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  • Strawberry Vodka Cocktail: Strasilberry Fizz

    August 08, 2014

    Ready to whip up a strawberry vodka cocktail for happy hour?

    If you answered yes! then you’ve got to try our Strasilberry Fizz: a tasty, sugar-free basil & strawberry vodka cocktail  — posted especially for everyone who who tried our tips for making berry infused vodka. (And again, kids, if you’re not over 21, go away. You’re not invited to belly up to this bar.)

    Strawberry vodka & a strawberry vodka cocktail

    Home-infused strawberry vodka makes a tasty, refreshing,
    sugar-free Strasilberry Fizz when muddled with homegrown herbs.

    Okay, now that all the kids are gone, let’s be clear, you can probably buy some strawberry vodka somewhere. But, no way is it going to be as great as the stuff the rest of us made at home with berries from our garden! And, for those of you who are accustomed to drinking simple-syrup or other sugar-infused cocktails, get ready for something lighter and more subtle but still rich in berry flavor. If you’ve already gotten off the sugar-crack, your taste buds are going to zing when hit with these flavors. If you’re still hooked on the white stuff, we wish you well breaking the habit.

    Alrighty everyone, get out your shakers, haul out your muddlers & get ready to taste your homemade berry booze infusions in one of our favorite summer herbal strawberry vodka cocktails!

    Strasilberry FizzPrint Print

    (makes two drinks)

    Ingredients:

    • 4 shots strawberry vodka
    • 4-6 fresh stevia leaves (or 1/16 t. powdered stevia – too much will ruin things, so go easy on the stevia!)
    • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, plus a few pretty ones for garnish (optional)
    • club soda
    • fresh strawberries for garnish (optional)
    • Ice

    Fill two Collins glasses about 1/3 full with ice. Set aside.

    Roughly tear stevia and basil leaves. Place in cocktail shaker with several ice cubes. Smash together with muddler until leaves are tiny flecks.(If you want to infuse your drink with even more strawberry flavor or sweetness, smash a few fresh berries when you muddle the herbs.)

    Pour in vodka. Cover shaker & shake vigorously.

    Divide liquid between the two Collins glasses. Top with soda. Stir. Garnish with strawberry and basil.

    The green herbs may dilute the deep pink of your strawberry infusion, but it’ll still taste great. Be sure to inhale the aroma before you sip to truly appreciate how beautifully your homegrown strawberries infused the vodka and how wonderfully it pairs with the basil.

  • Green Coriander Marinade

    August 01, 2014

    Anyone who grows cilantro is likely to end up with at least a few plants that rapidly flower & form tasty coriander seed, which is the basis for this zesty coriander marinade recipe.

    Green Coriander Pods & Flowers

    Green coriander pods ready to harvest, eat or preserve for later.

    After picking a few pints of green coriander pods to freeze for winter, we were motivated to try something new with our generous, fresh green coriander crop.

    Green Coriander Harvest Ready to Freeze

    Some of our green coriander is destined for the deep freeze to use in recipes later in the year. Just pop them into freeze-proof jelly jars or freezer bags for later. No processing required!

    That day, the garden was full of fresh onion, eggplant, tomato, and zucchini — all ready to harvest. With this bounty in mind, we put together this tasty marinade that is simply fantastic on Mahi-Mahi, and it went terrific with garden-fresh vegetable kabobs (augmented by a few grilled mushrooms and peaches from the market.)

    Green coriander marinade fish & vegetables fresh from the grill

    After a quick soak in our green coriander marinade, this Mahi-mahi
    cooked up fast on the grill alongside garden fresh vegetables.


    Green Coriander MarinadePrint Print

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 lemon
    • 1/2 lime
    • 1 clove garlic
    • 1 jalapeno
    • 1/4 t. sea salt
    • 1 T. coconut aminos
    • 1 T. olive oil
    • 1 T. green coriander (fresh or frozen)
    • generous grind of black pepper

    Squeeze the juice of lemon and lime into a small bowl.

    Peel and coarsely chop garlic. Remove stem and seeds from jalapeno; coarsely chop. Place garlic and jalapeno into mortar. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Grind together with pestle into a paste. Scrape the mash into the lemon-lime juice. Set aside.

    Place coriander into mortar and slightly crush with pestle. Add to lemon-lime mixture. Stir in coconut aminos, olive oil, and a few grinds of black pepper.

    This should make enough marinade for a pound or two of fish. Green coriander’s spicy-citrus flavor is strong, so a little goes a long way!

    If using with fish, pour marinade over fish and allow to rest about 15 minutes before cooking.

    If using with chicken, you may wish to infuse the meat at least 30 minutes or overnight in the fridge.

    Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shout-out to our friend Willi Galloway whose fantastic garden-to-table book Grow. Cook. Eat. includes a green coriander chicken recipe that started us down the road to cooking with this easy-to-grow herbal power-pod. If you’re in love with green coriander after trying our recipe, be sure to buy her book for the recipe that started it all!

  • Berry Infused Booze

    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!

    Garden Fresh Strawberries

    Extracting the sweet taste of homegrown strawberries into vodka is simple.
    And, making berry infused vodka really doesn’t require extra sugar!

    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)
    Strawberries & Vodka

    Place fresh berries into a mason jar with vodka for a few weeks to create berry-licious booze.

    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
    • Funnel
    • Pretty bottle for storing your infused booze
    Steeped Strawberries straining

    After a few weeks steeping in booze,
    it’s time to strain out the berry solids from your infusion.

    Straining infused berry vodka

    After steeping, your berries may look washed out,
    but all the beautiful color is now in your infused liquid.

    Straining strawberries infused in Vodka

    After pouring berries & liquid into cheesecloth lined strainer, cover the top well.

    Pressing vodka berries to release juices

    After wrapping the berries, press gently but firmly on the wrapped fruit to encourage it to release as much as possible into the bowl below.
    Take care not to break or dislodge the metal strainer as you press.
    (You might even wring out the cheese cloth over the bowl to get every last drop.)

    Strawberry & Raspberry berry infused vodka

    Store your berry infused vodka in pretty bottles like these. We keep ours in the freezer.
    On the left: raspberry vodka. On the right: strawberry vodka.

    Once you’ve finished steeping your berry infused vodka, check back in a couple of weeks for try whipping up our delicious sugar-free strawberry-basil vodka fizz recipe: Strasilberry Fizz. We’ll be posting it on Friday, August 8, 2014. Until then, start infusing!

  • How to Prune Rhododendrons

    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.

    2014_07_GardenMentors_Rhododendron_11

    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…(this giveaway is now closed.)

    Rhododendron in need of pruning

    Before we began, this foundation evergreen rhodie was filled with dead material.

    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.

    Rhododendron needing pruning

    Before pruning, this rhodie had lots of interior dead wood. To make cleaning up all the detritus we would be cutting, we spread a sheet of plastic under the shrub before we began.
    A tarp works great too.


    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.

    Pruned Rhododendron

    After the rhodie was cleaned of dead wood, we removed rubbing branches.

    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.

    Often the sign of a good pruner is you can hardly tell they've cut anything from your plants.

    After we finished pruning & deadheading this rhodie,
    it almost looks as though nothing was done from this side.

    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. (This giveaway is now closed.)

    (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.

    (more…)

  • Why Grow Borage in Your Garden

    July 09, 2014

    Why grow borage in your garden?
    Top Reasons to 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:

    honeybee on borage

    Borage is a magnet for the beloved honeybee, which hits the flowers from dawn ’til dusk.

    bumblebee on borage

    Borage lures in bumblebees, wasps, hover flies, hummingbirds & many other pollinators.

    tomato and borage flowers

    Planting borage near tomatoes can help with pollination.
    If tomato flowers are nearby, the bees will pollinate those too.

    Tomatoes

    Like the tomatoes they pollinate, borage itself is edible & tastes a bit like cucumber. Plus, the flowers make beautiful decorations. In fact, Robin’s wedding cake was covered in seasonal blue borage flowers. It’s the perfect “something blue” for the bride!

    Borage flower & seeds

    Once pollinated, borage forms tiny thistle-like seeds, which feed finches & other wild birds. Some fall to the ground to reseed your garden with borage for the next year.

    black aphids on borage

    Borage makes a fantastic black aphid lure trap. Aphids seem to go after one borage plant at a time. Once they set up shop on a plant, let birds like wrens & chickadees or wasps eat the aphids or yank out infested lure plants as needed.

    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!

  • Asparagus Beetle ID & Control

    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.

    Adult Spotted Asparagus Beetle on Asparagus Frond

    Adult Spotted Asparagus Beetles are orange-red with black spots.
    They appear around the time asparagus seed pods begin to ripen.

    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.

    Adult Asparagus Beetle

    Adult Asparagus Beetle (Crioceris duodecimpunctata) chew on plant stems while they hang out looking for a mate. After mating, they will deposit eggs on or near Asparagus seed pods.

    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.

    Beneficial Lady Beetle

    The blood-red, dome-shaped Lady Beetle is a beneficial insect that will prey on Asparagus Beetle for you. Take care not to mistake them for the pests.

    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!

    Lady Beetle Aphid Lions

    Beneficial Lady Beetle Larvae, known as “Aphid Lions”, scurry among plants eating up unwanted pest insects like Asparagus Beetle. These “lions” may look scary, but don’t kill them. They’re good for your garden!

    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.

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