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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Today in the Hill Country Garden: Harvesting, Pruning and Planting!

Harvesting this month: California Poppy, Arugula, Catmint & Strawberries!
Earlier this month, I harvested California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) I had planted from seed last fall.  I harvested just after the first blooms faded and the second set of blooms were coming in.  To harvest, simply dig around the plant so you can easily pull up the roots. You can dry the plant or use fresh.  I like to use fresh and preserve in grain alcohol to make a tincture.  You can also chop and dry and use in teas.  To make a tincture, trim off fading/spent leaves and then chop roots and tops.  Then, stuff a mason jar with the roots and areal parts until full.  Next, fill the jar with grain alcohol...I like to use vodka and to extend shelf life - top off with everclear (e.g., 3 parts vodka and 1 part ever clear).  Seal the jar with the lid and then place in a cool dry place in your home.  Be sure to shake the jar at least once a day for two weeks.  After two weeks, you can strain the plant matter (menstrum) from the infused liquid (tincture) and then store in dark little bottles, preferably with droppers. 

 Arugula is exploding! No wonder it's called "Rocket Arugula"! It just takes off and goes to seed and grows and takes off again! I have a whole bed full of arugula.  Shown here is the beautiful arugula flower with black watchman hollyhock leaves in the background.  Herbhusband and I enjoy harvesting arugula leaves by the handful just to make our favorite savory Parmesan cheese and arugula salad in the evenings.  To make, harvest 2-3 handfuls of arugula leaves, rinse and dry.  Add extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) 3 cloves minced fresh garlic, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste and 4-5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.  Toss and enjoy! Simply delicious with salmon or chicken. 
Catmint is another herbaceous friend of mine I love harvesting this time of year.  I harvest the fresh tops in the evenings and air dry on paper towels in my kitchen.  Once dry, I store the dried catmint in glass jars.  In the evenings, I add about two pinches of the dried herb to 1 teaspoon lavender and 1 teaspoon chamomile to make my very favorite evening herbal tea.  This is tea is very calming and it's very much like sipping love in a cup.  The catmint adds just the right depth and dimension to this tea.  It's a must have in my house.

Strawberries have been a delicious treat this year! We've been enjoying finding these sweet red delights when we are working in the garden.  We've been harvesting the fruits and the leaves.  Leaves can be dried and used in a tea as well as in skin care remedies.  It's been a race around our house as to who harvests the strawberries first! Our herbdog (Briar) just loves digging his nose into the raised beds and doesn't think twice about gulping down these sweet little treats! He loves strawberries...guess it runs in the family :)

Pruning is a big part of gardening this time of year.  I've been busy pruning our grapes as well as finger smashing all the little pests that tend to heavily munch on the leaves and budding fruit.  I've noticed caterpillars are big this year as well as katydids! Oh, yes...the katydids are back! (See my post on katydid outbreak in Central Texas posted in June 2010- they are aggressive eaters and can take down a garden in no time flat).  Needless to say, we've all been keeping a careful eye on pests and taking the time each day to "thin" them out with our fingers and shoes! I detest pesticides...so this is a must at our house.  I'm also busy pruning our hedges and roses.  Lots of rain this year has stimulated significant growth in our garden. 

Today, I planted zucchini, carrots, pattypan squash, and sugar pie pumpkin.  Earlier this month I planted cabbage and heirloom tomatoes. I'm already seeing many tomatoes setting fruit.  Heirlooms I planted include vintage wine, brown berry, black cherry, black plum and juliette.  These are all very prolific and tasty!

It certainly is a productive time of year in the Texas Hill Country!
We are having lots of fun keeping our fingers dirty and eyes open for critters - it's going to be a healthy year for critters. I'll leave you with this Meyer Lemon baby found today on our tree.  It will be Novemberish before we can enjoy this sweet and juicy fruit...but, isn't it beautiful?

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