Featured

Here’s My New Blog

This is it! I’ve been talking about launching a new blog for several years. I’ve been planning to set up this website, thegardenerwife.com, ever since I started writing The Gardener Wife newsletter two years ago. And now, finally, I’ve begun my blog.

My posts here are going to be organized around the three themes* that run throughout my newsletters:

  • GROWpractical gardening tips
  • EATgarden-to-table eating
  • ENJOYgarden style living

I’ve been writing an email newsletter since June 2018 and now have several hundred subscribers. If you’d like to join them, you can sign up for The Gardener Wife newsletter right here.  It’s not just about gardening—it’s about garden-style living! You’ll still get practical tips for growing; plus, with my garden-to-table recipes you’ll learn how to use what you grow (or what someone else has grown). 

What people are saying—

Excellent! Well written, informative, fun!!

… you’re right on. Keep it coming.

April Wong Loi Sing

Lots of good, no – EXCELLENT info!

Donna Hirsch

Wow! What a great newsletter. You are soooo very thorough in your writing. I love it.

Diane B.

You can subscribe to my newsletter right NOW!

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What else do I do—

I’ve also been posting on social media. Here’s where to find me, @thegardenerwife:

  • on Instagram – for lots of photos
  • on Facebook – for more details and information + garden-related events and news
  • and even on YouTube – for occasional videos
Giving a Gardening Presentation

Plus, I’ve continued to give garden talks.

Need a speaker for your club, library, or other group?
Email Debbie@thegardenerwife for information on my topics and presentations.

The Gardener Wife

Other services that I provide are listed on my Work with Me page. I’m doing all this because . . .

want to help you to GROW SOMETHING, something beautiful–even better, something to eat!

Thank you for stopping by and catching up on what I’m doing!

Working on The Gardener Wife Newsletter

*NOTE: You can find my blog themes in several locations throughout this website:

  • the drop-down list under “Blog” in the upper right corner of every page
  • the list under “Blog Post Themes” at the bottom left of every page
  • the big colorful buttons on my homepage.

For example, if you’re looking for recipe ideas and aren’t interested in gardening tips at the moment, you can click on EAT in any of these locations—and you’ll see a list of my garden-to-table eating posts. If you want to scroll through all of my blog posts, then you could click on “Blog” in the upper right corner of every page.

Christmas Greeting 2021

I’ve emailed this greeting to my newsletter subscribers. If you don’t see it in your inbox, please check your Promotions tab and/or your spam folder. (And be sure to add Debbie@thegardenerwife to your contacts list so you don’t miss any more emails from me.) If you still don’t see it, then I hope you’ll sign up for my newsletter here.

The Gardener Wife Newsletter

Hi  folks!

I wish all of you, my dear newsletter readers, a very Merry Christmas! May your whole holiday season be filled with love, joy, and peace.

Gathering for the Holidays — love
My family is still not gathering in the numbers that we used to before the pandemic. We are not under lockdowns this year, but due to having COVID or being exposed to someone who had it, some folks still cannot travel or visit. But I’m grateful that we have vaccines now and that many of us are able to meet in person and go to church, concerts, and other events again. While it’s wonderful to get together with those I love, I’m still assured of God’s love even when we can’t do that. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39 ESV). Christmas is a time to remember how God showed his love for us by giving us Immanuel, born to die for us.
 

Preparing for the Holidays — joy

Having the gift of God’s Son and his love, I can have joy during good times and bad, whether my garden produces successful harvests or not. During this holiday season, I’ve enjoyed preparing our home, indoors and out, for our festivities. I was joyful even when working by myself on these holiday tasks. I’ve been practicing video editing, so I put together several short videos as I worked. It was fun to share these videos on social media, and here I’m sharing my garden-style holiday decorating with you.

Here are my videos on outdoor garden-style holiday decorating:
DIY Winter Container Arrangements 
Garden-style Decor for the Front 
Night View of Front Decor without Holiday Lights 
DIY Easy Winter Container  
Winter Containers for the Deck 

Indoor holiday decorating videos:
Victorian Christmas Tree
Dining Table Ribbon Festoons  
Holiday-Style Houseplants

Coming soon to my YouTube channel:
Snowman Collection Display 
Holiday House Tour 

I hope these videos inspire you to find more joy than stress in your own holiday preparations.

Looking to the Future — peace

I thank each of you for subscribing to my newsletter and welcoming me into your email inbox. I’m especially grateful that you’ve stuck with me even though I sent out only four newsletters this year. I’ve slowed down—as I had predicted I would in my January newsletter—because I’m in grad school now, working on a doctorate degree. My studies will continue in the coming year, so you still won’t get regular emails from me. However, you are welcome to subscribe to my blog, where I post shorter updates, and/or to follow me on social media if you like. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments to share with me. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for making my newsletters even better when I do get back to writing more.

To subscribe to my blog, click on the “Follow The Gardener Wife” button at the bottom of any page on my website, www.thegardenerwife.com.

The above example shows what you’ll see at the bottom of any page on my website. Scroll downward and click there, not here.

This is a time of uncertainty for me in many ways. I’m concerned about keeping up with my studies as I care for my family, home, and garden, and I’m concerned about what to do after I graduate. This is also a time of great anxiety and unrest in the world. While it’s tempting to work quietly in my garden and just feed my family, I know that God desires more for his people. That’s why I’m learning about global and urban ministry and why I hope to continue writing and speaking—about caring for people and souls as well as about caring for gardens and plants—after I finish this degree. We can have God’s peace even during the most difficult times.

May God bless you and your loved ones with successful gardens and with the peace that the angels announced to the shepherds long ago. “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14 ESV).

Digging it,

Debbie
The Gardener Wife

Philadelphia Flower Show

I made it to the Philadelphia Flower Show for the first time in 2019.

Debbie Rea and Tovah Martin 2019

It is reputed to be the best in the country, and I loved it. I posted a live video of my first impression there, and later I made a video of the highlights from that show. I took about 600 photos, so there was a lot more going on. There were, however, some things that I’ve enjoyed at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show which I missed at the Philly show—cooking demonstrations by local chefs, tablescapes by local florists, and extra garden talks in seminar rooms in addition to the stages on the showroom floor. At one of those showroom stage talks, I got to meet author Tovah Martin. She spoke about “Indestructible Houseplants,” which is the topic of one of her many books. I’ve enjoyed her writing about plants and gardening ever since the early days of my favorite magazine, Victoria. She has a new book out this year, The Garden in Every Sense and Season, about ENJOYing the garden—one of my main themes here on this blog and in my newsletter.

I loved these arches in the raised beds of a display at the Philadelphia Garden Show 2019.

Speaking of indestructible houseplants, I was amused by the signs I saw on the plant containers at Midway airport when we flew to Philadelphia: “Please, Do Not Water the Plants. Thank You.” It’s true, as I’ve pointed out when giving houseplant care tips in my newsletter, that houseplants are more likely to die from overwatering than from under watering.

Philadelphia airport plants on the left & Midway airport plants on the right

Little did I know that the Philadelphia Garden Show would be cancelled the following year, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. But this year, 2021, the show went on. It was held outdoors, and so it was postponed a little so the weather would be better. I would like to have seen that show because my experience at the only outdoor garden show done in Chicago, about ten years ago, was wonderful. I thought it was much better than the indoor Chicago Flower and Garden Show.

I did, however, go to Philadelphia in October as part of a grad school class that my husband and I are taking at Bakke Graduate University. During our urban immersion class, we got to see a completely different side of the city of Philadelphia than we had seen when we had come for the Philadelphia Flower Show two years ago. I spotted several nice urban gardens as we walked around various neighborhoods. And since we had Saturday afternoon off, my husband and I found a public garden to visit. I will save the details of this trip for another blog post.

Do you have a good garden show near you? Have you traveled to any garden shows? Please share in the comments below.

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Celery Increase: Using, Storing, and Preserving Celery

This year’s celery harvest was a success! After a few light frost alerts and before our first hard freeze, I pulled up all of the remaining plants. The trick now is to use or preserve them all. (Note to self: start using more celery earlier in the season.) I prepped and stored a lot of it in our basement fridge. Then I began cooking with it and dehydrating some to use later.

I highly recommend growing your own celery, if possible, because its flavor—like that of tomatoes—is so much better than the store-bought kind. One first time grower said this: “Stalks were small, but the flavor was so full and multifaceted compared to store-bought celery that it was totally worth growing anyway. It smelled amazing, too.”

Another reason to grow your own celery is that conventionally grown celery is relatively high in pesticide residues, even after it has been washed. It is usually on the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list. So if I have to buy it, I prefer to get organic celery, which costs more. Thus, growing my own celery saves me money. Growing celery increases my salary!

Increase in Celery = Increase in Salary

The Gardener Wife
Celery Harvest

Celery Storage Tips

Whether you grow your own celery or not, these tips should be helpful to you.

  • For quick use: Wash, cut up, and store celery in refrigerator boxes designed for fresh produce. Mine are made by Tupperware, but you can find similar ones for less.
  • For short term storage: Wrap the entire head of celery tightly in aluminum foil. I cut off most of the leaves from my larger plants, if necessary, to make them easier to store, but you don’t have to. You can cut any yellowed leaves away later when you use the celery. Foil wrapped celery, stored in a refrigerator, will last for several weeks—or even longer as I’ve shown in this video.
  • For long term freezer storage: Wash and slice the celery. Measure it out into one-cup or half-cup portions, and put into small plastic bags. I use fold-over sandwich bags. Put these bags, loosely twisted shut, into a large vacuum sealer bag and vacuum seal them. Store in the freezer. You can toss the frozen celery directly into soups, stews, and slow cooker recipes, or you could thaw it a bit for use in any hot dishes.
  • For long-term pantry storage: use a dehydrator to dry the celery. You can also dehydrate celery leaves to make celery flakes. Wash and cut the celery to the size you want. Blanch it, if desired. Dry it with paper towels, and then spread it out on dehydrator trays. Follow your dehydrator’s directions to dry the celery. When it’s done, I use an accessory jar lid kit with my FoodSaver to store my dehydrated celery in vacuum sealed canning jars. To use the dehydrated celery later, you could reconstitute it or drop it, as is, into soups or other recipes which have liquid ingredients to plump it up. You can also grind dried celery into a powder or use the crushed flakes as a seasoning.

I used the freezer method in previous years, but this year I decided to try dehydration because I am pressed for freezer space and I heard it produces better results. It seems counter intuitive, but I’ve also learned that blanching actually helps vegetables to dry faster. University extension service guidelines recommend blanching celery to preserve its color, protect its vitamins, and destroy any harmful bacteria that could be present. On my first time dehydrating celery, I was in a hurry and I did not check these guidelines, so I skipped the blanching. My dried celery looks green enough, and I am happy with the results. If I decide to dehydrate more of my celery, I will try blanching it and then compare the results. Blanching is also recommended for freezing celery so it will hold up longer in the freezer, but I think that vacuum sealing mine works just as well.

While I like to have a good supply of homegrown organic celery stored in the freezer or pantry for the winter, its texture is never going to be nice and crunchy again. That’s why my goal is to use as much of this harvest as I can now, while it’s fresh. I’ve been making lots of potato salad and Waldorf salad lately. We’ve also been munching on celery sticks as snacks—delicious with or without a dip. If we were still eating sandwiches for lunch, I’d make tuna salad sandwiches, too. I might make a stir fry tonight, and next week I’ll make tuna pasta salad. I should also make stock or soups to eat now or freeze for later. And of course I’ll be using homegrown celery in our turkey stuffing. I can also use the bunching onions and leeks that I’ve recently harvested in many of these recipes. Eating from the garden is one of the best parts of growing your own food.

Do you have any other ideas to share with me? What are your favorite dishes that have celery in them?

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Tips for Using Rain Barrels


Cleaning the Rain Barrels before Winter
Rain Barrel at Fort Michilimackinac

Saving rain water to use for watering the garden is a sustainable practice that has been around for ages. I recently saw the simplest form of rain barrel usage during my Grand Garden Show stop at Fort Michilimackinac: simply placing an open barrel under a gutter. These days we can make or buy better rain barrels. One modern improvement is to cover them with mesh to screen out bugs and debris. Another great improvement is to drill holes and add fixtures which allow you to attach spigots and hoses to the barrel. These and other attachments make rain barrels easier to use.

Most rain barrels on the market today come with both of those improvements. Some are more decorative than others, and some are even made to look like old-fashioned rain barrels. I got the kind that are made from food-grade plastic shipping barrels because I think that recycling food barrels this way is better for the planet. Mine are made by Upcycle Products, a company in Morris, Illinois. Although I picked them up in person, you can get them now from Amazon. Another option, if you’re handy, is to search the internet for instructions to make them yourself.

I’ve been using rain barrels for over ten years now, and here are the tips that I’ve learned. Read this post before you get a rain barrel so that you know what to expect and how to take care of it. And even if you already have a rain barrel, you might learn something new here.

Rain barrels can be connected to each other. If you want to collect more water than one barrel can hold, you could join two or more rain barrels together with short hoses. Those short hoses came with my four rain barrels when I bought them. We connected one barrel to the gutter at the corner of our garage. As that one fills up, the water flows from it into the other barrels. The last barrel has a spigot which we can open and close to get the water out when we need it.

Use a diverter to connect the rain barrel to a downspout. A diverter will prevent water from overflowing when the rain barrel is full, and it will divert it back to your downspout so the excess water flows out where it should. It also makes it easy to detach the rain barrel each fall and reattach it each spring. I bought two diverters when I got my four rain barrels because I had planned to hook one of them up by another downspout that is closer to my front yard garden. However, we have not yet done that. When we do, I’ll make a video to show you how it’s done.

Position the rain barrel higher than where you want the water to flow. Instead of buying a special stand for our rain barrels, we use cinder blocks to raise them up off the ground. The spigot should be higher than your watering can or bucket. If you’re going to attach a hose to the rain barrel, then the barrel needs to be higher than the ground that you’re watering so that gravity will propel the water out to the other end of the hose. Another option—which I have not tried—is to get a pump.

Find an easy way to transport the rain barrel water. You could simply attach a hose to the rain barrel and stretch the hose out to your garden to water it. However, keep in mind that the water flows out slowly from a rain barrel hose, so it will take longer to water plants this way than it does with a regular garden hose. I prefer to use a regular garden hose and soaker hoses to water my garden beds. While I’m doing that, I can use a watering can or—better yet—a rolling garden cart to water my containers. This cart holds more water and rolling it around is much easier that carrying a watering can back and forth. You can watch how my watering system works in this video: Watering Routine.

Be careful about using rain barrel water on edible plants. Due to possible contamination from roofs and gutters, I recommend the following precautions.

  1. Clean the rain barrel before you start collecting water in it.
  2. Water the soil only; do not get the plants wet.
  3. Stop using the rainwater a couple weeks before harvesting.
  4. Consider adding a bleach solution periodically to the rain barrels in order to lower the risk of contamination of edible plants.

I took that last recommendation from the “Best Practices and Recommendations” section of this extension service article about a 2011 New Jersey study of rain barrel water quality. This study also recommends watering in the morning and not harvesting until later in the day.

Empty rain barrels before freezing weather. If water in the rain barrel freezes, the plastic fixtures will crack. Then the rain barrel will leak. I recommend doing this before your first frost alert. Remember how slowly the water drains out and plan ahead. If my four rain barrels are full, it takes several hours to drain them. So it’s a bad idea to start the night before freezing temperatures are expected. Rather than let the water drain out wherever, I direct it to where it will do the most good for my garden. This is the one time of the year that I attach a hose to my rain barrels, and I stretch the hose out to my trees. Then the trees get a nice soaking to help prepare them for the winter.

Clean rain barrels. It’s a good idea to clean the rain barrels after you empty them. The study mentioned above says to use a 3% bleach solution. Even if you live in a warm climate and can use your rain barrels year round, you should wash them out at least once a year. Be careful, as you turn the rain barrels over, not to let them land on those little plastic fixtures—that’s another way to crack them! If necessary, however, you can buy replacement parts.

Secure rain barrels and store upside-down when not in use. I have found that it is best to store my rain barrels upside-down during the winter. This prevents melted snow and other debris from getting inside them. It’s also important to secure them well when they’re empty. Without water in them, the rain barrels could topple over in a strong wind. We just bought a nice new strap to hold ours in place better. In the spring, we just have to turn the barrels over and reattach them to the diverter, and then they’re ready to use for another season of rain harvesting.

For more info on proper watering, see my earlier blog post, Watering Tips. Let me know if you have any questions or comments by replying below. And by all means—if you found this post helpful—please share it!

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

White Chicken Chili

I harvested this year’s garlic about two months ago. While I’m saving the largest bulbs for replanting, all the rest is for eating. Soon I’ll make White Chicken Chili—perfect for seasonal eating now as I’m harvesting tomatillos and still have fresh bell peppers, jalapenos, and onion from the garden.

Garden Ingredients for White Chicken Chili

The photos here are from when I first made this dish in April 2020 as I was on the Whole30 program. At that time I used  frozen vegetables with dried oregano and garlic. I store my homegrown garlic after curing it by wrapping it in paper and putting it in a cardboard shoebox. I had checked the garlic in March, and dried, hardened cloves were all that I had left by April. They softened up during cooking, but I also added a little garlic powder for more flavor. Now in early fall, I could make this chili with fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden.

White Chicken Chili

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pounds skinless *chicken breasts
  • 1 cup onion or leeks, chopped
  • 1 cup bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 small jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 pound tomatillos
  • 7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano or 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 1-½ tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon white (or black) pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth*
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • Optional garnishes: fresh cilantro, jalapeno, avocado, guacamole, and/or lime wedges

*NOTE: You can use boneless chicken breasts, but I prefer to use bone-in chicken. It’s usually cheaper, and the bones add more flavor (you could even use water instead of chicken broth if you don’t have any broth). Besides, it’s easy to pick the bones out when you’re shredding the cooked chicken.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Put tomatillos, onion, peppers, garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder, salt, and pepper in the bottom of a 6- or 7-qt. slow cooker. Arrange the chicken on top of the vegetables in a single layer. (Note: If you have a slow cooker with a removable aluminum pot or multi-cooker with a sauté function, you may sauté the onion and peppers first in a tablespoon of cooking oil until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.)
  2. Add broth and cover the slow cooker.
  3. Cook on LOW for 6-7 hours or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender.
  4. Remove chicken from slow cooker and place in a bowl. Shred chicken with two forks and be sure to remove any bones. Return chicken to slow cooker.
  5. Mash the tomatillos; I use a meat masher.
  6. Add coconut milk, stir, and cover. Cook on HIGH for an additional 10-15 minutes or until soup is heated through.
  7. Stir in lime juice and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Serve in bowls and top with desired garnishes.

I adapted this garden food dish from a recipe by Real Food Dieticians. The biggest change that I made—and an excellent one if I do say so myself—was adding tomatillos. I like making it in the slow cooker so that the smell wafts around the house all day, but you can look at their original recipe for pressure cooker or stovetop directions if you like. This is actually a Whole 30 recipe, but if you’re not on a round of Whole 30, you could serve this chili over rice or with cornbread or tortilla chips.

Like my regular chili, this recipe is great for all cool weather seasons. Preserving my garden harvests by freezing, drying, or canning makes it possible for me to enjoy our summer crops throughout the rest of year and still stick to seasonal eating. You can do this even if you don’t grow as much as I do. Buy extra produce from the farmers market when the food is in season and cheaper or get a larger CSA share and then preserve what you don’t eat right away. In any case, the vegetables and herbs in this recipe are seasonal here now, so this is the best time to try it. Tell me what you think in the comments below.

And get ready to plant some garlic! Here in Zone 5b, I usually shoot to do that around October 10th.

Garden Egg Cups

Garden Egg Cups have become my breakfast standby ever since I did the Whole30 program near the beginning of the COVID stay-at-home quarantine in April 2020. I haven’t stopped making them since! After I completed the program, I decided to continue eating the same kind of breakfasts and lunches whenever possible.

That doesn’t mean that I’m eating the same thing every morning. Not only can you vary the ingredients of the egg cups themselves, but you also have a wide range of options for the rest of the meal. To make a Whole30 compliant breakfast with these egg cups, you need to fill the rest of the plate with veggies and/or fruit. Whole30 rules also require adding a small amount of a healthy fat, such as nuts, olives, or avocado. I used roasted almonds most of the time, but sometimes I made a Whole30 ranch dip to go with carrots, cucumbers, or mushrooms. Nowadays, my breakfast usually consists of two egg cups, one banana, and a tablespoon or two of almond butter.

Garden Egg Cups

Makes 12 egg cups, 6 servings

NOTES:
  1. This is a very flexible recipe because so many things go well with eggs. But you know me—I want to use things from my garden! So when I started making these during Round 1 of my Whole30, I used frozen leeks and bell peppers from my garden. Later that summer when my garden was producing regularly, I made my egg cups with fresh green peppers and onions from the garden. This summer I’ve been using Swiss chard and onion or chives a lot. Use whatever you have or like. You could even add meats like bacon, chicken, or ham. Just make sure that your ingredients are all Whole30 compatible if you are doing a round of Whole30.
  2. Using silicone muffin liners is a must as far as I’m concerned. Then there’s no need for cooking spray, and the clean up is easy.
  3. Egg cups can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. I reheat two at a time for 30 seconds in the microwave. They could also be frozen for later use.

INGREDIENTS:
  • 8-10 eggs
  • ½ to 1-½ cups garden vegetables, chopped (include herbs or meats, if desired—see Note 1)
  • Salt and pepper or other seasonings, to taste
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Line muffin pan with silicone liners (see Note 2).
  2. In a 4-cup measuring cup, beat eggs and seasonings with a fork or whisk.
  3. Add vegetables and mix into the eggs. The contents of the measuring cup should be 2-½ cups full, so add another egg or two if needed.
  4. Pour the egg mixture into muffin cups to ¼ inch below the top of the silicone liners.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until set.

I make these egg cups every six days. A ready-made healthy breakfast like this makes my mornings easier. Give it a try and share your favorite veggies or other ingredients in the comments below.

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Salted Caramel Pear Butter

Sadly, summer is drawing to a close. But the good news is that the evenings are cooler, and we can enjoy sitting outside by a fire pit. As we sit out there, I like to listen to soft music playing through the outdoor speakers and to nibble on something tasty—preferably something that includes cheese, my favorite food! One of my favorite things to do with cheese during the cooler months is to top it with nuts and a rich sweet spread like fig jam or pumpkin butter. Even better is to use something from the garden, so I’m sharing my recipe for Salted Caramel Pear Butter. I’ve also served this wonderful and versatile spread at Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. It’s great on softened brie, as shown, but it’ll also work with any cheese that goes well with pears, such as cheddar, gouda, roquefort, or stilton. 

I don’t grow my own pears yet, so the pears that I used came from my friend Sherry’s garden. She has a large old pear tree that produces a huge harvest every few years–more than she can handle, so she gives them away. I first benefitted from this bounty several years ago. That was when I discovered that I could use a slow cooker to make pear butter. That was also when I discovered that one of my slow cookers had a hot spot in it that burned a bit of the sauce. I’d paid only $15 for that 7-quart slow cooker, so I didn’t mind giving it away. I kept the good one, which has a removable non-stick aluminum pot that can also be used on the stovetop or in the oven. Instead of having two slow cookers going at once, I made two rounds of this pear butter over the course of several days. I refrigerated the first batch until the second batch was done, and then I canned both batches. 

With my slow cooker and an immersion blender, making the pear butter was EASY. The hard part was preparing the “ugly” pears, as Sherry called them, because they were covered with spots and blemishes. It took us two full evenings, about 5-6 hours total. My husband and I watched TV while he peeled the pears with a potato peeler and I cut all the spots and the cores away. In my opinion it was worth it because the pears were free and they were homegrown.

Salted Caramel Pear Butter and “Ugly” Pears

Below is the recipe I used, and here’s a video showing how I did it. You could use apples instead of pears, if you like, to make caramel apple butter, or you could use a combination of apples and pears. If the skin on your fruits is nice, you don’t even have to peel them. The skin will soften and break down during the slow cooking and will blend easily into the sauce.

Salted Caramel Pear Butter

Makes 4 pints

  • 7 pounds pears, washed, cored and peeled, if necessary
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg (an option that I’ll try next time)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cut the pears into halves or quarters and toss them with lemon juice and water.
  2. Put the pears pieces, water, lemon juice, and brown sugar into a large slow cooker. Cook on low for 12 hours.
  3. Use an immersion blender or potato masher to puree the fruit mixture until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and sea salt.
  4. Prop the lid partially ajar with a wooden spoon or chopstick. (For an oval-shaped slow cooker like mine, I just set the lid on top at a slight angle, leaving it cracked open a bit.) Cook on low for another 8 to 12 hours. 
  5. After about eight hours, stir the sauce and check its taste and consistency. Adjust the salt and sugar. Add nutmeg or any other spices if using them. Continue cooking until the fruit butter is the desired color and consistency. I cooked mine for the full 12 hours.
  6. Store in the refrigerator for 2-4 weeks or water bath process. While the pear butter is still hot, pour it into hot, sanitized jars (1-pint or smaller), leaving ¼ inch headspace. Follow water bath processing procedures to process jars for 10 minutes.

This is a great recipe to make when you have an abundance of pears or apples. Once all the peeling and preparation of the pears is done, the slow cooker does most of the work. You can literally walk away and go to bed! Besides serving it with brie and crackers, I’ve also eaten this spread on bagels with cream cheese and on homemade bread with butter. I think it would also be a great topping for pancakes, waffles, or even vanilla ice cream.

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Tour of My Gardens

Debbie Rea filming a video tour of her gardens 7/10/21
Help from a Friend

My garden was on a local garden walk this past weekend. Being one of the host gardens was a blast because I love showing and explaining what is going on in the garden. Plus, it motivated me to spruce up the garden as much as possible during the week before the walk. I had lots of help from my husband and from a dear friend, and now we get to enjoy the results. I’m going to share those results—how the garden looked on garden walk day—and I’ll also answer the questions that visitors asked as they toured it.

Video Tour

First, here’s the nickel tour that I filmed at the start of the garden walk. (And here is the YouTube link, in case the video below does not play on your device.) This video gives you a peek at all of my gardens: the Shakespeare Street Garden (front yard perennial garden), the vegetable container garden along the driveway, the Midsummer Night’s Dream Fairy Garden, the kitchen garden (plus, to the east of it, the new hugel kulter bed, the apple trees, and the beginning of the Wishy Washy Edible Container Garden), the cottage garden, the asparagus bed, the ornamental container garden (a.k.a. my “flower bestrewn deck”), and the Mackinac Island Garden (courtyard garden in the side yard). My husband likes to call that the “award winning Mackinac Island Garden” because I received an award from our village government last year for creating this special themed garden.

6-1/2 Minute Tour of The Gardener Wife’s Gardens

For edible gardening fans, here is a 4-minute video tour of just the kitchen garden.

Sunflowers at Arbor Entrance to the Kitchen Garden

The day of the garden walk was wonderful. We had cloudy skies but no rain—perfect for taking photos! A few sunflowers by the kitchen garden entrance and the passion flowers on the cottage garden trellis had started to bloom the day before. And hummingbirds were very active. We filmed them in the cottage bed (shown in photo section below), plus on the flower bestrewn deck, and in the Mackinac Island Garden.

Questions and Answers

Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions I got on garden walk day. If you have any other questions, write them in the reply section below this post.

Q: What is that pink flower in the cottage garden bed?

A: Queen of the Prairie, Filipendula rubra—a native plant

Q: What do I do with the cherry rootstock you gave away?

A: Get scions of the variety of cherry tree you want to grow, and graft them onto the rootstock with the budding technique. Here is a master gardener publication on grafting techniques. You could also search online for videos on how to do it. I recommend joining the Midwest Fruit Explorers to anyone interested in grafting fruit trees. They offer helpful workshops, and members share scion wood freely.

Q: What is the purpose of those red disks under your tomato plants?

A: Their main purpose is to prevent soil-borne fungal diseases by not allowing water to splash soil up onto the plant. They also suppress weeds and prevent cutworm attacks. In addition, they direct water down to the root zone of the plants. The ones like mine have been discontinued, but there are similar products available now which should work even better, called Tomato Automators and Tomato Halos.

Garden Walk Photos

Shakespeare Street Garden – front yard

Container Vegetable Garden – along the driveway

Kitchen Garden – south end of the backyard

Midsummer Night’s Dream Fairy Garden – south end of the cottage garden

Stratford Cottage Garden – in backyard along east side of the garage

Flower Bestrewn Deck – ornamental container garden

Mackinac Island Garden – in side yard

Mackinac Cottage Fairy Garden – on south side of Mackinac Island Garden

The best part of the garden walk was seeing and talking to my newsletter readers, social media followers, and garden club friends. If you came through my garden or just now enjoyed the walk vicariously through these videos and pictures, please drop a note in the reply section below to let me know what you think and/or to ask any questions you have.

Now that the walk is over and I’m taking some time off from grad school, I plan to resume writing my newsletter. If you haven’t already subscribed to it, I invite you to sign up for it here. Subscribing to my newsletter is not the same thing as subscribing to this blog or following me on social media. There may be some overlap in subject matter, but I usually write different types of content for the different platforms. If you already are a newsletter subscriber, thank you for patiently waiting for the next issue. I hope to write to you again soon! And thank you to everyone who came out on the garden walk!

Pruning Lilacs

Lilac in bloom
Pruning Lilacs

Said to say, my lilac performed very poorly this year. (Bloom photos in this post are from previous years.) Perhaps I forgot to prune the lilac during all the excitement last year as I was finishing up the Mackinac Island Garden and preparing a rose tea party. In any case, I made sure to prune it this year, near the end of May. My Corona Tools Quicksaw made quick work of this project. For thinner branches, you could use loppers or pruners.

BEFORE and AFTER Lilac Pruning

To get the most blooms on your lilacs, prune them right after blooming each year. If you wait too long, you’ll cut off branches that would bloom the following year. Keep your lilac in the shape of a multi-stemmed shrub, not a tree with a thick trunk. Besides trimming off the spent booms, I cut off two or three of the thickest branches every year. Pruning helps to open up the lower branches to more to let more sunlight.

Pruning Lilacs Video

Since my lilac is in a corner between our shed and the fence, it’s important to keep it well pruned. Next to the bare branches at the bottom of this lilac is where I set up my Midsummer Night’s Dream fairy garden every year.

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Fresh Strawberry Pie

Last year I declared that fresh strawberry pie made with organic strawberries from my garden is my FAVORITE pie in the whole world. Last year, in fact, was the first time that I ever made my own fresh strawberry pie. I think it tasted better than Bakers Square’s or any store bought pie. That was partly because the strawberries were fresh from my garden, of course. But it was also because I use less sugar than most recipes call for, so the fresh flavor of the strawberries really shines through. I put in just enough sugar to help out any strawberries that might have been picked a bit early.

I harvested enough strawberries last year to make two of these pies during the season. That was my best harvest to date because I had covered up the strawberry plants during a late frost. This year we had three late frosts, and I covered up my strawberry bed each time. Now the berries are coming in, and I made a pie tonight. I think this pie is the best way to enjoy and share these luscious fruits.

Garden Fresh Strawberry Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 9-inch pie crust, baked
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water 
  • Whipped cream for serving

DIRECTIONS

  1. Arrange about ⅔ or ¾ of the strawberries in a baked pastry shell. Mash the remaining berries and combine with sugar in a small saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water—or shake them up in a jar or Tupperware shaker. Gradually stir cornstarch mixture into boiling strawberry mixture. Reduce heat and simmer mixture until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour this mixture over the berries in the pastry shell. Chill for several hours before serving.
  3. Serve each slice of pie with a dollop of whipped cream.

I usually use store-bought pie dough, but you can make the pie shell yourself if you prefer. Whichever dough you use, I recommend that you put a pie crust shield on it as you bake it so that the edges do not get overdone. I also recommend that you use real whipped cream, not something from a plastic tub unless you are lactose-intolerant, like my son is. For his sake, I bought a dairy-free whipped topping, and I made sure that the pie dough ingredients had no dairy as well. But for the rest of us, real cream is what should accompany this fresh homemade pie. I make and store my whipped cream in an all-metal whipped cream dispenser that uses nitrous oxide cartridges. This wonderful gadget keeps the whipped cream from going flat before you’ve used it all up.

As always, if you don’t grow your own strawberries, you can get them from a store or a farmers market. However, I do recommend that you use only organic strawberries, because conventionally grown ones are always high on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce that has the highest level of pesticide residues after washing.

After my strawberry harvest was finished last year, I was tempted to buy organic strawberries to make more pies. However, my husband said that waiting until our next harvest would make these pies more special. He’s right! Plus, it would be too dangerous for our waistlines if I started making this pie all year round. What do you think of it? Leave a reply in the comment section below and let me know.

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.