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.

Let’s Get Hoppy

Almost ripe!

Almost ripe!

What to do with those hop cones ripening on your vine?  Making beer is the first thing that comes to people’s minds as this plant is what gives brews their distinctive bitter flavor but there’s a lot more you can do!

What exactly is hops?

  • Hops are hardy perennials that can grow up to 26 feet in a season.
  • The name hop comes from the Anglo-Saxon hoppan, to climb.
  • Female hops (Humulus lupulus) bear cone shaped flowers, also called strobiles.  When ready to harvest these are yellowish green, papery to the touch and have a strong smell.  Pick the cones and dry them until they snap when bent in half and shatter.  For storage put them into freezer bags and freeze until used.
  • The bittering agent in the cones is called lupulin.
  • Hops grows best at 38 to 51 degrees latitude which is why 75% of the crop is grown in eastern Washington.

Be careful where you situate this plant.  I happily planted my variegated variety to tastefully cover an archway only to discover that contact with the trailing branches makes me itch like crazy. In addition to climbing high, the roots go very deep so make sure that wherever you plant it you want it to stay because eradicating it can be very difficult – from a now wary hops planter.

Drying for pillow making.

Drying for pillow making.

How to Use Hops

  • The most common use today is in brewing beer where the cones impart a bitter flavor and potentially inhibit the growth of undesired yeast during brewing.
  • The young shoots can be eaten like asparagus in the spring.  (This can also be a good way to keep this rambunctious plant under control in a small garden.)
  • The leaves and flowers can be used to make a delicate light brown dye.
  • A pillow made of the dried cones is said to promote sleep.
  • A tincture of the cones is used in herbal medicine to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.  (As dosage can vary depending on growing conditions only take hops internally when prescribed and prepared by someone who is well versed in their use.)

How do you use this versatile plant?  I would love to hear!


Winterize Your Honeybees

By Garrett Okrasinski

I have been lucky enough to inherit a honey bee hive through a friend. It was moved to my property about three months ago and seems to be thriving. I did a hive inspection after the move and was surprised nothing was damaged in the transportation of the hive. The top bar hive (hive where the bees makes their own comb) is now sitting just above my garden opposite of my chickens and gets great sunlight through out the day. I really enjoy seeing them warm up and take off in search of nectar.


Just two weeks ago, I harvested a frame of honey. But now I have to think about getting the bees ready for the winter. The problem for bees in the northwest winters is the (relatively) warm wet temperatures. Snow would be easy to keep bee through out the winter because they simply nestle themselves together and slow down. They don’t go through as much honey stores as they would if it was a warm wet winter. Seems opposite but think of it like an igloo which can retain it’s warmth.

One frame of honey oozing honey on a tray.

One frame of honey oozing honey on a tray.

Concerns for the bees in wet winters are, moisture, honey stores and mice.

With wind and rain, moisture can get into the hive and cool the bees down. I need to make sure that there are no leaks and wrap the bees up once it becomes time. If I can keep moisture out they will not go through too much of their honey stores and starve. This can be done by putting roofing tarp on the top of hives and tucking them in (leaving space for the opening). This should keep out any excess water and stay on in the wind.

Because they feed on their honey throughout the winter that means I can’t harvest too much. As tempting as it is to grab another frame and have more honey, I need leave it for them. To get them through the winter they need about 50 lbs of honey. I will also feed them sugar water to supplement their honey stores.


Honey harvested from one frame.

Finally, because I will have created a nice dry (and warm) space loaded with honey, I have to be concerned with mice. Mice will capitalize on the fact that I have made a nice winter home that comes supplied with food. I will try to mitigate this by putting a mouse guard on the front. I plan to do this by reducing the entrance space and stapling 1/4 inch hard wire to the entrance.

This is my plan and we will see how it goes. What do you do to prepare your bees for the winter?



Shelled acorns. Most are good but some have bad spots that need to be cut out.

The acorns are ripe! They look a bit smaller than usual to me this year. Maybe the dry, hot weather? Check them over carefully to get good ones.

So how do you get the good ones?  You are looking for nuts that aren’t super bitter, don’t have a lot of worm holes in them and are a light color without cracks.  You can also float them in water and the good ones should sink.  Do be absolutely sure that the tree has not been sprayed with any pesticides.  Oaks can be sprayed with long acting chemicals to reduce aphids; when in doubt ask!

What makes acorns bitter is tannic acid and some varieties have more than others.  If you want to use the acorns as a mordant for wool or for dying then the really bitter ones are perfect.  If you are looking to eat them then taste test until you find a milder variety.  In the white oak family, the Live Oak’s, (Quercus virginiana), acorns are among the mildest one can collect.

Pick the acorns when they are brown.

Some linguistic fun:   The English word “oak” is some 1,260 years old. In German it was “eih” ending up “eiche” The Dutch extended it to “eychen” or ” eychenboom.”

Acorns are quite nutritious. The nutritional breakdown of acorns is 50.4% carbohydrates, 34.7% water, 4.7% fat, 4.4.% protein, 4.2% fiber, 1.6% ash. A pound of shelled acorns provide 1,265 calories, a 100 grams (3.5 ounces) has 500 calories and 30 grams of oil.

The first part of processing is shelling. Wear gloves to avoid staining your hands. It can be a bit of a task to get the shells off but letting them dry a bit or freezing them first can help to loosen the covering.

To rid the acorns of tannic acid Native Americans would put them in baskets in streams.  My version is to put them in a pillow case in the top part of the toilet tank.  It sounds gross but the water in the tank is clean. It can stain the bowl a bit but hey, it’s the only running water I have.  After a week in the tank you can put them in a 350 degree oven and roast them for an hour.  Once they are dried out I grind them to flour in a food processor then ziplock them and put them in the freezer to be added to foods later.

Roasted, leached acorns

Here are some recipes:

Apache acorn cakes:

  • 1 cup acorn meal, ground fine
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ¼ cup honey
  • pinch of salt

Mix together and fry on a greased griddle until done.

Acorn Stew

  • 1 lb stewing beef
  • 1/2 C finely ground acorn meal (tannin removed)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place beef in heavy pan and add water to cover. Cover with lid and simmer until very tender. Return meat to the liquid. Stir in the acorn meal. Heat until thickened and serve.

If you find a good recipe please share!


My family loves pesto; we eat it on noodles, pizza and even toast.  This weekend the basil looked ready so we moved into action.  In year’s past I’ve always used the traditional pine nuts but one look at the tiny little bag selling for fifteen dollars made me decide that maybe walnuts would be just as tasty.

Freshly picked basil.

The food processor recipe I used called for:

  • 2 cups of packed basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 2 and a 1/2 cups of finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 and a 1/2 cups of parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons of salt, (optional)

    These walnuts tasted great and were much less costly than the pine nuts.

I didn’t have quite enough cheese or walnuts and had huge mounds of basil so quickly decided to just mess around until it tasted right.

Green gold

Last year I froze it in ice-cube trays then put these in freezer bags but this go around I put it in canning jars.  To prevent browning I topped it up with more olive oil then put the half filled jars in the freezer.  It’s important to freeze pesto and NOT to can it.  There is a risk of botulism with canned pesto.

Yup, pesto on toast

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 Crazy

So many plums!

So many plums!

With all the heat this summer the plums are ripening sooner than usual.  Yippee!

I never really understood the term “plum crazy” until this year’s banner harvest; I can’t stop picking when there is ripe, juicy fruit to be had and every possible space is covered with some plum related project.

“Are you nearly done?” asked my daughter somewhat plaintively through a fruit fly induced haze.  “Uh getting closer” I said as I stirred up a new batch of plum wine.  “So what are these projects?” you ask with trepidation.

Have you ever seen the part in Forest Gump where Bubba talks about everything you can do with shrimp?  Here’s the plum version:  “You can make plum torte, plum jam, plum sauce, frozen plums, dried plums, pickled plums, plums in brandy, plum sauce and this is only the beginning!”

Here is a lovely plum sauce made by putting plums face down on a cookie sheet covered with melted butter and a bit of sugar in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  When the skins easily come off it’s ready to go.

Caramelized plum sauce

To dry plums you can either quarter them or pit them, push them out flat and put them skin side down on a dehydrator tray.  It takes about 24 hours for them to try to the point they won’t mold.

Dried plums

Each year I make plum tortes with a recipe from the New York Times.  These tortes are super easy to make and freeze beautifully.

Easy and delicious

Easy and delicious

Here is the recipe for an absolutely wonderful blue plum conserve from my Mother’s 1946 version of the Joy of Cooking.  I use the Italian prune plums but Damson plums work equally well.  This recipe does have walnut meats and be aware that there is some concern about canning preserves made with nuts.  I have never had a problem but do want to let you know about this.

Here is the mixture before cooking.

Here is the mixture before cooking.

Blue Plum Conserve


  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 and a 1/4 pounds of raisins
  • 9 cups sugar
  • 5 pounds blue plums
  • 1/2 pound broken walnut meats


Peel and chop the thin rind from the oranges and lemon and put it in a large bowl.  Chop up the pulp from the citrus fruits and add this and any juice to the bowl.  Next add in the raisins and the sugar.  Pit, slice and add in the plums.  Mix well then place in a large pot and cook until thick.  Be careful to stir continuously or your mixture will burn.  Add in the walnut meats.  Cook ten more minutes then put into sterile jars.  You can then water bath can your preserve if you so desire.

Here’s the finished product.

Year before last when we had an insane amount of fruit I did a plum wine.  It actually turned out to be more of a brandy and while quite strong, we liked it.

A Great Cracker Recipe!

This is still one of my favorite recipes! These crackers rival the 5 dollar a bag ones from the market and you can experiment with all sorts of herbs and flavors.

Panzanella Croccatini

  • 1.5 cups of flour
  • .5 cup very cold water
  • 1 tsp salt, play with this so it is to your taste, I am using less salt
  • dash sugar
  • 1/8 c rosemary chopped
  • 1/8 c olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and put a pan for water in the bottom of the oven.

First put flour, salt, sugar and rosemary in a food processor fitted with the cutting blade and pulse to blend.

Next add the oil and pulse to blend.  Add the water in a stream until the dough comes together and run for about twenty seconds.

Turn the dough out and knead to a smooth ball.  Divide it into four pieces and cover with a cloth to let rest for five minutes.

Roll each section in a pasta roller.  The next to thinnest one tastes very good.

Cut into sheets and place on parchment paper.  Spray with water water and sprinkle with herbs.

Put parchment paper directly into the oven on a baking stone, add a half cup of water to the pan in the bottom.  Turn crackers from front to back after about two minutes.  Watch them closely as they burn easily.  You just want a hint of brown.


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!


Making Pickled Beets

It’s wonderful to pull out a jar of home-grown, home-canned pickled beets for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  They are very easy to make, so get your canning supplies ready…

First you pick the beets.

Medium sized beets work best. 

Then you either cut the tops off to stir fry or, if you have goats or chickens, they love them too!


Once you’ve removed the tops and trimmed off the long tap root, simmer the beets until they are tender, which you can test by piercing them with a fork.  Peel them, then cut them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices.  I have a tool that gives them a pretty wavy edge.

I got this tool at Fred Myers. 

Pack the slices into sterile jars and add in about a teaspoon of pickling spice.  Make up a pickling solution of 3 1/2 cups vinegar to 1 1/2 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of pickling salt.  Be sure to use 5%, store bought vinegar as acidity levels can vary in homemade vinegar.  It’s the acid in the solution that will keep your food safe.

Toasting the spices first can bring out the flavors.

Fill to within about a half inch of the top.  Then seal up and boil in a water bath for 30 minutes.  This will help to ensure that the beets are truly safe to eat.

Let sit for at least two weeks for flavors to blend.