It’s A Record-Breaking Size!

I harvested a humongous sweet potato. And I mean humongous. It might not be record-breaking by Guinness standards, but it sure is by mine. A whopping 9 lbs — BIGGER than my newborn babies, mind you, both of whom weighed in below 8 lbs. Pretty incredible, huh?

Record size sweet potato

I think so. And you’ll never guess where I found it.

Birthing the big sweet potato

My compost pile. Yep, it was lurking deep beneath my kitchen scraps and lawn leaves, hidden from view save for the glorious array of green leaves above surface; the mega sweet potato. I’m telling you, if you don’t have a compost pile, you need one. More

Spring Checklist

Being prepared for spring planting season is job one in my household. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Kids are job one. Hubby a close second and the garden a very near third. (Good greens, some days it feels like everyone wants a piece of you, doesn’t it?) Anyhoo, you’ll want to be certain that you’re ready for YOUR first day of planting. You know, when all threat of frost has passed? Depending upon where you live, that day will vary by date but not in enthusiasm.  “Let the outdoor festivities begin!”

Now, in order to prepare for that glorious day, you’ll want to make a thorough run-through on your checklist.

1 – Order seeds.  If you haven’t already! And remember: 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!

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, honey…  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.  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.

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting.  Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close.  Besides keeping the harmony, it provides a natural pesticide helping ease your workload.  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! 

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 spring fever hits and they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers.  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. Consider ordering a bag of corn gluten. Sprinkled around your young plants, these granules are amazing at keeping the weeds away.

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. 

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!

Garlic Trouble

Garlic is a pretty sturdy plant, resistant to most bugs and varmints due to its wonderfully pungent smell. Aphids flee, animals skee-daddle but weeds? They flock to the source.

garlic overtaken by weeds

It’s a problem for a garlic because unlike the squash family, their leaves are wholly inadequate when it comes to shading the ground for weed prevention (think Three Sisters). In fact, if you’re not careful, weeds will completely overrun your garlic and you’ll be stuck with nothing but roots to show for your efforts. And six months is a long time to put forth effort only to come up empty. Ugh. It’s happened to me, but not this year. I spotted this awful mess and cleaned it up, right quick!

Garlic weed-free

Aren’t they gorgeous, now? My garlic is happy and weed-free. Until next week, that is. Unfortunately, garlic is a bit high maintenance when it comes to weeding. Not water and not fertilizer, but definitely high maintenance on the weeding. Oh, well. Everything can’t be easy in the garden. And garlic are worth the effort. For full details on how-to grow, check here.

Sweet Peas A Bloomin’

My sweet peas are blooming and are oh-so-gorgeous, not to mention tasty. Tall and bushy, each plant produces so many pods, I should be serving them with every meal!

sweet peas ready for picking

Unfortunately for my family members, these beauties never make it to the house. These are my garden snacks. Freshly-plucked from the vine, sweet peas are delicious. I’d plant three beds of them, if I thought I could eat them all!

And sweet peas are easy to grow. They need little water, low nutrients–especially when planted in a base of my organic compost–and are cold tolerant. However, there is one problem when growing these plants. They grow high and heavy.

IMG_3248

Poor babies. Despite three rows of twine run between stakes, they’re still slumping over, bending their healthy vines perilously close to the breaking point. Luckily for me, I have more twine and can solve this problem easily. I simply ran another twine from the top of each stake, end-to-end, at a height of about four feet. Whew!

sweet peas with solid high support

It might not look beautiful, but this setup works. For added support, I placed bamboo stakes along the twine, weaving them between the levels of twine to keep my support sturdy and steady. It works!

It’s Not Too Late

Just because January 1st has come and gone, that’s no reason you can’t make a New Year’s resolution to start that compost pile you’ve always wanted. There’s nothing to it, other than a trip outside. Really. No turning, twisting, flipping over raking–unless you want to. And it doesn’t stink, despite what you’ve heard. This is where Mother Nature is your friend. You’re very best friend.

backyard compost pile

All that’s required is desire and effort you’re already making. Raking leaves? Dump them onto the compost pile out back. Tossing out leftover food? Toss it onto the compost pile. Want to recycle those paper towels, napkins, and newspapers? Place them on the compost pile instead of the recycle bin. All of these items work perfectly and produce excellent, non-toxic organic results.

compost cross-section

And the dirt you’ll reap from your efforts is superior to anything else for your garden soil. And it’s free! Of course, if you don’t have a backyard, you can always buy one of those handy-dandy contraptions to hold your compost.

black gold compost

They do work and with excellent results. For your kitchen, you can make a cute compost bin to hold your kitchen leftovers until you’re ready to make the trek outside, complete with carbon filter hidden in the lid to absorb the smell. Unlike your outdoor compost pile, your indoor compost bin WILL stink. Bad.

kitchen scraps get covered

My kids painted this one at one of those clay-glaze places, although we’ve since changed over to a simple stainless steel version. Less breakable (hint, hint). So what are you waiting for? Start resolving and get composting!

Your garden will thank you.

Have You Planted Potatoes, Yet?

I have and they’re going gangbusters. Just look at those gorgeous girls!

potato beds in early January

Yes, those are vacant spots in my row. Apparently, some of the gals haven’t sprouted, yet. Seems they’re taking their sweet time to emerge from the soil. Could be the weather. Could be my watering schedule. Could simply be a matter of nature. Not everyone grows at the same rate, you know.

There’s also the possibility of “theft by animal.” A few mornings, I awoke to find deep tracks through my garden. Wild hogs, armadillos, raccoons… I’m not sure who has been visiting me, only that somebody has.

Ugh. Living with nature is a beautiful thing, up to a point. But I will turn my positive attitude cap around and look on the bright side: I can always refill my bed with new potato sprouts. Besides, wild animals have to eat too, right?

mulch potato plants

Of course they do. I simply wish they’d chomp elsewhere. Now, back to my potatoes. I’ve planted them in a nice organic mix of compost from my backyard pile (shown below) and composted cow manure and have mulched them well. Mulch provides the moisture retention potatoes need, as well as encourages them in their upward growth habit. For complete details on how-to grow potatoes, check my How-To section.

Compost gold

 

I have one bed of red potatoes and one bed of white. Different size, different flavor–variety is the spice of life! And in about 2-3 months, I’ll be reaping my first gems from the ground. Can’t wait!

Shopping Season Begins

It’s time to buy your seeds!  If you haven’t been seed saving, that is.  Personally, I have beans coming out the wa-zoo which means I won’t be purchasing any of these babies. But I will be looking for some fresh bibb lettuce. While I know how to harvest lettuce seeds for seed-saving, I haven’t been making the time. Call me lazy, call me too eager for the next harvest, I’ve pulled most of my plants before they had a chance to flower (like this lovely lady below). Seeds will form in the flowers, whereby you can remove from the plant, hang it to dry in a bag making collecting the tiny seeds easy.

lettuce going to seed

Now, for those of you who are trying to save seeds, I completely understand how you could become so excited over your tomato crop making sauce–ketchup, salads, even canning the beauties–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 skin removal without even thinking.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More Beefsteak tomato seeds are on my list, too. I mean, these guys are gorgeous, I can’t get enough of them!

seed shopping

But take heart.  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  Which is all good. However, keep in mind that when those seed catalogs arrive and you eagerly run to the mailbox (or jog), be careful. Ice tends to be slippery. You don’t want to break a hip or bruise a wrist–you’re going to need those limbs in good condition to begin the season!

Now, once you’re settled indoors, snug as a bug in a rug in front of a warm fire, pull out those gorgeous catalog pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs, and look for heirloom seeds.  Not hybrid, not super-duper-extra-sweet or double the normal growth potential…

Uh, uh.  You want heirloom, preferably organic.  Why?

my salsa tomatoes

Because once you plant those hybrid seeds, the ones meant to overcome Mother Nature’s deficiencies (though don’t let her hear you say that out loud), you’ll be sorely disappointed next season when the seeds you saved don’t produce.  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.  Hybrid Better Boys will yield a bounty of produce, but next season?  These bad boys might only yield a crop of cherry-like tomatoes.  Se pasa. It happens.

So save yourself the heartache and only buy heirloom seeds.  And while you’re shopping, remember to only buy what you’ll actually eat. Otherwise you’ll end up with a rotted mess of unwanted produce. Plant seeds according to package instructions and keep moist.  Think of them as babies and treat them as such.

This spring I’m tripling my corn beds. Now that I know how to control those dastardly insects, I think I can reap a golden harvest this year. I’ll keep you posted. Until then…happy gardening!

Starting Strong (And Curried!)

Like everyone else, I’m “cleansing” this month. I’ve dropped the libations and decadent sweets–

What? You’re NOT cleansing the body of toxins this month?

Oh, wow, you must be one of those who doesn’t let it slip during the holiday season. You walk by the dessert table without blinking, pass on the wine and champagne, and don’t miss a single day of exercise. Not me. Unfortunately, the dessert table shouts my name as I walk by–occasionally grabbing my arm and chaining me close until I over-indulge. The bottle of bubbly whispers my name, winks, then insists I should celebrate with another glass of its delightful contents! And exercise? Who has the time?! I’m at the mall, at the office, the party–I don’t have time for walking, biking and dancing.

Oh–wait a minute. Dancing? I always have time for dancing! Maybe I DID exercise after all!! **sigh** Guess I fall prey to whim. But it’s probably because I know January will soon roll around, and I can hit the reset button. And have. Just look at this delicious breakfast I prepared this morning!

Curry Spinach Chickpea Egg Scramble

Spinach and chickpeas sautéed in olive oil with a few dashes of garlic and curry powder, plus a healthy dose of pepper. (Sautéed fresh garlic would have worked, too.) Add one egg over easy and you have yourself one healthy meal to start the day. Yum. I could have eaten two servings, but then again, I’m “cleansing” the recent addition of five pounds to my midsection and can’t afford the extra calories. Good thing I still have lunch to look forward to!

I only wish my garden spinach was growing well enough to have included it in the pan, but alas, Florida has been much too hot this winter for spinach. How about you? Any resolutions or dishes you’d like to share?

Mixed Kernels

It’s a sad day when you harvest your corn–the one cob you’ve been watching and waiting for the silks to turn brown–only to discover you have missing kernels when you peel back the husk. It’s like, your cob was forming, doing a great job, and *poof* suddenly became too tired to finish the job.

corn missing kernels

Hmph. It’s a disappointment, to be sure. Most likely occurred during pollination, or the lack thereof. If you planted your corn in one single row, pollination can be tricky. I mean, there’s a reason those commercial growers plant all those corn plants so close together–proximity packs a more powerful pollination! It’s power in numbers when it comes to wind, too. Corn is very susceptible to wind, and tends to be blown over at the first kiss of a summer breeze.

corn by storm

Missing kernels can also be caused by poor watering/feeding during pollination. Corn is a heavy feeder, and if you don’t give it what it needs when it needs it, well, you know… It kind of poops out on you. It happens. But I’m here to tell you, chin up, friendly gardener. It’s not the end of the world. So what if you can’t serve perfectly-formed cobs of corn to your family and friends, you can do one better (or different!). Roast them!

That’s right. Wipe those tears away and listen up. You’re going to scrape those beautiful kernels from the cob, toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper, a little parsley and heck, while we’re at it, a sliced jalapeno pepper (mine was red) and roast those babies. Ta-da! You’ve made lemonade from your lemons.

roasted corn

I preheated the broiler to high, spread my mixture on a cookie sheet lined with nonstick foil, and then spread the corn mixture out in a single layer. Cooking time was about 15 minutes, with me turning the corn mixture once or twice during the process for even browning. Just keep an eye on them and roast to YOUR idea of perfection.

The flavor was divine; a wonderfully sweet corn flavor with a hint of popcorn that results in a belly full of pride and pleasure. YUM. I served mine with some garden broccoli and a filet of plank-roasted salmon for a fabulous weeknight dinner. The family was pleased!

Now it’s your turn. Enjoy!

Christmas in the Garden

Gardeners are nature lovers at heart, and probably healthy, too. But interior designers with a creative flair that rivals Martha Stewart? Oh, wait. She’s a gardener AND an interior designer whiz. Huh. Bad analogy. But you see where I’m going with this–who says gardeners can’t transform their love of gardening into gorgeous home décor?

No one. No one on this blog, anyway. I mean, is this wreath the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

carrot wreath

I think so. And immediately my mind starts improvising–why not radishes? Garlic? Except for the small fact that my garlic won’t be mature until May-June, I think it would make an excellent wreath adornment. Don’t you? For complete how-to instructions for this carrot gem, head on over to HGTV. Those folks are incredible! I’m sure you’ll find a ton of things to create for your home.

But if you’re not into the DIY, how about an old classic?

rosemary-christmas-tree

Rosemary plants make for great Christmas décor and they smell good. Love it!

Looking for a few gifts for those gardeners in your life? Personally, I’d enjoy receiving this crafty invention. Got herbs? Water?

Flavor infuser wtaer bottle

Let the hydration begin!

I mean, whoever thought up the idea for a “flavor infuser water bottle” has my vote for Gift of the Year. Fabulous! Find it and more at Uncommon Goods. While you’re there, check out the Garden in a Can set–definitely fun for the beginner gardeners in your life. When it comes to young gardeners, Show Me The Green! makes a great gift for the elementary readers poking about the veggie plants.

Venetta, Dianne- Show Me the Green! (RGB)

Not only fun, but this fiction book set in and around an organic garden is informative and can inspire even the most urban among us to head outside and get digging. Book #2 centers on a school garden and is set for release spring 2016. Check out the website for full details.

Have any favorites of your own? Do share and Merry Christmas!