organic

Monster Okra

Now this is enough to scare you plum out of the garden–so don’t let it come to that.  Okra are one of the easiest and tastiest veggies to grow and when eaten fresh from the vine (stalk, stem…) are not slimy in the least.  They are divine.  My son prefers them fried–and they are good this way–but I like them fresh.  But if you let your okra grow to gargantuan proportions, they will be tough, stringy and icky.  Leave these mammoth pods for seed saving.

And the only way to prevent this from happening is to visit your garden every day during harvest time.  Like I said, okra are EASY to grow and grow they will–inches a day!  Or so it seems.  These are Tami’s okra (no, we haven’t forgotten her) and in need of plucking.  But in between home and the beach, work and vacation, it can be downright hard to visit your garden every day.  (Yet another reason I close most of my rows for the summer.  Summers are for vacation in my household!) 

For optimum taste, you want your  okra about two inches, maybe a tad more if you’re frying them. This little guy is perfect, isn’t he?  Gorgeous AND delicious. 

Speaking of gorgeous, her pepper plants are thriving.  Beautiful and green and only a couple of holes to speak of, these babies are blooming and producing.  Now remember, perfection is overrated.  I don’t mind one bit if the leaves have a couple of blemishes.  So long as they don’t kill the plant or prevent peppers from blossoming, I’m good.  How about you?

Now her tomatoes are wild and wooly and taking full advantage of her divided attention.  They need pinched and pruned, but Tami’s been too busy to do either.  Like I said, Florida during the summertime can be very distracting.  Sunny skies, warm waves and beautiful beaches…  Who can stay home?

It’s tough.  Forgive her.  She’ll get back into the swing of it soon.  Why, she has this cute little melon fella to take care of! 🙂 

Isn’t he adorable?  Precious.  Just precious.  So if you’re in the same predicament as Tami, don’t worry.  You’re not alone.  For all you lucky gardeners out west and up north, take heart–this is YOUR season to shine.  And do share!

Hair and Bumps?

This can’t be good.  I understand nature isn’t always pretty, the dark side always lurking just out of sight, hidden from the light of day…  But really.  This is too much.  Hair and bumps on my carrots?  Dare I say, warts?

It’s what they look like.  At least that was my first impression when my son hauled the harvest in.  They were a huge mess of warts and hair and reminded me of some gnarly old man in a horror movie (or book!).  It was not what I had in mind when preparing our salads for dinner.  I was envisioning gorgeous fat smooth orange beauties.  Sure, a little hair never hurt.  Can always strip it clean from the length of them (ouch).  But these fellas?

No siree bob was I touching them!  ICK.  And scrutinizing them further, wondered if a brave attempt would even be worth the trouble.  Once the bumps and hair were skinned from them, there would hardly be anything left to speak of.  Nah.  These are compost food.  The pile out back has been hunkering for a little beta carotene and here’s its chance to swallow them whole. And make fresh dirt.  Mother Nature is a beautiful creature, isn’t she? 

For those of you wondering what on earth happened to these golden babies, it’s probably due to a couple of things.  Water for one.  I’ve been having the hardest time with my sprinklers this season and more bound and determined than ever to install that soaker hose system I’ve been thinking about.  You see, if you water too much, your carrots can crack and split.  if you water too little, they can develop small feeder roots that shoot from the main root in search of water.  Helpful little buggers, aren’t they?  Bumps are probably hair that actually had a chance to grow a bit. 🙂

Too much fertilizer can cause the same hairy problem and I have a hunch that this may be part of our problem as well.  I say “our” because speaking of helpful, my kids tend to water and feed without restraint.  They don’t understand there’s a happy medium to be found.  They hear fertilize and they fertilize.  Vacation didn’t help, either.  We may have left our bounty in the soil longer than necessary.

Huh.  It’s a process.  Or learning curve–something which I tend to slide down the front side of more often than I care to admit!  So here we sit with no gorgeous carrots for my salad.  And it’s dinner time. *sigh*

What’s In YOUR Produce?

We’ve all heard of the Dirty Dozen.  No, I’m not referring to some cops & robbers show.  I’m talking produce–fruits and veggies, specifically the kind we buy at the grocery store.  You know, the stuff we buy with the intention of feeding our family healthy meals?  Unfortunately, some of this produce we buy isn’t as healthy as we think.  Apples top the list as the most pesticide-laden produce of them all (so much for an “apple a day”) while other notables include: celery, peaches, bell peppers–

Bell peppers?  No wonder mine are so small compare to those beauties I pick up at the grocery store!  Packed with chemically engineered fertilizers, those green goddesses are as synthetically enhanced as the puffed up muscles of a steroid-ingesting body builder.  I mean, we all want to look good–our garden veggies included–but at what cost?  Are we really okay with subjecting our bodies to poison?

Not me.  This is simply one more reason to grow my own produce (as if I needed another!).  To continue, the list includes other lovelies such as strawberries, blueberries, grapes, spinach and lettuce.  For the complete list, check the website for Environmental Working Group.  These folks will give you an updated run down on what’s bad for you, but also what’s good.  A few of the winners for sale at your local grocer include onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocados (love these!), cabbage, sweet peas and more. 

However, I’d like to include one caveat regarding corn.  With so many hybrids and scientifically altered varieties out there, I’m steering my family clear of corn purchased from the market.  For all its health benefits (vitamins, anti-oxidants, cancer-prevention, etc.), it’s also one of the most genetically modified veggies.  Not good.  While I understand the reasons for this process, I don’t care.  If I’m going to eat healthy, I want to ingest pure, wholesome fruits and veggies which is why in my garden you’ll only find heirloom varieties of corn.  And of course, it’s 100 % organic.

So next time you’re meandering the beautiful colors in your produce section, think twice before plucking that gorgeous pepper from your market shelf and consider growing it yourself.  It’s not as hard as you might think and the rewards for you and your family?  Priceless. 

But if you must buy your produce, choose organic when it comes to the list of worst offenders.  Your body will thank you.

Why French Gardeners Don’t Get Fat

Same reason other gardeners don’t get fat:  they eat a bunch of vegetables, right?  They eat nuts and berries, a few twigs, some tomatoes and lettuce, maybe and a handful of vitamins for good measure–and protein.  Am I close?

Well…sort of.  Loosely based on the bestselling book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, I think the concept is the same.  If you enjoy the process (good exercise) and enjoy the produce (healthy food) than you’re halfway there.  But there’s more to eating than mere consumption.  Concentrating on the depth of flavor in your earthly beets, the crisp sweetness of your corn, the buttery texture of your potatoes and oh-so-sweet onions, you begin to immerse yourself in the pleasure principle.

It’s like I tell my children.  “Everything in moderation.”  Now granted this is merely my way of letting them know it’s okay if Mom dips into the candy bowl.  It’s okay if she drinks a glass of wine (or two).  It’s okay.  Everything in moderation.  I find it’s a fabulous rule to live by because as an experienced dieter I can tell you:  denying yourself something you adore is not smart.  In fact, it goes against human nature—or feeds into it.  You know as well as I do that the minute you tell yourself you can’t have something—you want it.  You crave it.  All of a sudden, it becomes the most important thing you need to eat right now! 

Very bad as we approach bathing suit season.  Piling M&M’s into your mouth is not helpful to your figure, or your heart, your stomach…  So stop right now.  (No, not eating M&M’s.)  Stop denying yourself and give in to decadence!  Luxuriate in a glass of Cabernet, a handful of dark chocolate, a three-layer cake of dense delight, the sugary sweet frosting from a cupcake.  Enjoy it—leisurely.  Don’t rush.  Don’t get crazy.  Simply enjoy…….

You’ll find that once you remove the “desire triggers,” you’ll be able to eat what you desire AND remain slim.  I don’t know about you, but all veggies and no sweets make for a very dull girl.  And I don’t want to be dull!  I want to be delightful and happy.  Cause remember—when momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.

It’s true in my household.  How about yours? 🙂

p.s.  Pssst….  Don’t tell anyone, but this chocolate mousse is actually GOOD for you.  Swear.  It’s made from avocados though you’d never know it from tasting it!  Follow this link for this and other delicious and healthy recipes.

Tragedy in Wormville

It’s a sad day when I must report to you that my worms are gone. Yep.  Every last one of them, gone, bye-bye, escapees from the worm bin leaving only their stinky remnants behind.  Which is your first clue.  Stinky.  Remember, a properly maintained worm bin doesn’t stink.  It doesn’t smell, doesn’t bother anybody…  It just exists for them to produce. 

So when I returned home from a week in the mountains and removed the lid, you can see how the unpleasant waft gave away the fact there was a problem. Combined with the dried carcasses on the garage floor around my bin, it was no stretch to realize what had happened.  My heart sank.  I poked through the nasty gooey debris, but nothing.  No sight of those gorgeous red wriggly bodies to be had anywhere.

Now mind you when I left, the bin was healthy and clean and my babies had plenty to eat.  They were fabulous!  And worms should be able to make it a week without my help.  Granted my husband remained home while the kids and I jaunted through hiking trails, leapt from waterfalls and cavorted along the paths of Rock City but remember:  he’s not exactly a fan of the worm bin, especially as it’s located within close proximity to his vehicle.  I can only hope he wasn’t standing there cheering them on.  “Run, Willy, Run!”

I wouldn’t put it past him.  While supportive of my endeavors, he’s a reluctant worm farmer to say the least and he’d rather buy bags of the dried stuff from our local seed store.  “Aren’t you trying to be a localvore, honey?  Why not support your local merchants and buy their worm poop?”

Very funny.  I’m working toward self-sustainability, remember?  As for my worms, I won’t give up.  I hate to give up.  After our planned trip to the worm farm this month, I’ll be armed with the secrets of successful worm binning just you watch.  Until then, I’m open to suggestion! 🙂

Tomato Update

Okay, so I’m not sold on the red paper thing.  Not because I doubt it reflects the perfect rays of sunlight to ripen my fruit to ruby red perfection, but because it’s interfering with my plant’s ability to absorb water.

You see, cutting slits in the paper for my tomato plants to grow does not allow sufficient water to get to the roots.  Florida downpours can do the trick, but my sprinkler?  Not so much.  My plants are stressed and susceptible to attack by the fungus and worse, the dreaded hornworm.  In fact, much of the water ends up in puddles on top of the paper–despite my every effort to weight the paper down in all the right places, encouraging the pools to funnel down toward my plant.

Nope.  Not working for me.  I’m sure there is an answer to this dilemma.  It just remained out of my reach for this first season of experiment. 

 Needless to say, I’m open to suggestion.  I hate to give up, but I hate wasting time, too. On to brighter beds, my Hungarian Wax Peppers are doing well.  Not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but they are producing some rather robust peppers.  Used one last week for some homemade Pico de Gallo.  Tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, little lime juice and voila!  A delightful homemade salsa! 

You see, there is good news.  Even though my tomato plants look horrible, they have produced.  And isn’t that what’s important?

I think so.  Did find an interesting development with my sunflowers this week.  Now granted, I’m no expert with these mammoth marvels but I had no idea that the flowers could actually form all the way down the meaty stalk.  In our school garden, the flowers were solely at the top of the plant.  Our second batch, too. 

But mine?  I have blossoms running all the way down the stem!   Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.  Not only do I get the huge flower up top, I get the added benefit of these little beauties.  

I realize this may be an anomaly, but that’s okay.  I’m not too picky when it comes to my plants producing.  They produce, I pick ~ and that’s about as far as I care to dwell on the matter.  Remember, I’m a happy gardener!  And happy gardeners don’t sweat the small stuff.

Maintain Vigilance

One thing to keep in mind about gardening is maintenance.  Not only do things go “bump in the night,” they go chomp in the garden.

Tami’s lettuce have gone to flower, now taller than her okra, and the bugs are in hog heaven–sans the swine.  Ick.  At this point, Tami need only remove the plants and put them in the compost pile–her new compost pile!  Yep, she’s decided to join the organic ranks and start her own compost pile, beginning with the pile of oak leaves she recently raked up.  Smart.  Very smart.  Best of all, it’s mere feet from her garden.

The okra are growing gangbusters and spitting out “cobs” all over the place.  One thing to keep in mind when you’re growing okra, is these guys are fast operators.  Once they begin producing, you’ll want to visit every day.  This will ensure you harvest your okra at its most tender because trust me, large cobs of okra are tough and NOT delicious.  Great for seed saving though!

Always a silver lining (if you know where to look).  Moving right a long… Tami has her first watermelon.  Isn’t it adorable?

Won’t be long before this little guy is burgeoning from the vine.  Note on watermelon harvest:  in Florida, these babies have a tendency to explode during hot summer days, so while you’re visiting each and every day, keep an eye on the melons.  Give em’ a tap and when you hear the nice dull “thump” sound, pull that rascal from the vine and haul it onto the picnic table.  Another good indicator is to check the curly tendrils.  Light green = not ready.  Brown and dry = thump it baby, thump it!

Another technique is to press your thumb nail into the skin.  If it makes an indentation, not ready.  No mark, you should be good to pull.  Tomatoes are a much easier fruit when it comes to harvest detection.  Red, they’re ripe.  Green they’re not–unless you’re a Southerner and like your tomatoes green.  Tami’s are looking mighty fine.

Her basil could use a little pinching.  I prefer to pinch the budding blossoms from mine before they reach 1/2 inch, then toss them into my lunch salad.  Mmmm…  Aromatic and delicious.  Did you know that basil eases digestion?  Wunderbar.  Nothing like making my roughage go down “easier.” 🙂

Have you seen the recipe for my favorite summer salad?  Strawberry and goat cheese and oh-so-delicious!  Add basil for an added delight.

And since we’re speaking of maintenance, these squash need some attention.  Fungus.  Very hard to rid the Florida garden squash of fungus, what with all our rain and humidity, but we must. 

This plant wants to survive and produce more squash.  It simply needs a helping hand.  So Tami will remove the diseased leaves and allow the center healthy green ones to thrive.   Remember, your plants want to produce and sustain you.  They just need a little help sometimes!

Spring Sweet Onion Harvest

Oh how I love this time of year!  After six long months of tending, weeding and waiting (the latter of which this gardener doesn’t do particularly well), my onion tops went brown and fell over so I duly dug these puppies up–gently.  Woohoo!  Someone ring the cow bell and dance the farmer’s jig–the sweet onions are ready!  And we have some doozies.  Big ones, round ones, small ones and–

What the heck?  Red ones?  I never planted any red ones.  How did these little pumpkins end up amidst my splendor of sweet white onions?

Hmph.  Told you those bags of seeds and plants you buy come stocked with all sorts of surprises.  Remember Tami’s blueberry/weed?  Well here’s the proof it can happen to anyone.  Red onions were mixed in my batch of onion sets.  Oh, well.  We humans are fallible, aren’t we?

I forgive them.  Besides, these look awfully tasty.  A bit of “Siamese Twins” growth going on, what with them joined at the bulb, but who cares?  I bet that won’t make one iota of difference once I chop them into salsa.  Or maybe I’ll cook them up with some of my black beans.  Mmm…

Yes, maybe it’s time for some black bean soup.  Those onions I don’t use right away I’ll store in my special covered onion basket or chop them up for the freezer.  I could always braid them to hang and store.  Looks kinda cool. 🙂  For best storage prep, lay your onions out for a sun bath (in Florida, you might want to do this under the shade of a tree).  Give them about a week to crisp their delicate papery skins.  Helps in lengthening storage time.

One year, a few of my onions began to flower.  Had I waited (remember, patience is not my strong suit), I could have learned the art of onion seed saving.  Though come to think of it, I didn’t have a lot of luck with the onion seeds I purchased and planted.  Should I really go to all the trouble of doing it myself?

Perhaps.  They are extra sweet when enjoyed fresh from the garden.  And barely a tear in the kitchen when it comes to slicing and dicing.  *sigh*  We’ll see.  Don’t count me out of the onion seed saving business yet.  There may be hope for me still… 🙂

I’ll keep you posted.  But until then, consider some sweet onions for your garden.  One fall day of planting makes for a lovely spring harvest.

Whipping Up Some Potatoes

Okay, maybe not whipped per se, but definitely a whirlwind of yum in the kitchen.  Last week we harvested potatoes, this week we eat them! Gosh, I love gardening, don’t you?

And these were easy to make.  A little olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary, salt and pepper and this time, we added a bit of Parmesan to the mix in lieu of sweet onions.  Delicious.  From kindergarten to middle school these potatoes were a hit.  Next!  Recipe can be found here.

In the garden this week, the kids pulled out the remaining potato plants, squash, and corn in preparation for crop rotation.

Now you’re probably wondering, corn?  I don’t recall seeing any corn.  Well, they weren’t much to see unfortunately.  I mean, they were exciting for the kids, but not much when it comes to cobs.

Perhaps we didn’t feed them enough.  Corn are pigs in the garden and maybe our eyes were smaller than their appetites.  They’re cute, but should be twice the size. We’ll work on it.

Moving right along, peanuts will fill our beds over the summer.  As part of our crop rotation, these guys are awesome because they fix the soil with nitrogen–especially important after the hogs wiped it clean of any and all nutrients.  Yes, I’m talking about corn and squash, even potatoes.  Peanuts love the heat, too and will take near about the entire summer break to grow and mature, about 3-4 months.  Remember: plants like soft beds of dirt–especially peanuts.  The plants drop pegs or “stems” into the ground and that’s where the peanuts form.  If the soil is too hard, the peanuts will have a hard time of it. So make it easy and loosen that soil!

We won’t follow our row of black beans with peanuts, because they’re part of the same rotation family.  Instead, will “close” that row off and wait until fall, maybe plant some broccoli or cabbage, both of whom love nitrogen.  Why?  Because they’re “leaves” and leaves love nitrogen.  Sing it with me kids:  beans, leaves, roots and fruits! (It’s our preferred order for crop rotation.)  Beans, leaves, roots and fruits!

Seed Sale begins on Monday which means the kids have furiously cutting and gluing their seed packets together and filling them with seed.  We have a wagon-full of black beans and pole beans to sell, plus some squash, sunflower and even tomato (some of which will have to be handed out the week after as you can’t rush Mother Nature!).  Cucumber didn’t fare so well, but we won’t give up on them.  There’s always fall! 🙂

Not only will we raise money for the garden, but the students will reap the rewards of independence knowing they are FULLY sustainable.  From seed to harvest to dish, glove to tool to feed and mulch, they’ll take pride in the fact it all stemmed from their effort.  The way I see it, self-reliance breeds self-respect.  And that’s a good thing.

Tami’s Growing Strong

For a first time gardener, Tami is doing AWESOME.  In this bed you can see her plants look great—squash, peppers, tomatoes and basil are all thriving together in harmony. If you remember, she planted the basil right in between her tomatoes, because these two make wonderful companions in the garden.  Funny, they make wonderful companions on the dinner plate, too.  Coincidence?

She’s pinched tomato suckers and pulled basil flower heads to keep these two healthy and happy.  To continue this progress, she can prune her tomatoes once they begin to grow past the top of her tomato cage.  This will also help to keep them full and strong.

The next bed over is residence to her okra and lettuce AND her first harvest.  Already!  Can you believe it?

Okra and lettuce make great companions, especially here in Central Florida because the canopy of the okra shades the more delicate lettuce leaves allowing them to flourish with ease.  (I’m about ready for a salad.  Anyone else?)

Upon closer inspection, we notice remnant damage on her okra leaf from the aphids and ant battle.  Not sure if this is from the diatomaceous earth of the aphids sucking the life out of the plant.  Will have to get back to you on that one.  But the plants appear to be fine in general, with no lasting trauma.

Next up is our pole beans which suspiciously resemble bush beans.  Now these varieties can produce very similar bean pods, but the big clue?  No climbers. 

Hmph.  Never know what’s in these bags we buy these days.  Remember our weed plant inside the blueberry?  It happens.  Course in my garden it’s usually do the fact that I occasionally forget what I’m planting where—despite my fabulous excel program!  Sheesh.  Yet another reason to become self-sustaining!  (Just keep your brain cells more organized than mine.)

Go figure.  Anyhoo, everything looks great.  Beans are plump and her cucumber and watermelon are bursting with life from their in ground “hill” site.