gardening

5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop

Woohoo! It’s time for the 5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop which means spring has sprung and you reap the rewards–with giveaways galore!

AIB Logo

Yes, this is one of my favorite times of year. Leave are a spectacular green, Crepe Myrtles sprout anew, grass grows lush and full and of course, my organic garden goes into full gear. Tomatoes and peppers are in, sweet onions are coming out, blueberries are blooming and I’m grinning. It’s utterly joyous!

You’re with me, aren’t you? You’ve donned your gloves, pulled out your hat and digging through the dirt–the glorious, compost-amended rich soil that your plants adore. Oh, yeah. You know what I mean. There’s nothing better than running your gloved fingers through the stuff as you drop those seeds or pull those onions. And garlic. My garlic will soon follow my sweet onions and I can’t wait. This year’s harvest looks divine. Wouldn’t you agree?

garlic 2016

I’m so happy with the little darlings, I’m going to share a tip with you on how to grow garlic without fail in one word. Phosphorous. Using an organic fertilizer high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen (bone meal) you will give the plant the power to develop a healthy root system without wasting energy growing a beautiful green leafy top. Remember, the glory of growth is going on underground.

Second, plant in early fall. Not late fall, not early spring, but early fall. This gives your garlic the time it needs to grow and mature into that earthy delicacy you so adore. Don’t worry about winter snowfall. Again, garlic does all the hard work below the surface. You can cover their sprouted tops if you like, just make sure to remove the cover when the snow clears. They do love a good dose of sunshine!

When planting garlic, do so in well-drained soil. Garlic belongs to the root family and soggy roots do NOT bode well for healthy bulbs of garlic. You’ll get soggy bulbs, mini-bulbs, icky bulbs. YUCK. For full details, check the How-To section on my website.

AIB garden giveaway

Now for my giveaway… A beautiful bronze Boehm limited edition “Peace” rose, Grow Giggles, Harvest Love dish towels and natural soaps. Soaps are gentle and perfect for cleansing those hands after a trip to the garden.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Carrot Balls?

I always talk about soft dirt. Plants like soft dirt. And I worked very hard to make my carrot bed very soft. However, something has gone awry. My carrots look comfy and cozy in their raised beds…

row of carrots

But alas, when I harvested them this weekend, a few did not fill out as intended.

carrot balls

They look more like carrot balls than finely-tapered carrots! ACK. Ugh. The trials of gardening. I don’t have an answer for this one. Carrots right next to them were beautiful. These were stunted. Cute, but stunted. No worries! I’m going to chop them all in my Cuisinart and make a lovely carrot cake.

light and fluffy slice

At that point, no one will care one iota about their shape when they came out of the ground. Ta-da! Gorgeous, isn’t it? Fluffiest Carrot Cake ever!

Easiest Vegetables To Grow?

I get this question a lot and for me, I have to say it’s my sweet peas. These beauties put up little fuss; they don’t need heavy water or fertilizer, they don’t need special soil or conditions. They only need support–because they’re going to grow so tall! These happen to be my neighbors — nice, huh?

awesome peas

They’re also very forgiving. Recent windstorms in our area blew my sweet peas clear off their support structures, but alas, they continue to grow. It’s a miracle!

sweet peas with solid high support

Okay, “miracle” might be pushing it, but they have survived. What they don’t survive is a trip to the house. Sweet peas are what I refer to as my “garden snacks,” because I eat them while in the garden. More

Fashion in the Garden

If you don’t have a garden bag, now’s the time to get yourself one.  And by all means, make it cute.  Functional, but cute.  Pretty, sleek, stylin’…  Whatever floats your boat—but do make sure it’s one you’ll want to carry out to the garden.  We’ve got business to attend!

garden bag

Now garden tool bags come in all shapes and sizes these days as do their price tags.  You can keep it simple and small, but keep in mind what you’ll be using it for and plan accordingly.  Me?  I TRAVEL to get to my garden which means I’d better have everything I need else I’m trekking back and forth up the hill to the garden shed.  Which isn’t all bad.  It’s good exercise!  Though with my New Year’s resolutions I now get plenty of exercise and am proud to say my jeans are snug no more. 

Okay, that’s a lie.  They’re not slipping off my body by any stretch of the imagination, but I digress—we’re talking gardening here, not gymnastics.  And you need to be prepared.  For a quick rundown of things you might want to include, take a look below.

The short list:

hand shovel and trowel

gloves you’ll wear, but may wish to store

pruning shears

seed packets

spray bottle for organic pesticide mixture, ie. old coffee, compost tea…

bags of fertilizer, ie. your worm poop, eggshells, Epsom salts…

pen/paper for listing things to do, reminders and the like

water bottle More

It’s A Record-Breaking Size!

I harvested a humongous sweet potato. And I mean humongous. It might not be record-breaking by Guinness standards, but it sure is by mine. A whopping 9 lbs — BIGGER than my newborn babies, mind you, both of whom weighed in below 8 lbs. Pretty incredible, huh?

Record size sweet potato

I think so. And you’ll never guess where I found it.

Birthing the big sweet potato

My compost pile. Yep, it was lurking deep beneath my kitchen scraps and lawn leaves, hidden from view save for the glorious array of green leaves above surface; the mega sweet potato. I’m telling you, if you don’t have a compost pile, you need one. More

Spring Checklist

Being prepared for spring planting season is job one in my household. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Kids are job one. Hubby a close second and the garden a very near third. (Good greens, some days it feels like everyone wants a piece of you, doesn’t it?) Anyhoo, you’ll want to be certain that you’re ready for YOUR first day of planting. You know, when all threat of frost has passed? Depending upon where you live, that day will vary by date but not in enthusiasm.  “Let the outdoor festivities begin!”

Now, in order to prepare for that glorious day, you’ll want to make a thorough run-through on your checklist.

1 – Order seeds.  If you haven’t already! And remember: Grow what you’ll eat—not what’s easy.  I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine because no one wanted to harvest it. The “excitement” factor was missing. The “ah-ha” moment, if you will. Rule number one: Gardening should be fun!

2 – Design layout.  If building container beds, get your lumber now.  I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.  Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now will help speed the process later.  “Oh, honey…  About that little favor I mentioned! “

3 – Sharpen your tools.  Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them.  You get my drift. The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it.  Mine is indispensable because it weeds (its primary function), digs, buries and levels.  You gotta love a multi-tasker.  Other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle. 

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows.  Not me.  I’m a busy gal with a bad back — “till as you go” is more my speed!

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you?  It’s too easy not to—just toss, pile, and turn.  Easy as 1-2-3! Seriously, composting is easy and productive. Why just look at these gorgeous potatoes my compost served up for me.

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting.  Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close.  Besides keeping the harmony, it provides a natural pesticide helping ease your workload.  The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds and keeping track.  Bear in mind your crop rotation as well—unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine! 

6 – Check your water supply.  Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads.  And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before spring fever hits and they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers.  Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark…  All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me.  Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn. 

8 – Prepare soil.  Remove weeds and add compost.  100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need.  Also, till your beds ahead of time.  This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil.  Word to the wise:  after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch).  Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene.  In my house, that’s call for mutiny. Consider ordering a bag of corn gluten. Sprinkled around your young plants, these granules are amazing at keeping the weeds away.

9 – Soil test.  If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot.  You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit.  They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise.  Then, depending on what you’re planting, you might want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. 

10 – Dream.  Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

Garlic Trouble

Garlic is a pretty sturdy plant, resistant to most bugs and varmints due to its wonderfully pungent smell. Aphids flee, animals skee-daddle but weeds? They flock to the source.

garlic overtaken by weeds

It’s a problem for a garlic because unlike the squash family, their leaves are wholly inadequate when it comes to shading the ground for weed prevention (think Three Sisters). In fact, if you’re not careful, weeds will completely overrun your garlic and you’ll be stuck with nothing but roots to show for your efforts. And six months is a long time to put forth effort only to come up empty. Ugh. It’s happened to me, but not this year. I spotted this awful mess and cleaned it up, right quick!

Garlic weed-free

Aren’t they gorgeous, now? My garlic is happy and weed-free. Until next week, that is. Unfortunately, garlic is a bit high maintenance when it comes to weeding. Not water and not fertilizer, but definitely high maintenance on the weeding. Oh, well. Everything can’t be easy in the garden. And garlic are worth the effort. For full details on how-to grow, check here.

It’s Not Too Late

Just because January 1st has come and gone, that’s no reason you can’t make a New Year’s resolution to start that compost pile you’ve always wanted. There’s nothing to it, other than a trip outside. Really. No turning, twisting, flipping over raking–unless you want to. And it doesn’t stink, despite what you’ve heard. This is where Mother Nature is your friend. You’re very best friend.

backyard compost pile

All that’s required is desire and effort you’re already making. Raking leaves? Dump them onto the compost pile out back. Tossing out leftover food? Toss it onto the compost pile. Want to recycle those paper towels, napkins, and newspapers? Place them on the compost pile instead of the recycle bin. All of these items work perfectly and produce excellent, non-toxic organic results.

compost cross-section

And the dirt you’ll reap from your efforts is superior to anything else for your garden soil. And it’s free! Of course, if you don’t have a backyard, you can always buy one of those handy-dandy contraptions to hold your compost.

black gold compost

They do work and with excellent results. For your kitchen, you can make a cute compost bin to hold your kitchen leftovers until you’re ready to make the trek outside, complete with carbon filter hidden in the lid to absorb the smell. Unlike your outdoor compost pile, your indoor compost bin WILL stink. Bad.

kitchen scraps get covered

My kids painted this one at one of those clay-glaze places, although we’ve since changed over to a simple stainless steel version. Less breakable (hint, hint). So what are you waiting for? Start resolving and get composting!

Your garden will thank you.

Mixed Kernels

It’s a sad day when you harvest your corn–the one cob you’ve been watching and waiting for the silks to turn brown–only to discover you have missing kernels when you peel back the husk. It’s like, your cob was forming, doing a great job, and *poof* suddenly became too tired to finish the job.

corn missing kernels

Hmph. It’s a disappointment, to be sure. Most likely occurred during pollination, or the lack thereof. If you planted your corn in one single row, pollination can be tricky. I mean, there’s a reason those commercial growers plant all those corn plants so close together–proximity packs a more powerful pollination! It’s power in numbers when it comes to wind, too. Corn is very susceptible to wind, and tends to be blown over at the first kiss of a summer breeze.

corn by storm

Missing kernels can also be caused by poor watering/feeding during pollination. Corn is a heavy feeder, and if you don’t give it what it needs when it needs it, well, you know… It kind of poops out on you. It happens. But I’m here to tell you, chin up, friendly gardener. It’s not the end of the world. So what if you can’t serve perfectly-formed cobs of corn to your family and friends, you can do one better (or different!). Roast them!

That’s right. Wipe those tears away and listen up. You’re going to scrape those beautiful kernels from the cob, toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper, a little parsley and heck, while we’re at it, a sliced jalapeno pepper (mine was red) and roast those babies. Ta-da! You’ve made lemonade from your lemons.

roasted corn

I preheated the broiler to high, spread my mixture on a cookie sheet lined with nonstick foil, and then spread the corn mixture out in a single layer. Cooking time was about 15 minutes, with me turning the corn mixture once or twice during the process for even browning. Just keep an eye on them and roast to YOUR idea of perfection.

The flavor was divine; a wonderfully sweet corn flavor with a hint of popcorn that results in a belly full of pride and pleasure. YUM. I served mine with some garden broccoli and a filet of plank-roasted salmon for a fabulous weeknight dinner. The family was pleased!

Now it’s your turn. Enjoy!

Forget Pumpkins–Fall Means Garlic!

While I adore all things pumpkin this time of year, I love growing garlic and October is the month to begin. You can purchase garlic online via a variety of seed growers, though I get mine from my local seed and feed. Gotta support my community, right? Better yet, I can choose the bulbs I think look best and not lacking in any way. One of the issues with garlic is fungal disease–another reason I like to eyeball my bulbs before purchase.

One thing to keep in mind when growing garlic is that these babies take time, and lots of it. Like sweet onions, I plant garlic in the fall and harvest the following summer. By my count, that’s about six months. UGH. Tough when you’re the gardener excited about growing and harvesting your garlic.

line of garlic

But once you make the decision and commit, you’ll be glad you did. Homegrown garlic is worth the wait. Here in Florida, I plant my bulbs in October, after I pre-soak them overnight in a baking soda-vinegar solution to prevent fungal diseases, about 1 TBSP of each per gallon of water. Some suggest the addition of liquid seaweed to the solution to encourage root growth, though I usually wait and use the seaweed to fertilize them once in the ground.

As with most vegetables in the garden, garlic prefers an organic-rich well-drained soil. If you live where it freezes, you’ll plant your bulbs in fall and mulch well, protecting the garlic and encouraging worms to hibernate with your bulbs. More