easy to grow

Think “OUTside” the Garden

With so many things to do in the garden, it’s a wonder you can plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or month—but you should try.  The payoff will be well worth it.  From fastidious pruning for an increase in yield, to prepping for vegetable storage when your harvest comes in, you’ll want to be ready for the abundance of joy you’re going to reap!

What should you be thinking about when it comes to crafting this marvelous plan?  Why, your kids for one!  Are they weeding?  Digging?  Bug dispatching?  Wonderful!  Reward them with some “down-time” in the garden, as in “no chores.”  You do want them to come back, don’t you?

teacher's gift

We’ve all heard about creating the classic corn husk dolls, but have you considered using those same husks to make mini baskets?  Basket weaving is an excellent exercise for little fingers to practice dexterity—beats the DS hands down—as well as producing a keepsake for their bedroom, or a share for school.

Growing berries?  Perfect!  How about mixing them with a dash of organic sugar and make your own preserves?  They make great teacher gifts.  Speaking of teachers, how about teaching your children the value of seed saving?  When all these vegetables reach maturity, they’ll be chock-full of seeds.   How about collecting them and storing them in your very own seed packets?  (You can find simple how-to templates in the Kid Buzz section here on the website) More

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 home 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.

Potatoes a Foot High

Haven’t seen this before–potato plants over a foot high?  And this is after Ashley covered them!

Definitely a bit leggy, probably due to the warm weather. 

But if she hills them some more with composted manure and/or a mix of mulch and compost and they’ll be good to go.  Remember:  potatoes have an upward growth habit and will continue to produce so long as the conditions are right.

Julie’s garden is still in the beginning stages of sprouting, though she is having fun with it–as are the kids.  (Don’t look now, but I bet the Easter Bunny may find this a great spot to hide eggs!)

And her tomato transplant seems happy.  While technically a full sun type of plant, it should do well here.  If my students’ garden tomatoes are any indication–their tomatoes are already twice the size of mine!

All in all, it’s been a nice week in the garden for the gals.  More important than the flourish of green and the promise of produce, Ashley and Julie are enjoying their gardens.  Sure there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained from successful sprout but there’s the sheer pleasure of the process. 

Large or small, indoors or out, having your own garden is simply rewarding, in more ways than one.

Transplanting Tomatoes (before the official start of spring!)

Are we lucky to live in Florida, or what? 

Sure, I run the risk of one last freeze.  Happens every year.  Nearly.  But maybe I’ll be spared this spring.  After all, Mother Nature tortured me in December…  Do you think she could be so cruel?

Nah, me neither.  She’s an all right gal.  So what if I don’t agree with her sense of humor, or her downright obstinate ways when it comes to wielding her power, but she has been good to me.  Overall, I can’t complain.  (Are you listening, Mrs. N?  I’m the good one!)

So out the door these sproutlings went, straight into the garden.  I started them early January and yes, I did have to drag them inside a few times and spot them a sweet place by the warm and blazing hearth.  But just look how they’ve rewarded me.  Aren’t they grand?  Real beauties.  My kids helped clear the row of hay and I tilled the section with ease.  Once you know the secrets of preparation this part is EASY. 

Then, I gingerly pulled each out and placed it into a hole amended with a mixture of my very own compost (AKA homemade dirt), epsom salt and eggshells.  Brilliant.  And the key to eliminating blossom-end rot.  I hope.  Formed a well around my babies and watered them in.  Finito.  Easy as tomato pie.

Mud pie.  I meant mud pie.  Last time I tried to make an authentic Italian tomato pie for my husband, things didn’t go very smoothly.  Time-consuming, irritating…  It was the crust that gave me issue.  And my handy-dandy Cuisinart contraption that promised to do the hard mixing did nothing of the kind! 

False advertising, if you ask me.  But I digress–into the land of disappointment (where I do not care to dwell).  My tomatoes are in!  Who has time to weep?

I have a watering schedule to attend, fertilization needs to consider…  And companions.  Who shall I plant next door?

If you think I haven’t already arranged for that play over in my excel program, you’re kidding yourself.  What else do you do during winter?  Besides scour the seed magazines and drool over the gorgeous photos and plethora of produce. 

Beats Christmas shopping.

Beans – Easy to Grow, Good for the Heart!

Red beans, black beans, Lima beans, Garbanzo beans (reminds me of Dr. Seuss), boy, do we have beans!  Healthy beans, especially black beans and kidneys.  Add them to soup, chili, or try my recipe for black beans, best served with chicken and yellow rice.  And be prepared to try a variety of recipes, because not only are these good for you, they’re probably one of the easiest plants to grow.  Top of my list in importance.

While growing, you can tell them apart by their blossoms and bush formation.  Black beans have beautiful purple blossoms. 

Kidney beans have white.

Limas also have white flowers, but their growth habit is more bush — less vine — fanning out from the ground in a nice stable “triangle” of sorts.  No need to stake or trellis Lima beans, but a must for kidney and black beans.

Garbanzo beans are wholly different.  They have petite flowers and large oval-shaped pods (the others are long, traditional style pods).  Garbanzo leaves also form small ovals, while the others tend toward the heart-shaped.

Harvesting beans is simple, performed when the pods turn color from green to tan – lavender in the case of black beans.  Coincidence their blossoms are purple?  Normally I would pluck ready pods from the bush, encouraging more growth, but in the case of my kidney beans, I pulled the entire plant from the ground.  They hit a dry patch in the watering schedule (corn was too tall for my sprinkler to reach over). 

Next up, the business of shelling.   When done in batches it’s an easy task, best performed poolside with a glass of ice-cold rosemary lemonade while watching the kids swim.  I’m an avid multi-tasker.  You can allow them to dry in pod (even while still on plant), or shell them at once.  Just pinch the ends, split open the pod, and remove the beans.

Once shelled, set the beans on a plate or shallow dish and allow to dry completely before closing in an air-tight container for storage.  If you don’t give them ample time to dry out, they will become moldy and icky.  Gross, really.  And totally ruined. 

We learned this the hard way last fall.  Very sad day when your entire batch of black beans is lost.   So be sure to let them dry.   Give them a few days and you’ll see them shrink and “seal” themselves with a nice hard coating for dry storage.

Limas are a different story.  For long-term storage, you’ll need to freeze them.  To do this, you have to blanch them first.  Toss them into a pot of boiling water for about two minutes (a minute if they’re small) then immediately submerse them in a bowl of ice water.  After about a minute or so, remove them from the water, pat dry (or set between paper towels) and pop them into a freezer container.  Finito!

Now you have beans to last you through next season’s harvest.  Provided you planted enough.  That calculation is a trick in itself!

To give you an idea, I planted one row of each bean, two plants wide, about 40 feet long.  While it sounds like a lot, it’ll probably yield about 20-30 servings of beans.  I’m approximating, mind you, but it’s within the ball park.  But since my family loves beans, come fall, I already have plans to expand.  Chili, soup, you name it, they’ll eat it!

P.S.  Don’t forget that beans contain lectin phytohaemagglutinin.   It’s a toxic compound, 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, ie. stomach pains, cramps — perhaps even more severe abdominal issues — so beware and be safe!