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  • Preserving the Season

    August 19, 2016

    This summer we’ll be preserving fresh food not harvested from our garden. Some years you just can’t rely on your own farm — large or small — to produce the foods you want to freeze, can or dry for the long winter ahead. We’re having one of those years.

    garden staged for sale

    In spring 2016, when we would normally be planting & harvesting, we were instead staging our home & garden for sale. And, we were saying good-bye to not-ready-to-harvest crops like this garlic patch.

    It isn’t that our crops failed. Rather, we just didn’t plant much in the way of a seasonal veggie garden. We were just too busy preparing our home for sale, buying a new home, packing, moving, repairing, unpacking & all that jazz — all in the midst of the annual seeding, sowing and early harvesting window. So here we are in August with just a few potted peppers and tomatoes, a single container with cucumbers, several potted herbs and a new field filled with enough blackberries to take over the world and feed an army.

    Fortunately, living in farm country means we have access to no-spray, locally grown, often organic (or at least transitional) foods, picked fresh from small farms. In fact, we’re pretty much eating a 20-mile diet comprised of locally grown producefish, grass-fed meats, dairy, and even eggs from our neighbor across the field next door.

    But, about the only thing we’ll be preserving from our own garden this year is those blackberries!

    homegrown harvest for preserving

    Most years we enjoy abundant homegrown harvest, fresh & for preserving.
    But, not this year.

    If your garden failed you or you just didn’t get around to planting it, now’s the time to discuss bulk buys with your favorite local farmers. If you don’t live in farm country like we do, visit your farmer’s market and ask about placing preserving orders. Many farmers will be happy to discount bulk buys, and if they offer better prices on their seconds, don’t snub the opportunity. Just get those very ripe goodies home and into your belly, canner, dehydrator or freezer right away.

    If preserving food is new to you, try some of the simple methods we’ve come to love for tomatoes, zucchini, basil, berries and more.

    Soon enough it’ll be planting time again, and it’s never too early to begin planning your future garden. Perhaps this time next year we’ll be discussing our new deer-proofed vegetable garden successes (or failures) or our forthcoming chicken coop or the perennial food forest we hope to install sooner rather than later. But, for now, I just need to figure out where I put the boxes with my dehydrator and canning supplies!

  • Watering Big Trees

    August 12, 2016

    Big, mature trees are going down hard this summer. Blame the drought last summer, blame a bunch of bugs, blame climate change or just get past the blame-game and start watering your stressed out big trees.

    Watering a Thuja plicata

    Slow, deep, repetitive watering under the cedars may help them through the summer. Just try not to soak the trunk of the tree while you’re at it.

    For years horticulturists and arborists have been coming to terms with the idea that we’re going to eventually lose many of our native trees. One of the first we expect to go is our beautiful western red cedar or Thuja plicata. And, other natives will probably follow this beauty’s lead.

    Recently, we hired New Leaf Arboriculture to help us with some of our biggest tree concerns, one of which was an enormous, multi-leader western red cedar. This gorgeous tree has lived through quite a bit of change, particularly in the last few decades. As recently as the 1980s it was one among many trees in an undeveloped forested wetland. Kids had a tree house in it during the 1960s and 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, much of land was cleared around it. And, eventually a large building was constructed adjacent to it. Then, because runoff had become an issue, much of the water that it (and its remaining neighbors) relied upon was rerouted into a county ditch. And, the ground above its uptake roots was carpeted in water-diverting beauty bark. It’s no wonder this tree was struggling!

    Sparse growth in crown of western red cedar

    Sparse green growth on the tops of these cedars indicates stress.

    Eric and Vance of New Leaf cleaned up much of the dead inside of this beauty and added safety cabling just in case it starts failing in wind or because of its many stresses. And, they reminded me:

    “Get some water on this tree!”

    So, the hose dragging has begun. It’s going to take a while to get a good amount of moisture to those feeder roots living inside a beauty bark prison, but by watering slowly and deeply and repetitively over the next several days, we hope to build a decent layer of moisture for this big beauty and two other western reds just up hill from it. It may take quite a bit of water, but frankly its worth the investment. And, once we build up a moisture layer, we’ll have to keep watering on occasion so that the feeder roots don’t dry out again during the long, hot, dry days that seem to be lasting later each year.

    Beauty bark water runoff

    We hate beauty bark! It has a number of problems including not absorbing water well & causing runoff issues. (Eventually, we’ll get rid of what we can under these trees, but for now, we just need to water more slowly to break through this dusty root prison.)

    Skip watering the dumb lawn. Let it go brown. But, don’t let the tips of those cedars brown out, indicating it’ll soon be a goner.

    This time of year many conifers do go through shedding some older leaves, and they can look a bit more sparse because of it. But too much loss means worse things to come. As cones on these Thujas turn golden in summer, after being green in spring, the transition can add on to the stressed look. Plus, heavy cone set can indicate that the tree is really stressed out. Cones = seeds, and a tree putting out a lot of seeds may be trying to replicate itself that way as a last ditch survival effort.

    Thuja plicata fruit

    Heavy cone set like this on a Thuja plicata can indicate the tree is extra stressed out.

    If your soil is dry, water. If the tops of your trees are sparse, water. If your big trees have heavy cone set, water. If your big trees are more yellow or brown than green, water. And, if in doubt, bring in an arborist for help evaluating your situation and setting a course of action toward preserving your precious trees (and costly investment) before it’s too late.

    (Oh, and this doesn’t just apply to big, mature native trees. Rhododendrons, exotic trees, young plants and just about everything in the garden appreciates a good dose of water in August and September!)

  • Blackberry Weeds & Cobbler

    August 05, 2016

    Our new property has a lot of blackberry weeds. Local old-timers tell us about playing here, not many decades ago, when it was all forest (that was later overtaken by blackberries). Today only a relatively small section of our land is still forested, and the forest is still full of blackberry brambles — tough, prickly-painful weeds to eradicate.

    Blackberry by the handful

    When weeds are wonderful! Blackberry is an invasive, fast-growing & hard to eradicate garden pest plant — except when it is offering up a lot of tasty fruit in summer!

    Fortunately, picking loads of summer-ripe berries is a delicious preemptive weeding method. Each berry we keep out of the mouths of birds (that poop plantable seeds) or keep from falling directly to the earth (where they sprout anew) is a win. Plus, we get an abundant harvest of yummy berries. Don’t miss one of our favorite recipes below!

    Other ways we’re keeping these voracious blackberry weeds at bay right now:

    blackberry brambles

    A small view of our wall of blackberry weeds — aka “the briar patch”

    Taking a machete to green shoots traveling overhead and along the ground. If we don’t whack these fast growing shoots back, they will root into the earth soon and help the weeds cover more ground.

    We’re also cutting out the berry clusters that only have hard, pithy fruit still attached. Once the best berries are picked and summer weather dries out, the remaining clusters on older fruiting stems will ripen, but they’ll never be very tasty. Yet, they will have the capacity to form new plants.

    Tasty blackberry cobbler berries

    Pick your fruit daily so none goes to waste or falls the ground to seed itself.

    Staying on top of pulling volunteers wherever they appear on our property is also key. If you have fruiting blackberries, birds will poop seeds for you, thereby planting more brambles everywhere. Don’t ignore them! Young shoots are easy to pull; you may not even need gloves against those tiny prickles and roots.

    These summer efforts won’t eradicate our briar patch, but we really don’t want to completely eradicate them. We like the fruit, and the wildlife that lives in this area does too — from the bees that pollinate the flowers to the birds, deer, bunnies and other unknown critters that call this area home. Come winter, we will go hard on the vines with our machetes, but just enough to keep this invasive plant in check.

    What to do with your preemptive weeding berry harvest:

    Blackberry margarita

    Blackberry margaritas are a delicious way to reward yourself for preemptive bramble weeding (while you’re waiting for your cobbler to bake!)

    We’ve made blackberry sauce, blackberry chicken, blackberry margaritas, blackberry mint juleps and several reduced sugar blackberry cobblers. And, since we’re hauling in about three to six pounds of berries everyday, we’re freezing them by the gallon to make blackberry jelly come autumn. Right now, it’s the cobbler we love the most!

    Low sugar blackberry cobbler

    Blackberry cobbler made with summer-ripe fruit topped with a lump-bumpy, rich crust sweetened with a touch of coconut sugar, which gives the crust a deep brown color. Yum!

    Although I endeavor to do a lot of no-sugar, no-grain baking, I’m a fool for a traditional blackberry cobbler — made with wheat flour, butter and a bit of sugar. That being said, I hate a fruit dessert so over-sugared that the natural flavor of the fruit itself is lost. So, I’ve refined my recipe to call for about a cup and half less sugar than most cobbler recipes often suggest is necessary. And, as is traditional with cobblers, there’s no need to roll out the crust like you would for a pie. Easy-peasy!

    Let me know what you think after you make one of your own.

    Preemptive Weeding Blackberry CobblerPrint Print


    • 4-6 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed & picked over for bugs & prickles
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 3/4 cup flour, sifted
    • 1/4 cup coconut sugar (or regular granulated sugar)
    • dash of sea salt
    • 6 tablespoons melted & cooled unsalted butter

    Preheat oven to 350F. Place baking rack in middle of oven. Place another rack below it, and put a lined cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch any bubbling over messes.

    Fill a deep 8-9″ pie dish about 3/4 of the way full with berries. Sprinkle with cinnamon and toss very gently. Set aside.

    Place sifted flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together with a fork. Pour in butter and blend quickly. It will be very buttery and slightly crumbly. Don’t overwork it or you may have a tough crust.

    Scoop tablespoon sized clumps of dough into your palm and flatten slightly. Place each clump into an overlapping layer to cover the berries. If you have some extra dough, crumble it over the top. Don’t expect a pie-perfect look! The cobbled-together look is what gives cobbler it name.

    Place filled pie plate onto the middle rack of the oven & be sure the cookie sheet is positioned below it to catch anything that bubbles over.

    Bake 40-50 minutes or until berries are bubbly and the crust is a golden brown.

    Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15-30 minutes so the liquids gel a bit and to keep your mouth from getting burned. (Since I don’t call for a thickener, expect lots of succulent juice.)

    Serve warm or cold with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

  • Free Gardening with Dogs Seminar

    July 29, 2016

    Need help gardening with your dogs? Or, thinking of adding a garden or a dog or both to your life? Then don’t miss Robin’s free gardening with dogs seminar entitled Gardening with Your Canine Companions at Molbak’s in August.

    well behaved dog in garden

    Learn to enjoy your garden & your dog together!

    Molbak’s is hosting a day dedicated to Fido, and Robin will be offering up her tried and true solutions to many common challenges gardening dog lovers face everyday. Having lived and gardened with many dogs throughout her life in many different settings, Robin’s tips will help you and your pup grow beyond that ugly, spotty lawn, those trampled Costa fortuneiis, icky-poopy paths, hole-ridden borders and much more. People, young pups and old dogs can all learn new tricks to co-habitate happily in a garden of just about any size!

    Have a pup-related challenge you’d like Robin to address in her talk? Add it to the comments below, and she’ll do her best to be prepared with suggestions at her seminar!

    Where: Molbak’s Nursery, Woodinville, WA

    When: August 13, 2016 10am-11am

    Cost: It’s Free!

    dogs in the garden

    From herders to doodles: every dog has the potential to be a great gardening companion!

    Don’t have a dog but beginning the journey to invite the right one into your world? Pet adoption agencies will be on site all day to help you on your journey.

    Already have a best canine friend and want to bring her? Well behaved dogs on a leash are welcome at Molbak’s and might just get a special treat from one of the dog product suppliers who will be on site from 10am-3pm.

    Get more information on this & other events at Molbak’s here.

  • White Wildflowers: a Warning

    July 15, 2016

    There are any number of summer blooming white wildflowers. Some are very distinct. Others may be difficult to differentiate. For instance, can you tell the difference between relatively innocuous and possibly edible Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and its terribly toxic Apiaceae cousins poison hemlock (Conicum maculatum) or giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)? For that matter, can you tell the difference between these and their highly cultivated vegetable garden cousins the simple carrot or cilantro?

    Carrot harvest

    Did you know that tasty cultivated carrots have some highly toxic cousins?

    If not, don’t despair! Even highly trained horticulturists may find themselves stumped by these similar looking plants. Just being aware that lookalikes exist and using caution when plucking wildflowers on a trail is a great first step!

    Just the other day I was strolling on a beach trail, thrilling to the sight of all the wildflowers in bloom. Delicate Queen Anne’s lace was one of the many. It’s a flower I’ve encountered all my life in wild settings from the Virginia countryside to the hillsides of northern California to the PacNW bay that I now call home. This non-native carrot family member has made itself at home throughout the United States — to the point of being declared noxious by many states. Noxious or not, the flowers of this beauty are a magnet for important pollinators that both feed and breed on it.

    soldier beetles breeding on white wildflower Queen Anne's lace

    White wildflower Queen Anne’s lace may be considered noxious by some, but this non-native naturalized carrot family member is an important breeding ground for pollinators like these soldier beetles.

    Not far from the Queen Anne’s lace, and interspersed with it throughout the trail, were sprouts of its more dangerous cousins. The nearby towers of giant hogweed were past their bloom cycle and unlikely to confuse the toddlers plucking trail-side flowers. But, intermittent wispy sprouts of poison hemlock appeared to be masquerading among the profusion of Queen Anne’s lace — just waiting for an unsuspecting posy plucker to make a dangerous mistake.

    poison hemlock white wildflowers

    This is poison hemlock. Like giant hogweed it is usually much larger than Queen Anne’s lace, cilantro and carrots. But, don’t count on that to keep you safe!

    So, just a word of caution: if in doubt, don’t pluck it out. Don’t even touch it. That giant hogweed could burn and blind you. The poison hemlock could, well, poison you — to death. Instead, leave these umbels of white to dance in the breeze and provide habitat for pollinators that in turn will help bring your summer crops to fruition. Take a picture. As they say, “it’ll last longer.” (Of course, if any of these unwanted dangers pop up in your home garden or neighborhood, do your research to learn how to safely eradicate them before they take hold.)

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