Orchids are beautiful flowers. They look exotic, and tropical, but are relatively easy to keep. All they require is a weekly watering and the right amount of light. Getting phalaenopsis orchids to bloom, however? That has been difficult. I have tried different amounts of light and water for the past two years, to no avail. So imagine my excitement when two beautiful red and yellow flowers appeared on my second oldest orchid plant.
I have read a variety of guides which suggest temperature, water, and light as the triggers for orchid blooms. For me, the key was light.
It really is all about the right level of light. Most guides will say that you need indirect light, but not all indirect light is equal.
When I started keeping orchids, all I had was a north facing window. There was nothing but indirect light. This kept the plants fairly healthy, but not happy. None of my orchids would bloom. The indirect light was just too indirect.
Then I moved, and put the orchids in a south facing window. This was too much light. The edges of the leaves started burning, and the plants were stressed.
So I put my three phalaenopsis in a west facing window. They get a little bit of direct light in the late afternoon, but the window is shaded by several trees. This was just the right amount of light, seemingly. Both of my older orchid plants have grown flower stalks!
Orchids need just the right kind of light to bloom. It needs to be indirect enough to not burn the leaves, but intense enough to trigger flower stalks.
I still have a lot to learn about keeping orchids. But now that I have found the right setting for my phalaenopsis, I hope that I will get to enjoy months of blooms.
One of my dreams is to have a large potted fruit bearing fig tree. Fresh delicious figs in the summer - yum! The key to this plan is keeping a fig tree alive, of course, and fig trees can be finicky. The last thing they need is a pest like mealybugs attacking them.
I overwintered my fig tree in a nice south facing window, and I thought it was doing really well. It put on two figs at the beginning of spring, and I was considering moving it outside.
When I picked up the pot, a few bits of a white moldy substance fell out of the drainage hole. I took to the internet to identify what I thought was fungus; but after searching around, I realized it was much more likely to be mealybugs. The bugs were infesting the entire pot. The tree was dying, but I did not want to just throw the whole thing out.
Most of the information I found on the internet explains how to remove mealybugs from the stems and leaves of a plant. In my case, however, the bugs were attacking the root system. So I couldn't just cut the infestation out.
First, I emptied the entire pot, taking care to remove the roots of my little tree from the soil without damage. I then washed the roots off outside to remove remaining particles of dirt. The removed most of the infection, but I did not want the bugs to come back.
Mealybugs attach themselves to the host plant with a waxy substance. So even though I couldn't see any little larva or eggs latched onto the roots, I wasn't sure they were entirely gone. To play it safe, I dipped the roots in water heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This was warm enough to detach any remaining bugs, but not so warm that it would kill the plant.
Then, to be extra and especially sure that the bugs were gone, I sprayed the whole plant (roots and branches) down with Insecticidal Soap for Organic Gardening. This last part might have been overkill.
Satisfied that the bugs were gone, I replanted the fig tree. The poor thing dropped the rest of its leaves from stress. Only little brown buds were left. I was concerned that I had killed it.
A week later, however, the buds sprouted green leaves. The pot is still bug-free, and the fig tree is happily existing on the back porch. Neither the mealybugs nor I killed it. So I leave this here in the hopes that someone else faced with a similar dilemma will be able to use some combination of the above methods to save their plant.
Summer is here, and my hard work all spring has been paying off in the form of harvestable herbs, flowers, and vegetables! The happiest plant in my garden right now is my lemon balm. I bought this plant on a whim three years ago. Since then, the lemon-scented herb has followed me from my porch-bound apartment container garden, to the back porch of my house, to a place in my back yard. The warm winter was very kind to the plant, and now it is bushing out like crazy!
Lemon Balm is named for its light lemony fragrance and taste. I can taste just a hint of mint in the leaves as well - which makes sense given that this bushy herb is related to mint.
The scientific name of the lemony plant is Melissa Officialis. Melissa is the Greek word for bee, and this plant is known to attract them! The Officialis part comes from Latin, and refers to the plant's place in the herbalists storeroom. Don't confuse Lemon Balm with Bee Balm, though! Despite the suspicious similarity of names, the two "balms" are different plants.
Lemon Balm is a fairly safe and useful herb. It can be taken to help with digestion, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Some people even think it helps improve mental function!
Some people have an adverse reaction to eating Lemon Balm straight (ironically, it upsets their stomachs). I had a similar reaction the first few times I tried the herb. So I suggest trying it in tea before adding it to a salad!
Lemon Balm is a perennial herb. The lemon-scented plant will survive in many soil conditions, but prefers rich well-drained soil. Like many herbs, it does best in full sun. It also responds well to being harvested - cutting my plant back is just making it bushier!
Due to its invasive habits, many gardeners recommend keeping Lemon Balm in a pot. It will not spread via runners, so there's no need to physically isolate it in your garden. But it will spread by seed, so it is advisable to regularly cut back your plant.
So far, my Lemon Balm is doing very well in my Zone 5 Herb Garden. It has survived being under-watered in a pot, being light deprived in a north-facing apartment, and the transition to being planted in the ground. I think its safe to say that this is one hardy herb! The only "weakness" I have noticed is that my plant droops a bit in a mid-day summer sun, but that might just mean it needs more water to get through the day. Illinois sun can be brutal!
Lemon Balm makes a lovely tea, and imparts a light lemony flavor to baked goods. During the summer, you can harvest it fresh from the garden for immediate use. The herb can also be dried for use over the winter. So without further ado, here are some ideas on what to do with Lemon Balm:
I am mid-DIY project, so I haven't baked much this week. Instead, I am attempting to strip the ugly red paint from my new ottoman, and give it a nice cushion. Unfortunately, the paint stripping part is proving to be rather time consuming. The problem? I took the directions too seriously. Note to self: plastic does not strip paint worth a darn. After wasting a great deal of paint stripper, I realized that I had to switch to the dreaded metal tools which the paint stripping directions expressly forbade.
I assume the makers of the paint stripper were trying to protect me from damaging my precious wood. Unfortunately, the silly little plastic thing I bought from Lowe's was useless. So, sure, I might damage the wood with a wood scraper or brush, but that's a moot point if I can't get the red paint off.
More on that later.
In the meantime, I offer pictures of an adorable kitty. Because who doesn't like cats?
Featured here is Peaches. She really wanted to help me with my candied ginger from last week. Or at least, she wanted to help me eat it. Peaches was strangely absent for the actual work portion of the evening.
Peaches thought she was a great fan of Candied Ginger. No, she was not allowed to have any.
Candied Ginger. Its exotic, right? Candied Ginger is the sort of thing that you find in fancy candy shops, possibly covered in chocolate. In fact, the first time I had this candy, it was embedded in a giant chunk of chocolate. Yum!
Ginger is one of my favorite spices. In small doses, it does so well with sweet things. It is addictive! But a piece of ginger is pretty hot and spicy. Some of that heat survives the candying process; candied ginger is not just sweet, it also has a bit of heat!
To start, peel your ginger root, and cut it into thin pieces. I tried to use a potato peeler, and that worked to an extent. Ginger is very woody, however, so I also needed to cut it with a knife. Thinner pieces of ginger are better. You want the sugar to really penetrate and cover your candy!
Put your ginger slices in a medium sized pot, and fill it with water. The water needs to completely cover the ginger, because its going to be cooking for a while! Cook on the stove at medium heat until the ginger is tender. This will take 30-40 minutes.
Drain the ginger, and keep a bit of the ginger water - about a fourth of a cup.
Put your drained ginger back on the stove, along with an equal amount of granulated sugar and your fourth cup of ginger water. Cook on medium heat, stirring regularly, until the water has evaporated. You know that your candy is ready when the water is gone and the sugar starts to re-crystalize.
Take your ginger off the heat immediately, and spread the candy out on a cooling rack. If you don't have a cooling rack, I found that aluminum foil worked decently well. Separate the individual pieces of ginger candy.
The best part of this recipe? Candied ginger cools really quickly. Within a few minutes you will be able to enjoy your new candy!
I love fruit, and trying out new types of fruit. So when I saw kumquats on the shelf at my local grocery store, I just had to try the little fruits out! I took a small bag of the little fruits home.
I've never had kumquats before. Before I saw the package on the shelf, I'm not sure I could have told you what a kumquat looked like.
So, first off, a bit about the kumquat - it is a citrus fruit, about the size of a grape. It looks and tastes a bit like a tiny orange. The whole fruit is edible, including the rind. In fact, the rind is the best part! The pulp of the fruit is sour like a lemon, and the rind tastes like a sweet orange
I ate a few of the little citris fruits raw. I just washed them off, and ate the whole fruit.
Unfortunately, kumquats have seeds. And, as I said, the inside is a bit sour. So I'm not overly pleased with the raw kumquat experience.
However, it turns out that you can also cook up kumquats and turn them into a nice sort of marmalade. So I chopped the rest of the little fruits in half, de-seeded them, and then cooked them up with sugar and water. They made a rather decent marmalade! I even put it on a cake.
I've saved the seeds in the hopes that I can grow myself a little kumquat tree. I won't be able to plant it outside, of course. Kumquats are fairly cold hardy citrus trees, but they can't survive cold Illinois winters! But with luck I should be able to sprout a few and keep them in pots indoors like my lemon trees.
Maybe you've seen the Pinterest posts about how its possible to re-grow any number of vegetables from their roots. But, like so many things on Pinterest, you've probably asked "does it work?" Can you really regrow green onions from the roots?
Well, it turns out the answer is yes! I have a healthy set of green onions growing which I have been able to use three times now for different recipes. Originally, I purchased a bunch of green onions for my Heart of Palm Dip. I did not chop them quite back to the roots, but I did cut them down to the white of their stalks.
After making my dip a few weeks back, I put the onions in a glass of water. The next day, I saw new growth. I was sure it had to be because the skin was shrinking or something, and so dismissed it.
But a week later, it was unmistakable. The green onions grew longer roots. Then they grew back to at least their original length within a week. The new growth might be a bit more flimsy than the original green stems, but it is plenty usable. So far, I've chopped the new growth back twice for different recipes. The hardy stalks just keep coming back.
And its a good thing they keep growing back! I find that I enjoy the flavor of green onions more than regular old white onions. I suggest using them in the Heart of Palm Sandwich instead of onion. The heart of palm salad will be so much more flavorful!
But while I wait for the weather to get warmer, I'm going to enjoy trying out new things with green onions. For instance, as favoring for a quick gravy - milk, flour, green onions, and a little salt. Perfect on steak and mashed potatoes. Yum!
Molasses and dark chocolate mixed together make quite the cookie! A completely black cookie. Yes, you needed this information. Chocolate molasses cookies turn out to be rather yummy.
I started with a standard chocolate chip recipe. Alas, I had no chocolate chips. Such minor inconveniences never keep me from my cookies, however. Some days require cookies (this is a fact).
Instead of chocolate chips, I added dark cocoa, and supplemented the sugar with molasses. The result was a very lovely cookie. Not too sweet, but not un-sweet. I suspect it would be more chocolatey with chocolate chips, or more flavorful if I used more spices. But overall, it is an excellent cookie!
Homemade potato chips are so easy, they're barely worth a recipe, right? You slice potatoes thin, and fry; ideally after you've fried something else, so that olive oil goes farther.
Alright, so you don't have to use olive oil. But I really do love how it tastes, and the chips fry just fine.
So your oil is heating up on the stove in a shallow pan, and now you slice the potatoes. Only, slicing potatoes thin enough to get nice and crispy is hard. I can never manage it with a sharp knife. The solution? The potato peeler. It works perfectly every time. Your chips will be decidedly oval over circular, but they will be just the right thickness and very crispy.
Fry your (soon-to-be) chips until they're brown and crispy. Retrieve them from the oil, and lay them on some paper oils to wick away the oil. Salt to taste.
Now for the dip. If you're fond of a creamy dip like French Onion (I love that stuff so much!) then your homemade base is really simple. Mix equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise, and thin to the desired consistency with milk or whey. Then add your favorite spices.
I often just put garlic powder in my homemade dip. Chives and dill are wonder too! The ratio is one part spice to four parts sour cream and mayonnaise.
Enjoy your homemade potato chips and dip. Yum!
I love the Mediterranean taste of oregano and garlic (if you haven't guessed yet!). This chicken sandwich recipe combines both of those flavors with a bit of lemon for delicious zesty chicken.
Good Tzatziki Sauce is a must with the chicken. The yogurt balances out the spices wonderfully.
A stable of gyros, cucumber sauce is something I find myself almost always keeping in my fridge. It goes wonderfully with pita bread, chicken, beef, and lamb.
More often than not, I make this recipe by taste. I strongly suggest that you do too! Just remember that the flavors get stronger when they're allowed to sit in the fridge, so make the sauce ahead of time for optimal taste.
Hearts of Palm are an interesting vegetable. They are, as the name suggests, the center of certain types of palm trees, and considered a delicacy. Heart of Palm doesn't have much flavor by itself, but it goes wonderfully with onions. Some people also put them with salads or fruit.
This dip pairs heart of palms with green onions for a really delicious treat. I highly recommend serving with pita chips or bread!