September in the Garden

Is one busy time! Now that the dog-days of August are behind me, I’m gung-ho in the garden. So far, I’ve planted red beans, black beans, lima beans, broccoli, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers, scallions–and these are in addition to my peanuts, okra and sweet potatoes still in ground. As the latter wane and the former blossom, it’s a great time to be in the garden. Mornings usher in cooler temps, a slight breeze and I think even the bugs have eased a bit.

Of course, I don’t have to worry about bugs, right? My babies are tucked away beneath the screens of safety!

broccoli under cover

Wishful thinking. Unfortunately, white flies are tiny enough to penetrate my barrier. Crickets don’t have anything else to do but crawl around the perimeter, looking for a way in. At least my tomatoes are safe from the dreaded brown moth that lays the hornworm eggs. UGH. I am definitely beating those beasts this season. And with my new daily maintenance schedule–a quick spin around the garden before breakfast and after dinner–I am SO on top of any marauders, they won’t stand a chance! More

Fall Cabbage Juice Twist

Counting down to summer’s end with the Williams-Sonoma Juice Week featuring “juices that bite back!” With fall right around the corner, our “juicebuds” will likely change. No longer will we be drawn to the mangoes and kiwi, pineapples and papaya, but instead will long for apples and cinnamon, beets and pumpkin. Some of us, anyway. :) And for those who love everything fall, I suggest this fabulous twist on my cabbage-carrot-apple juice. It’s a powerhouse combination for healing stomach ulcers that will take you clear through the holidays and into the new year, making sure you and your belly enjoy the season.

cabbage and apple and cinnamon

“The healing properties found in cabbage come from two anti-ulcer compounds, glutamine (an amino acid that fuels the cells that line the stomach and intestine) and S-methyl-methionine (labeled as Vitamin U by Dr. Cheney). Glutamine is available in capsules for those who are too busy to juice cabbage, and is proven as a superior cure to antacids. Juicing cabbage is simple, and done by cutting the head into segments small enough to fit into your juicer’s feeding chute.

When using cabbage juice it is recommended not to drink more than 4 oz at a time to avoid over stimulating the gastric juices, which can lead to cramping of the intestine and gassiness due to the sulfur in the juice reacting with existing intestinal bacteria. Mixing cabbage juice with carrot juice can help cut the effect of sulfur and tone intestinal walls. Beyond its ability to heal stomach ulcers, cabbage is also recognized as a successful treatment for a number of other health conditions including colitis and constipation. It is also known to help clear up acne, and heal infected gums. It’s important to choose heads of cabbage that are firm with no loose leave or discoloration, which means loss of nutritional value.”

Definitely a “must-try” for those suffering with stomach issues and the cinnamon adds a lovely “bite!”

Cabbage-Apple-Cinnamon Juice

cabbage-apple-cinnamon juice1/4 head of cabbage, tough stem cut out

1 small organic apple, any variety

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Using a commercial juicer–like one of these beautiful juicers offered by Williams-Sonoma–place an 8-ounce glass beneath the spout and insert vegetables until juiced. Add cinnamon and stir. Drink immediately.

For optimum stomach ulcer healing, drink four 4-6 ounce glasses per day for 10 days.

Cabbage — The active ingredient is an amino acid called L-glutamine, which nourishes the cells lining the esophagus and stomach so they repair themselves.

Apples — Rich in fiber, apples can help reduce the risk of developing a peptic ulcer. High-fiber foods like apples can speed up the recovery for people who already have peptic ulcers. Apples also have flavonoids, compounds which may reduce the growth of ulcer-causing bacteria.

Cinnamon — Not only does this delightful spice work wonders on reducing gas, it also helps to stabilize blood sugar, lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and reduce blood clotting. And, one whiff will boost memory and cognitive function! A needed benefit THIS time of year…

Hope you enjoy and please, share a favorite juice of your own!

Mom & Me Mani

With fall fast approaching and most gardens winding down, what’s a gal to do with the extra time on her hands? If you’re like me and my daughter, you take out the nail polish and get painting–painting those gorgeous summer flowers on your nails before they disappear!

flower nails

While it’s nowhere near as wonderful as gazing upon the real thing, it is a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon with the girl who means the most to you. When my daughter and I heard August 30th was officially Mom and Me Mani Day, well, the decision was made! I mean, not only do I love spending time with my daughter, but I enjoy watching her use two or three colors to do her nails. Now in my day, we used one color, much like I still do for my pedicure. But her? No way. The more the merrier. She paints pictures, designs, initials–whatever strikes her fancy at the moment will end up on her nails. For example, the first letter from every boy’s name in the band, One Direction…

Me? I like flowers and vegetables, and considering she led the last mutiny in our vegetable garden, we went with flowers. While hot pink is my all-time favorite color, we went with tomato red and autumn orange, plus a dot of pale pink in the center. As you can see, my daughter has the perfect hands and nails for a beautiful manicure. I do not.

Mom and Me mani

But I’m a gardener first, a beauty second. As a young teenager, my daughter’s priorities are reversed–exactly where most girls her age are in life, with one pointed difference: my gal can identify vegetable plants by their mere leaf shape. Can most teens make this claim to fame?

I’d venture to guess, no, giving us mothers one more reason to get out and get gardening–our youth needs us! And even if we don’t teach them the basics of organic gardening, we can spend a wonderful afternoon together painting our nails. Since I have no nails to speak of, I have the added pleasure of living vicariously through my daughter’s nails. They are quite lovely, as is she.

Julep colors to create this design: January (Red), Brielle (Orange) and Jennifer (Pink).

Football Means Peanuts!

Football season has kicked off and that means boiled peanuts! South of the Mason-Dixon line, anyway. Down here you can’t go to a football game or tailgate party without your Styrofoam cup of steaming peanuts. Just isn’t done.

Now as nature would have it, your peanuts are ready to be pulled from the ground right about now. A few eager beavers might have already done so, but for the bulk of us—now’s the time. Your blooms have gone, your pegs have dropped and your leaves have yellowed.

peanuts pulled from the ground

To harvest, you’ll want to lightly dig down around one of your plants to check their progress. Using a fork, gently lift the pegs from the dirt.  A ripe peanut will feel firm, its outer shell somewhat dry and “papery.”   More

Make Your Own Sun-dried Tomatoes

Ever wondered how to sun dry a tomato? I mean, the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes is exquisitely intense, wonderfully versatile–and I learned–the perfect addition to any raw diet.  It makes an awesome base for uncooked tomato sauce.

But I digress. Personally I never wondered about sun-dried tomatoes and how they were created. I figured the name said it all, right?  I imagined them splayed out across specialty terra-cotta baking stones in Italy or California, sunning until they reached crispy, crunchy chewy perfection (depending on how you like them!).

It wasn’t until I witnessed Mother Nature’s first sun-dried tomatoes in my garden this spring that it dawned on me.  Actually, it was the scorch of summer and my lack of attention that did it, but who’s checking? I planted these gorgeous Romas this spring and they dried by summertime, all by themselves.  Don’t you love an independent vegetable?

Nothing I like better than a vegetable that will grow itself or a child that will do his or her own laundry. It’s heaven!  But seriously, are these not feats to be coveted? At least respected, admired?  In my house they are and when my tomatoes began to sun dry themselves well, I celebrated.  Hip-hip-hooray!  We have sun-dried tomatoes!

For all of you cringing right now thinking, please no, tell me you didn’t actually eat those rotten things.  Rest assured, I didn’t. Who knows what may have tainted those shriveled beauties? Not me and I don’t eat anything from my garden without full certainty of its “wholesome goodness” prior to ingestion.  I have kids watching my every move. Never know which “moves” they may wish to emulate and trust me–rushing them to the ER is not on my list of things to do!

So how does one sun-dry tomatoes?

Easy. Same way you dry those herbs in your garden–set the oven to low (150-200) and bake them for about 4-5 hours, depending on the size of your tomatoes and the heat strength of your oven.  Cut them into quarters and push the seeds out (or not).

These are a mix of Roma style and regular.  (Is there such a thing as regular tomatoes?)  Next, spread them across a baking sheet.  I used this vented one for more even “drying.”

At this point, your best course of action is to monitor them throughout the process, turning when necessary. If this seems like too much work, you can always lay them out in the sunshine for a hot couple of days.  Mother Nature does know what she’s doing!

After about 4 hours, my small batch was ready; crispy-crunchy-ready. 

I imagine if I immerse these in olive oil they’ll return to a more palatable texture (like mine chewy), but these would still be great as a salad sprinkle.  The raw diet recipes we used during our challenge called for soaking the sun-dried tomatoes in water prior to use.  Good idea.

Tasty, toasty and easy, you’ll want to try this one for yourself!

New How-To Grow Section

This fall I’m switching it up and adding a new “How-To” grow section under my “Gardening Guide for Easy Vegetables.” It will outline instructions on how to grow beautiful, healthy organic vegetables. Over the next few weeks, more pages will appear, each outlining directions from seed to sprout, problems to watch out for, good companions, bad companions and specialty tips, as in the case of tomatoes.

It’s my way of organizing information in an easy to find navigation of my site. Since every plant is unique and beautiful and requires different care, I’ve listed some basics.

Ashley's overflowing with growth

General tips of the trade:

Plant depth will reflect seed size. The smaller the seed, the more shallow planting depth.

Heirloom seeds are preferred over hybrid, because we practice self-sustaining gardening and seeds harvested from hybrids won’t reproduce the fruit they were harvested from. Instead, you’ll get a surprise veggie!

Keep in mind that plants like soft, fluffy beds. If your soil is too dense or too loose, like Goldilocks, your plants will complain. Homegrown compost fits the bill best!

Mulch keeps the moisture in and natural hay or pine straw works perfect, though pine should be reserved for your more acid-loving plants like potatoes, peanuts, strawberries and blueberries.

Companion planting helps keep your plants healthy and happy. Two plants that work well with everyone are lettuce and okra.

Fish emulsion is a great all-around organic fertilizer. Gives mild dose of nitrogen and stinky enough to keep the bugs at bay.

Now, I’m getting ready for fall gardening–care to join me?

Back to School–Gardens!

Back to school means back to lessons and in the warmer regions, I think that should include garden lessons. And why not? Kids LOVE gardening. And when you love what you do, it’s easy to learn!

Not sure if it’s a possibility at your school? Never hurts to ask. All you need is a small plot of land in a sunny spot, a nearby water source, and an adult willing to supervise. Gardens are easy when you have an assortment of hands involved.  Literally.  And fun! 

Our school garden

You can find lessons here on my website, scour the internet or make some of your own. The University of Florida is also a great source for school gardens. They even host an annual school garden contest. Once you decide on a spot, outline your garden and commence digging. Middle schoolers and upper elementary kids LOVE this part. Little ones can help rake the weed debris.

work that garden

Next, mark your beds. Wide, raised beds are preferred, and line your walkways. Helps to keep the weeds at bay. We do like to keep the maintenance manageable.   I learned THAT from my children! 

Awe, Mom.  Weeding again?  Why were weeds even invented?”

Can’t answer that one for you, except maybe oxygen?   They’re green, they must help the environment, right?  Either way, it’s amazing what a group of energetic kids can accomplish!

site weeded and ready for planting

Last, choose your seeds. Everything tastes better when you grow it yourself, but do begin with the most popular vegetables suitable for your region. Think: potatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, watermelon… This list goes on, but these vegetables provide for an easy start to any garden. More

Colorado Gardens

On a recent trip to Colorado, I fell in love with the plethora of flowers. From the mountainside to the myriad planters and arrangements, color and blooms were everywhere. Everywhere! If only my flowers did so well in the heat of Central Florida–I’d put them outside my front door, on my patio, around my yard…

hanging beautyOh, wait. I already have them out my front door, on my patio, around my yard. But mine aren’t like these. Mine wilt at the first sign of sunshine. They scream “water me!” every second of the day. They whine and complain “it’s too hot, save me from this horrid heat…”

The nerve. If I lived in Colorado during the summertime, my flowers would wake to a wealth of warmth and sunshine. They’d crane gently toward the light, beg for water only when they sorely needed it. They’d love me and I’d love them. We’d get along swell. Just swell. I’d hang a colorful assortment like this one everywhere I could stab a hangar.

I’d incorporate Swiss chard like these into my every plant bed.

Edible Colorado landscaping

I’d adorn my every corner with lovelies like these…

wildflowers a plenty

Oh, how my days would be filled with color and joy. Flowers make me happy! In Colorado, they have mountain flair.

Western wagon garden

Restaurants beckon one to linger…

Cafe front

If you ever have the chance to visit Colorado during the summer, go. Enjoy. Breathe in the beauty and fresh air. More

Bug-Free Zone

I don’t know about you, but gardening in Central Florida can prove a constant battle with the bugs. Course, having a “nature swamp” behind you certainly complicates matters. Bugs zip in, dive-bomb your plants and veggies, and then flee to the cover of safety when they see you approach. It’s frustrating, especially as an organic gardener. My okra are suffering. I can’t simply spray them with toxic substances that will kill and repel the little beasts. I must garden with a sense of eco-responsibility and parental caution. I can’t put just anything into their growing bellies!

Tough being so responsible. But not one to give up, I think I might have found my answer. Sitting by the pool after a grueling day of battle, I shared the dilemma with my husband. As if reading my thoughts, hubby peered over at me and asked, “You’re going to tell me next that you need a greenhouse, aren’t you?”

Bingo. I smiled in reply. That would solve the problem, though I didn’t share the same aloud. I don’t know about you, but married people communicate on entirely different levels than non-married types. One must ease into these things. Simply blurting out the truth doesn’t always work. Okay, blurting out your truth thoughts to a spouse SELDOM works, though it does happen. On occasion. When I’m not thinking straight.

But on this particular day I was thinking fine and dandy and guess what? While pondering my response, it occurred to me: Why not bring the greenhouse to the garden?

Looking up and around me, I thought, a screen enclosure works wonders around the pool. Why not the garden?

Hah! I rose and went for the computer to begin a search. This could work!

Floating covers are sold for the same purpose, but in Central Florida, they tend to mold in the summertime (as does everything else). Screen, on the other hand, does not. After a quick search on the internet, off to the hardware box store I went and purchased a roll of screen. Transferring the wire hoops that I used for the purpose of pest/bird protection in my peanut row, I draped the screen over my okra plants and secured it with landscape pins.

drape screen over wire hoops

Voilà. A screened greenhouse for my garden! The sprinkler system fits neatly beneath the screen. The bed is covered…

screen enclosure

Marvelous, darling. Simply marvelous. I mean, don’t my little guys look happy under there? Water penetrates with ease. The screen protects my plants from the blaze of afternoon sun and bugs can’t break through the barrier.

bug-free screen zone

Genius, is what this is. Genius. Now, for this row of baby okra I used 4 ft. by 25 ft. However, as my plants grow, I’ll need a wider strip of screen. Luckily, the rolls come in 5, 7 and 8 ft. lengths as well. Come fall, I’m definitely installing this concept for my tomatoes and other bug-sensitive plants. What do you think?

All-Natural Sports Drink

Hello summer! And with it–the need for hydration. Whether you’re in the garden or on the playing field, running track or playing at the beach, the need for water is strong. However, for some of us, the need for electrolyte replenishment is strong. For most of us, simple water will suffice when it comes to re-hydration. However, if you exercise over 30 minutes, then you should consider a sports drink that will supply the balance your body needs to function at peak performance. “Electrolytes are essential minerals, including sodium and potassium, that regulate heart beat and blood pressure. When we sweat, we lose sodium and chloride (salt) and to a lesser degree, potassium, magnesium and calcium.” ~ Dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner.

branch of lemons

When I’m out in the garden or the gym–aka my home–I tend to stay active for an hour or more, so this drink was of interest to me. Add the fact that there’s no artificial coloring–no artificial anything–I was hooked. I had to try it. This recipe uses orange juice, but fresh lemons will work just as well. :)

Blatner’s homemade Gatorade:

3 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup orange juice

2 1/2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon salt (I used Himalayan Pink Sea Salt)

Makes four servings. Per 8 ounce serving: 50 calories, 14 grams carbohydrate, 160 milligrams sodium.

I made this and it tastes like Gatorade-light. There’s no heavy sweet or salty taste as is with the original sports drink, but instead, a nice, light refreshing beverage with a hint of orange flavor. You don’t taste the salt, though I was able to detect the faint taste of honey. It really is a great alternative to Gatorade.

Find this and other homemade drink recipes here. Then, get outside and get active!!