natural

We’ve Got Pumpkins!

And you will never see more excitement in the garden than kids discovering their first recognizable pumpkins.  Except in the case of worms and frogs.  Those are WAY exciting.

Granted we missed Halloween, but these are sugar pumpkins and we intend to cook them into pumpkin pie.  YUM! :)  Next up, our first tomato. More

Friends Planting Friends in the Garden

This week the kids learned the concept of companion planting.  Simply put, grouping plants together by how they can help each other is one of the secrets to organic gardening.  (So is worm poop, but we’ll get to that later.)  Squash bugs LOVE squash plants but they HATE radish.  So how about we plant radish next to our squash?

Our radish help our squash by preventing an attack of squash bugs!  How great a friend is that? More

Worms Can Be A Dirty Business ~ But NOT Stinky!

Cleaning my worm bin this weekend I learned a few things.  Number one, proper worm bins do not smell–a fact I attempted to share with my husband as he walked by and warned, “Don’t track any of that stinky stuff through the house.” 

Now see, if he were taking part in this project with me, he would know better.  Worm castings done right, don’t stink.  Ask my fab friend Angie who turned me on to worm bins (though admittedly, I think she’s a lot better at this stuff than I am).  Course, if you want to talk “stinky” try fish emulsion.  That stuff smells like low tide on hot dry summer day.  Nasty.

As he stood there glaring, waiting for a response I threatened, “If you’re not nice to me, I’m going to blog about you.”

He shrugged.  “Big deal. I live that blog.”

A smile tugged at me.  True.  But now he sounded like the kids.  “Why do we have to be the gardeners?  It’s your blog!”

“It’s our garden, children.  Now run along and grab some more weeds, will you?”

As I return to the business of harvesting worm poop, I gather the bottom most bin and gaze in wonder at the gold–er, make that black–mine of a bounty they’ve produced.

Lovely, isn’t it?  Next, I smear the fresh worm castings across the cardboard.  By doing so, I’m separating the worms from the poop. 

Don’t want to lose any of these beauties!  So I painstakingly remove them one by one (or clump, if I’m lucky) to be sure they don’t suffer an arid death.

Next, I lift the baby and return him to the safety and comfort of his bin where I will add fresh food and continue my “layering process.”  This is where the lower bins are the oldest, upper bins are the newest.  Easier to add food this way, right? :)  

Now as I’m doing this, I’m thinking to myself there’s got to be an easier way. Granted worm castings don’t stink, but plucking worms from their midst is a tedious task.  I’m not about to lose a single one.  Not only are these pumpkins valuable to me, I hate the loss of life any life.

It does inspire me to schedule that trip to my local worm farm. I’ve been wanting to go and I’m sure they can guide me in the best methods for salvaging the worm poop from my bin.  And come to think of it, it sounds like a great field trip for the kids at school.  Plants love worm poop and kids love worms!  Is it a wonder why the students love their garden so?

Number two lesson?  Make worm pee in the process!  Not only does it provide the perfect method for cleaning your “worm removal” tool…

But it also make great plant food and insect repellent! (You’re all a tingle with excitement, aren’t you?)  Oh, how I do love a multi-tasker!

Dry your harvested poop until crumbly.  Here’s a gander at how they differ.  And no, it’s not your imagination.  The dried worm poop in this photo still has some “undigested” eggshells.  What can I say?  I’m an impatient sort and organic gardening is WAY exciting.

Then store in airtight bag for later use.  Your plants will thank you.

I’ll bet some of you have some helpful tips for me.  Do share!

Make Your Own Sun-dried Tomatoes

Ever wondered how to sun dry a tomato? I mean, the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes is exquisitely intense, wonderfully versatile–and I learned–the perfect addition to any raw diet.  It makes an awesome base for uncooked tomato sauce.

But I digress. Personally I never wondered about sun-dried tomatoes and how they were created. I figured the name said it all, right?  I imagined them splayed out across specialty terra-cotta baking stones in Italy or California, sunning until they reached crispy, crunchy chewy perfection (depending on how you like them!).

It wasn’t until I witnessed Mother Nature’s first sun-dried tomatoes in my garden this spring that it dawned on me.  Actually, it was the scorch of summer and my lack of attention that did it, but who’s checking? I planted these gorgeous Romas this spring and they dried by summertime, all by themselves.  Don’t you love an independent vegetable?

Nothing I like better than a vegetable that will grow itself or a child that will do his or her own laundry. It’s heaven!  But seriously, are these not feats to be coveted? At least respected, admired?  In my house they are and when my tomatoes began to sun dry themselves well, I celebrated.  Hip-hip-hooray!  We have sun-dried tomatoes!

For all of you cringing right now thinking, please no, tell me you didn’t actually eat those rotten things.  Rest assured, I didn’t. Who knows what may have tainted those shriveled beauties? Not me and I don’t eat anything from my garden without full certainty of its “wholesome goodness” prior to ingestion.  I have kids watching my every move. Never know which “moves” they may wish to emulate and trust me–rushing them to the ER is not on my list of things to do!

So how does one sun-dry tomatoes?

Easy. Same way you dry those herbs in your garden–set the oven to low (150-200) and bake them for about 4-5 hours, depending on the size of your tomatoes and the heat strength of your oven.  Cut them into quarters and push the seeds out (or not).

These are a mix of Roma style and regular.  (Is there such a thing as regular tomatoes?)  Next, spread them across a baking sheet.  I used this vented one for more even “drying.”

At this point, your best course of action is to monitor them throughout the process, turning when necessary. If this seems like too much work, you can always lay them out in the sunshine for a hot couple of days.  Mother Nature does know what she’s doing!

After about 4 hours, my small batch was ready; crispy-crunchy-ready. 

I imagine if I immerse these in olive oil they’ll return to a more palatable texture (like mine chewy), but these would still be great as a salad sprinkle.  The raw diet recipes we used during our challenge called for soaking the sun-dried tomatoes in water prior to use.  Good idea.

Tasty, toasty and easy, you’ll want to try this one for yourself!