grow

Don’t Let This Happen To You

Sweet peas need your support. I mean, they’re easy to grow, delicious to eat, tolerant of the cold… What more could you ask for from a vegetable?

Nothing. So don’t make the same mistake I made. Give them the support they need to grow tall and strong and oh-so-delightful! They deserve it. You deserve it. Besides, it will make your life easier in the long run. Trust me.

Look at this sad state of affairs in my sweet pea bed. It’s embarrassing! Now I’m no stickler for perfection. I know that plants grow all by themselves out in nature and that includes living with weeds. But they don’t grow as well when forced to crawl along the ground. They interfere with their neighbors–in this case, broccoli–and they’ll develop all kinds of nasty leaf ailments. Listen. These gals are as gorgeous as they are sweet. You don’t really want them to sit in dirt, do you?

Of course not! I couldn’t stand the thought of anything soiling these delicate blossoms.

Now that we have that settled, take a word of advice from this avid gardener. When staking your pea trellis, make sure the lowest line of support is about 8 inches from the ground. Any taller, and your sweets will be struggling to reach it. They grow quick–and straight up–so make sure there’s something for them to grab hold of once they get going.

That way, they’ll be able to wrap their gorgeous tentacles around the line (clothing line, in this example) and keep on reaching for the sky. The next support should be about the same distance above the first. You might be able to stretch a few more inches between your lower support level and the next, but if you have the material, use it. You’ll be glad you did. Incorporate a third and fourth level while you’re at it, using bamboo for added support as they grow.

These sweet peas grow to be 3-4 feet in height and get quite heavy once they start producing pods. And they will produce–a TON.

In fact, sweet peas are one of my favorite plants to grow. I’m the only one in the family who eats them, because I visit the garden daily and consume sweet peas during my visits. They’re what I refer to as “garden snacks.” You know, the harvest that never makes it to the house?

Absolutely delicious!

 

Harvesting Eggplant

I love eggplant. Not only delicious, but it’s easy to grow and beautiful to gaze upon. From the delicate purple blossoms accentuated by bright yellow centers to the sleek black bodies of fruit, I love everything about eggplant.

eggplant-blossom

Unfortunately, I’m the only one in my family who enjoys this robust fruit, hence the reason I only have one plant in my garden. One, lone plant, tucked away within the rows of its close family member, the tomato.

eggplant-and-tomato-friends

Both part of the nightshade family of plants, eggplant and tomato can thrive planted alongside one another, however, beware of allowing them to follow one another in your crop rotation. Not a great idea, because verticillium wilt fungus that infects tomatoes one season can live in the soil for years and likely infect subsequent crops. Peppers and potatoes are also members of the nightshade family so consider these four plants as one unit when it comes to crop rotation.

A few varieties of tomatoes are resistant to this fungus, ie. Carnival, Celebrity and Santiago. I happen to grow Celebrity and Beefsteak, so I’m half-resistant! Just another example of why crop rotation is so very important in your organic garden.

first-eggplant-harvestAnd since I’m both gardener and chef in my household, I grow and enjoy eggplant as much as I want — serving it up sautéed golden brown with tomato sauce, or layered in lasagna.

sauteed-eggplant

Simply delightful! Check out my recipe section for Sautéed Eggplant full details.

How To Grow Peanuts

These are the gems of the South, sold in stores green and ready for boiling. Wonderful for roasting, making homemade peanut butter, this is the garden crop for kids.

oven-baked "roasted" peanuts

And peanuts are easy to grow. Really, while you’re on summer vacation, these guys will be basking in the sunshine. Peanuts like it warm and are light feeders, however they do like their calcium. Be sure to supplement, say, tossing in a few crumbled eggshells at time of planting. You’re peanuts will be happy. And because they grow underground, be sure your soil is light and fluff–soft beds are always best!

add compost to peanut plants

After the last frost, plant your peanuts in the ground, about 3-4″ deep. Amend the soil with a bit of compost or composted manure, just to give them a good start. Note of caution here, if you live where the crows and critters are prevalent, consider covering your bed of peanuts with a screen material, securing it over them.

peanut debris

This will prevent the marauders from stealing your buried peanuts and sprouts.  They will. I’ve seen them. The evidence is shown above. Once your plants grow to be about 4-6″ you can remove the screen. They’re safe now.

peanut flower blossom

Water heavily until your peanuts set their pegs.  Pegs are the spindly “legs” you’ll see dropping from your peanut plant after the appearance of beautiful yellow flowers. The peg is actually the flower’s stem and peanut embryo. It will bend toward the soil and bury itself. When it does, help out by mulching around the plants with hay/straw.

row of peanuts

To harvest, check for peanuts about two months after the appearance of blooms. Similar to potatoes, you must poke around the soil GENTLY as you search for ripe peanuts. They are delicate at this stage, their outer skin papery and thin. Think about the skin of a newborn baby. VERY soft and delicate until it becomes accustomed to the air and sun. Same thing. If you find your peanuts are of nice size, ease the entire plant from the soil and shake excess dirt.

peanut roots

Lay out in the sun for several days, preferably on a screen or something similar to keep it off the ground. This will toughen the skin. Next up, separate the peanuts from the plants and place in a warm, dry spot for a few weeks. This will cure them and prepare them for storage. If kept in an air-tight container, your peanuts will last for months. These are the same peanuts you can plant next season. Or, better yet, use them right away for boiling. Using fresh green peanuts cuts boiling time, considerably.

boil stove top

If you’ve never had a boiled peanut, try one. They really are worth the exercise, then start a batch of your own using the recipe found here on my blog. Southern Boiled Peanuts are divine!

Problems: Other than the previously mentioned crows and critters, peanuts don’t have a lot of trouble growing. Crickets and grasshoppers seem to prefer other vegetables in my garden over peanuts. Occasionally, your peanuts will get spots on their leaves, maybe a fungus of some kind, but in my experience, the damage is minimal. However, if they suffer extremely moist conditions, they can develop a fungus known as aspergillus which in turn produces a toxin known as aflatoxin. Boiling can eliminate this danger, but it might be best to discard of the fungus-peanuts. Your call.

Good Companions: Beets, carrots, corn, cucumber, squash.

Bad Companions: Kohlrabi, onions.

Health Benefits: Except for those plagued by peanut allergies, peanuts are quite healthy. Not only an excellent source of vitamin E, niacin, biotin and folate, peanuts contain resveratrol, the same ingredient found in red grapes that infamously make red wine healthy for the heart! Studies have also found high concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols, and that roasting actually increases the benefit of this antioxidant. Wunderbar! Just remember, they are high in fat, so consume in moderation.

Saving Garlic

Garden garlic take a long time to grow. You plant in fall, water, feed and weed and reap your bounty in summer. It’s a long haul. Not a particularly tough haul as garlic are pretty easy to grow, but it does require patience. And caution. At least in Florida where the spring/summer temps can reach into the 90’s without blinking.

One year I harvested my garlic only to discover I was harvesting “roasted garlic.” Yep. The sun was so hot, it practically cooked my garden underground! I don’t have any photos to share because I was too distraught to take any.

Blame it on lack of mulch, maybe, but toward the end of the garlic growing season you’re supposed to back off the water allowing the tops to die back allowing the bulbs to finalize development. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have any mulch, I did. Perhaps not enough. For the heat of Florida, that is.

This year? I’m shading the gals with screen.

covered garlic

I back off the water and the screen “backs off” the sun allowing them to finish out the season without baking underground. Perfect!

I’ll keep you posted on my results, but I have a good feeling about this one.

Blueberries in Bloom

I love blueberries, plain, on yogurt, in a pie or straight from the bush…

blueberry breakfast

Blueberries are magnificent in every way. And best of all, they’re easy to grow. Seriously. Sun, pine (acid), water, done. That’s it. That’s pine mulch around the base of the plant.

blueberry pine mulch

And they’re forgiving, too. I moved these blueberries (shown below) away from my house and out to the garden this winter.

strings over blueberry plants

I decided that my romantic notion of blueberry bushes sequestered in a shady mountainside in the North Carolina where an off-trail hiker discovers their wonder and devours the glorious fruit hidden from view was just that–a romantic notion. Blueberries like sun and lots of it. Similar to my Knockout roses, they can survive in part sun, but thrive in full sun. Don’t they look happy?

new blueberry rows

They are–so happy. Just look at the bunches of blueberries they’re yielding!

bunch blueberries

I love it! All I did was dig the hole, add water and pine bark mulch (acid), and they’re good to go. Oh, and twine. I’m not the only one who loves blueberries. Birds love blueberries and are usually out and about at the crack of dawn dive-bombing the plump ripe berries before I ever get a chance to stop them. Sheesh! So I run twine over the bushes and it’s problem solved. I used to use netting until I learned it keeps the bees out, too. No good. Blueberry blossoms need bees.

blueberry blosooms to berries

Bees work to make those white blossoms incredibly become fruit.

blueberries 2016

Quick fun facts about blueberries:

July is National Blueberry month.

Blueberry muffins are the most popular muffin in America.

Blueberry muffins are the state muffin of Minnesota. (Who knew muffins had state status?)

Maine produces more blueberries than any place in the world. (I’ve actually visited some blueberry orchards in Maine and was quite frankly, surprised to find them there!)

Blueberries are relatives to the rhododendron and azalea bushes.

Potatoes Are Popping!

My potatoes are nestled all snug in their beds…

potatoes nestled in hay

Bursting with joy as spring finally arrives! They’re gorgeous, aren’t they?

white and red potatoes

And quite content. After surviving a few frosts, the girls are popping. This is a mix of white and red potatoes and will be ready in another few weeks. I could harvest them now and walk away with “new potatoes” for my next meal, but I prefer to wait. There’s nothing better than fresh from the garden potatoes. They’re buttery and creamy and unlike anything you’ll get at the grocery store.

rosemary potatoes and parmesean

I might roast them with fresh rosemary or bake them with cabbage. (Recipes for both can be found in my recipe section!)

potatoes and cabbage steaming hot out of the oven

Either way, garden potatoes are a treat. And no issues with my 2016 crop–woohoo!

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

I Can Taste Victory

And it’s glorious! After battling worms and bugs and flying creatures, at last I can see the red through the vines–the tomato vines!

line of tomatoes

Okay, so they’re not red, yet, but I can visualize them just the same. Fabulous red tomatoes–gobs of them–will soon be dangling from my beautiful, leaf intact, tomato plants. Yes, as many of you know, I’ve had my share of hornworms and bug invaders, blossom-end rot and general leaf wilt but today? I am on the road to tomato bounty victory. And it feels good.

What’s my secret? Why, many, thank you for asking, the most important of which I daresay is dust. Dipel dust, to stop the caterpillars and worms before they get a chance to grow fat and hungry.

dusted tomato

Prior to that flash of brilliance were the screen I used to cover my babies when they were young and tender. The Florida sun is hot and brutal in September.

tomatoes under cover

I gave them their usual dose of eggshells and Epsom salts, and paid daily visits–except when traveling–where I plucked and pinched (leaves mind you, not worms) and generally admired the gorgeous girls. You remember pinching, yes? That little sucker, there, between the branches.

don't forget to pinch your tomatoes

I made sure to mulch well and check my water source often. Although I use water from a well source, the misters sometimes clog and it’s crucial to catch this issue early. And how will my tomatoes reward me?

With gobs of decadent plump red tomatoes. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: I’m staring down 35°F weather over the next two days. Tomatoes do not like 35°F temperatures. Not even a little bit. Ugh. I’m going to cover them and keep you posted.

Bursting with Zucchini

I do love a plant that grows without effort. And when I say grow, I mean REALLY grow–producing big, beautiful and abundant zucchini. Aren’t they beautiful?

first zucchini

Sure, they might look oddly shaped, but they taste the same as perfectly shaped zucchini. I’m sensing this happened due to a burst of water–repeated days dropping tons of rain–then, nothing. Well, not nothing, but the spray misters in my garden are no comparison to the inches of rain we had, proving just how important water is to your garden. Note to self: water more during fruit production for huge produce. More

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Even here in Florida making gardening a much less delightful propsect. Shivering between the rows is not this Floridian’s idea of fun, no matter how excited I am by the gorgeous cabbage heads forming before my very eyes. It’s cold. Cold is for snow, not gardens. Call me “The Wimpy Gardener” but I prefer sunshine and tepid breeze when I’m outside digging in the dirt. However, there is one upside to this frigid month of January ~ the seed catalogs are arriving!

seed shopping

Woo-hoo! Talk about the perfect “pick-me-up” on a frosty morning, colorful pages filled with ripe, succulent vegetables are it. Now I can start dreaming about warmer days and garden blooms with pictures to spark my imagination. (As if it needed sparking, but that’s a tale for another day).  It’s time to order those seeds for a head start on your spring planting. I don’t know about you, but I like to get my tomatoes sprouting in trays before I put them in the ground. Not only does it give them a jump on the season but it allows me to avoid harvesting in the heat of May/June. Get in early, get out early, that’s my motto. Remember: summer is for vacations.

So grab those catalogs and a warm mug of coffee, find a place by the toasty fire and peruse to your heart’s content.  You won’t believe the stuff they’re growing these days, from a rainbow of cauliflower to purple and blue “green” beans, I’m amazed–and thrilled! Santa brought me a new juicer this year, so in addition to my usual cabbage juice and carrot smoothies, I’m going to try wheatgrass. It’s been popping up in my world of late, which I take as a sign: Grow Wheatgrass. From what I understand, this stuff will cure what ails you, especially when combined with a healthy “raw diet” approach to eating.

I’m in. I’ve already begun my 2 week “detox” from most things sugar. Time to get serious with most things green. You in? ‘Cause you know I’m going to show you “how-to” do it every step of the way!!

Let’s get this 2014 party started!