It looks like it would take too much time to figure out how to move the first blog (which I abandoned because of trouble uploading photos) to here, so I’ll just post the url for now…

Valentine Flower Bags

There’s a half hour left before Valentine’s Day 2010 is over for those on the east coast.  I just had to share the little gifts I gave to some friends earlier today.  I had a lot of fun being crafty one night this week, thanks to some inspiration from Martha Stewart’s email newsletter.  How easy was this? and it cost me all of $1 in ribbon and the price of the plants.  The happiness it brought to friends young and old (to quote a commercial) was priceless!  I hope you’ve had a moment of inspiration to give to someone in need of encouragement lately.  And even if you don’t have a sweetheart of your own, valuing the people in our lives – be they co-workers, friends, or family – can make such a difference in how we experience life together, both for the giver and the receiver!

I am having my usual June Weed Meltdown; the only problem is that it’s only February! The current new dreaded weed is Common Groundsel.  My Master Gardener course book actually lists a few redeeming qualities of weeds, and I have to give this one real props for having a very strong Plan B.  You see, I uprooted two of these yesterday for this post because the taller one didn’t have any seed head showing.  It was just all closed yellow nibs, so I picked the smaller weed (at bottom) because it had the small dandelion-like seed head in bloom.  Well by today, when it was picture time, the taller one had its own seed head, and was ready to prove my Plan B point;  if this weed is picked immature it will still produce some seed to wreak havoc next spring.  Argh!!!  We’re doing the best we can to mow, weed, burn or trash, but I’m sure we’ll have this weed back next year anyway, but hopefully less of it than we’ve had this year.  There’s the “evil” of this post.

Now, to cling to what is good I want to return to an earlier blog title and talk about a great “clinger”, kiwi fruit Looking back in my scanty records I see kiwi listed on my summer watering chart back in 2003, so I would guess that’s when we planted a female and a male vining plant.  The following winter some type of fungus was found eating away and oozing at the base of the male vine.  Our county ag advisor suggested sulpher, but I’d already sprayed vinegar on it (thinking that’s a generally good and safe fungus killer in the house!).  I don’t know if my actions had anything to do with it or not, but the vine survived.  Now, the mystery is that the male vine has never flowered, but the female has flowered and produced fruit for the  last several years!  Albeit the fruit is small and in our cool summer area that may be the best that we can hope for.  This past year the vine was really loaded.  I think I’ll try to do some thinning this next year, if I don’t get around to pruning out some more of the side branches.

As you can see from the photo here, the brown fuzzies can be rubbed off, but I’ve found that using the stiff potato scrubber works really well, and when the green shows through the brown skin it’s just a work of art!

Many years ago I learned that most of the kiwi nutrients are just below the skin, so we tend to cut off the harder stem and flower ends and eat the rest, skin and all, minus the fuzz.

The vines are vigorous and will twine wildly if not clipped back.  I was just reading that the end of the fruiting vines should be cut back in May, so I’ll add that to my month-by-month calendar of things to do this year. Once the leaves fall off, in October around here, we can still leave the fruit on the vine.  We were having freezing nights in early December this year and I picked quite a few bags full and kept them in the refrigerator.  One resource said that kiwi are fine to have a little freeze to develop their flavor, and that to find out if they are ripe enough for cold storage (stored up to five or six months) just cut one open and see if the seeds have turned black.  I was reminded of an experience of a colleague years ago whose college-aged son brought her some kiwi from another area of California, which she shared with  me.  If picked too soon kiwi will never ripen – yep, hard and sour kiwi right up until they start shriveling.  If they are picked very ripe then they won’t keep well in cold storage at all. So kiwi are a bit tricky to harvest, depending on what you want to do with them.  One of the local farmers here keeps her fall-picked kiwi in cold storage , then has them ripe and out for sale at the opening of the farmers market in April.  People really go for local fresh fruit after such a long winter hiatus.

Kiwi Flower

I haven’t even mentioned how lovely the flowers are yet!  I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment watching and learning from our kiwi vines.

Here’s another flower  photo where you can actually see the fruit forming from the center of the flower.  Amazing!

Kiwi flowers into fruit

And even better, I’ll never forget the day I realized the true meaning of Jesus’ words, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.  Apart from Me you can do nothing.” while I was studying our kiwi plant.  Kiwi vines produce fruit not from the main leading vines, but on the side laterals (or branches) that come off of the main leader, just like modern climbing roses.  It’s a perfect analogy, “Of course! What did you expect from Me?” God replied!

So, with all this kiwi talk let me wrap up with a recipe for a tasty kiwi lime smoothie.

Cut up about 1/3 cup kiwi fruit (2 normal size from the store) into a blender, add a drizzle of honey or agave nectar, the juice of half a lime, about 1/2 a cup of plain yogurt (or vanilla ice cream), and a little soy milk (or milk) and blend till smooth.  If it’s hot out I add ice cubes into the blender too, with less milk. After blending till smooth I taste it and adjust all the flavors to my liking (more lime, more kiwi, a little vanilla extract, more agave, more milk or ice cream, etc.)

Experiment and enjoy – you can certainly see that that’s exactly what I’ve done while growing kiwi fruit!  If you have any experiences with kiwi fruit, please share!

Back in January there wasn’t a lot to do outside.  We were having rain off an on and it was a bit too early to start the annual rose pruning.  I did my weekly African Violet care and realized I had a pretty good “winter garden” right there in the kitchen window.  Not bad at all for January 10th!

African Violets

Winter Gardening

When we were planning our kitchen remodel a friend suggested a garden window as a way to make the space feel bigger.  I did some research and the books all said to forget about it if the window is on the north side of the house.  Well, I’m glad I ignored that piece of advice.  I can’t think of one month when at least one of the six African Violets is out of bloom.  I have year-round color in that northern window and because it rarely gets full sun (a little in summer but I shade the plants with the taller begonia and jade plant) the violets are truly happy.  I’ve learned the truth about feeding them too.  I use a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 strength every time I water.  Now if only I had a market for all the AV babies I could make!

My camera is holding a variety of photos poised for my next blog entry, but after starting to put Christmas decorations away yesterday, and then experienced a rather strong and long 6.5 earthquake in the afternoon, it’s more like chaos around here.  Fortunately not because of any earthquake damage, but the Christmas boxes are still in disarray and now we have our emergency food storage boxes and camping gear laid out (just in case) as well.  No blog entries until at least I get some order back into the storage area!  For a little perspective, our outdoor gong was gonged by the quake!

…leaving the other half of the figs for Tracy to eat when he gets home, even though I could eat them all now and he’d never know it!

Our Ninth Year Here, and we’re finally enjoying a dozen or so figs this late summer through fall. I started this fig from a cutting from a huge (15′) fig tree in a rose customer’s backyard in San Jose before we moved. The first year it was planted in Q4 before we realized how boggy it was there in the rainy season and how the deer would pass through daily. Then it got potted up and kept alive for a few more years until we got it planted into our greenhouse. This was probably year two for it to be in the ground there and it’s done very well this year, as long as I kept the gophers away (I know, again with the gophers!). We’ve enjoyed (and shared) every precious fig off this little (but old) plant.

Lavender PinocchioWell, it does seem that in late August and September all the little rodents of this place begin to take over. We invested in some more Black Box gopher traps last weekend, which I am highly in favor of, and now I’m checking five traps daily with seven gophers and a handful of voles notched into my belt. They’ve got their own tally going too. While we were both quite busy in June and July we lost more than a couple of plants to those critters and are learning there are fewer and fewer plant roots that they won’t eat. I even have a yarrow potted up struggling for survival with a few roots rescued from their gorging two nights ago.

Last spring I almost posted about my Lavender Pinocchio that a gopher killed. It was an own-root rose that Tracy didn’t want to carry anymore and I have always loved the different colors it performs in our climate throughout the blooming season.   I hadn’t been able to walk past it in more than a week, so when I found it, the roots were totally gone and the young plant was dry and definitely dead. I took a photo of the dead plant, the gaping hole, and the “thing” that did the damage which I caught a few days later. My photo has it laying so peacefully in the garbage can on a pile of rose petals. A nice send off, considering, but Tracy intervened with that post, calling it a might distasteful. I guess I’m an educator and wanted to share what we suffer with here. Besides, some people have told me that they’ve never seen a gopher. I suppose those Californians have cats that are good hunters.  Anyway, imagine my surprise when I saw a baby Lavender Pinocchio starting out of the ground a few months ago.  I couldn’t be sure until it bloomed, but yep, there is a remnant left.   I guess that gopher didn’t quite get it all (hurray for own-root plants!).   Now let’s hope this one survives, with regular surveying of the area for new gophers.

While I waited for our various  traps to snap I had a little time on my hands. To commemorate a friend’s birthday and as an ode to the Julia Child movie out right now, I made Child’s Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba) chocolate cake.  I doubled the recipe to make a large cake for a  crowd of 8 adults and 4 children. Wow it was good, and even though you can only see the photos and not taste them, they’re much better than any look at a dead gopher, for sure. Here are the steps:

1.  Get the recipe.  With the movie out, there is not a single copy for sale of Julia’s French cookbook in the entire county, so to the internet I turned.  I found out later that there are at least two versions of this cake, as Julia tweaked things now and then.

2.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.

3. Prepare the 8″ baking pans.  I like to dust with cocoa powder when making a dark cake.

4.  Cream the butter and sugar.

5. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.

6.  Add the yolks.

7.  Fold in the melted chocolate.

8.  Fold in the almond meal and the almond extract.

9.  Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.

10.   Sift the flour, then alternately fold it in with the egg whites.

11.  Divide evenly in the pans and bake.  Cool upright for 10 minutes.

12.  Watch out for cake spies!

13.  Invert onto cooling racks to cool completely.

14.  Melt more chocolate in a glass bowl for the frosting.

15.  Once cool, add butter to melted chocolate one tablespoon at a time while the bowl is over another bowl full of ice water.

16.  Start frosting.  Even after doubling the frosting ingredients I found I wasn’t going to have enough to do the whole cake, so I opted to use the frosting as a filling and on the sides, and just dust with powdered sugar on the top.  Others have omitted the frosting altogether for such a naturally rich, dense and moist cake.

17.  Decorate as you please with almond pieces.

18.  Don’t forget to take a photo of the last piece before it gets eaten!

Until I learn this new blogging program I guess all the photos will have to be in one group like this: