Q&A with Mrs. P

You have questions—well, look no further. The plant kingdom authority has answers!

During a lull at my book club meeting several members mentioned their summer gardens.

What with one thing or another, the conversation led into a regular old “Ask Mrs. P” session. Later, after our book club facilitator concluded our discussion of “The Girl on the Train” (let me tell you, it’s a real downer of a book), it occurred to me that my readers might enjoy the info that was relayed. Modesty aside, I do serve as Bakersfield Magazine’s unequaled authority on the plant kingdom, in case you were wondering about my gardening bona fides.

Q.

Is there anything that can be done with the throw-away skins left over in the preserving process when canning tomatoes? It seems such a shame not to make them into something useful.

A.

Have you never heard of Tomato-Skin Powder? Easier to make than a mistake, you simply lay out the wet skins onto a parchment paper or silpat-lined baking sheet. Slow dry in the oven at the lowest temperature setting until they are crisp. materOnce the skins are dry and cooled, grind them into a fine powder using a coffee grinder. I have one that I use for grinding herbs and spices only. A food processor will work but you’ll get something more like tomato flakes than powder, which is ok, too. The net result is a colorful and tangy flavoring that you can sprinkle on food, much as you’d use paprika.

Q.

How can I keep my cut sunflowers and zinnias lasting longer? They always seem to droop and die after only a day or so.

A.

Remove below-water foliage, for a start, meaning any plant leaves and flowers left in the vase water. If not stripped off it causes rot and spreads bacteria which will kill your flowers before their time. sunChange the water every three days at least. Wash out the vase and trim another half inch off the stems before filling with fresh cool water. You can also make your own flower food, did you know? I learned to do this when entering my fresh floral arrangements at the Kern County Fair. Mix together a few drops of bleach or a clear spirit such as vodka or gin to help attack the bacterial growth with a few drops of clear soda or superfine sugar to feed the flowers, and then crush a vitamin C tablet and add it to lower the pH. What you’re doing is providing a little nourishment- citric acid to keep the pH low and acidic, which helps water move up the stems faster and reduce wilting, as well as an antibacterial.

Q.

When is the best time to plant kale? Is there some other use for it besides in salads or cooked? I’m kind of bored with kale to be honest.

A.

Hey, you’re talking about the Queen of Greens in 2016! Thought to help the fight against various cancers, Alzheimer’s, inflammatory disorders, and wash windows, too. kaleMrs. P is kidding about the last bit, but seriously, Kale is good for skin, vision, metabolism and hydration. It’s being called “The New Beef.” What’s not to like? Plant seeds or starts from 6 packs now (August, September) for a late fall, early winter crop. If Kale in salads and cooked aren’t your thing, there are always Kale Mojitos! Ernest Hemingway might still be with us if he’d drunk some “K.M.’s.”

Here’s what to do: First, make yourself some Kale juice. Get out the blender. Take 2 large handfuls of fresh, washed, chopped Kale and combine it with 1½ cups of water in the blender. Add a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. Pulse on high speed for 30 seconds or until you have a bright green, smooth juice.

Next, put a couple of lime wedges and 6 mint leaves into a tall glass. Muddle them well, to release the juices. You do own a muddler, don’t you? Throw some ice cubes into the glass, maybe 4, no need to overdo it. Next, add ¾ oz. simple syrup, 2 to 3 oz. of white rum, and 2 oz. of Kale juice and top off with a splash of seltzer or club soda. Take your drink outside to the patio and relax. Let your “K.M.” do its magic on your body.

Q.

I’m looking for a different plant, maybe one that will attract butterflies?

A.

Ok, how about a plant that not only attracts all kinds of butterflies but has pretty flowers and then showstopper seed pods in the late summer that dry for fall arrangements? It’s called Gomphocarpus physocarpus and is native to Africa. pricklesAlso known as hairy balls and balloon milkweed, it’s known as umsingalwesalukazi in Zulu. Who else would tell you these things? The furry lime green balls appearing after the miniature orchid-like clusters of flowers are lovely in floral arrangements. The plant can be poisonous if eaten, not that you would ever do that, but just saying. Wash your hands well after handling cut stems. It’s well-worth growing such an interesting plant, one that definitely attracts lots of our butterfly friends. I’m really glad I’m growing my “hairies,” which I easily started from seed ordered online.

Q.

Can you tell me anything about an herbal salt blend I bought on a trip to Italy, called Salamoia Bolognese? A small jar cost me 10 euros (almost $20), but it is really good stuff and wonder if it is difficult to make at home with my own herbs?

A.

You bought an aromatic salt that is well-known throughout Italy as being from the Emilia Romagna area, more specifically Bologna. italyIn Mrs. P’s opinion, this area has some of the greatest food in the world. Mr. P and I spent a week enjoying long lunches and dinners in this beautiful northern Italian city. Salamoia Bolognese is a simple addition to almost any food and Italian cooks always keep a jar of it on the kitchen or cucina counter. It can be used in potatoes, fish, meat, sauces and soups. It makes a great holiday gift for the foodies in your life. You’ll love being able to use up your late summer pruning of rosemary and sage. I don’t know about you, but my rosemary and sage, especially, seem to be on steroids! Sometimes I add oregano and parsley. It just depends on what you’ve got on hand in your herb garden. The basic recipe is as follows:

Salamoia Bolognese

    Courtesy www.lamoraromagnola.com
    Courtesy www.lamoraromagnola.com

  • 1 cup coarse salt (I’ve used Kosher, Himalayan Pink and Cornish Sea Salt, it’s up to you)
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 tbs. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup each of chopped rosemary and sage

Rapidly pulse the herbs and garlic together in a mini food processor several times until finely chopped. Add the salt and pepper; pulse a few more times to combine the flavors. Spread out on a baking sheet for a few days to dry. Bottle into glass jars and store as you would other dried herbs and rubs. Easily made into large batches, Salamoia Bolognese uses are almost endless.

Q.

After making large batches of fresh lemonade, I saved the rinds in the freezer to use for something I once read about and now can’t remember. Any ideas, Mrs. P?

A.

Aren’t we lucky to live where we can grow citrus in our backyard? Tossing away the peels does feel a little wasteful. Here’s a great little trick I hope you won’t forget, to help keep your dish disposal squeaky clean. lemon

Coarsely chop citrus peels (lemon, orange, grapefruit or cuties). Drop a few pinches into the cups of a muffin pan. Fill each cup with vinegar and freeze. When frozen, pop out into plastic bags to store in the freezer. Drop one at a time into your dish disposal and turn on with water running. Your machine will run better and sharper.

Q.

I went to the coast for a few weeks and my sprinkler system never came on. Can my lawn and flowers be saved?

A.

Photo by flySnow/Thinkstock
Photo by flySnow/Thinkstock

Brown grass? Fried Flowers? The first thing you need to do is see if your lawn is really dead. Cut a patch of grass with roots attached and put it inside an old coffee mug, place it by a brightly lighted area inside your house, add water and watch to see if the grass grows. If the grass is alive, it will start to green up at the bases within a couple of days. If it is alive, just water your lawn normally and it should green up when the temps start falling.

As for your sad sack flowers, I would follow what Miss Marple would tell any distressed blooms in her garden…..

“Cheer up or be dug up.”

Photos by NiroDesign (q&A), ksushsh (vase), anna1311 (tomato), ItsraSanprasert (sunflower), Peter Zijlstra (kale), lewzstock (milkweed), fazon1 (Italy), kolesnikovserg (lemon), antpkr (grass), flysnow (roses), Istock/thinkstock, courtesy of lamoraromagnola.it (Salamoia Bolognese)

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