homemade

Strawberry Season is Here!

And a very popular time for kids in the garden! Okay, at least for mine, anyway. And grandma. Don’t forget her. Exciting outings are usually her idea, and strawberry picking tops the list.

February and March are peak strawberry months in Florida. For those who live in and around the Central Florida area, the Plant City Strawberry Festival takes place from March 2-12th and includes headline country music stars, like Willie Nelson, the Gatlin Brothers, Rascal Flatts, 3 Doors Down and more! From the Strawberry Festival to our local Strawberry Farm, we love this time of year!

Sweetens school lunches.  “Peanut butter and jelly, Mom, and make it fresh strawberry!”

And afternoon snack time.  “Can we make strawberry smoothies?  Pleeeeeease.”

Of course we can!   If that’s how I get fresh strawberries in your belly, then that’s how we do it. (Beats the ice cream alternative.)

We in the gardenfrisk household used to grow our own strawberries, though for some reason, they never turned out quite as large and luscious as the ones at the farm.   Pesticides? Maybe. Commercial strength fertilizer? Could be. But since I don’t know for sure, let’s just say the kids and I have some work to do this season to compete with Farmer Jones down the road.

 

Pine needle mulch is the first key.  Strawberries prefer acid soil. As for food, I hope they like fish emulsion. It’s stinky, but seems effective. So long as we don’t drench them in the stuff while the fruit is blossoming, we should be good to go, right? You can grow them in containers and allowing them to climb on a trellis. They love it! For a complete review on the subject of growing strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association provides a fantastic educational download for kids and adults alike.

Another great use for strawberries is to make your own preserves. For easy instructions, check my recipe page. It’s great fun and could be the perfect spring gift!

If you’d like to find a farm near you (this is an international source, mind you), check this link.   In addition to strawberries, you’ll be able to locate blueberry farms, pumpkin patches–all kinds of stuff!

Don’t Think Tomatoes Are Supposed To Look Like This

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure my tomatoes are not supposed to have…to have… I’m not sure what the heck to call it! A deformation? An odd lump? Whatever it is, I know it’s not right. But is it still edible?

Beefsteak tomato anomaly

That’s the question inquiring minds want to ask! I mean, I’m growing these beefsteak beauties to eat them, say, with my homemade pesto.

tomatoes and homemade pesto

Hm. Doesn’t that look good? It’s a mix of your standard Genovese basil with the addition of Dark Opal. I don’t find the Opal as intensely flavorful as the Genovese, but I do love the addition of color. Now, as soon as the garlic in my garden is ready for harvest, I’ll be able to make this pesto entirely from scratch! (Except for the olive oil and cheese, of course.)

garlic under cover

Currently, my garlic is under screen cover due to the unnaturally high temps here in Florida. Garlic can be sensitive that way. Heat and solid sunshine is great for the beach, but bad for garlic. No worries, they’ll survive. As will my tender sweet onions…

sweet onions are in!

Just planted, I want to make certain they get a strong start and stay moist so I haven’t added mulch yet. This way, I can keep a clear eye on them and will watch them for about a week before adding mulch. Nothing more than a personal preference on my part. I’m sure they’d enjoy the ground cover.

corn is faring well

Elsewhere in the garden, my corn is thriving, as is my lettuce. From now until May, I won’t have to get my salad leaves from the store–I’ll pluck them from my backyard! What’s NOT faring so well are some of my tomato plants.

tomato leaf curl

Leaf curl. Ugh. It could have been caused by whiteflies. It could have been caused by weather stress. Either is plausible, especially considering the heat wave we’ve been having. At this point, I’ll remove it and move on. Not that the plant can’t produce–it can–but it can also infect those around it. Remember, I’m growing these babies with culinary intentions!

tomato pesto salad

Now, off to enjoy my lunch. 🙂

Homemade Hummus From The Garden

One of best things about having a garden is the ability to create healthy dishes using ingredients you KNOW. You know where they came from, how they were handled, what’s in them, etc.  I don’t know about you, but this is a definite plus, for me. And my kids, though I don’t think they can totally appreciate this aspect, yet!

Homemade Hummus

But they can appreciate a good meal, and both adore hummus. And what’s not to love about hummus? It’s easy to snack on, delicious and healthy–perfect on pretzels or simple crackers. We added roasted red pepper to this recipe because we have peppers in our garden and happen to love the taste. We also grow chickpeas, garlic and lemons, a few other important ingredients in this recipe. More

Decadent Pumpkin Granola

This time of year, I love everything pumpkin–coffee, cupcakes, bread, bagels, and now, granola. Yep, granola. Healthy granola, too! Sort of. Everything but the maple syrup, anyway. And really, can’t a girl splurge during the holidays? (My holiday season officially begins when the pumpkin-fall menus enter the scene.)

fall pumpkin granola

I would have to answer, yes, I believe so. This granola is so delicious, you’ll want to eat it with ice cream, yogurt, or straight out of the pan. And while it’s high in fat, it’s mostly healthy fat, I can rationalize it as healthy, because pumpkin and flax seeds are so good for you. Really good.

So how do you make decadent pumpkin granola? That’s also easy. Simply mix oats and seeds, add some of what I call “granola glue” — the stuff that makes granola clumps — and bake.

Decadent Pumpkin Granola

pumpkin granola2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup pumpkin seed, natural, not salted or roasted

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup melted butter

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, pumpkin and flax seed. Mix well. For the granola glue, mix together maple syrup, melted butter, orange zest and vanilla extract. Whisk well and pour over oat and seed mixture. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Note: this might be easier done with your hands. If you like the orange zest, go ahead and add some more. It’s a nice compliment to the maple syrup. More

Bug-Free Zone

I don’t know about you, but gardening in Central Florida can prove a constant battle with the bugs. Course, having a “nature swamp” behind you certainly complicates matters. Bugs zip in, dive-bomb your plants and veggies, and then flee to the cover of safety when they see you approach. It’s frustrating, especially as an organic gardener. My okra are suffering. I can’t simply spray them with toxic substances that will kill and repel the little beasts. I must garden with a sense of eco-responsibility and parental caution. I can’t put just anything into their growing bellies!

Tough being so responsible. But not one to give up, I think I might have found my answer. Sitting by the pool after a grueling day of battle, I shared the dilemma with my husband. As if reading my thoughts, hubby peered over at me and asked, “You’re going to tell me next that you need a greenhouse, aren’t you?”

Bingo. I smiled in reply. That would solve the problem, though I didn’t share the same aloud. I don’t know about you, but married people communicate on entirely different levels than non-married types. One must ease into these things. Simply blurting out the truth doesn’t always work. Okay, blurting out your truth thoughts to a spouse SELDOM works, though it does happen. On occasion. When I’m not thinking straight.

But on this particular day I was thinking fine and dandy and guess what? While pondering my response, it occurred to me: Why not bring the greenhouse to the garden?

Looking up and around me, I thought, a screen enclosure works wonders around the pool. Why not the garden?

Hah! I rose and went for the computer to begin a search. This could work!

Floating covers are sold for the same purpose, but in Central Florida, they tend to mold in the summertime (as does everything else). Screen, on the other hand, does not. After a quick search on the internet, off to the hardware box store I went and purchased a roll of screen. Transferring the wire hoops that I used for the purpose of pest/bird protection in my peanut row, I draped the screen over my okra plants and secured it with landscape pins.

drape screen over wire hoops

Voilà. A screened greenhouse for my garden! The sprinkler system fits neatly beneath the screen. The bed is covered…

screen enclosure

Marvelous, darling. Simply marvelous. I mean, don’t my little guys look happy under there? Water penetrates with ease. The screen protects my plants from the blaze of afternoon sun and bugs can’t break through the barrier.

bug-free screen zone

Genius, is what this is. Genius. Now, for this row of baby okra I used 4 ft. by 25 ft. However, as my plants grow, I’ll need a wider strip of screen. Luckily, the rolls come in 5, 7 and 8 ft. lengths as well. Come fall, I’m definitely installing this concept for my tomatoes and other bug-sensitive plants. What do you think?

All-Natural Sports Drink

Hello summer! And with it–the need for hydration. Whether you’re in the garden or on the playing field, running track or playing at the beach, the need for water is strong. However, for some of us, the need for electrolyte replenishment is strong. For most of us, simple water will suffice when it comes to re-hydration. However, if you exercise over 30 minutes, then you should consider a sports drink that will supply the balance your body needs to function at peak performance. “Electrolytes are essential minerals, including sodium and potassium, that regulate heart beat and blood pressure. When we sweat, we lose sodium and chloride (salt) and to a lesser degree, potassium, magnesium and calcium.” ~ Dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner.

branch of lemons

When I’m out in the garden or the gym–aka my home–I tend to stay active for an hour or more, so this drink was of interest to me. Add the fact that there’s no artificial coloring–no artificial anything–I was hooked. I had to try it. This recipe uses orange juice, but fresh lemons will work just as well. 🙂

Blatner’s homemade Gatorade:

3 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup orange juice

2 1/2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon salt (I used Himalayan Pink Sea Salt)

Makes four servings. Per 8 ounce serving: 50 calories, 14 grams carbohydrate, 160 milligrams sodium.

I made this and it tastes like Gatorade-light. There’s no heavy sweet or salty taste as is with the original sports drink, but instead, a nice, light refreshing beverage with a hint of orange flavor. You don’t taste the salt, though I was able to detect the faint taste of honey. It really is a great alternative to Gatorade.

Find this and other homemade drink recipes here. Then, get outside and get active!!

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

Why I Adore Fall Gardening…

It’s cool outside, somewhat cloudy overhead, the ground soaked through.  Rich, composted dirt, lush green growth, there’s a sense of calm hanging in the air.  Walking alongside my beds, admiring Mother Nature in all her glory, it occurs to me that there is more than vegetables and produce here.  There is color, texture.  Emotion, peace.  It’s a sensory experience.

Take my black beauty eggplant and cinnamon basil.  I never noticed this before, but they share common coloring.  Side by side, they’re beautiful, striking.  Leaning close, the scent of spicy basil is distinct, memorable.  Moving further, I’m drawn to my red cabbage. More

Got Pumpkins?

Make pumpkin pie!  And yes, I’m talking about those pumpkins from your front porch step.  In our effort to become less “environmentally wasteful,” the kids and I carved out our pumpkins, tossed the stringy mess into the compost pile, saved the seeds for roasting and/or next year’s crop and commenced to cookin!  We found this great recipe online from www.pickyourown.org and it worked like a charm.  And it’s a heck of a lot easier than I would have imagined!

pumpkin pies

Once you completely carve the pumpkin, you cook it.  We steamed ours stove top, but they have instructions for microwave and oven, too.  Because we didn’t have a steamer big enough, I put a metal colander inside one of my biggest pots, cut the pumpkin into large pieces, then covered it with tin foil.  Twenty minutes later – cooked, squishy pumpkin!  It peels off the skin with little or no effort, then you place it into a big mixing bowl and add sugar (we used organic, purchased from our grocer), spices, evaporated milk and eggs.  The recipe is enough for two pies, unless they’re both deep dish. 

Tip: use a hand blender or mixer.  We didn’t, and ended up with cooked egg whites “floating” in our pies.  While it didn’t affect the taste, it did detract from the appearance so be forewarned — in case you’re gifting your pies.   We did cut corners a bit and used the store-bought prepared pie pastry, covering the edges with foil so they didn’t burn, which means we can’t officially say it’s from scratch – but pretty close.  And really, shouldn’t we let those who have perfected the business of pastry get credit?  (But if you’re a die hard scratch cook, go for it.)  We then placed them in the oven for about an hour and they were delicious!  Check my recipe page for full details.

As to next year’s crop, keep in mind you’ll have to plant in June if you want pumpkins by Halloween, as it takes 3-4 months to reach maturity, and beware the rainy season.  Pumpkins are susceptible to fungus and mold.  For more details on growing pumpkins in Florida, go to UF’s solutions for your life.  It’s a wonderful resource for real life gardening.