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Meet Ashley

Meet Ashley.  When she heard her friend Julie was taking part in our new garden venture, why don’t you know she went straight to her husband and suggested they build a planter box?  I use the term “they” quite loosely here, though she did help.  And–she prepared nice snacks for him and the boys, smiled pleasantly as she held the boards so he could nail them in place and assisted where possible.  (This is all excellent wife behavior and it works–most of the time, anyway.)

Would you look at this amazing piece of engineering perfection?  It’s a veritable masterpiece!  Compliments help, too.  🙂

Note to building crew:  lining your planter is a fine idea, but keep in mind your plants’ drainage needs.  Soggy roots are like soggy fruits–not delightful.  Be sure your planter is capable of draining.  Then, add a load of fresh dirt and you’re on your way!

For her first garden, Ashley chose a few of her family’s favorites; another wise move.  Growing vegetables that are easy and fun but no one cares to eat is a losing proposition.  Trust me.  Watching your fruit wither on the vine–literally–is a sad day, indeed.  (Kinda gross, too.)  For starters, we have beans, squash, melon, carrots and potatoes. 

How is she fitting all those veggies in there?  I’m glad you asked.  Organization 101.

Prior to planting, it’s a good idea to lay those colorful packets out across the dirt.  This way, you can eyeball their placement, keeping in mind their friends and foes.  Plants have their favorite companions, you know, and they’ll simply wilt and whine when planted too far apart. 

If you must squish a few “squabblers” together, so be it.  One thing I’ve learned is that Mother Nature appreciates enthusiasm.  She’ll give you a pass without fuss the first time you break her rules.  She won’t punish you with rotten diseases or nasty infestations to ruin your moment, but next season?  You’d better get another box.  Oh, honey…!

Once you’ve decided where everyone will be residing, dig according to your seeds’ needs.  Rule of thumb:  tiny seeds prefer shallow surface planting while larger ones go deeper.  And potato tubers?  We dug them a special section situating them lower than all their neighbors.  Important, because as they grow, you’ll want to continually mound them with dirt.  This forces greater potato production and we do want to produce, don’t we?  Yes, we do. 

Speaking of produce, Ashley’s gone crazy excited and decided to try her hand at composting, too!  Leftovers no longer go in the garbage–they go in the sink!  (Until we find a more attractive alternative.)  Then, her handy-dandy-super-helpful young sons will transport this bin to the outdoor compost pile.  Neat system, isn’t it?

Boys love composting, because it can lead to great worm hunting.  And any boy worth his sea salt knows:  if you plan on catching the big one, you’d better have some worms on hand.  Could there be any more fun than finding them on your own?  I think not.

Finally, spray a little water over your planter to get your new seeds settled in and then it’s off to the picnic.  In no time Ashley will witness an explosion of sprouts across her planter followed by leaves and veggies and harvest and–

Whew!  I’m excited just thinking about it!

For those of you wondering how Julie’s garden is coming along, well, you know, life, spring break…  Well, life just plain happens.  In the real world, our best intentions can easily be sidetracked by a few rows–but not to worry–she’ll be digging into her yard in no time!  Tanned from the beach, to boot. 

While we’re on the subject of gals in the garden, check out BloominThyme’s new garden series at Galtime.com in the Living section.  Join us, won’t you?

Custom Seed Packet & Holder Giveaway!

Attention savvy gardeners!  Visit us on Facebook and hit “like” for your chance to earn one of these adorable seed packet holders. 

Your choice of design, as well as a set of 15 custom seed saving packets, compliments of BloominThyme — http://www.facebook.com/bloominthyme

Don’t save seeds?  No problem.  Use these containers to hold paper napkins or plastic utensils on the picnic table, or perhaps envelopes on your desk.  How about the perfect unique gift for that gardener friend?  Or win one for the kids!  These holders are a great way to get the youngsters excited about gardening. 

Already “like” us?  Thanks!  You’ll be automatically entered to win.  When we reach 75 likes, one random winner will be drawn.  At a 100, a second will be chosen.  So enter early and increase your chances of winning.

Then, stay-tuned for more giveaways as well as gardening made easy — BloominThyme…your “cliff” notes to gardening!

Attention Gardener Wannabes–Now’s Your Time!

Always wanted to start a garden but afraid you didn’t have enough time or know how?  Well fret no more–you have enough of BOTH. 

“Seriously?”

Seriously.  Next week we begin our series “Ashley and Julie’s Garden — follow their progress!”  These two have always wanted their own garden, but were reluctant to take that first step, concerned it would lead them down a road on a downhill slide.  Not fun.  So instead they politely reply, “I’d love to start a garden, if only I had the time.” 

Typical, right? For many women these days, it is difficult to find the time.  Between kids and work and husband and life–who has extra anything to wander through brilliantly layered rows of a vegetable garden–despite the desire pumping through their veins, the urge screaming for release… 

Oh–wait.  That’s the kids in the bathroom.  Real life aside, these women yearn for the luxury of snipping fresh lettuce for their salad, clipping fresh beans to include on the dinner menu, pulling sweet carrots for the most delectable carrot muffins–and they can.  Once they catch on to the secrets of simple garden management, they can enjoy the benefits of growing their own vegetables.  Have kids?  Believe it or not, they’ll relish the adventure and together you will experience more joy than you ever dreamed possible. 

It’s the simple things.  Make that easy-to-do-and-not interrupt-my-schedule things that add quality to our every day moments.  So, if YOU have ever wanted to have your own garden but thought it utterly impossible, stay tuned:  we’re going to change your mind!

Series begins Tuesday.  Ashley will utilize a raised planter bed frame while Julie will opt for an in ground garden.  Join us, won’t you?

Trust me.  We’ll have fun.

Sweet Peas in Spring

Finally my sweet peas are ready!  After maintaining a steady grip during the cold, during the heat, and everything in between, my sweet babies have matured. 

Crisp on the out side, sweet delicacy on the inside, these are worth the wait.

And easy to store.  I’m freezing mine fresh — because I haven’t decided how I want to use them in the future.  But when I do, I know they’ll be delicious.  Already tried some.

Garden peas are especially precious in our garden as they are a limited commodity.  They prefer cool weather and now that it’s warming up here in Florida, I know these sweets will be on the way out.  It’s been so warm, my young broccoli are already bolting in rebellion.

Oh, well.  Just another day in the life of a gardener.  We take what we can get where we can get it!

Fresh Lettuce

I love fresh lettuce.   Fresh spinach, too.   Even more now — now that I’ve learned to store them!  (For easy storage tips, check my earlier post 

And don’t they look marvelous in my Longaberger basket?  One of those girls’ night out binge purchases.  But I must say, it’s stood the test of time pretty well.  I hate to admit how long I’ve owned it (let’s just say, this baby could be in college by now!).   The free-fall of years reminds me of how “young at heart” I’m growing!  Though it does tend to beat the alternative, doesn’t it?

Back to the garden.  Just because you have fresh lettuce in the garden, doesn’t mean you eat it everyday.  This, I’ve learned by doing.  While I had every intention to include the healthy greens on my daily menu, I realized a girl gets bored eating the same thing over and over! 

Pity.  My waistline is shrieking, “Lettuce!  Lettuce!  Eat more lettuce!”   But those M & M’s in the candy dish keep drowning out the voice of reason.   It doesn’t help that my daughter is becoming a grade-A baker, either.   She’s learned the secret to baking phenomenal brownies and now I’m paying the price.  Because I’m the adult.   Because I can tell her, “No, honey, only 10 M & M’s for dessert.”  

Who’s telling me no, as I scarf another handful in passing?  Certainly not my husband– if he knows what’s good for him.   And he does.   Bless his heart

So as I continue to fill my basket with good intentions, I long for my other vegetables to mature.   The good news?

My cabbage are almost ready.  The bad news?   There’s half a pan of brownies sitting in the fridge, calling my name.   Oh wait, er–never mind!

I think that was my stationary bicycle.

Back to School Lunch

Today is our first day back to school after a brief winter break and my daughter surprised me by requesting fresh carrots in her lunch. 

“Carrots?”

“Yes.   I want to get some from the garden.”

Really…  Well, well, well, I thought.  What do we have here?  A new year’s resolution?  A change of heart?  I mean, this is the child who would live off sweets, if you’d let her!  But not one to argue with healthy good sense, I said, “Well have at it!”

“I want some,” her brother piped up. 

I looked at him.  Busy emptying a few packets of artifically-flavored oatmeal into his bowl, I thought, really?  “You want carrots?” 

“Yes,” he said, followed by a bare shrug of his shoulders.  “Sure.  Why not?”

I think someone wants what his sister has, but if that’s what it takes to fill his belly with vegetables, than I’m all for it.  “Will you grab some for him, while you’re in the garden?”

“Sure,” she replied.

“And shoot, how about grabbing a couple for me while you’re there.  I’ll put them–”  Oops.  Almost said put them in the meatloaf which is a bad idea.  The minute these two hear I’m sneaking carrots into their favorite dinner I’ll have a rebellion on my hands!  “–in my salad,” I smoothly finished.  And smiled.  We mothers do need to keep one step ahead of these little darlings.

“Okay!”  And off she went with a friendly reminder from her father:  don’t wear your school shoes down there!  They’ll end up wet.

What a great dad.  Returning to my morning business of preparing lunches, I marveled at what a wonderful day this was beginning to be.  Carrots in her lunch!  Carrots for his breakfast!  Woo-hoo!  It’s a party!  And you thought New Year’s Eve was reason to celebrate.

A few minutes later my daughter bounded back into the house.  “Look at these!  They’re picture-perfect!”

Did someone say picture-perfect?  Hold on a second while I get my camera–we need to capture the beauty of those golden babies for eternity!

Not one to miss out on a photo opportunity, my son vied for his position in front of the lens.  “Take a picture of me, Mom!”

Of course, my sweet.  Everyone needs their moment in the limelight.  “Okay.  Lights, camera, action!”

Doesn’t he look interested in that carrot?  Good enough for me.  In fact, it warms a mother’s heart to see my kids take to fresh vegetables (for whatever reason).  And while they moan and groan on occasion about the required work associated with the garden, it is nice to know they enjoy the harvest.  Vegetables never tasted so good as when you grew them yourself!

Sure there’s something to be said about bragging rights and showing off your homegrown carrots to your friends at school — although these kids are growing their own beautiful carrots behind the classroom — but they do taste better than store-bought.  Same with potatoes and fresh herbs.  When it comes to taste, there’s simply no competition between the vegetables you buy and the vegetables you grow. 

Don’t believe me?  Try growing some yourself! 

 

How can you resist these gorgeous specimens?

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!