Getting a Jump Start on Christmas Gifts

Normally, I am a wait ’til the last minute shopper for Christmas gifts but for some reason I thought about this.

Last year, I saw something about making your own vanilla extract.  My local Natural Food Store carries bulk vanilla beans, so I picked some up and decided to give this a try.

The original recipe calls for 3-5 vanilla beans per 6 oz. of vodka. I had some unused bourbon and rum in the cabinet, so this is what I used just guessing on the amount of alcohol.  It turned out great!

Here’s the step-by-step info.  It really doesn’t get much easier.

Start by cutting your vanilla beans into little pieces.

vanilla extract

If you press on the pieces, a little paste will come out.  You can do this or not.  I didn’t the first time I made it and it  had a very good vanilla flavor.  I did do it this time so we’ll see.

Place the pieces in the alcohol.  I used 20 vanilla beans for a 750 ml bottle of vodka.

vanilla extract

Tighten the lid and shake well.

vanilla extract

At this point, it will  look like a vanilla/vodka snow globe.

Place the bottle in the brown paper sack it came in and write the date on the bag.

vanilla extract

Place the bag in a nearby cool and dark place.  About once a week, give the bottle a good shake.  In about 2 months (which will be around Christmas), the extract will be ready to use.  At this time, you can strain the bean pieces out (or not-I didn’t) and place in a decorative, dark, glass bottle.  This is definitely a home-made gift they will use and enjoy.

Brenda

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Cooking, Garden, Home, recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Little Zebra

As much as I love color in the garden, I also love the foliage of ornamental grasses.

Miscanthus sinesisLittle Zebra’ has been a great accent grass for the side of my garage.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra'

This area was hard to mow from day one and always had that lonely, sad, make me pretty sort of look.

Now a bird feeder, toad house, and ‘Little Zebra’ has given this wall new life.

little zebra grass

 

Miscanthus sinesis is a perennial in zones 5-9.

zebra grass

It will get anywhere from 3-4′ tall and will spread 2-3′.  In mid summer and early fall, it sends up stalks about 2 ft. tall.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra'

Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra'

It is called zebra grass because the foliage has alternating light and dark green stripes on each blade.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra'

In the winter, it will turn brown and make a soothing, rustling sound in a light breeze.

zebra grass

Around late February to early March, I cut back the brown leaves and the process starts again.

zebra grass

It does love a sunny spot in the garden but will tolerate part shade.  In my location (zone 7), it receives full sun until mid afternoon and then it is in full shade.

‘Little Zebra’ has been pretty low maintenance for me. This particular grass is happy in a variety of soils from sandy to heavy clay (I am more clay and rock) but the bed does slope some and keeps it well-drained.  I’ve also read it should be kept moist but I have found that after it is established, it can be very forgiving in dry soil.  This particular grass has not been invasive for me, but check about different species as they can become a nuisance.

Also, another big plus for ornamental grasses is they are usually not bothered by disease or pests which makes this a hands down winner in my book.

Brenda

Posted in Garden | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s That Time Again

It’s that time of year when we are all cleaning up our gardens and preparing for colder weather.  But, if you would like to have garlic next summer, it’s time to think about planting it now.

elephant garlic

elephant garlic harvest 2014

silverskin garlic

silverskin garlic harvest 2014

I’m going to be lazy today and reblog the post I did last year.  Sorry for the rerun but I’m pooped and headed to bed.

Nighty night,
B

 

Planting Garlic

Last fall was my first time to plant garlic.  It was so easy.  I picked a spot in the garden, made a raised area with the soil, planted and mulched.

Then I left it alone until summer.

garlic-silverskin

silverskin garlic

You can’t get much easier than that.

Garlic is a bulb full of separate cloves that pull apart when you are ready to use.  It’s best to leave these cloves intact until you are ready to plant.  When you have everything ready to plant, pull off the cloves and plant them about 3-4  inches deep (with pointy end up) and about 6-7 inches apart.

elephant garlic

elephant garlic clove with pointy end to the side. That’s wrong and I fixed it before I covered it up.

Cover the cloves with soil and then mulch.  I use a 3-4 inch layer of straw over the entire bed.  I did not add any fertilizer, but I did add compost and aged rabbit manure after I harvested the bulbs in June.

I’ve been told it’s best to fertilize in the spring, but I didn’t even think about it and they did fine.  I really can’t say enough about compost though.  I have 2 big bins going all the time.  I believe it is so much better for your garden than store-bought fertilizer plus you are composting things that would otherwise end up in a landfill or down your drain.  (stepping down off soap box now)

Back to garlic.  I chose the variety ‘silverskin’ because of my location (south) and their ability to store for longer periods of time (up to a year).

I also wanted to try elephant garlic.  Even though the bulb is HUGE,

elephant garlic

it has a very mild flavor and is great roasted and mixed with butter for French bread or mashed potatoes.

One clove of elephant garlic can be as large as one bulb of silverskin.

elephant garlic

one clove of elephant garlic

They are planted the same way as the silverskin.

If you are thinking about growing garlic, be sure and get your garlic from a reputable grower.  I got mine from Renee’s garden, but check with your favorite grower so see what they carry.  Read about the different varieties to see what grows well in your area.  I would avoid planting garlic from the grocery store because you just don’t know where it came from or what was sprayed on it.  Just my opinion though.

elephant garlic

elephant garlic

I am using the garlic I dug this summer to plant this fall.

I also doubled the size of the beds.

I like garlic that much.

Peace to all,
Brenda

“A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.”  author unknown

I am linking up with the Chicken Chick this week for her weekly blog.  If you have any questions about chickens, she’s the chick to ask.

Posted in Arkansas, Garden, Garlic, Home | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Bellingrath Garden and Home

I love a good Atlas.  When traveling by motorcycle, I make it my mission to find alternate highways away from interstates.  Al handles interstates well.  Me, not so much.  So, for every trip, the atlas (and they now have these in large print!) is part of my luggage.

As I was planning our trip home, I noticed this on the map.

atlas, motorcycle

So we (mainly me) decided to stop and check it out.

Bellingrath Garden

The 10,000 square ft. weekend home was built in 1935 for Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bellingrath, one of Coca Cola’s first bottled Coke suppliers.

Bellingrath Garden

In 1932, before the home was built, Mrs. Bellingrath had the 65 acres, which was once an old fish camp, landscaped into a showplace of azaleas, camellias, and roses.   (I’ m glad she had her priorities straight.)

The gardens and house were constructed during the Great Depression and Mrs. Bellingrath was well aware of local families in need.  She would buy various items from people such as crocheted afghans or other objects of art for exorbitant amounts of money.  People would line up on her doorstep in hopes of selling their various wares.   She bought every item.

She would also hear of families in dire straights and, after making a visit to their home, claim she had been looking for a particular plant (which just happened to be in their yard) and insisted she needed it for her gardens.  She would pay  hundreds of dollars for one plant or shrub.

When construction of the home began, the handmade brick came from a home that had been built in 1852 and was being torn down.  That home belonged to a Vanderbilt.  When an old hotel in Mobile was demolished, the beautiful ironwork was brought to Bellingrath estates to be used.  Repurposing at its best.

Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden

I like her style.

When you first walk into the gardens, you are surrounded by a symphony of yellow flowers called Golden Trumpet or Allamanda cathartica.  This tropical plant is hardy in zones 10-11 and will vine up to 20 ft. making it stunning throughout the garden.

Bellingrath Garden

Bellingrath Garden

Bellingrath Garden

I had to look twice at the begonias (or are these fuschia?  I can’t remember) Either way, most I see in zone 7 are about 1-2 ft. tall.  These were at least 4 ft. tall. and formed a hedge along many of the pathways.

Bellingrath Garden

For other areas in shade, several varieties of coleus were massed together for effect.

Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden

The property also has a man-made lake aptly named Mirror Lake.

Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden

In the midst of landscaping the property, several artesian wells were located.  These wells, along with native stones unearthed during construction , were beautifully incorporated as part of the grand plan.

Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden

Another area of the garden is devoted to butterflies.  Pentas seemed to be the favorite flavor of the day.

Bellingrath Garden

Pentas

Bellingrath Garden

Other unique flowers include several colors of hibiscus

Bellingrath Garden

Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden

I thought this might be an amaranth at first, but I think it’s a Chenille plant or red hot cat’s tail which is also a tropical zone 10-11 plant.

Bellingrath Garden

Yellow shrimp plants (Pachystachys lutea) were used in many of the container plantings.

Bellingrath Garden

This looks like some form of millet although it is much thicker than the variety I have.  It also has a delicious molasses scent.

Bellingrath Garden Bellingrath Garden

Several plantings of croton were interspersed among the gardens.

Bellingrath Garden

Cat Whiskers (Orthosiphon aristatus) is also a tropical plant which can become shrub-like as a perennial to zone 9.  It was about 3 ft. tall in this garden planted in part shade.

Bellingrath Garden, cat whiskers

We did not get to see all of the gardens due to a time factor, but I did enjoy getting off the motorcycle for a while and walking around.  Most importantly, it seemed to renew my gardening spirit back which I seemed to have lost this summer.

So, next time you take a trip, check out an Atlas.  You might be surprised what roads will lead you where and what awaits and the end of those roads.

Happy trails!

Brenda

Posted in Butterflies, Flowers, Garden, Motorcycle trips, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Break From Everything

Back in July, my job went from three days a week to five days a week (my choice).  I know people work five days a week all the time, but I’ve haven’t in about twenty-five years.  I’m feeling it.

Needless to say, my garden looks pitiful.  I can’t even take a picture of it.  It’s that bad.

So I will just focus on vacation.

Every year, Al takes me for a motorcycle trip.  We’ve been to the Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Black Hills to name a few.  We have never been to the beach though.

Until now.

We arrived in Navarre, Florida Sunday.  After traveling through cloudy, cold weather and then cold rain, we were happy to arrive in a much warmer and sunnier climate.

Navarre is home to the Gulfs Longest Pier.

navarre pier

It measures 1545 ft. long and is 30 ft. above the water.  It is beautiful in every direction.

navarre navarre navarre navarre navarre

From the pier, we saw a dolphin swimming

navarre dolphin

and a very large sea turtle that swam away before I could snap a pic.

Here is a shot of the pier from the beach area we are at.

navarre pier

Our condo also has a private fishing pier

navarre

with its own collection of sea life.

navarre stingray

that looks like a stingray to me

navarre ocean jellyfish

jellyfish

navarre ocean jellyfish

jellyfish up close and personal

The pier for the condo does have rules and I love the last one.

navarre

Today the skies looked a little ominous.  But, dang it, we were at the beach for the first time in our lives and we were going to swim it.

navarre ocean allen

that’s my Al

navarre ocean navarre ocean IMG_0074

Tomorrow we are hoping to visit the National Aviation Museum to see the Blue Angels practice.

Fingers crossed for good weather!

Brenda

 

 

Posted in Garden, Motorcycle trips, travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

August Blooms

I noticed summer fading at 8:15 last night.

coleus caladium

I remember when my boys were little and being thankful when the days were getting shorter.  This meant I could get them in the house a few minutes earlier, wash a days worth of dirt from their bodies, and get some food in them before ten o’clock.

My garden and flowers are winding down for the summer, too.

The rue has continued to surprise me this year.

rue flower

This is its second year with me and has grown to a height of two feet.  I will save the seeds and see what happens next year.

rue seed pod

Rue seed pod

The plumed celosia I save every year from seed is just now blooming.  A little late but I’ll take it.

celosia celosia

I can always count on my old-fashioned petunias to pull through no matter what summer brings.  They are very fragrant in the evening, so just follow your nose and you will find them.

old fashioned petunias old fashioned petunia

The white caladiums and begonias really glow at night.

caladium begonia caladium

I noticed some passion flowers (Passiflora incarnata) blooming in the butterfly garden.

passion flower

They are a host plant (food source) for the Gulf fritillary butterfly along with the variegated fritillary and Zebra longwing.  I didn’t see any caterpillars but I did want to show you the fruit it produces.

passion flower fruit

This fruit looks very much like a kiwi and I’ve read that people make jelly from it.  I opened one last year and it was just hollow inside with a lot of seeds.

I was excited to see a monarch butterfly on my Asclepias tuberosa

monarch butterfly

and then shocked to see a praying mantis having it for lunch.

monarch butterfly and praying mantis

I need to direct him to the other flower bed where the grasshoppers have decided vacation.

Hopefully this monarch caterpillar will escape unscathed.

monarch caterpillar

My fennel jungle is usually full of swallowtail caterpillars by now.  I only saw these two yesterday.

swallowtail caterpillar swallowtail caterpillar

Over the years, people have given me garden art and I love using it wherever I can.

frog man

I wish he would pull that dang grass for me

I love when they tell me they saw this or that and thought of me.

Garden Greeter

Garden Greeter

 

Reminder

Reminder

bee happy garden art

Although this one made me wonder…

garden rock face

Brenda

Posted in Butterflies, Flowers, Garden, Rocks, Seeds, summer flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Chicken Coop Update

My little chicken coop has undergone some change since last year.

chicken coop july '13

last summer

The living roof is filling in nicely

chicken ccop

with a variety of sedums

chicken coop

On the front and side of the coop I planted amsonia hubrechtii (Arkansas blue star), ornamental millet, old-fashioned petunias, celosia, wild bergamot (bee balm)  and sunflowers.

chicken coop

I found an old enamel table top at a flea market and had a very talented artist paint on it.

sunflower painting chicken coop

I love sunflowers and so do bees and they are still busy gathering nectar and pollen for their winter supply.  Sunflowers are a great late summer flower for them.

sunflower chicken coop

The red door is also undergoing a change.  Beth has sketched a sunflower on the door for me to paint so I decided to paint the door a light blue to match the sunflower painting.  I have the outline done but knowing me it might be a month or two (or ten) before I finish.

chicken coop

On the chicken end, the brown speckled Sussex chicks I bought in April are almost as big as the older girls.

chicken, brown speckled sussex 4 wks. old

baby speckled Sussex

As they age, their speckles are becoming more prominent.

chicken

speckled Sussex almost 5 mo. old.

chicken

I named them Lady Mary, Edith, and Rose and they are almost to the age where they will start laying eggs.

Except this one

chicken

Lady Mary is Mr. Lady Mary.  He’s just beginning to crow and becoming protective of his girls so we’ll see how this goes.  He likes to peck at my polka dot boots but I like to think he’s doing this because they are bright and not because he sees me as a threat.

chicken

I’m thinking about renaming him Carson.

Any thoughts or new names?

Brenda

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bees, Chickens, Farm life, Flowers, Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments