garden

Relationship 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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

And if you like romance, check out my Valentine’s giveaway — including books and chocolate!

Thanks, Jack Frost!

Because you were kind enough to delay your visit to Florida this year, my tomatoes are blooming, producing quite the bounty!  Why, just look at these gorgeous babies…

Aren’t they fabulous?  And better yet, they taste delicious–especially in sauce form.  But before we get to the kitchen, I wanted to share a few things I learned this season with regard to growing tomatoes.  Number one:  sturdy triangle towers are your BEST bet.  This round contraption with the adjustable vertical supports was no good.  Actually collapsed beneath the weight of the plant!

Sure, I could have manipulated the positioning of these supports and in fact did so several times–but is that how I want to be spending my time in the garden?  Nope.  I’d rather stroll down to the garden and admire my sturdy triangle tomato towers, and then pluck ruby-red tomatoes (or nearly so) from my plants.  I mean, that’s the reason I’m gardening, right?  The harvest?

Yes.  And once I gather a basket-full of San Marzanos, it’s off to check on the others.  My Lincoln tomatoes are doing well, but why are some of them yellow?  In fact, they look amazingly similar to the Lemon Drop variety I saw in one of my seed catalogs.  Hmph.  I don’t remember ordering those, let alone planting them!

But stranger things have happened.  I guess.  Right?  No worries.  It’s all fun. 🙂  Wandering still further, I noticed this little beauty.

Don’t ask me how it ended up in my tomato cage.  Blame it on the fact that I expanded the garden into the wildflower field, coupled with unseasonably warm weather…  Not really sure.  Like I said–strange things are happening around here.  Yet wonderful things are about to happen in my kitchen!  C’mon, I’ll show you! 

Now making tomato sauce is an easy task.  Easier when using canned, but we’re gardeners and a little extra effort to use fresh doesn’t bother us in the least bit.  So first things first, we need to remove the skin and seeds.  I call this “blanch and push.”  You’ll find full instructions on how-to in my recipe section but for now, we’ll cover the basics. 

Next up is the cooking process.  First you’ll want to saute onion and garlic in olive oil and then add your tomatoes.  Mush ’em up real good (helps them cling to the noodles).  Add the seasoning of your choice, bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 20 minutes to several hours. 

Wow.  That’s vague. 

Yes.  And so are most Italians when you ask them how to make tomato sauce.  Some may slant you the evil eye while others will simply smile yet remain mum.  You see, tomato sauce is akin to the family jewels when it comes to Italians and they won’t share (other than with their firstborn) the recipe for their tomato sauce.  Shoot–some won’t even eat another’s sauce let alone tell you how they make theirs!

Blasphemy, pure and simple.  But since I’m only Italian by marriage, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned along the way.  Sauce to Italians is like gravy to Americans and everyone’s taste buds run different.  You know, some like it lumpy, others don’t.  Some like it dark while others prefer it light.  Salt, no salt…  Which pretty much sums up tomato sauce.  Fiddle with the recipe until you tweak it just right to suit YOUR family and call it a day.

You’ll never please everyone so worry about those who matter.  Same goes for meatballs (but were not even going to GO there).  When it comes to sauce, think “taste and cling” and above all, enjoy the process. Buon Appetito!

Vegetable Head Wreath

In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to make a head wreath.  Not usually one for trick-or-treating dress-up (I leave this to the experts like my sister), I thought, Why not don a head wreath this evening

I know it’s not much, but it would be something to demonstrate my youthful enthusiasm, my zest for life…wouldn’t it?  Besides, how fun is a homemade head wreath?  And oh so au naturale.

Way fun.  And simple–one of my favorite words in the dictionary!  To make this one, I clipped a rosemary branch, broke it down to smaller sprigs and then interlaced them around each other for a simple head wreath (you can tie the ends to make it easier) and ta-da!  Princessa!

 

But strolling down my rows, I decided I might want something a bit more unique and opted for the sweet potato look.  Green, purple blossoms…

 

Gorgeous.  Absolutely gorgeous!  It’s different, anyway.  Of course, you can always go with the traditional flower head-gear. 

Never fails to disappoint, does it?  And oh so creative.  What else would you expect from the (crazy) garden lady?  Were you thinking bean wreath?

I tried.  Pitiful failure, if I do say so myself. 🙂  But it was fun trying and isn’t that what it’s all about?  Happy Halloween!

Organic Pest Control 101

This week the kids learned about organic pesticides.  Besides the obvious “plucking and chucking” method, they learned there are other ways to control the pests attacking their plants. First and foremost are the “beneficials.”  This a fancy term for good bugs that eat bad bugs.  Which bugs are good?

How about the ever popular ladybug?  She LOVES to eat aphids, but so do green lacewings. These two also enjoy whiteflies and mites, tomato fruitworms and pinworms, as do trichogramma wasps.  But praying mantids also like to eat these critters.  Have a problem with mosquitoes? Look no further than your friendly dragonfly–they gobble these stinging beasts by the hundreds! Frogs will delight in a menu of mosquitoes, too, but these fellas also like slugs and snails–very bad bugs in the garden.  Besides their cool names, assassin and pirate bugs are all-around general pest-fighters so invite them to stay for sure.

But good bugs are not your only weapon against bad bugs.  You can also plant herbs and flowers to repel the pests you don’t want, not to mention beautify your garden!  Some bugs are “repelled” by certain scents so you’ll want to be sure to include these in your garden.  One of the all around best is French marigold. 

Not only does it repel nematodes (microscopic bugs in the soil), it also discourages whiteflies, flea beetles and aphids.  Geraniums repel red spider mites and horseradish repels potato bugs.  Snails and slugs hate wormwood. 

Speaking of “good scents,” you can also use aromatic plants to prevent pests.  Ants don’t like peppermint and spearmint.  Cabbage moths will steer clear from rosemary.  (Hey, this reminds me of companion planting!) And the one plant that repels them all, including some kids?  Garlic.

If you don’t want to grow garlic, consider using it to make a spray for your vegetable plants.  Ground a few cloves and cayenne pepper together, steep them in hot water (like you do tea bags) and allow the mixture to sit 24-48 hours.  Then watch out bugs, this yucky smelling spray is coming to a plant near you! Or how about steeping some wormwood instead of garlic? Caterpillars will run! You can also create a spray by mixing your compost or old coffee with water.  Let it sit for a few days and **presto** anti-bug spray.   Caution:  wear gloves and don’t touch your eyes before washing your hands. 

Yuck for you and yuck for bugs.  And all your sprays will work a little better if you add a bit of dish soap to the mix—or combine it with water and use it on its own!  Soapy water stops pests in their tracks.

I’ve also heard that bugs don’t care for the aroma of onions, so this week the kids planted a bunch.  Scallions, sweet onions…and right next to our bed of lettuce.  Hmmm…  Salad anyone?

And if the bugs like our onions as much as we do well then we’ll just break out one of our other methods!  Be sure to check out the Kid Buzz section for a complete list of our garden lessons!

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.

Ashley’s Topsy Turvy Experiment

Ashley received a lovely gift in the form of a Topsy Turvy Tomato plant.  What every gardener-extraordinaire needs, right? Well, yes and no.

You see, gardeners are do-it-yourselfers and generally like to get up close and personal with their vegetable plants.  A Topsy Turvy simply hangs there, doing all the work for you.  How much fun is that? 

Not much at my house–worse, it’s one of those doggone things you must remember to water.  Not a good match, Topsy Turvy and I.  But Ashley’s a good sport and gave the contraption a whirl.  She hung it from her tree and hoped for the best.

Things went well, for a while, but one stiff wind put an end to her tree-hanging tomato experiment and down it came.  Crashing to the ground.

Now what?  Re-hang it?  Send it off to the compost pile?  Or move it to better digs. 

Ashley voted for the latter.

Doesn’t he look more comfortable? 

I thought so and for each visit to her garden, I photo-journaled his progress.  Growing alongside her raised planter, he seemed to prosper.  Thrive, really!

Until something happened.  I have no idea.  Could have been the heat.  Could have been the drought.  Could have been anything.  Whatever it was, as some of you may recall (from last week’s photos), he didn’t look so good.

But I told you not to lose heart.  With a little love and care this pumpkin (term of endearment) would be back on track in no time. 

Ashley was diligent and didn’t give up.  Remember:  she’s been bitten by the garden bug (a good bug, not one of those nasty beasts that eats you out of home and garden). 

She moved the boy to the patio and continued to feed him.  She watered and watched and generally lost sleep over the lad’s predicament like any good mother would. 

And do you know what happened?  That puppy produced!  Look at those gorgeous plump and juicy red tomatoes just begging to be sliced and slipped between two pieces of bread or layered in fresh salad greens. 

Any you slice them, these babies will be brilliant.

Absolutely brilliant.  Can you believe it?

I can.  But I’m plum crazy.  (Make that tomato.)

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.

The Sweet Smell of Dirt

Is there anything sweeter than the smell of dirt? I don’t mean the dirt in my garden, or the dirt and dust of outdoor living. No, I’m talking about the sweet scent of dirt that clings to my son on a daily basis, the aroma that hovers about him, follows him as he runs through the house at top speed, leaps over sofas in a single bound, jumps, twists in mid-air as he pushes off from an armrest managing a karate chop and kick before landing on his feet.

My son is amazing.  He smells like dirt and a myriad of other things I (thankfully) cannot identify, nor do I want to know their origin.  He dots the house on a regular basis with his tale-tell markings, adding to my list of things to clean.  But it all becomes irrelevant when he careens through the room, throws himself onto the seat beside me and wraps his skinny little arms around my neck. The boy can hug like the coziest of bears!  He snuggles close, wedges his toes between my legs (to become at one with me, I think), flashes that brilliant toothless smile and says, “Hi, Mommy.”

Warm ripples of love shoot straight out from my heart.  Short and sweet, he gets right to the point.  I’d expect nothing less from my little man-in-training (his father’s not big on love talk, either). Full of life, packed with love, he wants nothing more than to be with his mother–at the moment.

The minute Dad walks in it will be game over for Mom.  Like boys and bikes, fishing and skateboards, I don’t stand a chance when it comes to him and his dad. 

But that’s okay.  I’m a realist. I accept the realities of male-bonding and sashay right around them.  After all, he’s helpful in the garden and helpful in the kitchen–after the friendly reminder to wash his hands.

Bright and energetic, boys are quick and sharp and they do love their mothers.  After all, it’s my name he calls out in the middle of the night.  It’s my side of the bed he seeks during the pre-dawn light.  It’s my cheerful face he searches for in pick up line after school. 

So each night, as he scrambles from my lap en route for his father, I let him go.  Good practice for later.  For one day he will love another woman, cherish and adore her (and call his mother once a week, if he knows what’s good for him!) and I will no longer be the center of his universe. 

But until then, I’ll happily remain the love of his life.  And the feeling is mutual, dirt devils and dust bunnies, my boy is decidedly adorable–stink and all!

Vacations and Gardens

They sometimes don’t mix.  Unless you plan accordingly, vacations can wreak havoc on a garden.  Shoot, even when you do plan accordingly they can shower your garden with weeds and bugs, slugs and grubs.  The mere thought of leaving my garden for a week at a time gives me the heebie-jeebies. But hey, I’ve got to live, don’t I? 

Yes.  More than live for my garden, I’ve got to traipse across the wilderness, scour new horizons in search of greener grass and bluer skies and drag my kids alongside me.  My heart soars at the sheer whisper of exotic destinations and far off places. 

Until they introduced those intrusive body scanners, anyway.  Ick.  Unfortunately, body scanners and groping TSA agents are not the only things capable of making one mutter, “ick.”  No.  Vacations away from your fabulous and fertile garden can make you turn away in horror, too.  Just look at what happened to Julie’s gorgeous greens. 

She wasn’t gone for long.  It all happened so fast… 

It’s enough to make a girl want to up and quit this whole garden experiment, toss the newfound joy aside like an uncomfortable pair of heels.  They’re scuffed.  It will take effort to refurbish them to their original shine.  Is it worth it?

Chin up, ladies–of course it’s worth it!  You’re a gardener now.  You must understand that Mother Nature likes to toy with a gal, test her fortitude and make sure she’s worth those glorious tomatoes she’s perfected over the centuries. After all, once she’s entrusted you with her precious commodities of fruits and vegetables, she’ll expect you to perform in turn. 

And perform you will.  As Julie has proved with these lovely near ripe tomatoes.

Just look at these budding beauties.  Kinda makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?

P.S.  Remember:  Mother Nature does this all day long, all by herself.  You’re included in the growing process at her whim.  If she wants your garden to grow, it will.  If not, oh well.  One only has to consider my compost pile tomatoes to be sure this woman knows how to garden. (Yep.  This plant is growing completely unaided in my compost pile.)

Then look at my corn.  Granted this shot includes only a few stalks flattened by wind–but trust me–there were more.  My husband claims I need to plant more rows, shorter rows, insisting a denser planting formation will protect the interior stalks leaving only the outer corn susceptible to annihilation.  (Apparently men from Ohio know a little something about growing corn.)  Fine. I’ll take it under my cap and consider it.

 

Next season.  For now, I suggest you take this as a warning–in case you had any doubts about the ferocity of Mother Nature’s temper.  Not sure what I did to deserve this, but don’t think I didn’t fight back and right those stalks at once!

I can be impossible, too. 🙂

One Week, All Raw — Ready, Set, Go!

Today we begin our week-long raw challenge.  Woohoo!  For our first day, we’re keeping it simple, gradual; fruit for breakfast, salad/greens for lunch, ceviche for dinner.  A gentle entre into our new venture is needed, because after a vacation eating everything and anything (like Pringles, beef jerky, cheeseburgers… you get the picture) we don’t want to shock the system. 

The kids are somewhat leery of our new adventure while my husband is plain skeptical–though he promised to order salads while out and about during his work day.  On the bright side, we have a wonderful harvest with which we can work wonders:  corn, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, okra,  peppers. 

Could we ask for a better menu? Gazpacho, marinated Italian peppers, zucchini pasta…  Bet you wish you were dining at our house this week, don’t you?

I can feel it already;  our skin is going to glow, our energy is going to burst, our minds will clear, our moods will soar…  Raw living will definitely provide a wholesome cleansing and a healthy turn, putting our bodies on the road to well-being.  How about you.  “Ready for a good cleansing?”