Food for Heart

As I age, I find I’m riddled with aches and pains. And I’m stumped. What the heck happened? I look like I’m in shape. I eat healthy. I exercise. What’s going on?

Blueberry & yogurt stock photo

My first impulse is to scream and whine and jump up and down, screeching “This isn’t fair! I’m too young for this!” While I might feel better afterward, my family would be peer at me quizzically whispering, “She’s done it. She’s finally gone over the edge.”

Hmph. So much for sympathy from the ones who love me.  On a positive note, it would behoove me to remember that aches and pains and old age beat the alternative. I’m alive. I’m having a good time. So what if I have to bend over and stretch every now again (careful–the lower back discs can’t take too much of it) or slowly ease my way out of bed in the morning (so I don’t pull something on the way out). Once I get warmed up, I’m good to go, ready to hit the ground running!

But with age, I feel I’m growing in wisdom. Granted this is a highly debatable subject among my inner circle but I’m going to ignore debate and share a little secret. Eating healthy is a mindset. It’s an attitude, one that seeps into your behavior and becomes your lifestyle. I never feel deprived, I never go without–eating the occasional danish helps, the surprise donut from hubby–but sometimes I find myself asking, “Can I do more?” More

Beds of Burlap

As my pumpkins grow, I want them to be comfortable. Cozy. I want them to stretch out without encumbrance. The easy solution is to keep adjacent rows clear and “open” with my handy-dandy black paper. This prevents the vines from running into other plants. Easy enough, but I’m afraid it might overheat my sweet baby pumpkins. As an alternative, I’ve planted my pumpkins in the end rows next to the grass borders, giving them plenty of room to spread. Grass is nice and comfy, right?

burlap over grass

But my grass is filled with weeds, weeds that grow tall and fast. From experience, I’ve learned the two (pumpkin vines and weeds) are incompatible because as your vines grow and the grass grows, your pumpkin leaves get overwhelmed by the mess growing up from below. You can’t mow under them. You can’t clip the weeds free. Last year at the school garden, the kids and I placed lattice beneath them which seemed to help, but I don’t have enough of the stuff for my home garden. Remember, we’re talking 100 ft. X 4o ft. That’s a lot of lattice! More

Back to School and Into the Garden!

School is back in session and it’s time to get our youngsters out of the cafeteria and into the garden–their very own school garden.

From aphids to zinnias, beets to watermelon, children can gain a wealth of valuable knowledge from participating in a garden, but they need guidance.  And who better to guide them than you?

ladybug in action!

“Me? But I don’t have time for a garden.”

Of course you do—you simply don’t realize it yet!  Gardens don’t have to be time-consuming.  Nor do they have to be stressful.  I mean, where in the garden manual does it say you must sacrifice every ounce of your free time and sanity for the sake of growing vegetables? More

Match Made in Heaven

The fall gardening season is upon us in Florida and that means I’m ready to tackle tomatoes, figuratively speaking of course. You want to be gentle with these babies, careful. Unless you’re using one of those upside down bag “thingys” and then—all bets are off. From what I understand, you can’t kill the things when growing them in those contraptions!

But I’m an in-ground gardener, doing things the old-fashioned way. Now that it’s time to start my tomato sprouts it’s time to share a little secret, the secret to beautiful, healthy, blossom-end rot free tomatoes.  Epsom salts and eggshells.  Yep, just mix some crumbled eggshells together and Epsom salts into your potting mix and you’re good to go!

secrets to our tomatoes

This disease is the result of a lack of calcium.  Calcium’s most important function during the crop fruiting stage is its role in cell wall/cell membrane stability.  If Ca is deficient in developing fruits, an irreversible condition known as blossom-end rot will develop. Blossom-end rot occurs when cell wall calcium “concrete” is deficient during early fruit development, and results in cell wall membrane collapse and the appearance of dark, sunken pits at the blossom end of fruit so this blend does wonders to give your plants a head start.  The magnesium helps plants grow bigger, heartier tomatoes but go easy.  Too much Mg can cause trouble, too. More

Summer Gardening is Hot!

And I don’t mean as in “trends” (because gardening is ALWAYS in style :)) but temperature. I mean, it’s seriously hot out there, dehydration worthy heat stroke-inducing hot.  Gardening in Florida during July and August is not for the meek, the weak or those otherwise interested in vacation. Now this isn’t to say there aren’t plants that will tolerate it because there are–plenty!  Okra, peanuts and peppers love the heat. Sweet potatoes and sunflowers soak up the sun like candy, but me?

summer sunflower

Not so much. I have to admit, summer is not my favorite time in the garden. I still plant and grow, but it’s the weeds that really have me singing the blues. They’re everywhere. It rains, they cheer. It doesn’t rain, they hold tight until it does, and here in Florida, they won’t have long to wait. It’s a cycle. Reliable, predictable and important to note. Why?

It’s essential to know your limitations. I for one have decided to dial back on my summer garden. I hate to do it. It feels like I’m quitting–and I’m no quitter–but at some point you have to accept reality. Same as the aches and pains I’ve come to accept as part of the aging process, the temperature outdoors this time of year is plain too hot for me to enjoy the process. Sure I could wake up and head out early to beat the heat, but that would interfere with my coffee time. Course I could always wait until dusk, but the kids tend to get hungry around then and I’m on dinner duty. More

Summertime in the Garden

Summer is not the time to be gardening. Not in Florida, anyway. It’s the time for vacations with the kids, days at the beach, the lake, a friend’s house. Summer is too hot for gardening in Florida. Pretty much too hot for anything but water fun! However, I’m a year-round gardener which means there’s ALWAYS something growing in my backyard. And I’m not talking grass, I’m talking edible. :=)

Sweet potatoes love the warm weather and grow all summer long to deliver a bounty of golden goodness come fall. These babies are sprawling into the beds on either side where I have dutifully made room for them.

sweet potatoes in bloom Okra is another plant that loves it sunny and hot and as you know, this year I’m playing around with a new variety! Red Okra, of the “Billy Bob” variety (the name still makes me smile.

 red okra

My Valencia peanuts are thriving, burrowing away so that we may have peanuts to boil come football season. You have tried my Southern Boiled Peanuts recipe, haven’t you? More

Red Okra?

Who’d a thunk it? It’s pretty neat, though, don’t you think?

row of red okra

We went out to clip our standard fare green okra (Clemson Spineless) this morning and lo and behold, our red variety have been sprouting up a storm! (Yes, you caught me. I’ve missed a few days of visits.) It’s a Billy Bob variety (and no, I’m not kidding) that apparently thrives in our warm Florida climate.

clemson spineless okra

Gazing at these ruby beauties up close and personal, you know the first thing my son and I had to do was taste them.

red okra

Guess what? They taste the same! Can’t wait to see if they cook they same.  :)

Got Onions?

And lots of them? Well, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering where and how you’re going to store them all. You see, my local seed store sells these sweets in bundles of 100. While it’s fun to plant 100 bulbs and harvest fresh sweet onions for your dining pleasure, 100 onions coming to maturity at one time is a lot. Once more, I planted the excess bulbs from our school garden, driving my total up to near 150.

“Hey, Trip–want some onions?”

“Sure.”  The neighbor friend grins and heads on over to pull a dozen for himself which leaves me with 138. 

A few nights of French onion soup will swallow up another dozen, a carmelized onion tart, sautéed onions for the burgers…an open invitation to the neighbors to pull to their heart’s content and well, I’ve only just broken the 100 point. Staring at my beauties resting quietly in their beds, I’m wondering, Who else would like some fresh onions?

my sweet onions

Gardeners do love to share but we don’t like to waste. So while sitting in my chiropractor’s office waiting for him to twist my back into shape, I got to talking with another patient and lo and behold, a fellow gardener! We do frequent the same places, don’t we? After a while, conversation drifted toward our abundance of harvest and upon learning of my onion dilemma, he shared an onion storage tip with me.  (You’re going to love this one!)  More

Peantus Dropping Pegs

As your peanut plants grow, it’s a good practice to till the soil around them. Once they blossom, the petals will fall off and the plant will drop “pegs” down into the loose soil around the plant–key word: LOOSE. The peg is a narrow root like branch that makes up the flower stem and peanut embryo. Once it buries itself in the soil, the new peanuts will form.

add compost to peanut plants

But if the soil is too compacted–as is the case with ours due to recent heavy rains–you’ll want to lightly till around your plants. Peanuts grow underground and the softer the soil, the more easily they’ll grow. And you want to make it easy for them to grow, don’t you?

peanuts like soft soil

Of  course you do! I also amended my peanut bed with compost to ensure they receive adequate nourishment throughout their growing season. We’ll talk more about that when the time comes. (The plants above are showing the first signs of yellow blooms which means the pegs won’t be far behind!) About two months after your peanut plants have bloomed, check for peanuts.

Happy Gardening!

Hot In YOUR Garden?

Great! It’s the perfect time to solarize your soil. By using nature’s heat, you can “bake” the gremlins out of your soil and prepare for the next planting season. Here in Florida, that means fall. (Yes, we’re lucky that way, reaping twice the gardening pleasure and sunshine.)

Solarizing is simple. Basically, you cover your beds with plastic paper (I’m going with heavy-duty black) and leave it in place for six weeks.  The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist.  Simple, eh?

heavy duty black paper

I do love simple.  And organic. No pesticides here! What I don’t love is doing things over and over which is what I’ve had to do in the past. Every afternoon, round about 4:00pm, the clouds would gather, the temps would fall and the winds would blow sending my paper across the yard, twirled and tangled…even hopped my neighbor’s fence once!

effective paper weights

The paper went everywhere but where it was supposed to be, so I decided to go heavy-duty and lined my rows with tiles and rebar and various other items I picked up around the garage. (Thanks, honey!) It’s not as pretty as anchoring the paper with pins, but summer winds are strong and tend to tear those puppies out. At this point in my gardening career, I’d rather have effective than pretty.  Once my beasts have been baked out of the garden, I’ll be back in business.  :)