Make Your Own English Muffins. Mmmm homemade eggs benedict…
If I were going to describe the latest drink I made with DIY Cocktails, I would describe it as a grapefruit and elderflower soda with a strawberry chaser. That is to say, delicious.
This Pink Collins is delightful with fresh strawberries and grapefruit, elderflower liqueur, and the fizz of club soda. Like most well-made vodka drinks, you barely know you’re drinking alcohol, so be careful.
(makes one cocktail)
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1 oz St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
1/2 oz simple syrup
2-3 strawberries, cut up
Put all ingredients except the club soda into a cocktail shaker. Muddle. Pour into a glass. Add ice. Pour club soda to the top of the glass. Enjoy!
I’ve talked about beneficial insects as a means of pest control in the vegetable garden before. Without a doubt, getting natural predators to destroy pests for you is the easiest, cleanest, no-hassle way to have happy plants.
While attracting these insects is not hard, the first step is to learn to recognize them when you see them. So here are Five More Beneficial Insects to keep an eye out for in the garden:
1. Soldier Beetle. As I mentioned in my post on controlling aphids, last year I had an aphid infestation on my fava beans. I was out there every day spraying my plants with water, but there always seemed to be more aphids on the plants. Then suddenly, this swarm of bugs descended on my fava beans. They were soldier beetles, and like a protecting army, they ate all the aphids and then moved into the backyard and ate more aphids off some sow thistle I had allowed to grow up. I couldn’t believe how great these bugs were.
To attract to your yard, plant hydrangea, catnip, or goldenrod in your garden.
2. Tachinid Fly. There are many types of flies out there in the world besides the common house fly, and tachinid flies are some of the best for your garden. The adults lay eggs on pests like cutworms or earwigs, and the larvae then destroy the insect from the inside out. One female can lay up to 6,000 eggs. The adult flies are also pollinizers.
To attract to your garden, plant parsley, buckwheat, or lemon balm.
3. Black Ground Beetle. Talk about ubiquitous, these beetles are everywhere. They like to eat soft-bodied insects like caterpillars, snails, and slugs. Black Ground Beetles are nocturnal, meaning they are a defense to insects that do damage to your plants at night.
They like to live in decaying plant matter, so black ground beetles will probably show up in your mulch.
4. Braconid Wasps. I’m not going to lie, braconid wasps are disturbing little suckers. They are parasitoid wasps that lay dozens of white eggs on pests like the tomato hornworm, which then slowly suck the life out of the poor caterpillar. (Click here to see an image of what this looks like.) But they are extremely effective in the garden and get rid of many pests.
To attract, plant herbs like yarrow, coriander, fennel, or dill.
5. Spiders. Every year in late summer, my garden is suddenly full of spider webs. It is always tempting to remove them, but I usually let the webs stand, at least around tomatoes and other pest-attracting plants. Spiders will certainly eat anything that comes into its web–although that also includes other beneficial insects like honeybees.
To attract spiders, just let the webs stay put. I notice that one web is soon surrounded by several others; spiders must look to each other for good spots to build their homes.
For more on what plants to put in to attract specific beneficial insects, check out this site.
This year, I have noticed a dramatic increase of ladybugs in my garden. I figured this was because of the dramatic number of aphids–and it probably is–but it may also have something to do with the yarrow plant I put on the border of my yard. It seems to be bringing in new insects I haven’t seen before.
(Yarrow Flower courtesy of Bailie Byrne)
Or maybe the ecology of the garden is just getting more complex. I’m don’t know.
Lately I have been trying to identify the predatory insects, those beneficial bugs that eat the “bad” bugs like aphids. I am hoping that by bringing beneficial insects into the garden, the cycle of nature will get the aphids under control without me having to do anything.
Everyone knows that ladybugs eat aphids, as well as mites and other critters. But I have learned that their larva eats something like 10 times the numbers of bug than an adult ladybug does. Also, the larva looks nothing like a ladybug.
It looks like an accordion crossed with an alligator. I have seen these in my garden too, but thought they were another bug. Apparently not, just baby ladybugs.
I also have been seeing this guy:
I thought it was a wasp or a yellow jacket, but it is a hoverfly. Like the ladybug, their larvae eat aphids, as well as mealybugs, scale, and leafhoppers. Adult hoverflies feed on pollen and are attracted by bright flowers, like yarrow. They don’t have stingers, either.
This is a Minute Pirate Bug. I think I have seen them around. It eats thrips, aphids, caterpillars, and spiders. So a bit of a mix there–spiders are cool–but anything that eats aphids is welcome in my garden.
Here is a Big-Eyed Bug. Creepy but effective. It kills everything–whiteflies, aphids, mites, cabbage loopers, and bollworms, among them. I haven’t noticed them in my yard, but I am keeping my eyes open.
Finally, this is a lacewing. Its larvae eat aphids, mealeybugs, mites, and caterpillars. Here’s a picture of the lacewing larva:
Incidentally, there is one plant that is said to attract all of these beneficial insects: the Buckwheat plant. It attracts all the above insects, except the Big-eyed Bug, and you can make cereal out of it.
Maybe I should plant some next to the yarrow.
Here is more on good and bad bugs in the garden.
When I was first married, I told my Southern-born husband that I was going to make him biscuits. He was pleased, but when I put the biscuits in front of him, he took one look and said, “Those aren’t biscuits.”
It seems that what I had grown up thinking of as biscuits were a far cry from what most Americans, especially Southerners, consider biscuits. My biscuits were cakey and sweet, closer to the base of a strawberry shortcake than the typical flaky Southern-style biscuit. (If you want to make those, Mr. Savvy recommends this recipe.)
Over the years, I have grown to prefer the Southern biscuit, but sometimes I still get in the mood for the ones I ate growing up. So here they are.
This is my mom’s recipe. Since her family is from Canada, I’m calling these Canadian Biscuits, although they may be closer to tea cakes or scones. I like to eat them with butter and jam, but they also make a kickass base for strawberry shortcake–just add cut-up strawberries and a dollop of whip cream.
Makes 6 biscuits
2 c flour
4 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
4 Tbs butter
1 egg + milk = 2/3 cup*
* In a 2/3 measuring cup, break an egg and stir with a fork. Fill with milk until the total of both the egg and milk is 2/3 cup.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and baking powder. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Add the milk/egg mixture and mix until you have a dough.
Turn the dough out onto a flour surface. Pat out or roll the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Dip a drinking glass or cookie cutter in flour and cut out biscuits until you have 6 total.
Transfer to an oiled cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes, until the biscuits are lightly golden. Enjoy!
Since Cinco de Mayo is coming up, DIY Cocktails and I came up with the Mango Margarita.
As you probably guessed by the name, this is a margarita with fresh mango added to it. We enhanced the mild flavor of the mango with some fresh-squeezed citrus and a good-quality tequila, making a drink that is refreshing and tropical tasting, but not too sweet or cloying.
I have to say, this is one of our more versatile drinks. It would be great with either spicy Mexican food or a pleasant Sunday brunch. You could scale it up and make a pitcher for guests or just have one while relaxing in the backyard. What makes this drink so tasty is that it uses a lot of fresh fruit–roughly one mango per drink. That may sound like a lot, but it’s worth it, especially if you get the mangoes on sale.
(makes one drink)
3 oz mango puree, approximately one mango
1 1/2 oz tequila
1/4 oz cointreau or triple sec
1 oz orange juice, freshly squeezed
1/4-1/3 oz lime juice, freshly squeezed
Lime twist for garnish
Peel the mango. Slice the fruit and put it into a blender of food processor. Discard the skin and the pit.
Run the blender until the fruit is thoroughly mashed and juicy. Meanwhile, juice the orange and lime.
In a cocktail shaker, combine all the ingredients and the ice. Shake hard to integrate. Remove the lid from the shaker (carefully–it can be messy) and pour all, including the ice, into a glass. Garnish with a lime twist, if desired. Enjoy!
One of the common questions I’m asked about my garden is how I get peppers to grow. I don’t think I am the pepper whisperer or anything, but I do usually get a lot of peppers.
A great thing about growing your own peppers is that you can have varieties you don’t see in the store. This year I’m growing chocolate and purple bell peppers, jalapeños, Anaheims, and a gorgeous cayenne pepper variety called Andy, which are sweet and spicy and turn bright red.
Another great thing about peppers: they are easy to store. Most spicy peppers dry easily, and all peppers freeze. If you live in a pepper-friendly climate, grow them. You will be glad you did.
Chocolate Bell Peppers
How To Grow Peppers:
Peppers are what I think of as a “greedy plant.” Like tomatoes and squash, they like a lot of light, rich soil, and consistent watering. Give them these things and they will reward you considerably.
Choose full sunlight. Peppers do not like it to be cold. They do best in at least 6 hours of sunlight.
Plant after the frost date. Pepper plants do not bounce back from frosts. I’ve found that even one frost will permanently sicken a pepper plant. In general, plant in the late spring, around the time you would put in tomatoes.
Peppers like good drainage. The last thing you want is a pepper sitting in clay soil where its roots will stay soaking wet. If your soil isn’t the type that drains well, consider planting 2 or 3 peppers in a big (20-gallon-ish) container, where they will have room to stretch out, and where the water will drain better.
Mix fertilizer with the soil. When planting peppers, I add steer manure or compost to the soil for added richness and to help establish roots. I find this is all the fertilizer that peppers need.
Watering peppers is easy. Water every day, consistently, but don’t over water. At the height of summer, each pepper plant gets about 1/2 gallon water a day.
That’s it! It’s pretty simple: keep them warm, give them regular water, and make sure they have rich soil with good drainage. This formula should lead to a harvest of nice big peppers in late summer.
Optional companion planting tip: I find that basil and peppers seem to need the same resources in terms of water, soil, and light, so planting them together makes sense.
Basil likes to bunk with tomato plants, too.
I always say I live on top of an anthill. Truly, the number of ants in my yard is amazing. They don’t invade my house, but they love to destroy my plants by colonizing them with aphids and scales. I’ve gotten pretty good at controlling aphids but the real problem was the ants putting the aphids on the plants, and I knew it. If I didn’t cut down the number of ants in my yard, this problem would keep coming back year after year.
And these ants were maddening. Unlike sugar ants, which will go to any ant bait and take it blithely back to the nest, these ants walked right past the commercial ant traps I put out. And no matter how many times I dumped boiling water on their anthills, there always seemed to be more of them.
Finally I did some research and discovered that they are Argentine Ants, an invasive species that can be found all over the United States, especially California where I live. They are sometimes called piss ants.
Unlike other species of ants, Argentine ants aren’t competitive. While other ants fight over territory, Argentine ants join forces and make huge colonies with multiple queens, forming what biologists call “supercolonies.”
So what do you know, I really WAS living on top of an anthill.
The multiple queens also explained why the boiling water didn’t work. Dumping the water on the hill may have killed off a number of ants, even the queen, but there were eight more to take her place.
The answer to my problem was Borax. This white powder is sold in most grocery stores and is a common ingredient in cleaners. One box costs about $5.
I used the following recipe and the ants were so excited about it that they stopped colonizing my Jerusalem artichoke with aphids and concentrated on taking the bait back to the nest instead. Soon enough they had all disappeared.
Since then I have used the recipe several other times to the same results.
And the best part is, while borax may be poisonous, this trap is set up so that your pets and other wildlife can’t get to it.
How To Get Rid Of Outdoor Ants:
3 parts sugar
2 parts borax
Enough water to loosen the solution
When dealing with poison of any kind, always wear gloves.
In a pot, dissolve the sugar, borax, and water over medium heat until it turns to a paste. Carefully spoon the mixture into and old soda or beer can. This keeps animals out of the bait and protects it from rain.
Place the can in the ant stream and wait for them to notice it. Once they do, leave it alone and soon enough, the ants will be gone. (This can sometimes take awhile depending on the size of the colony. The first anthill I killed went at the bait for almost three weeks before they died out.)
To illustrate, here is a trap I set for a colony that recently appeared on my porch. The ants have been on it nonstop since I set it out:
As you can see, I accidentally squeezed the can and some of the baits spilled onto the bricks. Although that sped up the ant’s interest in the bait, I don’t recommend it because it encourages other animals to notice it as well.
To protect my cats, I put a plastic tub over the bait.
Now nothing can get at it, except the ants.
But not for long.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but warm temperatures have caused maple syrup production to drop, which may mean we’ll all be paying more for maple-y goodness at the breakfast table this year.
When I heard that, I thought immediately of a homemade “maple” syrup recipe in The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. So I doctored the recipe a bit and gave it a try. I have to say, it came out pretty good. It tastes exactly like the pancake syrup you buy in the store, maybe even better than some, and it was easy to make, too.
Best of all, homemade pancake syrup is cheaper than the store stuff. A typical bottle of syrup costs $3-$4, and this recipe costs about $1.60 to make, half the price of the store-bought syrup. Plus, there’s no corn syrup in it.
One thing to note: I added 1 tablespoon of vodka to the mix to prolong the life of the syrup. If you do this, keep in mind there will be a trace amount of alcohol in the pancake syrup that you may not feel comfortable serving at the breakfast table. It’s up to you.
(Makes about 3 cups)
3 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c water
3 Tbs molasses
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp maple extract
1 Tbs vodka (optional)
In a large pot, bring all ingredients to a boil. Stir about 2 minutes until the sugar dissolves and mixture turns the color of pancake syrup. Turn off the burner and let cool. (The pancake syrup will thicken as it cools.) Add in the optional vodka and transfer to a bottle. Enjoy!
ETA: For more reading, check out What is maple extract?
This year, I’m going to try trellising my tomatoes. After all, tomatoes are a vine, and it makes sense that they can be trellised like any other vine. The advantages of a trellis is:
* It looks neat and organized.
* It gives the tomato plenty of room to branch out.
* It’s easy to harvest the tomatoes.
* If the trellis is strong, it won’t be collapsing over like weaker cages do.
The key, it seems, is to make a strong trellis, preferably with wire. Tomato plants, if you plant them the right way, get huge and very heavy.
Have you ever trellised your tomato plants? Share your tips below.