Last Year’s Poinsettia

Unlike many of you, I will NOT be purchasing any Poinsettia this year. 

No, it’s not the economy, though we ARE trimming the budget like everyone else.  No, it’s not because I’ve turned Scrooge (though sometimes I consider the idea, inundated by commercialism the way we are) — and have you seen the malls?  Makes me wonder if times are as bad as the newscasters claim, or is it simply a matter of economics:  retailers are lowering prices to draw us in, ramping up customer service to sell us their products…  Some are even resorting to cookies and hot cocoa (a marketing manipulation to which I fully succumb — especially when it’s Williams-Sonoma).

But as usual, I digress.  I’m easily distracted that way.  I won’t be buying any Poinsettia this year because mine from last year are thriving!  Yes, absolutely thriving.  Unlike my green peppers (which are finally showing signs of leaf formation), my Poinsettia are growing and glorious.

Granted, I don’t have enormous blooms to show for my efforts, but truth be told, I haven’t been feeding them as well as perhaps I should have been.  My fault.  But when you’re the type of individual who sometimes forgets to eat yourself, well, you can see how it might affect the other living creatures around you!  You can include critters on that list, too.  My kids eat when they’re hungry and not a minute before.  Then of course, they’re starving.  Tortured by a mother who doesn’t care about their health and well-being.

Yes, they tend toward the dramatic.  But we do encourage creativity around here!

Back to my plants.  They have survived.  More than survived, and yours can too (be sure to feed them!).  Next year, you’ll celebrate more than the holiday season, you’ll celebrate your gardening talent AND the fact you won these fabulous blooms “free and clear.”  Another positive when times are tough.  Remember, you can also clip and root them to increase your future bounty — Poinsettia plants make great gifts!

They make great trees, too.  Check last year’s blog post for a gander at just how BIG these plants can grow.  Unfortunately, this tree no longer exists.  The homeowners cut it out and have replaced it with — you guessed it — store-bought potted Poinsettia.  Go figure.

Sweet Potato Confessions

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday has passed, the turkey consumed, the sweets devoured, I have a confession to make.  Remember those nice round sweet potatoes I unearthed on Thanksgiving Day?  Yes, you remember, my harvest, and that of Mother Nature’s?  Well, all is not as it seemed.

At the time, I was only out for a brief visit.  So busy cooking and preparing my feast, I didn’t have time for a full harvest session, though had I, I would have discovered this issue earlier.  Yes, my sweets have issues.  But don’t we all?  I mean, really, are any of us perfect?

Me — I’m uninterested in perfection.  I’m interested in production.  But my sweet potatoes are delivering neither.  In cultivating my beautiful, perfectly aligned rows, I neglected to give my sweets enough space to spread out and set their roots.  Roots that need to reach into the soil in order to produce potatoes (potatoes grow under the ground). 

And they can’t reach into the soil when my walking rows are so cleverly lined with weed-protection paper!  It seems while solving one problem, I created another.  Sure, I have a minimum of weeds, but I have a minimum of sweets, too.  And just when I found a recipe for sweet potato gnocchi I wanted to try.  Hmph.

Tip from Captain Obvious:  When preparing your beds for sweet potatoes, be sure to give them LOTS of space to spread their vines and delve their roots.  While they don’t require a lot of attention, they DO require plenty of area.

A fact I’m well aware, but somehow overlooked.  Oh, well.  There’s always next season.  (Thank God I’m not dependent on my garden for my survival!)  But since one never knows what the future holds, I’m grateful for the fact my learning curve is occurring now rather than later — when I might actually need these skills.

Beats the alternative, right?

Vacation’s Over!

With Thanksgiving behind us, leftovers gone, the kids have returned to school for their lessons.  And lessons they learned, especially in the garden.  As any experienced gardener knows, leaving a garden untended invites all sorts of drama.  Weed overgrowth, bug infestation, disease infection — it’s enough to send you running for the hills. 

But hold on cowboys and grab your hats, these students aren’t your average gardeners.  No, no!  They’re tough and determined (brave enough to endure the chill of Florida’s winter) and they have a job to do.  Weed warriors, begin!

Besides all that exciting stuff, it’s harvest time (code for:  time to reap our rewards).  Yay!  Is there a better time to be in the garden

No boys and girls, there isn’t!  Harvest time is when you FINALLY get the chance to reap the bounty from all your hard work and reap these kids did — all while learning valuable lessons about reproduction.  “How does a plant continue to grow without the help of a gardener?” 

Good question.  How about we take a look for ourselves.  Since our pole beans are the first vegetables ready for harvest, I cheered, “Everybody, start plucking!”  Woohoo!  A dozen kid pulling from the vine–now it’s a harvest party!

“Open up your beans and let’s look inside.”  Ooohs and aaahs all around.  “Perfect.  These beans are ready to eat.  But what happens if there are no gardeners with voracious appetites?”  (You can use big words like voracious with these kids because they’re educated.) 

“The pods will dry on the vine like those brown ones,” I said, indicating the dried and shriveling pod.  Passing it around, we discussed the differences between the pods we plucked and this pod I picked.  “Left unpicked, this bean will dry and the pod will shrivel up until the day it pops open and spits the beans out onto the ground.  Really!  I’ve seen it happen.  Pop!” 

Now that I have their full attention, I explain how the beans ultimately make their way into the soil and prepare to sprout anew.  Here’s a neat video presentation of the life cycle of a bean.  And the best part?  “You guys get to eat your beans for snack this morning!”  Hoorays and leaps for joy.  “Yep.  You have to wash them first, but then you can eat your first organic bean.  The one you grew yourself!” 

I think I’ve discovered the secret to getting kids to eat vegetables.  Have the kids grow them!  Talk about excitement over snack time–you’d think we were talking chips and Cheetos, but no, we’re talking healthy greens.  Warms a parent’s heart, I tell you.  Pure joy. 

The kids will also collect some beans for drying, preparing them for planting come spring.  It’s a great way for them to take an active part in the life cycle of a bean plant, witnessing the glory of nature firsthand.

Forget visions of sugarplums (that is so yesterday), these kids are dreaming of broccoli!  And now that they’re cleaned free of weeds, they’re ready to premier in their own harvest party.

Bounty of Beans

I think I’ve found my niche —  I’m an excellent bean grower!  Black beans, red beans, limas, my beans are growing gangbusters.  Except my garbanzos.  Still working out the kinks in their seasonal preferences.  But who’s complaining?  No one in my family.  I’m the only garbanzo bean eater around here and eat them I do — with salads and crackers (humus), Indian-style and fresh from the can (soon to be vine).

Look at these beauties — I have gobs of them!

And to think each bean produces a plant that supplies about 100 beans, well, you do the math.  It’s an awesome ratio in my garden.  Easy to grow, easy to harvest, it doesn’t get any better.  And I love beans.  From black beans and rice to chili and sides, these babies are the pure gold in my kitchen.

Another reason to love beans?  The store well.  Make great decorations, too.

Are beans my favorite plant in the garden?  Next to potatoes you bet they are!  While I love my garlic and peppers, tomatoes and corn, my carrots and onions, peanuts and squash, there’s nothing easier to grow than beans AND (as if that weren’t enough) I get two growing seasons!

Wow.  I’m exhausted with exuberance just thinking about them.

P.S.  If you’re accustomed to cooking with canned beans but ready to use your own harvest for that favorite recipe, word of caution:  most canned beans contain an exorbitant amount of salt.  My first batch of cooked beans were a disappointment because I didn’t realize how much salt I needed to add to my recipe to make up for this difference between canned and fresh.  It was a lot.  A real lot!

Giving Thanks

I imagine Thanksgiving looks different in each household, each part of the country.  In my home, the day is spent at home, cooking, playing, enjoying the simple pleasures of life.  While I don’t have much time for the garden today (food assignments gobble up the majority of my day!), I did venture out to check on the sweet potatoes.  What Thanksgiving table would be complete without sweet potatoes?

And add this to my list of blessings — my slips have grown into sweets.  Varying sizes and shapes, this is what I’ve come to expect from this golden harvest.

On the other hand (more aptly other end of the garden), those sweets leftover from last season and started themselves — proof Mother Nature is quite prolific — have done quite well. 

Though when compared to Mother Nature’s batch, I’d say I didn’t do too bad.  Good size, nice shape, they’ll all taste the same in the mashed sweet potato dish!  More important, it just goes to show, you ALWAYS have time for the garden.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Going Raw

Recently a friend of mine turned fifty, though you’d never know it to look at her.  She exercises and eats right.  Spends quality time with her family and friends.  You can imagine when it came to appetizers for her birthday get-together, healthy and fresh came to mind and of course, earning a reputation as gardener-extraordinnaire, I was assigned a vegetable dish! 

“Use whatever you have too much of in the garden.  Anything you might want to get rid of.”

Too much of?  Get rid of?

Not in MY garden!  Now that I know how to can and freeze, there’s nothing I have in excess.  I use it all — all that’s worth keeping, that is.  But the issue remained;  bring something healthy. 

The wheels began to spin.  Not the crazy ones, the creative ones.  (Perhaps I should have used the phrase “creative juices” instead?)  Well, I thought about my garden and what I like to eat.  Yes, I’m selfish that way.  Should have been what she likes to eat but oh no, when it comes to my garden it’s all about me, or more aptly, what I think I can conjure up! 

My grand idea?  Sweet red peppers.  Probably because I don’t have any in my garden.  Mine aren’t doing well, you see…bugs, humidity.  Not good.  But I love them and think they make a great addition to any party table.  And what better way to prepare them than with my new food processor? 

I’ve heard a lot about “raw” diets of late, the health benefits, the fresh taste, and decided they should be added to our dinner table.  Less cooking makes for better nutrient consumption you know.  And I am all about what’s best for the family.  It is my job to feed them.  But what?  How?  While there are a few recipe books on the market, I haven’t really found any that call out my name and shout, “Buy me!  Buy me!” 

Undaunted, I decided to go it alone and bought a food processor.  I enjoy experimenting and besides, if my raw food fad falls to wayside, I can always use a food processor, right?  So what does one do when faced with the perfect opportunity to practice?

They practice!  So away I went, combining all my favorite ingredients in one dish.  Caught in the rush of creativity, I whipped up this gorgeous flower presentation on the fly.  I am a gardener, you know.  Flowers are a natural for me.

And the best part — besides being delicious – it’s fairly simple to make.  Red peppers, garbanzo beans, basil and goat cheese served over top a fan of romaine lettuce.  I tasted it and thought, not bad.  Fresh, light, could use a little Parmesan, or maybe a drizzle of balsamic.  I’m no chef, but I do like to eat and these happen to be some of my favorite things.

Ready to go, I placed the tray on my lap and we headed down the street, whereby I learned a valuable lesson.  Rule number one:  when using a food processor with fresh vegetables, check for excess liquid.  Apparently, when you whir and chop at high speeds, the natural water from your veggies — in my case red peppers — tends to seep out of your lovely sauce, collecting at the bottom of your dish. 

And when your husband turns a corner, it spills over the edge — and all over your jeans.  Lucky for me, blue and red are close relatives on the color wheel and my attire wasn’t completely ruined for the evening.  Spotted, but hardly noticeable.  Now, carrying a dripping tray into the house….

That’s another story.  Nabbed!  But I still received all the ohs and ahs (friends are helpful that way) and proceeded to the kitchen.  At least my beautiful appetizer survived in one piece and with the help of a “hostess with the mostess,” the juice was drained and the food served whereby she promptly advised me to save this extra vegetable juice  in the future and use it for sauces or drink mixes. 

“Of course.  The perfect solution.”  Exactly what you’d expect from the woman who can throw a party together in a matter of hours, barely bat an eyelash over food detail, all the while her ambiance and decor glowing as though planned for weeks.  The woman’s entertaining might is legendary.

However, while impressed with my creation at home, it somehow tasted different to me at the party.  A little too fresh, if that’s possible.  Okay, who am I kidding.  It tasted like water.  Aghast, I looked around the room.  The pressure began to build.  Everyone was still mingling, but it wouldn’t be long before they made their way to the food table.  And of course all eyes and appetites would be on my pepper-filled petals. 

Then it hit me.  Standing feet away was a friend whose reputation for cooking rivaled that of “entertaining gal.”  Bingo.  He’ll know what to do!  Beckoning him over, I boldly asked for help.  I explained my latest adventure into the field of raw food prep, followed by my current dilemma.   “What do you think it needs?”

He tasted and quipped with a shrug of his shoulders, “Lemon or lime.”

Ping!  Of course.  That’s exactly what it needed!  Child’s play for a man of his culinary expertise and the perfect solution for my problem.  With the simple addition of fresh squeezed lime juice (the fruit more readily found behind the bar), my dish had been transformed into fresh sweet red pepper magnificence.  A heady moment indeed.  With that, he named it Margarita Sweet Peppers and the dish was a hit.  For the full recipe, check my recipe section.

So now I’m inspired.  I bought the food processor for this very purpose — add more fresh ingredients to my meals and keep them raw — and now I have my first victory to report.

Weeding, anyone?

Kids are busy these days.  Not only after school with their various activities, but during school as well.  From bakes sales to book sales, science projects to theater productions, these kids are occupied and while this is all wonderfully intellectually and emotionally stimulating, sometimes it translates into limited time in the garden.  There are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish all we’d like to accomplish.  A familiar concept to most adults I know.

Yet the garden continues to grow — or should I say, the weeds continue their assault.  They don’t hold for busy students and they do need to be pulled.  If they’re not, the lettuce doesn’t stand a chance at reaching full maturity. 

Can you say garden coordinator?

Yep.  Know this going in:  garden volunteers will be required to do more than their fair share on occasion, sometimes due to scheduling conflicts, but sometimes due to necessity.  Little fingers are not as deft when plucking weeds around delicate young plants, not to mention they’re easily distracted by all the new growth exploding around them.  Which we encourage at every stage in the growth process!

But take heart.  Time spent in the garden is never wasted and with the right perspective, can be the most enjoyable time of the day.  Even weeding.

You heard me right.  Alone among verdant green plants, soft morning light and cool luscious temps…is glorious.  Digging through rich black dirt, the faint scent of musty fresh earth clinging to the air, you feel connected to nature, at one with the world.  For those of you whose nostrils are flaring at the mere description, your mind reeling off a thousand things you’d rather be doing, remember:  life is 90% attitude and %10 activity.  No matter what you’re doing, you can either enjoy it, or loathe it — you’re choice.  Like I remind my kids, slip on your “right attitude cap” and let’s get busy!

And better yet, when you’re finished, the sense of reward and accomplishment you’ll feel is worth the effort.  Aaaaah….just look at that sumptuous bed of savory salad waiting to be reaped and devoured.  Sure there’s still a few weeds, no one here is advocating perfection — only production.

My mouth waters just thinking about the fresh wholesome goodness soon to be reaped!  And the students do like their veggies.  Just look at these girls devour their pole beans during snack time — not only healthy, but these kids taste pride and joy in every bite because they had a hand in growing them. 

The sight of young people gorging on greens…  Does it get any better?   Next week:  watch for fresh green peppers to make their debut on the menu!

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.