Got Pumpkins?

Make pumpkin pie!  And yes, I’m talking about those pumpkins from your front porch step.  In our effort to become less “environmentally wasteful,” the kids and I carved out our pumpkins, tossed the stringy mess into the compost pile, saved the seeds for roasting and/or next year’s crop and commenced to cookin!  We found this great recipe online from www.pickyourown.org and it worked like a charm.  And it’s a heck of a lot easier than I would have imagined!

pumpkin pies

Once you completely carve the pumpkin, you cook it.  We steamed ours stove top, but they have instructions for microwave and oven, too.  Because we didn’t have a steamer big enough, I put a metal colander inside one of my biggest pots, cut the pumpkin into large pieces, then covered it with tin foil.  Twenty minutes later – cooked, squishy pumpkin!  It peels off the skin with little or no effort, then you place it into a big mixing bowl and add sugar (we used organic, purchased from our grocer), spices, evaporated milk and eggs.  The recipe is enough for two pies, unless they’re both deep dish. 

Tip: use a hand blender or mixer.  We didn’t, and ended up with cooked egg whites “floating” in our pies.  While it didn’t affect the taste, it did detract from the appearance so be forewarned — in case you’re gifting your pies.   We did cut corners a bit and used the store-bought prepared pie pastry, covering the edges with foil so they didn’t burn, which means we can’t officially say it’s from scratch – but pretty close.  And really, shouldn’t we let those who have perfected the business of pastry get credit?  (But if you’re a die hard scratch cook, go for it.)  We then placed them in the oven for about an hour and they were delicious!  Check my recipe page for full details.

As to next year’s crop, keep in mind you’ll have to plant in June if you want pumpkins by Halloween, as it takes 3-4 months to reach maturity, and beware the rainy season.  Pumpkins are susceptible to fungus and mold.  For more details on growing pumpkins in Florida, go to UF’s solutions for your life.  It’s a wonderful resource for real life gardening.

Superwoman lands in the garden!

The other day, my daughter and I were working a row of weeds.  Actually several rows, but since I promised her we’d only tackle one row a day — the trick to securing her continued return — I was doing the bulk of the weeding.  Which I don’t mind.  Surrounded by sprouts and vegetables in varying stages of growth, I feel productive.  And all the better: I’m not folding clothes.  So life is good!

It was a warm, but beautiful day when she rose from her aisle of hay and exclaimed, “All done!” 

The relief on her face was too funny – and predictable – and I couldn’t help but tease, “Already?  Wow.”  I surveyed her handiwork.  “You’re amazing.  How about another?”

Mom,” she replied sternly, slapping a dirt-covered hand to her hip.  “You promised.  Only one row.”

“I know, I know.”  I chuckled.  “It was worth a try.”  Dismissed, she trotted off to find her brother.

 Only to return an hour later.  Kneeling down in the row beside me, she began to pick at weeds.  I glanced at her, surprised.  “What are you doing?  I thought you were finished weeding.”

“I am,” she reassured.  “But I’m bored, so I thought I’d come help.”

I sat back on my heels.  “You’re always welcome to help.  In fact,” I added, “I like being in the garden with you, just us girls.”

This drew a smile from her, but she maintained focus on her task.  I resumed my leaf pluck expedition down a line of eggplant, and together we worked in silence.

Until she murmured, “Mom, you are Superwoman.”

My heart sung!  My spirit soared!  “Superwoman?”  I tried to conceal my glee. I mean — could it be trueShe finally noticed?

She nodded.

Warmed by the sentiment, I smiled, flattered she noticed.  It’s because I’ve devoted my life to you, isn’t it?  I’ve signed on to be Girl Scout leader, always offer to be school volunteer, I’m ever the reliable athletics chaperone…  

Basking in the glow of my daughter’s admiration, my imagination flittered about, enthralled with a sense of validation, honor, and the glorious reward for my years of dedication.  I lost all sense of good judgment and replied, “That’s so sweet.  But you know, baby doll, I’m not Superwoman.”  I didn’t want her to invest any time in unrealistic goals and expectations for herself, her future, so I told her, “I’m just a woman, doing what she loves.”

Her expression twisted in confusion.  “You love weeding?”

I pulled back.  “Weeding?”  Now we were both confused.  “No…”  My hands fell to my sides, and landed in dirt.  “I was referring to your Superwoman comment.”

“Oh.”

“Why did you say I was Superwoman?” I asked, but could feel the hoe slicing through the air, its blade headed straight for me. 

“Cause you have endurance!  I don’t know any mom who could weed as much as you!”

Ouch.  Bubble-filled fantasies popped.  My ego deflated.  Humidity clung to my skin like a wet noodle.  There’s a kick in the rear.

But as those innocent green eyes held me in their gaze, I knew I couldn’t be upset.  I had to take her at her word — the one she meant to be a compliment.  And while it may not have been the one I had hoped, it was her own, and wholly genuine.  Heartfelt. 

It doesn’t get any better than that.

mother-daughter love

Rising from my knees, I walked over and placed a kiss on the top of her head.  “Thank you, baby.  I appreciate that, and it was kind of you to say.”

She beamed, pleased with herself.  I grinned, heartened by her self-contentment.  Both of us were satisfied with the moment, the kind which may prove scarce as she grows into adolescence. 

So me, I took my lump of sugar when and where I could — as any smart mother would.  One never knows when the next batch will arrive!

Don’t let this happen to you

It’s called lack of planning.  Well, not lack of planning because let me tell you, my garden was planned.   I’ve got it laid out on an excel spreadsheet, color-coded, special needs listed, including next season’s layout accounting for crop rotations!  So planning is NOT the issue.  Poor planning is the issue and as much as it pains me to admit that, it’s true.  Despite my earnest at the keyboard with The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible and my regional seeding and planting data at my fingertips, I failed to account for watering needs.  Sad, but true.

I was too focused on companion planting, making sure friends were near one another and adversaries were not.  It never occurred to me to check their watering schedule!  I mean, don’t all plants need water?  My spring garden was irrigated evenly and all plants were happy.  Why, people would always comment how wonderful our garden was growing.  I replied, it’s the water and fertilizer — simple!

No, not really.  Garlic and onions are friends.  Says so in all the books.  But one needs moderate water and one needs low.  I ask you, How good of companions can they be, if they don’t have the basics in common?  Well, that’s beside the point.  Much of life is accepting what is, even if that means accepting your own shortcomings.  Fine.  The world is still turning.  And I’m resourceful, if I’m anything and I’ll fix what I’ve done!  Yes!  Rain coats!  By jove, I think you’ve got it!

"rain" coats

Nope.  Not so good.  The water collects on one end and washes out the beautiful raised bed below.  Sure, this can be fixed by stretching it out further on that end (though garbage bags only come in so many sizes).  But then another issue presents itself.  Not enough water.  Yep.  You heard me right.  So I’ve removed the plastic and am contemplating a “sprinkler move.”  I’ll have to set up two zones, then do my best to account for all of the “friends” residing therein.

But there’s another problem.  I didn’t check harvest dates.  So here I have this beautiful stagger – onion, garlic, onion, garlic – only to become annoyed when I realized the garlic would be in ground until spring!  Oh, the onions will be out in a matter of months, but not so, the garlic.  And this undermines weed control.  Remember, my garden is planned.  It’s so planned, it includes following the line of harvested vegetables with a black, plastic ground cover to keep weeds from taking over while I’m waiting for spring planting.  A fabulous idea, right? 

Until you visualize a half-harvested row.  Every other section will still be gone but every other will be in ground, which means NO cover.  GruntGrimace. Growl.  What was I thinking?  Why wasn’t I thinking! 

Looking on the bright side, as one can only do when faced with such dilemma, is to imagine the “quilt-like patchwork” appearance I’ll have.  It’ll be my very own old-fashioned section that will conjure up lovely images.  At least the hideous plastic is gone.

Lookee who I found in the compost pile!

My neighbor warned this might happen.  I’ve been so busy tossing everything into my compost pile, planning for my next growing season, I didn’t pay attention to what was growing in it this season.  A tomato plant!  I knew right away what it was, because there’s one thing about tomato plants and that is – they are aromatic.  I’m no “olfactologist,” but I can tell a tomato plant when I smell one – it’s a distinct fragrance.  

survivor!

And I’m excited!  Another experiment in the making – woohoo!  But due to the fact that I yanked the thing out of my compost pile like the intrusive weed that I mistook it for, my expectations are somewhat dimmed.  Tomato plants are not known for their transplanting capability.  And while I have a few in my garden disproving that notion, this one might not survive, as its roots were fairly ripped.  And torn.  (I can be fairly aggressive when there’s work to be done.)

But looking on the bright side of the compost pile, it might just be the stimulation this little guy needs to get busy and get growing.  It’s already day two, and he hasn’t shown signs of stress, yet!  Give him time, my husband says.  Give him time

Black turtle? But I thought we were talking beans!

We are!  Black beans!  And lots of them!

What a great day it is when you stroll out to your garden and discover your black beans are producing at the rate of rabbits!  Forget your first batch acted like turtles and moped around at a snail’s pace.  Forget your disappointment when you learned the hard way to thoroughly dry a bean before you go tossing it into the pot (hint: don’t shell them, immediately seal them in an airtight plastic container, shelve them in a dark spot in your pantry and expect to eat them – trust me, it only leads to heartache). 

Why, forget the past.  It’s a new day and a new harvest!  So get your fingers peeling and your salsa shaking ’cause it’s time to dance!  Really, black beans are an awesome bean to grow.  Granted, they’re not the first that comes to mind when planting a garden in Central Florida, but I ask, why not?  We have the perfect climate.  I mean, when you think of black beans, you think of Cuba, right?  Puerto Rico, Miami, South America…all warm and sunny exotic locales, just like my home here in rural Central Florida.  As a big fan of latin cuisine myself, I thought back to my first rule of gardening:  what do I want to grow?  What do I want to eat, is the real question!  And me, I love black beans!black bean and blossom

In learning to grow these beauties, I learned a few interesting things.  First and foremost, when you endure the labor to deliver these babes, make sure you know what to do – and what not to do – once you get them home.  Peel them, admire them, place them in a comfortable container, but don’t go and seal it all safe and secure.  Not unless you want to come home one day, carried away with dreams of how you’ll prepare your first batch of homegrown black beans, only to discover they’re covered in mold!  Or fungus.  Not properly schooled in the differences between these two horrific intruders, I couldn’t tell you which smothered the life out of my beans, but one of them did.  And it was devastating.  Explain that to your six-year-old when he learns of your debacle.  And it’s the only bean he’ll eat.  Yep.  Pulled my hair out on that one.

So take it from me – let them air out a while.  Like a fine bottle of red wine, let them breathe.  Place them on a plate, an open bowl, maybe in a paper bag, but whatever you do, don’t seal off their air supply because when first peeled, these beans are moist and apparently stay moist for quite some time.  How long, I couldn’t tell you.  Not yet, anyway.  This new batch is only my second, so I’m guarding them with my life.  Though…the fact they are my second batch is good news, indeed.  Better, when you learn the plants which produced these gems, grew from beans I was able to salvage from my initial harvest.  A step toward sustainability – achieved!

And it’s not a difficult process, at all.  If you can grow a pole bean, you can grow black beans.  (Sorry Arctic Amigos, but you’ll have to barter with your friends south of the border – these pups are sensitive to frost)  You’ll note the pods look fairly similar, with long slender bodies, rounded in all the right places, but unlike pole beans, it’s easy to know when to pick them.  They change color.   Handy, isn’t it?  First, they take on a nice lavender shade, an early sign you can pluck away, but if you miss this stage, don’t fret, you can still harvest them, only they’ll be a bit on the dry side when you open them.  And who cares?  These beans are meant to be dried.  So what if they take the initiative and begin the process on the vine?

blk beans ready

Word to the wise:  don’t eat them as you pick them.  I know you’re excited about your first harvest – they’re black beans, for goodness sake!  But another fascinating fact I learned along the way was that these beans contain – get ready – contain lectin phytohaemagglutinin.   It’s a toxic compound found in beans, most concentrated in the kidney bean.  When eaten raw, soaked for an insufficient amount of time, or even cooked for long hours on too low a heat setting, it can cause some bad things to happen to your body.   When I researched black beans, the same warning popped up for them, which alarmed me, because I’m that gal in the garden, poppin the produce in my mouth BEFORE it makes it to the kitchen sink.  Remember – my veggies are grown without the assistance of dangerous pesticides so I’m not real worried about ingesting nasty chemicals and the like (who knew the bean itself could be the problem?!).  So take heed, stay on the safe side while crouched in your bean rows — make sure you soak, soak, boil, boil and then eat.   And enjoy! 

Check out my recipe pages for serving suggestions.

How sweet it is!

green pepper harvest

Sweet bell peppers, to be exact.  After a few days of rain my green peppers have burgeoned!  They’re so big, they actually look like I purchased them from the supermarket.  Well, the organic section, anyway.  Nice, firm, medium sized.  They definitely haven’t been pumped with any growth boosters, or super duper color enhancers (if such a thing exists) which makes this bounty all the more exciting.  Because they are huge, relatively speaking.

Huge and homegrown!  Now, the question, what do I do with them?  I’ve already given a couple away to family, but I still have a bowl full.  And while I love a good salad, green peppers are not one of my favorite ingredients.  I prefer them cooked, in black bean soup, maybe a little paella…even meatloaf!  But once I get through these dishes – three nights, four bell peppers, five more back in the garden about to pop – seems to me I better get cooking, as in, trying to figure out some new and exciting ways to serve these babies up!

It’s a good thing I staggered my garden, otherwise I’d be talking fourteen instead four.  Green peppers will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but after that, they make better compost.  Any suggestions?  I’m all ears.

An embarrassing discovery

lima-pole beanActually, I prefer the word to call it startling, or surprising.  I mean, I am a novice gardener, not some master expert.  I do have other obligations on my daily plate of duties.  It was easy to miss.

Miss what, you wonder?  Give me a minute.  That actually is a knot of embarrassment lodged firmly in my throat.  Okay.  I’m good.  My pole beans.  My beautiful, wonderfully healthy pole beans…  Well, turns out they’re not pole beans after all.  They’re limas.  Yep.   There I was, admiring my beautifully plump bean plants, nestled snugly together beneath the precisely strung twine, when I noticed the pretty white blossom.  My curiosity perked.  Pretty white blossom, which looked oh-so-familiar, white blossom?

Upon closer inspection, I spotted the imposters.  No wonder there hadn’t been the usual “lace and race” upward…the one I had been waiting for.  How did I know I was dealing with an imposter?  Warmed at the thought, my heart swells with pride.  Because I’m an avid gardener.  I know what pole beans look like and they’re not flat, wide pods.  No, ma’am.  Those are limas.  So what are they doing beneath my pole strings?

Good question.  I could claim distraction.  Anyone who knows me would buy it in a second.  A die hard multi-tasker mother of two, master of none — I’m a shoo in for the distraction defense.  But that would be too easy.  Third party interference?  Not likely.  The kids enjoy planting, but they do so only under the strictest of supervision.  Okay, that’s not exactly true, either, but in my defense, the two beans in question do look a lot alike.  They’re both white, roughly oval shaped.  The non-descript packages doled out by my local seed store are near identical.  It is unseasonably warm right now, which tends to encourage swift and efficient action in the garden.  It could happen to anyone.

Fine.  Maybe not anyone, but it could happen.  Eh-hem.  Did happen.  But stranger things have happened!

“Confused?” she asks, savoring a private smile. 

Told you I was good at distraction.  I’m also good at looking on the bright side.  So I have more lima beans.  Wonderful.  I love lima beans! And do you know how many plants it takes to produce enough servings for a family of four for one dinner?  A lot more than I imagined.  So the truth is, this mistake – I mean, misplacement – is a blessing in disguise.  Really.  And anyway, those old vines withering on the string from my spring crop…they still have a bit of “bio-degrading” left to go, before fresh new vines can shoot up with the unencumbered freedom they deserve.  Besides, I’ve staggered my plantings so the sprouts behind them, well, I’m sure those are pole beans, though it’s kinda hard to tell at this stage.  And if not, I have stakes — and lots of them.  I’ll simply take my pole beans elsewhere.  Where they’re welcome. 

And where I can remember where the heck I planted them!

The ugly side of going green

cropped-img_13672.jpg

I live in a semi-rural neighborhood.  I have lovely neighbors with lovely lawns.  So lovely in fact, with their lush green lawn, perfectly trimmed hedges, and aromatic roses, it can be a pinch of harsh reality when I turn toward my yard, a veritable field of sand and weeds.  My spirits dip.  A field full.  I remind myself it takes time and effort to have a lawn so lovely.  Effort, which flows through my every pore, yet is rendered meaningless without the ever evasive “time.”  Evasive, when you consider my schedule.   What the kids haven’t devoured, and chores haven’t swamped, the garden swallows up anything left!  If only I could transfer some of the energy wasted on the “busy thought” usurping my sleeping hours…

You may think it’s best I avoid looking over the fence, but with chain link, you can see right through.  It’s still over there, beckoning my envy with its pristine perfection.  Taunting, really, if I allow myself to succumb to my more base instincts.  After all, walking from the house to the garden through a sticker-filled mess of weeds is no picnic.  And the ants.  Down right vicious little beasts.  But the vegetables won’t wait, and ants and weeds aside, I must get to it. 

One pleasant afternoon, my next door neighbor strolled over.  Taking a break from my weeding, I rose to meet her at the fence for an impromtu visit.  She asked about the family and how the kids were faring.   She glanced over my rows of dirt, politely overlooking the fact that some weren’t perfectly straight.  We discussed the veggies I’ve planted, which ones are blooming and which ones have not.  And as we talk over the fence, my knees covered in dirt, she fresh and lovely, I’m reminded of why we originally chose my side of the fence to place our garden; the one we had intended to share, until life stepped in the way.  

Truth of the matter, she had once tried a garden on her side of the fence.  My gaze wandered to the spot, not twenty feet from where we stood.  Like my yard, there was plenty of room, her side well-irrigated.  Lingering in thought, I imagined it there, meticulous rows of healthy green plants, boasting plump red tomatoes and full husks of corn, their silks glistening beneath the soft dusk of light.  So ample and abundant, it would have made for a quite the feast.  But then it hit me —

— tried and failed.  Well, not failed, exactly, as in no blossoms and no produce.  But she had no sure fire success, either.  Despite she and her husband’s extensive knowledge on the subject of gardening, they gave up on the idea of homegrown vegetables.  Nematodes underground, bugs above it.  Bad soil, whatever.  The details mattered not.  It simply didn’t work out as they had hoped. 

So we tried it on my side.  And so far so good.  My outlook suddenly brightened.  Sure, my veggies aren’t quite as vibrant and robust as they had been during the spring, when my neighbors and I worked side by side, but they were still here. 

I breathed in the significance.  They were still here…  I glanced at my garden once more, but this time, my off-colored greens and spotted bean leaves took on a whole new light.  While they weren’t picture perfect, they were producing.  While the grass wasn’t grass, more weeds, sand and insects – it was workable.  It was more than workable.  It was working.  And yes, it took a lot of work to get here, but it was a labor of love. 

Mine. 

As my neighbor turned to go, she said quietly, “You know, your garden really is beautiful.” 

My focus stumbled.  Was that a wistful note of envy I detected in her voice?  Was it possible?  I ventured a peek toward my mix of sand, compost, rows of hay in varying stages of decay and thought, really?  She thought it beautiful?  

Tripping over my thank you, I watched her walk back to her house and thought, nah.  I was imagining things.  There was no envy there.  Why would there be?

But taking a survey of her surroundings as she strolled up the hill, listening to the screen door as it slapped closed behind her, it dawned on me…  Maybe there was.  Don’t we all, from time to time, succumb to the beast called envy?  A bit?  Albeit a tiny bit, but a bit? 

Her yard was beautiful, yes, but there was more to it than the eye could see, just as there is to everything in life.  More than the rebel weed chancing a rear of its head between thick blades of St. Augustine, more than the brave grub daring to brown her lawn…   Her lawn was lovely on the outside, but it has it’s hidden flaws.  Flaws I wouldn’t have known, had she not shared.  But this change in my perception didn’t make her yard any less beautiful.  On the contrary.  It made it more real.  As it did mine.  Granted, mine won’t make the cover of any home and garden issue, but that’s okay.  It’s beautiful, in my eyes.  Moreso, now that I’m not comparing it to hers. 

By my hand it grows, by my care it blooms.  As does my life.  I can choose to stop at the surface, or I can choose to dig deeper.  With lawns, gardens, or people.  The effort is mine to make, the time mine to create, limited only by choice; mine.  With a renewed sense of purpose, I returned to my weeding, glad for the neighbor I hold dear, glad for the opportunity to grow.

Footprints in the garden

ft prints in garden

I have a visitor.  I’m not sure exactly what KIND of visitor, but whatever it is has very large paws and no respect for my tidy rows whatsoever.  It literally trampled across my vegetables!  I discovered the prints this morning as I made my usual jaunt to check on the garden.  Now I’ve had the inevitable creature visitation to my compost pile, but I didn’t know large animals with paws were interested in fresh vegetables, as say, Mr. Rabbit might prefer.   On second thought, maybe he was after Mr. Rabbit.  Does this mean I may have more than one nightly visitor?  

Either way, NONE of them are welcome.   Now comes the question:  How do I get rid of them?   Okay, perhaps “get rid” of them is the wrong terminology.   What I really want to do is dissuade them from visiting this particular section of the landscape.  I don’t think any of my sprays will work.  The label on my garlic spray bottle clearly states the odor will evaporate relatively quickly.   I’m no trapper, so rigging a nifty “gotcha!” contraption won’t work.   A full fledged fence is too costly.  

Hmmm…  This is a problem.  Maybe a chicken wire type fence can be propped up around the perimeter of my garden.  Sort of a “nothing to see over here” kind of warning.  It wouldn’t have to be sturdy, since I don’t think whoever it is wants my vegetables that bad.  I think my garden is more a nuisance to them, actually.  As they’re running through the night, it’s a “hey, what the heck is all this?” type of cry as they return to their den after an evening of hunting.  “So, sorry.  Let me apologize for planting my goodies smack square in the middle of your flight path!” 

Anyhow, it’s a challenge for the field gardener, such as I am.  A few acres is a beautiful thing until you incorporate that wonderful selling feature called “green space” into the equation.  It looks nice and adds a rural feel to the place, but it also attracts wildlife.  Mine tends to be more swamp than forest, so I can count on alligators and snakes to be in the near vicinity at all times, but coyotes and foxes?   Bears are doubtful, though anything’s possible, I guess.   But “what” it is really doesn’t matter.   It’s interfering with my gardening and must be stopped!

All about us

My girlfriend asked me how I was going to draw similarities between women and gardens and I laughed.  That’s the easy part!  Much like the garden, with proper care and feeding a woman will produce year after year — and I’m not talking children — but results, in more ways than one.  Remember:  “When momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy,” and that’s the truth.  At least in my house.  But when she is, the family walks around with a smile on their face, a meal in their belly and a song on their lips.  Except Daddy better have more than a song on his lips.  Momma needs smoochin!