In Full Bloom

The kids’ garden is in full bloom this week and looking quite gorgeous.  From cucumbers to potatoes, beans to sunflowers, we are growing awesome…

Do you recall when we “hilled”our potatoes?  That’s the process for drawing dirt and/or mulch up around your potato plant as it grows.

We do so because potato plants grow upward, forming new potatoes along the way.  If we don’t “hill” the plant, the top potatoes may be exposed to sunlight and turn green.  Not good.  Green potatoes can give you a belly ache (so don’t eat them!). 

With the warm weather we’ve been having in Florida (across the country for that matter), our potatoes have become a bit “leggy” — a.k.a. tall and spindly.  Just look how tall they are compared to these weed warriors—they’re almost 3 feet tall!

Which is fine.  They’ll still produce some beautiful potato babies.  Speaking of kids and potato babies, you can see what happens when the first batch becomes over-excited planting the second batch—we have stray potato plant sprouting in the middle of the walkway!  Sheesh.  We’ll leave it be.  It should still develop and deliver a wonderful bounty.

Unless of course these beasts get their way.  We found them devouring a few of our plants, but no worries!  One by one we plucked them off.

Our radish are roaring up and out of the ground.  The kids covered them with the hope it will give them more time to mature.

The same with our sweet onions.  They were popping up through the mulch!  (And weeds.) 

But since their tops are not falling over brown, we know they’re not quite ready to harvest, so we covered them up as a well, giving them a bit more time underground.

The tomatoes are bushy and beautiful.  We pinched the suckers to encourage better growth and fruit production.


We even spotted our first few tomatoes.  Can’t wait to harvest those plump ketchup-makers—or salsa, whichever we prefer!


And look!  Our first black beans are forming.  When these pods turn deep purple, we’ll know it’s time to harvest.

Speaking of harvest, don’t the corn and squash look incredible?  Ahhh….

We actually harvested quite a bounty of squash this week. Plan to eat some and save some—for our seed-saving-selling fundraiser next month, of course!


Look for more on how the kids plan to create and design their own seed packets next week. 🙂

Cucumbers and Beans are IN

This week the kids planted their cucumbers and black beans—black beans harvested from their fall crop!  Can you say self-sustaining?  These gardeners are definitely on their way to food independence. 🙂

We chose the fence line for our cucumbers for two reasons:  they like to climb and they adore sunflowers.  (Refer to our layout plan for details:  School garden layout) Perfect!

Our beans are neighbors with potatoes and corn—both very good friends.  And next season?  Corn will follow beans, because beans fix nitrogen in the soil and corn loves nitrogen!

Next week we will be working on constructing our new bean fort, as well as planting our sunflowers and tomato seeds.  And remember:  tomato seeds love a mix of Epsom salts and eggshells!

Yellow Cucumbers are a Bad Sign

When your kids tell you what they want to plant, be SURE this means they will EAT it.   My kids told me to plant cucumbers and yes, of course, they would eat it.

But apparently, my kids fib.  Have eyes bigger than their bellies.  Whatever.  Fact of the matter remains, we don’t eat cucumbers in this family. 

Not that I don’t love them, I do!  With rice vinegar, in a salad, stuffed into a veggie sandwich from the mall…  They’re super.  But at home?  In my garden? 

Nope.  We don’t eat them and today I had the luxury of sweating in the hot July sun to remove the batch. 

Not fun.  I didn’t know this, but cucumbers have sharp vines with pricklys that hurt.  And grasping rotten fruit is not my idea of a good time.  I’m supposed to be on vacation right now, not gardening in the hot July sun.  In Florida, you’ll die of dehydration!  

Definitely not recommended.  Now my patio containers, on the other hand, filled with lettuce and herbs…  They’re thriving.  My tomato seedlings are warming to germination, and my Poinsettia love the shade, but my cukes?

Nasty.  A weed infested nightmare.  Good thing I mulched well.  It cut down task difficulty, considerably.

So come fall, when the kids put in their request, I plan to make sure they are foods I’ve actually witnessed them eat.  Gardening is great fun–until you have to pull overripe and abandoned fruit.  Then, not so much.

Hungarian Wax Peppers, be canned!

We’ve done it!  We canned our first peppers (Old Italian tradition) and it worked!  It’s very exciting, this getting back to basics thing.  Not only am I saving the abundant harvest from my garden, but I feel like a pioneer — sans the outhouse.

Now I realize our grandparents probably canned, my senior aged grocery bag fellow at the supermarket is proof positive, doling out helpful advice as he rolled groceries to my car, so pioneer may be a stretch.  But there’s something nostalgic about the wild old days that speaks to me.  Granted, I don’t harbor visions of crossing the Great Rockies with horse and carriage, but living off the land, roaming fields of flowers, lounging by a rolling stream…this sounds appealing.  I was thinking somewhere out west, perhaps Wyoming — before the great cross.  Not in Florida, mind you.  It’s much too hot to exist here without air-conditioning, let alone roam the fields, lounge by the beaches.  And don’t get me started on the alligators.

But I digress.  The kids and I canned our first peppers — for Daddy, as none of us actually eat the things — and it was not only a success, but fun to boot.  We didn’t use a pressure canner, rather opted for the old-fashioned method.  Remember, I need to know how to accomplish this task if I find myself without the power of modern convenience.  I can build a fire and heat a big pot of water to boiling if I had to — not so with that pressure canner.

And really that’s all you do.  You harvest your peppers, drying them extremely well — a crucial key to the process — then flavor accordingly, filling the jars just prior to boiling.  (See my recipe for full instructions.)  For our small jars, we boiled for about 10 minutes and — voila!  — they were done.  I even heard the top pop on one of the jars, which was pretty neat.  My son gave one to his teacher as a gift; something for which he was quite proud, and the other we kept for Daddy.  If not, we may have had an Italian mutiny on our hands.

With one success under our aprons, we intend to try pickled beets (for my mother) and pickles (for ourselves!).  Should be fun, if not tasty!

Zucchini and Squash a plenty!


Nothing says summer like zucchini and squash.   Warm weather, plenty of water and you’ll have more zucchini and squash than you know what to do with!   My son and I went out to harvest last evening and boy did we find some doozies.  Always eager to rummage through the plants, he was eager to pull and pick and beam with pleasure over a job well done.  When he found this fat boy he could barely contain himself.  “Look at this one, mom!  It’s a monster!”

While I don’t like to equate my beautiful produce with monsters, I had to agree with him.  

Apparently I missed this one on my evening stroll the evening before, otherwise I would have grabbed it.  Something tells me you’re not supposed to let them grow this large — might toughen the taste — but since I’m no expert and don’t know for sure, I oohed and aahed like any good mother would.   “Wow.   See what you grew?”  Any encouragement while he’s in the garden is a good idea, as it helps overcome the protests to weeding.  “How awesome!” 

Pleased with himself, he continued his harvest and filled his basket.  Note of caution: when harvesting zucchini, be careful of sharp objects, namely fingernails.  Adjusting my zucchini and squash in the basket for photos, I must have scarred my harvest a dozen times.   (Who knew?)

Now, YOU do.  Go easy on the squash family.  You’ll be glad you did. 

“One more thing,” I told him.  “We need more peppers for Daddy.”

Taking the corner with skill and speed (the kind that makes me nervous when zipping down garden aisles),  he was distracted by a ripe cucumber.  “Hey Mom, the cucumbers are ready!”  Without hesitation, he yanked it from the vine and held it out for my inspection. 

“You’re getting pretty good at this harvest thing, aren’t  you?”

Of course he was, and with an added boost to his measure, he pulled out another one.  When  I saw him heading for a large cucumber still half ripe, I warned him off.  “That one’s not ready, yet.”

He turned and looked at me queerly.  “I know that.  It’s still yellow.”

I smiled.  Of course.  I should have known.  When a child spends a lot of time in the garden, they come to understand these things.  My kids can even recognize plants by their leaves.  Some plants are easy, like corn and watermelon, but while tomatoes and potatoes resemble one another, they are different and my two can tell the difference.  It makes a momma proud.

Collecting the last of our wax peppers, we headed into the house, specifically the kitchen.  Tonight would be busy.  My daughter was making homemade chocolate frosting; a recipe she found while perusing a magazine at the dentist’s office.  When the hygienist called her back, I was given the assignment to copy down the recipe and NOT miss a word.  “I want to make that tonight!” 

Of course you do, I thought, praying she wouldn’t come back with a cavity report, dutifully following my instructions.  And what do you know, half hour later, recipe securely copied into my iphone, both children came back cavity-free.   Do the ironies ever cease?

So she made her frosting, I tried a new recipe from my Cuisine at Home magazine for Onions au Gratin (which was fabulous), and we sautéed our fresh zucchini alongside the chicken strips.  Does it get any better?