how to

Quality Time in the Garden

You’ve made your beds, planted your seeds, nurtured your seedlings through the perils of sprouthood and now you spend your time watering and feeding.  (My Arctic Amigos might be a bit behind on this schedule but think of what you have to look forward!!) You meticulously weed, prune and pinch and stand watch—for bugs and spots, all things that go bump in the night—all the normal stuff a gardener does throughout the growing season.

Ashley's beautiful garden

And what a fine gardener you’ve become!  You’re diligent, vigilant and looking forward to harvest.  But as you linger among the layers of leaves and sprays of bloom, your mind wanders, your longing builds, your connection to nature grows deeper.  Where you didn’t expect it, you’ve grown quite attached to your garden, lovingly caring for it as you would a child.  Why, if you could, you’d spend hours out here—days—toiling about the promise of produce.

Strolling down a row of squash, you notice a bright red ladybug busily traveling the expanse of the broad green leaves.  Bending near to watch her work, you get that tingly thrill of discovery.  Sure in the grand scheme of things, it’s a common bug doing a common job, but to you she’s incredible—beautiful!—and you revel in the miracle of nature (and she’s eating those bugs before they can do any more damage!)

ladybug in action!

Now if only there was a bench nearby.  You glance from one end of your garden to the other.  Boy, would that be handy right about now.  You could sit, relax and enjoy the wonders unfolding before you.  A pretty bench, one with an intricately carved iron frame supporting slatted teak strips. Better yet, one that rocks to and fro, gently keeping pace with the breeze. 

How about a shade topper?  Midday is a gorgeous time to be outside, but the sun can be strong. 

Yes, I think we’re onto something here.  A bench, a little shade…  Maybe some chimes, too.  Nothing lifts the spirits like music and the soft tinkle of chimes would be a welcome addition. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time in your garden, why not create a pleasant ambiance?

Invite some birds along by incorporating a lovely bath, perhaps a feeder, too.  Unless of course you have squirrels and then nix the feeder—those varmints can be downright pesky!  But a bath would be lovely and attract all kinds of wildlife, like dragonflies (to eat any mosquitoes that happen to breed in the standing water) as well as fanciful beneficials like butterflies and bees.   

bees are swarming the broccoli

Which are important workers in the garden.  Did you know your plants need pollinators?  Without them, plants like cucumbers, melon and squash will not flourish.  You see, these plants have both male and female flowers and are dependent upon pollinators for fertilization (to come hither and do their business!) so by all means, encourage them with an enticing bath of water.

While you’re at it, plant flowers around the border.  Not only will they add a splash of color and cheer, if chosen correctly, they could repel all sorts of unwanted insects, bugs and flies and instead attract more butterflies and bees with a sweeping array of choice nectar.

rosemary lemonade

Consider creating some natural pathways of mulch, too.  This will encourage visitors to explore and digest all there is to see. Remember: gardening is a joy and should be treated as an indulgence, not a chore.  By adding benches, chimes and flowers, you’re nurturing this pleasure as you should.  Besides, that bench will come in handy when the neighbors stop by—and they will.  They heard you had a garden!

And trust me—you’ll be grateful for those pathways (they keep visitors on the right track and OFF your finely sifted beds of dirt).  Not everyone knows the ins and outs of a garden like you do.  But they’re eager to learn to which you’ll reply, by all means, have a seat and sit spell.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing and there’s so much news to share about the garden! 

Rosemary lemonade, anyone? (recipe can be found here)

Think “OUTside” the Garden

With so many things to do in the garden, it’s a wonder you can plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or month—but you should try.  The payoff will be well worth it.  From fastidious pruning for an increase in yield, to prepping for vegetable storage when your harvest comes in, you’ll want to be ready for the abundance of joy you’re going to reap!

What should you be thinking about when it comes to crafting this marvelous plan?  Why, your kids for one!  Are they weeding?  Digging?  Bug dispatching?  Wonderful!  Reward them with some “down-time” in the garden, as in “no chores.”  You do want them to come back, don’t you?

teacher's gift

We’ve all heard about creating the classic corn husk dolls, but have you considered using those same husks to make mini baskets?  Basket weaving is an excellent exercise for little fingers to practice dexterity—beats the DS hands down—as well as producing a keepsake for their bedroom, or a share for school.

Growing berries?  Perfect!  How about mixing them with a dash of organic sugar and make your own preserves?  They make great teacher gifts.  Speaking of teachers, how about teaching your children the value of seed saving?  When all these vegetables reach maturity, they’ll be chock-full of seeds.   How about collecting them and storing them in your very own seed packets?  (You can find simple how-to templates in the Kid Buzz section here on the website) More

Hello Spring!

With spring upon us (well, some of us :)), it’s time to finalize your garden plans.  By being prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for your first day of planting.   While this day varies from region to region based on frost dates, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities. 

But why wait?  You can start many of your seeds indoors and get a jump-start on the season!  Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds.  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!

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!  For serious techies, try this nifty program for planning your garden.  Really cool.

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.  If your worms have been busy, be sure to harvest their castings ahead of time, giving the “worm poop” plenty of time to dry before use.  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.

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!

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!

Kale Chips Made Easy

Here in Florida the weather is cooling, providing the perfect conditions for growing kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach…all the yummy, dark leafy greens. And with these dark leafy greens come with numerous health benefits. Rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, you certainly want these guys in your belly.

And homemade kale chips make for a healthy snack that will delight the taste buds! Not only healthy and packed with vitamins, these kale chips are versatile and wonderfully easy to make. Simply clip the kale leaves from the garden, clean off the dirt and arrange on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper–a little garlic powder–and voilá!

kale chips roasting

kale chips roasting

My kale chips might look a bit dead and brown, but that’s only because I went heavy on the olive oil and it soaked through.

kale chips in the oven

roasted kale chips

It didn’t affect the taste in a negative way. Quite the contrary. I loved them! And if you don’t want to eat them straight from the dish, toss or crumble into your salad. Definitely worth a try! And think of how healthy you’ll feel about it.

Harvesting Sweets for Thanksgiving!

Oh, what a fabulous day when the sweet potatoes are ready! Now mind you, we could have harvested these babies a few weeks back, but it’s oh-so-much more fun to harvest them in time for the holidays. Sweet potatoes are a staple on our Thanksgiving table. Actually, in our house these potatoes make a year round appearance because not only are they delicious, they’re healthy.

Wonderful! We do love healthy. But now is the time when sweet potatoes are actually “in season” in Central Florida. So, with this in mind, we scooped away the dirt and voilá ~ potatoes!

Kids LOVE this part. Harvesting potatoes is commonly referred to as “swimming” for potatoes and once you let that cat out of the bag, the kids come running. Really puts a nick in my child’s playover when their friends want to garden (ugh-moan) instead of kick the soccer ball around. But gardening is that much fun.

Now, when digging for these guys, one must be careful. An aggressive scrape from your shovel WILL leave a mark on that potato you don’t see until you hit it. Gashes detract from your potato’s storage ability so do be aware.

swimming for sweet potatoes

Best tactic is to don the gloves and get to fingering your way through the dirt.  Most potatoes will be collected under the main root system, however, don’t be surprised if you find potatoes on extended vines several feet away. In our case, we actually found some beneath my lovely black-papered walkways!

our school harvest sweet treats

It’s an adventure. Anyhoo, once you’ve gathered a basket full, gently rinse the dirt from their bodies and set in a cool, dry place to store. Anxious to cook them? Thought you would be. Why not try this Deep Dish Casserole? It has an orange twist to it and is absolutely divine on the tastebuds.  Sweet Potato French Fries are also delightful and of course, Sweet Potato Pie proves a huge hit with everyone. No matter how you slice these golden girls you’ll be pleased with the outcome. And remember, sweet potatoes are healthy. Loaded with vitamins A and C, these are superfoods when it comes to anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory power. Enjoy!

Red Okra?

Who’d a thunk it? It’s pretty neat, though, don’t you think?

row of red okra

We went out to clip our standard fare green okra (Clemson Spineless) this morning and lo and behold, our red variety have been sprouting up a storm! (Yes, you caught me. I’ve missed a few days of visits.) It’s a Billy Bob variety (and no, I’m not kidding) that apparently thrives in our warm Florida climate.

clemson spineless okra

Gazing at these ruby beauties up close and personal, you know the first thing my son and I had to do was taste them.

red okra

Guess what? They taste the same! Can’t wait to see if they cook they same.  :)

Ever Juiced a Carrot?

We bought a Jack LaLanne juicer a few years back to make the most of our garden.  While there are a wide variety of juicers on the market, we chose this brand for no other reason than the commercials stuck in my head.  Besides, Jack was a fit guy, a motivational sort and I thought, if it worked for him it can work for us!

close up carrot juicing

It does, but so do most of them.  And healthy doesn’t begin to describe a life of juicing.  You’ll be infused with energy, discover a spring in your step (probably because you’ll be pounds lighter!), your complexion will be brighter, your skin luminous–what’s not to like?  Actually, the hardest part about the juicing lifestyle for me is the clean up.  I know, I know….wah.  But truthfully, juicing is so simple and makes great use of your harvest, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to start.

juicing carrots

My daughter enjoys juicing, so long as I handle the mess.  (See what I mean?)  She finds it easy and fun though I’ll warn you, before you pull out that juicer, harvest a lot of carrots, or spinach, strawberries–whatever it is that you want to juice, because you’re going to need a bunch of it. More

Southern Cornbread

After my sad post about giving up on corn, I needed something to boost my spirits, a little pick me up, if you will.  And there’s no better way sometimes, than with a spot of comfort food.  Southern Cornbread, anyone?

This is a recipe I devised through trial and error, not to mention the help of my daughter’s taste buds.  I’ll warn you, she’s a sweet one.  Sweet on the outside, sweet on the inside, plain everything in her world is sweet—including her preference in food.  Which leads me to a disclaimer:  this is NOT my mother’s recipe.  (We don’t want to tarnish her reputation in any way, particularly “guilt by association.”)

To be completely forthright, we took her basic recipe and modified from there.  Frankly, I prefer her recipe, only not oven-baked as she directed, but pan-fried, with lots of yummy butter to make it a beautiful golden brown.  My apologies to my healthy friends—this recipe is anything but.

But it’s oh-so-delicious.  And simple–the best part of all!

Southern Cornbread

Southern Cornbread

2 cups yellow cornmeal

2 cups buttermilk

3 TBSP melted bacon drippings, extra to grease pan

1 egg

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup vanilla pudding mix (optional – to add moisture)

2 TBSP sugar (optional – for the sweet tooth!) More

Time to Break Some Ground!

Put your “fun cap” on because it’s time to get your hands dirty!  It’s time to break ground for your new spring garden!  Already have a garden?  Perfect, but you can still get in on the action as it’s a good idea to work your soil for a fresh start.

Now, while I’d like to say this is the easy part—that would be a lie.  This is the part where you get your exercise.  Stretch those cold stiff muscles and get limber again.  Remember, we reap what we sow and we can’t sow if we don’t dig.

Are you smiling yet?  Good.  Now, one of the secrets to great plants is loose soil.  Loose soil promotes strong, deep roots and encourages a healthy plant which means a productive plant.  I learned this the hard way with carrots.  Have you ever seen an “L” shaped carrot?  I have.  As a general rule, carrots will grow down as far as they can easily manage, until the going gets too tough, and then they grow sideways.  Literally.  Packed soil is not their friend.  It’s not friendly to any plant, really, because it doesn’t promote good aeration which helps the plant take in the nutrients it needs. More