A Kansas Country Garden: Thinking About Containers

A few thoughts on gardening in containers:
This grouping includes succulents, herbs and vines. All the containers are similar in color.
    1.   Containers are a great place to plant herbs. Not everyone wants or has the time or space to grow a full fledged vegetable garden, but a few herbs in a pot? Almost anyone can do that! In the photo above there are containers with parsley, basil, rosemary and thyme. I have lots of other herbs in various parts of the garden, but these are my "must haves" just a few steps out my back door. What they do for summer cooking is well worth the effort.

    Morning glories climb on the arbor.This is a what-not-to-do photo.

    2.    When arranged in groups, the containers should be a similar color. They don't have to be the same size, shape or type. You can combine a variety of plants and flower colors (although be careful there, too) but the containers should be the same color.  The photo on the right is from a few years back when I used several different colored containers (they don't all show). The grouping never felt quite right and I think that's why. 
    Similarly colored pots. The succulent in the middle blooms ALL the time. The side plants are a begonia and asparagus fern.

    Only succulents could ever be happy in this very small terracotta planter. It dries out very quickly.
    This ancient aloe vera plant is huge!

    My last purchase at the end-of-season half price sale.
    3.   Plant what will be happy in your garden. If you're gardening in Kansas or anywhere else where temperatures are hot, hot, hot and it's dry, dry, dry, try succulents. By succulents, I am referring to plants with fleshy leaves which the plant uses to retain water. There are many kinds and I am no expert, just a admirer. Grown mostly for their foliage, they come in a variety of interesting shapes and colors. Some are true annuals while others are perennials that have graced my garden for many years by spreading and multiplying greatly. Then there are cold sensitive succulents which must come inside for the winter if you want to keep them (and I always do.) When other plants (and humans, too!) cower and cringe in the heat, succulents thrive. You have to water them often, of course, but make sure the soil drains well. Sitting in water will get them long before lack of water will. 
    Purslane comes in several colors including this cheerful cherry color. 

    I must mention purslane, an annual succulent which has become a favorite. The simple flowers open about mid-morning and they just keep on coming throughout the summer. 

    Speaking of happy plants--this aloe vera plant (left) had multiplied from one plant to this in about a year. Photo was taken in early spring when I was bringing my plants outside for the summer. I divided this into about 20 plants which I replanted (notice lots of aloe vera in all my containers and even in the ground) and I also gave many away.

    The container now sits on the front porch and began the summer with just one aloe vera plant with this lovely moss rose for a companion.
    Other favorite plants for containers:
    Sweet potato vine (chartreuse plant) makes a great container plant. There are several varieties.
    Vinca works well in containers and can stand the heat.
    Coleus come in some many different colors and sizes. Most love shade, but some tolerate sun.
    I am fond of the airplane plant in this container.
    Can you identify this plant? (See photo #3 above).

    A Dozen Egg Yolks: French Vanilla Ice Cream

    The recipe for French Vanilla Ice Cream follows a brief "Chicken" story.
    I am married to the chicken policeman. You might not think that chickens need a policeman. You might be right. Nevertheless our chickens have one. Is someone picking on the other chickens? Banish them to another pen. Have they quit laying eggs? That might result in banishment, too. Are they roosting on the nests? Not allowed; all chickens must roost inside the barn on the roosting rods. 

    This spring Mike purchased about 20 chicks. They were all supposed to be pullets (females). They began their life with us in a box in the garage where they were kept warm and toasty with a heat lamp. After they grew from tiny puffs of fluff to feathered youngsters they were moved outside where they had access to both a pen in the barn and the fenced outdoors through a tiny chicken-sized door. It was time to learn the rules. 

    The pullets seemed to enjoy their new surroundings, especially their outdoor pen where they could scratch in the dirt and hunt for bugs. When evening came they settled down on the ground outside to sleep. Chicken infraction in progress! Mike sprang into action. By banging on the pen, prodding them with a pole and a little hollering, they got the idea that they needed to go inside for the night. The next night a similar event occurred. Within a week they were so well trained that anytime either of us would walk by the chicken pen, regardless of the time of day, they would simply line up and march into the barn. I don't call him the chicken policeman for nothing!
    The new pullets in the foreground have now begun to lay tiny brown eggs.
    Eating fresh greens gives the yolks a vibrant yellow coloring.
     We don't have chickens just to keep us entertained. We love the wonderful eggs. Eggs are nutritious and vital in the kitchen for baking and cooking. Egg yolks especially are packed with vitamins and antioxidants. According to the American Egg Board, "egg yolks are an excellent source of choline, an essential nutrient that contributes to fetal brain development and helps prevent birth defects. Choline also aids the brain function of adults." Need I say more? Is that enough to justify making French Vanilla Ice Cream? I think so!

    Separate the yolks from the whites. Be sure to keep the whites yolk free if you're going to use them to make Angel Food Cake.
    French Vanilla Ice Cream
    (for a printable recipe, click here.)
    make one gallon
    12 egg yolks
    2 cups sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3 quarts whole milk (approximate)
    6 tablespoons good quality vanilla
    half and half or cream, if desired

    In a microwave safe bowl (I use an 8-cup measuring bowl) mix together 4 cups milk and the sugar. Heat for 4-5 minutes in the microwave until milk is hot and sugar is dissolved. In another bowl lightly beat the egg yolks. Temper the yolks by slowly adding a portion of the hot milk/sugar mixture while whisking vigorously. Then slowly pour the yolk mixture back into the milk/sugar mixture while continuing to whisk. If you do it right, you'll won't have any bits of cooked egg in your mixture, it will still be a liquid. Return to the microwave and heat for 5 more minutes at 50% power until very hot. Microwaves will vary. You can't go wrong by using an instant-read thermometer and cooking until you get a  reading of 160 degrees, but most recipes recommend cooking until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Now I usually place the mixture in the refrigerator to chill, but if you're in a hurry it is possible to go ahead and freeze for ice cream at this point.

    When ready to freeze ice cream pour egg mixture into freezer canister, add vanilla and half and half or whipping cream if desired. Frankly, Mike and I are perfectly happy using only whole milk. With the egg yolks, its certainly rich enough for our taste. But feel free to use as much half and half or whipping cream as you desire. Fill the canister up to the marked line (you've got to leave at least an inch for the ice cream to expand) with whole milk. Give the dasher a quick swirl to combine everything together and place the lid on the canister. Freeze as desired.

    This is the point where I hand the canister over to Mike and let him do his thing. He always sets up on the patio where he sets the ice cream maker in a metal pan to contain the salty water. He adds layers of ice and rock salt in about a 6 to 1 ratio, turns on the machine and just about the time dinner is ready, so is the ice cream!
    He replaces the lid and covers it with ice until we're ready to eat. Some recipes recommend allowing the ice cream to "ripen" for four hours. We could never wait that long. It is amazingly wonderful!

    Wondering what to do with your left over egg whites? Make Angel Food Cake! It uses a dozen egg whites. It is the perfect companion to the ice cream. Click here for my recipe for Angel Food Cake. 

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