My Secret Weapon

When it comes to gardening, there’s nothing better than amending your soil with compost. Not only does it feed your plants, but it aerates the soil, invites the worms to slither in and generally keeps the environment in balance. However, there is ONE thing better than my backyard compost and that’s mushrooms.

Mushroom compost, to be exact. It’s inexpensive (when you buy it straight from the farm – Monterey Mushroom Farm – $10 for a trailer-full), readily available at most warehouse garden stores, but stinky. What makes it stinky?

I’m guessing there’s a fair amount of composted manure in it. From what animal? I can’t be sure. It’s just a guess on my part, but make sure you grab those gloves before you head out. And while it looks nearly the same as cow manure compost, I think my plants actually prefer the mushroom stuff over the cow stuff. 

Some of the biggest fans are squash and zucchini. I’d bet cabbage and broccoli would benefit, too, but the squash family shows the most improvement. Come to think of it, I bet my corn would love some mushrooms. I mean, they are heavy feeders, same as their squash friends!

found a big one

What else am I growing this fall? Tomatoes, green peppers, jalapenos, lettuce, carrots, peas, red beans, black beans and soon to be garlic and sweet onions. How about you? What are you growing?


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


Cute, But Unwelcome

These little guys are awfully cute, you have to admit. I mean, look at them. Out for an evening stroll, they’re not causing anyone any harm.

pesky piglets

Or are they?

According to my neighbor, these little fellas tore up his entire backyard. Ruts, holes–it looked like a Polo field at half-time. “Call out the divot-stompers!” The pristine grassy field is a mess (courtesy polo clubs and pony hooves). Not ideal for the home garden.

With this in mind, we scared off the piglets with a stiff bark and a quick dash down the fence line from the dogs next door and haven’t seen or heard from the little buggers since.

Cooper and Fadra


How to Grow Okra

It’s summer which means okra around these parts. This veggie loves warm weather and is the perfect plant to grow in Florida. From March through September, you’ll find okra in my garden. I start these plants from seed. in ground. about 1/2 – 3/4” deep, then stand back and watch them grow. It’s almost that easy.

clemson spineless okra

In about a week or so you’ll see the first leaves popping up through the soil. Okra cab grow several feet in height so be sure to give them plenty of space when planting, about 12-18” apart. More

Planting Pineapples

It’s that time of year when I dream of tropical getaways and long to bury my feet in the sand. It’s also that time of year when whole pineapples are plentiful on the grocer’s shelves. Sweet, juicy and delicious, pineapples are wonderful in smoothies, casseroles or simply fresh from the core. As a gardener, I’m always interested in how to plant the fruits and veggies that I love, and pineapples are no different.

And now I know how! Thanks to a friend, I’ve learned just how easy it is to grow pineapples at home. I mean, this fellow is no gardener. He’s just a guy who enjoys his pineapple and decided he’d try to grow some for himself. And he did!


How? He simply cut the crown from his recently devoured pineapple, allowed it to dry for several days, then dug a hole out by his pool and planted it. That’s it. He didn’t water or fertilize it to speak of. He just let it grow. And grow it did. More

Third Time’s A Charm

My daughter and I have been playing around in our test kitchen again and have come up with a delicious new cookie!  Test kitchen is just a fancy way of saying we’ve been cooking and concocting and this time, our mouths watered at the results. Oatmeal-Carrot Cookies that literally melt in your mouth with sweet delicious flavors that will have you tossing carrot seeds in the ground so fast your head will spin!

Oatmeal Carrot Cookies

Sure, you can buy carrots from your local market but where’s the fun in that?  I love to go to my supermarket and wander the aisles (I’m particularly excited by the weekly buy-one-get-one deals), but I really love harvesting vegetables from my organic garden, then proceeding directly to the kitchen for consumption of the same. Awesome feeling.

Anyway, with a bounty of freshly harvested carrots, I thought, “I need a new way to eat these babies.” My Fluffiest Carrot Cake is divine but way too fattening to eat on a regular basis. I mean, it’s too easy to eat three slices in a sitting. Too easy and bad for the hips. Very bad. So I decided to make a healthy cookie, instead. Unfortunately, healthy cookies are kinda hard to make, hence the title of this blog post. Our first two attempts failed. We sweetened the dough with honey which made the final cookies too “liquidy.” For the next batch we cut down on the honey but the cookies still didn’t have enough substance to them. Answer? More

Have You Exercised Your Soil Lately?

Soil is key to healthy plants.  Duh. But with spring upon us, it’s an important concept to keep in mind. Healthy soil = healthy plants. What makes a healthy soil? Fertilizer? Water? While these two ingredients certainly help, to have truly healthy soil, you need to aerate. Aerate basically means to turn your soil, or add “air” into the compacted ground by redistributing the soil, making for better decomposition. However, one must take caution when aerating established garden soil, because you don’t want to disturb the microorganisms and/or beneficials (good creatures) living beneath the surface. Think worms. You want these little guys to remain happy in your garden and poking them with the sharp blade of a tiller or spade will not make them happy.


How do you aerate your soil in a compassionate manner? Depends on the current condition of your soil. If you’re preparing an area for the first time, your best bet is to go full speed ahead using a push tiller.

rent the tiller

Your goal is to turn up the soil, introduce air, loosening the dirt several inches deep. You can also use a spade for this process. Stab the blade in, dig up the soil, turn it over–stab, dig, turn–over and over. It’s a tedious process but provides great exercise. Hah.

stab shovel both sides

For established gardens, avoid the push tiller and opt for a spade or a hand tool. For example, between planting seasons — I have two here in Central Florida, fall and spring — I turn and till as I work through established beds using a hand fork or shovel, whichever is handy. As I do so, I’ll add compost to increase beneficial organisms into the soil which in turn aids decomposition, aka, more organic compost! Additionally, throughout a single growing season, I’ll poke around my plants with a hand tiller/fork to ensure they’re not becoming compacted by say, heavy rains and the like. We do tend to get torrential downpours.

my beds are formed

Aerating soil not only facilitates the decomposition process of healthy soil, it also ensures light, fluffy beds for your plants. And remember, plants prefer light fluffy beds of dirt because it enables their roots to grow and spread freely. It also allows them to soak up those nutrients you’re “folding” or “tilling” into the soil in the form of organic fertilizer.

loosen and till as you go

Caveat to aeration? You’re turning up weed seeds embedded deep in your soil. Not good, because you’re basically replanting them, encouraging/enabling them to sprout. Ugh. But as every gardener knows, weeds are part of the deal. Some of us are meticulous when it comes to weed removal in and around their plants. Others (like me) have accepted that a few weeds around the garden don’t hurt that bad. They merely look bad. Which brings to mind an old saying along the lines…an immaculate house means a dull life. Loosely translated: I have other more exciting things to do than weed!

Now that you have that spring in your step, head outside! The sun is shining, the temps are warming (or will be soon), and there’s no place you’d rather be than outdoors.

Tomatoes In Need of Eggs

My tomatoes are rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to go in ground. Woohoo ~ what a great day! (Below, the sprouts were two weeks old.)

tomato sprouts 2 weeks old

And it’s a day I’ve been planning for, insisting the family not put their eggshells in the compost bin but instead, straight into my hot little hands. I need these babies for my tomato transplants. Eggshells and Epsom salts. Together, they are my fail proof preventative against blossom end-rot. You know, those ugly black spots that can form on your tomatoes?  (Shown below, the sprouts are now 3 weeks old and ready to head outside!)

tomato sprouts a week later

The spots are caused by a lack of calcium which is why I give my tomatoes a blast of calcium right from the start. Using discarded, dried and washed eggshells, I crumble them into small pieces and scatter around the base of my tomato plant. Next I sprinkle a bit of Epsom salts around the same and cover with compost. I’ll follow by forming a well around my tomatoes to increase their water retention.

they're in!

If the weather in Central Florida remains exceptionally warm, I’ll cover my babies with a screen to block out the hot midday sun. Once they reach about a foot, I’ll remove the screen and begin dusting. Dipel dust keeps the worms off my leaves by eliminating them before they get a chance to eliminate my tomato plants. All’s fair in gardening and nature!

Wow. SO excited! For more details on growing tomatoes, check my how-to grow section located on the sidebar to the right or menu bar above.

Love At First Bite

With the recent cold dips in temperature, I’m reminded of what comfort food is all about. Easy, especially when you have a husband who constantly reminds you. “I don’t eat fish when it’s cold outside. Fish is a summer food.”

Hmph. Has the man never tasted a wonderfully warm and succulent pan-seared dolphin with jambalaya? I mean, seriously. We just celebrated Fat Tuesday, a day for pancakes and all things crazy. But Mardi Gras was so yesterday and I’m sitting at the dinner table with a family looking for comfort.

kale in chicken soup

What do I serve? For starters, we think of chicken soup during the cold snaps. It’s the only time I make it and I do so from scratch using carrots from my garden. I’d use the sweet onions from my garden, but they aren’t ready for harvest and celery is not on my to-grow list. We simply don’t eat enough of it. But I do have kale so I toss in a few leaves and dive in heartily.

French Onion soup

Next up is my Savory French Onion Soup. This is one of my all-time favorites. It’s easy to make though it tends to take a bit of time. And what good soup doesn’t? Definitely worth a try for your family.

onion gratin

While we’re on the topic of onions, how about Onions Au Gratin? This one is a spinoff of the French Onion Soup and worth every ounce of effort. Again, I must use grocer onions because mine won’t be ready until April. Wah.

Baked Sweet Onions

While we’re on the topic of onions, how about some Baked Sweet Onions?

comfort in cabbage and onions

Maybe a bit of Sautéed Cabbage and Onions? A Cabbage Bake?

potatoes and cabbage steaming hot out of the oven

How about a lovely side dish of Rosemary Roasted Potatoes? Easy and delicious!

roasted potatoes

For dessert, I’m heading for the Butterscotch Cookies. Found this recipe while perusing some of my cooking magazines and had to share. The butterscotch flavor screams comfort and the soft melt-in-your mouth goodness backs it up.

Butterscotch Cookies 2

But watch yourself–not only do these taste divine but your belly will fall madly in love and you might find yourself overstuffing! This kind of comfort makes me feel like I’m drifting on cloud nine… Follow the links for full recipes, or check my Recipe section here on the blog for these delicious numbers and more!



Valentine Fun in the Garden

Have you ever wondered about the similarities between plants and men?  Probably not!  Most sane people don’t.  But me, when I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time in my garden—maybe too much—and my thoughts?  Well, they naturally veer in that direction and I realized men and plants have much in common!

Ever wonder, if your man were a plant, which would he be?  Just for fun, I’ve listed a few.

Corn – Tall and slender with silken hair, this man provides well and yields a harvest of golden treasure.  While pleasing to look at, beware:  he also tends to be needy; easily blown over by the slightest of breezes—not the man for you hardier types.

Peanut – This good ole boy is made of solid stuff, on the inside and the outside, not to mention he’s filled with sweet old-fashioned appeal.  For most ladies, it’s a tough combination to resist.  Add the fact the kids love him and you’ve got yourself a marrying man!

row of peanuts

Watermelon – This well-rounded fun-loving guy is always welcome at a summer barbecue and usually proves a big hit with the kids.  Prone to balding, his colorful personality distracts one from notice.  However, take heed.  If left to his own device, this one can grow wild and get quite out of hand!

Garlic – This fellow is somewhat distant, as he spends long periods of time out of sight, only to emerge when conditions improve.  Strong and distinct, he’s not for everyone, but given the right environment, he can show great depth, even mellow his pungent tone with time.  A worthy peer, indeed.

line of garlic

Okra – Strong, of firm build, this one likes it hot and enjoys it spicy—very at home in the Big Easy, too.  Generally speaking, he blends well with others, can plant himself anywhere, but caution:  he can be seedy, even a bit slimy at times.

Potatoes – These fellas are generous producers, enjoyed by most everyone as they appeal to a variety of tastes.  They can get easily crowded, though, so give them plenty of space.  If you do, you’ll have yourself a real winner with this one.  Note:  be patient with the sweeter types—they need a little more time before they’re ready to hit the dinner-date table.  But if you can wait, go for it.  You’ll reap the gold with this gem!

Onion – Sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet, this notable companion enhances every dish he meets.  But don’t be fooled.  You have to watch yourself around this double-edged treat.  He tends to “age” those around him quicker than most, and will often make you cry.  But if you like a challenge, give him a try.  He will infuse your life with flavor!

Raspberry – Sweet at first sight, this guy may follow up with a tart bite.  He generally likes to be left alone—literally thrives out in the wild of nature.  Ah…an adventurous type yourself, you’ll feel drawn to this bright and colorful character, but be forewarned:  he’s got thorns and lots of them.

school squash and corn

Squash – Talk about diversity, this one has it!  From sunny yellow summers to cold and cozy winters, this man will keep you well supplied no matter the season.  The cutest of pumpkins, he’s always welcome during the holidays, and his cousin plays a mean racquet ball—for you sportier types.  But keep him moving; stagnation easily leads to illness with this one.  Rest assured, if variety is your thing, take heart.  This dazzling character can fulfill your desires, tenfold.

Carrots – Bred from firm and solid fiber, these men are steady and strong and always there for you.  Given proper attention, they can also become quite sweet in nature; a true hidden treasure, if ever there was one.  They do need some elbow room, exhibit a bit of thinning at times, but if you’re willing to work for it, this one’s a keeper!


Beets – Down to earth is putting it mildly with this guy—he’s knee deep in it!   Quiet, mellow, well-rounded…  It’s a wonder he doesn’t rank top of the list for every woman in town.  Perhaps he can come on a bit strong, in an easy-going sort of way.  But if you have thick skin and like to keep it real?   This one’s for you.

Lettuce – This boy likes everybody and everybody likes him.  Similar to the granola-type male, this fella stays healthy and fit, slim and trim.  How could he be anything else?  He has a knack for blending well with any crowd and blend well, though be careful—once he mingles, it’s hard to separate him from the mix!

lush lettuce

Tomatoes – This popular guy is an all around favorite with the ladies, most drawn to his bright and cheery appearance and radiant personality.  A real reliable kind of guy, sweet with a hint of tang, meaty and quite robust—he comes in all sizes.  Yes, this one is tempting.  Be sure you’re in for the commitment—he’s going to need it if you expect him to produce.

school tomatoes

My husband?  He’s definitely a raspberry with garlic tendencies, yet aging like a carrot.

Me?  He claims I’m a Venus flytrap.  Yes, I gave him the evil eye—at first.  But then, I got to thinking.  Imagine the unique and stunning plant for a moment, with her beautiful red, heart-shaped petiole, her pair of symmetrical lobes hinged near the midriff—I mean, midrib.

Lovely so far, isn’t it?  Catches insects and spiders with a bat of her eyelashes.  Tolerates fiery tempers—er, fire well.  Tolerates fire well.   Actually uses the flames to suppress the competition around the neighborhood.  (Sounds like a feisty gal to me!)  Sure, she can be difficult to grow, but what plant doesn’t have its difficult days?  You know, the more I think about it, the more I heard compliment.