Putting Your Garden to Bed

Farewell to summer!

Farewell to summer!

With shorter days, cool winds and rainy weather it’s time to put part of my garden to bed for the winter.  I am sad to let summer with its glorious brilliance go but the soil needs to rest and rebuild.  I have a few plots planted with winter herbs and vegetables and will soon plant garlic and flower bulbs so not all gardening is done but the wild exuberance of summer is over.

Here’s my list of tasks:

  • Write down in your garden journal what worked this year and what didn’t.  Did you have a special type of snap pea that grew really well and tasted great?  Was there a tomato that just didn’t live up to its vibrant name?  Is there a neighbor who planted a kind of squash you’d just love to try?  Write this all down or come next January when the seed catalogs start to awaken your garden lust they will be faded memories.
  • Clean up the beds and remove the vegetation.  If you have a super hot compost pile then you can compost your garden waste.  If you don’t then it’s probably a good idea to put potato and tomato plants, weeds with seeds and so on in the clean green container to be hauled off.  If you’ve had any kind of disease problem with your vegetables or fruit be sure to pick up and dispose of all fallen fruit and leaves.  It’s also good to rotate your crops and not plant the same thing in the same spot each year.
  • Bring in your garden tools, tomato cages and empty containers.  Clean the soil off, sharpen tools and store inside so they will last longer.  If you don’t have room inside then put them in an area where they will stay dry and out of the reach of animals. I oiled all my tools and handles one year with some old coconut oil and was really surprised in the spring to see that some animal had carefully gnawed off all the oil on the handles leaving pocked rough wood behind.
  • Plant garlic and flower bulbs.
  • Repot and bring inside any geraniums or other houseplants that have been out on summer break.  You can pot up some herbs to bring in too; oregano, chives bay and sage usually do well inside.
  • Test and amend your soil.  If you do this now you will be all set for spring.  I usually work some manure and compost into the top layers so they can break down over the winter.
  • Plant a cover crop.  A cover crop both protects your soil from punishing winter rains and builds up nutrients.
  • Sit back, have a warm cup of tea and enjoy your neat and tidy garden.

Plum Wine!

Last year I did the following post on plum wine.  A couple of days ago I did the final bottling and it turned out very well; it tastes more like brandy than wine but it’s very drinkable.  To do the bottling you sterilize your siphon and bottles then carefully decant the finished wine from the carboy into the bottle.  The wine mellows as it ages so it’s advised to let the bottles lay on their sides in a cool place for another six months before drinking.

This year we have few plums but you could dry this recipe with other fruit like peaches or nectarines.

Finished plum wine.

Finished plum wine.

Recently my neighbor invited me to pick his plums.  “Sure!” I said with avaricious glee.  Later that night as the fruit flies multiplied in the plum filled sink and the smell of fruit on the edge filled the air I wondered what in the world I had done; my freezer was packed, my shelved were filled with dried and preserved fruit and by tomorrow this treasure would be compost.

“Wine!” I thought “I will make wine!”  I had never done this before but desperate times call for desperate measures and as the unwashed dishes began to pile up and the flies reached a fever pitch of activity it was clearly time to do something.

Plums for plum wine

Plums ready to become wine.

A survey of the internet showed a huge amount of differences in formulation. But after a while a few patterns did begin to emerge; most recipes needed campden tablets, pectic enzyme, yeast, acid and sugar.  I ordered the more exotic items on-line, as well as a hydrometer and began to pit the plums.

wine ingredients

Extras to make great wine.

Once the plums were pitted I weighed them out, covered them with boiling water, crushed and added a couple of campden tablets and let them sit overnight.  The boiling water and tablets discourage the growth of unwanted organisms.

The next morning I added in the pectic enzyme and acid.  The enzyme helps break down the fruit and the acid improves flavor and storage.

That night I made a sugar syrup and added this in.

sugar syrup

Sugar syrup being made.

The following morning I put in a packet of yeast and covered it up to ferment.

wine yeast

All important yeast!

When I got home the house had a faintly alcoholic smell and the pot was foamy and bubbling.  I took a hydrometer reading to see where the starting point was and recorded it on a page in my homesteading  journal.



To get a good reading you need a long tube so the device can float.

Getting a good reading.

How to get a good hydrometer reading.

The fruit was also starting to break down.  Each day I gave it a good stir with a clean spoon in the morning and at night to break the cap on it.

fruit cap

Cap on the wine.

After a week I siphoned it into a clean carboy, put the airlock on top and crossed my fingers.

air lock

Air lock

Now it needs to sit for six months then I will bottle it and hopefully have some lovely plum wine.


In the carbuoy and ready to transform into wine.

Here is the recipe that I wound up using:

  • 16 pounds of plums
  • 8 pounds of sugar, (half the weight of the plums)
  • Two teaspoons of pectic acid
  • Two campden tablets
  • One packet of yeast
  • Enough water to cover the fruit


Making Dried Flower Bouquets

Each year I look at the riot of colorful flowers in my garden and want to save them for the dark winter months.  One of the best ways I have found to do this is by making dried flower bouquets.  After a lot of trial and error the plants that seem to work the best for this are chives, yarrow, money plant, lavender, hydrangea, oregano, pearly everlasting and grasses with showy seed sprays.  Other flowers will dry but a lot of them fall apart or quickly fade.

To dry the flowers cut them with long stems and strip off the bottom leaves.  Next tie them at the top with string or wire and hang them in a dark place until dry.  I string a piece of rope across the rafters in my basement and hang the bunches from there.  Once dry you can arrange them in whatever way you like.

Try out different flowers from your yard and let me know what you like to dry!

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

Pine Needle Baskets

Willow basket season is months away so it’s time to use pine needles!

Soaking the needles makes it easier to start the tight coil then I’m using wool yarn for binding. You can use twine or other materials as well.

Spindle Spinning

Spending time on my aunt and uncle’s sheep ranch I cleaned and carded wool but never got around to learning how to spin.   A few weeks ago I got a drop spindle and have been giving it a go.  I’m not very good yet but it is hypnotic to get the spindle going and watch the wool twist into a tough fiber.

Drop spindle

Natural wool comes in many different colors.



Here is the rather lumpy yarn.  Hope it gets easier!

A rustic look.

To learn more visit the Northwest Regional Spinners site here.

Plum Torte

These are golden with a tinge of green; perfect for tortes but too tart to dry.

These are golden with a tinge of green; perfect for tortes but too tart to dry.

I dream not in sugar plums but in Italian prune and this year my dreams are all coming true; the neighbor’s tree is bursting with succulent blue fruit.  I harvest the plums in succession for each recipe tastes best with a different level of tartness.

First up are the wonderful New York Times Plum Tortes. Over the years I have modified the recipe a bit and here is my version:

Plum Torte


  • 3/4 cup regular or brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup unbleached white or wheat flour, (if wheat is used it will raise less, you can also do a blend of flours)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • If unsalted butter is used add in a pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Enough halved and pitted plums to cover top of torte
  • Sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top
I use my food processor to make the batter.

I use my food processor to make the batter.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream sugar and butter in a bowl. Add flour, baking powder, salt and eggs, and beat well.

3. Put the batter in a pan.  (I like to give these as gifts or make them ahead for potlucks so often used disposable aluminum pans.)  Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and cinnamon to taste.

4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze.

These tortes freeze beautifully but need to be cooled then well wrapped in foil.

Ready for baking.

Ready for baking.

All set!

All set!


There is a new pottery painting place up the street from our house. I went there with my daughters and was wondering what to make when I thought “Of course – more garden art!” . Who doesn’t need yet more lovely things in their yard?


First select your tiles

First select your tiles.


Then choose your paints.

Then choose your paints.


Do your background.

Do your background.


Go wild!

Go wild!

Once the painting is done the store will bake them and then they are ready to put in your garden.



Spinning with Pet Fur

Spinning with pet fur can be done!  In this warm weather Mr. Bunners, aka Attila the Bun, is shedding his white fur in big soft billowy clumps.  Petting him it felt sort of like cashmere so I decided to collect it and try spinning it into yarn. First I tried just the fur but the fibers are too short to do much.  Next I carded it into some existing wool I had and that worked great.  It also worked to lay the fur along the wool as I was spinning.  I think this process would work for dog and cat fur too.

I’m looking at Angora rabbits with much more interest.  Has anyone tried raising them or spinning their fur?

spinning pet fur

Natural wool fibers

spinning pet fur

Wool with the bunny fur laid on it.

spinning pet fur

Fur spun with wool using a drop spindle.

spinning pet fur

Here’s what it looks like knit into a small square.




With the warm weather all the fruit is coming in strong! In fact there’s so much it’s time to start canning and jamming.

Friends have been telling me about the virtues of Pomona Pectin for quite a while. I recently got some from PCC, and now I’m hooked. Because it doesn’t require sugar to jell, you can easily vary the amount of sugar you use or you can use a different sweetener all together; the result is a fruitier, fresher jam which is quite nice.

Pomona Pectin

You can get sweet peaches now from the farmers’ market. If you are going to can with farmers’ market produce, always ask to see if they have any produce they have set aside as too blemished to sell. You can often get really good deals this way, and as long as the produce is not spoiled it cans up beautifully for a fraction of the usual price.

Millions of peaches!

First wash the peaches. Then to make them easy to peel, put them in boiling water for a couple of minutes then in cold water until the fruit is cool to the touch. The peels should slide right off.

Transforming into jam.

Next mash them or pulse them in a food processor. For jam you want pieces of fruit so don’t puree them. Put the peaches in a pot with lemon juice and calcium water. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add in the pectin and sugar and bring back to a boil and cook for one to two minutes.

A little extra zip.

I like to add in some flavoring or spices but you need to be careful not to overpower the fruit. Spices can also intensify over time so it’s better to use less to begin with until you get an idea how much tastes good to you.

Clean jars

Carefully pour the hot jam into sterile jars, do a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, and you’re good to go.


These showy flowers are very easy to grow from tubers planted in the spring and they brighten up the mid-summer garden with amazing blooms.

Thanks to The Garden Hotline for this great info:
“Dahlias ARE edible! The petals from the flowers are delicious in salads. They taste like a sweet lettuce. They do not keep well so put them on just as you are serving the salad. You can also eat the tubers… kin to Jerusalem Artichokes… They are a South American plant and the tubers have been eaten for a long time there!
In our temperate climate they can often be left in the ground to overwinter but if you have a cherished plant it’s a good idea to dig up the tubers in fall and store them in a cool dry place to replant the following spring.”

The range of shapes, sizes and colors make this a great flower for almost any garden.  They last a long time when cut too so work well in bouquets.

They can be used for making beautiful dyes as well. Give it a try! I use alum as a mordant.