How to Harvest Peanuts

It’s time to harvest peanuts in my garden and prepare for my fall garden. Peanuts grow under the ground so it’s a matter of digging, shaking, and plucking. Sound fun? My dog, Cody, thinks it is!

harvest peanuts

Not such a big help when it comes time to do the work to harvest peanuts, but he sure is nice company in the garden. Basically, the process calls for lightly digging the soil around your peanut plant about two months after the appearance of blooms. Similar to potatoes, you must poke around the soil GENTLY as you search for ripe peanuts. They are delicate at this stage, and their outer skin is papery and thin. If you find your peanuts are of nice size, then ease the entire plant from the soil and shake excess dirt.

Next, lay them out to dry in the sun to cure them for better storage. You can also use them right away for boiled peanuts. That’s the way my family prefers to eat them. For full instructions on how to grow and harvest peanuts, please check my How To Grow section.

harvest peanuts

This wagon full came from one bed of peanuts, about thirty feet long. Some plants produced more than others, but that’s to be expected. Now it’s time to prepare my garden for fall planting. I’ll follow one of the basic tenets of organic gardening called crop rotation, and follow this crop with leaves. In my case, those leaves will be broccoli. And lots of it!

3 Things Great School Lunches Have in Common

I don’t know about you, but now that it’s back-to-school time, I find myself on lunch duty. It’s the least I can do. I mean, my kids have been cleaning up after themselves, doing their own laundry, dishes, and general household chores since they were seven. Yes, you read that right. My daughter was nine, but my son was tasked with the job of doing his own laundry at seven. Not only did it make me proud to watch him, it made me chuckle to see him leap up onto the washing machine to turn the dials. Such an athlete!

Now some of you are probably wondering how I managed this feat, or why I’d even try. I’m a stay-at-home Mom. I have the time. Eh, maybe I should do all the chores, maybe I shouldn’t. That’s a discussion for another day. (Way, way into the future!)

According to my kids, it’s my lifelong quest to become known as the Meanest Mom Ever. I beg to differ. I look at it as my job to teach them independence. One day they’ll be out on their own and must be able to do things for themselves. That, and they went through a wholly “ungrateful” spell treating me like I was put on this earth to do their bidding.

Not. But now that we’ve worked through that period of time, we’re on good terms. I make their lunch for them every morning, and they say “thank you.” Wunderbar. And it’s off to school you go!

With that settled, what makes for a great school lunch?

#1 ~ Enviability. (Is that even a word?)

Kids want to be the envy of their friends when it comes to their lunch offerings, because at some point, they invariably become just that: offerings.

“Hey, I’ll trade you my bag of trail mix for that blueberry muffin.”

“Wanna trade my blackberries for your peanut butter sandwich?”

While I’m thinking my kids want food that tastes great, they’re thinking value, as in, What can I get for the stuff my mom packed me?

#2 ~ The “Cool” Factor.

I’ll never forget the day my kids took carrots from our garden to school for lunch, then were amazed by the curious stares they received.

“What’s that?”

“Duh. It’s a carrot.”

“No, I mean, what’s that green stuff on the end of it?”

“The leaves.”

Had these children never seen a carrot in its natural state?

Sadly, the answer was no. Many of them had not. But how would they? While we gardeners enjoy gardens in our backyard, our patios and window sills, others don’t. They only enjoy what the grocery store stocks for them to enjoy. On the bright side, the discussion did serve as the catalyst for their first school garden!

#3 ~ Variety

With a backyard garden bursting with bounty fall through spring, we never lack for variety. From blueberries to tomatoes, broccoli to zucchini, there’s something for everyone to eat. My son prefers carrots. My daughter prefers broccoli. Both pack well into a lunch and combine deliciously with peanut butter or ranch dressing. But my kids get bored easily, so I’ve learned to rotate the offerings. Some days it’s fruit and yogurt, other days it’s veggies and dip. Sometimes we go with a sandwich, other days they prefer a salad. But always, always, always, I pack enough to eat and share and keep it interesting.

Because like it or not, I’ve found their friends to be very interested in “tasting” what my kids bring to school for lunch. I’ve even garnered a few compliments over the years.

“Mom, Sarah loved your oatmeal-carrot cookies.”

“Awesome!” I replied, knowing full-well that my daughter does not prefer these delicacies due to the raisins I include in the mix. But she knows that others do and like the smart cookie that she is, she requests them to be included in her lunch. And anything else I might like to experiment with, because for her there’s no downside. Someone will eat it, even if it’s not her. (We gardeners do love to share–it’s half the fun!)

In fact, my neighbor just called me to deliver a bucket full of limes. Yep. She has too many to eat for herself and hates to see them go to waste. I concur. And in the rare instance when my kids do bring home lunch leftovers, they summarily toss them into the compost bin. Leftovers make excellent dirt.

Waste not, want not!

Back to School with Good Health

Kids love to be of help. No, really—they do! And if we grown-ups can just guide them (or corral them) in the right direction, why, in no time everyone will be full-fledged contributors to the backyard home garden.

Half the battle is to understand how a child thinks. If we can draw our plans in line with their minds, we’re good to go. But what motivates a kid to garden?

The power of possession. As any parent knows, many times the first word out of a young child’s mouth is “mine!” No surprise, there. Like adults, children have a natural desire to control the environment around them. While often this is an impulse that needs curbed, it should be absolutely encouraged when it comes to the garden.

“Here sweetheart, this section of the garden is all yours. You get to grow what you like to eat.”

And you can take care of it all by yourself. But you save this little tidbit of information for later. You don’t want to ruin their excitement with a list of things they’ll need to do, do you?

Of course not. That should be introduced in bits and pieces.

“Time to feed your plants.” The child sprinkles worm poop throughout their garden.

“Now they’re thirsty.” Hand them the colorful water can and watch them drench their babies but good.

“Oh no, grab that weed before it takes over your baby plant’s growing space!” In no time flat, they’ll yank that stray green out before your very eyes.

Impressive. But then again, kids enjoy being productive—when it’s something they care about. So nurture this instinct, then watch them grow and blossom right along with their very own vegetable garden. Or herbs. It doesn’t matter what they grow, only that they do. And once they become authorities on the subject, stand back—they’ll even help you with your plants!

And don’t worry about harvest. That’s an easy sell. Swimming for potatoes is tons of fun, kinda like digging for buried treasure. Searching for hidden carrots works the same. Twisting cobs is simple. And if you promise kids they can keep the husks for weaving baskets, tying knots, or crafting corn husk dolls, they’ll be totally in! Talk about fun, kids will even trade the business of shucking beans for the prize of a bowl-full of dried beans—they’re the secret ingredients for making maracas and rain sticks.

Once in the kitchen, kids can be of big help, too. Peeling carrots is a job my son loves to perform. He likes to prove he’s a “can do” sort of kid, if you know what I mean. And my daughter is amazing when it comes to slicing tomatoes and squash for blanching—perfect for that healthy weeknight dinner.

Better yet, make a breakfast smoothie using their garden favorites. With enough fruit to cover the color green, you can even squeeze a few veggies inside. I call it the “Berry Green Smoothie.” Simply combine blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, chia seed and a bit of water in a blender and mix well. Steam broccoli for ease of blending and add a dash of honey for those with a sweet tooth. It’s really quite good!

When a child makes the connection between growing fruits and vegetables and the ones they see on their plate and in their glass, you’ll have a full-fledge gardener-extraordinaire in your midst. Vegetables never tasted so good to a child as the ones they grew themselves. It’s a fact—and the perfect beginning to a healthy lifestyle. Healthy living, one fruit/veggie at a time!

How to Grow Peanuts

It’s that time again when the peanut blossoms take center stage.  Gorgeous and delicate, these sweet yellow beauties are the sign of good things to come.  Below the bright green leaves the spindly legs–better known as “pegs”–bend down in search of soft dirt whereby they bury themselves for the process of forming their peanuts. Like carrots, they prefer loose soil (makes it easier to reach down and form nice full shells).  At this point, you can mulch around their base, much like you do for your potatoes. Or till them–they LOVE soft soil.

Why? Because peanuts grow underground and need soft soil as they drop their pegs — read peanut developing roots — and they can’t do this if the surrounding soil is too hard.

Tilling is a must.

If you’ve never grown peanuts for yourself, you should.  Kids love peanut butter and it’s a recipe they’ll enjoy making at home, not to mention hubby may appreciate the boiled or roasted version–they mesh quite well with a frosty mug of sudsy beer.  When planting your peanuts, be sure to include rich organic compost and/or composted manure.  And throw in a hand-full of crushed eggshells.  These nuts really like the calcium kick!  These are Valencia peanuts which grow well here in Florida and are perfect for boiling.

About two months after bloom, lightly dig down around one of your plants to check their progress–you can use a fork to lift the pegs from the dirt.  A ripe peanut will feel firm, its outer shell somewhat dry and “papery.”  Once ready, gently pull entire plant from the soil, shake off the excess dirt and lay on a screen in the sun for 2-3 days before shelling.  to cure.  This is for the purpose of longer storage.  If you’re boiling your peanuts, you want them green.  Do not attempt to boil roasted peanuts.  They’ve already been cooked!

If you do plan to store your freshly harvested peanuts, place them in a warm dry location for about 2-3 weeks.  If you’re peanuts have already dried out and you get a craving for boiled peanuts, you’re in luck!  By soaking dried nuts for 24 hours you can “re-hydrate” them prior to the boiling process.  Check my recipe section for details.

Simple Summer Pasta

During the summer months, my family looks for light dishes to sweep across their place mat come dinnertime and I wholeheartedly agree. Not a fan of what most “comfort dishes” do to my waistline, I celebrate the lighter fare of warmer weather. Besides, as a gardener, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate my garden harvest into the menu.

Voilá! This Simple Summer Pasta is the answer to my dreams! Tomatoes, sweet onions, garlic, basil and olive oil plus a spattering of Parmesan and you’re off to the races. My husband needs the added spices of salt and pepper while I find the garlic and veggies sufficient to pleasure my taste buds.

It’s easy to make, too.

Simple Summer Pasta

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced (I LOVE garlic!)

6-8 basil leaves, chopped

3 TBSP olive oil

1/2 box spaghetti

Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to directions, adding 1 TBSP olive oil to the water. We prefer ours al dente, which means I cook the pasta about a minute or so less than standard instructions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Place pasta back into pan and set aside. Heat 2 TBSP oil in a skillet and sauté the onions for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic, cooking until just heated, or about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in basil.

Add some of reserved pasta cooking liquid to pasta, stirring to soften the spaghetti. Serve spaghetti in a bowl, top with tomato mixture and flavor to your taste with Parmesan, salt and pepper.

Great options include topping the dish with sautéed shrimp. You can sauté them in about 3-4 minutes using the same pan you cooked the tomatoes and onions, only you’ll need to add a bit more olive oil to keep them from sticking.

Serves 2-3

Juicing Peaches, Mangoes and Basil

With summer in full swing, I decided to try juicing the sweet fruits of the season, namely peaches and mangoes. Not only two of my favorites, these fruits are classic companions in the kitchen. Adding basil gives the juice a unique twist!

And it’s simple to do. Using a commercial juicer, the process only takes seconds. Don’t have a commercial juicer? No problem. This blend can be whipped up just as easily using a traditional blender.

Mango Peach Juice

1 mango, sliced, pit removed

2 peaches, sliced, pits removed

6 basil leaves

For best results when using a commercial juicer, add mango first, then basil, followed by the peaches. The reason? You don’t want your basil to get lost in the juicer blades. You want it in your glass!

Delicious. Simply delicious!

Added benefit: Basil is a wonderful digestive aid.

Community Gardens Bonus for Kids!

Introducing the brand new book in the Wild Tales & Garden Thrills series by D.S. Venetta….

It’s The Muddy Fingers Garden Crew to the Rescue!

Jamal Livingston is stressed out. His community garden is in jeopardy of closure, because volunteers are squabbling and an angry neighbor is threatening to have the garden shut down completely. Which would be horrible! Not only do Jamal and the others share their produce with the local food pantry, they teach others how to garden and eat healthy.

When Jamal shares the news with his friends at school, the children are beside themselves. Close the garden? When it’s doing so much good? Absurd, and the students of Beacon Academy won’t stand for it. If the neighbors won’t volunteer to work the garden, then they will. The kids are experts now. They can handle any gardening challenge.

It’s the moment Jamal learns the true power of community outreach. But as the kids work their plan, they quickly discover there’s more at play than cranky volunteers and an unhappy neighbor. A lot more, including Mother Nature herself. The kids might have piles of energy, but can they overcome all obstacles and save the garden? Find out in book 3 of the Wild Tales & Garden Thrills series…

As always, there are vocabulary words and organic gardening lessons in the back of each book. PLUS delicious recipes like Oven-Roasted Okra, Zucchini & Cheese Supreme, Veggie Stuffed Peppers, Strawberry Balsamic Crisps, and the ever popular Cabbage-Carrot-Apple juice!

Available summer 2017. For more details, visit www.dsvenetta.com

Let’s Can Peppers!

Wahoo~my Hungarian Wax peppers are ready to be canned!!  It’s the moment my son has been waiting for.  He can’t wait to get started harvesting–well, in between entertaining the neighbor girl peering at him through the chain link fence, that is.  In between introducing him to all 100 of her imaginary brothers and sisters, her fleet of horses, her real life dogs…

Well, you get the picture.  The boy was distracted, but still managed to snip this bounty of peppers.

Beautiful.  From red to yellow (and a few green we’ll chalk up to the distraction factor), my son has given me quite the beginning for a canning fiesta.  Mind you, he didn’t lug this basket up to the house himself.  I did.  He was busy impressing the young girl with his digging abilities, creating a hole deep enough to step in clear up to his thighs!  Needless to say, she was thrilled. More

Skillet Potatoes and Onions

If you live in the South, you’re probably harvesting potatoes and onions right about now. Okay, you probably have harvested your potatoes, but apparently I missed a few on the first go round of my harvest session. And the second.

Well, to be fair, my son was part of this process so it’s anyone’s guess how these babies were missed. But here they are, gorgeous and sumptuous as ever.

Potatoes and onions are good friends when it comes to cooking. These two root veggies blend well together morning, noon and night. I prefer mine layered with cheese–as does my family–so I decided to combine them for a side dish at dinnertime. I also prefer cast iron when skillet-cooking in the oven. Adds to flavor, I think. And the dish is definitely a crowd-pleaser. The applause you’ll receive when you pull the skillet out of the oven is wonderful. And well-deserved.

Skillet Potatoes and Onions

2 1/4 lb. potatoes, sliced

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup butter

1/4 tsp. paprika

8 oz. shredded cheddar

salt and pepper to taste

2 TBSP bacon bits, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Melt butter in a 9″ cast iron skillet and sauté onions until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Sprinkle with paprika and remove from heat.

Remove onions to a plate and wipe down skillet. Brush bottom and sides of skillet with shortening or butter. Arrange enough potato slices to cover bottom of skillet, overlapping slices. More

A Model For School Gardens

Ever wanted to start a school garden and didn’t know where to begin?

Then you must check out the incredible work being done by Millennia Gardens Elementary in Orlando, Florida. In collaboration with Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Green Works Initiative and the help of countless dedicated volunteers (and of course, enthusiastic students!), this school is paving the way for future school gardens everywhere. Education is at the heart of their mission, with an emphasis on environmental stewardship and healthy living.

These students are learning to recycle, beginning with tires. Have you ever seen an old rubber tire look so good?

I haven’t. They’re simply beautiful–and the butterflies are flocking to these flowers in droves. In a touching tribute to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub attack, rocks were painted with the names of each victim and placed in the garden for all to visit and reflect upon.

An education board placed near the butterfly garden explains the life cycle of the butterfly, labels the parts of plants and flowers and even discusses the value of other important pollinators. Where was this classroom when I was growing up?

But the fun doesn’t stop here. These students have established an impressive hydroponic garden, pictured here with an abundance of strawberries. If that wasn’t enough, these budding humanitarians grow lettuce and donate it to Sea World to feed rescued manatees.

They have also established a lovely raised bed garden.

Sound expensive to maintain? Not really. These ingenious youngsters have employed a “pedal-a-watt” system where they actually power the pumps and timers to keep their garden growing green and lush by cycling. Yep, you heard me right! These kids pedal to their heart’s content and deliver the much needed energy to their garden equipment. Now that’s what I call saving money on electricity. And, expending youthful excess energy and calories!

However, the “awesome” factor doesn’t stop there. Check out these wind-turbines…

They’re just one more way the kids are practicing sustainable methods of living. Notice that black pile of dirt in the background? Millennia Gardens Elementary is one of the only schools in the county to recycle their food waste, allowing the city to convert it to a rich, organic compost that will feed their garden.

Wow. Talk about a bright future–these kids are setting a stellar example for schools nationwide. For more information on what they’re doing and planning for the future, visit their website:  www.ecoclubfl.com