Ask a Master Gardener: What gifts can I make from my garden?

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 19, 2013 

Question: After all the work I've put into my garden this year, I want to make some presents at the holidays for friends and family with things I've grown. Any good suggestions?

Answer: It's so sad to see stores begin to put out Christmas and holiday decorations and products long before Halloween. A good way to counter the consumerism of the holidays is to make your presents, and there are many things from your garden people will love.

Now is indeed the time to think about what you're going to do, before the cold weather hits and your plants disappear or go dormant until spring. So get out into your garden and take an inventory of what you have.

Maybe you have some carrots, beets, turnips and kohlrabi. Any hard vegetable will make great tasting and looking pickles. Don't be put off by the word "pickle." It really isn't hard. Or you can use any herbs you have to make vinegars. Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries make delicious vinegars, too.

Another use for herbs is drying them and making interesting combinations, accompanied by recipe suggestions. Even greens can be turned into delicious gifts: Kale chips are all the rage and amazingly easy to make. Clean kale, tear into 11/2-inch pieces and toss in a bowl with a bit of olive oil, salt and maybe some soy sauce. Bake in a 275 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until crispy, turning the leaves over halfway through the baking.

With the summer we've had, you may have an excess of tomatoes. Make a huge pot of marinara, then can it, and include it in a basket with a red-checkered cloth, some dried herbs, some pasta, a hunk of parmesan cheese, some good olive oil, and maybe a grater. The basket will look great and would be a welcome present for almost anyone.

Space here is limited, but potential presents from your garden aren't. There are dozens of products with ingredients from your gardening efforts that can be part of creative holiday presents.

Q: I've found several of my brassicas - cabbage and Kohlrabi - covered with aphids. Is there a good and nontoxic way to get rid of them?

A: Let's start with the stunning news. It has been estimated that if aphids were left unchecked by predators they would breed so prolifically that by the end of just one year the earth would be covered in more than one mile of aphids. Yeek.

There are, of course, chemical solutions. Because we've come to believe in quick fixes, we think killing aphids with a chemical spray will solve the problem. Maybe in the short term, but the aphids will return, you can bet on it. And the spray will also have killed the aphids' natural predators, many of which are good pollinators. So now there are two new problems. So much for short-term thinking.

There are better, non-chemical ways to rid plants of aphids. The simplest is to direct a strong spray from the hose at them, knocking them to the ground. For reasons known only to aphids, they don't attempt to climb up again, and disappear.

If you want something a little more powerful, while still resisting the siren call of chemicals, use insecticidal soap, and spray it all over the infestation.

One additional bit of advice. Aphids are drawn toward soft and succulent shoots that are the result of over-fertilization of plants. So protect your plants by not over-feeding them.

Q: What can I do about the marauding deer that frequent my yard and eat virtually anything?

A: The only surefire way to keep deer away is to build an 8-foot woven-wire fence. If you've ever seen a deer jump a fence from a standing position, you've seen proof of how athletic they are.

This athleticism makes it hard for gardeners, however. Many commercial products claim to keep deer away. Maybe. Since this problem has plagued gardeners for centuries, some homespun recipes that sometimes work have surfaced. The basic premise for all is to render the smell/taste of a plant distasteful to deer. In our rainy season you'll have to reapply any topical remedy.

Hang bars of deodorant soap in your trees, leaving the wrapper on so they'll last longer.

Mix 1-11/2 dozen eggs in five gallons of water and spray on your trees and shrubs. Reapply after rain.

Hang a clump of human hair in a stocking from each tree or shrub. Cover with a plastic bag, leaving an opening at the bottom. Replace several times a season.

And last, spray a solution of Tabasco sauce, 2 tablespoons per gallon, on the foliage. Repeat every two weeks.

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go online to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

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