Make a Terra Cotta Snowman

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Introduction

Whether your home is blessed with temperate winters or graced with blankets of snow, nothing signals the holiday spirit like a bright and cheerful snowman. If you’d like to adorn your house with a snowman who outlasts the thaw and can be counted upon to return year after year, then you’ll want to choose a medium more durable than snow.

Using terra cotta planters, we show you how to construct an ideal winter doorman for your porch or patio. Decorate your snowman in classic style, as we’ve done here, or use these instructions as a template for letting your creativity run wild.

Stretch Your Garden: Tools & Techniques

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Come autumn, we’ll be harvesting apples, potatoes, and fat, orange pumpkins for decorations and pies. But don’t let the drop in the temperatures trick you into giving up on gardening. There are many ways to extend your bounty, so you can grow and preserve your foods and flowers into the fall and early winter. We call this stretch gardening.

First, you need the right tools and techniques. Use our primer, below, to get started. Then check out the articles and projects in our stretch gardening series to learn how to build a cold frame, turn pressed flowers into beautiful, inexpensive gifts, and much more. We’ll help you make the most of your garden until the earth warms up again in spring.

TOOLS

Our definition of tools is broad; it includes materials and structures that protect plants from frost and low temperatures.

You don’t need all the items on our list, of course. Choose the ones that will help you accomplish your goals, whether you want to keep growing fresh vegetables and flowers for the table, or “put up” foods to enjoy during the coldest months of the year–or both.

  • Cold frames – These structures, topped by glass or plastic and filled with good soil, let you grow plants using the sun’s heat for warmth.

A Basic Canning How-To Guide

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Introduction

As more people begin to grow their own food, it makes sense that there would be a renewed interest in the time-honored tradition of home canning. The process of preserving food at home is not simple or fast, but it need not be as complicated or scary as you might think either. While you should always ensure that you are working with clean, sterile tools to avoid bacteria, the truth is that with a little knowledge, a few basic tools and precautions you can be well on your way to preserving the harvest from your home garden in no time at all – without the fear of poisoning yourself or your family.

Step 1

Before you begin, you should inspect all of your jars thoroughly for cracks, chips, or breaks. Any jars that are not in top condition should not be used as they may allow for air to leak in, and this will foster the growth of bacteria. A visual inspection is enough for the jar itself, but you need to pay specific and careful attention to the rim of the jar. The rim should be completely intact and smooth. If you don’t want to run your finger along the edge to feel for lumps or cracks, use a regular cotton ball. Run it lightly along the entire rim all the way around clockwise, and then counterclockwise. If there are any chips or cracks, the cotton will snag.

Step 2

Fill your stockpot with enough water to cover the jars when they are inside. One easy way to make sure you get the right amount of water is to place the jars inside the pot while you are filling it. Fill each jar with water as well, and let the water run until it is about an inch above the rim.  Place the pot on the stove on high heat and allow it to come to a rolling boil.

Boil the jars for no less than 15 minutes to ensure that they are completely sterilized. Don’t start timing it until the water reaches a full boil. Carefully remove the jars with canning tongs, returning the water to the pot.

Step 3

Wipe new jar lids free of dust and debris and place them in a small saucepan. Ladle in about 2 cups of boiling water from the stockpot. This will serve to remove any residual dust as well as to soften the underside so that it will meet smoothly with the rim of the jar.

Step 4

Even though I am canning a lab-tested tomato-based product that has been cooked, I still need to make sure that there is enough acid in it to protect my marinara from spoiling. For this reason, the USDA Guidelines recommend that you add 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid to each quart jar (half that amount for pint jars) before filling them with sauce.

Next, using a canning funnel, carefully ladle your sauce into the jars. Leave no less than 1/4″ of headspace in each jar, which is approximately where the ring around the top is. If you overfill, use a spoon to remove some of the sauce. Finally, run a butter knife down into each jar to remove any air pockets.

Step 5

When finished, dip the corner of a clean, soft cotton towel into the boiling water and run it along the rim of each jar to remove any remaining sauce. This is yet another step to ensure that your jars are completely sterile, so don’t skip it.

Step 6

Remove the jar lids from the saucepan with a canning magnet (also called a lid wand). Place a lid on each jar and then screw on a ring until it is just finger tight. Do not tighten it any more than that.

Step 7

Using your canning tongs once again, carefully lower your jars into the water bath. Once all jars are in place, ensure that the water level is no less than an inch above the top of the jars. Let the water return to a full rolling boil and set your kitchen timer for 45 minutes.

NOTE: Specific processing time will vary depending on your altitude and what you are canning. Please consult the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning for the proper processing time for your situation before you begin the canning process.

Step 8

When the required processing time has elapsed, remove the jars to a cooling rack using the canning tongs and allow them to cool.You will soon begin to hear a PING! sound as the jar lids create their vacuum seal. Don’t worry if the jars seal and then release once or twice while they are cooling; this is completely normal. When the jars are cool, they should be sealed. It is a good idea to check your jars again in a day or two to make sure the seal has remained. Never eat anything out of a jar if the seal is broken.

It is very important to note that a water bath process is only to be used when canning foods that are highly acidic.

MATERIALS

A tested tomato or marinara sauce (USDA approved recipes and info here)

Water

TOOLS

USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (PDF file)

Canning Jars & Lids

Canning Funnel (kit)

Canning Tongs (kit)

Large Stockpot

Saucepan

Ladle

The Good Seed: Saving Seeds

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You’re in luck if you happen to have a shed with a tin roof on it;  when you hear the plunk, plunk of acorns, you know cooler weather is on the way. In many parts of the country, that means a killing frost isn’t far behind. While the squirrels scramble to stash the nuts, the rest of us need to bring in any flowers and vegetables we want to save.

Autumn is a great time to save seeds from your garden, but don’t bother with the seeds of hybrid plants. Most hybrid seeds are sterile, or they won’t grow true-to-type, which simply means they won’t produce plants that look like the one you started with.

Heirloom seeds are another story.

Heirlooms are plants that have been around for fifty years or more, and they’re open pollinated—that is, their seeds produce baby plants that look like the parent. Most have adapted over time to whatever climate and soil they’ve been grown in, so they’re unusually resistant to pests and diseases.

(Hybrids are great, too; where would we be without tomatoes bred to resist diseases? Diversity is good for the garden, just as it is elsewhere in life.)

Besides being easy to grow, many heirloom flowers have rich perfumes. Heirloom fruits and vegetables usually taste better than hybrids created to store on supermarket shelves. Even their names evoke their wonderful traits: ‘Fragrant Delight’ heliotropes, ‘Ice Cream’ watermelons, and ‘Golden Sweet’ snow peas.

Build a Dehydrator

dehydrator-open-finished-THD-560x400Introduction

Sun-dried tomatoes, apples, and other fruits and vegetables are delicious, but they’re not always cheap. A dehydrator can help you save money when you preserve your garden’s bounty.

Solar dehydrators work best in strong sunlight and low humidity. First, harvest ripe, blemish-free fruits and veggies. Wash and peel them, if needed; let them dry; and slice them uniformly. Most foods must be pre-treated to prevent darkening or stop the enzyme action that causes color and flavor changes. For specific instructions, contact your county extension service or visit the online National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Step 1

Begin by constructing the cross members for the dehydrator. Measure and mark each of the 11 ½” long 2” X 2” at 4 ¼” and use your square to create a line. Join two of the 2” x 2” together using a 17” long 2” x 4” with the 2” screws. Repeat.

Step 2

Attach the plywood back panel to the bottom of the cross members using 2” screws. If you like, you can paint the “inside” face of the back panel black prior to attaching it. The inside of the dehydrator will be painted entirely black to aid in heating.

Step 3

Before attaching the side panels, the shelf supports need to be added. The supports are made from the 3/8” balsa dowels and are cut into eight 14” lengths. NOTE: depending on the size and number of shelves you want, adjust as needed. Since the finished dehydrator will rest at an angle, the shelf supports are installed at a 45° angle. Measure across the board 4” and mark, then use the rafter square to draw a 45° guide line. Measure and create three more guides spaced 5” apart. With the guide lines drawn, mark 1” down each line to indicate the placement of the dowel. Secure the dowels with a bead of wood glue and 5/8” nails. Repeat for opposite side panel, remembering to mirror the dimensions.

Step 4

With the shelf supports in place, connect the side panels to the cross members and back panel by hammering the 1 ¼” nails along its edge.

Step 5

The top and bottom panels require holes to allow air to enter and exit the dehydrator. The bottom panel of the dehydrator will have two more holes than the top; this is to let a greater amount of air be drawn in while controlling how much is allowed out. Starting with the top panel, mark the location for the holes by measuring in 7” from each side, and then up from that point 2” and drill with hole saw. For the bottom panel, allow for two additional holes located at 3 ½” from the edge.

Step 6

To protect drying foods from animals and insects, before you place the panels on the dehydrator, line them with screen using a staple gun. Attach to bottom and top panels of the dehydrator using 1 ¼” nails. NOTE: depending on your local climate, you may need more or fewer holes. A good rule of thumb is to start with a few. Check results and adjust as needed.

 

Step 7

To build the frame for the dehydrator door, miter cut the ends of each of the 1” x 4” to opposing 45° (the angles face away from one another on each board), and check the fit.

Step 8

Join the frame pieces together using a combination of wood glue and the 1 ¼” nails hammered into the joints. If you have access to a finishing nailer or a frame jig, feel free to use those instead. When working on a frame, repeatedly check to make sure it’s even by using a square or triangle. Once the frame is together, measure from the outside in and draw a 2” thick border. This will help define the placement of the acrylic sheet.

Step 9

Slowly drill through the acrylic sheet using a bit slightly larger than the screw you plan to secure the sheet with. Once all the holes are drilled (about three per edge), run a bead of silicone along the inner border of the frame. Carefully place the sheet and tighten the screws. Lastly, apply weather-stripping around the perimeter of the acrylic sheet.

Step 10

The drying chamber and door of the dehydrator are now complete. Now the legs can be attached. Starting on the right side of the dehydrator, measure along back edge 4” (bottom edge in image) and use the square to draw a 45° line back towards the top measure along this line 2 ½” and mark. Next draw another 45° line from the bottom corner, measure along it 6”, and mark. The marks on the angled line note where the top of the leg should be. Attach legs with wood glue and 2” screws. Repeat for left side.

Step 11

To place the door hinges measure along the side of the dehydrator from both the top and bottom edges exactly 6 1/2″ and mark.  The marks will help you evenly place the upper and lower hinge. Trace the outline of the hinge onto the dehydrator, then place and center the door and trace the hinge unto the underside of the door frame. Drive in the hinge screws and check to make sure the door opens easily.

Step 12

To complete the dehydrator, paint or stain it as desired.

MATERIALS

Note: Using pressure-treated wood for projects involving food is not recommended.

Cut list:
•    2 – 32” x 12” (side panel)
•    2 – 21” x 12” (top/bottom panel)
•    1 – 32” x 20” (back panel)

Cut list:
•    2 – 29” (rear legs)
•    2 – 12” (front legs)
•    2 – 17” (cross member)

  • 1 – 2” x 2” x 8’

Cut list:
•    4 – 11 ½”

Plant Pansies in a Pumpkin

pansies-pumpkin-vendor-580x4001Introduction

Pumpkins make fun containers for autumn flowers. To decorate your porch or deck for fall, fill a hollowed-out pumpkin with colorful pansies. Pansies thrive in cool weather, so they’ll bloom for a long time. Add floral picks for Halloween accents in electric green,  purple, orange, and black, or use interesting twigs from your yard.

After the holiday, remove the picks and enjoy your planter into Thanksgiving. When the pumpkin declines, transplant the flowers into your garden or container.

Image: Ball Horticultural Co.

Step 1

Turning a pumpkin into a planter is easy, but it’s a little messy. Spread newspaper over your cutting surface for a quick clean-up.

Start by placing the clay or plastic pot you’re going to use upside down over the stem end of the pumpkin. Use a marker or pen to trace all the way around it.

Step 2

Carefully cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the pot. Scoop out the pumpkin innards, and save the seeds to roast and eat, or toss them out for hungry wildlife.

Also cut one or two small holes in the bottom of the pumpkin, so water can drain when you water the flowers. Letting the water escape will help the pumpkin last longer. You may want to put a saucer under it to catch the excess.

 

Step 3

Put the pot into the pumpkin to make sure it’s going to fit snugly. If it’s too big, trim the opening a little more.

If the pot is too small, and drops too far down inside the pumpkin, make it sit higher by placing it on top of some crumpled newspaper or another pot, turned upside down, in the bottom of the pumpkin.

 

Step 4

Take the pot back out of the pumpkin and plant the pansies in it. Gently firm the soil around the roots, and water thoroughly to eliminate any air pockets. Put the pot back in the pumpkin, and let the pansy stems trail over the sides. Add floral picks or other decorations, if desired.

Keep the pansies deadheaded to encourage more blooms, and water regularly. When the pumpkin is finished, transplant the flowers to your garden or another container.

MATERIALS

TOOLS

  • Knife
  • Soil scoop or big spoon
  • Optional: bowl, if you want to save the pumpkin seeds
  • Sharpie marker or ink pen

Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower with Lemon and Garlic

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SERVES 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 head broccoli (about 1 pound), broken into 1-inch florets, stalks peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), broken into florets
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. On two rimmed baking sheets, toss broccoli and cauliflower with oil, garlic, and lemons; season with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables are browned and tender, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating sheets from top to bottom and tossing vegetables once halfway through.

Got questions about this article or any other garden topic? Go here now to post your gardening ideas, questions, kudos or complaints. We have gardening experts standing by to help you!

National To-Do List

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Your National Gardening To-Do List for October 2013:

By now, many of us are cleaning up our gardens and raking autumn leaves. The cooler temperatures make it a good time to plant trees, shrubs, spring flowering bulbs, rhubarb and garlic. For seasonal color, add pansies, violas, mums, and ornamental kale to containers, beds, and borders. It’s also time to prepare beds for spring planting. Test your soil to see if it needs amendments; then pull weeds and incorporate compost, lime, and/or manure, as indicated by the test results. Top off the garden with mulch.

  • Store garden chemicals and sprays in a location that won’t go below 40 degrees F.
  • Mow the grass if it’s still growing. Use a mulching blade to shred fallen leaves.
  • Prune weak or diseased branches before storms knock them down, or call a professional for help.
  • Cover ponds with netting to keep out fallen leaves.
  • Clean and store ceramic or terracotta pots.

What Is Stretch Gardening?

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Our relationship with our garden can be fickle.

It often comes down to season. Warmth. Sun.

We weather the blazing heat of summer alongside our gardens, lovingly tending to our plants, vegetables and flowers. But things change when the weather turns cool. We retreat indoors, leaving most of our plants to nap away the winter, biding their time until spring.

(Are you a fair-weather gardener?)

That can be a frustrating circumstance, not least of all since we could sometimes use a little help from our gardens. Wouldn’t it be nice to have live ornamentals to give as holiday gifts, or to enjoy home-grown fruits and vegetables during the dead of winter?

Here at the Garden Club, we decided to do something about winter withdrawal. This year we are going to arm you with a way to keep your green thumb active… all throughout the cool season. Though we will be rolling out much more in the months to come, here are some articles already live and ready for you to dive into!

As you can see, “Stretch Gardening” is a set of projects and best practices for keeping an active garden, even into the cold months when tending a traditional garden is impractical. We call it stretch gardening, and we’re inviting everyone who loves to garden to join in.

Make a Water Bowl Garden

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With a ceramic pot and a few aquatic plants, it’s easy to make a pretty water bowl as a centerpiece for a table, deck or patio. You can re-create our water bowl with approximately $40 of materials in about an hour. Your serene centerpiece will add beauty to your garden throughout the season.

To make a water bowl, begin by choosing a container you like.

If it has drainage holes, use Great Stuff, a spray-on foam sealant, to plug them. Let the sealant dry overnight, or for 24 hours.