• How to Preserve Zucchini Noodles

    July 31, 2015

    This has been the year of the zucchini in our garden, which means we’re learning how to use and how to preserve zucchini in creative ways. In past years, we’ve shared our simple method for freezing zucchini and enjoying it in a grain-free, low carb latke. Because we’re harvesting a few pounds of these and other cucurbits everyday this summer, we’ll run out of freezer space if all we do is freeze’m. So, it’s time to fire up the dehydrator for zucchini noodles!

    Zucchini noodle tool

    This two-sided vegetable peeler will make angel hair & wide noodle zucchini in a snap.

    We’re giving one of these tools to a lucky mailing list subscriber!

    Want a chance at this freebie? (The entry period has now passed & the winner has been notified; but we encourage you to sign up in order to hear about future specials available only to our subscribers!

    Join our mailing list before midnight PDT on July 31, 2015. Then, check your email for our monthly newsletter on August 1st to get all the details and find out how to throw your hat in the ring.


    Zucchini noodles are a fantastic low carbohydrate alternative for anyone who loves pasta dishes but wants to keep their carb or grain intake low. Plus, they’re really simple to make. And, dried they’ll store well into winter without drawing power from your deep freeze.

    Trimmed Zucchini

    Harvest your zucchini each morning, selecting young fruits that weigh in under a pound. Larger ones get seedy & more difficult to work with. Young ones are ideal! After washing your zukes, trim off & discard the stem & flower end of the fruit.

    Trimmed zucchini

    Next, use the wide blade to shave a lengthwise, flat size into your zucchini. Lay the flat side down on your cutting board so the squash doesn’t roll as you cut your noodles.


    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)



    Zucchini being sliced into noodles

    Decide if you prefer stringy or wider noodles. We make some of both. The angel hair size is great for spaghetti, and the wide shape is ideal as an egg noodle replacement. Then, use the wide or narrow cutting blade, pulling lengthwise down the fruit multiple times to shave off your noodles. The last thin bit may require slicing with a knife or chop it into dinner!

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  • Blossom End Rot & Poor Pollination Solutions

    July 24, 2015

    In the height of the annual vegetable growing season, we see a lot of photo request pleas for what may be blossom end rot. Frustrated veggie gardeners who have worked diligently to get their tomatoes, squash and other edibles to produce flowers and fruits are suddenly dismayed to find these shriveled and blackening flower ends on their crops.

    Two very common culprits result in the flower-end of your homegrown edibles turning brown and shriveling: blossom end rot and poor pollination. Each has a different cause. Understanding those causes is the key to remedying the issue before the season passes and your entire crop is lost. And, yes, there are ways to get past both problems during the growing season. And, there are ways to keep them from repeating in the future.

    Let’s take a look at samples of both problems:

    Example of poorly & well pollinated zucchini fruits

    Here are two zucchini fruits. The tiny one is shriveling due to poor pollination, not blossom end rot. The large one was well pollinated, resulting in a rapidly growing squash fruit.

    Tomatoes with Blossom End Rot

    When fruits like these paste tomatoes are pollinated & maturing & then the bottoms begin to turn black, that’s blossom end rot. Not every end-rotten tomato in a cluster or on every plant will show this way. Sometimes you’ll cut into a ripe fruit only to discover the rot. Dang it!

    Read on to see the progression of each issue and get our tips to fix both problems during the growing season and help deter it before it starts in years ahead. (more…)

  • How to Attract Bumblebees

    July 17, 2015

    Learning how to attract bumblebees goes beyond planting a few summer blooming plants and hoping for the best. Certainly adding in their favorite forage invites bees to your garden, especially if you offer plants that flower from very early spring through late autumn. But, there are a few other things you can do the create a garden habitat that attracts bumblebees.

    Bumblebee on borage

    Like honeybees, bumblebees adore borage! Plant it by tomatoes for extra pollination power.

    In years past we’ve adopted bumblebees that others chose to have removed from their garden. Removing bees happens. Sometimes having bees in an urban garden location just isn’t the right thing for some folks. For us, we’re always signing up with beekeepers to take in bumbling, buzzing waifs. And, we strive to leave some areas of our garden undisturbed in hopes that wild queen Bombus will create her palace in a quite portion of our garden.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    So to recap 3 easy ways to attract bumblebees into your garden:

    1. Cultivate an assortment of plants that flower throughout the year for bumblebees. (Psst! Get our Pollinator Favorite Things sheet for free to get some plant ideas and more.)

      Bumblebee foraging asparagus

      Different bumblebees forage actively at different times of year & on different types of plants. Some have longer tongues than others; some pollinate by buzzing inside flowers. Notice this bumbler’s red tongue as it forages in an asparagus flower – nom-nom!

    2. Sign up with a local beekeeper who does poison-free extractions and offers to re-home any intact bumblebee nests.
    3. Create undisturbed bumblebee friendly areas on your property.
    4. Okay, so there’s one more that seems pretty obvious: lay off the ‘cides in your garden.

    Want queen Bombus to nest in your garden?

    1. Don’t clean up your garden floor ’til every inch looks tidy for the growing season. Yup! Embrace your inner sloth and don’t rake up all that leaf duff that fell last fall and overwintered. Sure, a few slugs may live in there, but so do overwintering queen bees, beetles and other beneficial garden life.
    2. Don’t remove abandoned bird nests. Queen bee loves to snuggle her brood into these cozy cradles of twigs and fluff.

      Sparrows in nest

      Left in place this year’s sparrow nest may become next year’s bumblebee nest.

    3. Don’t clean out your bird houses. These are some of the fuzzy, buzzy queen’s favorite abodes.

    A few years back when our friend Dan The Bee Man brought us a bumblebee colony, he’d been able to extract the nest intact because they were living in an old bird house. (If the bees had been nesting in the ground, he probably wouldn’t have been able to extract them without destroying the nest.) The following year, we relocated the birdhouse to a protected spot off the ground, and wrens moved in that spring, but no bumblebees. This year, a new Bombus family has moved into the house again — just a few feet away from several squash plants and our largest patch of tomatoes, which are primarily pollinated by bumblebees.

    Bombus nest in bird house

    What we believe to be Bombus fervidus* have created a nest in an abandoned bird house in our garden. This is the same bumblebee-friendly house we gained in 2013 thru adoption!

    We like to think we’re in for a bumble-crop this summer!

    bumblebee in female zucchini flower

    Squash flowers open in the morning sun. Look closely, and you’ll see bumblebees (& other bees) buzzing inside, collecting pollen from the male flowers & dispersing it into the female flowers as they sip nectar from deep inside the blooms. (This is a female zucchini flower.)

    Don’t forget to get your free copy of our Pollinator Favorite Things so you too can grow a garden bees and other pollinators can’t resist!

    *We’ve done our best to identify which species of Bombus is shown in this post using BumbleBee Guide to West produced by folks who know more than we do about this amazing genus of bees. If we misidentified any of them or if you know more, please share what you know in the comments below. We’re always eager to expand our knowledge! In fact, we’ve submitted several photos of our nesting bumblebees to the Bumble Bee Watch program and are hopeful we will receive identification verification soon (Updated July 24, 2015: our sighting has been verified as Bombus fervidus via the Bumblebee Watch program here).

    If you love bumblebees and want to help conservationists track changing populations and ranges of various species, and you want help identifying which bumblebee is visiting or nesting in your garden, consider joining the Bumble Bee Watch program here. (FYI: at the time of writing this article, the Bumblebee watch folks tell us to submit all sightings – nest and bee – into the bee sighting category. Users (us among them) are reporting problems with the nesting submission forms.)

  • How to Thin Apple Tree Fruit

    July 10, 2015

    Knowing why and how to thin apple tree fruit (and other tree fruits) is important to producing a better harvest. It may seem counterproductive to take several fruits off of your pollinated tree, but pruning out crowded clusters of young fruit actually does a few good things for your trees and your crop.

    Cluster of young apple fruit in need of thinning

    In late spring/early summer, check apples, pears & other fruit trees for young fruit clusters. Then begin selecting for the best in each cluster.

    Fruiting trees often produce an abundance of flowers to ensure some are successfully pollinated. However, if all of the flowers are pollinated, which leads to fruit production, trees may not be able to access sufficient resources to convert every one of those fruits into big, juicy edibles. And, if branches are over-burdened by an over-abundance of developing fruits, they may become stressed and may break under the weight. So, it’s important to both reduce each crowded cluster from several fruits to just one or two and to be sure individual fruits that remain are well spaced on branches, which helps disperse the weight maturing fruit adds.

    Choosing which fruit in a cluster to thin out.

    Begin thinning young tree fruit clusters by removing the smallest fruits in any group.
    These aren’t likely to mature and sap resources during the growing season.

    By manually removing any of the smallest, most damaged or withered of these young fruits early in the season, you will help your fruit tree divert its limited resources to a small number of remaining fruits. Yes, you will harvest fewer individual fruits, but those you do harvest should make for better eating since they will benefit from growing space and more sweetening feeds from the tree.

    how to thin apple tree example

    Not only are the smallest fruits ideal to remove, but taking out damaged or poorly formed young fruit like this one keeps the tree from wasting resources on it.

    Left to their own devices, by early-to-mid-summer, many trees will drop a number of immature fruits on their own. But, the tree may release more of the fruit you would choose to keep, so make your own selections and hope the tree doesn’t over-ride your choices later.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)


    And, if you haven’t protected your fruits from apple maggot and coddling moth, learn how to do that here.

  • Fourth of July Garden Tips

    July 03, 2015

    I’m not going to give you a bunch of Fourth of July garden tips that focus on planting red, white and blue things to decorate or making a red and blue berry salad with whip cream to feed your favorite patriots. Rather, let’s consider some safety precautions going into the holiday of fiery ka-boom!

    Here in the PacNW, we’re experiencing a record-breaking hot, dry summer. It feels like its been 90F since May. And, this blazing, record-shattering spring-into-summer is following on the heels of a not particularly moist or cool fall, winter, spring, and let’s face it, last year and a half!

    And, what happens at times like these? Plants croak.

    Fourth of July Garden Tip Example

    Plants live. Plants die.
    If you’ve got a croaker lurking your border, yank it before it becomes a flaming holiday torch.

    Okay, so plants croak all the time. But, when we’re low on water and high on heat during days when the sun rises around 4:30am and seems to finally set around 10pm, more plants are more likely to give up the ghost, and they do it quite a bit faster than during more “normal” temperate weather periods.

    Our #1 tip for getting ready for The Fourth: Pull out your dead, tinderbox shrubs and other kindling-worthy plants. Left in place, they’re just waiting for a stray bottle-rocket or other firework to spark them into a blaze of unwanted holiday glory. Yank them today! Even if fireworks are illegal in your area, we all know somebody is going to light them anyway, and you don’t want your home or garden to be that jerk’s victim.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Tip #2 for readying your garden for Independence Day: Irrigate your garden. Assuming you aren’t under drought restrictions, get out there and moisten your planting beds and any flammable pathways. (If you are under water restrictions, keep reading. We’ve got solutions for you too!) If you have chosen to install “beauty bark” in your garden, be sure it is really well soaked. We’ve gotten more than one report over the years of this stuff spontaneously igniting on a hot day — no fireworks required. In Seattle there’s even an emergency response code for this kind of fire: BARK! (Just one more reason to hate the not beautiful bark junk.)

    Close up of dead Nandina

    If a shrub, tree or other plant is crispy like this Nandina we transplanted unsuccessfully in our own test gardens, put it into the compost heap today before the fireworks can ignite it!

    Fortunately in Seattle we aren’t experiencing water use restrictions thanks to forward thinking by our water planners. However, if you are under restrictions (or if you just hate wasting water), buy a bucket for less than $5 to keep in your shower. As you heat water to a shower-friendly temperature, you’ll probably collect a couple of gallons each time. Pour your collected moisture into a watering can and use it wisely ahead of firecracker day and throughout the long, dry summer ahead.  Having even a bit of water in your garden can help fizzle any sizzles that hit your land.

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