summer

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.

Out of the Garden

Yes, I’ve been gone.  Doing exciting things, mind you, but not in the garden.  No.  Where have I been?

First, I was chasing scallops with my family off the west coast of Florida.  Not really fair, as they’re pretty easy to catch.  They basically sit there while you reach down and grab them.  Fun for the kids, though and we do eat what we catch.  Couldn’t that be considered living off the land (or sea), at one with nature? 

It felt natural.  The sun, the sea, the salt… 

Either way, I wasted no time before I was off rubbing elbows with romance writers!  This past weekend was the annual Romance Writers of America Convention and what fun.  Two thousand women roaming the halls of one hotel – can you imagine? – filling their minds with craft, career, the dream of publication.  (You don’t realize what 2000 people looks like until you all sit down for lunch and then whew, that’s a lot of estrogen!)

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  There were a few men scattered throughout the venue, but they were completely outnumbered.  Brave.  Very brave.

Some of the highlights?

I was hall mates with Nora Roberts.  Yep.  Her room was two doors down from mine and we crossed paths more than a few times.  No, I didn’t accost her.  Not because I didn’t think about it.  (Hello?  This is Nora Roberts were talking about.)  It wouldn’t be good manners.  But it was pretty neat.  Here’s a woman who’s reached heights in her career most only dream of.  How can you not be in awe, I ask?

I am.  While there, I also had the opportunity to reconnect with some editors, agents and writers I haven’t seen in a while.  A good thing.  After all, these are the people who understand my need to write, even when it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world.  Met some wonderful new editors, agents and writers and look forward to talking with them again soon.

The best part?  My passion for writing was set on fire.  More than love it, I’m driven to pursue the dream of becoming published, and connecting with readers around the world.  So stay tuned for my first series of short stories to appear online here (on the blog) in the upcoming months, followed by what I hope will be a variety of fun-filled, heart-touching fiction and non-fiction books — about gardening, about life, about women and all they love.

Too Many Super Hot Chili Peppers?

Me, too.  I’ve gobs of them.  Thought it was a good idea at the time, until I realized, we don’t eat THAT much salsa, or chili, or…

Whatever else it is one chooses to do with super hot chili peppers.  And while eating hot foods during hot months in other countries is the thing to do, apparently it’s not here.  At least not for my family.  Sure, a bit of salsa to go with the chips by the pool is appreciated, but not my super red-hot chili peppers — these babies are hot!

So I ask you, what do you do when you have too many hot chili peppers?  You show them who’s boss, that’s what, and hang their hides out to dry!

Excuse me?  Are we still talking peppers, here?

Yes Ma’am, we are!  I found this perfect solution for my pepper surplus while browsing the latest edition of Organic Gardening magazine.  If you can call leafing through the pages of the magazine while having a conversation with your children and husband, all while listening to the nightly news browsing — BUT — I am a multi-tasker, if nothing else.  Not always great at it, but good.  Passable. 

I noticed this how-to column, didn’t I?

So here’s the deal.  Take all those glorious chili peppers you’ve taken such pains to care for under the scorch of summer sun, and lay them out on a cookie sheet, preferably over parchment paper (keeps them fresh and clean). 

Set your oven to 150 – 200* Farenheit and “cook” for about 3-4 hours, depending on how hot and fast your oven works (yes, we’re still talking oven here — not oven operator).   Spicy humor never hurts when working in and around the kitchen

Once dry, remove the tray and allow to cool.  You’ll know they’re ready when they appear wrinkled and shriveled.  Test one by pinching it to be sure.  It should crumble apart easily.  If yes, break off stems and crush pepper body to desired consistency.  Store in an airtight container and use on pizzas, pasta, whatever your heart desires!

Note to my fellow Florida gardeners:  don’t add super hot chili peppers to your fall crop.  Wait until you’ve run through this supply before committing limited resources to something you can’t possibly eat enough of, quick enough!  It’s a lesson I’ll be taking to my excel chart for crop rotation layout.

Too Late for Brussel Sprouts?

A controversial vegetable in our household, yet my brussels sprouts thrive.  Despite the heat, humidity and bugs, my first attempt has proved successful.   While this plant prefers cooler weather, much like cabbage, it has remained true to my devotion  — a little love talk helps — and provided a wonderful bountiful harvest.  Granted, a little worse for the wear under the summer temps, but good, solid growth.  Interesting growth habit.  Looks a bit like a palm tree, doesn’t it?

Why did I choose to grow brussels sprouts?  Because I like brussels sprouts.  I enjoy their fresh, crisp taste and healthful benefits and I alone tend to their needs.  No one else.  You can imagine my pleasure when a friend came to harvest this weekend and gushed with delight at the sight of my brussels!   Whoa, Nelly.  Could it be?  An equal devotee to the brussels sprout?

Indeed.  Like most things in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  To each his own goes the old saying and critically important when planning your next crop of vegetables.  I mean, sure okra is easy to grow, but who eats it?  It’s reputation for slime is legendary (obviously spread by folks who’ve never tasted it fresh from the plant — not a speck of slime to be found!) and its common preparation, fried.  Which doesn’t sit well with the whole “fresh from the garden” goodness.  Corn, on the other hand, epitomizes home-grown summer splendor, but not always gardener friendly.  Heavy feeder, heavy drinker.  Beans?  What’s not to like about beans — easy, yummy and keep for months!

But brussels sprouts?  Few fans, to be sure.  With one success under my apron, do they warrant an entire row this fall?  Not hardly.  Who can eat that many brussels sprouts by themselves?  Not me.  Not even frozen.  Remember, I have Limas and peas, cabbage and broccoli, spinach and lettuce  — when do I have the time to slip in another serving of brussels sprouts?  My “greens” are covered.

Starches, beans, fruits and nuts… my food pyramid is on target.  But the brussels experiment does remind me, thoughtful planning is essential to a well-rounded dinner plate.  For that matter, lunch and breakfast, too.  The key to remember is grow what you’ll eat.  Limiting your harvest to the family favorites keeps your meals fresh and timely, with little need for freezer storage.  After all, in the old days, they didn’t have the luxury, did they?  They ate what the season yielded.  It’s no coincidence we eat sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving and peach cobbler during the summer — it’s what Mother Nature intended!  Like most mothers, she understands the value of planning meals ahead of time.  Something I’m still working to master.

Time to make your sweet potato slips!

 

Summer is fast approaching (in Florida, anyway) which means it’s time to get your slips in the ground and growing.  They require a long growing season and they require warmth.  But they don’t grow from seed potatoes, rather the “slips” created from your sweet potatoes.  How does one create a sweet potato slip? 

The technique is easy.  You simply cut your sweet potato in half, perch it upon the mouth of a jar or glass (suspended by toothpicks works well) submerging the bottom half in water.  Voila!  

Place in a sunny location and keep the water level  high enough so the bottom half remains wet and watch your potato sprout. 

After a while — times vary, but you can expect to wait days, even weeks in some cases — shoots will form on the top of your potato.  You can gently remove these and place them in water, again half-submersed, and roots will develop. 

When they reach a couple of inches, you simply transplant them to your garden and water them in. 

Sweet potatoes like loose sandy soil and don’t need a lot of fertilizer or water, which makes them especially kind to the novice Florida gardener, such as myself.  You can amend the soil with some compost to add nutrients, but don’t worry if you can’t.  These girls are pretty hardy.

Depending on the variety, potatoes can be harvested from 100 – 140 days.   I planted my first crop last June and began harvesting in October but continued through December.  They don’t like the cold, so we cleared the remainder out and collected them for storage before the temps dipped too low. 

Good thing we did.  Florida was quite nippy this last season!

As with any tender transplant, take care with your new rootings and they will grow fast and furious.   Wonderful news,  because sweet potatoes are not only easy to grow, but they’re as healthy as it gets.  Roasted, mashed, baked or broiled, these babies will keep you healthy and happy and hoppin’ ready for a new crop come fall!