Keep Lettuce Fresh

I love growing fresh lettuce.  Not only is it easy to grow (important in my garden) but it’s delicious!  Buttercrunch is one of my favorites because it tastes much like its name — soft and buttery. 

 For an easy and healthy lunch, I like to mix it with some spinach, garbanzo beans, avocado and goat cheese.  Drizzle some olive oil and balsamic vinegar and — voila! – lunch is served.

While I enjoy fresh lettuce, my biggest problem was keeping it fresh.  I have a lot of lettuce growing in my garden – so much, I can’t eat it all in one or two sittings.  And old lettuce is no good.  Not only sour-smelling, it tastes awful.   So what’s a girl to do?

Research the internet!  In doing so, I discovered the perfect way to keep my lettuce fresh for days – up to 10 – and it’s simple.  Gather and snip your lettuce, then wash it.

Rinse and semi-dry.  This is important.  You don’t want to completely dry your lettuce, as the moisture helps retain its freshness when you store it.

Once you have cleaned all your leaves, roll out a line of paper towels (keep squares connected) and dampen.  This can be a delicate process, depending on your brand of paper towels, but basically you want to ring out enough water, leaving your towels slightly damp.  Lay out your lettuce across the towels.

 Then roll it up!

Take your roll and place it into a plastic bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing.  Store in refrigerator.  That’s it!  When you want a fresh salad, simply go in and grab your bag, taking as much lettuce as you need, re-sealing the bag as before and then returning it to the refrigerator. 

Now I realize most will raise their brow at my claim of 10 days of freshness, but I did in fact use mine up to that point and found the taste to be pleasant, the texture firm.  This is similar to the way I store fresh from the garden herbs.   So toss those tiny seeds across your soil and enjoy fresh salads every day!

These Kids Can Grow!

Just look at these tomatoes!

Green peppers anyone?

While most everything in the garden is growing gangbusters, our cabbage are not.  None of the seeds we planted germinated, so we had to settle for transplants; a little green, a little red.  Tossed in a couple of cauliflower to boot!

During this process, one boy asked what we were going to do with all this cabbage.  I replied, “Why make coleslaw, of course!  And sauerkraut!”

Not familiar with the latter, he peered at me with a look of mild shock.  “Sour crap?”

Everyone burst out laughing. 

I suppressed a chuckle.   Kids.  “No,” I assured him.  “Not sour crap.  Sauerkraut.”

He drew a blank.  “What is that?”

“A German delicacy.”

“It’s really good,” chimed in another student.

“It’s my favorite!” added yet another.

Doubting the veracity of their words, but apparently none too concerned, he shook his head and returned to the task at hand. 

And so it goes with kids.  Try new things, take it in stride… 

We can all learn something out here in the garden of life!

Flattened Fields of Corn

I used to like windy days.   Cool breezy air, the opportunity to wear my jackets and boots, the beginning of the holiday swing… 

But this is too much.   This past week we’ve experienced an early cold front, the arctic air blowing — and I don’t use the word lightly — clear down our state, bringing with it chilly nights and near frosty mornings.  While I love the nippy temps, I don’t care for the effect on my garden.  My rows of corn are hurting. 

Near flattened.  Amazingly the taller ones seem to be faring rather well, with the younger apparently most susceptible to the force of nature.  Always one to look for the brighter side, I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.  At least I can “push” these smaller ones back into position — once the wind eases its sweeping strokes across the landscape.  If the older ones had been the ones to fall, my near ready ears of corn would have been lost.

Not good.  But this is an issue with corn.  And one that makes me wonder:  What do they do in Iowa and the central part of our country?  I have to believe wind and fronts are a problem there – what do they do to protect their crops?  Grow stronger, healthier corn?  I mean, I’m no expert.  It could be as simple as that, right?

Maybe.  Either way, corn have shallow roots and mine have been laid flat.

Still Growing Strong

Our school garden is doing well.  REALLY well.  Our black bean bushes are flourishing.

Our pole beans are plumping.

Our strawberries are beginning.

Our broccoli are growing (pay no mind to those soft weeds).

We even decided to add some sweet onions.

All in all, not bad for a garden we tend twice a week!  Only once this past week as lower elementary was rained out.  Our success lends credence to the idiom:  too much of a good thing can spoil the outcome.  While we would LOVE to be out there every day, we simply cannot manage it.  End result?  The garden is blossoming with health, despite our absence.

Greenhouse for Green Peppers

Sort of.  I call it a “modified” green house as the intended effect is the same, albeit the outcome may be different.  At least in my case.

It all started with a few dastardly bugs, too much heat and not enough rain.  Same old – same old, right?  I live in Florida, have this beautiful green swamp behind my home (host to an enormous amount of insects) and full sun.  Full HOT sun.  And humidity.  The result?

My peppers are suffering.  So I decided to protect them.  After a bit of research, I found the perfect support system:  9 gauge wire, cut to the length of my choice covered with a lightweight fabric. 

Simple enough.  Flexible, the wire can easily be cut and shaped into arches long enough to cover the width of my bed AND accommodate for the height of my plants.  

Next, I draped a light “frost blanket” sheeting across the tops of each “hoop” and secured it in place with anchor staples (also found at the hardware store). 

Voila.  A greenhouse.  Take THAT you dastardly insects!  Air and light can permeate this delicate material, but insects cannot.  I think even water can get through, though I’m not taking any chances on that count and hand watering the row when needed.

So take note.  Whether it’s the greenhouse effect you’re after or frost protection, try this idea on for size.  The wire costs about $10.00 while the blanket material is about the same.   I purchased it for last year’s freeze, then stored it for later use.  (And use, I am!)   Anchor staples will run you about $5.00.  Fresh peppers?

You said it:  Priceless.   All in all, not a bad investment for a backyard gardener.

Caterpillar Dispatch is NOT for the Queasy

It’s squish duty.  Definitely not for the faint of heart, those who tend to “freak” easily or even butterfly fans (technically I think we’re talking moths here, but when it comes to a sweet child’s heart of compassion, does the distinction matter?). 

Nope.  It’s a simple reality of gardening.  And as you can see, these little fellas can do a lot of damage before tucking themselves out of sight. 

Next, reveal them for all to see.

Successful gardening, anyway, where your plants survive and thrive as opposed to quiver and die.  Caterpillars eat a lot — especially beautiful green leaves.  Yes, they get full — eventually.  But the question becomes:  At what risk to our beautiful pole beans?

Major.  So for us, caterpillar dispatch duty commenced!

Rounds of spotters took turns searching for intruders.

After cleaning our leaves of invaders, we headed off to weed.  The kids are learning how to identify plants by their leaves.  Crucial, as we don’t want to “weed” our parsley — we want to keep it! 

Same goes for our baby spinach, swiss chard, etc. 

One smart boy reminded me there’s another way to identify plants –  their smell!  (Thanks Eric O.!)  He knew a basil when he smelled one.  But don’t forget: you want to pinch the ends for bushier, more vigorous growth!

While touring our garden, we spotted some sweet baby peppers.  Aren’t they cute?

The pumpkins are spreading out, too.

All in all, our plants are doing quite well.  Better than some of mine at home, but we won’t go there.  As for the students, it was another great week in the garden!

Tribute to Tomatoes

It’s almost time for tomato harvest.  My plants have survived the insidious worm assault — haven’t spotted a worm in weeks! — and have begun to bloom and sprout.   Just look at these beauties!

Not only do we have blooms, but tomatoes are beginning to sprout, too.  Take a look at this round perfection.  (Quick – spray it with anti-blossom end rot!)

What happened to this fellow, I have no idea.  Perhaps its an ugly ripe variety?  The packet said slightly-ribbed, but really?  This is what they call slightly? 

Hmph.  Maybe he’ll grow out of it, much like the Ugly Duckling became a beautiful swan…

Hopefully it will taste good.  This particular variety is an Italian heirloom called Pantano and supposed to be wonderful for making sauce.  Can’t wait!

Until harvest, I’ll simply sit back and enjoy the sights.  Gorgeous, aren’t they?

Simply gorgeous.

Co-op Garden? But that’s MY plant!

Try and explain to a five-year-old that the vegetable plants belong to everyone.

“But that’s MY plant!”

“Yes, you planted that one, but it belongs to everyone.  We all helped.”

She points.  “That one’s mine.”

Still working on the concept of co-op gardening, I attempted to explain further,  “It’s a co-op garden which means, we all share in the vegetable planting AND the vegetable eating.”

Met by a hard-nosed glare, I decided it was best to let go of the subject.  A wise gardener knows when to let go of the vine. 

For now, we’ll simply enjoy the fruits of our labors and if that means each child is enjoying a particular plant, than so be it.  At least we’re all enjoying the garden, right?

And speaking of enjoying the garden, one of the best ways to do so is to use our sense of smell.  Take these herbs, basil and rosemary. 

Not only beautiful, you can almost smell them, can’t you? 

Can’t wait to start clipping!  And rather than rotate these lovely herbs, we can leave them in as long as they’ll continue producing — which means the rosemary will stay for an indeterminate amount of time while the basil will succumb to the freeze.

In addition to our glorious herbs, we now have strawberries, thanks to our kindergarteners.  These kids KNOW how to garden and weeded this bed in no time flat.

Once the weeds were out, we transplanted small Quinault strawberries. 

 This variety is wonderful, because it will produce numerous berries and do so well into May/June.  They’ll also spread out and fill this bed quite nicely.

Rounding out our fully planted garden is kale.  As babies, these plants can easily be mistaken for beets, but they are quite different.  Large and leafy, these small cherubs will grow to produce large nutrient-rich leaves.  YUM.

Can’t wait until harvest!  Which at the rate these kids are growing — don’t blink! – will happen before you know it.  Take these upper elementary kids.  Savvy and sweet, thinning the corn and pumpkin, they decided a little corn/pumpkin dressing might be nice around the monument built in honor of their lost tomato plant, to sort of spruce things up a bit.

Clever, aren’t they?  And the good news?  They only grow more clever with each passing year…  Yes, I DO mean middle school.  Can’t wait!

In the meanwhile, I think it’s best to simply enjoy their enthusiasm.  I mean, doesn’t matter if it’s weeds or seeds, these kids take to a task like white on rice –

– and get the job done, tout de suite!  And remember the jungle tangle of black beans?  Well, it’s a jungle no more after these kids whipped through it, pulling excess bean plants as they went.

No one ever wants to pull perfectly healthy plants, unless of course they’re inhibiting one another’s growth.  But then, what’s a gardener to do?

P.S.  What I said was kale isn’t — it’s Swiss Chard.  Oops!  My apologies — but it is just as healthy and delightful!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

My kids have completely different styles when it comes to weeding the garden.  My daughter gets in, gets out — quick as she can.  The girl means business when it comes to weeds and she doesn’t like to waste her valuable free-time dawdling among the weeds!

My son, on the other hand, lingers.  He daydreams. 

Dawdles.  It’s not his thing, he says. 

Mine either.

He doesn’t prefer to weed.

Me neither.

So while in the garden recently, my daughter long gone, the dog uninterested in sitting with us out in the full heat of the sun (spoiled boy decided a swim in the pool would be a better use of his time!), I once again noticed my son idling amongst the rows.  He wasn’t pulling anything free from the ground.  Translated:  he wasn’t weeding.

Pausing from my task of planting garlic bulbs, I calmly asked him, “What are you doing?”

“Enjoying life.”

I raised a brow.   Really, now.   “Enjoying life, are you?”

“Yes.  I’m building an arena.”

Wondering if I heard him correctly, I repeated, “Building an arena?”

“Yep.  And these are my lights.”   He looked over at me with clear invitation in his eyes.    “Wanna see?”

Of course I did, so I rose from my spot and joined him along his row. 

“See.  There’s the arena and here’s my light.”   He bent a twig-like hay strand with his fingers to simulate a street light.   “This is the light part and this is its post.”

“Ah….”   Peering down into his creation, I said, “Looks good.  Who’s it for?”

“Ants.”

I chuckled.  “Do ants enjoy going to the arena?”

“Oh, sure.  And here’s their door where they enter.” 

Sure enough, there was a hole opening in the ground forming a tunnel for the ants to enter.  I nodded.  “Perfect.”

And it was.  Creative and wonderful, it was an awesome rendition of his current priority:  sports.  Returning to my row, I pondered over his imagination.  Never short on ideas, I thought, kids sure can create anything out of nothing.  Which is a good thing.  Even better, I liked that he thought to consider a break from his chores to simply “enjoy life.”  I think it says a lot about his state of mind, his outlook and for that, I’m proud of him.

A little while later, I noticed he still had yet to weed.  Almost finished with my business in the garden, I knew he wasn’t going to take kindly to sitting out in the garden alone – weeding –  so I nudged him a bit.   “How are you doing?”

“Not great.”

“No?  What happened to enjoying life?”

“I still have to weed.”

“Yes, you do, but it’s not that much.  You can manage.”

He tossed a hay twig to the ground.  “It’s not fair.  You try to enjoy life, but it comes right back at you!”

I laughed.  Such observation from a seven-year-old!  “You’re right.  It does, doesn’t it?”  I shook my head at his wisdom.  When it comes to the “weeds” of life, it most certainly seems to — until you fully adjust your attitude cap;  a feat he’s still working to master.

“What the heck–why even try to enjoy it then?”

“It’s all about attitude.  Enjoy what you’re doing, whatever it is.”

He huffed in disagreement.  “I’m gonna go throw the football with Dad.”

“Yes you are – right after you finish weeding.”

And such goes life.  Despite his every effort to the contrary, my son learned it’s not all fun and games.  There are parts of life that feel like work, no matter how hard you try to make them feel like play.  But we push through.  We persevere. 

As a mother, it’s reassuring to know we’re not only growing vegetables out here in the garden, but building character to boot.

Progress Report

The kids are going strong.  Crops are coming in, as well as weeds — but we’re on top of them.  First, we loosen their grip in the soil and then we pull them free, forming small work piles ultimately headed for our compost pile. 

Granted it’s not the most exciting part of our garden, but it is a necessary one!  These weeds are battling for the same sun and water as our plants and we are rooting for our vegetables to win out!

Go veggies!

And there is plenty of weeding to go around.  While we mulched these corn stalks to prevent weed growth, they still have a plethora (abundance) of weeds growing around their base.  Most of these should be removed.  A few survivors won’t hurt, but  a “carpet” of weeds is definitely not helpful to our plants.

Maintenance is the key at this point.  For our tomatoes, we learned how to pinch the suckers from the vines.  These small growths at the elbow of main stalk and branches “suck” away energy from the main branches.  Very bad. 

We want our efforts directed toward tomato production, not branch production!

As the tomato plants grow larger, we must also stake them.  This basically means to tie the stalk of the plant to a sturdy stake (we used bamboo) so that when to tomatoes start coming in, they won’t topple over our plant. 

We could have used a cage, but using ties is easy and allows the plant plenty of space to breathe and spread its branches.  You can also utilize a trellis, encouraging the plants to climb.

As usual, we’re always on bug lookout.  It only takes one day for a hornworm to devour an entire plant.  Which would be wholly disappointing after all our hard work.

This little brownish varmint below had to be removed else he do damage.  I’m not sure exactly which type of worm he is, but we take no chances when it comes to saving our tomatoes!

If we’re lucky, we’ll spot a ladybug.  Maybe a frog, or two.  But so far, nada.  Could it mean we have nothing for them to eat?

Probably not.  We have holes in our poles bean leaves so something is chomping.

Another task is training the pole beans to grow up the fence.  We do this by gently tugging the leading vine toward the links of our fence and winding it through.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

Our sweet peas aren’t ready for training, yet.  As it is, they’ve only just peeked out from the ground.  But once they get going, we’ll do the same for them.

All in all, I’d say we’re off to a great start!