Sunday, August 17, 2014

Research and Education Garden

A little more than a week ago I visited the Education and Research Gardens in Griffin, Ga. It was a beautiful day and I saw some inspirational sights, including this grasshopper on a red leaf.

The great thing about the gardens is that they are open to the public and were built by donations and though they have a very experienced horticulturist on staff, much of the labor is provided by volunteers.

They are learning areas, where you can learn to do what they do in your own landscape. Almost every kind of garden area you can imagine is included. There are pergolas, a shade, butterfly, water, rock, and container gardens. It is quite spectacular and I know I will have to go back just to get more inspiration. They also have experimental gardens you can walk through and I was fascinated by everything there.

Events are scheduled throughout the year and I can tell you this is one of those places a gardener would love to visit. In fact, you are invited anytime they are open.

Check them out at and go there for a real treat. My photo of the green grasshopper on a red leaf is pitiful compared to what you can see when you visit.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's time for Apple Pie!!!

This is the time of year to go out into your backyard and pick apples. The only problem is that I don't have an apple tree. I keep thinking every fall that I will plant one, but so far I haven't gone to Ison's Nursery, (a great nursery in our area that specializes in fruit trees) to buy one. Thankfully, I have a good friend, Angela McRae, who gave me some really great apples from her father's apple tree.

These apples were so good that I knew they would make a GREAT apple pie--like my Mother's apple pies during my childhood years. My husband thought so too, and they is why he volunteered to peel the apples for me while I mixed up a crust. (That is pretty amazing.)

As I pulled out all the ingredients I thought I would just make it from scratch like my Mother did and to make it easy, I didn't measure very much or look in a cookbook, but did the following:

My Pie Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, cold
Ice water

I mixed the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut up my cold butter in my flour mixture and drizzled on the honey. I then took a pastry blender and mixed in the butter, then added ice water in small amounts until it formed a dough ball. I wasn't too fussy about it and left some butter flecks I could see. I then rolled it out on some waxed paper sprinkled with flour. The bottom crust takes a little more dough. I put the bottom crust in the pie plate, then added the fruit filling. I rolled out the top crust, placed it on the top. Pressed the edges down into the bottom crust with a fork and then cut some slits into the top.

Here is my filling:

Apple Pie Filling

8 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons corn starch
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 stick of butter

In a bowl mix the apples, corn starch, and sugar. Pour into an unbaked pie crust. Dot the top with the butter. Cook on 375 degrees for 1 hour.

We always have it with ice cream or whipped cream.

Some people add cinnamon but I didn't want that for this pie. Because of the great apple, it tasted like the apples from the tree in our backyard. Perfect!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pear sauce

We've been busy on a number of things this past weekend. One of them has been canning pear sauce. It's very much like applesauce but made with stewed pears.

My husband's mom has a huge backyard pear tree that he figures has been around for half a century. This antique tree that is at least thirty feet tall was filled with pears. In fact, we only picked up pears that had fallen on the ground. We canned a gallon of pear sauce and about the same amount of pear preserves.

Why pear sauce? It is tasty and sometimes easier on your stomach than applesauce. It is surprisingly smooth and flavorful and very good with a little honey added and good as a low-fat topping for oatmeal. It is good for babies and also older people who might have compromised digestion.

It is VERY easy to make. Just peel the pears. Cut them up into a large saucepan. Don't add water. Pears contain SO much water, and are more flavorful if cooked in their own juice. Just start them on low and let them slowly come to a boil. The pears will be covered in liquid in no time.

After they become soft, remove from the heat, allow to cool and strain out most of the water. Grind the pears in a blender or a food processor. The excess juice can be saved, too, for smoothies or other things.

Pear sauce can be canned or frozen. To can, just pour into clean jars, clean the tops of the jars and put on new lids and rings, tighten and out then in a bit water bath for 20 minutes. Carefully remove from pan and allow to cool. That's about it, but pear sauce is quite good as a low-cal treat with just a drizzle of honey.

Pears may not be an interesting and fun topic but it is great to know you have a gallon of pear sauce sitting on your shelf waiting to be used and it's fairly easy to make--good for you, too,

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Seed Sale!!

This is the time of year to get bargains for summer sale items, especially clothing. I usually try to stock up on things that go on sale in August, but this year I'm stocking up on a something different.


I just LOVE seeds, and I have found that if you buy at the end of the season, the seeds still sprout and grow really well the next spring. After that, they probably won't sprout quite as well. That is why buying this year's seeds at the end of summer is such a bargain. I have used packs of two year old seeds that worked too, but I wouldn't recommend banking on the germination rate of seeds that have been kept that long.

You can get bargains almost anyplace that sells seeds, but I bought my bargain seeds from a reputable business, Arnall's Grocery in downtown Newnan, Ga. I have always used their seeds with good results and I think I am way ahead of the game this spring. I will already have enough seeds to give me a good head start 4 to 6 weeks before spring planting time.

Some of the seeds I will use right away. The lettuce, radishes, carrots, and cabbage I will use for my fall planting. I also purchased some spinach and beet seeds, but I didn't get a deal on those because the good folks there know they can be grown in the fall.

And, if you were in Arnall's yesterday, I was the crazy lady down on her knees digging through the basket and bucket of sale seeds. It was worth it, because rather than spending more than forty dollars, I only spent eight dollars.

As I dusted off my knees and paid for my seeds I was certainly happy because I now have the knowledge that I have most of my fall seeds (at a bargain) and also many of my spring seeds (again, a bargain). For now, I am prepared--a nice change from my usual practice of waiting till the last minute.

Friday, July 25, 2014

My long-longed-for plant

I have wanted a tea plant for more than five years and I am delighted that I now have one planted in my front yard. I have checked on it every day I was here, expect for the days I have been on vacation. Every time I examine it (for signs of bugs, or disease, or anything) I am so happy that I finally have the plant I have wanted for so long.

It's about waist high and I am excited that it is doing so well. I have struggled to have a plant like this, buying seeds online and even trying to propagate one, TWICE, from springs I received from my friend Angela McRae who owned one already but now has two since she purchased one at at the same time.

It took a new business in town, Southern Roots on Hwy 29 in Newnan and a visit to our Crossroads Garden Club by the owner, Bob Lott, to finally find what I had been looking for so long. Lott and his wife Sherry opened the business last year after retiring, and he specializes in southern plants and plants that do well in our area of the south.

As Lott was speaking about his plants, he mentioned that as far as he knew, he was the only person in the area that had a "tea plant." I haven't seen one for sale locally and had only seen the tea plant or Camellia sinensis at Hills and Dales estate in Lagrange. I had even asked if they could propagate one for me but even though they were gracious enough to take my name, they never contacted me. I guess they had too much work on that large estate, to worry about selling one plant, and I understand that.

The Camellia sinensis originated from China and is grown and exported from many Asian countries. Some tea plantations have their own varieties though all tea comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant. I would imagine that soils might make a difference in the flavor variations, but that is not a scientific supposition, just an opinion of mine because of what I have read. I do know that my favorite black tea comes from the Assam region of India.

The largest tea grower in the United States is located in Charleston, South Carolina, though there are smaller growers in the states of Washington, Alabama, and Hawaii. I don't know if my "tea plant" originated from one of these places but I would guess Alabama or South Carolina. I wish in this case that plants could come with papers to let us know their origin, but they usually don't.

An interesting fact about tea is that black, green, and white tea all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but are processed differently.

Do I plan on making my own tea from my tea leaves? Of course I do. Apparently, springs from a Camellia sinensis should only be harvested when the plant is three years old. I don't know exactly how old my plant is, but it already has seeds should make it old enough for harvesting.

I know that even though I love tea, I have no experience as a taster and might not be able to tell the difference between old leaves and new but I am sure that I will soon be able to harvest. I certainly don't want my tea plant to grow too tall. I have read they get up to 16 feet if not trimmed (or plucked).

I do know that the Camellia sinensis is an acid loving plant and needs plenty of rainfall to produce leaves for tea production so I need to monitor rainfall to make sure my plant is happy enough to produce.

I may even try to grow some plants from seed--I have at least four green ones on the plant. I would love to have my own tea hedge and harvest enough tea for my family.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beach Morning Glory

For a number of years now, I have seen these lovely pink flowers along the coast. My husband correctly identified them as morning glories but I really didn't think so because of the foliage. 

When I did decide to look it up I found they were indeed beach morning glories.

According to Ralph Mitchell is, Extension Director/Horticulture Agent for Charlotte County UF/IFAS Extension Service it is a beach or railroad morning glory that is used to help prevent beach erosion.

I think it also adds enjoyment to my walks along the beach. I am glad to know what these flowers are and my husband is happy to know he was right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Happy GF Beach Birthday

We always have a birthday party at the beach since my husband birthday falls smack in the middle of July.

It creates a unique problem because there are no gluten-free bakeries where we vacation. Also, I don't think a homemade cake could withstand the trip.

Last year we decided to bake the cake and frost it after getting here.

This year we made our own mix. We put all the dry ingredients in a baggie and on the day of the birthday, just mixed them together and put the cake in the oven. (Purchasing a mix would work, too.)

There were no serving platters at this condo so the cake was baked in a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish. It turned out perfectly, needed less frosting, and was just all-around easier.

It would be better to premix the frosting, if possible. We used a white frosting we made here, and brought pre-made chocolate frosting to decorate.

Writing the birthday greeting and adding a border and candles were the only things we had to do. The cake was pretty and delicious, and it was nice to have only one cake for our whole crowd!

A couple of tips. Hand-mixing works but bringing a hand mixer is better. And, throwing in a decorater bag and tips also helps. It will make the cake look better and these items take up almost no room.