organic

Giving Thanks

I imagine Thanksgiving looks different in each household, each part of the country.  In my home, the day is spent at home, cooking, playing, enjoying the simple pleasures of life.  While I don’t have much time for the garden today (food assignments gobble up the majority of my day!), I did venture out to check on the sweet potatoes.  What Thanksgiving table would be complete without sweet potatoes?

And add this to my list of blessings — my slips have grown into sweets.  Varying sizes and shapes, this is what I’ve come to expect from this golden harvest.

On the other hand (more aptly other end of the garden), those sweets leftover from last season and started themselves — proof Mother Nature is quite prolific — have done quite well. 

Though when compared to Mother Nature’s batch, I’d say I didn’t do too bad.  Good size, nice shape, they’ll all taste the same in the mashed sweet potato dish!  More important, it just goes to show, you ALWAYS have time for the garden.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Going Raw

Recently a friend of mine turned fifty, though you’d never know it to look at her.  She exercises and eats right.  Spends quality time with her family and friends.  You can imagine when it came to appetizers for her birthday get-together, healthy and fresh came to mind and of course, earning a reputation as gardener-extraordinnaire, I was assigned a vegetable dish! 

“Use whatever you have too much of in the garden.  Anything you might want to get rid of.”

Too much of?  Get rid of?

Not in MY garden!  Now that I know how to can and freeze, there’s nothing I have in excess.  I use it all — all that’s worth keeping, that is.  But the issue remained;  bring something healthy. 

The wheels began to spin.  Not the crazy ones, the creative ones.  (Perhaps I should have used the phrase “creative juices” instead?)  Well, I thought about my garden and what I like to eat.  Yes, I’m selfish that way.  Should have been what she likes to eat but oh no, when it comes to my garden it’s all about me, or more aptly, what I think I can conjure up! 

My grand idea?  Sweet red peppers.  Probably because I don’t have any in my garden.  Mine aren’t doing well, you see…bugs, humidity.  Not good.  But I love them and think they make a great addition to any party table.  And what better way to prepare them than with my new food processor? 

I’ve heard a lot about “raw” diets of late, the health benefits, the fresh taste, and decided they should be added to our dinner table.  Less cooking makes for better nutrient consumption you know.  And I am all about what’s best for the family.  It is my job to feed them.  But what?  How?  While there are a few recipe books on the market, I haven’t really found any that call out my name and shout, “Buy me!  Buy me!” 

Undaunted, I decided to go it alone and bought a food processor.  I enjoy experimenting and besides, if my raw food fad falls to wayside, I can always use a food processor, right?  So what does one do when faced with the perfect opportunity to practice?

They practice!  So away I went, combining all my favorite ingredients in one dish.  Caught in the rush of creativity, I whipped up this gorgeous flower presentation on the fly.  I am a gardener, you know.  Flowers are a natural for me.

And the best part — besides being delicious — it’s fairly simple to make.  Red peppers, garbanzo beans, basil and goat cheese served over top a fan of romaine lettuce.  I tasted it and thought, not bad.  Fresh, light, could use a little Parmesan, or maybe a drizzle of balsamic.  I’m no chef, but I do like to eat and these happen to be some of my favorite things.

Ready to go, I placed the tray on my lap and we headed down the street, whereby I learned a valuable lesson.  Rule number one:  when using a food processor with fresh vegetables, check for excess liquid.  Apparently, when you whir and chop at high speeds, the natural water from your veggies — in my case red peppers — tends to seep out of your lovely sauce, collecting at the bottom of your dish. 

And when your husband turns a corner, it spills over the edge — and all over your jeans.  Lucky for me, blue and red are close relatives on the color wheel and my attire wasn’t completely ruined for the evening.  Spotted, but hardly noticeable.  Now, carrying a dripping tray into the house….

That’s another story.  Nabbed!  But I still received all the ohs and ahs (friends are helpful that way) and proceeded to the kitchen.  At least my beautiful appetizer survived in one piece and with the help of a “hostess with the mostess,” the juice was drained and the food served whereby she promptly advised me to save this extra vegetable juice  in the future and use it for sauces or drink mixes. 

“Of course.  The perfect solution.”  Exactly what you’d expect from the woman who can throw a party together in a matter of hours, barely bat an eyelash over food detail, all the while her ambiance and decor glowing as though planned for weeks.  The woman’s entertaining might is legendary.

However, while impressed with my creation at home, it somehow tasted different to me at the party.  A little too fresh, if that’s possible.  Okay, who am I kidding.  It tasted like water.  Aghast, I looked around the room.  The pressure began to build.  Everyone was still mingling, but it wouldn’t be long before they made their way to the food table.  And of course all eyes and appetites would be on my pepper-filled petals. 

Then it hit me.  Standing feet away was a friend whose reputation for cooking rivaled that of “entertaining gal.”  Bingo.  He’ll know what to do!  Beckoning him over, I boldly asked for help.  I explained my latest adventure into the field of raw food prep, followed by my current dilemma.   “What do you think it needs?”

He tasted and quipped with a shrug of his shoulders, “Lemon or lime.”

Ping!  Of course.  That’s exactly what it needed!  Child’s play for a man of his culinary expertise and the perfect solution for my problem.  With the simple addition of fresh squeezed lime juice (the fruit more readily found behind the bar), my dish had been transformed into fresh sweet red pepper magnificence.  A heady moment indeed.  With that, he named it Margarita Sweet Peppers and the dish was a hit.  For the full recipe, check my recipe section.

So now I’m inspired.  I bought the food processor for this very purpose — add more fresh ingredients to my meals and keep them raw — and now I have my first victory to report.

Progress Report

The kids are going strong.  Crops are coming in, as well as weeds — but we’re on top of them.  First, we loosen their grip in the soil and then we pull them free, forming small work piles ultimately headed for our compost pile. 

Granted it’s not the most exciting part of our garden, but it is a necessary one!  These weeds are battling for the same sun and water as our plants and we are rooting for our vegetables to win out!

Go veggies!

And there is plenty of weeding to go around.  While we mulched these corn stalks to prevent weed growth, they still have a plethora (abundance) of weeds growing around their base.  Most of these should be removed.  A few survivors won’t hurt, but  a “carpet” of weeds is definitely not helpful to our plants.

Maintenance is the key at this point.  For our tomatoes, we learned how to pinch the suckers from the vines.  These small growths at the elbow of main stalk and branches “suck” away energy from the main branches.  Very bad. 

We want our efforts directed toward tomato production, not branch production!

As the tomato plants grow larger, we must also stake them.  This basically means to tie the stalk of the plant to a sturdy stake (we used bamboo) so that when to tomatoes start coming in, they won’t topple over our plant. 

We could have used a cage, but using ties is easy and allows the plant plenty of space to breathe and spread its branches.  You can also utilize a trellis, encouraging the plants to climb.

As usual, we’re always on bug lookout.  It only takes one day for a hornworm to devour an entire plant.  Which would be wholly disappointing after all our hard work.

This little brownish varmint below had to be removed else he do damage.  I’m not sure exactly which type of worm he is, but we take no chances when it comes to saving our tomatoes!

If we’re lucky, we’ll spot a ladybug.  Maybe a frog, or two.  But so far, nada.  Could it mean we have nothing for them to eat?

Probably not.  We have holes in our poles bean leaves so something is chomping.

Another task is training the pole beans to grow up the fence.  We do this by gently tugging the leading vine toward the links of our fence and winding it through.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

Our sweet peas aren’t ready for training, yet.  As it is, they’ve only just peeked out from the ground.  But once they get going, we’ll do the same for them.

All in all, I’d say we’re off to a great start!

Lost My Strawberries…

To what, I’m not sure.  Could be fungus, nematodes, who knows.  The end result is the same.  They’re dead, or dying, a slow and painful death.  Who it’s more painful for, I’m not sure.

Our strawberries were a hit in the garden.  Kids loved showing them to their friends, plucking berries from the vine, popping them into their mouths.  Who can resist a plump, ripe strawberry on a spring day?

No one in this family, I assure you.  So now what?  Well, since I don’t know what killed them, I had to remove the entire bed.  But before I did, my daughter clipped runners from some of the healthier looking plants in a last ditch effort to salvage what we could.  These particular plants are the Quinault variety, an everbearing variety that I hope will survive to produce for another season.  Or two.  I am an optimist, first and foremost.

Of course, this could be the problem, too.  (Not the optimism part!)  It may be a simple matter of life cycle.  Perhaps, beneath the scorch of summer sun, my sweet berries sucked in their last breath of carbon dioxide, releasing it with a sigh of oxygen.  Plants are so giving that way.

After we removed the plants, I decided it would a good idea to solarize the bed, killing any bugs or fungus that may be present.

This process uses a clear plastic covering to heat the soil.  Try to attach it to the ground, retaining as much heat within the covering as possible.  For best results, leave the plastic covering on for about 6 weeks.  This is an organic (except for the plastic) way to kill harmful organisms that kill your plants.

Placing the plants and runners into soil, we hope to get them in the ground come fall, perfect timing for them to get reestablished and producing come spring.

We love our strawberries.  They’re such a great crop for Florida and kids.  So with our fingers crossed and our toes counted, we look forward to a successful rooting and healthy propagation of these baby berries of ours.

As well as strawberry smoothies, strawberry shortcake, strawberry topped sundaes, fresh from the garden goodness…  The list goes on!

We have sprouts!!!

It’s working!  Yahoo!  And what a thrill.

Discovering your first sprouts is a great day — especially for the boys. 

“Look mom!  There’s a potato!  And there’s another one! “

Wow.  They really are growing.  While it was exciting last week with the addition of transplants, the added greenery a major boost to morale during the throes of winter (oh, waah — as if Floridians actually knew anything about winter) but now we have proof positive Mandie has a green thumb!

Could be a simple example of Mother Nature doing her thing, but I’m willing to go with the green thumb imagery. 

Not only the potatoes are rearing up, but the carrots are sprouting and so are the conch peas!  Cute little things, they look more like “bird” peas, don’t they?

Either way, we’ve got action — and lots of it.  Why, look at these sprouts – they’re everywhere!   These baby carrots may seem more like baby hair, but they are THRILLING nonetheless.   Like having your first baby.   Sure, it’s red and screaming and covered in awful slime but to you, it’s the most beautiful creature in the world.

You see it now, don’t you?  Yes.  I see your smile.  You see it, too.

But of course, as the earth spins, with every upward tick comes a downward tick.   We have daylight, we have night.  

Yes, you guessed it.   Blemishes.   Bugs.   While admiring all the new sproutlings, eagle eye Mandie spotted a tiny black bug.  Her eyes are better than mine.  

Argh!  Infestation.  Panic.   She turned to me, whom she has affectionately dubbed master, and asked, “What do we do now, Master?”

I smiled.  (Not only because I like being called master, but because this is where the reality of organic gardening hits.)  You get him

She balked.  “What do you mean?” 

“I mean, you grab him, get him, pinch him – whatever you need to do to remove the dastardly invader from your garden — without using any awful pesticides.”

She promptly obliged.  

You have to hand it to her, the girl’s a quick study! 

I then mentioned the use of insecticidal soap, an environmentally friendly spray for her plants, touting it was a somewhat easier method of beast removal.   She whipped her head around to her husband.  “Gary, while you’re at the store, grab some of this stuff, will ya?”

Wonderful husband that he is, he agreed without protest.  (Boy, do I love husbands.  They really do make gardening easier.)

After a final inspection, we decided everything was good, perfect, save for the tomatoes.  These pups proved a bit peaked after the close call with the mercury last week, but I think they’ll make it.  Fish emulsion will do wonders for them, along with a well planned fertilizer program.

 

Mandie paled.   Fish emulsion.   “I forgot to pick up the fish emulsion!”  (You remember, this is the busy gal — a lot on her plate?  We weren’t kidding!)   “Gary, will you grab some fish emulsion why you’re out?”

He smiled.   “Sure.”   Then to me, asked, “Can you buy that at the hardware store?”

Probably.   If not, the seed and feed will have it.   Fish emulsion is a wonderful organic fertilizer.   While it won’t address all the needs of your garden, it does provide a solid foundation.

Satisfied all was in hand, he nodded.  “No problem.”

I like a calm, cool and collected guy.   Tends to mellow out my more hyper-tendencies.   Uh, make that energetic.   I’m energetic, not hyper.   I have focus.   Determination.   Why, just this weekend I relocated a rose garden to make way for my new herb garden, and planted a blueberry patch to boot! 

It is blueberry patch, right?   I asked my daughter and she assured me it was patch, not orchard.   But then again, she’s barely ten.   Help?

More on that tomorrow.  Until then, rejoice in Mandie’s success!

How sweet it is!

green pepper harvest

Sweet bell peppers, to be exact.  After a few days of rain my green peppers have burgeoned!  They’re so big, they actually look like I purchased them from the supermarket.  Well, the organic section, anyway.  Nice, firm, medium sized.  They definitely haven’t been pumped with any growth boosters, or super duper color enhancers (if such a thing exists) which makes this bounty all the more exciting.  Because they are huge, relatively speaking.

Huge and homegrown!  Now, the question, what do I do with them?  I’ve already given a couple away to family, but I still have a bowl full.  And while I love a good salad, green peppers are not one of my favorite ingredients.  I prefer them cooked, in black bean soup, maybe a little paella…even meatloaf!  But once I get through these dishes – three nights, four bell peppers, five more back in the garden about to pop – seems to me I better get cooking, as in, trying to figure out some new and exciting ways to serve these babies up!

It’s a good thing I staggered my garden, otherwise I’d be talking fourteen instead four.  Green peppers will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but after that, they make better compost.  Any suggestions?  I’m all ears.