fresh

6th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop

It’s that time of year again when we gardeners get SUPER excited. The garden is calling and we’re answering.

Dianne Venetta_AIB Logo_2015

And who can blame us? It’s spring, the absolute BEST season of all.

For my gardening tip, I’m going to shock you. Organic is the name of the game when it comes to gardening, but did you know that those pesky weeds can actually be a gold mine when it comes to fertilizer?

Oh, yes. Forget WEEDING. You want to save those babies!

WEEDS. The endless supply of fertilizer growing at your toe-tips! Stinging nettles, comfrey, burdock, horsetail, yellow dock, and chickweed make wonderful homemade fertilizer. Why not make your own “tea” or add to your compost pile. So long as your weeds have not gone to flower, you can dry them in the sun and add to your garden as a mulch. We’re talking straight nitrogen, here, that will supply your plants with nutrients. Borage (starflower) is an herb, but for others it’s a weed. I say dry it, root and all, and add it to the compost pile. It will help break everything down and give the pile and extra dose of heat.

Another option is to allow the weeds to soak for several days. And while this process tends toward the stinky side, it’s definitely a win for the garden. Simply place a bunch of weed leaves and roots in a 5 gallon bucket and cover with water. You might need to “weigh down” the leaves with a stone or brick to ensure the plants remain covered. Stir once a week and wait 4-6 weeks for them to get thick and gooey. Then use that mess as a soil fertilizer.

Cool!

Now for the prize. As a garden and foodie aficionado, I’m giving away a copy of the BRAND NEW book by Indiana Press, Earth Eats. Focusing on local products, sustainability, and popular farm-to-fork dining trends, Earth Eats: Real Food Green Living compiles the best recipes, tips, and tricks to plant, harvest, and prepare local food. And I’m a contributor!

Along with renowned chef Daniel Orr, Earth Eats radio host Annie Corrigan presents tips, grouped by season, on keeping your farm or garden in top form, finding the best in-season produce at your local farmers’ market, and stocking your kitchen effectively. The book showcases what locally produced food will be available in each season and is amply stuffed with more than 200 delicious, original, and tested recipes, reflecting the dishes that can be made with these local foods. In addition to tips and recipes, Corrigan and Orr profile individuals who are on the front lines of the changing food ecosystem, detailing the challenges they and the local food movement face.

I totally LOVE the concept, farm-to-table, because after all–isn’t that what we gardeners are all about? I’m adding a garden tea cup to the prize mix for your sipping-while-savoring-the-read pleasure.

Absolutely. So get busy–you have several options to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

 

Potato Planting Begins

Here in Central Florida, it’s time to plant the potatoes. Potatoes prefer cooler conditions, but are susceptible to frost and freezing. While neither happens often if Florida, they do happen, and we will have to cover our plants accordingly to protect them. But I digress. First things first, we need to plant them or there won’t be anything to protect!

basket of potatoes

As an organic gardener, I rotate my crops from bed to bed to stay ahead of the bugs and maintain healthy soil. We follow beans with potatoes, so we’re using our old Lima bean row this year for our new potatoes. We’re growing red potatoes, though many varieties exist. To keep things straight, I use an excel spreadsheet, though pencil and paper work fine. Whichever method you choose, you’ll be glad you did. It helps to keep your beds straight from season to season.

Before you begin, keep in mind that you will be “hilling” your beds as the plants grow.  This means that as your potato plants begin to grow leaves and attain some height, you’re going to want to draw or “pull” in more dirt around the base of the plants.  Hay mulch can also be used to serve this purpose.  The idea here is to ensure good coverage of the developing “tubers” or new potatoes as they grow.  Potatoes have an “upward” growth habit, whereby they will grow upward as the root system expands.  If they near the soil’s surface and become exposed to sunlight, they will turn green, and green potatoes are NO good.  (They’ll make you sick if you eat them.)  You can also start with a trench when planting potatoes.  Makes it easier to hill in the future, but with my garden I simply plant them “low” and hill as they grow.

my potatoes

We’re planting ours next to our peas because the two are great companions in the garden. However, tomatoes are not, so keep them apart. Tomatoes and potatoes are prone to early and late blight and can infect one another. Other good companions for potatoes include: bush bean, members of the cabbage family, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, petunia, onion and marigold. Other bad companions include: asparagus, cucumber, kohlrabi, pumpkin, rutabaga, squash family, sunflower, turnip and fennel.

potato holes

After we till our soil to improve aeration, we amend with compost and composted cow manure (they love the stuff).  Next, we form holes for our potato seed—about 2 inches deep.

Now it’s time for cutting our potato seed. Inspect each potato seed and look for the eyes. Eyes are the sprout nubs covering your potato. The idea here is to cut your potato seeds in half or even quarters, depending on the size of the potato and the number of “eyes.”  Each cut piece should have at least one eye, as this is where the future sprout erupts!

eyes on the potato

When planting, I like to put the cut potato piece “eye-side-up”—don’t want to make it too hard for my babies!—though I’ve learned that potatoes are prolific growers and will thrive in your compost pile without a second thought from you, without any regard to their “eye” orientation.

But just in case—keep it easy and plant “eye-side-up.”  Cover your potatoes with a mix of dirt and all-purpose organic fertilizer and water well.

Potatoes are heavy feeders so feed them every so often with a nice mix of fish emulsion, or a dose of good old-fashioned worm poop.  Potatoes are “pigs” when it comes to consuming nutrients which is why you want that cow manure and fertilizer mixed in at time of planting.

organic plant food

Another consideration is to stagger your planting. “Staggering” your planting dates means to plant only a portion of your potato seeds at one time, say a third of the row, then another third in two weeks, followed by the last third two weeks later. This ensures a constant supply of fresh potatoes. An important consideration in my home, because our “fruit cellar” (aka garden garage) is not sufficient to store potatoes long-term. Too warm. Staggering also prevents whining from the family.

“Potatoes for dinner?  Again?”

Apparently they don’t want potatoes for dinner EVERY night.  Hmph.

In about 2 – 4 months after planting and continuous hilling, you’ll reap a lovely bounty of fresh potatoes. And trust me, there is a difference between fresh-from-the-garden-potatoes and store-bought.  They taste sweet pie and smooth as butter.  We like to roast ours with garlic and rosemary.

prepping potatoes

And remember, no matter how you prepare your potatoes, they taste better when you grow them yourself. 🙂  But do remember these babies are not frost-tolerant and must be covered should the air turn cold. You can use a frost blanket or a household sheet, but either way, make sure you cover them from in the event of frost or you’ll wake up to this ugly site.

frost bitten potato

Brrrrr. I get the chills just looking at those poor suffering beauties! So do be cautious and happy gardening!

Breakfast Kale

Looking for a healthy option for breakfast? Look no further because you’ve come to the right place–your garden. My kale is flourishing (despite a few wilting leaves due to the midday Florida sun) and that means it’s time for chowing!

kale in garden

One of my favorite ways to eat kale is sautéed with eggs in a breakfast scramble. Okay, I like this for lunch and dinner, too, but with kids around, we like to keep our food themes “stable.”

“Eggs are for breakfast, Mom. Not dinner.”

This is where I smile and say, “Sure honey, whatever you say.” Eggs and kale ARE perfect for the breakfast plate, and simple. Because everything we do here at BloominThyme is simple, not to mention delicious!

Kale Scramble

healthy kale breakfast2 eggs

12 leaves of kale, torn into large chunks, no stems

1 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP butter

garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil and butter in a saucepan on medium heat. When butter is melted, toss in kale leaves and sauté until soft. More

Summer Salsa

Been vacationing over the summer and out of the garden (thank goodness for automated watering systems!) but this week I made salsa. I mean, what else does one do with fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro? They make salsa!

jalapeno beauties

Unfortunately, my tomatoes took a beating during our week of thunderstorms. While I might have found the cure for blossom-end rot, splitting skins is something only a greenhouse can prevent. Constant moderate watering is the key with tomatoes, gradually increased as they set blossoms and begin to produce fruit. Once it’s time for harvest, back off on the water to avoid splitting. As you can imagine, torrential downpours are not helpful to this cause. But not one to argue with Mother Nature (learned my lesson years ago), I chose to toss out the bad and focus on the good. 🙂 More

Lettuce for Lunch, Anyone?

It’s my staple foodstuff for the midday meal. I eat a salad every day, varying the additions to my bowl of lettuce. Some days it’s avocado, chickpeas and feta or goat cheese. Other days I’ll add a can of wild caught salmon and strawberries. Most days it includes spinach, and always olive oil and balsamic–glaze or vinegar. Add a little pepper and you have a feast!

fresh lettuce

Really, if you add the right ingredients, you can get FULL on your salad. And for those of you in the warmer climates, NOW is the time to eat lettuce fresh from the garden. Here in Central Florida it’s simply too hot for this tender-leafed veggie to grow. You can grow it on your patio, but I tend to have a problem with plants that rely on ME for their water. A timed sprinkler system? No problem. Me and my memory and schedule? No way. I’d starve if I had to live off a patio garden.

 arugula bed

Unless of course, I went with hydroponics. Now that’s a self-watering, self-nourishing kind of system if I’ve ever seen one. And it might be exactly what my northern friends need to continue consuming their fresh greens. You can grow your greens in towers like these or in bins. Your choice. But either way, it’s worth taking a look-see.

 salad-wall

But I digress. For Southern gardeners, now is the time to grow your lettuce and I, for one, am celebrating. Once again, no worries when it comes to growing too much. I have the PERFECT way to keep it stored and tasting fresh for days. Check this earlier post for how you can, too. Enjoy!

Zucchini Tomato Sauce

When it comes to my garden, my motto is “eat what’s blooming.”  So, with my zucchini in full bloom, I came up with a little comfort sauce for my pasta.  Now I prefer roasted zucchini, but since I’ve already had that three times this month, I decided to try something new.  While making pasta and red sauce for the family, I decided to have mine with zucchini.  Mind you, I’m the only one in the family who cares for zucchini, but we have an entire bed of the stuff because I am the head gardener which means I get a say in what grows where.  Leadership has its privileges.

Anyhoo, this sauce is easy and delicious and can be expounded upon exponentially (can you tell my daughter is learning algebra?).  The ingredients are zucchini, garlic, tomatoes, basil and parsley.

Olive oil and butter, too, but I can’t grow those in the garden.  The basil I used is cinnamon basil, but plain old sweet basil is also delicious (yes, I’ve made this twice, now). More

Whipping Up Some Potatoes

Okay, maybe not whipped per se, but definitely a whirlwind of yum in the kitchen.  Last week we harvested potatoes, this week we eat them! Gosh, I love gardening, don’t you?

And these were easy to make.  A little olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary, salt and pepper and this time, we added a bit of Parmesan to the mix in lieu of sweet onions.  Delicious.  From kindergarten to middle school these potatoes were a hit.  Next!  Recipe can be found here.

In the garden this week, the kids pulled out the remaining potato plants, squash, and corn in preparation for crop rotation.

Now you’re probably wondering, corn?  I don’t recall seeing any corn.  Well, they weren’t much to see unfortunately.  I mean, they were exciting for the kids, but not much when it comes to cobs.

Perhaps we didn’t feed them enough.  Corn are pigs in the garden and maybe our eyes were smaller than their appetites.  They’re cute, but should be twice the size. We’ll work on it.

Moving right along, peanuts will fill our beds over the summer.  As part of our crop rotation, these guys are awesome because they fix the soil with nitrogen–especially important after the hogs wiped it clean of any and all nutrients.  Yes, I’m talking about corn and squash, even potatoes.  Peanuts love the heat, too and will take near about the entire summer break to grow and mature, about 3-4 months.  Remember: plants like soft beds of dirt–especially peanuts.  The plants drop pegs or “stems” into the ground and that’s where the peanuts form.  If the soil is too hard, the peanuts will have a hard time of it. So make it easy and loosen that soil!

We won’t follow our row of black beans with peanuts, because they’re part of the same rotation family.  Instead, will “close” that row off and wait until fall, maybe plant some broccoli or cabbage, both of whom love nitrogen.  Why?  Because they’re “leaves” and leaves love nitrogen.  Sing it with me kids:  beans, leaves, roots and fruits! (It’s our preferred order for crop rotation.)  Beans, leaves, roots and fruits!

Seed Sale begins on Monday which means the kids have furiously cutting and gluing their seed packets together and filling them with seed.  We have a wagon-full of black beans and pole beans to sell, plus some squash, sunflower and even tomato (some of which will have to be handed out the week after as you can’t rush Mother Nature!).  Cucumber didn’t fare so well, but we won’t give up on them.  There’s always fall! 🙂

Not only will we raise money for the garden, but the students will reap the rewards of independence knowing they are FULLY sustainable.  From seed to harvest to dish, glove to tool to feed and mulch, they’ll take pride in the fact it all stemmed from their effort.  The way I see it, self-reliance breeds self-respect.  And that’s a good thing.

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.

Nothing like Harvest to pull you from the Doldrums

Rain, rain, rain–a beautiful thing right about now in Central Florida, but absolutely no good for photography.  Not mine, anyway. Can you imagine what my husband would say if I went out into the rain with the lovely digital camera he bought me for my birthday?

Yes, well, it’s not anything to be repeated here, I assure you.  I mean, we’re all sunshine and candy in these parts and have no interest in “What the heck were you thinking?” or “You did what?”

No siree-bob we have NO interest in that kind of heresy at BloominThyme.  What we do have an interest in is harvest, big time.

Would you look at that zucchini? For starters, it’s enormous, chock full with a heck-of-a-lot-of-fun factor.  Did you hear?  We have zucchini! Ring the cow bell and call the neighbors, it’s harvest time!

Rainy days are no match for harvest days.  When you pull that incredible bounty from your garden–trust me–you’re in for a thrill. 

Thrill of your lifetime!

Okay, that could be an exaggeration.  (I’ve had some fun in my lifetime and it wasn’t harvesting…).  But it’s certainly the thrill of your springtime.  Harvest makes all the effort worthwhile.  All the bug squashing, leaf clipping, weed pulling, garlic spritzing, fungus snipping, cricket chasing, fly swatting, watering and feeding effort is made right–come harvest time.

In fact, we were lucky to get this picture of Julie’s zucchini.  She’s a grade-A chef and this baby was on the stove in no time.  Why Ashley was so excited by her harvest she near ran the boys down on her way to the kitchen to whip her zucchini into an absolute delicacy!  Her cucumbers are next, followed by her squash, conch peas…

These women are on a roll, riding high on a thrill!  Which reminds me.  “Have you started your garden, yet?”

Fluffiest Carrot Cake Ever!

My kids enjoy fresh carrots from the garden, but carrot cake? 

They like this one!  Sweet and delicious, it’s the perfect finish to any spring meal.  Unlike most dark and dense carrot cakes, this recipe whips up a light and fluffy yet oh-so-flavorful-batter earning the approval of even the fussiest of kids. 

With a basket of fresh carrots in hand a sweet tooth aching for satisfaction, we scoured through recipes in search of the perfect carrot cake.  Most are too heavy and rich for our liking, so we devised this version that showcases our garden produce AND pleases our discriminating palates.  It’s also a dessert where we can all pitch in to help; a good thing. 

First, my daughter harvested a basket of fresh carrots.  My son then peeled and grated them. 

While he was busy at work, I asked my daughter if she would make some carrots as decorations for our cake, to which she replied a resounding yes!  Then quickly got down to the business of decorating–with fondant, of course.  She’s a budding cake artist and decided our carrot cake needed some bunnies, too. 

Have at it, girl–let’s make it a party!

Pouring her creative juices into the assignment, she rolled and formed, squished and scrapped  until everything was precisely the way she wanted (I had no idea artists were such perfectionists). 

After due diligence, she settled carrots and greens and her sweet little fella (I use the term “little” lightly, mind you) square in the center of the cake, among an egg-littered meadow. 

Cute, isn’t he? 

Upon seeing the creation, my husband remarked, “What’s he doing?”

“What do you think he’s doing? He’s sitting.”

He raised a brow.  “I’ve never seen a bunny situated quite like that before.  Looks like he’s about to take the car for a drive.”

I shook my head.  Hmph.  (You can see who isn’t the creative one in the family.)  “Well I think he’s adorable.”  And proceeded to take pictures to share.

Afterward, we used the carrot tops for a bit of floral decoration.  We’re thrifty.  Why not use every part of our produce? And when they pass their peak, we’ll continue to utilize them–on the compost pile.

Baking is fun, getting creative is fun…tying them all together with a bounty of garden harvest makes them even more fun. 

And delicious.  Care for some carrot cake?  Check my recipe section and make some today.  You’ll be glad you did!