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.

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.

Hardening Off Plants

Tomato Seedlings Started Indoors

Spring is an exciting time because I can start planting cool-season crops. It’s also a frustrating time as the weather changes from one extreme to another. Within one week we’ve had lows of 28°F and highs of 81°F. That’s why you need to know the best time for planting different kinds of seeds and transplants in your garden. Soon it will be time to start transplanting warm-season annuals here in zone 5, so now we should start getting our seedlings ready to go outside. We do this with a process called hardening off: the process of helping plants adapt to being outside by gradually exposing them more and more to outdoor conditions for about two weeks.

That’s right: it takes about two weeks. If you wait to buy the plants until you’re ready to plant them, you’ll be tempted to skip this process. Don’t do it! You’ve got to baby those baby plants before you put them out in your garden. After being sheltered inside a nice cozy greenhouse or under your grow lights, those seedlings run the risk of being damaged by the brighter sunlight, stronger breezes, and fluctuating temperatures of outdoor life. Even if they do not exhibit any visible damage, they will take longer to adjust out there and resume normal growth. Thus you won’t save any time, and you’ll end up with stressed plants.

I don’t trust big box stores to harden off their plants before they put them outside, so I recommend getting seedlings from a garden center greenhouse and doing it yourself. I buy from the big box stores only when the price is good enough to compensate for getting stressed out plants. Plus, I don’t buy anything that is especially susceptible to cold temperatures, such as impatiens, from them.

You’ve got to baby those baby plants.

the gardener wife

Here are two methods for hardening off seedlings. The first one requires more work, and the second method requires a cold frame or–what I prefer to use–a mini greenhouse or two. Both of these methods require ten to fourteen days, so you should begin the process about two weeks before your planting date.

Method 1: Moving Plants In and Out

  1. On a mild afternoon, move the seedlings outside to a shady area that is sheltered from the breezes. After two to three hours bring them back inside.
  2. Repeat the process each day unless the weather is too harsh. Gradually increase the amount of time outdoors and the amount of sunlight the seedlings receive. 
  3. Keep watering the seedlings as needed so they do not wilt, but water them less often while they are hardening off.
  4. After they have been outside for several ten- to twelve-hour periods and the nighttime temperatures have risen high enough for the hardiness of the seedlings (in the forties for hardy seedlings and in the sixties for tender seedlings), leave them outside overnight for a couple of days. Then they will be ready to transplant into the garden or outdoor containers at the appropriate planting time.

This method gets wearisome if you have lots of seedlings to harden off like I do. It also requires that you have a space to put the plants inside each afternoon or evening. The space requirement, by the way, is one of the reasons you should not buy tender annuals too early in the spring. They must be kept where they will be warm enough and get enough light until it is time to start hardening them off.

Tomato Seedlings in Shade Greenhouse Stand

Method 2: Putting Plants in a Cold Frame or Mini Greenhouse

I do have the space for keeping seedlings indoors because I have seed starting shelves with grow lights in my basement. But once I start hardening off seedlings, I do not want to carry all of them up and down the stairs twice a day for two weeks. That is why I prefer to use mini greenhouses. First I harden off the hardiest seedlings in them and then the half-hardy seedlings. By the time those are ready to transplant outside, I can start hardening off the tender seedlings.

Mini greenhouses like mine are now available at most big box hardware stores. But if you cannot find one near you, you could order them here.

  1. Set the mini greenhouse up in a mostly shady area. Be sure to brace it by attaching it to something or weighing it down so that it would not topple over in a big gust of wind. I lay heavy bricks or pavers on the bottom shelf of mine.
  2. Move the seedlings inside the greenhouse. Now instead of bringing them inside everyday, you can just zip the door shut. Start on a mild afternoon and leave the door of the mini greenhouse open for just a few hours. 
  3. Protect the plants on windy days by unzipping only one side or part of the door. To open the door fully, you can roll it up and tie it with the ties provided. However, I prefer to flip the door up and over the back, and I use a clamp to hold it in place. Water the plants only as needed, and keep increasing the length of time that the door is left fully open. When nighttime lows are mild enough for the hardiness of the seedlings, leave the door open overnight.
  4. After one week, move the mini greenhouse and then the seedlings to a sunny location. If you have two mini greenhouses, like I do, then you can set up the second greenhouse in the sunny spot. Then all you have to do is move the seedlings from the shady greenhouse to the sunny greenhouse.
  5. Continue to keep the door open during the days, and close it when the nighttime lows may get too cool for the seedlings’ hardiness level. You may rotate the seedlings around the shelves to adjust the amount of light they get. By the end of the second week, the seedlings are ready to transplant at the appropriate planting time.
Tomato Seedlings in Sun Greenhouse Stand

Whichever way you do the hardening off, your plants will be stronger and grow better. If you have any questions or comments, write them in the reply section below. And if you found this post helpful, please share it so I can help others to grow something, something beautiful—even better, something to eat!

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

SPECIAL OFFER for National Gardening Day

Today, April 14, 2021, is National Gardening Day, and I’m celebrating it with a special offer. Subscribe to my newsletter now and get access to a video of my presentation on how to start a garden. Details are HERE.

Do you know anyone who wants to start growing their own food?
Share the link with them!
Act now because the free access to this video will end on April 30, 2021.

In the video presentation I show you how to start a kitchen garden and help you to avoid common mistakes. Plus, I share some tips and tricks for maintaining an already established garden. I’m making this video accessible to new subscribers for just a short time, so don’t put off watching it.

Don’t worry if you’re already a subscriber—you’ll get an offer in your inbox.

Pumpkin Eggplant Riddle

Goyo Kumba Eggplant & Turkey with Marinara Sauce

Q: What looks like a tiny pumpkin but is really an eggplant?

A: ‘Goyo Kumba’ Solanum aethiopicum

The orange fruit in my hand is not a tiny pumpkin: it’s a tiny eggplant! I came across the seeds for this unusual vegetable, Goyo Kumba eggplant, several years ago, and I had to try it. If nothing else, I knew it would be great for ornamental purposes. It’s also a fun plant for miniature vegetable fans. I really didn’t know at the time I planted the seeds how I’d use this unusual vegetable in cooking.

It took a long time for my tiny eggplants to ripen to a dark orange color. Thankfully, I was able to use them in decorations for a late September event at my church. Afterwards, I roasted them and vacuum sealed them for later use. I used the frozen Goyo Kumbas only once that winter, when I put them on a pizza along with cherry tomatoes, peppadews, and fresh basil. The rest of them stayed in the freezer and got lost among everything else.

Making Pizza with Goyo Kumba, cherry tomatoes, peppadews, basil & fresh mozzarella

I didn’t use them again until a week ago. I found them while I was rummaging through the freezer for a quick meal. Even though they’d been frozen for three years, they were still in good shape. Now this is an example of why I love to use a FoodSaver vacuum sealer (currently on sale!) for preserving my garden harvests. Because there was no air inside the FoodSaver bag with the roasted eggplants, there was no freezer burn on them.

I also found some turkey that I had grilled around Thanksgiving and then cut up into bite size pieces before vacuum sealing and freezing it. I thawed both the turkey and the Goyo Kumba eggplants. Then I peeled the eggplants because the skins were a little tough and—as I recall from the pizza—somewhat bitter. I was in a hurry, rushing to get to a 6 P.M. Zoom meeting, so I used marinara sauce from a jar. No recipe—I just mixed the turkey, eggplant, and marinara sauce and cooked it in the microwave. Meanwhile, I had cooked some whole wheat rotini while I was peeling and heating everything else.

I served the Goyo Kumba turkey over rotini with some freshly grated Parmesan. To grate the Parmesan quickly and easily, I used another handy kitchen gadget: the Magic Bullet blender. That was all that I had time to make and eat that night. A few nights later, however, I made more Goyo Kuma turkey sauce, and that was when I took some more photos. This time I also heated some of my homegrown green beans which, of course, had been blanched and vacuum sealed before freezing. I coated the beans with my garlic scape pesto, another tasty treat from my garden.

Q: When is an eggplant not really an eggplant?

A: When it’s an Ethiopian eggplant.

I have since learned some interesting things about this vegetable. First of all, its Latin name is Solanum aethiopicum, also known as Ethiopian or African eggplant. Thus it’s related to Solanum melongena, our usual eggplants, but it’s not exactly the same. They’re both in the nightshade family, solanaceae, so I’m surprised that Wikipedia and at least one seed company state that “the leaves of this plant are eaten as a leafy green” and are supposed to be more nutritious than the fruit. As you can see from my photo, the flea beetles certainly like to eat its leaves. Nevertheless, I don’t trust Wikipedia enough to eat the leaves of anything in the solanaceae family, which are known to have toxins.

Goyo Kumba Eggplant in My Garden

I wouldn’t eat the leaves of anything in the nightshade family.

The Gardener Wife

I also learned that Goyo Kumba eggplants taste better if you harvest them while still young and green. They’re not as pretty though, so you should leave at least a few to get red if you plan to use them for ornamental purposes. Once the skins were off, I didn’t think they tasted too bitter. Besides, the marinara sauce masked their flavor.

Starting Goyo Kumba Seeds

I got my Goyo Kumba seeds from Baker Creek in 2018, but they do not appear to carry this variety anymore. They do have another Ethiopian eggplant, Melanzane Rosso De Rotonda, which is supposed to be quite tasty and which I’d like to try someday.

Have you eaten Ethiopian eggplant? Reply in the comment section below.

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Winter Is Waning

Snow Melting Off the Roof

The snow is melting, and I’m counting down the days to spring. I try to enjoy every season, but winter is the most difficult for me. Thankfully we had very picturesque weather for the last few weeks here in the Chicago region. We kept getting more and more snow! That was okay with me since I really didn’t have to go outside for much. I know that snow is fun to play in, and it’s lovely to see as you’re out and about. However, I personally prefer to enjoy the beauty from inside my home. That’s why it’s good to have gardens with trees, hardscaping, and seasonal containers and decor. I enjoyed taking photos of the views from my windows all winter long.

An Evening by the Fireplace

It’s also delightful to have a fireplace. My husband Stan and I spent several evenings studying for grad school with a fire going and music playing. If you don’t have a fireplace, you could also achieve a cozy ambiance with candles—lots of candles. Naturally, as an organic gardener, I prefer soy wax or beeswax candles to paraffin ones. When I don’t want to deal with a real flame, I like to use an essential oil diffuser with organic oils in garden scents. I use lavender oil at bedtime and more invigorating scents, such as peppermint or orange oil, during the day when I’m working here at my computer.

During the shorter days and longer nights of winter, I tend to go to bed earlier, too. Last summer Stan and I got in the habit of turning off the TV and other screens around 9 P.M. That has led to extra time for reading in bed—at least it has for him. I often find myself going to sleep earlier during the winter.

There are a number of gardening tasks that I work on indoors during the winter, as you know from my posts here and on social media. For some gardeners, however, it’s a time to rest from gardening and focus on other hobbies, such as needlecraft or painting. (I’d probably be doing that if it weren’t for grad school. My current hobby is studying!) One activity that I missed this year, due to COVED, is hosting gatherings with our friends and family.

Whether I’m entertaining company or cooking for just the two of us, I try to use something from my garden in each meal that I make. Of course, that’s more of a challenge in winter! I rely on the herb plants that I brought indoors and on all the things from my garden that I froze, canned, or dried. Sometimes I also grow food during the winter in my little Smart Garden. That’s a fun thing for non-gardeners to try! Even if all you’ve got is just a bit of homegrown herbs, it adds a special touch to any dish.

And that’s how I get through the winter! It’s not my favorite season because I really hate to be cold. Yet it’s still a magnificently beautiful season. God sends the snow for a purpose, the prophet Isaiah says: to make the earth yield “seed for the sower and bread for the eater,”  just like God has spoken his word for a purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). I’m thankful for the snow, and I’m even more thankful for God’s word. I hope you’ve been blessed by both as well.

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