Fresh Pumpkin Puree for the Best Pumpkin Pie!

Using your own pumpkins will make the best tasting pumpkin pies! It’s super easy and it produces a fresher-tasting pie. Use 2 medium sugar pie or other eating pumpkins. Field (Jack o’ Lantern) pumpkins don’t make the best pies, but Casper or Cinderella pumpkins will work fine. Preheat oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit. Cut out the stem, quarter the pumpkin lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Bake the quarters cut side down in a shallow roasting pan with a little water in the bottom, until tender, about an hour. Let cool, then scrape the flesh from the skin and run it through a food mill for a nice puree. Use puree in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. Freeze any left over puree for up to 2 months.
Tip: Pumpkin pie is at its best baked the day it is served without ever being refrigerated. Schedule your baking so that you can take the pie out of the oven just as you slide the turkey in. Enjoy!

IMG_0779.JPG

Fall, A time to relax?

IMG_4749.JPGNot in my neck of the woods. I would have to say that fall is one of the busiest times of they year for us. It’s time to prep for winter. Pull out spent summer crops to make room for late fall and winter crops and get beds amended for those beds, ensure we have enough frost blanket, scrub the greenhouse and bring in citrus trees and other tender potted plants, It’s hunter, gatherer time. We need to ensure we have enough feed for the animals to last until the first cutting of hay in May if not more. Hay can be scarce if we have a wet spring and the first few cutting are ruined. So the more in store, the better. I thoroughly clean the chicken coop, scrubbing the nesting boxes, roosts, feeders and waters. knowing I won’t return to this chore until spring arrives. With only sixteen chickens a light raking and a few buckets for the compost once a month seems to be enough through the winter months. I like to fill drums with organic chicken scratch, layer pellets, enough to last the winter. While filling the drums I sprinkle diatomaceous earth food grade lightly over all the feed. This helps keeps any winter bugs out of the grain, but is also an excellent wormer for the chickens. Garlic is a big part of fall and consumes plenty of “spare” time. We plant over 50 varieties and I seem to treat each clove as if it were the last crop on earth. Harvesting of sweet potatoes need to be done before it freezes or it will ruin them. Greens, brassicas are planted right up to our first frost (and sometimes beyond) in abundance for fresh winters harvest and when the frost come, we cover with hoops and frost blanket and row cover. Our garden turns into a white winter wonderland. I uncover once a week (could do more if time allowed) to check on soil moisture, and possible bug infestation, which is rare and to see if any crops are ready to harvest. In the dead of winter when temperatures reach the coldest, these crops pull through for us and provide fresh garden produce if covered. Winter squash, apples and potatoes are hauled to the small root cellar we dug several years ago. This keeps the crops cool, allows some moisture to keep food fresh and is a great place to store without taking up precious space in our home. I always dust our potatoes with agriculture lime, which keeps them longer by hastening sprouting.
Persimmons, quince and the last of the apples are harvested and then preserved in the beginning to mid part of November depending on forecast. A frost will sweeten them, but a hard freeze can ruin the whole crop.
While I don’t do much composting during the winter time, I do spread the last finished black gold around garlic, leeks and onions to provide protection and turn the heap one more time.
Leaves become very abundant after the first freeze. These get added to the compost heap, turned into the garden soil and a large portion is shredded and made into leaf mold.
Then there is the 2:00 am panic of the first hard freeze. Did I get the heater on in the greenhouse? Did I cover any crops that may need a little extra cover…The pumpkins? I decorate our yard and porches with all our pie pumpkins for fall and a little frost won’t hurt them, but a hard freeze will ruin their storage ability turning them to mush.
I am the do it yourself “project” queen! When my sweet husband thinks things might simmer down, when this year it was time to rip up the old driveway and put in new. At first rough calculation we figured 8 yards of cement, as a, well, guess. Not to big of a project, you know a weekend job, haha! This little project jumped to 26 yards. Math, maybe not a strong point. While that wasn’t enough, I decided to pull out the old wood floor in the barn and milking area and put cement in there as well….at the same time and much cleaner. Hummm….a little extra with each section poured…I can make my life a little easier later on by cementing the chicken coop as well! Clean up will be a snap! Yes, project queen! With a little help from our kids and a friend, we buzzed through this project…in six long weeks. You know, a little weekend project in my eyes!
This fall we started a CSA. We have done farmers markets and provided other CSA’s with produce for over a decade, so we felt we were prepared to launch Desert Sage CSA without a hitch. I love growing produce, but planning has become more crucial and my hap hazard planting will definitely have to be more organized. So the end of November, my early spring crops will begin by seed in the greenhouse. Onions, leeks and shallots. Mid-December cabbage, broccoli, kale and other greens begin with two-week succession plantings begin and continue through February as at that time direct sowing begins.
So, a time for rest? Probably not, so I think a person would have love what she does….and love the product of her work! So do I enjoy fall? More than anytime other time of the year! There is no better harvests, no better smell then fall and color is totally amazing.

IMG_4756.JPG

Plant Hardy Coneflowers!

Looking for an outstanding perennial that can withstand heat, drought and still be beautiful Summer through Fall?  Coneflowers (Echinacea) are a long time favorite for as long as I can remember.  When I first started planted Echinacea in my garden purple was the only color to be found and now the array of colors are almost endless.  Yellows, oranges, purples, pinks, magenta, green, whites…Some are even fragrant.  WOW!    The flowers are long lasting as well.

Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea Flowers

Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea Flowers

Coneflowers grow in zones 3-8.  Deer don’t seem to bother coneflowers, but rabbits can be pesky. Self seeding is common with the common purple coneflower, while the hybrid varieties spread better by roots.  Give your coneflowers plenty of sun or they can become spindly and produce small flowers. Plant in a well-drained spot.  If you soil has a tendency to become waterlogged, plant your coneflowers high, giving them a better chance to drain.  Coneflowers don’t like their roots wet for extended periods of time.  Wet roots equals root rot with echinacea.   Here’s a bit of good news!  Coneflowers don’t need rich soil to do well.  In fact a very small amount of fertilizer in early summer just before they set out blossoms is all they need for the season.  Echinacea makes a great statement when planted in groups of five or seven (always odd numbers) or in drifts.  Deadhead spent flower to keep new ones forming.  Late fall I usually leave the last of the flowers/seed-heads for the birds to feast off of during sparse winter months.  They are great for wildlife gardens due to the seed heads they produce.  Cut back the dead foliage (from frost) after birds have harvested all the seeds to one inch above the ground.  Echinacea can be drought tolerant once the roots get established.  This usually take a couple of years, so don’t forget to care for you investment until then! While they are low maintenance…this do not mean not maintenance!

Some of my favorite coneflowers are;  Flame Thrower.  It has a bright, big beautiful flower that really makes a statement. Hot Papaya for its unusual fluffy center and brilliant pink color. Cheyenne Spirit for its fabulous array of colors that can form on one plant.  Yellow, deep orange, bright orange and other autumn shades.

Great companion plants for echinacea are grasses, bee balms, anise hyssop or rudbeckias.  These all look great together and have the same water and fertilizer needs making your job easier!

Growing Ajuga

Bugleweed is another name for the easy to grow ground cover Ajuga.  It loves full sun unless you live in a very hot and dry climate, then plant it in the shade and full shade is just fine! The foliage will tend to grow smaller in full sun, but will produce more flower spikes then in shade. Ajuga tolerates clay soil that is dry or moist and a wide soil pH range as well.  It’s a semi-evergreen perennial, plus Ajuga is easy to propagate.  It’s hardy in zones 3 to 9.  So why not plant it?

Growing up, my mother planted ‘Bronze Beauty’ bugleweed all over the yard and now I know why…It did fantastic in that hard compacted clay soil and needed little care.  Ajuga was never a favorite of mine until I found a few varieties that really hit the spot and now I find myself poking them in areas that need a little ground coverage to fill in and soften the look.  I’m now hooked!  I have my favorites though, Bronze Beauty not being top of my list however…Perhaps because it is so common and I like a little twist on things.  Top favorite is ‘Black Scallop’.  It has dark, almost black, large succulent leaves that look like you could eat them.  The leaves stay glossy as well…even with our hard water!  But it really likes shade and stays beautiful in my HOT climate there.  Second Fav is ‘Burgundy Glow’. It has a variegated leaves with shades of greens, white and burgundy.  Truly a beautiful ground cover!  It will give you a little color splash in a shade garden.  ‘Chocolate Chip’ is a fun name for an Ajuga, but it’s more than that.  It has elongated leaves that are skinnier than others and it does have a chocolate color to it.

All these varieties do well in pots as a filler/spiller.  They will hang nicely over the edges in no time.  But keep Ajuga watered well in pots, as they are not as drought tolerant when grown in a pot as they are in the ground.  Ajuga will bloom from spring to summer, sending up flowers of blue, pink or white, depending on the variety.  Divide clumps in the spring or fall after two or three years.  Just find the new crowns around the mother plant and slice down between them lifting the dirt and roots together.  Share with a friend, neighbor or plant in a bare spot in the yard.  We have seen many lawns of Ajuga and people just mow them like a regular ole’ lawn in areas that may be hard to grow grass, such as under dense mulberry trees.   If non variegated foliage appears on variegated Ajuga, they should be removed to prevent the plant to reverting back to its original green form.  Adding a little compost and fertilize in the early spring is about all you need to get this easy ground cover off and running!