organic

My Very First…

Red peppers. I’ve never been able to grow them in my garden. Not sure why, but for some reason, my green peppers tend to rot on the vine before they make it to “red” status. Green peppers are easy to grow and easy to freeze and save. But red?

my first red pepper

This is my first ever. And I’m thrilled! I wish I could tell you my secret, but I don’t have one. On a different note, my tomatoes are thriving and I know exactly why–dust for worms, weave for support and–ta da!–tons of tomatoes.

bounty of tomatoes

They are producing more tomatoes than I can eat, though it’s not for lack of trying! I pluck them from the vine in varying stages of ripening to be sure I get them before any varmints. So long as they have the first hints of red, you can pick them and they will turn a beautiful red in your kitchen window.

And while these were harvested from some pretty spindly-looking plants, the Organic Life magazine (shown in the pepper photo above) reminded me that organic homegrown tomatoes don’t have to look perfect to be perfect. They have cracks (from moisture variations) and the occasional blemish, but slice those off and you have the delicious beginnings for bruschetta.

bruschetta

Other than the fresh mozzarella and bread, these gems were made 100% from my garden ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Delicious!

Sweetest Tears You’ll Never Cry

Something about homegrown sweet onions doesn’t make you cry. You leap for joy, you eat your heart out, but you don’t cry–not when you’re cutting them you don’t. I only cry when I run out for the season!

fresh sweet onions

And they taste sweeter than any onion I’ve ever purchased from the store. Yep, they’re that good and very easy to grow. In fact, the only problem I can find with sweet onions is waiting for the harvest!

sweet onions almost ready

They don’t require a lot of attention or bug spray, only water, which is why I make a point to heavily mulch my onions. Makes sense when you consider their body is made up of mostly water. And when they’re ready, they’ll die back so you know when to harvest. More

Third Time’s A Charm

My daughter and I have been playing around in our test kitchen again and have come up with a delicious new cookie!  Test kitchen is just a fancy way of saying we’ve been cooking and concocting and this time, our mouths watered at the results. Oatmeal-Carrot Cookies that literally melt in your mouth with sweet delicious flavors that will have you tossing carrot seeds in the ground so fast your head will spin!

Oatmeal Carrot Cookies

Sure, you can buy carrots from your local market but where’s the fun in that?  I love to go to my supermarket and wander the aisles (I’m particularly excited by the weekly buy-one-get-one deals), but I really love harvesting vegetables from my organic garden, then proceeding directly to the kitchen for consumption of the same. Awesome feeling.

Anyway, with a bounty of freshly harvested carrots, I thought, “I need a new way to eat these babies.” My Fluffiest Carrot Cake is divine but way too fattening to eat on a regular basis. I mean, it’s too easy to eat three slices in a sitting. Too easy and bad for the hips. Very bad. So I decided to make a healthy cookie, instead. Unfortunately, healthy cookies are kinda hard to make, hence the title of this blog post. Our first two attempts failed. We sweetened the dough with honey which made the final cookies too “liquidy.” For the next batch we cut down on the honey but the cookies still didn’t have enough substance to them. Answer? More

Wish I’d Known This A Few Years Back…

Not really sure how I missed it, actually. It’s simple, easy and completely efficient. I mean, if the resorts can do it, why can’t I, right? That’s what I finally decided, anyway. If stringing lines over pools and outdoor restaurants can keep unwanted birds out of the guests’ hair and food, they should certainly be able to keep the birds out of my blueberries.

delectable blueberries

And it does. It totally does! Bird netting is the old standby and works, but it’s cumbersome and traps the bees inside. Bad. Very bad. Garlic sprays and the like don’t work especially well, because the birds don’t seem to mind the stench and I do. Ewe. But string? It’s a no-brainer. At least, once the idea popped into my brilliant mind, it was a no-brainer. Duh. More

My Contribution to Earth Day

For those concerned about the human impact on climate, this article might be your motivation to get that backyard garden (or rooftop!) started. According to the OCA, large-scale farming is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). From commercial fertilizers to pesticides, the heavy machinery needed to work the land, and the gas consumed by truckers and airplanes to get the harvest to your local grocery store are only some of the events that can affect our environment.

OCA_small_scale

Makes this gal feel good knowing she can trot on out to her garden and grab some squash and onions for dinner, a handful of blueberries for her breakfast yogurt, fresh lettuce for her lunch salad. It’s the epitome of “localvore” lifestyle. Couple of cows and hens, and I’d have my very own compost-makers and egg suppliers! Unfortunately, hubby says no…that’s too much for his little farmer. But not for you. Why not make this Earth Day the day you decide to get outside and get growing?

It’s easier than you think. I’m proof-positive! I have a gorgeous 4000 sq. ft. garden in my backyard that requires no more than an hour a day during prime-time growing season, much less the remaining months of the year. Granted, I don’t worry about every little weed I see but I don’t have to–weeds are part of nature, too (one I can’t get around), so I live with them, pulling only the most egregious from my beds. And the payoff is HUGE. One of my greatest pleasures is to stroll outdoors and pluck fresh produce from my garden. It tastes better, feels better, and gives me a sense of gratification that a trip to the grocery store does not.

Even if you don’t decide to start a garden, the story is worth a read. :) Happy Earth Day!

 

Have You Exercised Your Soil Lately?

Soil is key to healthy plants.  Duh. But with spring upon us, it’s an important concept to keep in mind. Healthy soil = healthy plants. What makes a healthy soil? Fertilizer? Water? While these two ingredients certainly help, to have truly healthy soil, you need to aerate. Aerate basically means to turn your soil, or add “air” into the compacted ground by redistributing the soil, making for better decomposition. However, one must take caution when aerating established garden soil, because you don’t want to disturb the microorganisms and/or beneficials (good creatures) living beneath the surface. Think worms. You want these little guys to remain happy in your garden and poking them with the sharp blade of a tiller or spade will not make them happy.

gorgeous-worms

How do you aerate your soil in a compassionate manner? Depends on the current condition of your soil. If you’re preparing an area for the first time, your best bet is to go full speed ahead using a push tiller.

rent the tiller

Your goal is to turn up the soil, introduce air, loosening the dirt several inches deep. You can also use a spade for this process. Stab the blade in, dig up the soil, turn it over–stab, dig, turn–over and over. It’s a tedious process but provides great exercise. Hah.

stab shovel both sides

For established gardens, avoid the push tiller and opt for a spade or a hand tool. For example, between planting seasons — I have two here in Central Florida, fall and spring — I turn and till as I work through established beds using a hand fork or shovel, whichever is handy. As I do so, I’ll add compost to increase beneficial organisms into the soil which in turn aids decomposition, aka, more organic compost! Additionally, throughout a single growing season, I’ll poke around my plants with a hand tiller/fork to ensure they’re not becoming compacted by say, heavy rains and the like. We do tend to get torrential downpours.

my beds are formed

Aerating soil not only facilitates the decomposition process of healthy soil, it also ensures light, fluffy beds for your plants. And remember, plants prefer light fluffy beds of dirt because it enables their roots to grow and spread freely. It also allows them to soak up those nutrients you’re “folding” or “tilling” into the soil in the form of organic fertilizer.

loosen and till as you go

Caveat to aeration? You’re turning up weed seeds embedded deep in your soil. Not good, because you’re basically replanting them, encouraging/enabling them to sprout. Ugh. But as every gardener knows, weeds are part of the deal. Some of us are meticulous when it comes to weed removal in and around their plants. Others (like me) have accepted that a few weeds around the garden don’t hurt that bad. They merely look bad. Which brings to mind an old saying along the lines…an immaculate house means a dull life. Loosely translated: I have other more exciting things to do than weed!

Now that you have that spring in your step, head outside! The sun is shining, the temps are warming (or will be soon), and there’s no place you’d rather be than outdoors.

Easter Dessert

Looking for the perfect dessert this Easter? This carrot cake is perfect and differs from most in that it’s light, fluffy and kid-friendly—from the making to the eating! Not only can they help by harvesting and shredding the carrots, they’ll love to decorate this spring treat (bunnies, anyone?).

bunny cake

While this recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, a bit tangy for some youngsters, it would also be great with a creamy white/vanilla frosting, too.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

3 cups freshly grated carrots

½ cup raisins (optional)

½ cup walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

pre-made fondant for decorations

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Grease or butter 9 x 13 or 2 8-inch round pans. In a large bowl, combine oil, eggs and sugar and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour and cinnamon and mix together until creamy smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet and blend well. Fold in grated carrots, followed by any optional items of your liking!

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Serve with cream cheese frosting (even plain, this cake is so good).

Approximately 1 large or 2 8-inch cakes.

light and fluffy slice

 Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, refrigerated

2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened (at room temperature)

1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how thick you like your frosting!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

dash of grated orange zest (optional)

Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract and blend until smooth. Add sugar gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended. Stop when you have reached your desired consistency. For stiffer frosting, use more sugar. For creamy frosting, use less. Stir in optional flavorings at end. Spread (or drizzle) frosting over cake and enjoy!

You can purchase packages of pre-made fondant at most major craft stores (Joann’s Fabrics, Michael’s…) and forming your figures is easy. We used a tube of green cake decorating color for the greens on our carrots—for a more feathery effect. Don’t forget the pre-made flowers and sprinkles—talk about EASY! You’ll have a stylin’ cake in no time!

Feeling Blue & Loving It

Spring has arrived which means there’s a bunch of stuff to do in the garden. Great times! I get to till and toil and snack on sugar snap peas all while strolling the rows of organic vegetables. This doesn’t make me feel blue. That happens when I approach the house.

new berries 2015

And pass my blueberry patch! Aren’t they gorgeous? The blueberry blooms are out in full force along with the berries I love and adore.

blueberry blooms 2015

Berries the birds love and adore as well, but we’re not discussing those bad boys right now. We’re discussing berries. Decadent, full and delicious berries. I’m not sure how plentiful my harvest will be this year due to the fact that we didn’t have a very cold winter. Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I’m taking the blooms I see as a good sign, though. Blooms mean berries. They also mean “bait” for birds. Grrrrr…

Another consideration to bear in mind is that blueberries need to cross-pollinate, so you must have at least two different varieties in your garden. I chose Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast  varieties because they require the least amount of chill hours. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along particularly well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

delectable blueberries

These varieties work well for Florida because we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these require the least amount of chilling hours. Choose wisely, according to your growing region. And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center (in warmer regions, later for my Arctic Amigos), another sign that spring is in the air!

Once you have these babies in your hot little hands, plant them in organic-rich slightly acidic soil (4.0 — 5.0 pH) and mulch well. Feed with a 12-4-8 fertilizer and prune during the summer months after harvest for more vigorous growth. They aren’t what I consider high maintenance, but they do require some.

Blueberry & yogurt stock photo

And they’re well worth it. In yogurt, cereal, pie, cobbler or fresh off the bush, these berries are my all-time favorite. You know you want to grow some. What are you waiting for? Get going and DO share how it’s going!

Ingenious AND Easy!

Okay, you know I’m always looking for an easier way to garden. Not that gardening in and of itself is difficult, but it does require time and effort. How much time and effort depends solely upon the gardener. Enter smart new idea…

corn channelsPlant your seeds in channels instead of holes. Yep, that’s it! Create channels down the length of your raised beds and drop your seeds–kernels, in the case of corn–and cover with compost. Done. (Told you it was easy, didn’t I?)

Look at those gorgeous lines in the dirt. And all I had to do to make them was drag my tiller through the dirt. Because I have sandy dirt in this section. My sweet potatoes used to be located here and those gals LOVE sandy soil, although corn doesn’t. Which is why I filled in my channels with compost. Composted cow manure will work, as will mushroom compost. Anything to enrich the sandy soil will do and is an absolute must. Corn won’t be happy without it.

corn channels filled with seeds and compost

Oh, and don’t forget the fertilizer. An all-purpose organic fertilizer works well but do remember to keep it handy. Corn plants are heavy feeder. Real oinkers in the garden, so keep them fed–especially with lots of nitrogen–and moist (channels work well to keep the water directed toward the roots) and your corn will provide more ears of pleasure than your heart could desire. Additionally, dusting with dipel dust worked so well for my tomatoes, I’m convinced it will also prove to be the secret weapon for my corn plants so I’ll dust my corn to keep the varmints at bay.

corn sprouts in channels

When thinking about the nearby plants in your garden, remember that corn and tomato don’t get along. At all. So keep in mind to keep these two away from each other when planning your rows.

Tomatoes In Need of Eggs

My tomatoes are rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to go in ground. Woohoo ~ what a great day! (Below, the sprouts were two weeks old.)

tomato sprouts 2 weeks old

And it’s a day I’ve been planning for, insisting the family not put their eggshells in the compost bin but instead, straight into my hot little hands. I need these babies for my tomato transplants. Eggshells and Epsom salts. Together, they are my fail proof preventative against blossom end-rot. You know, those ugly black spots that can form on your tomatoes?  (Shown below, the sprouts are now 3 weeks old and ready to head outside!)

tomato sprouts a week later

The spots are caused by a lack of calcium which is why I give my tomatoes a blast of calcium right from the start. Using discarded, dried and washed eggshells, I crumble them into small pieces and scatter around the base of my tomato plant. Next I sprinkle a bit of Epsom salts around the same and cover with compost. I’ll follow by forming a well around my tomatoes to increase their water retention.

they're in!

If the weather in Central Florida remains exceptionally warm, I’ll cover my babies with a screen to block out the hot midday sun. Once they reach about a foot, I’ll remove the screen and begin dusting. Dipel dust keeps the worms off my leaves by eliminating them before they get a chance to eliminate my tomato plants. All’s fair in gardening and nature!

Wow. SO excited! For more details on growing tomatoes, check my how-to grow section located on the sidebar to the right or menu bar above.