The Last of the Lemons and Mandarins

Here is a picture of our Meyer Lemon tree inside the greenhouse, snug as a bug in a rug! You can see there are a few ripe lemons left on the tree.

Several years ago I bought a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree and have truly loved it ever since!

Our new homestead in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California has a few days each winter below freezing (rarely below 26 or 27 degrees) for a day or two at a time, and most citrus trees cannot withstand that low of a temperature for that long.  So, we are keeping our citrus trees in fairly large pots, which allows us to move them for the winter into a greenhouse or cover it with a frost blanket, or both!

We live in USDA zone 7b or 8a, and yet our citrus trees have done well, in fact they have positively thrived since moving up to our new homestead.

The move up here was particularly hard on the citrus trees because most of their leaves got shredded while travelling in the back of our pick-up.  It was so sad and we didn’t even know it was happening until we arrived, but the poor dears bloomed just a few short months later anyway.  Now that’s what I call resilience!

This shows part of our garden/orchard area this past winter during yet another snow (we had more than usual). You can see our little greenhouse with the mandarin and  lemon trees, along with my faithful stevia plant tucked inside.

In Italy, lemons are very popular, and so many homes are built with a “lemonaia”, a room with southern window exposure just for citrus fruit trees to overwinter!

A picture of our Meyer Lemon tree in full bloom last year.

For those who don’t know, a Meyer Lemon is actually a cross between a regular lemon (Lisbon or Eureka) and a mandarin orange, which is why the Meyer is sweeter than a regular lemon.  However, it may be less acidic than a regular lemon, which is why you should not use one for acidifying fruits or vegetables while canning.

The Lisbon and Eureka lemons are usually larger than a Meyer Lemon, and the coloring of the fruit is also a little different, with the Meyer having a slightly orange tinge to both the rind and the flesh.

broad bean hummus

Here are a couple of our Meyer Lemons with some Fava bean hummus.  The Meyer Lemon zest is also very flavorful – much sweeter and brighter tasting (in my opinion) than a regular lemon.

I just adore the sweet/tart flavor of the Meyer, especially dripped onto salmon patties, or infused with basil or lavender in a glass of iced cold water… especially on a hot summer day!

Our tree produced about 15 lemons this year, which is a lot for this little tree, and there were a few left on the tree just this last week.  I figured I should get them off the tree, since I saw there were already small flower buds on the tree for this year’s crop!

My mother has had a regular lemon tree in her backyard for quite a few years now (I think it is a Eureka) and only picks the fruit when she needs them, and so she has had mature fruit, immature fruit and blossoms on the tree all at the same time.  Although it doesn’t seem that her tree minds this in the least, hers is in the ground and mine is in a pot, so I thought I would unburden the tree by picking the last of the lemons.

Our dwarf Tango Mandarin tree loaded with unripe fruit. This picture was taken last fall before we put it into the greenhouse.

Our mandarin tree is a Tango Mandarin and is about four years old now. Last year we got almost three dozen mandarins from this dwarf tree!  The Tango is supposed to be seed free, but every one of ours have had seeds.  After a bit of research, I found that this is probably because of it’s close proximity to our Meyer lemon tree, and the apparent cross pollination.

Who knew?

Obviously we didn’t… but we live and learn!

However, since we don’t mind a few seeds (a perfect excuse for a lady to spit!) we will continue to grow them together.

Believe it or not, this little tree produced almost three dozen fruit this year!  The Tango mandarin isn’t usually completely ripe until late January or February, and the quality of the fruit does not degrade for a month or so after ripeness when left on the tree, so we have been enjoying the “fruits of our labor” day by day as we walk by and pluck a snack.

The mandarins are starting to ripen! We took the citrus trees out of the greenhouse when the danger of a hard freeze had passed, so that the sunshine would help the fruit to further ripen. If you compare this picture with the one above, you can see that a couple of months in the greenhouse saved the tree, but the fruit was just barely more ripe!

What did I do with the last of my Meyer lemons?  I cut them, squeezed them, strained the and poured the juice into ice cube trays.

Frozen Meyer Lemon Juice

I ended up with three trays of frozen Meyer lemon juice cubes.

I thought of making lemon curd, but to save time I thought I would first freeze the juice and then decide later what to do with it. I found a great recipe for lemon curd that can be canned in half pint jars at National Center for Home Food Preservation.  If I don’t make the curd, I will probably use the ice cubes this summer in iced tea or infused water.  Mmmmm… doesn’t that sound good?

Someday, if we ever get our new house built, I am going to put these trees on our front porch, which will be on the south side of the house. When the trees are in bloom the aroma is heavenly, and I think they would make a beautiful welcome to all who visit.  I want to add a lime tree and probably another Tango mandarin, and will use them as a border along one side of the porch where I can set a couple of pretty patio chairs.  Won’t that look pretty?

Where the party is:

 

 

More Homebrewed Kelp Fertilizer – 2

Last year Ray and I tried our hand at making kelp/seaweed fertilizer.  It was fairly easy to do and turned out great!  Unfortunately, because of our local Cinnamon bear (she has been around since she was a cub and her fur is reddish colored), I only got about ½ gallon of the stuff.  During our absence last winter…  well… you can see the damage she did if you click HERE

How to make kelp fertilizer

Make sure you get fresh seaweed. It’s easiest to get it when the ocean is at low tide.

So, we decided to try making some more.  We went to Fort Bragg, California, for the fourth of July Celebrations and on our last two days there collected an ice chest full of kelp and seaweed.  We weren’t selective because all of it breaks down into wonderful nutrients, though some are a bit more nutrient dense than others.  Bull kelp is known for being very nutrient dense. Unfortunately, there had not been any storms at sea, so there wasn’t a lot of kelp on the beach to choose from anyway.

Most seaweed, as well as kelp (which is a type of seaweed) is actually algae.  Why is decomposed/fermented algae good for your crops?  You see, unlike plants grown in your backyard garden or at the local farm, which can only take in nutrients available to the approximately 1 square foot of root space it has available in the soil, seaweed is able to take in a vast array of nutrients as the ocean currents pass over and through them.  So, while your garden soil may be deficient in boron or calcium, or have too many salts and remains that way without intervention, the ocean currents that feed the seaweed are constantly moving, churning and renewing, giving them a greater variety and volume of nutrients, which can then be fermented/decomposed into liquid gold for your plants.

Sounds great, right?

You can collect up to 10 pounds per day per person in California. An ice chest keeps the kelp cool for the trip home.

You can collect up to 10 pounds per day per person on California beaches. An ice chest lined with a plastic bag keeps the kelp cool for the trip home.

In our quest to be able to grow a lot of our own food, having nutrient rich soil in our garden and orchard is a must.  So, along with composting, we decided to make our own natural and organic fertilizer!

Making kelp fertilizer

The colors of the seaweed were beautiful. It reminded me of flowers under water!

The seaweed came in many colors this time – so gorgeous!  I spent about half an hour cleaning the sand, sand fleas, and other critters out of the seaweed, then soaked it all in cold, clean water for about a day.  This helps to leach a lot of the ocean salt out of the seaweed.

The seaweed was then placed into a 50 gallon barrel, with enough clean water to cover.  We put a screen on top to keep the flies out and – voila!! – the hard part was done!

WORD OF CAUTION:  You MUST stir the seaweed in the barrel at least every day.  Two or three times a day is better.  Why? Because you want the decomposition to be aerobic, not anaerobic.  Aerobic decomposition smells kinda bad.  Anaerobic decomposition downright stinks – really bad!

How to brew kelp fertilizer

Washing the kelp to get rid of salt, sand, critters, and any other contaminants.

Ray had an old wooden boat oar that we used to stir our fermenting brew and it came in very handy, as I was able to really give it a good stir around and easily scrape the bottom with it.  All I had the last time was a stick, which worked but was pretty inefficient.

How to make seaweed fertilizer

Our 50 gallon barrel. It worked well the last time, so we used it again. You can see the screen on top, the wooden oar beside and the spigot at the bottom. This is a pretty good set-up for making the kelp fertilizer

Unfortunately there was a few days when we were not at the homestead to stir the brew, it was mid summer and the temperatures were soaring.  When we came home I swear we could smell it before we even hit our street!

Ugh – phew.

Think…  old fashioned hair permanent mixed with cow barn in the middle of a prune dehydrator.  Whew it was bad.  So, believe me, you want to mix the brew EVERY DAY!

When is it done?  When it no longer stinks!!  Our first batch got to the point that it really didn’t stink, but this batch was different.  Let me tell you, I couldn’t wait for the day we would bottle it, and the truth is we may have bottled it up just a bit sooner than we should.  But after we let it decompose anaerobically by neglect, it never did get to that “ocean breeze” smell that it’s supposed to get to.  Stirring it very well several times a day for the next week or so did make it smell a bit better, but it really never did completely stop stinking.

When we went to the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa this year, we talked with a guy who knew about making kelp fertilizer, and explained how stinky it was when we hadn’t stirred it for a few days.  He suggested putting a fish tank aerator at the bottom of the barrel, run by a solar powered pump!  Great idea!  We still have to stir the brew, but at least it will be constantly aerated.  We are going to try that the next time we do this.

Eventually, after about two months, I decanted the fertilizer into gallon sized jugs.  We ended up with just about 12 gallons.  The solids that were left at the bottom of the barrel were sandwiched into our compost pile, which I hope to use next spring in my new garden.

Making kelp fertilizer

You can see the gallon jug on the left is a lighter color of the one on the right. The one of the left came from the top of the barrel and the one on the right was the last gallon bottled. It has more “solids” in it and is just a bit goopy. Surprisingly, it doesn’t smell as bad as the one on the left!     Go figure

I already used the fertilizer when I planted my broccoli and brussels sprout seeds a month or so ago, and holy moly, this stuff works!  One of the great things about seaweed fertilizer

making seaweed fertilizer

These seedlings are only 3 days old! Impressive!

is that it contains something called gibberellic acid, which is a substance that helps seeds germinate.  I don’t want to brag, but my seeds were up in three days.  Three days!

The next time we visit the ocean and bring back some seaweed to make more fertilizer, we will be trying the fish tank aerator, and I will let you know how this works out.  Hopefully it will ease the smell and make it so that home brewed seaweed fertilizer is a lot more fun to make!  😉

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Growing Fava Beans

As a fledgling gardener, one thing I have been trying to do each year is to grow something new, so that I can expand my gardening knowledge and broaden my culinary horizons!

This past year I decided to try fava beans.  Why?  Because I was in a natural food market and saw these beautiful, huge, marinated, wonderfully flavored beans.  They were in one of those “help yourself” bars along with marinated and/or pickled olives, mushrooms and peppers.  They were so good!

There wasn’t a sign anywhere saying what kind of a bean they were, but a friendly customer next to me said she thought they were fava beans.  So, I decided I would try growing my own fava beans and find a recipe for this wonderful, flavorful snack!

growing broad beansTurns out I was misinformed.  The marinated beans were not fava beans, but a type of lima bean.  Oh well.  I had already bought the bean seeds and they had germinated by the time I figured this out.  Speaking of the seeds…

I found a wonderful seed company that I just adore!  They are based out of Chico, California and I had the opportunity to visit their store recently.  More about that in another story to come soon.

So, on with the fava beans!

The beans were very quick to sprout and were setting their first true leaves within 10 days!  Of course, I attribute some of this to my homemade kelp fertilizer, with the natural gibberellic acid in it, which is a growth hormone for plants.

I started the beans in an enclosed patio, about 4 weeks before the beginning of spring, because fava beans are much like english peas, they are somewhat of a cool weather crop and would be harvested sometime in May or June.  I had a picture of the seedlings growing in their pots, but alas, my camera got run over by our truck (don’t ask) and I was unable to retrieve all of my pictures.  🙁  But, once I put them in the ground, they started growing…growing broad beans

and growing…

I should have had some type of support for the plants, even though they are a bush type of bean, because some of the stems that were about 2 feet long started to twist and droop as they grew, I guess from their own weight.  A few even broke.  I’m not sure if that is the nature of the plant, or gardener (me) error. 😉

growing broad beansOnce the fava bean plants began to bloom, I was totally in awe!  The blossoms are gorgeous!  The white with beautiful lavender throats really stood out.  To me, they resembled an orchid. Apparently the pollinators thought they were pretty cool, also, because it wasn’t long before small, tiny bean pods developed.  In fact, in the picture on the left, you can see a butterfly (or is that a moth) with it’s head plunged head into the flower!  You can click on the picture for a better view.

Then we had a hail storm!  Shoot!  Nuts!  The hail absolutely destroyed some of my garden plants and heavily damaged others.  Luckily, the fava bean plants seemed to be fairly resilient. Though they were pretty well bruised, the leaves healed and recovered fairly quickly!growing fava beans

Within another month the bean pods were huge.  I mean H U G E! You can see in the picture at the left that the pods are bigger than my fingers!

growing broad beans

Once the outside of the pods started to show the bulge of the beans inside, it was time to harvest. Since I only had four bean plants (which I originally thought would be plenty to experiment with), I decided to dry them in the pod, as it didn’t seem like I was going to get very many actual beans.  I harvested each pod as it appeared to have mature beans inside, let it dry in the pod, and then shucked the beans into a bowl. Oh, by the way, most other people in the world call them Broad Beans!

Okay.

 

Let’s get real here.  The plants grew well.  The flowers were gorgeous.  But this is all the beans I got?

Seriously?

growing fava beans

Then, I went online to see how to prepare the beans.

Um………….

I found this on Dr. Weil’s website:

Cooking time: 60-120 minutes

Liquid per cup of legume: 3 cups

How to cook fava beans: Soak overnight. Drain water. If your fava beans were not already shelled, you should be able to slip the outer skins off after soaking by squeezing the beans between your fingers. Once favas are shelled, fill pot with fresh, cold water for cooking. Place on stove and bring to a boil in a pot with a lid. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, tilting the lids slightly to allow steam to escape, and leave to cook for one to two hours, until tender or desired consistency.

Whaaaaaaaa….?  I have to soak overnight and slip the outer skins off of EACH BEAN! That seems like a pretty time consuming task to me!  These puppies better be worth it!

So, I soaked my meager bowl of fava beans overnight and then tried to “slip” off the skins. Umm… nope!  The skins did not slip off in any way, shape or form.  Then I started wondering if I had skinless beans (could I be so lucky?), and dug with my nail into one of the soaked beans to see.

Skins.

growing and cooking broad beans

Yeah – not very pretty. I guess this is what happens when you soak your fava beans longer than overnight, so that the skins will “slip” off. NOT!

Except mine were so thick they would not slip off.  So, I decided to soak them for a little longer.  Still didn’t work.  I went ahead and gouged each skin off (not very carefully, as I grumbled the entire 1/2 hour it took me to do it), and finally boiled them for almost an hour.

The result?  They pretty much turned to mush!

I guess the extra soaking didn’t do any favors for the texture of the cooked bean, because they all split apart and were almost unrecognizable as beans.  Harruummph!

Were they good?  Well, I guess so.  I like beans, and these tasted like… well… beans!

But, rather than eat mushy beans, I decided to puree them and use them as a dip that is very similar to hummus.  I found this recipe on the Whole Foods website.  It was good!  Not great, but good. If you try this recipe, I would recommend making the hummus at least an hour ahead of time and then let it sit for a while, allowing the flavors to meld.

broad bean hummus

Fava bean hummus. I tried to make it look pretty. . .   really I tried.

My take on all of this?  Well, let’s just say I am not going to grow fava beans this year. They took up waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy too much garden space for such little result.

One bowl of hummus.  😉

And since we didn’t swoon over their flavor and texture, why bother?

Was the experiment worth it?  You bet!  Now I have a better knowledge of what fava (broad) beans look like and taste like, how to grow them and how to prepare them. Who knows… someday I might have a larger garden and want to try growing then again, and  I also have a greater appreciation of those who DO grow them.

Here is the party!

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I’m Growing My Own Tea!

I adore tea.  Black, White, Green or even Oolong.  Offer me a cup of tea and I will be your friend forever!

I enjoy drinking herbal teas also, but nothing can beat a cold glass of lemon balm leaves steeped in white tea on a hot summer day.  Ahhhhh  🙂

I thought I was doomed to continuously spending lots of money on my tea habit until I found out that I can actually grow my own tea plants.  Happy Dance!

Until a few months ago, I thought all tea plants were tropical!  Nope!  Shows how much I don’t know. In fact, a lot of tea plant varieties can withstand freezing temperatures down to 0 degrees and grow well in zones 7 – 9.  Seriously!

One Green World, Korean TeaThen I saw these Camilla Sinensus v. Sinensus (that’s the official name of a tea plant that comes from eastern and northern Asia. Camilla Sinensus Assamica comes from India and regions surrounding it) plants for sale on a website called One Green World, and I just couldn’t resist.  The Sochi variety and the Korean Mountain variety of tea can both withstand the coldest temperatures that we get here on our homestead, so that means I can grow tea!         Oh Joy!

So, I bought two tea plants, one Sochi and one Korean Mountain, and they arrived a few weeks ago.

How to grow camellia sinensus

This is how the tea plants arrived. They were so well packed that I don’t think any leaves were harmed! Thank you, One Green World, for sending me such beautiful plants!

Can you believe the size of these plants?  From root tip to leaf tip, about three feet tall!  I certainly wasn’t expecting them to look so good!  Now, I am not a spokesperson for this plant nursery, nor have I been compensated in any way for saying this.  I just think that when a business makes a happy customer, they should be commended.  Kudos!

Growing green tea

Here is how the tea plants came from the nursery.

The plants came in plastic pots, where they had to stay for a few days while I went into town to get some newer, larger ones.  I took them out of the box and set them upright, but kept the plastic sleeve over the pot so the roots wouldn’t dry out.

Because I want to plant these into the ground near our new home, for now they will have to live in pots until most of the building is done.  The plants like to get some sun and enjoy partial shade, but harsh summer afternoon sunshine is not their “cup of tea”.

Yes, I just said that.  😉

How I am growing camellia sinensus

Look at the root system of these plants – very well established. I just teased the roots a bit before planting in the new pots.

I can’t wait to harvest some tea and try it, but I am going to wait until the plants are better established in the pots.  They both have some new growth already, but it is still early and I would assume they have some shock to go through from shipping, so I am going to let the roots “steep” (holy cow, 🙂 I am on a roll) in their new soil for a while first. After a few weeks, once the spring temperatures are more stable, I will give them some of my homebrewed kelp fertilizer.

I did some research on how to grow the tea plants, and apparently these plants like a fairly acidic soil that well drained and can be kept moist, which is what we have. They also like to have part shade if your afternoons are hot, which is just the kind of conditions that my new elderberry plants wanted – so I may end up putting them next to the elderberry bushes.  Mmmmmmmm… elderberry green tea sweetened with stevia…

Speaking of my elderberry plants – they are already beginning to leaf out!

How to grow camellia sinensus v sinesus

The elderberries are starting to get leaves. This is a branch of one of the larger plants. All four plants did well through the winter, so I hope to harvest more elderberries this year and dry some just for my tea!

Once the tea plants are established, I will harvest some of the growth tips and try my hand at preparing the tea leaves into either white or green tea, depending on how the leaves are processed. Maybe even oolong or black tea. I hope to post that process soon, but I don’t want to shock the poor plants right now any more than the shipping may have.

How to grow Tea

These plants have plenty of room to spread their roots, and I hope to be able to plant them in the ground next fall, when (hopefully) there won’t be as much construction traffic going on.

However, I have read that it is necessary to harvest the new tea leaves as soon as they appear, before they get too big and not useful. Harvesting also helps to prune the plant and keep it at a reasonable height, as some can grow more than 15 feet tall, and I certainly do not want to climb a ladder for my tea!  After doing more research, I found that harvesting the tea leaves four times a year would not be unreasonable, starting with what the Chinese call the “first flush” n the spring, and ending sometime in August, so that I don’t disturb the fall flowers too much.  I think my honey bees will just adore the tea leaves!

In the meantime, I am dreaming of all the types of tea add-ins – rose hips, madrone berries, dried elderberries, lavender flowers, dehydrated orange peel, dried mint and or lemon balm leaves…  the possibilities are endless!  Of course, to sweeten the tea, I have my faithful stevia plant or my yummy honey from our bees!  I think I am going to collect a bunch of beautiful jars with the bail top lids so I can store the tea and all these flavorings.  Won’t that look pretty on an open shelf in my kitchen?

This is going to be so much fun!

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