Friday, September 30, 2011

October Garden Tips & Chores

Autumn is in full swing, which means it's time to take advantage of the lovely days to take care of the lawn and garden.

Lawns, shrubs and perennials still need about an inch of rain a week. Rain gauges can be bought very cheaply. I found one for a dollar, but you can also make your own to measure the rain in your area. We've been getting enough rain where I am located, but I know some of you may be in areas where you aren't, so be sure to water if you receive less than an inch.

It's that time of year to dig up summer bulbs such as gladioli, dahlias, tuberous begonias, caladiums and cannas. I have an article on OFL with more information on storage:

I've gotten lucky with glads for two years now and they've come back on their own. They are in a bed with mulch but no extra protection. I'm in Zone 5 so this has been a cool surprise. It doesn't hurt to give it a try if you don't have time to dig them up this year.

Garlic can be planted this month before the ground freezes. Plant it in full sun where the soil has been worked up deeply and it's fertile but not soggy. Organic matter such as leaf mold will give the garlic an extra boost. Separate the cloves from a head of garlic, then plant them 3 inches deep and 5-6 inches apart. The cloves should be planted with the pointed tips up. Cover and gently pat the soil over the cloves.

If time allows, fall is a great time to prepare garden and flower beds for next year. Remove annuals and vegetables from the beds as they finish blooming or harvesting is finished. Spread compost over the top of beds, even if it hasn't broken down all the way. This will help fertilize the bed over the winter.

Weeds can quickly take over especially with a few good rains, and warm temperatures. Take advantage of the cool fall days to pull weeds that have gotten out of control. This will cut back on the weeding that needs to be done in the spring and early summer.

October is one of my favorite months because of the colors, the fresh cool air, the fall blooms and the fragrance of autumn. I hope you're enjoying your fall days.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fall Recipes: Gold Nugget Squash

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. ~George Eliot

I picked up a Gold Nugget squash the other day to give it a try. I've always loved acorn and butternut squash but had never tried this variety. It has a rough textured skin the color of pumpkin and it can be microwaved whole or baked. It can also be substituted for acorn squash if you can't find Gold Nugget.

To microwave: Poke 4-5 holes in the skin with a fork. Cook for 8-10 minutes in the microwave until the skin is softer and the flesh in tender. Smaller squash may cook faster.

Baked Gold Nugget Squash

3-4 Gold Nugget Squash
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut each squash into 6 wedges. Remove seeds and pulp from the pieces. Place the squash in a baking pan or casserole, drizzling with the oil. Season with salt and pepper, then turn the pieces over so the skin is up and the flesh is on the botton. Bake for 20 minutes, turn over the pieces and bake for 20 more minutes or until tender.

Squash and Apple Bake
Virginia State Apple Board

2 Sweet Dumpling or Golden Nugget squash (about 1 1/4 pounds each)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and diced
1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced

Pierce the squash in 3 or 4 places with the tip of a sharp knife. Place the squash on a double layer of paper towels on the floor of the oven. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Turn the squash and microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes longer, or until it just begins to feel soft when gently squeezed. Let stand until cooled, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a 2-quart oval casserole or 9-inch glass pie plate, combine the oil, lemon juice, apple, leek, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and pepper. Cover tightly with a lid or vented plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, or until the apple and leek are quite soft. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Scoop the pulp from the squash into the casserole with the apple mixture. Mash the squash with the back of a spoon while stirring in the apple and leek to combine. Spoon the mixture back into the casserole or pie plate. Cover loosely with a lid or vented plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes, or until heated through. Makes 4 servings.

Winter Squash Soup

1/4 cup butter
1 large sweet onion chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 15 ounce cans chicken broth
3 pounds winter squash, Gold Nugget works well.
1 1/4 tsp. fresh thyme
1 1/4 tsp. fresh minced sage
1/4 cup cream or half and half

Peel halve and seed the squash, then cut into chunks. Melt the butter in large pot on medium heat. Add the onion and garlic to the butter and cook until softened,8-10 minutes. Add the broth, squash and herbs. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Puree soup in blender for a smooth soup or mash with potato masher for more texture. Return to pan and season with salt and pepper before serving if desired.

On OFL we have an article with recipe for Roasted Butternut Soup:


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Harvesting and Caring for Lemon Balm

I haven't blogged about herbs lately and thought I would talk a bit about harvesting and caring for lemon balm today. I grow thyme, oregano, lemon balm, chives, lavender, calendula, catmint, sage, Lady's Mantle and bee balm. I actually grew more herbs in the city but had to leave them behind when we sold the house. I've been slowly adding more herbs each year.

Lemon balm is an herb I've grown for about ten years now. It's related to mint, which is important to remember because it grows much like mint in that it can easily become invasive. It will spread from the roots and from seed. Once it takes hold, like mint, it's hard to control. This is the only problem I've encountered in ten years. Lemon balm is a carefree plant, needing no fertilizer or extra watering. I've grown it in sun and shade with success in both locations.

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, a well known and loved garden writer and herb expert, has this to say about lemon balm in her book Herbs and Herb Gardening written in 1936:

"Balm in rich, moist soil attains well over two feet, and a border of it, two feet wide, looks very handsome. "

"Young balm leaves cut up finely are a good addition to mixed salads, and balm tea made by pouring boiling water on two big handfuls of the leaves has a sweet and delicate taste."

Lemon balm is a sturdy and very hardy herb. It can be harvested often and cut almost to the ground before winter. It doesn't hold it's flavor well during drying, but if you add it to other herbs as part of a seasoning blend or tea, it adds a light lemon taste. I've used it for many years in herb vinegars, combining it with basil, thyme and oregano.

Fresh lemon balm can be used in sun tea or hot tea, as mentioned. It also adds a lovely flavor to roast chicken when stuffed in the cavity of the bird.

Lemon balm should be harvested before it's blooms to stop it from forming seeds. Keep it contained and dig up volunteers as soon as they pop up. The perfect location is one where it can roam free in its own small raised bed in partial shade with fertile soil. It can also be used as a ground cover with success.

One of the first herbs my daughter loved was lemon balm. She was only 3 years old, and would ask if she could pick a leaf to hold and smell because she loved the scent. Lemon balm will always have a place in my garden.

On OFL we have tips on growing and using rosemary, another favorite: