Summer Success

For many of you, gardening season has just begun but for me, it’s a constant turnover. Our cool weather plants have long gone, replaced by summertime sweeties like okra and peppers, peanuts and pumpkins. Yep, if you want a pumpkin for your doorstep come Halloween, you’d better start planting it now. These babies take a while–especially if you like them big!

Big Max pumpkins

And we do. The bigger the better. These beauties were from a few seasons back, but it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of the goal. Helps to keep you motivated through the long hot summer. Peppers enjoy the heat as well and are thriving in varying stages. Green…

green peppers

Hot chili…

chili peppers

And our tomatoes are in full-blown production mode.

sustainability in tomatoes

This crop is the result of my fall planting season. I saved the seeds from my bountiful albeit scraggly-looking harvest and here you have it — sustainability in action! Sure, they look a bit skinny and bedraggled, but the heat has been pretty brutal of late. The good news is: looks aren’t everything. The tomatoes I’m plucking from these plants are perfect, except for the ones the worms get to before me. To avoid this little snafu, pick your tomatoes at the first hints of red and allow to ripen indoors, safely out of reach from the worms.

spring tomatoes

Peanuts and sweet potatoes are about to go in the ground while my lima and black beans are plumping their pods.

limas and black beans

Not too bad, huh? Just goes to show this gardening thing can be accomplished, if only you’ll give it a try! Haven’t started, yet? No problem. There’s plenty of time left, even if you live in a hot weather zone like Florida. Okra, southern peas, peanuts, sweets and pumpkins love this time of year.

By the way, don’t ask me about my corn. I’m still grieving over the loss. Dollar weeds are killer, especially when combined with the dry humor of Mother Nature. Very dry. :(

 

Announcement!

I am thrilled to announce that I’m embarking on a new endeavor this year ~ a “garden adventure” fiction series intended for a middle grade audience. Written under the pseudonym D. S. Venetta, Show Me The Green! will be released next month.

worm and dirt scene

It’s the First Annual Garden Contest sponsored by the local farmer’s market, and Lexi and Jason Williams are determined to win with organic vegetables grown under the supervision of their mother. In this battle against time and the elements, the kids are sidetracked by everything from caterpillars to worms, seeds to harvest. While the siblings test each other’s patience, they marvel at the wealth of discoveries hidden away between the beds of their garden. Including, poop. Worm poop, mostly.

Who knew a garden could be so much fun?

Well, you did, of course! You’re a gardener and every gardener knows full well the joy and hidden treasures awaiting them out their back door. As many of you might recall, I spent a few years gardening with the students at my children’s school and that experience ignited the idea for these novels. If I learned anything, it was that kids love to be outside and they love to learn new things (especially creepy, crawly things!).

Williams kids

As a teacher for the past thirty years, I am always looking for new books and new authors to introduce my students, to entice them and reignite their interests in reading. “Farmer’s Market” is an easy read that I read to my third, fourth and fifth graders. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Jason, Lexi and their mom as they cared for their garden. Not only were the characters easy to relate to and real, one can learn quite a bit about gardening without feeling like you’re reading a textbook. My students commented that they’d felt just like Jason and Lexi did a few times, and I shared that I had surely felt like the mom, too. Having read many books, I feel strongly about recommending this book to students as well as teachers. Great, well-written children’s book! ~ Sharon Grier, Montessori teacher

Although Show Me the Green! is clearly a strong “Let’s garden” for country and suburban children, even city dwellers should be inspired by this charming tale of how to grow veggies. With chapter titles like “Slippery Eggs & Seeds,” “Wacky Weeds,” “Shiny Frogs & Flittering Flies,” this is a fun story in itself and an inspiration to children everywhere. ~ Blair Bancroft, Author

Show Me The Green! is set for release next month, available in black and white print form and full-color ebook. If you’d like to receive news and updates regarding the series, please like my D.S. Venetta Facebook page. The website will be up and running first of June, then watch for book #2 in the Wild Tales & Garden Thrills series later this year. In addition to BloominThyme, I’ll also be hosting a blog specifically for kids to share their adventures in gardening.

Please spread the word with parents, teachers and kids everywhere!

Sweetest Tears You’ll Never Cry

Something about homegrown sweet onions doesn’t make you cry. You leap for joy, you eat your heart out, but you don’t cry–not when you’re cutting them you don’t. I only cry when I run out for the season!

fresh sweet onions

And they taste sweeter than any onion I’ve ever purchased from the store. Yep, they’re that good and very easy to grow. In fact, the only problem I can find with sweet onions is waiting for the harvest!

sweet onions almost ready

They don’t require a lot of attention or bug spray, only water, which is why I make a point to heavily mulch my onions. Makes sense when you consider their body is made up of mostly water. And when they’re ready, they’ll die back so you know when to harvest.

sweet onion plants ready for harvest

Some even poke up from the ground, calling your name — Pick me! Pick me!

sweet onion poking up from the ground

I do love a helpful vegetable in the garden. And if all that isn’t enough to love about these gems, how about this gorgeous bloom they produce?

onion plant bloom

Stunning. Intricate, gorgeous, simply stunning.

Stay-tuned! I’ll be posting complete how-to grow instructions for sweet onions. Should be brief. :)

 

Support My Tomatoes Can Rely On

I’ve finally found the answer for supporting my tomatoes. It’s an ingenious system known as the Florida Weave. Basically, it’s a system of stakes and twine that utilizes a weave pattern in an around the tomato plants to keep them stable, in place, and able to climb.

Florida Weave

It’s better than staking plants, because it allows them movement and accounts for the “sprawling” effect of fuller plants. It’s better than the metal cone supports, because they become too confining for the tomato plant as it grows and the branches and fruit become tangled and pinched. So far, I love it. I used the old twine that I saved from my hale bales through the years (I saved it all because I KNEW it would come in handy one day!) and tied them end-to-end until I reached the desired length.

Florida Weave_3

When I ran out of nylon twine, I went to the store and purchased garden twine made from natural fiber. I won’t do that again. One of the keys to success with this system is pulling and keeping the twine tight from stake-to-stake. I’ve only had this system in place for 10 days and the natural fibers have already stretched on me!

The nylon have not. Lesson learned.

This website shows a nice diagram of the Florida Weave with excellent instructions so I won’t repeat myself here. I simply wanted to bring it to the attention all of you tomato growers out there because this is a need FILLED. And I must say, my tomatoes are developing quite nicely.

happy tomatoes

These are Brandywine and produced so well for me this past fall, I planted two rows this spring! Mind you, these are my harvested seeds from the fall crop. This is an heirloom variety I purchased from Victory Seeds and is absolutely wonderful, in both taste and growth habit.

So there you have it. If you’re growing tomatoes this season, try this trellis system. It WORKS.

 

Third Time’s A Charm

My daughter and I have been playing around in our test kitchen again and have come up with a delicious new cookie!  Test kitchen is just a fancy way of saying we’ve been cooking and concocting and this time, our mouths watered at the results. Oatmeal-Carrot Cookies that literally melt in your mouth with sweet delicious flavors that will have you tossing carrot seeds in the ground so fast your head will spin!

Oatmeal Carrot Cookies

Sure, you can buy carrots from your local market but where’s the fun in that?  I love to go to my supermarket and wander the aisles (I’m particularly excited by the weekly buy-one-get-one deals), but I really love harvesting vegetables from my organic garden, then proceeding directly to the kitchen for consumption of the same. Awesome feeling.

Anyway, with a bounty of freshly harvested carrots, I thought, “I need a new way to eat these babies.” My Fluffiest Carrot Cake is divine but way too fattening to eat on a regular basis. I mean, it’s too easy to eat three slices in a sitting. Too easy and bad for the hips. Very bad. So I decided to make a healthy cookie, instead. Unfortunately, healthy cookies are kinda hard to make, hence the title of this blog post. Our first two attempts failed. We sweetened the dough with honey which made the final cookies too “liquidy.” For the next batch we cut down on the honey but the cookies still didn’t have enough substance to them. Answer? More

Wish I’d Known This A Few Years Back…

Not really sure how I missed it, actually. It’s simple, easy and completely efficient. I mean, if the resorts can do it, why can’t I, right? That’s what I finally decided, anyway. If stringing lines over pools and outdoor restaurants can keep unwanted birds out of the guests’ hair and food, they should certainly be able to keep the birds out of my blueberries.

delectable blueberries

And it does. It totally does! Bird netting is the old standby and works, but it’s cumbersome and traps the bees inside. Bad. Very bad. Garlic sprays and the like don’t work especially well, because the birds don’t seem to mind the stench and I do. Ewe. But string? It’s a no-brainer. At least, once the idea popped into my brilliant mind, it was a no-brainer. Duh. More

My Contribution to Earth Day

For those concerned about the human impact on climate, this article might be your motivation to get that backyard garden (or rooftop!) started. According to the OCA, large-scale farming is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). From commercial fertilizers to pesticides, the heavy machinery needed to work the land, and the gas consumed by truckers and airplanes to get the harvest to your local grocery store are only some of the events that can affect our environment.

OCA_small_scale

Makes this gal feel good knowing she can trot on out to her garden and grab some squash and onions for dinner, a handful of blueberries for her breakfast yogurt, fresh lettuce for her lunch salad. It’s the epitome of “localvore” lifestyle. Couple of cows and hens, and I’d have my very own compost-makers and egg suppliers! Unfortunately, hubby says no…that’s too much for his little farmer. But not for you. Why not make this Earth Day the day you decide to get outside and get growing?

It’s easier than you think. I’m proof-positive! I have a gorgeous 4000 sq. ft. garden in my backyard that requires no more than an hour a day during prime-time growing season, much less the remaining months of the year. Granted, I don’t worry about every little weed I see but I don’t have to–weeds are part of nature, too (one I can’t get around), so I live with them, pulling only the most egregious from my beds. And the payoff is HUGE. One of my greatest pleasures is to stroll outdoors and pluck fresh produce from my garden. It tastes better, feels better, and gives me a sense of gratification that a trip to the grocery store does not.

Even if you don’t decide to start a garden, the story is worth a read. :) Happy Earth Day!

 

4th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop!

Including a grand prize ereader and $$!! Yep, it’s time for the 4th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop and that means sharing great recipes and gardening tips.

AIB LogoThis year I’m sharing a favorite recipe. With Brussels sprout season closing down in Central Florida, it’s time to consume the last of your harvest and this dish does that with savory flair. How about we call it Savory Brussels?

Perfect. Now, for the good stuff. You’ll need the following list of ingredients:

2 dozen Brussels sprouts, stems removed and sliced in half (or quartered, if extra-large)

3 oz. Manchego-style cheese, crumbled (a Mexican fresco type will work)

2 TBSP bacon bits

1 TBSP dried cranberries, chopped

1-2 TBSP olive oil

Savory Brussels ingredients

In a large saucepan, heat 1 TBSP olive oil on medium heat. When hot, add sprouts and toss to coat with oil. Continually toss as you sauté the sprouts to a golden brown, approximately 10 minutes.

Savory Brussels sauteed golden brown

Toward end of sauté process, I like to add the extra tablespoon of olive oil, though this is totally up to you. Once sautéed to your liking, add bacon bits and cranberries and toss together until warm and well-blended, about 1-2 minutes. Add cheese and mix together for a minute or two longer. Serve warm.

Savory Brussels Sprouts

Yield approx. 6-8 side servings.

For my giveaway this year, I’m offering a set of decorative note cards, including an ingenious deck of garden guides that describe best growing practices and gardening tips, plus a box of 101 ways to stop worrying (and maybe get gardening?).

AIB 2015 giveaway

Enter to win below and enter often–there’s more than one way to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Have You Exercised Your Soil Lately?

Soil is key to healthy plants.  Duh. But with spring upon us, it’s an important concept to keep in mind. Healthy soil = healthy plants. What makes a healthy soil? Fertilizer? Water? While these two ingredients certainly help, to have truly healthy soil, you need to aerate. Aerate basically means to turn your soil, or add “air” into the compacted ground by redistributing the soil, making for better decomposition. However, one must take caution when aerating established garden soil, because you don’t want to disturb the microorganisms and/or beneficials (good creatures) living beneath the surface. Think worms. You want these little guys to remain happy in your garden and poking them with the sharp blade of a tiller or spade will not make them happy.

gorgeous-worms

How do you aerate your soil in a compassionate manner? Depends on the current condition of your soil. If you’re preparing an area for the first time, your best bet is to go full speed ahead using a push tiller.

rent the tiller

Your goal is to turn up the soil, introduce air, loosening the dirt several inches deep. You can also use a spade for this process. Stab the blade in, dig up the soil, turn it over–stab, dig, turn–over and over. It’s a tedious process but provides great exercise. Hah.

stab shovel both sides

For established gardens, avoid the push tiller and opt for a spade or a hand tool. For example, between planting seasons — I have two here in Central Florida, fall and spring — I turn and till as I work through established beds using a hand fork or shovel, whichever is handy. As I do so, I’ll add compost to increase beneficial organisms into the soil which in turn aids decomposition, aka, more organic compost! Additionally, throughout a single growing season, I’ll poke around my plants with a hand tiller/fork to ensure they’re not becoming compacted by say, heavy rains and the like. We do tend to get torrential downpours.

my beds are formed

Aerating soil not only facilitates the decomposition process of healthy soil, it also ensures light, fluffy beds for your plants. And remember, plants prefer light fluffy beds of dirt because it enables their roots to grow and spread freely. It also allows them to soak up those nutrients you’re “folding” or “tilling” into the soil in the form of organic fertilizer.

loosen and till as you go

Caveat to aeration? You’re turning up weed seeds embedded deep in your soil. Not good, because you’re basically replanting them, encouraging/enabling them to sprout. Ugh. But as every gardener knows, weeds are part of the deal. Some of us are meticulous when it comes to weed removal in and around their plants. Others (like me) have accepted that a few weeds around the garden don’t hurt that bad. They merely look bad. Which brings to mind an old saying along the lines…an immaculate house means a dull life. Loosely translated: I have other more exciting things to do than weed!

Now that you have that spring in your step, head outside! The sun is shining, the temps are warming (or will be soon), and there’s no place you’d rather be than outdoors.

Easter Dessert

Looking for the perfect dessert this Easter? This carrot cake is perfect and differs from most in that it’s light, fluffy and kid-friendly—from the making to the eating! Not only can they help by harvesting and shredding the carrots, they’ll love to decorate this spring treat (bunnies, anyone?).

bunny cake

While this recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, a bit tangy for some youngsters, it would also be great with a creamy white/vanilla frosting, too.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

3 cups freshly grated carrots

½ cup raisins (optional)

½ cup walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

pre-made fondant for decorations

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Grease or butter 9 x 13 or 2 8-inch round pans. In a large bowl, combine oil, eggs and sugar and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour and cinnamon and mix together until creamy smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet and blend well. Fold in grated carrots, followed by any optional items of your liking!

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Serve with cream cheese frosting (even plain, this cake is so good).

Approximately 1 large or 2 8-inch cakes.

light and fluffy slice

 Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, refrigerated

2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened (at room temperature)

1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how thick you like your frosting!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

dash of grated orange zest (optional)

Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract and blend until smooth. Add sugar gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended. Stop when you have reached your desired consistency. For stiffer frosting, use more sugar. For creamy frosting, use less. Stir in optional flavorings at end. Spread (or drizzle) frosting over cake and enjoy!

You can purchase packages of pre-made fondant at most major craft stores (Joann’s Fabrics, Michael’s…) and forming your figures is easy. We used a tube of green cake decorating color for the greens on our carrots—for a more feathery effect. Don’t forget the pre-made flowers and sprinkles—talk about EASY! You’ll have a stylin’ cake in no time!