Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sun Tea

Skill Level: Beginner
Skills Attained: Brewing Tea
Supplies:
  • Glass beverage container (one gallon)
  • Water (one gallon)
  • 6-8 tea bags of preferred tea
  • 1 c. white sugar (optional)
  • Sunlight!

One thing I love about summertime is making sun tea! Sun tea is simply allowing tea to steep in the sunlight rather than boiling water. I don't know why I enjoy sun tea so much; perhaps it's just the idea that the weather is warm enough and the sun is shining enough to make this refreshing beverage. It's very simple and straightforward, so I hope you give it a try if you've never made sun tea before. 


Fill a glass beverage container with water. A few years ago, I bought this "sun tea" container at the grocery store. I think I paid $5 for it. You can use any glass pitcher or jug you may have available. I wouldn't use plastic as I don't think the tea will steep as well and it may affect the flavor. 


Add the tea bags to the jug of water. I generally use 6 - 8 individual size tea bags, but you can increase that if you like a stronger tea. I've made many variations to my tea and usually use whatever tea bags I have on hand: white, green, black, etc. I use various combinations, and recently, I tried earl grey with blueberry hibiscus tea. It was delicious!

Add sugar, if you desire. I generally add 1 cup of white sugar. You could also use zero calorie sweetener or honey. If you desire unsweetened tea, omit the sugar altogether, and add more if you like it more sweet. I call my tea, "sweet enough for me tea". I come from the North, so my Southern friends don't think my tea is sweet at all;) 



Fasten the lid on your container, and set it in the sunlight for at least a few hours. There is not an exact science to this. You'll see the water darkening [steeping] over time. Once the tea is finished basking in the sun, transfer the container to the refrigerator and chill until ready to serve. You can also speed up the chilling process by simply adding ice to a glass.

Happy steeping! Enjoy the sunshine:)


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Late Spring Garden Update

As spring comes to an end and summer begins, I wanted to share with you an update on my garden. A few weeks ago, I would have thought that this year's garden was a total bust. Thankfully, that's not the case! I've had small wins and unexpected surprises. 

Onions




Onions are a veggie that can be planted in the spring or the fall. The past few years we've planted onions in the fall and had terrible success. So, this year we planted in the spring (early to mid March in Zone 7), and much to our surprise, we have onions! They are just little white onions, but they are actually edible! 




Carrots


Carrots have been quite easy for me to grow the last few years. I planted the carrots in February (Zone 7) and harvested them in mid-June. I only planted two rows about 3 feet long, but I plan on planting more next year. In the past, I shredded the carrots and froze them. Shredded carrots work great in muffins, bread, or even spaghetti sauce when you're trying to sneak in some veggies for the kids! 



Lettuce



Lettuce may be the easiest thing I've ever grown. I planted spinach and mesclun. Literally, I threw some seeds on the ground and watered it. The lettuce was ready to harvest in about three to four weeks.  I prefer the spinach to the mesclun. The mesclun is not as sturdy or hardy of a lettuce. The leaves get limp when cut and rinsed. The spinach is much hardier and tastier to me. 


Garlic




Garlic takes nearly a year to fully mature. You plant the garlic in the fall and then harvest it in early summer. The leaves on the garlic are starting to wilt, so that means they are about ready. If you pick too early, the garlic is hard and the cloves are not separated. If you pick too late, the cloves have fully separated and can lead to dried out garlic. I picked one head of garlic last week, and it still wasn't ready yet. Perhaps they'll be ready in the next week or so. 






Tomato Update


Tomato Plant in Early May
Tomato Plant in Mid-June
Much to my surprise my tomato plants didn't die! They started out so weak and shrimpy, but they are now growing and sturdy. So glad all my efforts didn't go to waste. Check out more info on my tomatoes: My Tomatoes' Journey


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Tomatoes' Journey: Pruning - Part 12

One mistake that is easy to make (and I have made for most of my years growing tomatoes) is to not prune your plants. I'm beginning to learn that bigger is not always better when it comes to tomato plants. One of the main reasons to prune is so that more nutrients can go to fewer fruits, which will produce larger, better tasting fruit. If a plant has many, many stems, then the plant's energy will be diverted to all the stems rather than a focused few. As a result of pruning, your plant should produce larger fruit longer into the growing season. 

So, how do you prune your tomato plants? First, prune with sharp pruning sheers or scissors. Do not tear or break the stems off by hand; you can potentially snap the main stem and kill your plant that way. There are two areas that I prune: 

  1. The Stem: I don't want large vines shooting out from the base of the plant, so I prune all the vines from the bottom 8" to 10" of the main stem. 
  2. The Crotch: I'm really sorry to use this terminology, but I didn't know what else to call this area. I asked my husband, and he didn't have any idea what to call it either. So, I did what any normal person does, and I googled it. It's the best term I could find (or perhaps the most entertaining). So, now I am giggling like a middle schooler over my newfound tomato plant term. Anyway, I prune the area where there are little shoots from where a "V" forms. Hopefully these pictures clarify the "crotch" area. Sorry...still laughing. LOL. 



So, take time to prune your plants. You won't regret it, and it'll pay off in the long run.

Check out my other posts on My Tomatoes' Journey.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Drying Oregano


Skill Level: Beginner
Fresh, bundled oregano ready to be dried.
Skills Attained: Drying Herbs
Supplies:
  • Fresh Oregano
  • Twine or String

Last year, I planted a small oregano plant that I bought from a gardening store for $3, and this plant has certainly paid off! I had never delved into the world of herbs, but it appears to be an easy thing to grow (or from my gardening glass-half-empty perspective, a difficult thing to kill). 


Oregano Plant

The oregano plant doesn't appear to need a lot of care. I simply planted it the ground and watered it when I watered the rest of my vegetable garden. When the sprigs grow in the late spring/early summer, I snip them at the base of the plant before they start flowering. The more you cut, the more oregano produced. This leaves me with a lot more fresh oregano than I know what to do with, so I decided to adventure into the world of drying herbs. 



Dried oregano on the stem.

After cutting the oregano, I bundle the herb using twine or string [see picture in upper right], and I hang the bundles upside down from a string in a cool, dry place (this happens to be in my kitchen underneath my cabinets). After about one week, the oregano has sufficiently dried, and you can pull the dried leaves off the stem. 


Dried Oregano



Place the dried oregano in a sealed container and use within three to six months.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Tomatoes' Journey: Creating a Support System - Part 11

Now that your tomato plants have found their home outdoors and they've started to grow a bit, you'll need to support the plants so that they grow upwards. Tomato plants naturally vine, and if left to their own devices, they will crawl along the ground where they will be more susceptible to rotting, bugs, and disease. So, it's best that you create a support system to encourage upward growth (doesn't this sound like it will result in a happy tomato family:). As the plant grows, you will want to "train" the main vine up whatever support system you choose. Training the plant simply means gently moving the main stem against the cage/trellis/string [read about these methods below] as the plant grows. 

There are a few apparatuses you can use to support the plant:

Cages


Metal-wired cages can be purchased at most gardening supply stores. This is an easy option since you don't have to construct anything; just sink the metal tines in the ground around your plant. The cages are probably the least ideal method of supporting your plants. They are not quite tall enough, and they will not support the weight of some of these larger tomato plants. However, I think they are sufficient for supporting cherry tomato plants or other smaller varieties. 

I also read about creating your own cages with 5 foot tall "gardening fence". Basically you create a tube out of the fencing material. This would probably be the most ideal option, but it requires buying extra material and a little more labor. If my tomatoes completely flop this year, I may look into it for next year. 

Trellises


A few years ago, my husband made a few smaller trellises by using thin lumber and nails. He cut two pieces the desired height we wanted the trellis (ideally, five to six feet high) and a couple cross beams to hold them together. Then, he simply nailed the pieces together. Stick the ends in the ground overtop the tomato plant and train your tomato vine up the trellis as it grows.  If you want the trellis to last longer, you might consider screwing the wood together instead of nailing. These trellises may only last a few years since the wood has already started to rot a bit. 



Gridded Stakes (Stakes with Twine or Rope) 



I learned about this method last year from a friend that has wonderful success with her tomatoes. So, I've decided to give it a try this year. Use approximately 5 feet tall stakes and edge the tomato plant bed with them. I think my friend uses old bed posts; my husband cut some scrap lumber. You should have one in each corner, and one about every 12 - 18 inches apart. Insert them in the ground and make sure they are stable. Then, use a sturdy string or twine and wrap it around the stakes about 6 inches from the ground making a grid pattern. I read that fishing line or piano string is not ideal as they may cut into the stems of the plant. Repeat this grid pattern every 12 inches up the stake. I would recommend waiting to add the next string grid layer until the plants have reached that heigh; it will be easier to train the vine up the grid. 

***

Whatever method you choose to support your tomato plants, make sure you train the main vine of the plant to grow up and around the cage, trellis, etc. This will provide the proper support the plant needs, which will [hopefully] help yield the most delicious fruit!

Check out my other posts on My Tomatoes' Journey.