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The garden is growing great these days with minimal weeds. Gotta love that combination, right?

Credit goes to my heavy black ground cover and my frequent visits. Vigilance is key when it comes to keeping up with weeds in an organic garden. Unfortunately, elbow grease is still one of the best weapons one has. Corn gluten works well, but you have to reapply after heavy rains and/or frequent watering. So I watch and pick and pluck in the meanwhile.

It’s relaxing. As is walking by the blueberry bushes and seeing the plump blue fruit popping between leaves. So beautiful.

delectable blueberries

My chickpeas are progressing.

chickpeas in the garden

They haven’t kept pace with the compost pile but then again, Mother Nature still rocks when it comes to gardening. But alas…this is what I have to look forward.

chickpea pod

That little pod holds 1-2 chickpeas. Unlike most other legumes that produce half a dozen beans per pod, the chickpea plant tends to be a minimalist. On to other rows…my sweet onions are ready ~ yay! That’s one between the strawberries, their wonderful companions in the garden.

sweet onions

Along with my potatoes.

potatoes

Tomatoes are forming, next to their friends, basil and peppers.

friends include tomatoes, peppers, basil

And then there’s my first squash blossom. I was a bit late putting these guys into the ground, but better late than never, right?

1st squash blossom

While I was visiting my garden, I spotted this gal. Must be I have some aphids somewhere?

miss lady bug

Cute, isn’t she? One more reason to visit your garden early and often. You’ll be treated to a serenity unlike any other. :)

 

Make Earth Day Your Own

Earth Day began back in April of 1979 coinciding with the birth of the environmental movement. Poor air and water quality were fundamental to the movement, along with protecting endangered species, a push that drew support from all sides of the political spectrum in an effort to save the earth we inhabit. We’ve come a long way since those first days but we’re not there yet. While many of us yearn for a gas and oil free lifestyle, our technology is not quite there. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make real differences in our every day lives.

Most of us recycle our plastics and glass, newspaper and cardboard. Many of us conserve water with every flush, every faucet turn, but how about moving our conservation efforts into the kitchen, the backyard? Eating is a must for life, but sometimes we prepare too much. We seal the leftovers, eat what we can, but why not compost? What goes in, must come out, right? :) As I tell the kids, there’s nothing easier than growing our own dirt. Kitchen scraps, fall leaves, grass cuttings–it all works! And the things our compost pile can grow–squash, beans and sweet potato (as seen below). It’s so EASY!

compost progress

It’s a real way to make a real difference. A good beginning. As with any new endeavor, start small, allow those new lifestyle actions to grow into habits. How about saving the gas it takes a truck to haul your fresh veggies around town, across the country, and grow your own? It’s a lot easier than you think. I mean, if my compost pile can do it, you can do it. And instead of depositing that old newspaper into the recycle bin, use it as “mulch” around your plants in the garden. Does a wonderful job of retaining moisture and breaks down into the soil without any harmful effects. More

Quality Time in the Garden

You’ve made your beds, planted your seeds, nurtured your seedlings through the perils of sprouthood and now you spend your time watering and feeding.  (My Arctic Amigos might be a bit behind on this schedule but think of what you have to look forward!!) You meticulously weed, prune and pinch and stand watch—for bugs and spots, all things that go bump in the night—all the normal stuff a gardener does throughout the growing season.

Ashley's beautiful garden

And what a fine gardener you’ve become!  You’re diligent, vigilant and looking forward to harvest.  But as you linger among the layers of leaves and sprays of bloom, your mind wanders, your longing builds, your connection to nature grows deeper.  Where you didn’t expect it, you’ve grown quite attached to your garden, lovingly caring for it as you would a child.  Why, if you could, you’d spend hours out here—days—toiling about the promise of produce.

Strolling down a row of squash, you notice a bright red ladybug busily traveling the expanse of the broad green leaves.  Bending near to watch her work, you get that tingly thrill of discovery.  Sure in the grand scheme of things, it’s a common bug doing a common job, but to you she’s incredible—beautiful!—and you revel in the miracle of nature (and she’s eating those bugs before they can do any more damage!)

ladybug in action!

Now if only there was a bench nearby.  You glance from one end of your garden to the other.  Boy, would that be handy right about now.  You could sit, relax and enjoy the wonders unfolding before you.  A pretty bench, one with an intricately carved iron frame supporting slatted teak strips. Better yet, one that rocks to and fro, gently keeping pace with the breeze.  More

Gourmet Delivered to Your Door

Last Friday night my husband and I came home from a “dinner out” to find our kids watching Shark Tank. Not their usual sitcom, I thought, odd, but fine. Sitting down with my son, I watched the episode with him and soon these two young men appeared, pitching the concept of organized dinner prep delivered right to your door.

Okay. You have my attention. I’m an author who tends to get carried away with her stories. It’s not unusual for four o’clock to roll around and the kids ask, “Mom, what’s for dinner?

“Dinner?” Gulp. “I totally forgot!”

I assure myself that I can grab a few items from the pantry (or my garden) and whip up a fabulous meal in no time! I’m a positive thinker, that way. Believe and it shall happen! Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself mid-meal prep with missing ingredients. Ack. No problem. I’ll improvise.

Ask me again, “What’s for dinner?”

“Chicken Marsala! (sort of).”

If only my family appreciated my creativity. Easy to see why the concept of a totally organized meal with complete ingredient list and accompanying recipe would intrigue me. I mean, could anything more perfect have been invented?

Not for me. Not for many a busy mother, corporate executive or plain old person looking for a tasty, fresh gourmet meal ready-to-cook delivered doorstep. Plated is the perfect solution. Fresh ingredients, savory recipes, and everything you need to pull it off. I’m going to be a hero at the dinner table. Seriously. The applause will soon follow. I’m certain of it.

One might suggest takeout as an obvious solution, however that would entail me getting into a car, driving to the restaurant, waiting, and driving home with food “not quite hot.” Ever tasted a French fry after fifteen minutes of driving? Green beans? Not as tasty as fifteen seconds stovetop-to-table. I enjoy cooking. I’m simply distracted when it comes to preparing for it. Busy.

Plated is the answer. Simple, fresh, delicious and delivered right to me. How’s that for a reminder? Hey, the family needs dinner. What more could one ask for? Not only do I love Plated’s logo and concept, but ten minutes of watching Nick and Josh and I’m convinced. These two are young, smart and dynamic. They’re going places and taking their concept with them. Gourmet at your door, same day or next. The only thing missing in my opinion are the organic vegetables from my garden out back!

The family will be pleased. They appreciate good food and Plated delivers. My garden blog is all about easy and organic. Plated is easy and gourmet. Perfect fit, wouldn’t you agree?

Try it. I think you’ll like it! Plated

Bloggers in Bloom!

Taking part this year in the Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where you’ll find ten days of gardening tips, recipes and giveaways! Decided the more the merrier and why not? Gardening is merry and fun. :)

authors in bloom

Better yet, creating scrumptuous dishes with our produce makes it all the better. For new gardeners, herbs are a great way to begin the adventure and lend themselves to all types of recipes. A simple way to use herbs are by making pastes and freezing them. Not only will you lock in the flavor, but you’ll make it easy to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all year round.

For a simple basil paste, I use about 4 cups of basil (or 4 oz. stemmed) and approx. 1/4 cup olive oil. Place the leaves in a food processor and drizzle with olive oil. I pulse to begin and then hit a steady high if need be. Transfer paste to freezer-safe bags, flatten to remove all air and place in freeze. That’s it! Fresh herb paste ready to use when you’re ready.

basil paste

Variations include oregano and parsley. Use other herbs that don’t keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers. More

Blueberries are Worth the Wait

I don’t know about you, but I love blueberries. On my yogurt, in my cereal, plucked straight off the bush. They’re delicious and healthy and only have one downside. They stain your teeth. Ugh. Bring a toothbrush out to the garden, right? A little staining isn’t going to stop me from enjoying this delectable fruit!

And mine are finally here, in varying stages of growth.

blueberries almost ready

Really beautiful… And that’s pine bark you see in the background. Blueberries like acid and pine is full of it making it the perfect mulch for your blueberry garden.

gobs of blueberries

You do want one, don’t you? Of course you do! And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center. Just remember, blueberries need to cross-pollinate so make sure you purchase at least two different varieties for your garden. I have several, including Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

Special note: Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I chose these varieties because in Florida we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these bushes require the least amount of chilling hours, ranging from 200-500 hours. So choose wisely according to your growing region.

Granted my clusters should be much plumper but I’ll admit, I had some watering issues throughout the year and my bushes have not fared as well as they should have. Don’t let this happen to you. Plant in organic-rich slightly acidic soil (4.0 — 5.0 pH) and mulch well. Feed with a 12-4-8 fertilizer and prune during the summer months after harvest for more vigorous growth.

This week they should be ready to pick! Unless the birds get them. The other downside to growing my favorite blueberry…

Think “OUTside” the Garden

With so many things to do in the garden, it’s a wonder you can plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or month—but you should try.  The payoff will be well worth it.  From fastidious pruning for an increase in yield, to prepping for vegetable storage when your harvest comes in, you’ll want to be ready for the abundance of joy you’re going to reap!

What should you be thinking about when it comes to crafting this marvelous plan?  Why, your kids for one!  Are they weeding?  Digging?  Bug dispatching?  Wonderful!  Reward them with some “down-time” in the garden, as in “no chores.”  You do want them to come back, don’t you?

teacher's gift

We’ve all heard about creating the classic corn husk dolls, but have you considered using those same husks to make mini baskets?  Basket weaving is an excellent exercise for little fingers to practice dexterity—beats the DS hands down—as well as producing a keepsake for their bedroom, or a share for school.

Growing berries?  Perfect!  How about mixing them with a dash of organic sugar and make your own preserves?  They make great teacher gifts.  Speaking of teachers, how about teaching your children the value of seed saving?  When all these vegetables reach maturity, they’ll be chock-full of seeds.   How about collecting them and storing them in your very own seed packets?  (You can find simple how-to templates in the Kid Buzz section here on the website) More

Get Composting!

Composting is one of the easiest aspects of gardening. It requires little maintenance and produces amazing results. You remember my compost chickpeas, don’t you?

compost chickpeas

Well, they’re aren’t the only thing that’s been growing in the compost pile. I’ve grown, potatoes, squash (that’s a little squash there to the right), tomatoes, beans…the list goes on. And trust me, I do very little when it comes to composting, other than faithfully dumping my kitchen scraps and fall leaves.

Compost is the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

inky compost

Basically, a compost pile consists of plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like.  Formed into a pile and turned occasionally, nature takes its course and the materials break down.  We add compost to our garden soil because it provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants. More

Trying My Hand at Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are one of my favorite beans. I love them in hummus, fresh on my salad, mixed with Indian curry spices… In my opinion, there’s nothing not to love about these beans. Which brings me to my latest venture. As I always say, “Grow what you’ll eat.” I eat chickpeas. I should grow chickpeas. My compost pile seems to have no problem growing them! (That’s them, to the left. They look sort of like ferns.)

 compost chickpeas

Shoot. If my compost pile can do it, I can do it, right?

First up, I amended my soil with the very same compost. Seems a no-brainer. Next, I set out a drip hose (chickpeas like low water and NOT on their leaves) and planted my organic beans along its line. Once they sprouted, I scattered some corn gluten (excellent weed preventer) and voila – chickpea sprouts! NOTE: Wait until you have sprouts before scattering your corn gluten. Otherwise, you guessed it. Like unwanted weeds, your chickpeas won’t sprout, either.

chickpeas

Aren’t they adorable? Chickpeas don’t require a lot of fertilizer, especially nitrogen. As with other legumes, they fix nitrogen into the soil, so choose a fertilizer that is low to nil on the nitrogen. I like a bit of seaweed emulsion and bone meal.

Each plant will yield several pods, each containing about 2 peas. Not a lot, which is why I planted so many! Seeing as how these are doing so well, I’m already planning another row of them. After all, I have 23 beds in my backyard garden. Why not fill them with the stuff I love?

Enjoying Okra

I’m planting okra this week and I’m doubling–no, tripling!–my beds this year. Why? Because I discovered just how easy it is to grow, freeze and fry these babies up for a delicious side dish to our dinner meal. While fried okra might not be the healthiest version of this veggie, it is one of the tastier versions not to mention my son’s favorite. Hint to parents: when you grow your child’s favorite vegetable, you will be amazed by how eager they are to take part in the planting, feeding and harvesting duties of said vegetable. As a woman in charge of a 4000 sq. ft. garden, I’ll take all the assistance I can get!

okra small and large

Now back to the business of growing. Okra are one of the easier veggies to manage. All you need is warm weather, a general fertilizer and water. They thrive on their own without a lot of maintenance on your part and will continually produce for an extended harvest. One thing to note about okra is size. Size does matter. Big okra are tough and un-delightful to eat. Small okra are tender and very delightful to eat, say about 2 – 3 inches in length. For those of you who are scrunching your noses right now because you can’t understand how anyone would eat the slimy pods, try them “fresh from the stem.” Freshly picked okra are not slimy, but rather crisp and delicate in flavor. More