Photo Contest!!!

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I’m running a photo contest on my Facebook Page – “Julia Dimakos, Gardening Girl”.

Looking for funny garden photos, silly vegetables, funny animals in the garden, anything funny and garden-related.  Winner will win a packet of my favourite tomato seeds!

In order to enter, click the link to my Facebook page on the side bar and select “Like” for my page.  Then you can post a picture in the comments section of the post with the silly carrot.

Contest ends on September 30, 2016 – 11:59pm EST.  (One entry per person.)

I look forward to seeing your photos!

Happy Gardening!

Julia🙂

From Plum to Prune, use your dehydrator for easy preserving.

 

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Prunes are pitted and laid out on dehydrator rack.

Black plums going into the dehydrator. These will become prunes, wonderfully sweet and chewy. Prunes are incredibly satisfying and delicious. Dehydrating plums brings out the flavour of the prunes. They end up with a deep flavour and a fun, sticky texture.

 

 

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Finished product – Prunes!

Prunes are highly nutritious. They are high in fiber and potassium, thereby helping with digestion. Potassium also helps with heart rhythm, nerve impulses, muscle contractions and blood pressure. Prunes are a good source of iron, and the mineral Boron, which helps build strong bones and muscles. It is also a good source of vitamin C. Finally, prunes are very satisfying and filling, therefore helping you feel full after a meal.

Procedure:

– In order to dehydrate black plums, simply slice down the side of the plum and easily remove the pit.

– Then place on a dehydrator rack, skin side up.

– Set your dehydrator between 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the plums to dehydrate for 6 to 24 hours, or until they are no longer wet, yet remain pliable.

– If you can squish the prune meat and it feels wet, put them back in the dehydrator.

– Allow the prunes to cool down before storage.

– Store your prunes in a glass jar or resealable freezer bag.

With prunes being this healthy, how can you go wrong?

Happy Gardening!

Julia 😀

Flax, beautiful and tasty too

Early this spring, I broadcast sowed flax seeds around the chicken yard. These were seeds I purchased at the feed mill for the chickens to snack on. Some of the seeds in the bag began to sprout, so I thought to broadcast them around the chicken’s area. Whatever they ate, great! What was left over, perhaps it would grow?

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I looked for it all summer, but didn’t notice it growing. Then last week, I noticed these beautiful purple flowers growing all over their yard. On those same plants, I noticed dry seed heads. The seed saver in me decided to open those seed heads and see what I might find. Lo and behold, they are full of raw flax seeds!

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This might seems minor to most people, but to me I’m feeling pretty excited! Flax is a beautiful plant that not only gives quite a lovely flower show. It also feeds you with fresh flax seeds. This plant is a winner for me on both fronts.

Happy Gardening!

Julia

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The end of summer and fermented pickles…

Hello September and goodbye to summer!  Thank you summer for giving us beautiful weather, great memories and another prosperous gardening season!

It’s back to school time and soon-to-be the start of my next favourite season, Fall.  What do you think of when you think of Fall? I think of falling leaves, fall colours, pumpkins, halloween, thanksgiving, turkey, pie, the harvest and how best to preserve the bounty.

With the kids going back to school, this is the perfect time to capture summer in a bottle and enjoy it throughout the long and dreary days of winter.  I have a list of our essential pantry items and I do my best to stock up.  For example, I make batches of freezer apple sauce, tomato sauce, dehydrated fruits and vegetables and pickles.  I also add a few new items to the list, that I haven’t tried before.

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Do you have a favourite pickle? There are vinegar pickles, quick pickles, bread & butter pickles, relish, French cornichons, sour pickles and many others.

My favourite is fermented pickles!  These are traditional deli shop pickles, that are perfectly salty and satifying.  They pair beautifully with a roast beef sandwich or nicely top a burger.

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These pickles are not made with vinegar.  Instead, the cucumbers are submerged in a 5% salt brine solution, along with garlic cloves, dill, all spice, peppercorns, grape leaves, cherry tree leaves, oak leaves, etc…  They are then left in the jar, and kept on the counter or some other convenient location, to “ferment”.  In doing so, lacto-bacteria or lactic acid develops in the jar, causing the contents to preserve through fermentation.

There are several health benefits to fermented foods:

  1. Preserves food – during fermentation microorganisms on the food produce alcohol, lactic acid and acetic acid, thereby retaining food nutrients and preventing food spoilage;
  2. Breaks nutrients down into more easily digestible forms and improves the bioavailability of minerals present in food;
  3. Creates new nutrients – microbial cultures in fermented foods create B vitamins, including Folic Acid, Riboflavin, Niacin, Thiamin and Biotin;
  4. Removes toxins from food – through fermentation, some previously toxic foods change and become digestible.

For these reasons and for the simple fact that fermented food is delicious, I try to add it to our diet as much as possible.  Some other fermented food that we enjoy are kefir, kimchi, saurkraut, tofu, yogurt, coffee, wine and dark chocolate.

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This is my second year making fermented Sour Pickles. Last year’s batch turned out much better than I expected, making this practice my yearly tradition.

The recipe I use to make these pickles is from a book called “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz.  This book explains in detail, how the process of fermentation works and its health benefits.  He then lists numerous simple fermentation recipes for vegetables, beans, dairy, breads, grains, beverages, wines, beers, vinegars and many others.  If you have an interest in fermentation, I highly recommend checking out his books!

Recipe for Sour Pickles:

Ingredients:

  • Sea Salt
  • Cucumbers (small size)
  • Garlic cloves
  • Grape leaves, oak tree leaves, cherry tree leaves, currant leaves, strawberry leaves, horseradish leaves (any of these or a combination of them – used to maintain cucumber crispiness)
  • Fresh dill weed and/or dill seeds
  • All spice (whole)
  • Black peppercorns
  • Mustard seeds
  • optional: hot peppers, carrots, radishes, horseradish root

Tools:

  • Large canning jars or crock (for fermentation)
  • Cheesecloth or linen towels
  • Trays (to store the jars)
  • Large pot or bowl to prepare the salt brine solution
  • Ladel and jar funnel

Directions:

  1. Prepare the cucumbers by soaking them in ice water for at least 2 hours or overnight.  This will help to keep their crispiness.
  2. After soaking, wash the cucumbers well and scrub off any sand or dirty spots; cut off ends.
  3. Prepare the salt brine solution by mixing 3 tbsps of sea salt with every 1 quart of water.  Stir well until dissolves. This will create a 5% salt brine.
  4. Cover the bottom of each canning jar with the grape leaves, cherry leaves, etc.
  5. Add 1 tsp (combined) of ‘all spice’ balls, peppercorns and mustard seeds to the bottom of the jar.
  6. Add sliced garlic cloves to the jar (2-3 cloves per large jar).
  7. Add dill weed and/or seeds to bottom of jar.
  8. Fill jar with cucumbers and pack tightly. (I sliced some of mine and filled in the empty spaces with them.)
  9. Pour the salt brine over the cucumbers, until the top of the jar and all cucumbers are covered.  If you have a small jar to weigh the cucumbers down, place it on top. Your goal is to keep all cucumbers under the brine.  If any float to the top, they will spoil. *when I packed my jars, I did as tightly as I could, thereby keeping the ingredients from floating.
  10. Cover the jars with cheesecloth or a linen towel, to keep out dust and flies and place jars on a tray; the trays will collect any liquid that will spill out of the jars, as the contents ferment.
  11. Check the jars daily and skim any foam or white mold off the top.  Eventually it will stop producing reside.
  12. After a week, taste the pickles.  If they have reached their desired sourness, close the jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator.  If you would like them to continue to sour, leave them out until they reach the flavour you prefer.  Then store all closed jars in the fridge. They will continue to ferment there, but very slowly.

Last year, I made 22 jars of sour pickles. They kept well in the fridge and lasted until early spring.  This year I made 17 jars.

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Feel free to add sliced carrots or radishes, if you would prefer.  I also added whole hot peppers to one of the jars, as an experiment.

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What do you do with your excess of garden veggies?  Do you preserve your harvest and how? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Happy Gardening and Have Fun!

Julia🙂

A brief garden update and some plans for next year.

The garden is really coming along this year. Some vegetables are growing better than others. For example, this has been a better year for tomatoes than the previous two years. Peas and beans are flourishing, beets are growing nicely and kale is growing so quickly that I can’t keep up. Hot peppers are producing beautifully. Even parsnips are surprising me with how easy they are to grow.

On the other hand, I’m giving up on corn, broccoli and cabbage. Onions started from seed in early February are growing so slowly, that I will be buying onion sets next year instead. I’m finding a shortage in cucumbers again this year and sweet peppers will either be planted in biodegradable black plastic mulch or in large pots next year, because they are not producing many peppers and grow quicker in extra warm soil.

On that note, here’s what I harvested yesterday:

-Tomatoes (various varieties, shapes, colours and sizes)
-Parsnips
-Beets (for borscht)
-1 cucumber
-parsley
-celery
-Beans (bush and pole)

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What have you been harvesting? I would love to hear about your successes and anything you might do differently next year.

Happy Gardening!

Julia

 

Flower of the Day: Agapanthus

Agapanthus africanus, ‘Lily of the Nile’

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I recently came across this flower while travelling in Saumur, France.

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Hardy to zone 8, this flower is better suited to growing in a pot in temperatures that fall below 5 degrees celsius.

This flower is native to Southern Africa, but has naturalized in other warm climates, including Northern California.

Lily of the Nile is a beautiful and elegant flower, consisting of a tough centre stem, and an almost firework display of funnel-shaped flowers.

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I have seen this flower in purple and white colours.  It is also available in blue.

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Agapanthus can grow up to 2 feet high and as wide as 2 to 4 feet, once established. It prefers full to partial sun and consistent watering (especially when grown in pots).

In cooler climates, simply bring your Agapanthus pots indoors and store in a cool garage. Do not remove any foliage until the following spring.

In the spring, fresh green shoots will emerge. Water and take outside to a sheltered location, to ease acclimating to outside conditions.

Happy Gardening!

Julia

 

Mushroom Barley Soup…a Russian family favourite!

I spent the last week and a half in France, visiting my Russian family and got to enjoy some memorable dishes from my childhood. One of my favourites is Mushroom Barley Soup. This particular soup is a rare treat for me. It is so delicious and aromatic and has a wonderful texture.

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The recipe uses dried porcini mushrooms and does not require pureeing. The smell of the soup is incredible! The mushrooms are highly aromatic and their flavour really comes through in this soup. I love the texture of these mushrooms, paired with barley. To add thickness to the soup, potatoes are cooked in the broth then mashed, creating a thicker texture.

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Reconstituted Porcini Mushrooms

Adding a dollop of sour cream to your bowl will lighten the colour of the soup and give it a slightly tangy flavour.  I prefer to eat it this way, however, you can leave it out.

If you enjoy mushroom soup, you need to give this recipe a try!

*Note:  Dried porcini mushrooms contain a lot of sand, since they are harvested wild in forests.  These mushrooms need to be well cleaned.  It can be a bit of a lengthy process, but it’s worth it.

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Sand and debris left at the bottom of the pot.

Mushroom Barley Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 packages of dry porcini mushrooms – 25-30g each (*I used 3 packages of porcini, 1 package of chanterelle and 1 package of lobster mushrooms – you can use less mushrooms, if you prefer)
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled
  • 1/2 cup rinsed pearl barley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp grape seed or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • optional: sour cream

Directions:

Place all dried mushrooms in a large bowl and cover with warm water.  Leave to reconstitute for at least 1 hour.  (*you will immediately begin to smell the aroma of these mushrooms; this is when my mouth starts to water and I can’t wait to taste this soup!)

Strain the mushrooms from the liquid, then reserve all the liquid. (*except for the very bottom of the pot)

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Slice any large mushrooms and look each one over for dirt and debris; rinse any dirty mushrooms, then place all into a small pot.

Cover the mushrooms with water and cook for 5 minutes, to soften them slightly.

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Strain mushrooms for a second time and put them aside in a bowl; add this liquid to the original reserved liquid

Filter out all reserved mushroom liquid, for any sand or other debris and pour clear liquid into a large soup pot.

Add pearl barley to the pot, then place pot on the stove.

After bringing the mushroom liquid to a boil, add whole potatoes, grated carrots and bay leaves, then cook over medium heat.

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In the meantime, heat oil and butter in a large frying pan until butter melts, then saute the onions.

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Once the onions have softened slightly, add in the strained mushrooms and continue to saute; by sautéing the mushrooms, their flavour and aroma is released

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Season mushroom mixture with salt and pepper and add it to the pot after the mushrooms have softened.

Scrape off browned mushroom bits from the pan, using a few spoons of the broth, then pour this into soup pot.

Feel free to add boiled water to the pot, if you would like a more liquid soup.

When potatoes are cooked, mash them in the pot, using a potato masher.

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Continue to cook the soup until the pearl barley is soft and ready.

Season soup with salt and or pepper, if needed.

Add chopped parsley to the pot and cook for a few more minutes.

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When serving, top each bowl with a spoonful of sour cream.

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Mushroom barley soup served with a dollop of sour cream.

Serve with sliced baguette or rye bread.

I hope you enjoy this soup as much as I do!

Happy eating and gardening!

Julia🙂

Garden harvest update…

How’s your garden growing? Have you been enjoying the fruits of your labour?

Here’s an update of some the vegetables I’ve been harvesting. Many other vegetables are ready for harvest as well, so I will be picking them soon.

Yesterday’s garden harvest – cucumbers, carrots, cucamelons, scarlet runner beans and lavender.

If you prefer to use your scarlet beans as dry beans, simply leave them on the vine, until the pods are brown and dry.  Otherwise, harvest and eat them as you would green beans.

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Scarlet Runner Beans

Are you growing cucamelons?

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Cucamelons

If you are growing lavender, do you harvest it? How do you use it?  I would love to know!

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Happy Gardening!

Julia 😊

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Cucumbers (different varieties)

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Carrots

Tomato patch progress

It’s the beginning of August and tomato season has been well under way for the past two months.

This year, we have had one of the driest and warmest summers of the past many years.  Our grass has looked like straw since early July!  I’ve done my best at keeping the garden watered, but some plants are definitely stressed.  A couple trees have already started to lose their leaves.  This almost never happens.

The tomato patch is looking healthy, however, which is a nice change from previous years.  I am keeping my eye out for any signs of blight, since this has been my greatest garden enemy.  It’s not over yet though, but I feel with all the preventative measures I’ve taken (see my previous post on growing tomatoes), I might have a chance with this dry weather.

Here’s an update on some of tomato varieties I’m growing.  It’s been two months since they’ve been planted out in the garden.  You will see that tomatoes are developing on the various plants, however, none are ready for harvest.

‘Livingston’s Favorite’ Tomato (developed in 1883 by Ohio tomato breeder, Alexander Livingston; was once considered one of the most handsome tomatoes):

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‘Livingston’s Favorite’ Tomato

‘Sungold (F1)’ Tomato (said to be one of the sweetest, best tasting cherry tomatoes; has an  orange colour) :

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‘Sungold (F1)’ Tomato

‘Black Prince’ Tomato (a plum or heart shaped tomato from Siberia, has a dark chocolate brown colour):

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‘Black Prince’ Tomato

‘Pertsevidny’ Tomato (this tomato has a pepper shape and is supposed to grow quite large):

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‘Pertsevidny’ Tomato

‘Belarusian Heart’ Tomato (a variety discovered at a farmer’s market in Minsk, Belarus, that’s been introduced to North America; has a mild, sweet flavour):

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‘Belarusian Heart’ Tomato

‘100’s & 1000’s’ Tomato (a seed variety from Suttons Seeds UK – determinate, will produce hundreds and thousands of tiny tomatoes):

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‘100’s & 1000’s’ Tomato

Michael Pollan’ Tomato (a tomato variety bred at Wild Boar Farms and named after the famed activist and author Michael Pollan, for his contributions to the sustainability movement.):

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‘Michael Pollan’ Tomato

‘Japanese Black Trifele’ Tomato (develops a purple-brown colour, with green shoulders):

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‘Japanese Black Trifele’ Tomato

‘Reisetomate’ Tomato (this tomato looks like a cluster of cherry tomatoes all fused together; tomato pulls apart easily without a need for a knife, great on picnics):

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‘Reisetomate’ Tomato

‘Cosmic Eclipse’ Tomato (this tomato will ripen to a combination of all colours – brown, purple, green, red) :

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‘Cosmic Eclipse’ Tomato

‘Bellstar’ Tomato (a determinate, dwarf tomato variety that ripens early and is mature in 65 days) :

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‘Bellstar’ Tomato

Living in a zone 5a climate, our season begins in early June and finishes by the end of September.  So, we only have 3.5 to 4 months for tomato growing.  My tomato plants grow out in the open, in raised beds.  They have strong t-bar supports at the ends of the beds, which hold up plastic tomato netting.  The soil is covered in black plastic biodegradable mulch and I water directly into the planting holes, avoiding any water on the foliage.

How is your garden growing?  Have you started harvesting tomatoes?  What are your favourite varieties?

Please share your experience in the comments below.

Happy Gardening!

Julia

How to Harvest Garlic (video)

The first year I planted garlic, I found the entire process extremely confusing.  I had so many questions, including “How do I plant the cloves, which direction is up, do I take the cloves apart, what about the papery skin, do I need to keep it on?”  I felt overwhelmed.

After I figured that part out and the garlic grew, I needed to figure out how to harvest it? Could I pull it straight out of the ground? When was it ready for harvest? What do I do with the garlic after harvest? There were so many questions.

Over the years and with lots of trial and error, I finally figured it out!  Knowing how to harvest the right way, removes a lot of stress from the process.  It can even be fun!

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Some freshly harvested garlic – 2016

If you find yourselves scratching your heads, not knowing the right time to harvest, how to harvest, then what to do with the freshly dug garlic after harvest, check out my video showing you exactly what to do and which tool to use.

Video: How to Harvest Garlic

I hope it answers some questions.  If you would like to add any tips, please do so in the comments section below.  If this post was interesting, please let me know by clicking on the “Like” button.

Happy Gardening!

Julia