fall

5 Things Great Gardens Have in Common

Gardens are a beautiful sight to behold, but what if you don’t have a green thumb? You’d love to have a garden of your own, but simply can’t master the skills necessary? No worries. I was where you are once and I learned the secrets to a happy and healthy garden. I’m getting ready to begin planting my fall garden and if you’ll follow along, I’ll show you step-by-step how to get your garden good, green and growing strong. So what do great gardens have in common?

Fabulous Vegetables!

First on the list of things to do is to choose a list of delectable vegetables you would love to eat. Focus on what you like to eat, NOT what you think you can grow. Mind you, there’s an important difference. While the variety and color a bunch of different vegetables may add to your garden’s appearance, they’ll ruin the effect when left withering on the vine (because no one cared enough to harvest them). It happens. You’re in the garden, short on time, what are you going to harvest?

Your favorites, that’s what. Human nature, 101. So choose your seeds wisely.

Rule #1 – Food you’ll eat.

And hold those seeds tight. We’ll get back to planting them in a bit. But there’s something you must do before your plant. You must determine a spot for this wonderful new adventure of yours, and believe me when I say adventure. Gardening is nothing, if it isn’t filled with wonder and delight and yes, excitement. You’ll come face to face with more wildlife than you knew existed—most of it harmless. To you, anyway. Your plants are a different story.

harvest vegetables

But I digress (happens often when gardening). Depending on where you live, you’ll need a sunny spot for your garden. I say “depending on where you live,” because despite conventional wisdom, I’ve learned from experience that a little “shade” break during the afternoon in a hot sunny climate tends to do more good than harm. (Learned this little fact in a school garden, of all places.) Why does a shade break come in handy? Because too much sun can dry your quickly deplete your soil of moisture, burn your plant’s leaves, and generally stress its entire system. Sure, you watered it for an hour this morning, but in places like Florida and Texas where the sun shines hot and the clouds float dry… Come three o’clock your plants are acting as if they’d forgotten what water is let alone they received their daily dose!

Rule #2 – Sun, sun, but not too much sun.

Think: Goldilocks. Not too sunny, not too shady, but just right. Next, you’ll want to determine whether you’re gardening in containers, or in ground. Raised beds in landscape planters are lovely and can serve to ease the pain in your back, but they require construction. In ground gardens require a bit of construction as well, albeit more of the “weed-tearing” and “bed-building” kind. Back breaking, too, if you’re not careful, so be smart—kill the grass BEFORE you begin. Roots tend to lose their grip when dead. Most vegetables can be grown in containers on your patio, too.

Rule #3 – Plants like soft dirt.

For your plants to develop strong root systems, they must be able to sink deep into the soil. Take carrots. Nothing more depressing than spending months caring for your golden beauties, only to harvest a bunch of “bent” carrots. What happened?

carrot harvest

They ran into trouble and went sideways–literally. Stunted carrots are no fun to dig up, either. So if you’re gardening in clay, or gardening in sand, beware. This could be an issue. The solution is to amend your soil with nutrient-rich organic matter. Compost is a wonderful soil amendment, as is composted manure, mushroom compost and the like. Check with your local garden center to see what’s available in your area. While you’re amending your soil, invite some earthworms to the party. They love gardens and do wonders when it comes to fertilizing your plants and aerating the soil.

Rule #5 – Make sure you have a reliable water source nearby.

Mother Nature is a wonderful gal, but she’s not always amenable to your garden’s needs, if you know what I mean. Rain water is “preferred” when it comes to my garden, but I’ll head to the well when the sun keeps shining and the rain won’t fall. And mulch. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the mulch. It comes in all forms, like hay, pine, newspaper–even special paper!

how to mulch tomato

Once you have sprouts, you’ll need it to keep the weeds at bay no matter which method of gardening you choose. Organic mulch serves a dual benefit: it prevents weeds and eventually becomes a source of nutrients for your plants as it breaks down into the soil.

With a healthy start on the growing season, your plants will supply you with an endless stream of gorgeous, good-sized, deliciously healthy produce.

Still with me? Perfect. Next time we’ll talk seeds.

Maple-Orange Pumpkin Granola

This time of year, I love everything pumpkin–coffee, cupcakes, bread, bagels, and now, granola. Yep, granola. Healthy granola, too! Sort of. Everything but the maple syrup, anyway. And really, can’t a girl splurge during the holidays? (My holiday season officially begins when the pumpkin-fall menus enter the scene.)

fall pumpkin granola

I would have to answer, yes, I believe so. This granola is so delicious, you’ll want to eat it with ice cream, yogurt, or straight out of the pan. And while it’s high in fat, it’s mostly healthy fat, I can rationalize it as healthy, because pumpkin and flax seeds are so good for you. Really good.

So how do you make decadent pumpkin granola? That’s also easy. Simply mix oats and seeds, add some of what I call “granola glue” — the stuff that makes granola clumps — and bake.

Decadent Pumpkin Granola

pumpkin granola2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup pumpkin seed, natural, not salted or roasted

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup melted butter

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, pumpkin and flax seed. Mix well. For the granola glue, mix together maple syrup, melted butter, orange zest and vanilla extract. Whisk well and pour over oat and seed mixture. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Note: this might be easier done with your hands. If you like the orange zest, go ahead and add some more. It’s a nice compliment to the maple syrup. More

Fall Favorites From the Kitchen

Fall is my favorite time of year and translates to comfort food in my household. In addition to pumpkin spiced coffee and cupcakes, here are some of my favorites.

Cabbage and Potato Bake

potatoes and cabbage steaming hot out of the oven

Decadent Maple Granola

fall pumpkin granola

French Onion Soup

French Onion soup

More

Decadent Pumpkin Granola

This time of year, I love everything pumpkin–coffee, cupcakes, bread, bagels, and now, granola. Yep, granola. Healthy granola, too! Sort of. Everything but the maple syrup, anyway. And really, can’t a girl splurge during the holidays? (My holiday season officially begins when the pumpkin-fall menus enter the scene.)

fall pumpkin granola

I would have to answer, yes, I believe so. This granola is so delicious, you’ll want to eat it with ice cream, yogurt, or straight out of the pan. And while it’s high in fat, it’s mostly healthy fat, I can rationalize it as healthy, because pumpkin and flax seeds are so good for you. Really good.

So how do you make decadent pumpkin granola? That’s also easy. Simply mix oats and seeds, add some of what I call “granola glue” — the stuff that makes granola clumps — and bake.

Decadent Pumpkin Granola

pumpkin granola2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup pumpkin seed, natural, not salted or roasted

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup melted butter

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, pumpkin and flax seed. Mix well. For the granola glue, mix together maple syrup, melted butter, orange zest and vanilla extract. Whisk well and pour over oat and seed mixture. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Note: this might be easier done with your hands. If you like the orange zest, go ahead and add some more. It’s a nice compliment to the maple syrup. More

Fall Cabbage Juice Twist

Counting down to summer’s end with the Williams-Sonoma Juice Week featuring “juices that bite back!” With fall right around the corner, our “juicebuds” will likely change. No longer will we be drawn to the mangoes and kiwi, pineapples and papaya, but instead will long for apples and cinnamon, beets and pumpkin. Some of us, anyway. 🙂 And for those who love everything fall, I suggest this fabulous twist on my cabbage-carrot-apple juice. It’s a powerhouse combination for healing stomach ulcers that will take you clear through the holidays and into the new year, making sure you and your belly enjoy the season.

cabbage and apple and cinnamon

“The healing properties found in cabbage come from two anti-ulcer compounds, glutamine (an amino acid that fuels the cells that line the stomach and intestine) and S-methyl-methionine (labeled as Vitamin U by Dr. Cheney). Glutamine is available in capsules for those who are too busy to juice cabbage, and is proven as a superior cure to antacids. Juicing cabbage is simple, and done by cutting the head into segments small enough to fit into your juicer’s feeding chute.

When using cabbage juice it is recommended not to drink more than 4 oz at a time to avoid over stimulating the gastric juices, which can lead to cramping of the intestine and gassiness due to the sulfur in the juice reacting with existing intestinal bacteria. Mixing cabbage juice with carrot juice can help cut the effect of sulfur and tone intestinal walls. Beyond its ability to heal stomach ulcers, cabbage is also recognized as a successful treatment for a number of other health conditions including colitis and constipation. It is also known to help clear up acne, and heal infected gums. It’s important to choose heads of cabbage that are firm with no loose leave or discoloration, which means loss of nutritional value.”

Definitely a “must-try” for those suffering with stomach issues and the cinnamon adds a lovely “bite!”

Cabbage-Apple-Cinnamon Juice

cabbage-apple-cinnamon juice1/4 head of cabbage, tough stem cut out

1 small organic apple, any variety

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Using a commercial juicer–like one of these beautiful juicers offered by Williams-Sonoma–place an 8-ounce glass beneath the spout and insert vegetables until juiced. Add cinnamon and stir. Drink immediately.

For optimum stomach ulcer healing, drink four 4-6 ounce glasses per day for 10 days.

Cabbage — The active ingredient is an amino acid called L-glutamine, which nourishes the cells lining the esophagus and stomach so they repair themselves.

Apples — Rich in fiber, apples can help reduce the risk of developing a peptic ulcer. High-fiber foods like apples can speed up the recovery for people who already have peptic ulcers. Apples also have flavonoids, compounds which may reduce the growth of ulcer-causing bacteria.

Cinnamon — Not only does this delightful spice work wonders on reducing gas, it also helps to stabilize blood sugar, lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and reduce blood clotting. And, one whiff will boost memory and cognitive function! A needed benefit THIS time of year…

Hope you enjoy and please, share a favorite juice of your own!

Mom & Me Mani

With fall fast approaching and most gardens winding down, what’s a gal to do with the extra time on her hands? If you’re like me and my daughter, you take out the nail polish and get painting–painting those gorgeous summer flowers on your nails before they disappear!

flower nails

While it’s nowhere near as wonderful as gazing upon the real thing, it is a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon with the girl who means the most to you. When my daughter and I heard August 30th was officially Mom and Me Mani Day, well, the decision was made! I mean, not only do I love spending time with my daughter, but I enjoy watching her use two or three colors to do her nails. Now in my day, we used one color, much like I still do for my pedicure. But her? No way. The more the merrier. She paints pictures, designs, initials–whatever strikes her fancy at the moment will end up on her nails. For example, the first letter from every boy’s name in the band, One Direction…

Me? I like flowers and vegetables, and considering she led the last mutiny in our vegetable garden, we went with flowers. While hot pink is my all-time favorite color, we went with tomato red and autumn orange, plus a dot of pale pink in the center. As you can see, my daughter has the perfect hands and nails for a beautiful manicure. I do not.

Mom and Me mani

But I’m a gardener first, a beauty second. As a young teenager, my daughter’s priorities are reversed–exactly where most girls her age are in life, with one pointed difference: my gal can identify vegetable plants by their mere leaf shape. Can most teens make this claim to fame?

I’d venture to guess, no, giving us mothers one more reason to get out and get gardening–our youth needs us! And even if we don’t teach them the basics of organic gardening, we can spend a wonderful afternoon together painting our nails. Since I have no nails to speak of, I have the added pleasure of living vicariously through my daughter’s nails. They are quite lovely, as is she.

Julep colors to create this design: January (Red), Brielle (Orange) and Jennifer (Pink).

Carrots: My New Favorite in the Kitchen

My carrots are on their way out–actually have been for quite some time. Planted in the fall, these beauties have been hanging out for a while “in ground” until I summoned a need for them. Mind you, it’s supposed to be a little over 2 months to harvest, but as with all things in the garden, there is leeway. Lots.

If your carrots aren’t getting enough water, they might take an extra month. If they aren’t getting enough food, same idea. My carrots are very tolerant when it comes to these things because they have to be; I’m their gardener! But it’s not that big of a deal, really. I mean, over Easter we harvested a bunch of carrots and made carrot cake. A couple of weeks later we harvested a bunch for carrot soup, and they were all good. Some were a bit small due to overcrowding (not enough “hair cutting” on our part), but once we cut the greens off and cleaned the skins, we plopped them into a food processor and came up golden. 🙂

carrot soup with cream

So, since we like to experiment with our garden harvest, we tried carrot soup. Sampled some during a Mother’s Day luncheon and it was so delicious, I had to try my hand at making a bowl of my own. The results were mixed within the family–I loved it, my husband tolerated it, my son thought it tasted like curry and my daughter wrinkled her nose. Carrots aren’t her fave. More

Planting Sweet Potato Slips

Wow. It’s finally happened. My sweet potato slips have sprouted!

sweet potato slips have sprouted

Aren’t they wonderful? Now mind you, not all of them have sprouted. As with humans, you have your early bloomers and your late bloomers and so it goes with these little beauties. But don’t dismay–Mother Nature has a plan! By allowing only a few to sprout, she’s encouraging you to “stagger” your planting.

“Stagger my planting? What the heck does that mean?” More

Why I Adore Fall Gardening…

It’s cool outside, somewhat cloudy overhead, the ground soaked through.  Rich, composted dirt, lush green growth, there’s a sense of calm hanging in the air.  Walking alongside my beds, admiring Mother Nature in all her glory, it occurs to me that there is more than vegetables and produce here.  There is color, texture.  Emotion, peace.  It’s a sensory experience.

Take my black beauty eggplant and cinnamon basil.  I never noticed this before, but they share common coloring.  Side by side, they’re beautiful, striking.  Leaning close, the scent of spicy basil is distinct, memorable.  Moving further, I’m drawn to my red cabbage. More

Food Inflation

Now there’s a great way to ruin my day–tell me we’re facing a steep rise in food inflation and my grocery bill is going to hit the roof.  Wheat, soy, corn, milk, meat, it’s all going up.  Up, up, up.  Add this to the fact that our economy isn’t in the greatest of shape and I’d say someone needs a spanking.

Yes, Mother Nature is being a very bad girl this year, though I will give her credit for showering my state of Florida with rain (and won’t mention that she chose to do so while I was on vacation in the sunny–not!–Florida Keys), she is killing the middle of the country with her drought conditions.  In fact, it’s going have a global impact.  Even the price of eggs is expected to shoot up–aagh!

Now my kids won’t miss things like chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers (yes, it’s all going to be affected), but they will miss their eggs and toast.  Make that French toast for my daughter.  On the positive, I think this drought provides an excellent incentive to go grain-free.  Just think of it, you’ll be healthy, your joints will be happy and your moods will please everyone around you. 🙂  It’ll be great!  Except for one small problem:  we have no rain and the price of fresh vegetables is sky-rocketing.

Hmph.  Well, that brings me back to the garden, I guess.  Now I’m not suggesting you folks in the southern half of the country head outdoors and start tilling dirt (please don’t–you might keel over from heat stroke) but it would be a good idea to start planning for your fall garden.  You gardeners in the northern half start adding rows while you can.  And while you’re planning and adding, make sure you have a good rain collection system nearby.  It will help save on the cost of water.  Check out how one homeowner managed the task of homemade cistern.  Easy! 

Another good idea is to go hydropnic;  the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.  And the water is recycled through the system for added efficiency.  Perfect!  And completely out of Mother Nature’s hands.  Fast, too.  Need salad in a week?  Grow hydroponically!  You can use towers or buckets–your choice.

No matter which way you choose to garden, now is as good a time as any to consider the prospect.  The food you grow is a lot cheaper than the food you buy.  It’s fresher and healthier, provided you go 100% organic.  But I heard cheaper and THAT’S the bottom line when it comes to food inflation.