better the vodka, the better your berry infused vodka will be)
Add fruit to your clean mason jar. Bruise the fruity bits a little by slicing or slightly smashing them to help release the juices. Pour vodka over the berries (you’ll probably have a bit of vodka leftover). Screw on the lid. Place in fridge and resist the urge to start drinking right away.
Allow flavors to meld together for at least two weeks; we found 21 days perfect.
Tools for straining your infused booze:
- Large, non-reactive bowl fitted with a mesh strainer lined with overlapping cheese cloth
- Pretty bottle for storing your infused booze
Once you’ve finished steeping your berry infused vodka, check back in a couple of weeks for a delicious sugar-free strawberry-basil vodka fizz recipe. We’ll be posting it on Friday, August 8, 2014. Until then, start infusing!
July 18, 2014
Need help learning how to prune rhododendrons & azaleas? We’ve got you covered! Fortunately, you can fine-prune these beautiful plants just about any time of year as long as you take care not to cut off all the flower buds.
Need pruning tools? Courtesy of our friends at Fiskars, we’ll be giving away a pair of bypass pruners and a folding handsaw to one lucky reader. Read on for details…
The reality is, sometimes you get to pruning when you have the time. Not every plant can be pruned successfully at the same time as every other plant, but rhodies are quite forgiving on timing.
Simple rules to follow: don’t prune them if they are flowering or about to flower or if it is frozen outside. And, if pruning in spring, summer or autumn, be sure to check for hornet nests. They love to build their summer homes in rhodies and other medium-sized shrubs — especially when they’re dense with dead wood! But remember: rules are made to be broken, and your garden and plants may require a bit of rule bending.
In all honestly, we knew how to prune rhododendrons, but we just hadn’t gotten to cleaning this one up in a couple of years. Trees and shrubs grow just fine without us cutting, shaping and coiffing them all the time. But, the messy interior of this rhodie was an eye-sore we could no longer ignore. So, on a day that eventually topped 90F, we spent a couple of hours beautifying this blooming beauty. We got done well before temperatures soared. No sunburns here and by far the plant is in better shape than before.
All we needed for the job: a pair of bypass pruners, a folding handsaw, and a tarp.
Did you know that all azaleas are rhododendrons? Yep, Rhododendron is actually a genus of plants into which the azaleas are also classified! So, of course it makes sense that knowing how to prune rhododendrons would set you up for success in pruning your azaleas as well. Generally speaking, azaleas are twiggier, so you’ll just be in for making a lot more small cuts than you would on bigger rhodies.
Fine pruning is not shearing off the outside to “shape” a plant. Often the sign of a good pruner is you can hardly tell they’ve cut anything from your plants. Still, when we were done with interior cuts, sunlight & air could flow through the plant. This helps reduce pest and disease issues in many garden situations.
Because the plant hides a foundation & utility area, we chose not to lift all the lower limbs, which would expose the ugly part of the house from a nearby patio. Eventually, we may decide to plant something under this rhodie at which time, we will limb it up. But no way was planting going to happen during a heatwave in July!
Ready to dive in but still need the right tools for the job? In the comment section for this post, tell us about the most beautiful rhodie or azalea in your garden. Is it colorful, fragrant, filled with pollinators, or what makes it a plant you’d love to get cleaned up.
One person will be chosen via random.org on Monday, July 28, 2014 to win a pair of Large Bypass Pruners and a 7″ PowerTooth Folding Handsaw to be shipped to them from our friends at Fiskars. Comment period to enter closes at midnight PDT on Sunday, July 27, 2014.
(More details on our relationship as paid writer with Fiskars at the end of this post, but to be clear we have received no compensation for this post or tool giveaway. And, learn more about using random.org at the end of this article.)
Next up: a Visual step-by-step guide to deadheading your rhododendrons.
July 09, 2014
Why grow borage in your garden?
We really can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to have this fantastic seasonal plant gracing your garden. It may be a little bit prickly-fuzzy, but that’s easy to get past when you consider everything else this wonderful, easy-to-grow plant has to offer. If you aren’t already convinced to grow borage in your food or ornamental garden, consider all this generous plant has to offer:
So, to recap: Borage is bitchin’ because bees of all kinds can’t resist it. Borage is edible. Borage makes a great pest lure trap. Borage grows seeds that feeds wild birds.
Other reasons to grow borage: Once you plant borage, you will always have it. This annual plant will self-seed itself and pop up in other parts of your garden. We don’t consider it invasive because it is far too beneficial to become problematic. Plus, when a plant pops up that you don’t want, it’s simple to pull and either eat or feed to your compost pile.
If you dig up very young seedlings, it may be possible to transplant borage babies from one part of the garden to the others, but the big root on larger plants doesn’t forgive being dug up, and those plants may simply wilt to the ground if you try to move them around. If you buy a borage start of any size or that is already blooming, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t last long before giving up the ghost. It’s an annual after all. Really, growing it from seed is a great way to go! And, while its chunky root system may be simple, it is also powerful, which means borage will help break up soil creating more air and water pocket space.
And, who doesn’t want a true blue flower in their garden? Blues aren’t just popular with pollinators; human eyeballs love them too. Many blue flowers are actually tinted purple, but not borage. It’s truly blue. Sometimes, under stress, it will flush pink, but that’s more rare than common. Its pretty flowers are fun to dry and mix into your homemade herbal tea blends too.
Rumors (or are they truths?) about borage: You may have heard that borage deters tomato hornworm, and maybe it does. We’ve grown borage by our tomato plants for many years without a hornworm showing up once — but we have no proof that the borage is what kept the hornworm away. If you have experience with borage and hornworm, let us know! Also, Robin’s mom always says, “Borage for courage!” She claims this is based on the idea that borage was fed to Roman soldiers before battle to give them the guts to fight. Whether that’s true or not, we hope it doesn’t really require a lot of courage on your part to grow borage in your own garden. Try it from seed; it germinates readily and generously!
July 02, 2014
If you have an asparagus patch, keep an eye out for the highly destructive asparagus beetle starting early in summer (if not sooner). Now that we have a thriving asparagus patch, our garden has exactly what this annoying pest most desires. The seed pods are beginning to ripen on the tall, feathery plant fronds. And, that’s exactly where these beetles prefer to lay their eggs.
Fortunately, we haven’t had many of these pest insects yet this season. Still, we’re checking the plants carefully each day and squishing any adults chewing stems and looking for lovers. They’re tiny, but it’s hard to miss those bright orange-red forms against the green of the stems. They’ll be a little harder to spot when the seed pods ripen to orange-red, so watching early is key.
If you’re on squishing patrol, take care to put one hand under the beetle and use the other one to squish with a quick pinch. Otherwise, these little critters will sense you coming, scurry to the underside of the branch, and then drop to the ground where you’ll never find them. If your hand is underneath, you’ll catch them before they fall.
Be sure you know what to look for. The Spotted Asparagus Beetle, which is what we have and is shown above, looks a lot like the beneficial Lady Beetle (aka LadyBug), which is shown below. How to tell them apart? The Lady Beetle is dome shaped and usually a deep, blood red. The Spotted Asparagus Beetle is more elongated than dome shaped, has a distinct set of dark antennae, and they’re more orange-red than blood red.
We’ve noticed the Lady Beetles and their larvae are spending a lot of time cruising through the asparagus fronds as well. They’re known predators of this pest, so we’re hoping they’re getting a belly full and keeping our patch free and clear of any eggs the adults may lay. If the Lady Beetles and our squishing isn’t enough, hopefully the hovering parasitic wasps will inject their predatory eggs into any newly laid eggs Asparagus Beetle eggs that the rest of us miss. And, of course, our resident fledgling wrens and chickadees are also on patrol — hopefully eating more Asparagus Beetles than Lady Beetles!
No need for a spray bottle when your habitat is well balanced! Of course, we will be cleaning up the fronds and seeds at the end of the season just in case they harbor any eggs and larvae that slipped past our various Asparagus Beetle predators during the growing season.
For more information on cultivating an asparagus patch of your own, ready our guide.
Keep a gardening library? These titles are great garden insect reference manuals.
For further reading on Asparagus Beetle check Mother Earth News here. They cover more than the Spotted Asparagus Beetle we’re battling.
June 27, 2014
Knowing how to freeze berries will mean you never lament another batch of fresh picked strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or other berries that turn from just-picked luscious to a moldy pile of muck in the kitchen.
Sadly, homegrown berries, which arrive during warm summery days, are fast to melt into fuzzy, grey piles of rot. And, refrigerating them isn’t a good solution either. Eating them fresh is ideal, but if we’re lucky, our harvest is more than we can consume fresh from the garden. Of course, making jams and jellies is an option, but if you’re short on time, simply freezing your fruits is a great way to go! (And you can still make jams out of them later if you want.)
For the last week or so we’ve been culling through our berry patches daily for at least a pint of each kind of berry we grow — except for the Goji Berries and Blackberries. Those come in later in the season. But the raspberries and strawberries have been going gangbusters for a couple of weeks. And, as the June-bearing strawberry harvest begins to wane, the blueberries are rapidly picking up the pace, turning deeper shades of purple-blue day-by-day. And, we just can’t eat them all despite a steady handful thrown in each smoothie and salad we eat. So, into the freezer they go!
Berries are super simple to freeze. Just wash them well. Pick over the harvest to remove stems, bad parts, and other detritus. Then, lay them out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. The paper lining will keep moist berries from freezing to the cookie sheet, which makes it hard to take them off the sheet later. (You can freeze them without the paper lining, but get ready to use a spatula to scrape them off the sheet. And be warned that raspberries and other delicate fruits will crumble into tiny bits. They still work for a smoothie though.)
Once your tray is filled with berries, slip it into the freezer, keeping the tray level so the berries don’t all fall together. Depending on the size of your fruit, it should just take a couple hours for them to freeze.
While your berries are freezing, label a freezer-safe zipper bag or freezer-safe jar with the name of your fruit and the date. Once the fruit is frozen, slip it off the tray, into the storage container, and put that container in the freezer for the longer term.
June 23, 2014
Looking for a great garden podcast that’s free, informative, and fun? Sign up for A Dry Rain with Marty Wingate, Willi Galloway, Greg Rabourn, and Steve Scher. If you were a die-hard fan of the now cancelled KUOW weekly gardening show, you can enjoy the ideas, answers, guests, and inspiration from this same team. And, now you can get it anywhere, anytime online for free. You don’t have to wait for mid-morning once a week, and you don’t have to listen to it on a local radio station!
For Episode #24 of A Dry Rain garden podcast, Marty visited with me in my garden to talk plants, songbirds, and in particular 5 simple steps to garden health. And, yes, I sang the praises of some plants we call tend to call “weeds” . No surprise there, right? Have a listen!