Archive for December, 2010

December Bloom Day 2010

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
December Aloe

Aloe Flower in front yard on December 15

Blackfoot Daisy

I still need to get these blackfoot daisies out of the pots and into the ground.

I took a couple of shots today in my east Austin yard for Bloom Day.  If you don’t know about bloom day, check out May Dreams Gardens

Indoor Ladybugs

Monday, December 13th, 2010

In the past when we’ve encountered ladybugs in the house, they have been treated with disrespect and vacuumed up or tossed outside.  With the onset of the Asian variety in the Midwest, these garden friends have become a pest solely because of their exploding populations.  In winter, they find their way into the house and collect in corners and other warm spots.

I found this one basking under the grow lights in the marjoram plant.  I’ll let it alone and maybe it will help control the aphids, whiteflies,  and other bad bugs that find their way into indoor plants.  Any other ladybugs I find will get moved to the indoor growing area.  People pay money for these things so I guess I should consider myself lucky.  We have no shortage, winter or summer.

Saturday’s Sweet Potato Chili – Sunday’s Enchiladas

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Sweet potatoes are back! We had another fantastic harvest which will keep us in these orange delights all year. They’ll be making their way into all sorts of soups, stews, roasts, stir fries, curries and who knows what else?

Make a double batch of this chili and have enough left for an easy meal the next day. Disguise that extra chili inside some great tortillas, add a little sauce and some cheese and a different meal is born.

Sweet Potato Chili recipe

2 cups dry kidney beans, soaked for at least 4 hours or overnight
2 T. olive or canola oil
1 cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped green or red peppers
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 cup chopped sweet potato, ¼“ dice
1 cup chopped tomatoes or sauce
¼ cup chopped cilantro stems
2 T. chile powder
1 T. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1 T. vegetable bouillon or to taste
1-2 T. tamari
1 dried hot pepper, pierced with a fork in several spots
salt & pepper to taste
cilantro leaves for garnish

Cover kidney beans with water to about 1” above beans. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 hour or pressure cook for about 15 minutes, letting pressure drop naturally. Meanwhile prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Sauté onions, peppers and garlic for a few minutes in the oil. Add the dried spices and stir constantly so as not to burn – about 2 minutes. Then add tomatoes, bouillon and tamari and simmer for about 5 or 10 minutes. Add to beans after the 1st hour of cooking along with the dried pepper. Adjust the liquid to your liking, thin or thick chili. It will thicken some after cooking. Simmer for at least an hour or two – or pressure cook for about 15-20 minutes – let pressure drop naturally. Check to see if done to your liking and adjust the seasons. Serve with a garnish of cilantro leaves and your favorite cornbread.

If you haven’t eaten all the chili make the leftovers into enchiladas. Or if you want to make sure you have some left double the recipe in the first place.

Sweet Potato Chili Enchiladas

10-12 tortillas, corn or flour
3 cups chili solids
2-3 cups strained chili juice
2 cups shredded cheese, sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Mexican white cheese
Salsa, optional
Sour cream, optional

Warm the chili just enough to thin the juice and drain it through a colander to separate out the solids. Here’s where you can play with the recipe. For about 10-12 tortillas you need about 3 cups filling, 2 T. for each tortilla + 1 T. shredded cheese. If you don’t have quite enough filling add some corn or avocadoes or be creative – maybe you have some leftover rice that would be a good addition. If you don’t have enough sauce add some salsa or sour cream.

In order to easily roll up the enchiladas without tearing or breaking them dip each tortilla in the slightly warmed sauce, drain & add the 2 T. filling & 1 T. shredded cheese, roll up and place in a greased casserole dish. Continue until all tortillas are prepared, pour remaining sauce over enchiladas making sure they’re all covered evenly. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes until heated through. Serve with a green salad and some garden corn.

Grow Lights Grow!

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Less than three weeks ago I posted about my new grow light setup.  I’m happy to report that things are working out well.  We picked our first small salad today.  The top picture shows thinnings and cuttings of a salad mix that germinated profusely.  The mix can be seen in the second flat from the right in the second picture.

On the far right I’ve got a flat of lettuce mix which did not have spectacular germination, but is still putting out some nice plants.  I used a lot of old seed, so there are some bare spots, but I’ll fill those in with new seed.  I hope to have continuous production out of this setup until it will have to make way for seed starts for the outside garden.

I’ve got enough room for three flats with a little bit of room left over.  I had some tomato seedlings that volunteered out of nowhere.  I’m guessing they came in with the compost I mixed into my potting soil.  I saved the four biggest plants and potted them off.   I can’t devote this space to trying to grow tomatoes to maturity, but once the plants are a little bigger, I’ll see if they can make it in the sunroom.  This will be an experiment.  If I can keep them alive until warm weather, I may have a chance at some very early tomatoes.

Behind the tomatoes is a Sweet Marjoram plant we picked up at the Madison Herb Fair.  Judy has been cutting from it.  Some went into Thanksgiving stuffing and some went into soup. The marjoram is putting out a lot of new leaf under the lights.

On the far left some basil seedlings just put out their second leaves.  Half the flat is bare.  I seeded really old spinach seed that never got out of the ground, leaving a bare patch.  I’ll spread out the basil in this flat, but still drop in a few new salad seeds to get production out of all the soil space.

I’m confident we’ll get a lot of greens from our grow lights before I have to use the space for starting my garden vegetable seedlings.  I’ll start my onions in late February, with everything else following in late March and early April.  When that time comes I’ll move the flats of greens to the sunroom.  Hopefully, with the longer spring days, we can keep things going in the much cooler sunroom without the aid of auxiliary lighting.  But as I continue to ramp up indoor food production, I may have to invest in another heat mat.

Two great herbs for Austin

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

This past spring I planted a small herb and ornamental garden in my front yard.  Since I live in Austin with its periodic droughts and water restrictions, I look for plants that thrive without a lot of supplemental watering.  Two herbs that did well for me were Mexican Mint Marigold and Mexican Oregano.

Mexican Oregano Leaves

Mexican Oregano

Two distinct species, Lippia graveolens and Poliomintha longiflora, take the common name Mexican Oregano.  I planted the former in my garden.  When I planted the mix of aloes, Salvia greggis and herbs, I knew that I would eventually have to move a few of the plants to give them more space, but I expected them to be slow growing in our droughty summers.  The Mexican Oregano surprised me and shot up quickly to three feet tall.

Mexican Oregano Flower

Lippia graveolens in flower

I love the flavor that the Mexican Oregano gives to black beans.  When the herb is fresh, I add a whole sprig or two to a pot of beans and just pull out the stems when the beans have finished cooking.

Mexican Mint Marigold, Tagetes lucida, is sometimes referred to as Mexican Tarragon or Texas Tarragon.  I think one of its names in Spanish, Hierbanís, is much more accurate as the leaves have a strong anise flavor.

Mexican Mint Marigold Flowers

Mexican Mint Marigold

The tea that I made from fresh leaves has a mellow, agreeable flavor, but with a noticeable ‘leafy’ odor.  According to Medicinal Plants of Mexico by Edelmira Linares et al the crushed leaves can also be used to flavor corn on the cob.  Inspired by this suggestion, I experimented with some tempeh:

Slice ½ package tempeh into ‘fingers’.  Sauté tempeh in olive oil until it gets crispy on all sides.  Add one TBS crushed or chopped Mexican Mint Marigold leaves and salt to taste.  Continue sautéing another minute or two until leaves get crispy.

The above dish made for an enjoyable mid-morning snack.  I think that next time I will try blending another herb or two along with the Mint Marigold.

Mexican Mint Marigold with Visitor

I am not the only one who enjoys this flower.