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Erin SheehanWeeds overrun our property in June and July. All around the garden fence and in the driveway cracks, weeds grow out of control. We spend hours pulling them, and a day or two later we’re right back where we started. We don’t like to use Round-up or things like it so Jim did a little research online for non-toxic weed remedies.


First Jim read that straight-up vinegar will kill weeds when applied directly to the foliage. I don’t know if any of you have tried this but it did not work for us. The weeds grew unabated after repeated vinegar applications. Back to the drawing board. Jim then found this recipe:

Homemade Weed Killer

1 gallon white vinegar
2 cups Epsom Salts
1/4 cup Dawn dish soap

Put all ingredients into a sprayer and thoroughly soak plants on a warm, sunny day. Be careful to use this on a day when you don’t expect rain for at least 24 hours.


It worked! Nearly all of the weeds died within a day or two of application. So we get to save our knees and backs from weeding and don’t harm the environment.

The ingredients are easy to find at your local grocery store. We found a sale on vinegar and really stocked up. You may find BJs or Costco has the lowest prices for the vinegar.

Let me know if you try this recipe and how you make out. I hope you are happy with your results! 


Erin SheehanWe celebrated our second wedding anniversary June 3. Like last year, we planned a picnic for two at a nearby state park to mark the occasion. This year we had to postpone due to the weather, but it didn’t matter. We had a nice dinner, starting with a salad using our very own greens from our back porch container garden. We sat at an overlook and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the outdoors.


There was a time when I was younger that I thought a “real” celebration had to mean going to a fancy restaurant or traveling somewhere, but now Jim and I are happy with a simple evening outdoors, eating home-cooked food.




Growing up, all of our family celebrations centered around home cooking, with the emphasis on good company and good eats, not fancy surroundings and being waited on. We celebrated my mom’s birthday last Sunday. The menu couldn’t have been simpler. Each family invited brought their own burgers to throw on the grill. We had homemade hamburger buns and homemade mustard. We also had homemade pickles, homemade zucchini relish and homemade chili sauce, all canned up last year with our garden vegetables. We had a cabbage salad with fresh cabbage from the garden and deviled eggs from a neighbor’s chicken.



For dessert we had rhubarb pie with rhubarb from the backyard and apple pie with canned apples from last fall. I don’t believe you could find a more delicious feast at the fanciest restaurant in Paris!

Offering guests homemade food, especially when you are using home-grown produce, is the greatest gift a hostess can give. It’s opening your heart and home to your friends and family in a special way. I encourage you to start small: try to bake your next birthday cake. Even if it doesn’t look like the ones at the grocery store bakery, that’s OK! Let me know how it goes. 


Erin SheehanThe past couple of years, round about April, I’ve thrown romaine lettuce seeds into a couple of containers on the back porch. With just a couple of bags of potting soil and a little regular watering, those containers yielded dozens of tasty salads. This year I kicked it up a notch and planted a variety of lettuce varieties. Wouldn’t you know, a salad with five or six types of greens doesn’t just look and sound fancy, it’s delicious, especially when there’s a spicy variety or two in the mix.



There are many types of spicy greens, but so far I’ve only tried two types of mustard and arugula. Growing a delicious salad is possible, even with limited space. All you need is a container or two, some dirt and a variety of seeds.

Two spicy greens to try are mustard and arugula. Mustard grows very quickly (matures in 35 to 45 days) and, like most salad greens, it does just fine in a container. Mustard bolts quickly so you’ll want to either succession plant a bit every couple of weeks or make sure to keep on top of your plants by not letting them flower. A few mustard leaves go a long way in a salad. They are quite spicy and the taste is, well, a lot like the yellow mustard in our refrigerator.



Like mustard, arugula grows very quickly. Again, a little goes a long way. The leaves are quite spicy and peppery. It adds a lot of flavor to salads and takes well to containers. Arugula doesn’t necessarily bolt quickly, so you can have a nice, long harvest.



To go with the spicy greens you could try growing a few different lettuce varieties. I put in Bibb, Romaine, Green Leaf and Red Leaf this year. Not only do we have colorful, diverse salads, by having so many different varieties we only have to pick a little from each kind for a salad. This allows the plants to rebound. They have produced continually throughout the spring/early summer.

Next year I’d like to add nasturtiums and cress. I’ve heard they grow quickly and offer a nice addition to a salad. Greens seeds are inexpensive and, even if all you have is a porch or a deck, you can give them a try in containers. Once you’ve had your own fresh-picked salad you will never buy those packaged salads again!


Erin SheehanI haven’t had rhubarb jam in years, but I remember loving it as a child. I always asked for rhubarb jam on my sandwich. Our rhubarb is so plentiful this year I decided to can up a batch of rhubarb jam for myself. I’ve made a lot of different jellies and jam but had never tried making rhubarb jam before.

Rhubarb jam is easy to make and deliciously sweet. It doesn’t set up as firm as some jams might, but it tastes great and it’s firm enough to use. You’ll find it a great addition to your breakfast and lunch table.


Ready to get started? Here’s the recipe:

Rhubarb Jam

2  1/2 pounds of thinly sliced rhubarb (I used the food processor slicing attachment)
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon dried orange peel
1 box Sure-Jell pectin
1/2 teaspoon butter (optional)
6  1/2 cups sugar

Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of hot (not boiling) water. Your jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.


Heat sliced rhubarb, orange juice and orange peel on stove over medium to high heat, stirring frequently. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb is softened. Measure out your sugar and have it ready in a bowl to add all at once. Add Sure-Jell and butter (if using, butter reduces foaming) to the rhubarb. Keep stirring until it returns to a full rolling boil. Add sugar and boil for exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with a spoon.



Remove your hot canning jars from the water and ladle the jam into the jars. Leave 1/4-inch headspace. Carefully clean the rims of your jars so you achieve a proper seal. Place lids and rings on jars (finger tighten rings) and place jars in your boiling water bath. Boil in the canner for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place on a towel. Let sit for about 24 hours. My yield was the equivalent of 9 pints. We had some on waffles for Sunday breakfast in place of syrup – delicious! 


Erin SheehanIf you have imported oranges or other citrus fruit sitting in your refrigerator or on your kitchen counter right now, please read on: this post is for you! You do not have to get Vitamin C from fruits coming out of Latin America. Though they seem to be currently out-of-favor and perhaps old-fashioned, fruits like rhubarb, currants and gooseberries are excellent sources of Vitamin C. Fortunately you can grow them easily in your own backyard. Starting a rhubarb patch and planting a couple of berry bushes will help reduce your dependence on the grocery store and help you to eat locally. Admittedly, rhubarb, gooseberries and currants are so tart that you will be hard-pressed to eat them without the addition of a fair amount of sugar or other sweeteners…


At this time of year most home-gardeners are swimming in rhubarb. You do not need any special gardening skills to grow rhubarb, it pretty much grows like a weed once you get it started. One of my favorite ways to use it is in muffins. We put a batch or two in the freezer and heat up a couple at a time to have with afternoon coffee.


Here’s my tried-and-true rhubarb muffin recipe:

Rhubarb Muffins

2½ cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup oil

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup sour cream

½ cup water

1½ cups rhubarb

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

3 Tbsp white sugar

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together. In separate bowl, mix brown sugar, oil, egg, vanilla, sour cream and water well. Add in dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Do not over-stir or your muffins will be tough. Spoon into a greased, floured muffin tin. Top with a sprinkle of white sugar and press it in with a spoon just a bit. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. Makes 24. 


Erin SheehanOur rhubarb patch has plants from three sources: my mom and two of our neighbors. After just a couple of years the plants have taken hold and we harvest enough for several pies, muffins, rhubarb wine and jam.


rhubarb recipe


Rhubarb is delicious and loaded with vitamin C and vitamin K. It pretty much grows like a weed once you get it in, so it’s worthwhile to try to track some down if you don’t already have a patch out back.

We made a Rhubarb Pie last weekend with our first harvest of the season. I know most people like to mix rhubarb with strawberries in a pie, but this recipe may surprise you. The addition of a little orange peel makes it delicious! Straight rhubarb pie needs a fair bit of sugar to balance the tartness of the rhubarb, but that's OK, we only eat it a few times a year, right?



Old-fashioned Rhubarb Pie
Yields 1 10-inch pie.

1/4 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups sugar
Grated peel from one orange (or 1 tablespoon dried orange peel)
4 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 egg
Pastry for double-crust pie

Combine flour, cinnamon, sugar and orange peel. Add rhubarb and egg and mix well. Line the bottom of your 10-inch pie plate with pastry. Add filling. Top with second pastry. Cut slits in the top to allow air to escape during baking.

Bake at 425 F for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. Remove from oven when your crust is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling.


Erin SheehanWe fully planted plot No. 1 of our two vegetable gardens this week. Typical of most gardeners, we complain that our plot is both too large and too small: When we’re about 2/3 of the way done planting and want to quit because we’re so tired, it’s too large. But when it’s fully planted and we’re looking down at five neck pumpkin seedlings that we simply can’t squeeze in, it’s too small!



We have a strategy with the plot. It’s three blocks from home, so we plant only crops that take up lots of space, require little maintenance, and can be harvested pretty much all at once. This year we put in Sweet Meat Squash, Neck Pumpkins, pie pumpkins and watermelon. Sweet Meats grow to about 10 to 15 pounds and are supposed to be great keepers, with rich, sweet flesh. Neck Pumpkins grow as large as 2 feet in length and weigh up to 20 pounds. They have a small seed cavity, so you get many pounds of delicious, vitamin-packed flesh in each one.

Due to changing weather patterns, we seem to get more deluge-type rains in this area. To protect our tender seedlings from drowning, we mound up the soil and put the plants high on the mounds. We also cover the entire plot with layered newspaper and then weigh it down with 75 or so wheelbarrows full of mulch. (Now you know why we’re so tired after planting!) Newspaper helps combat weeds by smothering weed seeds underground.

We hope to harvest at least 150 pounds of squash and pumpkins in the fall. People always ask me what we do with all of it. Because we don’t eat meat, we eat a lot of stews, soups and casseroles. I add a little squash to each one. I also make pumpkin soup, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin pizza and pumpkin bread throughout the year.  Somehow we use it all up. The gourds store well until round about December, when I cook or bake them all up and stick them in the freezer. Perfect timing as there’s not much to do out in the garden in December ….

If you have a lot of space, try out a Neck Pumpkin or a Sweet Meat this year. Let me know how you make out! 

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