Hello Spring!

With spring upon us (well, some of us :)), it’s time to finalize your garden plans.  By being prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for your first day of planting.   While this day varies from region to region based on frost dates, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities. 

But why wait?  You can start many of your seeds indoors and get a jump-start on the season!  Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds.  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!

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!  For serious techies, try this nifty program for planning your garden.  Really cool.

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.  If your worms have been busy, be sure to harvest their castings ahead of time, giving the “worm poop” plenty of time to dry before use.  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.

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!

Sharing Seeds

One of my favorite aspects about gardening is sharing…sharing tips, tricks, harvest and of course, seeds–the magic beginning to that next great crop. As a self-sustaining gardener, saving seeds is the name of the game. No more trips to the seed store, we grow our own, harvest our own and start the process anew—all on our own. Wonderful, isn’t it?

But from time to time you come across a fellow gardener doing something awesome and you find you find yourself filled with green. Not the jealous kind or green, or the envious kind. (Well, a little, maybe. I mean, after all, one gander at their growth and you want it for your own!) I’m mostly talking the curious green-thumb kind of green.

“Hey, what’s that you’re growing? How did you do it?” More

Love in the Garden…

***Reposting the ever-popular “If your man were a plant” for your Valentine’s weekend!***

Have you ever wondered about the similarities between plants and men?  Probably not!  Most sane people don’t.  But me, when I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time in my garden—maybe too much—and my thoughts?  Well, they naturally veer in that direction and I realized men and plants have much in common!

Ever wonder, if your man were a plant, which would he be?  Just for fun, I’ve listed a few.

Corn – Tall and slender with silken hair, this man provides well and yields a harvest of golden treasure.  While pleasing to look at, beware:  he also tends to be needy; easily blown over by the slightest of breezes—not the man for you hardier types!

Peanut - This good ole boy is made of solid stuff, on the inside and the outside, not to mention he’s filled with sweet old-fashioned appeal.  For most ladies, it’s a tough combination to resist.  Add the fact the kids love him and you’ve got yourself a marrying man!

Watermelon – This well-rounded fun-loving guy is always welcome at a summer barbecue and usually proves a big hit with the kids.  Prone to balding, his colorful personality distracts one from notice.  However, take heed.  If left to his own device, this one can grow wild and get quite out of hand!

Garlic – This fellow is somewhat distant, as he spends long periods of time out of sight, only to emerge when conditions improve.  Strong and distinct, he’s not for everyone, but given the right environment, he can show great depth, even mellow his pungent tone with time.  A worthy peer, indeed.

Okra – Strong, of firm build, this one likes it hot and enjoys it spicy—very at home in the Big Easy, too.  Generally speaking, he blends well with others, can plant himself anywhere, but caution:  he can be seedy, even a bit slimy at times. More

Easy Grow Wheatgrass

I’ve been wanting to grow wheatgrass but wasn’t sure where to start. With a pretty busy schedule and no idea what the process involved, I was a little hesitant to take on a new project. But after reading a few articles on the amazing healing powers of wheatgrass juice, I must admit, I was intrigued. As a fan of holistic healing solutions, this juice seemed too good to be true. Story after story extolled the benefits of drinking the stuff and I knew I had to try it. I’m curious that way. :)

I was completely sold when a few locals began growing wheatgrass. I thought: here’s my chance to get a personal tutorial and tutorial I received. This video was made by a local fellow working with World Wellness. It explains everything, shows everything, as well as offering a handout which I’ve included below for your convenience. I’ve also added a few personal notes for further clarification.

I purchased my seeds from GotSprouts and soaked them as directed. Sunflowers float, wheatgrass sink. More

Winter in the Garden

I realize that “winter” is a relative term when it comes to Florida, but we really are experiencing some cold weather this month. It’s been in the 30s…!!! Brrrrrrr. Thank goodness there’s no negative sign before that number. I think my face would fall off! Instead, it’s seasonably cold, just enough to give us a taste of winter.

A taste my cabbage plants are loving. They thrive in brisk, sunny temps.

cabbage is happy

Peppers normally don’t, yet strangely, I haven’t lost them. I didn’t bother to cover them, deciding on a minimalist approach this year yet look at them. They’re fine! Sort of. More

Pulling Your Hair Out?

Stop. If you’re like me, you’re losing it at an alarming rate. I don’t know if mid-life has caught up with me or the hormones are on the attack but my hair is thinning and I’m none too happy about it! I have every intention of living until I’m 92 and I don’t plan to be a bald-headed old woman. feisty, yes. Bald, no.

woman pulling hair out_XSmall

But wait–there’s good news! I think I might have stumbled upon the secret weapon against hair loss. In response to an aging lower back, I’ve had to focus on “anti-inflammatory” living. I eat anti-inflammatory foods, I exercise, stretch daily to keep my muscles loose and limber, take warm baths to keep the blood flowing…and in my quest, I discovered the omega-3. Now some of you are way ahead of me, consuming these babies by the wagon-load. They’re great for overall health and well-being, but hair growth?

Seriously, I wish someone would have mentioned this sooner. It’s never good when you gaze into the mirror and can see your scalp. It’s disheartening. But alas, no more! Ever since I’ve been eating a daily dose of flax-seed and chia with my oatmeal, my hair is thick and full!  Okay, that might be a stretch. Blame it on the excitement factor, but my hair is noticeably improving, from new clumps around my face to an overall “I can’t see my scalp anymore” fullness. It’s wonderful. Rejuvenating. This stuff is worth eating if for no other reason than hair growth. Not particularly tasty, but definitely worthwhile.

Thinning hair? Eat flax-seed. 2 TBSP a day is all you need, I split mine 1/2 flax and 1/2 chia. Add it to oatmeal, yogurt, fruit smoothies, whatever. It works. Besides, what have you got to lose? Other than more hair, that is. :(

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Even here in Florida making gardening a much less delightful propsect. Shivering between the rows is not this Floridian’s idea of fun, no matter how excited I am by the gorgeous cabbage heads forming before my very eyes. It’s cold. Cold is for snow, not gardens. Call me “The Wimpy Gardener” but I prefer sunshine and tepid breeze when I’m outside digging in the dirt. However, there is one upside to this frigid month of January ~ the seed catalogs are arriving!

seed shopping

Woo-hoo! Talk about the perfect “pick-me-up” on a frosty morning, colorful pages filled with ripe, succulent vegetables are it. Now I can start dreaming about warmer days and garden blooms with pictures to spark my imagination. (As if it needed sparking, but that’s a tale for another day).  It’s time to order those seeds for a head start on your spring planting. I don’t know about you, but I like to get my tomatoes sprouting in trays before I put them in the ground. Not only does it give them a jump on the season but it allows me to avoid harvesting in the heat of May/June. Get in early, get out early, that’s my motto. Remember: summer is for vacations.

So grab those catalogs and a warm mug of coffee, find a place by the toasty fire and peruse to your heart’s content.  You won’t believe the stuff they’re growing these days, from a rainbow of cauliflower to purple and blue “green” beans, I’m amazed–and thrilled! Santa brought me a new juicer this year, so in addition to my usual cabbage juice and carrot smoothies, I’m going to try wheatgrass. It’s been popping up in my world of late, which I take as a sign: Grow Wheatgrass. From what I understand, this stuff will cure what ails you, especially when combined with a healthy “raw diet” approach to eating.

I’m in. I’ve already begun my 2 week “detox” from most things sugar. Time to get serious with most things green. You in? ‘Cause you know I’m going to show you “how-to” do it every step of the way!!

Let’s get this 2014 party started!

Kale Chips Made Easy

Here in Florida the weather is cooling, providing the perfect conditions for growing kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach…all the yummy, dark leafy greens. And with these dark leafy greens come with numerous health benefits. Rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, you certainly want these guys in your belly.

And homemade kale chips make for a healthy snack that will delight the taste buds! Not only healthy and packed with vitamins, these kale chips are versatile and wonderfully easy to make. Simply clip the kale leaves from the garden, clean off the dirt and arrange on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper–a little garlic powder–and voilá!

kale chips roasting

kale chips roasting

My kale chips might look a bit dead and brown, but that’s only because I went heavy on the olive oil and it soaked through.

kale chips in the oven

roasted kale chips

It didn’t affect the taste in a negative way. Quite the contrary. I loved them! And if you don’t want to eat them straight from the dish, toss or crumble into your salad. Definitely worth a try! And think of how healthy you’ll feel about it.

Harvesting Sweets for Thanksgiving!

Oh, what a fabulous day when the sweet potatoes are ready! Now mind you, we could have harvested these babies a few weeks back, but it’s oh-so-much more fun to harvest them in time for the holidays. Sweet potatoes are a staple on our Thanksgiving table. Actually, in our house these potatoes make a year round appearance because not only are they delicious, they’re healthy.

Wonderful! We do love healthy. But now is the time when sweet potatoes are actually “in season” in Central Florida. So, with this in mind, we scooped away the dirt and voilá ~ potatoes!

Kids LOVE this part. Harvesting potatoes is commonly referred to as “swimming” for potatoes and once you let that cat out of the bag, the kids come running. Really puts a nick in my child’s playover when their friends want to garden (ugh-moan) instead of kick the soccer ball around. But gardening is that much fun.

Now, when digging for these guys, one must be careful. An aggressive scrape from your shovel WILL leave a mark on that potato you don’t see until you hit it. Gashes detract from your potato’s storage ability so do be aware.

swimming for sweet potatoes

Best tactic is to don the gloves and get to fingering your way through the dirt.  Most potatoes will be collected under the main root system, however, don’t be surprised if you find potatoes on extended vines several feet away. In our case, we actually found some beneath my lovely black-papered walkways!

our school harvest sweet treats

It’s an adventure. Anyhoo, once you’ve gathered a basket full, gently rinse the dirt from their bodies and set in a cool, dry place to store. Anxious to cook them? Thought you would be. Why not try this Deep Dish Casserole? It has an orange twist to it and is absolutely divine on the tastebuds.  Sweet Potato French Fries are also delightful and of course, Sweet Potato Pie proves a huge hit with everyone. No matter how you slice these golden girls you’ll be pleased with the outcome. And remember, sweet potatoes are healthy. Loaded with vitamins A and C, these are superfoods when it comes to anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory power. Enjoy!

Lettuce for Lunch, Anyone?

It’s my staple foodstuff for the midday meal. I eat a salad every day, varying the additions to my bowl of lettuce. Some days it’s avocado, chickpeas and feta or goat cheese. Other days I’ll add a can of wild caught salmon and strawberries. Most days it includes spinach, and always olive oil and balsamic–glaze or vinegar. Add a little pepper and you have a feast!

fresh lettuce

Really, if you add the right ingredients, you can get FULL on your salad. And for those of you in the warmer climates, NOW is the time to eat lettuce fresh from the garden. Here in Central Florida it’s simply too hot for this tender-leafed veggie to grow. You can grow it on your patio, but I tend to have a problem with plants that rely on ME for their water. A timed sprinkler system? No problem. Me and my memory and schedule? No way. I’d starve if I had to live off a patio garden.

 arugula bed

Unless of course, I went with hydroponics. Now that’s a self-watering, self-nourishing kind of system if I’ve ever seen one. And it might be exactly what my northern friends need to continue consuming their fresh greens. You can grow your greens in towers like these or in bins. Your choice. But either way, it’s worth taking a look-see.

 salad-wall

But I digress. For Southern gardeners, now is the time to grow your lettuce and I, for one, am celebrating. Once again, no worries when it comes to growing too much. I have the PERFECT way to keep it stored and tasting fresh for days. Check this earlier post for how you can, too. Enjoy!