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  • 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.)

  • Why Do Garden Water Testing

    July 08, 2016

    When your garden includes ponds and streams, water testing is probably a good idea. Earlier this year, we attended a seminar on retaining and recycling water in rural locations. One of the conservationists who spoke made a point of saying (paraphrasing): “There’s no such thing as a clean babbling brook on our rural properties anymore.” His point being human development and agriculture have contaminated a lot of the running water on land.

    Water gathered for testing at lab

    Looking at the color or clarity of water doesn’t tell the whole story.
    Lab water testing can take the mystery out of your water.

    When we purchased our new property that includes a couple of ponds and a small creek that receive water from livestock land uphill and then empty downhill into a county ditch that then empties into a slough that then passes into a protected wildlife estuary, I put in a call to the Skagit Conservation District for help getting information on our pond and stream water quality.

    Padilla Bay sunset in July

    Being a resident near a gorgeous protected estuary is an honor & a responsibilty.

    Our goal wasn’t to start raising koi in the ponds or to drink the water from it. Rather, we wanted to get a good understanding of whether the water would be toxic for the dogs that jump into it and drink from it. We wanted to be sure that the existing population of native tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, water insects and predators would continue to thrive. And, we wanted to understand what level of nastiness might be both passing into and out of our property via the existing water ways.

    tadpole metamorphosis to froglet

    Native Pacific tree frog transforming from tadpole to frog in our pond.

    Our local conservationist helped connect us with a local water testing lab, Edge Analytical. Edge helped us choose a few tests to run to set a healthy baseline on our water. We began with basic tests for things like nitrates and fecal coliforms. Certainly, we could run any number of additional tests, but both the conservation district and the lab suggested these were where we should start. Both told us to expect some naturally occurring levels of coliforms as any open water has animal traffic, and, well, shit happens. (more…)

  • Lawns & Mowers

    July 01, 2016

    Relocating to lawn-filled acreage means we need lawn mowers! A few years ago we had eliminated the last of our Seattle garden’s lawn. Our new garden in Mount Vernon, WA came with about an acre + of rolling lawns. That takes a lot of mowing in spring when rain and sun take turns pushing new growth everywhere!

    Garden Mentors founder driving John Deere lawn mower tractor

    Driving the John Deere lawn tractor is fun & makes hauling things up & down the hill easier. But, we hope to use petrol-burner lawn mowers less as time goes by.

    Our new home came with an old John Deere lawn tractor. Yes! We have a tractor! But, as with most things on this new property, it’s a fixer and went into the shop for repairs recently.

    Fortunately, our friends at Fiskars* sent us one of their fantastic reel lawn mowers as a bit of a housewarming gift. And, it arrived a day after the John Deere went in for repairs – perfect timing!

    Garden Mentors founder driving John Deere lawn mower tractor

    Pushing a Fiskars Stay-Sharp™ reel mower is easy — even on a hillside. (See that apron Robin’s wearing? Stay tuned for more about this great Roo Apron product we were given to trial**. That’s a topic for another blog post to come!)

    Originally, we had intended to use the Fiskars Stay-sharp™ Max Reel mower under some the lower, weeping trees on the property where it’s really tough to drive the John Deere, and we had planned to use it on our septic mound where minimal weight impact is important. Yes, we can drive the motorized mower over the mound, but the area is small, so we’d prefer to keep as much weight off of this bio-filter as possible.

    But we decided to put our new reel mower to work when the abundant lawn clover began blooming profusely in the most-used part of our new lawn. We traverse this lawn multiple times a day. It’s a great fetching space for our dog, lounging space for us and while it does slope slightly, it’ll be a fun croquet and lawn bowling space. (more…)

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