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 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.

Be a Garden Coach!

With the end of July fast approaching, the garden gals are wrapping up for the summer and looking forward to their fall growing season–we in Florida are fortunate that way–and they couldn’t be more excited.  Just look at Ashley’s carrots.  Carrots in July! It’s nearly unheard of in these parts.  Too hot.

But let me tell you, that’s part of the thrill.  As their gardener “guide,” it’s exhilarating to see two women who didn’t believe they had the time or the talent to sustain their own garden–do so–and with spectacular results.  Better yet–they realized it was so much easier than they ever imagined!

Well you, too, can be an inspiration for a fresh green energetic wannabe.  All it takes is a little “know how” and a friend with less–“know how” than you, that is.  Sorry, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to garden OR to coach someone else to do the same.  It only takes the desire to help, the time to share, the willingness to show up and the grace  to remember you were once where they are today.

Just think of it:  you could teach them everything you know.  Teach them how the “know-it-alls” don’t always know it all, and remind them that plants can grow all by themselves.  You’ll tell them Mother Nature is kind, has a sense of humor and is usually forgiving–so long as you’re earnest in your outdoor endeavor.  And she prefers organic.  All they way. 

No sense in ruffling her skirt.  Have you been caught in one of her temper storms? They’re something to steer clear of, to be sure.  But if you mind your manners and be kind to the earth, you’ll reap some of the most gorgeous bounty imaginable.  And so will your protegé. 🙂

So be a garden coach!  That’s my own term, garden coach.  Do you like it?  If you do, then slap it on your happy cap and help a friend or neighbor start their very own backyard garden. Or front yard.  Times and landscape design are a changin’ and you DO want to be cutting edge. 

A trendsetter–a garden coach!  Today’s twist on the old volunteer. Easy, manageable–and totally rewarding. 

Share Your Photos!

With the holiday behind us, the BBQ cooled, the waves not forgotten, it’s time to get back in the garden! 

Oh, you were in the garden the whole time?  Weeding and pruning, mulching and feeding?

Hm, yes, well–good for you!  And your gorgeous bounty will be proof positive of your dedication and devotion to your greens!  And Bloominthyme would love to see them and share them.  All you have to do is post them on your Facebook account and tag “BloominThyme” in the photo.  That way we can see each and every one and post to our heart’s content! If you haven’t visited us on facebook, be sure to check us out at http://www.facebook.com/bloominthyme  Hit the “like” button at the top of the page and be entered to win the cutest seed packet holders and custom seed packets!  (Photos can be viewed on our facebook page.)

No facebook account?  No problem!  Jus send your photos to gardenfrisk@bloominthyme.com and we’ll be sure to get them up!

Sharing is caring, right?  Oh wait–I think that’s the old sing-song motto from my daughter’s old Care Bears movies.  Never mind

But do share.

Garden Tomato Pizza Sauce

Put those tomatoes to work–make a pizza sauce!  I did.  Fresh ripe ruby-red tomatoes make the most delicious sauce and don’t worry if yours aren’t ruby-red ripe (mine weren’t either).  They still taste divine.  Add a few of your garden garlic, half a sweet onion, some dried oregano and my garden goal has been achieved:  tomato sauce made entirely from my garden!

Except for that olive oil you bartered for with your cousin Vinny from Italy.  But that’s okay.  I’m at somewhat of a disadvantage–not an olive tree in sight here in Central Florida.  There aren’t any bay leaf trees, either (but I’m not looking for any).

And if my family knows what’s good for them, they won’t point the fact out.  Best to leave mom to her fantasy world.

Speaking of my family, my daughter prepared the homemade pizza dough all by herself and put the pizza together.  She’s an awesome chef.  Sweet!

As to my sauce, it was easy.  Simply de-stemmed the tomatoes, cut them in half, pushed the seeds out and tossed the tomato flesh into my Cuisinart and pressed ON.  Beautiful!  Next, I poured the tomatoes into a pan and added the fresh garlic, half a sweet onion, dried oregano.

–and yes, a bit of salt (you’d be amazed by how much salt is pre-added to canned tomatoes) and allowed the mixture to simmer for several hours prior to spreading onto the dough.

Bake for about 15 minutes and you have ooey-gooey-golden-dinner-delight!  Pepperoni side for the boys, cheese for the girls–a feat to be proud of, for sure.

Potatoes for St. Patty’s Day

I don’t know about you, but when I think about potatoes, I think Irish.  Not because the potato is from Ireland, it’s not.  It’s origin is South America.  Wasn’t until the 1780’s the Irish even accepted the crop for widespread consumption. Most believed the ugly tubers to be poisonous, or evil.  Suspicious in the least. 

But once they had a belly full, the Irish knew a good thing when they tasted it!  Made it a downright major staple in their diet.  And that’s when the trouble hit. 

About a 100 years later, a blanket of blight killed off fields of potatoes during the great Irish Potato Famine.  But the Irish are a hearty breed (knew there was something about those Irish I liked!–besides their merry outlook, that is) and they survived, proving stronger and better than ever.  And they still love their potatoes.

As do I.  Potatoes are easy grow.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this fellow bursting free from the compost pile.  A real beauty and I had nothing to do with bringing him into this world.  Gotta love an easygoing plant.

Kids love potatoes, too.  They like to plant them, harvest them and they love to eat them–so long as they’re dished out in the proper form.  At our house, we make healthy potato chips and fries which seems to satisfy most days, though mashed and boiled work, too.  My son helped me plant this row.  (Don’t ask me how those two “rogue” plants ended up outside the perimeter of my organized potato row–that’s one of the mysteries when planting with kids.)  Plants end up in the strangest of places, don’t they?

Those wires you see are my protection plan in the case of frost.  Planting potatoes in January is tricky business and can place your babies in jeopardy.  This way, if the temperature dips, I can easily place a lightweight blanket over top of these wire “frames” (9 gauge wire from hardware store) and prevent the frost from killing them off.   Works like a charm

If you have limited outdoor space, you’re in luck (luck of the Irish!).  This garden center has designed the most ingenious method for growing potatoes–perfect for you city bound folk.  Meet the potato box!  Potatoes have an upward growth habit and if you continually mound them with dirt, you’ll increase your bounty, tenfold.

Me, I’ll stick with my in ground garden.  I like to meander through the rows and admire Mother Nature in action.  Besides, I don’t think my husband would look to kindly upon enormous amounts of black dirt anywhere near the patio.  Sure he likes his pressure washer, he just doesn’t enjoy “avoidable” mess.  Hmph.  Does he not see the joy in crafting another super-duper garden project? 

Note on planting:  be sure to “stagger” your planting dates, planting a batch today, next batch in 10 days, next batch a week or so later…   In the foreground of this picture is my latest section which has yet to sprout.  The ones in mid-field are mid-size and those in the back are a foot high and have already been “mounded” with more dirt.  The stakes provide a “visual” marker for me to distinguish the sections by “date planted.”   I’m a visual kind of gal, and besides, it does wonders to help coordinate with my Excel program.  (My version of a garden journal.)

Remember, planting ALL your potatoes at the same time will practically guarantee the dreaded whine, “Potatoes for dinner?  Again?”

As Master Chef in our household, I’ve banned the response.  In fact, there will be no complaints about dinner–until you’ve tasted it.  Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll discuss withdrawing it from the menu.

Mandie’s Sweet Potato Tangle

There’s something to be said about letting nature do her thing.  Take a look at these sweet potatoes (yes, that mass of vine is sweet potato!)  Can you imagine the golden harvest this woman is going to realize come fall?  Break out the casserole dishes, roll out the pie pans, we’re having sweet potatoes for dinner!  And dessert. 

Appetizers, anyone?

Now Mandie would not normally allow her garden to grow so wild and unmanageable, but she’s sort of displaced at the moment.  Air conditioner broke and in Florida, during August mind you, this is no minor issue.  Why, her two little boys could die of heat exhaustion if she didn’t move them out and quick!  But with a mother’s survival instinct comes a gardener’s back burner.  The sweet potatoes must now fend for themselves.

Which you see, they seem to do quite well.  Not surprising, since these babes are one of the easier veggies to grow.  Lovers of sandy soil, light water and minimal food — sounds more like a beach babe waif than sweet potato, doesn’t it? —  bothered by a few bugs, yes, but nothing they can’t survive.  Why, this crisis is a no-brainer for them!

last year's offspring


As if this example wasn’t proof enough, I have a wild child of my own, growing with abandon in the opposite end of the garden. 

Looks better than the ones I’m actually paying attention to and trying to grow!  

Go figure.

this year's crop


So if you want an easy, healthy vegetable to grow, consider the sweet potato.  Chocked full of anti-oxidants, Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), Vitamin C, as well as a good source of Vitamin B6, this one is an all out winner on the serving plate.

Time to make your sweet potato slips!


Summer is fast approaching (in Florida, anyway) which means it’s time to get your slips in the ground and growing.  They require a long growing season and they require warmth.  But they don’t grow from seed potatoes, rather the “slips” created from your sweet potatoes.  How does one create a sweet potato slip? 

The technique is easy.  You simply cut your sweet potato in half, perch it upon the mouth of a jar or glass (suspended by toothpicks works well) submerging the bottom half in water.  Voila!  

Place in a sunny location and keep the water level  high enough so the bottom half remains wet and watch your potato sprout. 

After a while — times vary, but you can expect to wait days, even weeks in some cases — shoots will form on the top of your potato.  You can gently remove these and place them in water, again half-submersed, and roots will develop. 

When they reach a couple of inches, you simply transplant them to your garden and water them in. 

Sweet potatoes like loose sandy soil and don’t need a lot of fertilizer or water, which makes them especially kind to the novice Florida gardener, such as myself.  You can amend the soil with some compost to add nutrients, but don’t worry if you can’t.  These girls are pretty hardy.

Depending on the variety, potatoes can be harvested from 100 – 140 days.   I planted my first crop last June and began harvesting in October but continued through December.  They don’t like the cold, so we cleared the remainder out and collected them for storage before the temps dipped too low. 

Good thing we did.  Florida was quite nippy this last season!

As with any tender transplant, take care with your new rootings and they will grow fast and furious.   Wonderful news,  because sweet potatoes are not only easy to grow, but they’re as healthy as it gets.  Roasted, mashed, baked or broiled, these babies will keep you healthy and happy and hoppin’ ready for a new crop come fall!

Potato or Potata?

Frittata, masha o potata fritta, it doesn’t matter.   Potatoes are THE crop to grow.   Especially for all you first timers.   It’s really hard to mess up this crop — believe me — I’ve come close, several times. 

But they still come up daisies, even when they’re pushing daisies.   As I mentioned before, my potato princesses died during the long hard freeze of January 2010.  A sad day, but salvation came in the form of their babies.  They survived! 

Amazing, but true.  I planted these at the end of October.   (the green you see are my chickpea companions which ultimately perished as well)  It was a risk, I knew, but I’m a risk taker at heart and figured potatoes in Florida?   How cold can it get?   Twenties, sure, for a night, maybe two.   I can hold off Mother Nature for that long, no problem.   Really?

Try four, maybe five and yep, you guessed it.   She kicked my fanny.   Like I always say (now, anyway), don’t go messing with Mother Nature.   You do NOT want her on your bad side because she WILL show you who’s boss.   Hint:  it isn’t you.

So back to my success story.  Yes, I went ahead, against the advice of my potato seed supplier and planted my crop of potatoes.  I love potatoes and haven’t had fresh papas since summer.   I missed “swimming” for the little guys, you know what I mean?    And yes, as forewarned, I lost them.   But tilling the soil for the next rotation – onions, in this instance – lo and behold, what do you know…potatoes!   Some nice sized ones, too.

Talk about thrill.  Well I looked down a few rows at my newest up and coming crop of these pups and thought, good job.  You planted them after the freezing cold, they should do fine.

Wrong.   Well on their way – poof — another wind blows down from Canada and we have near disaster.   Near disaster, because like I said, I know how to protect them.   With a quick glance upward, I first check with the lady upstairs.   Then breathe a sigh of relief. 

With some warm hay mulch and frost blanket, we can hang on for a few days. 

Thankfully, that’s all it was this time, though I did “miss the memo” regarding the last two nights.  I only happened to catch the late evening weather anchor mention the chance of frost — even freezing — but my husband waved it off. 

“It’s not going to freeze tonight.”  Translated: I’m not going out there at this hour to cover the plants and neither are you.  Then he rolled over and went to sleep. 

Hmph.  Lucky for me, the girls only incurred a few brown tipped leaves during their shivery nights, but now seem no worse for the wear.  A good thing, because I have several new potato recipes I can’t wait to try!

So, if you’ve always wanted to garden but felt your thumb was a bit too brown, trust me.   Potatoes are the answer.   Short on space?   I recently discovered a great solution.   The Lutovsky Potato box!   Produce 100 lbs. of potatoes using only 4 sq. ft. of space. 

No, I’m not kidding.   Visit the link and see for yourself.   Whether you have limited outdoor space or live in an apartment, you can grow and store a TON of potatoes.   They are generous producers and very forgiving.

Organic gardening made easy.


Meet Mandie.   Here’s a gal who wants to garden, but never thought she had the time.   (She’s right!)   Married with two young boys and a full-time career, time is the last thing on her plate.  (Not to mention sanity)   Ah…but what she lacks in agenda, she makes up for with attitude.   This woman has DECIDED she is going to have a garden.  Organic, of course.   A project in which I enthusiastically signed on to help.   Spread the joy, right?

Absolutely.   And you can, too!

Your head drops, you kick at the dirt.   You glance sideways.   While you appreciate our enthusiasm and fabulous outlook, you really do, it’s just not in the cards for you.   Your schedule is jammed packed.   Add the commitments you’ve made outside work and home and there simply isn’t the time to devote to a garden.   Mandie’s image pops into your mind.   Ability, you correct.   You’re simply unable to start a garden for reasons…  For reasons…

Well, yes, I get the picture.  It’s hard.  I understand.  It takes more than time, more than desire.  I mean, positive attitude exudes from your pores, I can see that.  I know that if you could, you’d start a garden today—yesterday–this very minute! 

But you can’t.   There’s just no way. 

Maybe next year.   Season.   Maybe next season.   Check back with you in fall?   Yes.   Fall.   Absolutely.   You stand a little taller.   You bet.   Come fall, you’ll be ready to go!

I smile.   Yes.   I’ll check back with you in fall.   But for the rest of you neophytes who haven’t the good sense to know any better, grab your hat and pack your bag – we’re going gardening!    Together — by tracking Mandie’s process on a weekly basis via her post link. 

Now, to begin, we need to set the right mood.   Music.  Of course!   What a great way to start your afternoon outdoors.  Mandie thought Jimmy Buffet would be nice (though his penchant for gardening is highly speculative), I mean, from what I can tell, the man is no landlubber – BUT – he does epitomize a laid back mindset and hankering for a good time – both of which we’re after in this new adventure of ours.  Remember:  your garden should be a place you want to spend time, because daily visits will be essential to your success. 

Next up – site selection.  Full sun is vital as well as a reliable water source – two things in which Mandie excels!  With no trees to speak of in her “compact” yard space, sun is not a problem.  She can put her garden anywhere – save for the area claimed by the boy’s playground set.  And swing bench.  And bicycle, toys…a couple of shrubs.  Well, you get the picture.  Creativity using space is a must.  As to water, she and her clever husband have devised a homemade cistern.  Did I tell you, this girl is green – from the inside out?  She means to waste nothing in this endeavor of hers and I applaud the ingenuity.  In fact, I’ve suggested as much to my husband.  Quite the industrious sort, I imagine he will construct a cistern with a garden sprinkler system attached!  He is amazing

Perfect.  Then, solving two problems at once, Mandie chose the back corner of her lot where old abandoned cement blocks proved a horrible eyesore.  Meet Gary.  Undaunted by the challenge, her husband went to task and built her a planter box.  Now, not only do they have a beautiful garden “section,” they’ve eliminated a huge “blemish!”  Aren’t husbands wonderful?

Time for the dirt.  Let’s say your yard isn’t naturally graced with luscious, black organic soil.  Okay.  We can deal with it.  By contacting a local supplier, Mandie was able to fill her 15 ft by 5 ft space (1 ft deep) with good composted dirt for about $80.  Mind you, this is a one time investment.  Once her personal compost pile gets going, she’ll have her own compost to use for the fall planting season!  And there will be a fall planting season.  (If she misses the compost mark, again, no problem.  Using crop rotation, her dirt will be primed and ready for next season!)

On to seeds.  Purchase them from your handy-dandy trustworthy and knowledgeable local seed and feed — “flavor specific” to your taste buds — and then you’re ready for action!  Mandie is planting potatoes, broccoli, carrots, conch peas, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. 

This is BIG fun, so if you have kids, holler for them now cause they’re gonna love this part – until the novelty wears off, anyway.  Older kids might appreciate the endeavor more, if the delivery is fine tuned.  Parents:  get crafty.

As to design, consult your local expert (in this case, that’s me!) or your Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (the source for my expertise – in addition to that age old instructor called experience).  You’ll learn plants have preferences of their own and if you place them next to their friends, they’ll serve you with splendor.  If not, you’ll likely miss your fall planting season, uninterested in trying after your lackadaisical results from spring. 

Trust me on this one.  It’s like a marriage.  What you put in, you get back, tenfold.

Okay kids, it’s time to get dirty!  Space your seeds accordingly, dig your holes, mark their spots (helps to remember where to water) and wait for first sign of sprouts!  I use an excel program on my computer to mark what and where I planted, but a garden journal works just as well and is “pretty” to boot.  Mulch will help conserve moisture, if it’s a pressing issue for you.  I prefer hay, but you can use straw, paper liners, etc.

Then, water in your seeds and there you have it!  Heart pound. Gasp.  Mouth agape in disbelief.  It’s the beginning of YOUR OWN GARDEN!  The one you thought impossible, but will be amazed by easy it is to manage!  Yes!

With daily visits to check soil moisture, bug invasions, fertilizer insufficiencies, etc., your very own produce will begin to hit the table in two months time.   Whoa.  How awesome is that?

It’s totally awesome and totally organic.  You’ll not only eat healthier, you’ll know exactly what went into your food — and your family’s.  Like watching your children grow, you’ll be excited by each and every change in your garden as you watch its progress, amazed this beautiful bounty is the result of YOUR hand!  And Mother Nature’s.  (Don’t insult this woman.  You do not want to be on her bad side.)

Exciting isn’t it?  How about joining us?  Track Mandie’s progress, ask questions, offer suggestions and next thing you know, you’ll have friends signing on for a community wide effort!  You grow that, I’ll grow this, so and so will grow those… 

Why, the possibilities are endless.  C’mon.  Share the joy and begin your adventure today! 

(This weekend will do.)

Black gold

Compost.   Valuable.   Beautiful.  (And so exciting!) 

Wow.   Heart pounding.  Deep breath.   Really an amazing creature, that Mother Nature —  save the ants and maggots (or whatever those creepy wormy bug things are).   She is a beautiful woman indeed.   Gorgeous, in fact, and her talents are endless.  Yes, as you may have guessed…ta-da!…I have my FIRST batch of compost! 

I know it doesn’t look like much but photos don’t do this beauty any justice.  This stuff is incredible.  Amazing how a pile of nasty kitchen scraps can turn into this rich, luscious specimen, isn’t it?  I mean, I only started this pile last July and then, voila!  Seven short months later, I have this awesome mound of dirt to create a spring garden.   Are you serious

Oh, I’m serious all right.   Lucky for me, I live in Central Florida where Mother Nature virtually does everything without you lifting a hand!  Kinda like having an outdoor helper you don’t have to supervise, she knows where everything is, knows what to do and how to do it — AND, I might add — she does it a heck of a lot better than I could do!  I turned that pile maybe three times, just because I read somewhere that you were supposed to turn piles.   Truth is, I think this pile of mine would have turned out plenty well had I not lifted a finger (or pitch fork, as the case may be).

But it’s SO exciting.  Now I can “hill” my new potato princesses with pure homegrown compost!  And won’t they be in seventh heaven.  Once they recover from the recent dip in temperatures, that is.   After all my hard work learning to protect them from the frost, I was blindsided by the cool temperatures of late.   And to think I was under the impression potatoes were cool worthy, but frost intolerant.   Just goes to show how dangerous a little knowledge can be.   These creatures turned out to be sensitive all around! 

But I digress.  I have compost and wagons full.  With spring planting in full swing, I have also have a place to put it!  Why, my organic garden will be FULLY organic this year, from the ground up.   And what a wonderful feeling.   A real strap-on-the-boots-let’s-go-hiking kind of feeling!   One with nature, breath of fresh air… 

At this point, I am nearly sustainable.   What I grow, I eat.  What I don’t, I compost.   Does it get any better than this?  My husband might feel inclined to point out a few things that top this one, but we didn’t ask him, now did we?

No.  We most definitely did not.  So off to the garden I go, with wagon in tow and a skip to my step.   Gardening is an adventure!   And one ready to begin in earnest.  With the potatoes in, the melons are next, along with the beans and squash and tomatoes and peppers and corn and…

Whew!  Another deep breath here.   There’s a lot of work to be done and I can’t wait to get started!  My new year’s resolution to be more productive is working fine, but my waistline has been expanding and NEEDS to get busy.  Rather than waste time on my drawer full of exercise videos, I plan to lose it  — in the garden!  Nothing like a little spring tilling to get the blood flowing and the heart a pumping!  In fact, I read somewhere that gardeners tend to outrank others on the list of centenarians.  Not that I really want to live to a hundred, but it’s nice to know my hobby will sustain me if I do… 

Shoot.  I could probably turn this hobby into an exercise video, if I wanted.  Imagine for a moment…the sun is shining, the wind is dancing, the birds singing in the background.   Up, down, left, right, reach, lunge, pull, stretch.  I don’t know about you, but during some of my garden sessions I’ll be sweating and panting before all is said and done!

And this spring, I have company.  A friend of mine has decided she’s ready to “start a garden!”   Actually, a few women are ready to take the plunge.  Well raise the flag and send up the flares — yahoo –we’re going gardening!   And if any of you think you don’t have the time or the space, you need to meet this gal.  With no yard to speak of, two young boys and a career in interior decorating — she’ll have your excuses flapping in the breeze in no time!  She’s even managed to lasso her husband into the mix by enlisting his wonderfully masculine talents in the realm of construction.  He already built her this lovely cistern.

So grab a friend and JOIN US as we share the adventure!