Garden skinny – my personal scoop on gardening

Microgreens and Greenhouse Production

I live in a rural area. I’m out in the fields or anything (thought that would be nice!), but I do live on six acres and have access to a small downtown within five minutes. Let’s call it semi-rural. One of the benefits of where I am is that several of my neighbors have livestock–cows, goats, horses, chickens… You get the picture.

Well, some of them also have greenhouses which I find fabulous. Actually, I’m quite envious but accept the fact that it’s not in my cards. While I want to be a farm girl, I’m really not. Maybe when the kids move on and I need something to do, but right now, my plate is pretty full and farms require work. Fun work, but time committed nonetheless. Plus, my husband knows that if I’m having problems maintaining said greenhouse, I’m going to slide my gaze his way.

Not gonna happen. Speaking of plate, full–his is overflowing!  **sigh**

Which is why it’s nice to have neighbors. Mine provides me with wonderful eggs and possibly greens–if I weren’t growing a bounty of lettuce on my own. However her set up is so cool, I asked if I could share. This is her greenhouse full of lettuce in varying stages of growth.

I learned that the fan perched in the upper corner is crucial for air circulation. Without it, fungus can become a problem. And while this photo appears dark, it was QUITE bright inside, despite overcast skies outside. So bright, I had to don my sunglasses!

But the view was amazing. Look at all those gorgeous greens! Now I’m sure you’re thinking, Wow, that’s a lot of lettuce. Who’s gonna eat it all?

How about the entire community? Every weekend, she lugs this produce straight to our Farmer’s Market. Did I mention she’s a pseudo commercial grower?

This woman doesn’t mess around. Those are hydroponic tubes you see and not cheap to construct and maintain, unless of course, you think of how much can be produced. She begins with seed cubes that range 1-3 cents per cube, depending on how many you buy at a time. One tray = $1.50 – $3.00 Now imagine the lettuce heads you can grow!

When they grow a couple of inches, she transfers them to the tubes by breaking the cubes into individual sections.

She can also stop right here and sell–or better yet, consume–the greens at this stage–as microgreens. You might have heard of this new phenomena raging at restaurants across the country, but basically these seedlings are POTENT with nutrients. More so than if you wait until the lettuce forms those full and fluffy heads of green were used to seeing. (See above)

And, you don’t have to wait months before harvesting! We’re talking days, depending upon the type of seed your using. Wheatgrass is a good example of the powerful nutritional value of sprouts.

Very healthy, and easy to grow. I know cancer patients who swear by it, as well as many fitness buffs. The second tray is sunflower sprouts. Delicious and fresh-tasting!

So next time you’re in the garden, consider growing and consuming microgreens instead of waiting for a full head of salad–they pack a powerful health punch. And you don’t need a fancy greenhouse to grow them. Simply scatter your seeds over a tray of dirt, or in a bed of dirt, cover with a light dusting of soil or perlite and you’re off to the races. Some of the most commonly grown plants for use as microgreens: amaranth, arugula, beets, basil, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, cilantro, cress, fennel, kale, mustard, parsley and radish.

And by all means, enjoy. That’s what gardening is all about!

Strawberry Season is Here!

And a very popular time for kids in the garden! Okay, at least for mine, anyway. And grandma. Don’t forget her. Exciting outings are usually her idea, and strawberry picking tops the list.

February and March are peak strawberry months in Florida. For those who live in and around the Central Florida area, the Plant City Strawberry Festival takes place from March 2-12th and includes headline country music stars, like Willie Nelson, the Gatlin Brothers, Rascal Flatts, 3 Doors Down and more! From the Strawberry Festival to our local Strawberry Farm, we love this time of year!

Sweetens school lunches.  “Peanut butter and jelly, Mom, and make it fresh strawberry!”

And afternoon snack time.  “Can we make strawberry smoothies?  Pleeeeeease.”

Of course we can!   If that’s how I get fresh strawberries in your belly, then that’s how we do it. (Beats the ice cream alternative.)

We in the gardenfrisk household used to grow our own strawberries, though for some reason, they never turned out quite as large and luscious as the ones at the farm.   Pesticides? Maybe. Commercial strength fertilizer? Could be. But since I don’t know for sure, let’s just say the kids and I have some work to do this season to compete with Farmer Jones down the road.

 

Pine needle mulch is the first key.  Strawberries prefer acid soil. As for food, I hope they like fish emulsion. It’s stinky, but seems effective. So long as we don’t drench them in the stuff while the fruit is blossoming, we should be good to go, right? You can grow them in containers and allowing them to climb on a trellis. They love it! For a complete review on the subject of growing strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association provides a fantastic educational download for kids and adults alike.

Another great use for strawberries is to make your own preserves. For easy instructions, check my recipe page. It’s great fun and could be the perfect spring gift!

If you’d like to find a farm near you (this is an international source, mind you), check this link.   In addition to strawberries, you’ll be able to locate blueberry farms, pumpkin patches–all kinds of stuff!

Lemon Blossoms Abound

Tis’ the season for lemon blossoms. I have one potted bush outside my patio that produces nicely. Last season, it produced almost half a dozen lemons. However this year, I’m hoping for much more.

Just look at these gorgeous blooms!

And every bloom equals a future lemon.

A few are currently bursting from the stem.

Gets you excited, doesn’t it? Which brings me to the bad news. I’m going to have to wait months before these babies are ready for picking! Ugh. Guess I’ll spend my time gazing upon them until then. If you’re interested in trying your hand at growing lemons, remember these important tips:

Lemons require LOTS of light. They are sensitive to the cold and need protection from frost. They prefer well-draining soil that is slightly acidic. Keep soil evenly moist, though do water deeply at least once a week. And if you’re growing your lemon tree in a pot like me, remember to keep it outside when the blossoms are bursting. You need bees to complete this transformation from blossom to fruit. Happy gardening!

Now THIS is the FUTURE of Gardening

When I saw this structure, I sat back with my mouth agape. Wow. Just wow.

It’s easy to assemble and anyone can utilize it in their home. Described as a “spherical garden that empowers people to grow their own food much more locally in a beautiful and sustainable way,” this Growroom by Space10, an IKEA lab, is the result of a “future-living lab on a mission to design a better and more sustainable way of living.”

Intended for use as a neighborhood garden in cities, it could easily be used for a backyard, a corporate headquarters, a library…the possibilities are endless! How’s that for a lunch hour with the co-workers?

And it only requires plywood, rubber hammers, metal screws and diligence to complete the 17-step architect designed garden project.

“I want one! I want one!”

Perfect. When you’re ready to get started, download your instructions here.

Great way to be a part of the locally-sourced food movement.

“Local food represents a serious alternative to the global food model. It reduces food miles, our pressure on the environment, and educates our children of where food actually comes from. … The challenge is that traditional farming takes up a lot of space and space is a scarce resource in our urban environments.

The Growroom … is designed to support our everyday sense of well being in the cities by creating a small oasis or ‘pause’ architecture in our high paced societal scenery, and enables people to connect with nature as we smell and taste the abundance of herbs and plants. The pavilion, built as a sphere, can stand freely in any context and points in a direction of expanding contemporary and shared architecture.” ~ Space10

Good luck and happy gardening!

What Happened to My Brassicas?

I’m a bit disappointed as I write this post. My coveted Brussels sprouts and cabbage have not blossomed as I’d hoped. As I’d worked so hard to ensure.

I don’t know what happened. I watered, fertilized and weeded. Consistently. Carefully. Lovingly. I even applied snail bait for those horrid beasts that attack from underground. Could also be nematodes, though I’m not sure how to rid my garden of those creatures. I’ve tilled, rotated, solarized…

But alas, it has been to no avail. This cabbage was planted months ago. Months!

It’s not like I’ve never had success before. I have. Just look at these beauties. Gorgeous! I’ve grown both red… More

Got Seeds? Make Sure You’re Buying the RIGHT Ones!

It’s time to buy your seeds!  If you haven’t been saving your seeds, that is.  Now mind you, for those of you who are saving seeds, I completely understand how you could become so excited over your tomato crop and making sauce that you completely forgot to save a few ripe tomatoes for the purpose of saving seeds.  Yep, you plopped them right into the boiling water for blanching without the first thought to seed-saving.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More tomato seeds are on my list, too.

seed shopping

But take heart!  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  It’s understandable that you get carried away. As for my raw food fans, the concept remains the same.  Chopping seeds in your Cuisinart isn’t helpful for seed saving, so slow down…take a deep breath and think before you throw the switch. 🙂  I’m just sayin’…

But there’s something very important that you must keep in mind when the seed catalogs arrive. After you eagerly run to the mailbox (or jog—as ice tends to be slippery) and pull out those gorgeous pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs, and peruse the list of seed offerings–make sure you’re searching for heirloom seeds.  Not hybrid, not super-duper-extra-sweet or double the normal growth potential…  Uh, uh.  You want heirloom and preferably organic.  Why?

my salsa tomatoes

Because once you plant hybrid seeds, the ones meant to overcome Mother Nature’s deficiencies (don’t let her hear you say that out loud) and harvest the produce and save your seeds, you’ll be sorely disappointed next season.  Hybrids aren’t natural and when you replant the seeds, your new crop of plants will not reproduce the original fruit — if they germinate at all.  Say you plant a hybrid Better Boy variety one season—thrilled with the beasts of bounty this seed produces—then save some seeds for next season, you need to be aware that your next crop might be a disappointing array of cherry-like tomatoes.  It happens. And it’s sad when it does.

So save yourself the heartache and buy heirloom.  Heirloom is straight up what it promises on the label, year after year after year.  Plant your seeds according to package instructions and keep moist.  Think of them as babies and treat them as such.  This spring I’m putting Hungarian Wax back on my list. Last season was disappointing, but this year? We’re going gangbusters!

Wish me luck!  Until then…happy gardening!

Time to Spring Into Action

With spring upon us—well, some of us, anyway—it’s time to finalize your garden plans. Getting a head-start on the growing season will ensure you have a bountiful harvest. After my fall tomato experience (thank you, late winter!), I’m certain spring is going to be EVEN better. Remember: positive thinking will get you everywhere!

By being positive and prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for YOUR first day of planting, when all threat of frost has passed. While this day varies from region to region, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities.

But why wait? Get those seeds started now! Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds. Grow what you’ll eat—not what’s easy. I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine because no one wanted to harvest it. The “excitement” factor was missing. The “ah-ha” moment, if you will. Rule number one: Gardening should be fun! But it should also be productive.

2 – Design layout. If building container beds, get your lumber now. (I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.) Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now will help speed the process later. “Oh, hunny bunny! About that little favor I mentioned… “

3 – Sharpen your tools. Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them. You get my drift. The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it. Mine is indispensable, because it weeds (its primary function), digs, buries and levels. You gotta love a multi-tasker. My other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle.

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows. Not me. I’m a busy gal with a bad back — “till as you go” is more my speed.

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you? It’s too easy not to—just toss, pile, and turn. Easy as 1-2-3! Seriously, composting is easy and productive. Why, just look at these gorgeous potatoes my compost served up for me.

Love a generous compost pile.

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting. Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close. Besides keeping the harmony, companion planting provides a natural pesticide which eases your workload later. The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds and keeping track. Bear in mind your crop rotation as well—unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine then the sky is the limit!

6 – Check your water supply. Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses, or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads. And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers. Note: lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch. Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark… All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me. Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn.

8 – Prepare soil. Remove weeds and add compost. 100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need. Also, till your beds ahead of time. This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil. Word to the wise: after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch). Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene. In my house, that’s call for mutiny.

Also, consider ordering a bag of corn gluten now so you’ll have it on hand come season. Once your seedlings have sprouted and are on their way, you’ll want to sprinkle corn gluten on the soil around them to help keep the weeds at bay. Those tiny golden granules are amazing.

9 – Soil test. If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot. You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit. They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise. Then, depending on what you’re planting, you might want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. Maybe you’ll even want to dump a bag of mushroom compost into the mix. The stuff is magical!

10 – Dream. Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

Edible Landscaping Ideas

We’re thinking “out” side of the garden and moving our focus to the house–or patio! After all, why should we limit ourselves to traditional methods of gardening when there are so many other ways (and places) we can garden?

Gardening is simply too exciting.  Take rosemary, for instance.  I love rosemary and not just because it thrives without much attention—always a plus for me—but because the mere touch releases a heady rise of fragrance into the air.  It stops me in my tracks.  It reminds me of the simple pleasures in life.  And in this fast-paced world we live, it’s something we could all be reminded of more often.

My rosemary is located just outside my patio door, one herb of many in my kitchen garden (unlike my vegetable garden, this one is located close to the house for easy access when cooking).  What began as a small plant, no more than 12 in. tall (a Christmas gift I received a few years back), it now consumes the entire corner of my herb garden!

I’ve cut it back several times and used the clippings for rosemary lemonade, gift tag attachments, cooking additive, an aromatic sachet and the like, but a trip to California changed the way I look at rosemary.  California will do that to you, won’t it?

In the dry desert climate and undoubtedly fertile soil, this plant lines the sidewalks, flanks entryways and generally grows like a weed, albeit a fragrant one.  But then it hit me—why not at my house?  If I can grow the plant in my herb garden, I can grow it elsewhere, right? What a beautiful concept…practical, productive, this plant can serve as both décor and edible delicacy. I do love a multi-tasker.

Then I got to thinking, if my rosemary can have dual functionality, what other plants can do the same? How about a lavender lined walkway, bordered in front by a sumptuous row of assorted lettuce varieties? Colorful, delectable, munchable.

Shoot, while we’re at it, why not move the whole garden up to the house? I have to change out those pretty flowers each season, anyway.  Why not replace them with edible foliage? A lovely carrot-edged path? And if it gets too cold, I’ll transition them into containers.  They look lovely inter-planted with flowers, as well.

Why, with this new attitude twist, I feel like I have an entirely new garden adventure ahead of me! How about you?

Companion Planting and Your Garden

As my spring garden season approaches, my mind is filled with visions of splendor.  With a freshly tilled garden, I can see my plants grow lush and full, their bounty promising a fruitful harvest.  What do I want to grow this year?  More important question, What do I want to eat?

Tomatoes.  Or should I say, pasta sauce.  I’ve been having such good luck with my tomatoes that I might increase the yield this spring. Second?  Beans, of course.  Who doesn’t love beans?  And onions–but not in adjoining beds.  No.  These two do not care for each other and will not yield the fabulous crop of my imagination.  Why not?

They’re not good companions in the garden and companion planting is KEY when it comes to organic gardening.  What is it and why do we do it?  In a nutshell–or bean pod–it’s organizing your beds according to plants that help one another, and steering clear of those combinations that don’t.

Companion planting is based around the idea that certain plants can benefit others when planted next to, or close to one another.  It exists to benefit certain plants by giving them pest control, naturally, without the need to use chemicals. In some cases, plants can give one another a higher crop yield. Some are even touted to improve the flavor of neighboring plants. Take basil and tomato, for instance. Plant these “friends” together and your tomatoes will be even more delicious!

Backyard gardens use companion planting on a small-scale, but it can be applied on larger-scale operations. By having a beneficial crop in a nearby field that attracts certain insects away from the main crop, commercial growers have found the practice to be very beneficial. It’s called trap cropping.

While companion planting has a long history, going back to the Native Americans and their employment of the “Three Sisters,” the benefits have not always been understood. Sounds simple enough: plant corn and beans together, allowing the beans to climb the corn stalk while fixing nitrogen into the soil. Squash plants shade the ground, preventing weeds and retaining moisture. However, recent tests are proving scientifically, that this practice works!

 

The French marigold, along with other plants, is well-known for companion planting. It exudes chemicals from its roots, or aerial parts, that suppresses or repels pests, protecting neighboring plants. (My roses love marigold!)

Companion planting also exists in a physical way. For example, tall-growing, sun-loving plants may share space with lower-growing, shade-tolerant species, resulting in higher total yields from the land. This is called spatial interaction and can also yield pest control benefits. For example, the presence of prickly vines is said to discourage raccoons from ravaging sweet corn.

Nurse cropping is a method whereby tall or dense-canopied plants can protect more vulnerable plants through shading or providing a wind break. Oats have long been used to help establish alfalfa and other forages by supplanting the more competitive weeds that would otherwise grow in their place. In many instances, nurse cropping is simply another form of physical-spatial interaction.

Beneficial habitats-sometimes called refugia—have received a lot of attention in recent years. The benefit is derived when companion plants provide a good environment for beneficial insects, and other arthropods, especially those predatory and parasitic species that help to keep pest populations in check. (Ladybugs are super-beneficial insects, too!)

So as you contemplate your next crop, take companion planting into account and organize accordingly.  It really will make a difference, particularly when it comes to alleviating trouble spots.  From bugs to weeds, companion planting is the way to go.  And anything that takes the “work” out of gardening is a friend to me. For an idea of who likes who in the garden, check out this list of companion plants compiled by Mother Earth News.

Ten Cool Things You Might Not Know About Potatoes

As my potatoes grow and flourish and my mouth waters over these buttery delicacies, it occurred to me that many folks don’t know much about these gems, other than the fact that they LOVE to eat them.  But potatoes don’t have to be an enigma.  How much do you know about potatoes?

Let’s see!

1 — Most everyone has heard that the skins are where the nutrients hide.  For example, the flesh contains less than 20% of the potassium, a third of the vitamin C, and about 10% of the niacin.  Where’s the rest?  In the skin!  So for your healthiest meal, be sure to consume the skin.

2 — While there are a ton of different varieties, potatoes come in five basic types:  russets, yellow-skinned, white, red, blue/purple. Whew ~ that’s a lot of tater tots!

3 — What makes a “new” potato new?  Think of them as the baby crop, the first potatoes harvested in spring when you simply cannot wait to get these babies into the kitchen!  At this stage, the potato vines are still alive and the skins are near papery thin.  It’s the main way my family eats potatoes.  But if you allow the vine to die back and the potatoes to cure  underground, their skin will toughen up making them more suitable for storage.  Another difference is in the starch.  “New” potatoes are sweeter and less starchy than their more “mature” counterparts.

4 — When it comes to food prep, all potatoes are not treated equally.  Russet potatoes are fluffier when cooked, due mostly to the fact that their densely packed starch molecules expand and separate during cooking.  Wonderful for creating mashed potatoes!  Idaho potatoes work well for this purpose, too.  But if you’re in the market for a sturdy gratin-style potato, opt for “waxy” potatoes like Red Pontiac and Reddale.  Some middle-grounders are Yukon Gold and Kennebec.  These tend to be more moist than “starchy” varieties, yet fluff relatively well and hold together, too.

5 — For best storage, taters like it dark, preferably around 45° – 55°.  If you don’t have a root cellar (ideal conditions), then try a dark corner of your pantry or garage, depending on your climate.  Warmth and light can cause potatoes to sprout.  I found a basket to place inside my pantry that allows for air flow, but keeps the potatoes in the dark when the door opens and closes–which happens A LOT when you have two teenagers roaming the house.  TIP: Don’t refrigerate, as this converts some of the potato’s starch to sugar.

6 — Sweet potatoes are not true potatoes.  They ‘re root vegetables; an enlarged part of the root used by the plant to store energy.  The potatoes are tubers that form from the stem of the plant, only underground.  Who knew?

7 — Green potatoes are not green because they’re young or old. They’re green because they’ve been exposed to sunlight.  This is one of the primary reasons we “hill” potatoes.  Due to their upward growth habit, potatoes can break the soil surface and will then turn green.  And green potatoes = green face (as in sick)  The culprit? Solanine; a mildly toxic compound that occurs naturally in the night shade family (Solanaceae) of plants.  The exposure to sunlight increases the toxicity.  Don’t eat potatoes raw, either.  (Your belly will thank you!)

8 — And move over rye and wheat, potatoes can make some pretty tasty Vodka!  Did you know that you can mash the potatoes, heat them in a pressure cooker until the starches turn to sugar and then using a distillery kit, run the potato juice through (to remove any impurities), creating potato vodka?  Blind taste tests tend to rate it distinctively delicious!

9 — Potatoes are excellent producers, IF you know how to coax them into continual production.  Ever heard of the Lutovsky box?  Designed by Greg Lutovsky, it’s a system whereby you can grow 100 potatoes with one plant in the space of 4 square feet.  How?  Basically you build a raised planter bed (2 X 2) and plant your potato seed as normal.  As the potato plant grows, you build up the sides of your box, adding dirt as you do so (mimics hilling effect), and the plant will continue to grow, upward, upward, upward, increasing production. Woot! Woot!

**You’ll need to choose late-season potato varieties, those that mature 90 days or more as they will continually produce tubers.  Short-season varieties won’t work, because they produce a limited number of potatoes and then the plant dies.

10 — Some varieties of potatoes produce fruit after they flower, fruit that looks like green, cherry tomatoes. Confusing for a garden gal like me.  How did a tomato plant make its way into my potato bed?

I mean, that’s bad—very bad!  While these two are part of the same plant family, they are NOT good companions.  But my fears were for not.  This little fella was normal (simply a first for me!).

So there you have it.  And if you needed one more reason to try your hand at growing these wonderful plants, homemade potato chips may be just the thing to convince you.  Forget deep fryers, we eat healthy around these parts.  How can you eat a healthy potato chip, you might ask?

How about slicing them paper-thin, coating them with a fine layer of extra-virgin olive oil (or safflower), bake them at 375°F for about 45 minutes, or until desire crispness has been reached and then dig in.  Kids adore them and you’ll feel better knowing it’s good for them. I do love win-win. 🙂

Check my Recipe section for more recipes or my How-To Grow Potatoes page if you haven’t yet figured out how to grow these wonderfully, delicious, buttery sweet potatoes.  Mmmmm…