… And in Between, We Garden

Such an awesome weekend!

I cleaned out the chicken coop –

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Here you can see the roost bar and the piece of wood that holds the Sweet PDZ in place removed for easy cleaning.

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All clean. Now for some fresh lavender and Rosemary as the finishing touch.

Admired some pretty flowers that are blooming right now –

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Love these grape hyacinths. Maybe almost as much as this guy does.

Here’s a busy little bee making the most of the grape hyacinths.  They are the first flowers to bloom in abundance in my garden each spring and are always such a welcome burst of lovely sweet colour.  J’adore grape hyacinths, don’t you?

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Pretty camellia bloom.

I’ve not grown camellias before – these are my first and newly planted this past autumn.  I planted them to provide some screening from our neighbours although it will take some 20 years for them to grow to a useful size to fill that role.  Until then I will enjoy their spring blooms – and think of planting more.

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Pretty camellia bloom

And swooned as the heavenly scent of the lemon blossoms wafted across the whole yard.  Right now the lemon and lime trees are spending their days outside enjoying the dozey bumblebees and the warm sunshine, and then they go back inside when nighttime temps dip too low.  The weatherman is predicting a hard freeze later this week so I’ll be doing this citrus dance for another few days at least before I can move them out for the summer.

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There’s a lime tree to go along with this Meyer Lemon, too.

I also threw Holly Tone around everything and now the whole place reeks – ugh!  The forecast is for rain tonight and tomorrow morning so my hope is that it will all be washed in and away in a day or so.  I feel totally accomplished.  Vitamin G really does a lot of good for the soul, don’t you think?

We come from the earth
We return to the earth
And in between, we garden.
– Anonymous

When Life Gives you Lemons … Bonus Round

From the When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello Series.

Part 6: When Life Gives You Lemons … Make Lemon Curd from the Leftover Limoncello Lemons.

or How to Make Lemon Curd.

You thought I was done with the whole lemon thing, didn’t you?  Well, honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with the lemon thing.  There is just so much to love about lemons. But I thought to add one more Bonus Round to the series.

If you do decide to make your own limoncello (and I hope you do) you may find yourself with a mountain of naked lemons.  Lemons that you took much time and care to grow and nurture only to find that it was just their peels that was needed to make the, admittedly awesome, limoncello I’ve been rabbiting on about for so long.  Such a waste to not have a purpose for the rest of the lemons, right?  Again, you can go back to squeezing lemon juice over everything in sight (lemon juice is great as a cleaning product, too.  Here are 24 Things You Can Clean With Lemon) but my favourite thing to do is to turn them in to lemon curd.

Naked lemons.  Kinda sad, right?  (pic from oddlovescompany.com)

Naked lemons. Kinda sad, right?
(pic from oddlovescompany.com)

Ina Garten has a great recipe here but I feel there is a lot of equipment I have to wash up once done (food processor, saucepans, extra mixing bowls).   I’d rather take the easy way out and do it all in one bowl in the microwave.  I’m afraid I wrote this recipe down from a library book and have lost the citation.  Let me know what it is if you happen to know it.

Lemon Curd – Microwave

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (juice from 6-8 lemons)
  • 3 lemons, zested
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted.

Directions

  1. In a microwave safe bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until smooth.  Stir in lemon juice, zest, and butter.
  2. Cook in microwave for 1 minute intervals, stirring after each minute until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove from microwave and pour in to small sterile jars.  Store for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

    Delicious Lemon Curd - one of my favourite things ever

    Delicious Lemon Curd – one of my favourite things ever. (pic from Liren@KitchenConfidante.com)

I’ve never had it last longer than 3 weeks because it has all been eaten up so fast but I would imagine it would keep like any other butter product, even longer in the freezer.  It is heavenly on crepes and toast, in tarts and jelly rolls, between mini merigues topped with softly whipped heavy cream, or as a filling for lemon bars.  So many uses!  But for me, I find it most delicious when eaten straight from the jar with a spoon.  Yum!  Another great gift for those you love.  Make some lemon curd.  I promise you, you won’t regret it.

When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello

From the When Life Gives You Lemons… Series

Part 5: When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello

or How to Make Your Own Limoncello

Finally, we are here at the good bit!  Now that you have successfully grown bushels and bushels of beautiful lemons what are you going to do with them all?

Lovely lemons in a basket

Lovely lemons in a basket

Quite the high class problem, I’ll admit.  Of course there are myriad options when it comes to using lemons as they are just so versatile.  Lemon chicken, lemon meringue pie, lemon curd (a favourite of mine), salmon with lemon, capers and rosemary, spicy lemon garlic shrimp … the list goes on and on.  But my favourite thing to do with lots of lemons, particularly Meyer Lemons, is to make Limoncello.

Limoncello di Capri.   'Nuf said.

Limoncello di Capri.  ‘Nuf said.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liquour produced mainly in Southern Italy but particularly in the area around the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.  It is made by steeping the lemon peels in alcohol for quite a long time, then mixing the resultant yellow liquid with a simple syrup made from sugar and water.  It is traditionally served ice cold as an after dinner digestif and is quite simply, heavenly.

There were stores everywhere in Capri selling Limoncello, stores literally packed to the rafters with the sweet little bottles.  Clearly, some were more tourist cliche than Southern Italian chic but charming none the less.

Tourist cliche

Tourist cliche

Limoncello for sale

Limoncello for sale in Capri

Quick Quiz: What is my favourite way to enjoy limoncello?

Is it –

  1. Ice cold straight from the freezer?
  2. Mixed with ice and soda?
  3. Drizzled over vanilla icecream or lemon sorbet and fresh strawberries?  or
  4. All of the above?

That’s right!  All of the above.  You’ve gotta try it.

OK, recipe time.  I like to use Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe here.  She has a bunch of videos on how to make it, too, so you can’t go wrong.  It is so simple.

Limoncello Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 10 lemons (unwaxed, organic. Meyer lemons are best)
  • 1 (750ml) bottle vodka
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar (white sugar)

Directions

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use – maybe lemon curd).  Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith.  Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher.  Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap.  Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.  Cool completely.  Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture.  Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.  Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer.  Discard the peels.  Transfer the limoncello to bottles.  Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours.

Enjoy!

NB: I store my bottles of limoncello in the freezer.  They last forever in there, it seems.

Homemade limoncello - this is Giada's version

Homemade limoncello – this is Giada’s version

I love to make this for gifts as they present so very well.  A pretty bottle, a pretty label and a pretty swingtag with some suggested uses makes a perfect gift.  I like to use the tall glass bottles with the stoppers at the top, like these from World Market.

Perfect glass bottles for Limoncello

Perfect glass bottles for Limoncello

Now, what if you want to make the BEST Limoncello?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  While researching this post I came across another technique I’m dying to try used by Franny’s in Brooklyn.  The tutorial is irresistably entitled “How to Make the Best Limoncello You’ve Ever Had” – they’ve totally suckered me in.  Here, instead of peeling the lemons and steeping the peels in the alcohol, they suspend 2 whole lemons in cheesecloth above the vodka allowing the alcohol vapours to macerate the lemons to extract their oils without the bitterness of the pith.

Lemons suspended over the vodka to make limoncello.

Lemons suspended over the vodka to make limoncello at Franny’s.

Compelling, no?  Apparently, this is an old Sicilian technique.  I’m totally gonna try it.  Maybe I’ll do both versions and do a side-by-side blind tasting.  Sounds fun, right?  Wanna come to my house for a When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello soiree?  I should make this an annual summer event.

The End of the Series

And thus concludes my When Life Gives You Lemons… series.  So, Dear Readers, what did you think?  Did you stick with me through the whole thing?  I really hope you have enjoyed the process as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you.  I also hope you might try growing your own citrus and making your own limoncello!  I, for one, am looking forward to trying the new limoncello technique sometime soon.  Do let me know how your lemon adventures go!

When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside

From the When Life Gives You Lemons… Series.

Part 4 – When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside

or How to Move Your Impossibly Heavy Lemon Tree.

So, one of my biggest challenges is how to move my potted lemon tree into the garage when it starts to cool down.  My patient hubby tends to lose patience when I ask him to move it as it is awkward and heavy and no fun.  And then he starts to procrastinate ‘coz he doesn’t really want to do it, which in turn makes me anxious about the coming frost and whether my lemon will survive another night outside…. And it all turns in to a big mess.  This year I had had enough of dependency and I decided to figure out a way to do it myself.  Or at least with only the help of my 9 and 6 year old minions.

Long I searched for practical solutions.  We already had some furniture movers, just planks on wheels really, which made moving the pots over long, smooth, distances a breeze, but the pots get placed in to a garden bed each year and must be lifted over a ledge to get them in and out each time.  How to lift an incredibly heavy pot without some serious braun to help?

But then I came across potlifters.  Have you heard of these things?

This one is from Amazon and costs about $30.

This one is from Amazon and costs about $30.

Looks easy to lift such a heavy pot, right?

Looks easy to lift such a heavy pot, right?

Eureka!  A solution.  I totally would have raced out and bought one but there weren’t any locally, only online.  So I hemmed and hawed trying to judge shipping time vs impending frost, whether it would actually work given the short stature of my participating minion, and frankly, I didn’t really want to spend an extra $30 for something that might or might not work and that I would only use twice a year.  Hmmm … maybe there was another way.

And you know what I found?  An Instructable (such an amazing resource) for How to Make Your Own Hawler/Pot Lifter.  Would take 15 mins and cost $3.

DIY potlifter at work - from the Instructibles page.

DIY potlifter at work – from the Instructibles page.

Bazinga!

Someone had been reading my mind!  This would be perfect.  The instructions were straight forward and clear and you only needed 3 things:

  1. rope
  2. 2x bicycle inner tubes
  3. some PVC pipe for handles.
Materials for potlifter - these are from the instructions, not the ones I used although mine looked much the same.

Materials for potlifter – these are from the instructions, not the ones I used although mine looked much the same.

I had the rope and PVC pipe on hand but no spare inner tubes.  Fortunately, I happen to live not far from a bike repair place so I wandered over and asked if they had any old punctured inner tubes lying around.  You know what, they did!  And they were happy for me to take them off their hands since they would otherwise just be thrown away.  So we were recycling/upcycling too!  Doesn’t get better than that.

You do have to learn a new knot, a Blake’s Hitch, which takes a little practice but before long I had it all put together and ready to try it out.

Shimmy the lifter over the pot so the pot is sitting in the middle of the square. Snug up the knots and lift using the handles. Perfect! (again, pic from Instructibles page, not mine)

Shimmy the lifter over the pot so the pot is sitting in the middle of the square. Snug up the knots and lift using the handles. Perfect! (again, pic from Instructibles page, not mine)

The way it works is that the inner tubes form a square through which the ropes are threaded.  You put the square around the pot you want to lift, snug up the knots so that it is tight around the pot, then lift using the PVC handles.  Very very clever.

I admit to feeling nervous as to whether my minion would be tall enough to help, and whether it would be safe since he’s so little and I would have hated for it to fail and fall on a toe, but we figured it out and got the job done with all toes, limbs and eyes intact.  And not a daddy to be seen.  Whoo hoo!

Very very pleased with this Instructible and the solution it provided me.  With the weather warming up I’ll be able to move the pots around as I need to which is nice.  The other great thing about this design is that it is adjustible, so I could use it on my lime tree pot too. Yay!

How do you move heavy pots around?  Have you tried a potlifter like this?

NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Make Limoncello

The Anti-Valentine

Ugh, it’s Valentine’s Day

Are you in to Valentine’s Day?  Do you love the expensive roses, the sappy cards, and the calorific chocolates?  I’m afraid I’m not.  It’s not that I don’t like the idea of romance, and sweet gifts, and babysitters for the kids so the hubster and I can get some alone time.  I’m just not keen on, in fact really put off by, the whole Hallmark Holiday aspect of it all.  Scheduling romance for February 14th because Godiva wants to sell more bon bons just isn’t my thing, ya know?  As it turned out, February 14th happens to be our youngest’s birthday so VDay tends to be more about him than romantic notions in our house.  Works out perfectly.

But I have to tell you that it was quite refreshing to come across a like-minded somebody in Erica @ Northwest Edible Life.  I’ve been following her blog for a while now and I just love the no-nonsense approach she takes to raising her kids and running her home, growing her veges and raising her chickens, canning and DIYing, and all things I love to do, too.  If I’m honest I’d tell you she is something of a bloggy-crush for me… but perhaps I am oversharing (!!).  I do think she is pretty awesome though AND it turns out that she’s not so keen on Valentine’s Day either!  I’m telling you, we are kindred spirits.

Anyway, Erica wrote a funny post today describing her disasterous first Valentine’s Day date with her then-boyfriend, now husband, and how as a result they tend to stay in on Vday.  I’m sure I could have written that post myself.  But to follow up she offered the most fabulous sounding Anti-Valentine’s Day remedy that I just had to repost.  She calls it: The Bloody Valentine.

The Bloody Valentine pic from Erica@nwedible.com

The Bloody Valentine pic from Erica@nwedible.com

The Bloody Valentine

Makes 1 rather giant cocktail, or 2 petite pours.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1.5 oz. freshly squeezed blood orange juice
  • .25 oz. blood orange liqueur
  • Several generous shakes orange bitters

Method

Shake all ingredients hard with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of blood orange peel.

Sounds divine, right?  And blood oranges happen to be one of my favourite fruits of all time.  Erica describes it as “..charmingly macabre” and “…all exotic citrus and smokey whiskey”.  I mean, it has got to be good, don’t you think?

So who’s with me?  Wanna take a stand against the VDay madness and enjoy a few Bloody Valentines with me this weekend?

When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemon Tree

From the When Life Gives You Lemons… Series

Part 3: When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemon Tree 

or How to Care for Your Potted Lemon Tree

Now that you have successfully chosen and installed your beautiful new lemon tree it is important to treat it kindly to get it to produce to its best.  Here is what you do:

Gorgeous potted lemon tree.

Gorgeous potted lemon tree. (pic from whiteonricecouple.com)

1.  Watering

All citrus do best with infrequent, deep waterings as opposed to more frequent but shallow waterings.  A good rule of thumb is to stick your finger in to the soil up to your second knuckle.  If your finger feels dry it is time to water well.  If it is still moist then leave it another day or two.  Another tip: If the leaves start to wilt but perk up after watering then you left it too long between drinks.  If the leaves are yellowing and curling and don’t improve after watering then you are over-watering.

I have mine on a drip irrigation system which, frankly, is not ideal as it tends towards the more-frequent-less-deep method of watering which does not make lemons happy.  Still, although I am a keen urban gardener I admit to being a lazy urban gardener and we all have to make compromises in places.  This is where I make mine.  It still seems to work ok.

2.  Fertilizing and Pruning

Lemon trees tend to be heavy feeders and do best with monthly applications of fertilizer during the growing season.  I like this organic brand, E.B. Stone Citrus and Fruit Tree Food.  Look for a NPK formulation with twice as much nitrogen as phosphorus and potassium.  This one is 7-3-3 and is just right.

Love this brand.  Seems to keep my fruit trees healthy without being too powerful or toxic.

Love this brand. Seems to keep my fruit trees healthy without being too powerful or toxic.

I toss a handful around the base of my fruit trees when I remember, so probably not as regularly as is recommended.  It is important to water the fertilizer in well after application.

Most lemon trees you buy will have been grafted on to some other kind of root stock and you may find shoots starting to grow from below the graft join.  These shoots should be removed immediately as they will not grow true to the variety you bought and just suck energy away from the plant.

Pruning should only be done to maintain shape and balance in the early spring.  Look to remove any crossing or rubbing branches as these can lead to wounds and infections.

3. Pests.

My lemon tree tends to get aphids.  These little insects suck the sap from the leaves causing them to twist and deform.  If left untreated they can cause leaf drop and finally limb death (yikes!).  Best to tackle aphids early on.  You can use a commercial insecticidal soap for a serious infestation but for smaller problems I find a quick blast of water from the hose will knock them right off.  Alternatively, I might try a simple soap spray of 2tsp liquid dish soap in a gallon of water and a small slug of vegetable oil.  Spray all over the leaves paying particular attention to the undersides to get them all.  The dishsoap and oil suffocates the little beasts so be liberal in your application.

4. Winter Care

As previously described, I bring my citrus inside for the winter.  I normally think about moving them in when the night time temps consistently get to about 40*F.  They will certainly suffer, maybe even die, if caught in a frost so I move them in proactively.  I find my citrus are happiest in an unheated storeroom off the garage with a South West aspect.  In fact, they are so happy here they bloom all winter instead of sleeping.  I try to make the most of the early lemon friskiness by hand pollinating the blossoms myself, blogged about here.

Do you grow citrus in non-citrus friendly areas?  How do you protect them from the damaging frosts?  I’ve head in more milder climates people will wrap them in Christmas fairy lights to ward off the cold.  I bet that looks pretty too.  Any other ideas and solutions?

NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside

When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons

From the When Life Gives You Lemons…  Series.

Part 2: When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons

or How to Pot Up a Lemon Tree

1. Pick what kind of lemon tree you want to grow.

Since we’ll be growing our lemon tree in a pot we’ll need to pick a small-er growing lemon variety.  Some lemon tree varieties that do well in pots are:

  1. Improved Meyer Lemon
  2. Lisbon
  3. Eureka

Of these three my favourite is the Improved Meyer Lemon.  If you have ever tasted a Meyer Lemon you wouldn’t have to ask me why.  The fruit is much sweeter than the lemons you buy at the store, still with a classically fresh lemon tartness but with none of the bitterness.  You can almost (almost) eat them like an orange they are so good.  They skins are thinner, too, I find, and are great for zesting.  There is very little pith to worry about.  The pith is where much of the bitterness of the lemon is found.

Potted Meyer Lemon tree.  So pretty.

Potted Meyer Lemon tree. So pretty. (pic from homeanddecor.ca)

I have found that with a little TLC my Meyer Lemon will produce heavily.  The picture of the tree above doesn’t surprise me although I know it doesn’t look real.  In my first year my Meyer lemon tree gave me 14 lemons. 14!  Not bad for a baby, huh?  Now, the second year I got zero (I grumble about that here) but moving forward I expect my lemon tree to produce beautifully just like in the picture.  TIme will tell.

You may also have a choice in the shape of the tree you buy.  I bought a standard tree, which means it had been trained to look like a ball on a tall stick.  I think it looks more elegant although it will take more upkeep to maintain the standard shape.

2. Choose your pot.

A full grown lemon tree can grow 6′-10′ tall although they will likely be smaller when kept in a pot.  But still, a fairly sizable pot is needed, maybe 15-20 gallon pot to start.  Lemons need good drainage so make sure there are plenty of drain holes in the bottom.  As you’ll be moving it around pay heed to how heavy the pot is.  And pick a blue one.

3. Choose Your Growing Medium

I know it seems strange to talk about the growing medium but I promise you that a little time and research now will pay big dividends later.  You can buy a ready made citrus potting mix with different additives such as peat moss, perlite or vermiculite, just ensure the soil is light enough to drain the water well.  If you are like me you might want to just make your own.  I like a recipe I found on a citrus growing forum long ago and wrote down:

Citrus Potting Mix Recipe

  • 1/3 MiracleGro Vegetable Mix
  • 1/3 small bark chips
  • 1/3 perlite (although I use vermiculite as that is what I had on hand).

4. Potting Up the Tree

When transplanting a lemon tree I like to shake off most of the old potting soil before replanting, just because I know what is in my potting medium recipe and I know it works for my environment.  Your lemon tree may also come bare-rooted like this one from William Sonoma.  The sawdust is just to try to keep the roots moist during transit.  You will shake them all off before you plant this tree.

Bare root meyer lemon tree sold by Williams Sonoma

Bare root meyer lemon tree sold by Williams Sonoma

Before planting examine the roots.  Cut off any that are damaged or broken, or are circling around and look root bound.  Also trim off any broken or dead branches you might see.

Place the bare root tree in your pot, gently packing in the soil around the roots.  It is important to get the height right.  Plant so the roots are just below the surface but that the crown is just above it.  Water in well to remove any air spaces and to settle the plant in nicely.

NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemons