Potatoes for St. Patty’s Day

I don’t know about you, but when I think about potatoes, I think Irish.  Not because the potato is from Ireland, it’s not.  It’s origin is South America.  Wasn’t until the 1780’s the Irish even accepted the crop for widespread consumption. Most believed the ugly tubers to be poisonous, or evil.  Suspicious in the least. 

But once they had a belly full, the Irish knew a good thing when they tasted it!  Made it a downright major staple in their diet.  And that’s when the trouble hit. 

About a 100 years later, a blanket of blight killed off fields of potatoes during the great Irish Potato Famine.  But the Irish are a hearty breed (knew there was something about those Irish I liked!–besides their merry outlook, that is) and they survived, proving stronger and better than ever.  And they still love their potatoes.

As do I.  Potatoes are easy grow.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this fellow bursting free from the compost pile.  A real beauty and I had nothing to do with bringing him into this world.  Gotta love an easygoing plant.

Kids love potatoes, too.  They like to plant them, harvest them and they love to eat them–so long as they’re dished out in the proper form.  At our house, we make healthy potato chips and fries which seems to satisfy most days, though mashed and boiled work, too.  My son helped me plant this row.  (Don’t ask me how those two “rogue” plants ended up outside the perimeter of my organized potato row–that’s one of the mysteries when planting with kids.)  Plants end up in the strangest of places, don’t they?

Those wires you see are my protection plan in the case of frost.  Planting potatoes in January is tricky business and can place your babies in jeopardy.  This way, if the temperature dips, I can easily place a lightweight blanket over top of these wire “frames” (9 gauge wire from hardware store) and prevent the frost from killing them off.   Works like a charm

If you have limited outdoor space, you’re in luck (luck of the Irish!).  This garden center has designed the most ingenious method for growing potatoes–perfect for you city bound folk.  Meet the potato box!  Potatoes have an upward growth habit and if you continually mound them with dirt, you’ll increase your bounty, tenfold.

Me, I’ll stick with my in ground garden.  I like to meander through the rows and admire Mother Nature in action.  Besides, I don’t think my husband would look to kindly upon enormous amounts of black dirt anywhere near the patio.  Sure he likes his pressure washer, he just doesn’t enjoy “avoidable” mess.  Hmph.  Does he not see the joy in crafting another super-duper garden project? 

Note on planting:  be sure to “stagger” your planting dates, planting a batch today, next batch in 10 days, next batch a week or so later…   In the foreground of this picture is my latest section which has yet to sprout.  The ones in mid-field are mid-size and those in the back are a foot high and have already been “mounded” with more dirt.  The stakes provide a “visual” marker for me to distinguish the sections by “date planted.”   I’m a visual kind of gal, and besides, it does wonders to help coordinate with my Excel program.  (My version of a garden journal.)

Remember, planting ALL your potatoes at the same time will practically guarantee the dreaded whine, “Potatoes for dinner?  Again?”

As Master Chef in our household, I’ve banned the response.  In fact, there will be no complaints about dinner–until you’ve tasted it.  Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll discuss withdrawing it from the menu.

Meet Ashley

Meet Ashley.  When she heard her friend Julie was taking part in our new garden venture, why don’t you know she went straight to her husband and suggested they build a planter box?  I use the term “they” quite loosely here, though she did help.  And–she prepared nice snacks for him and the boys, smiled pleasantly as she held the boards so he could nail them in place and assisted where possible.  (This is all excellent wife behavior and it works–most of the time, anyway.)

Would you look at this amazing piece of engineering perfection?  It’s a veritable masterpiece!  Compliments help, too.  :)

Note to building crew:  lining your planter is a fine idea, but keep in mind your plants’ drainage needs.  Soggy roots are like soggy fruits–not delightful.  Be sure your planter is capable of draining.  Then, add a load of fresh dirt and you’re on your way!

For her first garden, Ashley chose a few of her family’s favorites; another wise move.  Growing vegetables that are easy and fun but no one cares to eat is a losing proposition.  Trust me.  Watching your fruit wither on the vine–literally–is a sad day, indeed.  (Kinda gross, too.)  For starters, we have beans, squash, melon, carrots and potatoes. 

How is she fitting all those veggies in there?  I’m glad you asked.  Organization 101.

Prior to planting, it’s a good idea to lay those colorful packets out across the dirt.  This way, you can eyeball their placement, keeping in mind their friends and foes.  Plants have their favorite companions, you know, and they’ll simply wilt and whine when planted too far apart. 

If you must squish a few “squabblers” together, so be it.  One thing I’ve learned is that Mother Nature appreciates enthusiasm.  She’ll give you a pass without fuss the first time you break her rules.  She won’t punish you with rotten diseases or nasty infestations to ruin your moment, but next season?  You’d better get another box.  Oh, honey…!

Once you’ve decided where everyone will be residing, dig according to your seeds’ needs.  Rule of thumb:  tiny seeds prefer shallow surface planting while larger ones go deeper.  And potato tubers?  We dug them a special section situating them lower than all their neighbors.  Important, because as they grow, you’ll want to continually mound them with dirt.  This forces greater potato production and we do want to produce, don’t we?  Yes, we do. 

Speaking of produce, Ashley’s gone crazy excited and decided to try her hand at composting, too!  Leftovers no longer go in the garbage–they go in the sink!  (Until we find a more attractive alternative.)  Then, her handy-dandy-super-helpful young sons will transport this bin to the outdoor compost pile.  Neat system, isn’t it?

Boys love composting, because it can lead to great worm hunting.  And any boy worth his sea salt knows:  if you plan on catching the big one, you’d better have some worms on hand.  Could there be any more fun than finding them on your own?  I think not.

Finally, spray a little water over your planter to get your new seeds settled in and then it’s off to the picnic.  In no time Ashley will witness an explosion of sprouts across her planter followed by leaves and veggies and harvest and–

Whew!  I’m excited just thinking about it!

For those of you wondering how Julie’s garden is coming along, well, you know, life, spring break…  Well, life just plain happens.  In the real world, our best intentions can easily be sidetracked by a few rows–but not to worry–she’ll be digging into her yard in no time!  Tanned from the beach, to boot. 

While we’re on the subject of gals in the garden, check out BloominThyme’s new garden series at Galtime.com in the Living section.  Join us, won’t you?

Custom Seed Packet & Holder Giveaway!

Attention savvy gardeners!  Visit us on Facebook and hit “like” for your chance to earn one of these adorable seed packet holders. 

Your choice of design, as well as a set of 15 custom seed saving packets, compliments of BloominThyme — http://www.facebook.com/bloominthyme

Don’t save seeds?  No problem.  Use these containers to hold paper napkins or plastic utensils on the picnic table, or perhaps envelopes on your desk.  How about the perfect unique gift for that gardener friend?  Or win one for the kids!  These holders are a great way to get the youngsters excited about gardening. 

Already “like” us?  Thanks!  You’ll be automatically entered to win.  When we reach 75 likes, one random winner will be drawn.  At a 100, a second will be chosen.  So enter early and increase your chances of winning.

Then, stay-tuned for more giveaways as well as gardening made easy — BloominThyme…your “cliff” notes to gardening!

Take Cover!

Mama Nature is throwing us one last dose of chill!  And while some don’t think it will dip into frost territory, we’re not taking any chances.  We’ve been burned (think icy burn) before and will not be again. 

Just look at these sweet little things.  Would you take a chance with their survival?  Didn’t think so.   So after some discussion, we used this lightweight frost blanket to cover our beans, tomatoes and peppers.  It’s not the only option.  We could have “insulated” them with mulch, or thrown a bed sheet over top.  Though whichever way you choose to attack this problem, the goal remains the same:  protect their leaves from frost.

Our potatoes are growing well and quite robust and should be able to tolerate a “near dip” experience.  Though just to be sure, we gathered some oak leaves to ensure a snuggly evening.  Talk about perfect segue–our lesson this week was mulch!  

What kind of mulch?

Natural of course, like leaves, bark, hay and would you believe newspaper?  

Oh, yes.  So long as you keep it from flying into your neighbor’s yard by trapping it somehow–we used hay–newspaper mulch is a great way to recycle.  If you prefer the lovely look of all hay, then simply toss the paper out back like the old news that it is–and onto your compost pile!   

If you don’t have one yet, you will soon.  Composting is too easy and too efficient–even for those city dwellers we know.  One afternoon surfing the net will prove you can compost indoors AND keep it clean.  A must.  We are tidy when at all possible.

Attention Gardener Wannabes–Now’s Your Time!

Always wanted to start a garden but afraid you didn’t have enough time or know how?  Well fret no more–you have enough of BOTH. 


Seriously.  Next week we begin our series “Ashley and Julie’s Garden — follow their progress!”  These two have always wanted their own garden, but were reluctant to take that first step, concerned it would lead them down a road on a downhill slide.  Not fun.  So instead they politely reply, “I’d love to start a garden, if only I had the time.” 

Typical, right? For many women these days, it is difficult to find the time.  Between kids and work and husband and life–who has extra anything to wander through brilliantly layered rows of a vegetable garden–despite the desire pumping through their veins, the urge screaming for release… 

Oh–wait.  That’s the kids in the bathroom.  Real life aside, these women yearn for the luxury of snipping fresh lettuce for their salad, clipping fresh beans to include on the dinner menu, pulling sweet carrots for the most delectable carrot muffins–and they can.  Once they catch on to the secrets of simple garden management, they can enjoy the benefits of growing their own vegetables.  Have kids?  Believe it or not, they’ll relish the adventure and together you will experience more joy than you ever dreamed possible. 

It’s the simple things.  Make that easy-to-do-and-not interrupt-my-schedule things that add quality to our every day moments.  So, if YOU have ever wanted to have your own garden but thought it utterly impossible, stay tuned:  we’re going to change your mind!

Series begins Tuesday.  Ashley will utilize a raised planter bed frame while Julie will opt for an in ground garden.  Join us, won’t you?

Trust me.  We’ll have fun.

Transplanting Tomatoes (before the official start of spring!)

Are we lucky to live in Florida, or what? 

Sure, I run the risk of one last freeze.  Happens every year.  Nearly.  But maybe I’ll be spared this spring.  After all, Mother Nature tortured me in December…  Do you think she could be so cruel?

Nah, me neither.  She’s an all right gal.  So what if I don’t agree with her sense of humor, or her downright obstinate ways when it comes to wielding her power, but she has been good to me.  Overall, I can’t complain.  (Are you listening, Mrs. N?  I’m the good one!)

So out the door these sproutlings went, straight into the garden.  I started them early January and yes, I did have to drag them inside a few times and spot them a sweet place by the warm and blazing hearth.  But just look how they’ve rewarded me.  Aren’t they grand?  Real beauties.  My kids helped clear the row of hay and I tilled the section with ease.  Once you know the secrets of preparation this part is EASY. 

Then, I gingerly pulled each out and placed it into a hole amended with a mixture of my very own compost (AKA homemade dirt), epsom salt and eggshells.  Brilliant.  And the key to eliminating blossom-end rot.  I hope.  Formed a well around my babies and watered them in.  Finito.  Easy as tomato pie.

Mud pie.  I meant mud pie.  Last time I tried to make an authentic Italian tomato pie for my husband, things didn’t go very smoothly.  Time-consuming, irritating…  It was the crust that gave me issue.  And my handy-dandy Cuisinart contraption that promised to do the hard mixing did nothing of the kind! 

False advertising, if you ask me.  But I digress–into the land of disappointment (where I do not care to dwell).  My tomatoes are in!  Who has time to weep?

I have a watering schedule to attend, fertilization needs to consider…  And companions.  Who shall I plant next door?

If you think I haven’t already arranged for that play over in my excel program, you’re kidding yourself.  What else do you do during winter?  Besides scour the seed magazines and drool over the gorgeous photos and plethora of produce. 

Beats Christmas shopping.

Sweet Peas in Spring

Finally my sweet peas are ready!  After maintaining a steady grip during the cold, during the heat, and everything in between, my sweet babies have matured. 

Crisp on the out side, sweet delicacy on the inside, these are worth the wait.

And easy to store.  I’m freezing mine fresh — because I haven’t decided how I want to use them in the future.  But when I do, I know they’ll be delicious.  Already tried some.

Garden peas are especially precious in our garden as they are a limited commodity.  They prefer cool weather and now that it’s warming up here in Florida, I know these sweets will be on the way out.  It’s been so warm, my young broccoli are already bolting in rebellion.

Oh, well.  Just another day in the life of a gardener.  We take what we can get where we can get it!

Kids Planting and Progressing

For the kids, this was a week of “seed fun.”  

With the warm wave of weather here in Florida, we’re taking our chances and planting now–to ensure our crops are ready before graduation.  We do have our priorities, you know and the harvest party is top of the list! 

To begin, we toured the garden to check on our plants’ progress.  The cilantro is turning coriander.  No longer content to remain in its original form, this plant is now shooting  toward the sky, sporting lovely white blooms.  Soon, these flowers will produce coriander seeds–which of course we will harvest.  I know there’s some parent out there ready and waiting with the perfect recipe.  And if not, the kids and I will find something to do with them.  (BTW, we’re open to suggestion.)

Our baby carrots are tender and sweet.  No, they’re nowhere near ready, but their greenery is quite delicate.

And just look at those potatoes.  The kids can almost taste those healthy potato chips and fries now.  

“Wipe off the drool, kids.  We still have a while to go.  And for increased production, cover those babies with dirt!”

And production we need if we expect to have enough potatoes for a party’s worth of chips!  Healthy of course, lightly coated with olive oil and herbs and baked to golden perfection.  (Food talk keeps the kids motivated.) 

Yet more fascinating than food are our beans.  Personally, I find the early stages of bean development to be the most visual examples of Mother Nature in action than most anything else.  More than leaves sprouting and stems growing, this life cycle literally unfurls before your very eyes. 

Why, just look at them!

You can almost feel the energy as it opens from the seed, erupting in a burst…

…exploding in green bloom.  Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

Magnificent.  Not into beans?  We also planted cucumber and corn seeds, as well as transplanted tomatoes.

The kids learned tomatoes are best planted deep, covering the bottom two “leaves” as they bury the base.  By doing so, they’ll encourage stronger root growth and development for their small tomato sprout.  Important–as we anticipate big strong tomatoes come spring!  And on our way back to class, we spotted this early gem.

Delectable little devil, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to make preserves out of that little pumpkin!  Oh, didn’t I mention?  We’re going to learn how to can!  Berries, tomatoes…

It’s the simple things in life.

Grocery Inflation

As if we needed yet another reason to garden–have you seen the price of food lately?  From fresh vegetables to coffee and cotton, prices have jumped.  And don’t even ask about the price of chocolate.  Our beloved sweet may become a rare commodity, indeed.  No kidding.  Seems West Africa farmers are giving up the crop in pursuit of better wages in the cities while at the same time, world demand is increasing.  Have you heard the health benefits of dark chocolate?  Heavy on the cocoa, easy on the milk.  Not a good combination when it comes to the demand side of the equation. 

Then of course there’s a certain hedge fund manager who bought a ton (literally, I think) of cocoa beans for investment.  Downright evil market manipulation is what I call it.  How could he be so cruel?  Why, I have a mind to grow some cocoa plants myself.  I’m in Florida, they grow near the Equator…  Sounds like a feasibility study’s in order!

Thank goodness gardening is easy and fun, else we’d all starve of malnutrition and chocolate deprivation.  Plant, water, harvest, consume–easy!  

Okay.  You caught me.  I’m luring you in.  But truthfully, gardening doesn’t have to be hard.  In fact, once you learn the secrets to mutinous-proof weed maintenance, it’s even easier.  If you don’t believe me, ask my kids. 

Or, follow along as I guide my friend Julie through the process of starting a family garden.  We’ll begin from scratch and work our way through each step of the process, much like we did with Mandie.  Remember her?  She’s still gardening, I think.  (Please, Mandie–tell us you’re still you’re still growing green and strong!) 

But there are more great reasons to garden than it’s easy and fun.  Think of the health benefits (non-toxic, because we only garden organic), the convenience (who has time to run to the store every time they feel like a fresh strawberry and spinach salad?), the educational aspect (last time I checked, botany was still a subject at school), and of course, who can forget the main reason:  gardening for the sheer joy of it.  For the kids, it’s more the adventure factor–creepy crawlies tend to be exciting for them whereas we seem to have lost the enthusiasm for that kind of thrill.  (Wait–I know it’s here somewhere…) 

Stay-tuned and watch the fun as Julie and her family venture into the land of green.  Better yet, how about join her and start a garden of your own and share your experience wit us?  We learn by doing!  A lesson best achieved in the company of fellow enthusiasts. 

Though it sure would be nice if cocoa plants grew like this row of garlic.  I could wait a season.  But five years is pushing it.

Too Many Strawberries?


What!  How could you have too many strawberries?

Oh.  You took the kids strawberry picking this weekend.  Yes, I understand.  They do grab berries at alarming rates, don’t they…

And now you’ve had your fill of strawberry shortcake, strawberry smoothies, strawberries and cream, strawberries on your corn flakes.   What else could you possibly do with a strawberry?

How about tossing some in your salad?  When combined with a mix of velvety soft buttercrunch and crispy firm spinach leaves from the garden — they make for the most delectable lunch. 

Looks good, doesn’t it?  It is.  The secret to this salad’s appeal is the striking  contrast between fresh tangy berry and sweet mild goat cheese.  It’s melt in your mouth good.  Check my recipe section for details!

First time I realized strawberries made a wonderful addition to salads was dinner at my cousin Nancy’s home.  She added nuts along with a variety of fresh ingredients, but for me, the strawberries were the main attraction. 

Of course, the joy of picking them ourselves added to the pleasure!  This little guy just looks like he’s having fun, doesn’t he?

He was, we were…  Picking your own fruits and veggies is great fun for the entire family.  To find a u-pick farm near you–check this great website

Then you too, may find yourself in the midst of a sea of berries.   Gorgeous, isn’t it?