Monday, October 31, 2011

Quick Gifts: DIY Seed Packets

DIY Seed Packet from scrapbook paper.

Do you need a quick inexpensive little gift idea for your gardening friends?  Here is a little seed packet that is super fast to make (under 5 minutes each), costs pennies and is easy enough for the kids to do too.

So many fun options for colors
You will need....
  • 12" x 12" scrap book paper (printed on one side and not card stock)
  • Scissors or paper cutter
  • Straight edge (needed if you cut your paper with scissors)
  • String, rustic twine, ribbon or raffia...sparkley, metallic, lacy, creative! (narrow is better for the ribbon or lace)
  • Craft glue...A small hand held roll-on adhesive dispenser worked best for this project, though you can use any good craft glue.  (Be careful not to over apply liquid glue or you risk glue seeping out from under the seams and having seeds getting stuck in it.)
  • 1/4" dowel or round pen/pencil
  • Waterproof marking pen (fine tip) in a coordinating color for writing the label.  Prisma Color, Copic or Sharpie markers all would work fine.
  • Computer (optional if you want to create labels to stick on in a creative font)
  • Coordinating paper for labels (Optional)

STEP 1 - Measure your sheet of paper first before you cut anything.  A lot of what are supposed to be 12" square sheets are a little bigger along one side (especially the less expensive sheets).  Trim off any excess now.

STEP 2 - Cut the paper into 6 - 2" wide strips...

2" x 4" paper pieces

STEP 3 - Cut these long strips into 3 - 4" long pieces (makes 18 - 2"x4" pieces).  These will become your seed packet tubes

STEP 4 - Next you want to label each piece of paper on the printed side. Do them all at the same time to save yourself time moving back and forth between steps. If you want to use a darker or really busy paper it may work best to add a label printed on complimentary colored paper or maybe try stamping and embossing the name in bright white so it is easy to read. 

Your computer can come in handy if you need make labels to add on later as it is often much faster creating a bunch of one kind of label in Word than it is writing a whole bunch of labels...and if you are like me and your handwriting isn't real beautiful...well you get the idea.

Seem glued tight and ready for #7
 STEP 5 - Roll each piece of paper around the dowel the long way.  This shapes the tube that will become the seed packet. them all at once.

Step 6 - Add glue along one 4" edge on the plain side of the paper and carefully roll the paper back into a tube so the glue will not be exposed. The corners should meet the top and bottom edges of the tube...this will make the seam straight in the back.  Also note the tube you are creating will be larger than the diameter of the pencil/dowel that you used.

Glue and pinch tight
Once you have it lined up press it lightly to seal, insert the dowel/pencil back into the tube and placing the seam between the dowel and the work surface, roll the dowel back and forth applying pressure on the seam to make it stick down tight.  You will have a pile of tubes with both ends open at this point.

Glue and fold to finish sealing the end

STEP 7 - Put a spot of glue on the inside edge bottom (right) end of the tube and press down to seal.  Apply to the bottom 1/2 inch of the closed end and fold the end up on itself and press down firmly to seal. 

NOTE: You can use the adhesive applicator but I recommend 3 in 1 glue or Tacky glue for this.  Just don't over apply the liquid only takes a tiny bit.  Be sure this end is firmly sealed before moving to the next step!

Just a couple smidgens of seed will be enough of this lettuce

STEP 8 - Now you get to add the seeds.  It can either be seed you saved or purchased.  I save seeds from my garden every year to give to others and today I'm using the Bijou Lettuce seed...a favorite in our kitchen garden here at Tinkerer's Paradise.

I am putting in 2 smidgens of lettuce seed in each packet...yes I have measuring spoons for such things.  The set I have costs around $4.00 and are really handy for measuring out seeds.  They are available online and in some kitchen shops.

STEP 9 - Carefully add glue to the open end and press to close.

Center the packet in the middle of the ribbon

STEP 10 - Add the final bit of glue and lay the ribbon 1/2" from the end and fold the end over top and press down firmly until securely glued down.  Tie the ribbon ends together.  I just used a simple knot but you could make a bow to prettify the little packet.

Simple knot tied at the top and you're done.

Here is the fun part!  How many ways can you think of to use these?   I came up with these in just a few minutes...
  • Purse/pocket presents...carry then with you so you can hand them out anytime or anywhere! 
  • Seed Tree party favors for a garden party or kids party.  
  • Gift embellishments added to the bow.
    Super stocking stuffers
  • Bundle a bunch together artistically and create a useable ornament for the tree...the list goes on and on.
  • New Years gifts for hopes for a bountiful new year.
  • Or how about a collection of seeds for your favorite salad greens and edible flowers for a salad garden kit.

Now its your turn.  Make them the same size or bigger, in whatever color of paper you want...its up to you.
Have fun and happy gifting!

Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quince Candy 101...oops

Quince (Cydonia oblonga 'Van Damen') in my husband's large mits

Looking for the perfect quince candy recipe?  So am I. This post was supposed to be about quince candy that was a bite of heaven but this recipe turned out more like chunky jam instead.  I made some once before but could not for the life of me find the recipe I used (its probably hiding someplace safe) so I had to find a new one online.  So why am I writing this blog at all you ask…because evaluating what didn’t work and tweaking the original recipe will help us discover what will work. 

What is the big deal about quince candy anyway?  For starters it is said to be equivalent to Turkish Delight when made properly but for me, finding that recipe has become a good puzzle and I love the reward of solving puzzles.  Besides if we get this one right there will be one stellar recipe for quince candy out there that everyone can enjoy!

First off let me say that making quince candy does take some patience but it is worth it and is really quite pretty as well as an unusual and delightful confection...well normally it is.  So here is the recipe I followed.

Lets get started!
First I peeled, cored and dice enough fruit to fill my Dutch oven about three quarters full. The recipe I used didn’t specify what amount of raw fruit was to be used so I guess and would recommend 10 cups.  If you have more than you need you can always sweeten it and use it on waffles, (we love quince sauce on waffles).

This is simmering too hard, thus the excess foaming of the fruit.

I poured in enough water in to cover the fruit well and added 1 ½ tbs. fresh lemon juice. (Lemon juice helps to keep the fruit from turning brown.) I covered the pot and set it on medium high heat until it began to simmer nicely and then took the lid off and turned the heat to medium low so it simmers slowly until the fruit was tender.

Save the juice and reduce down for later use

The original recipe said it would take 20 to 30 minutes…I’m guessing the author of the recipe I was using cut their fruit into large chunks and I had cut mine into 1” diced bits which cooked twice as fast and were actually starting to fall apart.

Next I drained the fruit.  Because the fruit was cooked past being tender I had to be sure the strainer I used to drain the fruit didn’t allow for the smashed bits to run on through with the juice when it was strained.  A medium sized wire strainer worked great for this with only the tiniest bit of fruit getting through.

I weighed the drained fruit, which came to 4 pounds…exactly what the recipe called for (got lucky on that one) putting the drained fruit into the pot.  I added an equal weight of sugar to the pot as the recipe called for, added 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and stirred it to blend. (Equivalents for cups are noted below for your convenience.)

Do not hurry this pot or you'll scorch the sugar

I set the heat to medium low and sat watch over the pan, stirring frequently too avoid burning the sugar for 2 ½ hours until the fruit was thick enough that the spoon left a visible trench behind it when run through the middle. (Again as the recipe directed)

The natural color of quince when cooked long enough.
Hot fruit into the pan and spread evenly
Run your hand over the paper to smooth the candy

The fruit was then poured onto a large jellyroll pan lined with parchment paper, spread evenly to about ½’ thick and covered on top with a second sheet of parchment and left to dry 36 hours.  The recipe called for only 24 hours but it seemed too moist to me so I gave it a little extra drying time.  My pan was a bit larger than needed.

Good morning my sweetness, you look so lovely.

This morning I lifted the paper and was not very pleased with how moist and sticky the fruit was.  I could have left it to dry on its own but since I don’t have anywhere to stash a large baking sheet for a week, I decided to try using my oven set at 200 degrees and dry it like fruit leather.  It was in the oven for about an hour. 

Hmmm...chunky candy it's not supposed to be.

I admit I was impatient and this didn’t work very well either as the edges dried only a little bit but the center was still too moist.  I think adding some gelatin to the fruit would really have helped in this recipe so one could actually pick it up with their fingers but as it stands…I recommend a spoon.  I will try the gelatin and the methods I recommend in the notes below in the 102 version so stay tuned.

  • Smaller pieces take less time to cook than larger ones.
  • Fruit is chunky so I recommend processing fruit in a food processor before returning it to the pan or the candy will come out chunky as well.  
  • Quince fruit is a bit grainy in texture so I am looking for a way to reduce this character and still keep the valuable pulp in the candy.
  • Be sure the parchment is up on the sides of the pan so you can extract the candy without it sticking to the sides or bottom
  • Weight to cups equivalents for both fruit and sugar: 8 cups = 4 pounds or 2 cups = 1 pound. (Makes it really easy if you want to half or quarter the recipe)
  • Save the water you drain off of the fruit and use it for a spiced drink or cook it down to capture the pectin which quince are famous for.

Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Beef Stew Ala Mrs Patty

Mrs Patty's Stew

There is nothing that says Fall quite like stew made with fresh tomatoes and a host of other veggies.  My mom used to make stew often.  It was one of our favorite meals and still is today.  Stew is one of those beautiful meals where exact measurements of the vegetables isn't really necessary.  I find I put in more or less of some things as I have them available and often don't add in tomatoes at all which gives the stew a completely different character, less acidic but still just as hardy.   I make stew a lot but am notorious for never measuring but doing things by taste and it always seems to work out.  It was fabulous last night and even better this evening.  Here's what I did....

Beef Stew ala Mrs. Patty
1 pound sirloin steak trimmed and cut into cubes (about 3/4" square works good)
2 tbsp grape seed oil
*fresh ground pepper
1/2 to 1 tsp dry thyme
3 tbsp dried parsley
1 generous tbsp fresh garlic chopped fine and smashed a bit
1 large onion diced rough (large pieces)
2 medium carrots peeled and cut into squarish chunks about the same size as the beef

2 stalks celery diced

8 cups potatoes scrubbed and unpeeled cut to 1" pieces (approx)
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
5 to 6 cups peeled tomatoes chopped (garden fresh if you have them)

1/2 medium size head cabbage rough chopped  (I used red cabbage but green will do fine too)

2 bay leaves
1 tbsp Better than Bullion organic Beef stock concentrate
Water to fill

Sprinkle meat with a bit of *salt (about 1/2 teaspoon or less) and give it a good sprinkle of *fresh ground pepper (1/4 to 1/2 tsp) and stir meat to coat evenly.  With the burner on high, heat up oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot or dutch oven. When the hot begins to show ripples add the meat spreading it out in the pan as best you can.  Check in a couple minutes to see if the meat is releasing from the pan bottom and stir well when it does.

Continue browning the meat, stirring every minute or so and when the beef is nearly done browning toss in the chopped onion and continue cooking stirring often until the onion is about half done and has started caramelizing a little bit.

Next add the carrots, garlic and celery and continue cooking, stirring often to avoid burning and cook until they begin to release the caramilization on the bottom of the pan. (It won't release completely so don't worry if some sticks)

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and fill up the pot with water, heat to a boil and reduce heat to simmer partially covered. Be sure to check the pot once in a while and taste the broth.

*I add salt to taste adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon at a time until its close and then in pinches until I like it.  I have found if I cook it with less salt the flavors of the vegetables are more pronounced and sweet.  This also keeps me from over salting the pot (which I've done before).  You can always add salt later but cannot take it out if you put in too much.

*Use 2 cups of Russet potatoes which fall apart more in cooking and help add substance to the broth
*I ground the pepper over top so it was not measured but was about 1/4 tsp with more ground on top of each bowl full at serving.  If you use standard pepper use 1/4 tsp and then add to suit your taste.

*For a richer broth you could use drippings from roast beef or add a couple tablespoons of butter.(Everything is better with butter.)
*I added a dollop of sour cream to each bowl at serving which added a really nice counter flavor to the vegetable broth flavor.  It reminded me a lot of the flavor of the borscht our Russian neighbor makes.

Stew...its beautiful food.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

There's gno business like gnome business!

You know how those simple requests that are asked of friend sometimes turn out to be really cool blessings.  Well my good pal Gardening Jones blessed my socks off this week after I gave her permission to use my gnome photos in a project she was working on.

Gnomette waiting for makeup and hoping for a closeup

I had no idea they would become movie stars and then a link to my blog too!  Just having a good laugh was worth it but the link was sweet icing on the cake.  (Thanks GJ, we could all use more friends like you.)  Check our Gardening Jones little project here on YouTube "On Gardening Gnomes"  It is one of the better gnome exposes I have seen to date.

By the way, you can catch Gardening Jones on her blog and on Facebook along with me and a whole lot of other crazy-for-gardening types in the Gardenaholics Anonymous group.  The best group of gardening enablers on the planet. Not to mention they are mighty nice folks too.

Happy gardening!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Highbush Blueberry Scorch Blues; a Disease Profile

Was your blueberry harvest less than it should be?  Do the leaves of your blueberry plants get burnt looking edges and look unhealthy?  This is something to be concerned about as it is not regular fall color.

Symptomatic leaves of Vaccinium 'Berkley Blue'

Last year when all the blossoms blasted I blamed the birds for eating them off the plant...though I had no proof and it literally seemed to happen over night.  Actually it looks now like it is more than likely a viral infection called "Blueberry Scorch" a serious disease.  So it looks like I will be sending in plant samples for verification.  Experts suspect the virus is spread by aphids that carry the disease from plant to plant when they feed on the plants using their piercing sucking mouth parts.  This virus affects cranberries which will not show symptoms of the disease.

No this is not the leaves turning color with the onset of fall.

The first year my plants showed no sign of the disease (typical for the virus), though the harvest was slim and some branches died back.  I just figured the moles that run under all my favorite plants had found them and that is why they didn't thrive.  The second year almost no harvest at all.  That was the year I thought it was birds picking off the blooms.   This year, some flowers and a handful of fruit, but yowzer...the leaves are suffering an all out onslaught of the disease and the poor thing just looks horrid making me sing the blues over my blueberries.

Blueberry Scorch takes 1 to 2 years to show up on plants and it is my belief that one of the plants I purchased a couple years ago was infected with the disease.  Both plants looked wonderful when I purchased them and that is how these things work sometimes. Oh well...I learned something new again this year.  Not exactly what I was looking to learn but its something new anyway.

One of my plants, a 'Blue Crop', still shows no sign of the disease on the leaf but has suffered poor fruit production and branch die-back for three seasons now.  So it looks like both of them are heading for the burn pile with samples going in for testing.  Quite honestly really fries me because blueberries grow so well here where I live and they are one of my most favorite fruits.

Sad little leaf

The lesson learned here is to purchase blueberries that are certified disease free.  That will mean asking the local garden centers if their plants are certified (most don't advertise that information) and even asking for proof.  I would rather ask and be sure than not and spend years waiting to find out they are sick.

Well I hope this will help you avoid the pit I fell into with my blueberries.  Hmmm...I wonder if there is a song in there somewhere.  "I got the blu-ueberry sco-o-orch blu---ues!"  Maybe.

Happy gardening!

Friday, October 7, 2011

One Plus Two Equals Perfect; Seed Storage Solutions

Have you ever passed up a good thing without really thinking it through.  Well that is what I almost did just that.  A while back I did a product review on the Seed Keeper Deluxe seed storage system.

I really  liked the concept, found it to be well thought out and nicely designed over all.  But then I looked at my huge seed box and went "Naw...too small for me." and decided I it would make a better gift loaded up with some veggie and flower seeds and local gardening info.  Well, here's what happened before that happened.

I had been secretly plotting in my mind...

As I sauntered down the storage isle of a local department store a couple days ago, I just happened to see the very same containers the Seed Keeper Deluxe uses out of the corner of my eye sitting at eye level on the shelves like someone planted them there...and I wasn't looking for them either.  Not only were they the same size but they came in other sizes too.  Now I could build a whole custom system...WOW!  I squealed with delight as I had secretly been trying to dream up a way to integrate the Seed Keeper into my system and this discovery was about to make that happen.

Yup...that should do it.

I stood there fondling the containers in their various sizes, going over in my brain all the stuff I had stored in my huge seed box and trying to figure out how I could make work with the help a couple of these new containers.  I grabbed one of the same size as the one the Seed Keeper kit and decided it would work for the seed I save from my garden and task relates supplies.  Knowing I still had my seed sowing tools that needed a place to reside I grabbed the low profile version since it seemed it might work nicely for the other tools and tags.  Selections complete I trotted up to the cashier and plunked my booty on the counter.

Tidy equals a happy garden gal.

I was pretty pleased with my find and downloaded with some detail for the cashier, what the containers were for and how I was going to use them; I talk a lot when I get excited about something like this.  She smiled and gave me one of "those" looks, nodding and said "That's nice" and handed me my boxes and the receipt. my son says, "My mom is weird."  At least it's weird in a generous/funny/yes-I'm-addicted-to-gardening kind of way.  (I love you Sam.)

Bye bye bread box.

So after this experience I really think that if you are wanting a good seed storage system, the Seed Keeper Deluxe is a very good place to start.  If I wasn't such a compulsive seed buyer/saver one box would probably be enough, but its a good thing to know the system can grow right along with your garden and garden skills.

Happy Gardening!

Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.