Springtime Projects on the Farmette

Author: Meera, March 29, 2018

After weeks of rain, Mother Nature has put on a robe of splendor.  Warm weather has arrived. Already, my beekeeper neighbor has had his honeybee hives send out three swarms.


April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

Previous bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette


My own bee population seems to be swelling. I’ve fished out my swarm catcher, primed it with scented lemon oil, and placed in among the blossoms in a nearby apricot tree. I may be blessed with a swarm as well.



Our grapes are Thompson Seedless and Merlot

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless, Merlot, and golden Italian muscat



There are plenty of other springtime projects to attend to here on my farmette. I’ve got to reassemble my temporary grape arbor. Each year, I think we’ll build a permanent structure, but there never seems to be enough time.



My cell flats have organic plants up now and ready for placing in my garden or raised beds. I’d like to add some more chicken manure to the strawberries since they are rapidly growing and producing small fruit.



strawberries lg em



Other plants need a spring feeding–the citrus, apples, and apricots, for example. I usually do the feeding before the trees break bud, so I’m a little late.




This candy-stripe rose was a gift from a friend--a cutting from her rose that became a large bush in my care

This candy-stripe rose was a gift from a friend–a cutting from her rose that became a large bush in my care




I will be turning the compost pile and mulching all my rose bushes (which have already leafed out and are setting buds). Finally, I’d like to put up a couple more bird houses (mating is already in the air) and fill my hummingbird feeders.



These six-month-old hens love treats like greens from the garden

This–my original flock–was massacred by a wild predator, fox or coyote,  last year



I need to purchase baby chicks from the feedstore to start my new flock. Hubby and I will build a new, reinforced chicken run and expand the existing hen house.



Then, there’s the side walkway that needs pavers. Painting of the fences. Building a new porch. Widening the patio…the projects are seemingly endless, but that’s fine. We’ll have a lovely six months (maybe an occasional storm). The dry season is upon us.


And I’m ready for the Adirondack chair…oh, that’s right…we have to build it first!



Classic Adirondack Adirondack chair, surely created for the enjoyment of a a garden

Classic Adirondack Adirondack chair, for the enjoyment of a a garden







If you enjoy reading about farming topics and you love a good cozy mystery, check out my  novels from Kensington Publishing–A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES. All are available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and other online retailers as well as in bookstores everywhere.




My debut novel Sept. 2015

The debut novel for the Henny Penny Farmette series









The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series






COMING Sept. 2017

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

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A Chinese proverb states that “If I keep a green bough in my heart, then the singing bird will come.” I think I was born with that green bough in my heart because I have always loved birds–and not only the songbirds.


Crew Cut, our resident black phoebe

Crew Cut, our resident black phoebe



By offering food, water, and safe and dry housing as well as blooms for every season (flowering annuals, perennials, herbs, bulbs, and fruits and berries), I am able to attract many different birds into my garden.When birds are present, especially the songbirds, the garden becomes a special sanctuary.



A hummer's iridescent feathers shimmer as it perches in sunlight at the end of an apricot tree branch

A hummer’s iridescent feathers shimmer as it perches in sunlight at the end of an apricot tree branch




I hang feeders and fill them with various types of seed and suet cakes as well as syrup for hummingbirds. Food attracts local and migratory birds flying through this time of year. It’s best to choose a wide sampling of foods such as seeds, nuts,hulled sunflower, safflower, Nyjer thistle, peanut, millet, fruit, berries, raisins, and meal worms to draw interesting bird traffic.



Some of the birds we regularly see include scrub jays, wrens, finches, sparrows, red-tail hawks, mockingbirds, quail, mourning doves, robins, barn owls, hummingbirds, and crows.



Hawks like this one enjoy perching atop pine trees in the neighborhood

Hawks like this one enjoy perching atop tall trees



With food scarce in the wild, the birds visit the hanging and platform feeders. For ground feeders like mourning doves, I put out a large saucer under the apple tree and, yes, I leave a few apples on the tree for the birds to peck. For a list of birds and the types of seed and other foods they consume, see, https://www.wild-bird-watching.com/Bird_Seed.html



Mourning doves mate for life; these two are joined at the feeder by a third who has lost her partner

Mourning doves mate for life; these two are joined at the feeder by a third who has lost his or her partner



Some of our winged visitors stick around to mate and build nests in climbing rose bushes, brush piles, trees, or one of the many birdhouses we’ve hung. Only the owl basket high in the pepper tree remains empty, but we’ve heard a lot of hooting at night so we’re optimistic that owls will take up residence here. We live close to designated agricultural lands and the empty field behind us has a lot of mice–their favorite food.




This DIY birdhouse is crafted from a repurposed fence board. Not all birds will take up residence in a house, but many will.

My hubby built this birdhouse from a fence board. Not all birds will take up residence in a house, but many will.



Birds build nests in backyard birdhouses and brush piles as well as in trees, shrubs like climbing roses, and under the protected eaves of buildings (mourning doves especially seem to like these). Hummingbirds will build their tiny cup-like nests in shrubs (we found one in our Cecil Brunner climbing rose bush) and trees, from 10 feet and up in locations where wind isn’t a threat.



There's always plenty of action at the feeders when the finches discover the Nyjer seed

There’s always plenty of action at the feeders when the finches discover the Nyjer seed




A water source is important for attracting birds since they both drink and bathe in the water fountains and bird baths of backyards and gardens.



If you provide food, water, and a safe and dry shelter for the birds to eat, breed, and nest, you will be rewarded for not only the singing birds will come but other interesting species as well.




If you enjoy reading about living close to the earth and a good yarn,  check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries: A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and my latest, A HIVE OF HOMICIDES.


These mysteries are chock-full of tips for keeping chickens and bees, growing heirloom fruits and vegetables, and backyard DIY projects. For more information, click on the URL.


Check out my newest mystery (Sept. 2017)

My newest cozy  mystery










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Swimming in Fruit

Author: Meera, July 12, 2017

Our cherry trees became so heavily laden with fruit this year I couldn’t work fast enough to make the fruit into cookies and pies and jars of jam, conserve, and chutney.



What fruit the birds and squirrels didn’t devour ended up drying on the trees and looking like ornaments. I’m heartened that at least the wildlife will have something to forage on through fall and winter.



Once cherry picking season is over, I can hardly face another  piece of cherry pie (no matter how flaky the crust).

Ripe cherries make a lovely filling for a delicious  pie




The apricot trees did a massive drop of their fruit and seemingly all at once. I made more jam than we’ll probably eat, dried some, and gave away more than a few full  buckets of cots to neighbors and friends. I also had to do a messy cleanup of fruit on the ground.


In the cycle now are the summer peaches; so, here I go again  . . swimming in fruit.



Fresh Elberta peaches are firm and juicy, perfect for summer dessert

Ripe Elberta peaches are perfect for eating fresh or preserving


Next year, I’m going to get my act together early with  teams of backyard pickers who can help me remove the fruit, divide it, and distribute it. Right now, however, I’ve got peaches to pick and preserve. The summer pears and figs will be next.



Pick Bartlett pears before they get soft and ripen in a bag to get peak flavor

Pick pears and ripen in a brown bag to two days for peak flavor



I’m not complaining; I’m enthralled that all this bounty is due to the work of our industrious little honeybees. All this fruit and I haven’t even mentioned finding time to harvest honey. Yet, the bees don’t stop, so neither will I.







If you enjoy reading about farmette topics like keeping bees and chickens, caring for an orchard, or growing heirloom herbs and vegetables, check out my mystery series from Kensington Publishing (due out September 26, 2017).



These novels feature a whodunnit for you to solve and are filled with farming facts, trivia, and delicious recipes. The novels and my other books are available in traditional and online bookstores everywhere. Seehttp://tinyurl.com/yb42zd2d


Murders at a N. California winery is a catalyst for ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie

A mystery on a N. California winery




Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available September 27, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series




My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set on the Henny Penny Farmette

BEELINE TO MURDER, the first in a series of cozy mysteries















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Pomegranate Seeds–A Sweet Explosion on the Tongue

Author: Meera, September 12, 2016

Strolling through our small orchard today, I cut into a pomegranate to check on the seeds–the edible part of the fruit. To my surprise, they had turned ripe. Inside, the seeds were gorgeous red jewels, plump and juicy. The sweet juice in the seeds carries a powerful antioxidant punch, too; it’s loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin K, fiber, potassium, protein, and folate.



pomegranate seeds  lg web



You might wonder about ways of cooking with pomegranate seeds. How about tossing them into citrus or a green salad, pairing them with goat cheese on a crostini, or sprinkling a few on poached pears dipped in chocolate, or incorporate them into a Mediterranean couscous with cashews or pistachios?


I think I’ll make some pomegranate jelly–it tastes great on toast, makes an excellent foil for goat cheese, and also creates a moist and delicious glaze for chicken.


The hardest part of making the jelly is separating the seeds from the white pith that holds the seeds in place inside the leathery peel.


The jelly recipe consists of few ingredients: pomegranate juice, sugar, water, and classic pectin. Here’s how I make the jelly.








3 1/2 cups pomegranate juice (well strained to remove all the particles)


5 cups granulated sugar


6 tablespoons classic pectin





Prepare boiling water canner and wash eight to ten half-pint jars in the dishwasher.


Place rings and lids in a pan of simmering hot water.


Cut one end of the pomegranate off to expose the membranes and seeds.


Section the pomegranate and scrape the seeds out into a medium to large bowl.


Repeat the process until you had several cups of seeds.


Rinse well and then run the seeds through a juice extractor.


Strain out the juice through a jelly bag or multiple layers of cheesecloth. Note: The juice stains, so take care to protect kitchen counters and clothing.



Ripe pomegranate

Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin




Put the juice and pectin into a large pot and bring to a boil, carefully stirring to blend in the pectin.


Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved and boil for one minute at a roiling boil that cannot be stirred down. Ladle off foam, if necessary.


Ladle jam into clean, hot jars leaving one-quarter inch head space. Attach hot lids and then the rings. Tighten to finger tight.


Lower the filled and sealed jars into the canner. Process for 10 minutes at a roiling boil. Remove and let cool.




*          *          *




If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).




These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.



The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.





The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016, is now available on Net Galley (netgalley.com) for professionals and readers who write reviews. The book may be pre-ordered as well. Click on the link under the image.






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With the official start of summer a few days away, I find myself leaving my computer and the scene I’m writing on my third novel to take a break in the garden. Alive with honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, the garden is perfect place for a respite and a cup of tea.




Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love to forage on all types of blooming lavender.



Quite like a potager garden that includes flowers, herbs, trees, vegetables, berries, and grapes, mine also includes a patch of corn.



Climbing roses can be seen growing behind the corn

Climbing Sally Holmes roses with trusses of ivory blooms grow behind the 4-foot-tall corn.



Embroidered around the edges of the garden, there are climbing roses, fruit trees, and lots of lavender. Along the rows of lavender, there are peach trees with fruit the size of softballs and five pomegranate trees, laden with blooms and new fruit.




Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin, membranes thicker than oranges, but sweet, juicy seeds inside

The pomegranates aren’t quite this large yet, but the trees have so much fruit, they’ll have to be thinned.




As I meander, I discover the trees of red and yellow plums have begun to drop their ripe fruit. I’ve got to make those plums into jelly or jam and ditto on the apricots.



Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

Ripe apricots hang on the tree only so long before they drop.




But that work will have to wait until my late afternoon tea break. My novel won’t write itself. Still, the time I spend in the garden revitalizes my spirit and refreshes my brain cells, enabling me to return to the computer and the scene I’m writing with renewed vision and vigor.



*          *          *  


If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping bees, raising chickens, and creating delicious recipes, check out my novels from Kensington Publishing.



First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries




The Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, Walmart, and other online and traditional bookstores everywhere. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and mass market paperback formats.




Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016









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We are growing several plum and prune trees here on the farmette, but because some were given to us as shoots from other people’s trees we don’t know the exact identity of some of our trees. However, the fruit from them is delicious.



Italian prune as a sapling

This young sapling is a French prune and produces fruit perfect for drying



A plum we are growing along the back fence of our property produces tons of bloom and lots of small-to-medium fruit with deep red coloring. The tree is self-fertile. Fruit aside, the tree has lovely dark reddish-purple leaves, spring to summer. We like the foliage so much that when it sprouted (plums love to sprout new shoots), we culled a couple of sprouts for new trees. Now we have three of those plums on our property and believe the cultivar to be a European Damson.


Another plum given to us is a yellow variety. The first year we lived here, that plum tree gave us a large-size crock bowl full of sweet, yellow, good-quality fruit. We believe it is self-fertile (although we keep honeybees and our neighbor’s have plum trees that quite possibly pollinate ours).


We are aware of a couple of yellow plums. One is a Japanese cultivar–Shiro–that produces a golden yellow plum with yellow flesh. Another is a European variety–Yellow Egg–that is self-fertile and produces large, oval, yellow-fleshed fruit. I do not know if the tree we are growing belongs to either of these types.


Last spring, we planted a self-fertile French prune–Agen. The fruit is small, red to purplish black with a sweet taste. It’s a late producer but is the standard drying prune for California. It can also be canned.


Plum and prune trees aren’t too fussy about soil, but they do respond to a feeding now and then. Japanese plums can easily take one to three pounds of nitrogen annually, while European plums will do well with one to two pounds of nitrogen.


Pruning is required. Japanese plums benefit from severe pruning at all stages (prune to a vase shape). European plums should also be trained to the vase shape and benefit from an annual pruning when the trees are mature to thin out shoots.


Thinning fruits (one fruit for every four inches) as soon as they form will yield stronger trees and larger fruit. As for pest, use an organic dormant spray for pests that winter over. Otherwise, plum and prune trees are joy to grow in the garden for their foliage, blooms, shade, and fruit.



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Backyard Fruit Compote

Author: Meera, July 1, 2015

Who feels like eating when the shorts and sandals weather has turned hot enough to warrant wearing bikini bottoms and thin cotton T-shirt for doing your household chores? Bring on the cool summer salads.


When the temperatures hit 105 on the farmette yesterday, we opted for a simple supper of cold chicken, orzo with Italian vinegar and oil dressing, and cold potato salad.


strawberries lg em



With nectarines and peaches ripening now on our trees, blueberries finally sweet enough to eat, and strawberries  available at our local farmers’ market, what could be better for a dessert on a hot summer’s evening than a fruit compote.



Desert Gold peaches are ready to eat in May but buds are swelling and showing color now

Peaches, ready to eat now, are widely available at local farmers’ markets




Recipe for Backyard Fruit Compote


Gather the fruit, including nectarines, peaches, plums, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and melon.


Wash, and slice the nectarines, peaches, plums, and strawberries.


If including melon in the compote, scoop the melon into ball shapes using a melon baller or cut pieces of  melon into cubes.


Peel and slice the kiwi.


Toss all into a bowl, adding the blueberries.


Sprinkle lightly with a scented sugar, or a super fine sugar, or honey.


Or, make a dressing: mix together 1/4 cup of lime juice, 1/4 cup of honey, 1 teaspoon of orange zest, 1 teaspoon of lime zest, and 1/2 teaspoon finely grated ginger. Pour over the fruit. Chill for about 1 hour and add springs of mint before serving.



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How to Make Marmalade from Blood Oranges

Author: Meera, December 29, 2014



Jars of blood orange marmalade in a festive red currant color

Jars of freshly made blood-orange marmalade are a festive red currant color and perfect for holiday gift-giving



On Christmas Eve this year, I made marmalade from our blood oranges to tuck into our holiday gift baskets.


Our citrus trees are still young and the crop, though ripe, was not yet bountiful. I used almost our entire crop of 20 oranges to make 8 jars (4 ounces each) of the blood orange marmalade.


My recipe is straightforward and the steps are simple. The finished marmalade is a lovely currant color, has a sweet/tangy taste, and possesses an interesting texture made so by the inclusion of rind.



Oranges and blood oranges combine with sugar to give a sweet yet tangy marmalade

Lemons and blood oranges combined with sugar render a sweet yet tangy marmalade




2 cups orange peel (washed and thinly sliced); roughly 10 medium oranges

1 quart of chopped orange pulp; about 10-15 medium oranges

1 cup lemon (cut into thin slices and seeded); roughly 2 medium lemons

7 cups granulated sugar (the amount of sugar depends on how many cups of citrus mixture you have)

5 Tablespoons of classic pectin

Water to cover the jars by 2 inches for hot water bath processing



A large pot and a wooden spoon work well for cooking the marmalade

A large pot and a wooden spoon work well for cooking the marmalade




Place oranges and lemon into a large pot and simmer for 5 minutes.


Remove from heat, cover, and let rest for 12 to 18 hours (I place my citrus mixture in the refrigerator overnight).


Measure by cupfuls the amount of fruit mixture. Add one cup of sugar per cup of fruit mixture.


Over high heat, boil fruit and sugar for approximately 20 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.


Turn down heat and stir in 5 Tablespoons of classic pectin. Return to boil and stir until mixture thickens and gels when a small amount in placed on a frozen plate.


Remove freshly washed heated jars from the dishwasher.


Simmer lids and rings in shallow pan until ready to use.


Remove from heat and skim off any foam from the jam and then fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space in each jar.


Attach the lids and rings to the jars with a finger tight seal before submerging in the hot water canner of boiling water.


Process jars for 15 minutes before removing them to a place where they can sit undisturbed to cool.




Have freshly washed, heated jars ready for filling with the sweetened fruit

Have freshly washed, heated jars ready for filling with the sweetened fruit






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Fixing Jam that Won’t Jell

Author: Meera, June 19, 2014


Apricots from the local farmer's markets arrive in late May in N. California

Apricots from the local farmer’s markets arrive in late May in N. California


It happens in jam-making. You do everything right and the jam has a lovely color, flavor, and texture but remains runny long after the jars have cooled following the boiling water process. What to do?



Apricots lmake great-tasting jams, jellies, and leathers

Apricot jam tastes great on almost any type of toast



Reprocess  the jam in small batches (a quart at a time). A quart of jam fills four (8-ounce jars) or eight (4-ounce jars). Jam needs sugar, pectin, and lemon (acid) to properly jell. A batch I recently made turned out runny and I figured the fruit probably didn’t have enough pectin.



Overripe fruit has lower amounts of naturally occurring pectin whereas unripened fruit has higher amounts of pectin. Go figure!


If the fruit is super ripe (like the lug of apricots I used), the jam will need more pectin to properly jell. It should be reprocessed within 24 to 48 hours. Beyond that time frame, consider other options like using the runny jam as ice cream topping.



Emptying jam back into a cooking pot is the first step in repairing a batch that didn't jell

Emptying jam back into a cooking pot is the first step in repairing a batch that hasn’t jelled



The initial step in the reprocessing is to remove the rubber-seal lids and pour all the jam into a pot. Rewash the jars (they will need to be hot when you put jam back into them. You’ll want use new lids, but you can reuse the rings. Heat the rings and new lids with rubber seals in a pot of simmering water.



Rings can be reused when remaking the jam, but the lids with rubber seals must be new

Rings can be reused when remaking the jam but its recommended to use new lids to ensure good seals



When the jars are ready to come out of the dishwasher) and the lids are simmering under water in a shallow pan, then prepare the sugar/lemon juice/pectin mixture. Also, place a metal spoon into a glass with water and ice cubes to test the jam after repairing it.



For each quart-size batch of jam, you will need 1/4 cup of sugar, 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, 4 teaspoons of powdered pectin and about 1/4 cup of water to dissolve everything. Stir well.



Add the sugar/acid/pectin mixture to the runny jam and cook until it reaches a roiling boil, stirring with a long wooden spoon. Boil for one minute. Remove the jam from the heat.



Jam is the right consistency when it coagulates rather than runs off the spoon

Jam is the right consistency when it coagulates rather than runs off the spoon



Test the jam for right consistency by placing some onto the stainless steel cold spoon. If it clumps and hangs, not running off, it will jell correctly.



Pour the jam into the hot jars. Wipe the mouths, if necessary to ensure a good seal. Cap each jar with a lid and ring. Process the jars submerged in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, or according to your recipe.


I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve tried this process and how it worked for you. Don’t forget to tell me what kind of jam you repaired.




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Rhubarb–That “Pie Plant”

Author: Meera, April 2, 2014




rhubarb takes up a lot of space because of its big leaves

Rhubarb takes up a lot of space because of its big leaves



In my grandmother’s time, rhubarb’s moniker was the “pie plant” for the simple reason that the tart flavor of its canes nicely tempers the cloying sweetness of other fruits.


Rhubarb, long treated as a fruit, is actually a vegetable. In bygone days when tariffs on imported vegetables were higher than on fruit, a New York court decided in favor of labeling rhubarb as fruit for the purposes of taxation and tariff regulations.


One of the first edibles in the spring garden, rhubarb pushes up leaf stalks or canes (what botanists call petioles) with large leaves. The leaves are are high in oxalic acid and thus poisonous to consume (when harvesting, cut off the tops and discard; snap off the canes for cooking).


Rhubarb stalks or canes, when cooked with sugar or apples (to sweeten), are delicious in pies, jams, sauces and fruit tarts.


Rhubarb is easy to grow (in warm climates, it grows year-round). In cold climates, its leaves and canes will die but the rhizome root will generate new shoots come spring. But if it blooms, cut off the bloom to ensure the root continues to produce canes.



You really don't want the rhubarb plant to bloom as the plant will stop producing canes

Do not allow the rhubarb to bloom; the plant will stop producing canes and may become weakened



The plant can also be grown in large containers or in greenhouses. It is not fussy about soil, produces new canes year after year, and loves sunlight.


Consumers love those red canes, but rhubarb canes, depending on the variety, aren’t always red–some are light green or pink speckled. The flavor of the light green canes, the type growing on our farmette, has the most robust flavor.


While creating a space for some new plants, we decided to dig out one of our rhubarb plants. That little rhizome I put in the ground four years ago had produced roots 20 inches into the earth. Above ground the plant had grown roughly three feet high and as wide. We will divide it and replant, since it’s a good idea anyway to divide every 3 to 4 years.


We grow Victoria, an old variety with a tendency to flower (or bolt). We prefer to remove those flower spikes in order to keep the plant producing new canes and leaves. Blooms tend to waste the plants resources, see http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/rhubarb/rhubarb-bolting.htm. Also see, http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/rhubarbflowers.html


In an upcoming posting, I’ll include some recipes for using rhubarb from your garden. In the meantime, consider the different varieties available and perhaps try planting a new and different cultivar. See, http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/varieties.


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