summer

Planting Pineapples

It’s that time of year when I dream of tropical getaways and long to bury my feet in the sand. It’s also that time of year when whole pineapples are plentiful on the grocer’s shelves. Sweet, juicy and delicious, pineapples are wonderful in smoothies, casseroles or simply fresh from the core. As a gardener, I’m always interested in how to plant the fruits and veggies that I love, and pineapples are no different.

And now I know how! Thanks to a friend, I’ve learned just how easy it is to grow pineapples at home. I mean, this fellow is no gardener. He’s just a guy who enjoys his pineapple and decided he’d try to grow some for himself. And he did!

pineapple

How? He simply cut the crown from his recently devoured pineapple, allowed it to dry for several days, then dug a hole out by his pool and planted it. That’s it. He didn’t water or fertilize it to speak of. He just let it grow. And grow it did. More

Summer Success

For many of you, gardening season has just begun but for me, it’s a constant turnover. Our cool weather plants have long gone, replaced by summertime sweeties like okra and peppers, peanuts and pumpkins. Yep, if you want a pumpkin for your doorstep come Halloween, you’d better start planting it now. These babies take a while–especially if you like them big!

Big Max pumpkins

And we do. The bigger the better. These beauties were from a few seasons back, but it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of the goal. Helps to keep you motivated through the long hot summer. Peppers enjoy the heat as well and are thriving in varying stages. Green…

green peppers

Hot chili… More

Summertime in the Garden

Summer is not the time to be gardening. Not in Florida, anyway. It’s the time for vacations with the kids, days at the beach, the lake, a friend’s house. Summer is too hot for gardening in Florida. Pretty much too hot for anything but water fun! However, I’m a year-round gardener which means there’s ALWAYS something growing in my backyard. And I’m not talking grass, I’m talking edible. :=)

Sweet potatoes love the warm weather and grow all summer long to deliver a bounty of golden goodness come fall. These babies are sprawling into the beds on either side where I have dutifully made room for them.

sweet potatoes in bloom Okra is another plant that loves it sunny and hot and as you know, this year I’m playing around with a new variety! Red Okra, of the “Billy Bob” variety (the name still makes me smile.

 red okra

My Valencia peanuts are thriving, burrowing away so that we may have peanuts to boil come football season. You have tried my Southern Boiled Peanuts recipe, haven’t you? More

Hot In YOUR Garden?

Great! It’s the perfect time to solarize your soil. By using nature’s heat, you can “bake” the gremlins out of your soil and prepare for the next planting season. Here in Florida, that means fall. (Yes, we’re lucky that way, reaping twice the gardening pleasure and sunshine.)

Solarizing is simple. Basically, you cover your beds with plastic paper (I’m going with heavy-duty black) and leave it in place for six weeks.  The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist.  Simple, eh?

heavy duty black paper

I do love simple.  And organic. No pesticides here! What I don’t love is doing things over and over which is what I’ve had to do in the past. Every afternoon, round about 4:00pm, the clouds would gather, the temps would fall and the winds would blow sending my paper across the yard, twirled and tangled…even hopped my neighbor’s fence once!

effective paper weights

The paper went everywhere but where it was supposed to be, so I decided to go heavy-duty and lined my rows with tiles and rebar and various other items I picked up around the garage. (Thanks, honey!) It’s not as pretty as anchoring the paper with pins, but summer winds are strong and tend to tear those puppies out. At this point in my gardening career, I’d rather have effective than pretty.  Once my beasts have been baked out of the garden, I’ll be back in business.  🙂

Planting Peanuts

These delightful little nuts are a joy to grow.  Not only do they mature through the summer season, they take their time doing so–while YOU go on vacation!  Yep, plant these puppies in April/May and check back in July/August to reap your bounty!

peanut roots

Okay, just kidding.  You don’t want to leave anything alone that long–except maybe your bathroom scale–because who knows what could pay your garden a visit in the meantime?  Not that peanuts are prone to insects or disease, they aren’t really.  Pretty tolerant from what I can see and living with me–plants need to be tough.  I vacation!  I write!  I have other things to do!  (Don’t we all?)

That said, optimum practice is to “visit” your garden on a daily basis.  Not “work” or “weed” or “water” but simply visit.  Say it with me:  “Ah…it’s so lovely out here among the beds of lush green fruits and veggies.”  More

Food Inflation

Now there’s a great way to ruin my day–tell me we’re facing a steep rise in food inflation and my grocery bill is going to hit the roof.  Wheat, soy, corn, milk, meat, it’s all going up.  Up, up, up.  Add this to the fact that our economy isn’t in the greatest of shape and I’d say someone needs a spanking.

Yes, Mother Nature is being a very bad girl this year, though I will give her credit for showering my state of Florida with rain (and won’t mention that she chose to do so while I was on vacation in the sunny–not!–Florida Keys), she is killing the middle of the country with her drought conditions.  In fact, it’s going have a global impact.  Even the price of eggs is expected to shoot up–aagh!

Now my kids won’t miss things like chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers (yes, it’s all going to be affected), but they will miss their eggs and toast.  Make that French toast for my daughter.  On the positive, I think this drought provides an excellent incentive to go grain-free.  Just think of it, you’ll be healthy, your joints will be happy and your moods will please everyone around you. 🙂  It’ll be great!  Except for one small problem:  we have no rain and the price of fresh vegetables is sky-rocketing.

Hmph.  Well, that brings me back to the garden, I guess.  Now I’m not suggesting you folks in the southern half of the country head outdoors and start tilling dirt (please don’t–you might keel over from heat stroke) but it would be a good idea to start planning for your fall garden.  You gardeners in the northern half start adding rows while you can.  And while you’re planning and adding, make sure you have a good rain collection system nearby.  It will help save on the cost of water.  Check out how one homeowner managed the task of homemade cistern.  Easy! 

Another good idea is to go hydropnic;  the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.  And the water is recycled through the system for added efficiency.  Perfect!  And completely out of Mother Nature’s hands.  Fast, too.  Need salad in a week?  Grow hydroponically!  You can use towers or buckets–your choice.

No matter which way you choose to garden, now is as good a time as any to consider the prospect.  The food you grow is a lot cheaper than the food you buy.  It’s fresher and healthier, provided you go 100% organic.  But I heard cheaper and THAT’S the bottom line when it comes to food inflation.

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!

Where Garden Meets Kitchen

Summer gardening is a challenge in Florida.  Okay, who am I kidding?  Between scorching drought and rising floods, a sprinkler system run amuck and intermittent vacations, I’m not gardening a whole heck of a lot this summer (though I am solarizing a host of underground beasts hiding out in my beds).  Instead, I’m creating delicacies in the kitchen with my spring produce.  Yes!  Doesn’t that sound marvelous?

Now that the sun is shining and my spirits have recovered from a rainy beach vacation, I’m turning my attention to crafty ways to use my herbs–those that survived the downpour post-drought, that is.  Yep.  You guessed it.  We’re talking rosemary, the feisty old gal.  Hard to kill this beauty (another point in the “I love you” column!) which is why I have two of these babes.  They grow like weeds with or without my help, so this week when the kids and I cut them back, we decided to pack them with butter and lemon juice.

I saw this in a magazine once, where they mixed fresh herbs and froze them–or did they refrigerate them?  I don’t recall exactly, but what I do remember is how simple a process it seemed and how handy to have these cubes on hand when I need to whip up a fancy dinner for hubby and the kids.  Fresh fish with herb butter anyone?  How about a little rosemary lemon drizzle on that pasta?  Mix it up with olive oil and we’re talking salad dressing galore.

And pre-prepared–the key behind the project.  Because I assure you, if I had to collect fresh herbs, chop them finely and mix with lemon juice and olive oil just to eat a salad?  It wouldn’t happen.  Nope.  Nada.  Never.  I simply don’t have that kind of time OR forethought.  *sigh*  It’s a curse.

Any-hoo, let’s not bother with all that–let’s make it a craft for the kids!  C’mon guys, think of it:  you can pop a rosemary lemon ice-cube into your lemonade any time you want for instant rosemary lemonade!  Yay!  Simply steep your rosemary according to my recipe, grab an ice tray, mix the herb liquid with lemon juice (we used concentrate) and fill your tray.  Freeze them for individual ice cubes that you can pop into a beverage, at your leisure.  Psst…they go great with vodka, too.  Five o’clock, summer style. 🙂

While you have the rosemary out, chop it very fine, mix with softened butter and do the same in a separate ice-cube tray.  Or heck, mix and match in the same tray.  That’s what we did.   I do love a multi-tasker!  No rosemary?  Try basil with butter, chives, even parsley.  Maybe a combination of your favorites?

And while you have your thinking cap on, try freezing a little cilantro and lime juice for an easy addition to homemade salsa, or mango smoothies.  My kids are big on smoothies.  Seems to be the most appealing way for them to eat their fruit.  Me?  I say, whatever works.  Then it hits me.  Why stop there? 

Hey kids, how about making mom a little mango sorbet with your ice cream maker, and throw in a cilantro/lime cube while you’re at it?  Fresh mint and vanilla ice cream?  Mmmm….  Don’t forget the chocolate chips!

The possibilities are endless.  Just be sure to cover your trays with plastic wrap so they don’t absorb any undelightful odors from your freezer.  If you’re only working with butter, the refrigerator will work.  Also, when the butter hardens, individually wrap your squares for easy use. 

Easy-peasy-lemony-squeezy!  Told you I was all sunshine and spirit today…  So rather than cry over the heat and humidity, use what herbs you have now and save some for later.

Kids Love Peanut Harvest

Better yet, they LOVE eating the peanuts they harvested!  Baked, boiled or roasted–you name it, they liked it.  And it all started with these beauties right here.

Once we pulled them from the ground, we allowed them to dry as part of the “curing” process.  This is where you set them in the sun for a few days, then pull the peanuts from the plant, toss it into the compost pile and place them in a warm dry location where they can continue to cure.  We do this to reduce the moisture content of the peanuts, especially important if you intend to store them long-term. 

If you like boiled peanuts like we do here in the South, you can dig them up, clean them off and toss them into the kettle!  Okay, that’s old-fashioned lingo for big pot.  But you do need to wash them because these babies have been sitting underground for months and if the bugs we discovered during harvest are any indication of what may be lurking there with them–we suggest a thorough cleaning before you eat them.

Boiling peanuts is simply a matter of covering them in salted water stove top, boiling them down until they’re soft.  Time will depend on your peanuts and the temperature of your stove, but plan for about 2-3 hours minimum.  And don’t be shy with the salt.  If you want to minimize your salt use, allow them to soak in some salted water overnight before boiling. 

Home roasting is a simple matter of placing your peanuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and cooking them at 350* for 20-30 minutes.  Again, this depends on your oven.  Some of mine were a tad burned and I’m going to fully blame the school oven.  I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened at home. 🙂

For our tasting today, each child received a few roasted and a few boiled and devoured their share within minutes.  Verdict?

I’d have to say the boiled peanuts won, hands down!  Probably because they were softer (and not burned).  But you receive an A for effort, Mrs. Venetta!

Mandie’s Sweet Potato Tangle

There’s something to be said about letting nature do her thing.  Take a look at these sweet potatoes (yes, that mass of vine is sweet potato!)  Can you imagine the golden harvest this woman is going to realize come fall?  Break out the casserole dishes, roll out the pie pans, we’re having sweet potatoes for dinner!  And dessert. 

Appetizers, anyone?

Now Mandie would not normally allow her garden to grow so wild and unmanageable, but she’s sort of displaced at the moment.  Air conditioner broke and in Florida, during August mind you, this is no minor issue.  Why, her two little boys could die of heat exhaustion if she didn’t move them out and quick!  But with a mother’s survival instinct comes a gardener’s back burner.  The sweet potatoes must now fend for themselves.

Which you see, they seem to do quite well.  Not surprising, since these babes are one of the easier veggies to grow.  Lovers of sandy soil, light water and minimal food — sounds more like a beach babe waif than sweet potato, doesn’t it? —  bothered by a few bugs, yes, but nothing they can’t survive.  Why, this crisis is a no-brainer for them!

last year's offspring

 

As if this example wasn’t proof enough, I have a wild child of my own, growing with abandon in the opposite end of the garden. 

Looks better than the ones I’m actually paying attention to and trying to grow!  

Go figure.

this year's crop

 

So if you want an easy, healthy vegetable to grow, consider the sweet potato.  Chocked full of anti-oxidants, Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), Vitamin C, as well as a good source of Vitamin B6, this one is an all out winner on the serving plate.