Tomato Fun for Tots

With two kids (and school garden full of them!) I’m always looking for good ways to engage kids in the garden.  Being that it’s August and HOT in Central Florida, our options are limited.  However, I’ve learned to get a head start on my growing season by starting seeds indoors.  Actually, on the patio.  (Not like it’s snowing or anything where they need the cozy comfort of my home interior.)  Without some type of cover, these babies will surely fry.

So perusing my many garden magazines and websites, I stumbled upon this gem of an idea.  Start your tomato sprouts in eggshells!  Why eggshells?  Have you not been reading my posts?  Eggshells are the secret to eliminating blossom-end rot!  Yep.  Along with a sprinkle of epsom salts, that is.  Together, these two ingredients make all the difference in the blooming beauty of your tomatoes.  Besides, it’s fun!  Who doesn’t love cracking eggshells and planting seeds in them?  Jiminy Cricket we’re talking craft heaven here!

To begin, is obvious:  secure a carton of eggs, preferably the cardboard kind.  Plastic and plants do not get along.  Ick.  Next, find someone to eat these 12 eggs so you can have the empty shells!  Note on egg cracking:  go easy and try to be break the egg along a center line around the egg.  You can do this by gently tapping the egg against the edge of a pan or dish, while rotating it around as you do so.  Once free of slippery goo–clean them before you do anything else.  No sense in getting salmonella.  You can’t garden from a hospital bed, so play it safe. Clean, rinse, dry.

Perfect.  Now you’re ready to fill your shells with dirt; rich organic dirt but be sure it’s light enough to drain well.  Soggy seeds do not germinate. And speaking of draining, poke a small hole in the bottom of your shell.  You can manage this with a safety-pin or paper clip.  Again, key word when dealing with eggshells is gentle.  Be gentle. 🙂

Now that you have your dirt in place, drop one or two seeds on top and lightly cover with dirt.  We always like to plant two seeds per plot because quite simply, all seeds don’t sprout.  And we wouldn’t want to waste these lovely eggshells, now would we?

After your seeds begin to sprout, you can transfer them to larger containers or directly into your garden, depending on where you garden.  Here in Central Florida, my sproutlings won’t see the garden until September.  Of course last year we were caught off guard by an early freeze but this year it won’t matter–my babies will be ready by end of November!  Starting now gives them a good four months to produce tomatoes before Jack Frost can get his hands on them.

Nifty Kitchen Companions for Gardener Extraordinaires

Let’s face it, after the garden chores are done the kitchen chores begin.  It’s a fact of life, right?  I mean, we grew all this food for a reason; to eat it!  But does that mean it has to be difficult?  Time consuming or wasteful?  Not at all–not if you have the right tools.  (According to my husband, every problem in my household stems from lack of the proper tool.)

But he has a point.  We live in a day and age where innovation has gone extreme–attractive and useful–but extreme.  There’s almost nothing that can’t be automated or made easier and I’ve reached the point where I’ve stopped fighting it.  While a greenie-pioneer-woman at heart, I’m no fool.  My life is busy and complicated and if I plan to accomplish half the things I set out to do, I’ll never realize success without a little help from technological advancements.  From refrigerators to freezers, air-tight containers to sure-seal pressure canners, my garden bounty has benefited from the use of gadgets.  My compost pile suffers, but my bounty spoils not!

And some of these tools are downright cute.  Just look at this watermelon slicer/seeder.  Is it the most adorable knife you ever saw or what?  My kids think so.  And it’s one of the few knives long enough to slice the length of our homegrown watermelons.  Then of course there are the herbs to be cut.  We bought a mezzaluna herb knife for ease and safety of chopping, but the darn thing is sharp.  I’m afraid to let my kids anywhere near it!  (Which doesn’t bode well for sharing kitchen duty and thus must not be tolerated.)

How about using your coffee grinder instead? This one from Krups can reduce your fresh herbs and dried spices to a silky fine texture in no time, suitable for any gourmet soup or sauce. 

But these are just a few!  Whether it’s your harvest time now or something you have to look forward, check out this month’s Prize Picks section for more gardener must-haves in the kitchen.

Peanuts in Bloom

It’s that time again when the peanut blossoms take center stage.  Gorgeous and delicate, these sweet yellow beauties are the sign of good things to come.  Below the bright green leaves the spindly legs–better known as “pegs”–bend down in search of soft dirt whereby they bury themselves for the process of forming their peanuts. Like carrots, they prefer loose soil (makes it easier to reach down and form nice full shells).  At this point, you can mulch around their base, much like you do for your potatoes.

Hmmm….   Memories from last year’s crop drift into the forefront of my mind.  I love peanuts.  Not only because they’re easy to grow–low maintenance, partial to Florida’s heat and practically pest resistant–but because they remind me of my childhood.

My mother is a southern lady through and through (not to mention a diehard football fan) and every season she’d treat us to the smell of peanuts boiling stove top, immersed in a broth of ham hock and salt.  Yes, she’d ADD salt, despite my suggestion to the contrary.  Her mother was from south Georgia and I don’t believe these folks ever met a dish with too much salt.  Me?  Don’t care for the stuff.  Makes me retain water, a problem I’ve come to realize, that only worsens with age.

But I do enjoy growing them, boiling them and serving them up for the family during a Sunday afternoon ball game–or gobbling up the fruits of someone else’s labors during scalloping season! 🙂 

If you’ve never grown peanuts for yourself, you should.  Kids love peanut butter and it’s a recipe they’ll enjoy making at home, not to mention hubby may appreciate the boiled or roasted version–they mesh quite well with a frosty mug of sudsy beer.  When planting your peanuts, be sure to include rich organic compost and/or composted manure.  And throw in a hand-full of crushed eggshells.  These nuts really like the calcium kick!  These are Valencia peanuts which grow well here in Florida and are perfect for boiling.

About two months after bloom, lightly dig down around one of your plants to check their progress–you can use a fork to lift the pegs from the dirt.  A ripe peanut will feel firm, its outer shell somewhat dry and “papery.”  Once ready, gently pull entire plant from the soil, shake off the excess dirt and lay on a screen in the sun for 2-3 days before shelling.  to cure.  This is for the purpose of longer storage.  If you’re boiling your peanuts, you want them green.  Do not attempt to boil roasted peanuts.  They’ve already been cooked!

If you do plan to store your freshly harvested peanuts, place them in a warm dry location for about 2-3 weeks.  If you’re peanuts have already dried out and you get a craving for boiled peanuts, you’re in luck!  By soaking dried nuts for 24 hours you can “re-hydrate” them prior to the boiling process.  Check my recipe section for details.

Florida’s Sea Garden

The family and I went scalloping this last week and reaped quite the bounty–and not only scallops, but starfish, blue crabs, fish–the works!  Easy, fun, this was a great trip.  For full details on our adventure, check out my blog here.

While out on the boat scavenging for scallops, we ate well.  No, not fresh veggies (though we did have fruit).  Boiled peanuts are the preferred diet for scallop hunting and while I’d like to lay claim to them as my own, I cannot.  Mine are slated as “football peanuts” and won’t be ready until August/September.  These gems came from one of our farm-friendly families and were boiled on site to perfection in their handy-dandy boiler.  Have large pot, will travel!

And let me tell you, they were good.  If you’ve never enjoyed boiled peanuts, you’re in for a treat.  Easy to make, you simply soak your green peanuts in salted water and cook like you would a roast in a crock pot.  Monitor as they simmer and add water as needed, since the peanuts will soak up the water in your pot. Usually takes a few hours before they’re ready, but when soft–serve warm! 

Another treat for your large pot is crabs.  The kids had a ball catching these little guys and of course they wanted to eat them so Mom tossed them into a pot of boiling water and ta-da!  Crabs for dinner.

Which go very well with scallops.  These were soaked in butter, wine and garlic and served over pasta.  Makes for a nice vacation dinner, don’t you think?

And we do like to eat on vacation!

 

Gardening Out West

Beautiful countryside, plain and simple.  Montana, Wyoming, Colorado…  These are some of my favorite places.  From snow-skiing to summer hiking, I could definitely hang out in these parts long-term.  But my family is in Florida and so am I–parked here for the long run.  We do have to have priorities.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t flit across the country and enjoy these gorgeous spots–I mean, I could stare at this view ALL day long.  Say hi to the moose, follow the deer, stand by and watch the playful antics of otters…  Bears can have their privacy, no problem.  No sense in tangling with those beasts.  Respect.  We respect them and leave them alone.

Besides, I’d be too busy in the garden.  Can you imagine–gardening in the cool of summer as opposed to the sweltering heat?  What a difference it would be.  Beautiful blue skies, moderate temps in the 70’s, a light kick of breeze…

Kinda like gardening in the spring here in Florida.  But we have no view.  I do love mountains.  And the vegetables–they definitely appreciate cooler temps.  My salad leaves have totally rebelled and refused to grow past an inch.  My swiss chard, too.  (Apparently they’re taking cues from their lettuce neighbors on the patio.)

Hmph.  What I wouldn’t give to stroll down rows that looked like these.  This photo was taken from an organic garden in Montana last month.  Unfortunately it wasn’t me behind the lens.  Didn’t make it out west this summer (for too many reasons to mention).

Not sure what those are but they’re rich, lush…amazing.  And so organized.  These must be professionals.

My garden looks nothing like this one.  It produces, just doesn’t look so…clean.  Can I blame it on the kids?  (That works for most other messes in and around my house.)  Moving right along.  This photo was taken from a community garden in Vail, Colorado.  (Photos courtesy of my friend Sheri Lou — she travels well.)  As you can see, it’s divided into sections whereby each gardener works his own veggies or flowers.

I like the concept.  Any community, church, or school for that matter can achieve this kind of coop and what fun.  Great way to mix and mingle with the neighbors, don’t you think?

Worth a try in your part of the world!  Perhaps next summer I’ll have the chance to stroll this one in person. 🙂

 

Be a Garden Coach!

With the end of July fast approaching, the garden gals are wrapping up for the summer and looking forward to their fall growing season–we in Florida are fortunate that way–and they couldn’t be more excited.  Just look at Ashley’s carrots.  Carrots in July! It’s nearly unheard of in these parts.  Too hot.

But let me tell you, that’s part of the thrill.  As their gardener “guide,” it’s exhilarating to see two women who didn’t believe they had the time or the talent to sustain their own garden–do so–and with spectacular results.  Better yet–they realized it was so much easier than they ever imagined!

Well you, too, can be an inspiration for a fresh green energetic wannabe.  All it takes is a little “know how” and a friend with less–“know how” than you, that is.  Sorry, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to garden OR to coach someone else to do the same.  It only takes the desire to help, the time to share, the willingness to show up and the grace  to remember you were once where they are today.

Just think of it:  you could teach them everything you know.  Teach them how the “know-it-alls” don’t always know it all, and remind them that plants can grow all by themselves.  You’ll tell them Mother Nature is kind, has a sense of humor and is usually forgiving–so long as you’re earnest in your outdoor endeavor.  And she prefers organic.  All they way. 

No sense in ruffling her skirt.  Have you been caught in one of her temper storms? They’re something to steer clear of, to be sure.  But if you mind your manners and be kind to the earth, you’ll reap some of the most gorgeous bounty imaginable.  And so will your protegé. 🙂

So be a garden coach!  That’s my own term, garden coach.  Do you like it?  If you do, then slap it on your happy cap and help a friend or neighbor start their very own backyard garden. Or front yard.  Times and landscape design are a changin’ and you DO want to be cutting edge. 

A trendsetter–a garden coach!  Today’s twist on the old volunteer. Easy, manageable–and totally rewarding. 

Confessions From a Worm Bin

This week I cleaned out my worm bin.  Well, cleaned “out” doesn’t really tell the story.  Exactly.  Though it may…

Up to my elbows in worm poop–excellent fertilizer for the garden and the only reason you’ll EVER find me up to my elbows in poop–I harbored some treacherous thoughts.  Dispatch came to mind, as did fishing.  With my worms.  Meaning no more plant food.  How did I get to this awful spot?  Well now, the beginning is always a good place to start.

For my birthday I received a worm bin. Now, you can imagine the excitement when I first laid eyes on this contraption.  Showed up on my doorstep complete with live worms.  Well heavens to hillsides, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!  A worm bin–woohoo!  Alert the media, share with the bloggers–we’ve got worms!  Immediately I set out to work getting it set up and my wiggly babies settled into their new home. 

Over the next couple of months, I fed them, watered them and generally fussed over these gorgeous little pumpkins of mine all the while knowing that if I treated them well, they’d treat me well and poop up a storm!  Well, poop they did.  And pee.  Sorry to be so graphic, but this is “nature” talk–totally okay for the kids. (Better than some of the stuff I’ve overheard on the playground, let me tell you!). 

Any-hoo, we were off to a good start until I realized my worms weren’t migrating upward as they should.  In the instructions, it was quite clear:  continue to add bins and fresh food and the worms will migrate up, leaving their poop down below and easy to “harvest.”  Read:  scoop out and allow to dry before storing. 

Hmph.  False advertising, if you ask me.  These worms were having no such thing!  They were swimming in the bottom bin full of their own “you-know-what” and leaving me no choice but to pluck them out one by one–if I wanted the black gold they had so kindly produced.

Have you ever tried to pluck a worm from slimy goop?  It’s not pretty.  And it’s stinky.  I’ll be honest with you.  I was wholly prepared to call my son and allow him to “harvest” some of the worms to use as fishing bait.  In fact, I was fantasizing about doing so myself.  Pretty mean with a pole, I know I could catch some real beauties with these red wrigglers (that is what they’re for, other than pooping).  Oh yes–it’s true.  In the midst of the nasty mess, I was prepared to quit.  And I hate to quit.  But this worm bin was proving a challenge and beyond my gardening limits.

But I didn’t quit.  Not yet, anyway.  I can still be trusted with the worms well being, keeping them active and fruitful. 

Whether it was that half-gallon bag of poop I secured or the mere fact I didn’t want this project to get the best of me, I still have worms and I still have a bin.  Though come to think of it, they might do wonders for my compost pile… 

Anyone else thinking relocation?  Sure would solve the aggravation factor. 

But not the fertilization one.  For now, I’ll keep my bin, but with this heat, I can’t guarantee for how long. Stay tuned!  Better yet–give me some positive reinforcement and helpful suggestions and I may not sneak out for a quick fishing trip. 🙂  Maybe.

 

Creative Containers

Container gardening is a must for some gardeners.  Whether it be they have no space or no time to garden, containers are the perfect solution to manage their gumption to garden. 

But with so many to choose from, where does one begin? 

With the cutest ones! 🙂  The most creative ones.  The planters that will add style and pizzazz to your patio or home AND serve a function.

From traditional terra-cotta to 21st century state-of-the-art composter bins/planters, you will be amazed by the variety and selection available.  For some of my favorites, check out this month’s Prize Picks section — and be sure to add some of your favorites to the comment list!

Garden Gals Share the Adventure!

What an inspiration these gals are, what with their fabulous green gardens and baskets of veggies–and you should see their thumbs.  They’re totally green!  After watching Ashley’s glorious experience in the garden, her father decided to start a garden of his own.  Isn’t that great

Me?  I LOVE sharing the adventure.  It’s too easy not to and brings such joy to those who partake, how can I not?  Remember:  Ashley’s already planning on adding another planter box for next season!

Back from vacation, Julie was momentarily distracted by the beach…and Fourth of July celebrations…but don’t think for a second she isn’t back in action!  Yes, there were casualties.  She lost most of her squash and zucchini while she was cavorting and carrying on, though this fella seems quite determined to stick it out.

Go zucchini, go!  And her tomatoes are holding on, sprouting as though she were never gone.  Didn’t I tell you Mother Nature will make allowances for the gardener with all the exuberance and none of the time (or talent, for some of us :))?  You bet she will and these ruby reds are proof positive!  

Now I will be honest with you.  When I photographed this melon, I thought he was doomed.  A goner.  Small and covered in green, I thought for sure he’d been overcome by a mold of some sort.  But alas, it’s not the case!  This is a special breed of melon (one I’m not familiar with which is no big stretch–I’m as green as they come and sometimes that pertains to know how).  Good thing I’m an eager student!

It’s called a Sugar Baby melon and it’s supposed to look like this.  Whew!  (Almost fainted when I saw her reach in and pick it up bare-handed.)  Gardening can get gross.  Exhilarating, but gross.

Her herbs are loving life.  In Florida these will thrive without full sun.  Actually, from what I’ve seen, full summer sun is NOT an herb’s friend.  No, ma’am.  My basil is not nearly as plump and luscious as Julie’s.  Though hers could use a pinch. 

Nearby, her cilantro has grown wild and wooly and is now flowering, soon to produce coriander seeds.

Did you know that cilantro and coriander stem from the same plant?  They do!  First you’ll harvest the flat wide leaves of cilantro–perfect for any salsa–and then you’ll wait and watch as they produce pretty white flowers which will then produce seeds.  Once the seeds turn brown, you’ll have yourself a fresh supply of coriander for the kitchen.  Doesn’t that sound delightful?

More than delightful, it’s YUM.  This gardening thing is so rewarding.  From basket to belly we gardeners really do live the sweet life.

Share Your Photos!

With the holiday behind us, the BBQ cooled, the waves not forgotten, it’s time to get back in the garden! 

Oh, you were in the garden the whole time?  Weeding and pruning, mulching and feeding?

Hm, yes, well–good for you!  And your gorgeous bounty will be proof positive of your dedication and devotion to your greens!  And Bloominthyme would love to see them and share them.  All you have to do is post them on your Facebook account and tag “BloominThyme” in the photo.  That way we can see each and every one and post to our heart’s content! If you haven’t visited us on facebook, be sure to check us out at http://www.facebook.com/bloominthyme  Hit the “like” button at the top of the page and be entered to win the cutest seed packet holders and custom seed packets!  (Photos can be viewed on our facebook page.)

No facebook account?  No problem!  Jus send your photos to gardenfrisk@bloominthyme.com and we’ll be sure to get them up!

Sharing is caring, right?  Oh wait–I think that’s the old sing-song motto from my daughter’s old Care Bears movies.  Never mind

But do share.