tips

5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop

Woohoo! It’s time for the 5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop which means spring has sprung and you reap the rewards–with giveaways galore!

AIB Logo

Yes, this is one of my favorite times of year. Leave are a spectacular green, Crepe Myrtles sprout anew, grass grows lush and full and of course, my organic garden goes into full gear. Tomatoes and peppers are in, sweet onions are coming out, blueberries are blooming and I’m grinning. It’s utterly joyous!

You’re with me, aren’t you? You’ve donned your gloves, pulled out your hat and digging through the dirt–the glorious, compost-amended rich soil that your plants adore. Oh, yeah. You know what I mean. There’s nothing better than running your gloved fingers through the stuff as you drop those seeds or pull those onions. And garlic. My garlic will soon follow my sweet onions and I can’t wait. This year’s harvest looks divine. Wouldn’t you agree?

garlic 2016

I’m so happy with the little darlings, I’m going to share a tip with you on how to grow garlic without fail in one word. Phosphorous. Using an organic fertilizer high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen (bone meal) you will give the plant the power to develop a healthy root system without wasting energy growing a beautiful green leafy top. Remember, the glory of growth is going on underground.

Second, plant in early fall. Not late fall, not early spring, but early fall. This gives your garlic the time it needs to grow and mature into that earthy delicacy you so adore. Don’t worry about winter snowfall. Again, garlic does all the hard work below the surface. You can cover their sprouted tops if you like, just make sure to remove the cover when the snow clears. They do love a good dose of sunshine!

When planting garlic, do so in well-drained soil. Garlic belongs to the root family and soggy roots do NOT bode well for healthy bulbs of garlic. You’ll get soggy bulbs, mini-bulbs, icky bulbs. YUCK. For full details, check the How-To section on my website.

AIB garden giveaway

Now for my giveaway… A beautiful bronze Boehm limited edition “Peace” rose, Grow Giggles, Harvest Love dish towels and natural soaps. Soaps are gentle and perfect for cleansing those hands after a trip to the garden.

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Bloggers in Bloom!

Taking part this year in the Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where you’ll find ten days of gardening tips, recipes and giveaways! Decided the more the merrier and why not? Gardening is merry and fun. 🙂

authors in bloom

Better yet, creating scrumptuous dishes with our produce makes it all the better. For new gardeners, herbs are a great way to begin the adventure and lend themselves to all types of recipes. A simple way to use herbs are by making pastes and freezing them. Not only will you lock in the flavor, but you’ll make it easy to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all year round.

For a simple basil paste, I use about 4 cups of basil (or 4 oz. stemmed) and approx. 1/4 cup olive oil. Place the leaves in a food processor and drizzle with olive oil. I pulse to begin and then hit a steady high if need be. Transfer paste to freezer-safe bags, flatten to remove all air and place in freeze. That’s it! Fresh herb paste ready to use when you’re ready.

basil paste

Variations include oregano and parsley. Use other herbs that don’t keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers. More

Lettuce for Lunch, Anyone?

It’s my staple foodstuff for the midday meal. I eat a salad every day, varying the additions to my bowl of lettuce. Some days it’s avocado, chickpeas and feta or goat cheese. Other days I’ll add a can of wild caught salmon and strawberries. Most days it includes spinach, and always olive oil and balsamic–glaze or vinegar. Add a little pepper and you have a feast!

fresh lettuce

Really, if you add the right ingredients, you can get FULL on your salad. And for those of you in the warmer climates, NOW is the time to eat lettuce fresh from the garden. Here in Central Florida it’s simply too hot for this tender-leafed veggie to grow. You can grow it on your patio, but I tend to have a problem with plants that rely on ME for their water. A timed sprinkler system? No problem. Me and my memory and schedule? No way. I’d starve if I had to live off a patio garden.

 arugula bed

Unless of course, I went with hydroponics. Now that’s a self-watering, self-nourishing kind of system if I’ve ever seen one. And it might be exactly what my northern friends need to continue consuming their fresh greens. You can grow your greens in towers like these or in bins. Your choice. But either way, it’s worth taking a look-see.

 salad-wall

But I digress. For Southern gardeners, now is the time to grow your lettuce and I, for one, am celebrating. Once again, no worries when it comes to growing too much. I have the PERFECT way to keep it stored and tasting fresh for days. Check this earlier post for how you can, too. Enjoy!

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!

Martha Stewart and Me

I’m a fan of Martha Stewart. I love her magazine, would love her show (if I had time to watch during the day) and I love her savvy business sense.  But one of the things I like best of all is that she gives great advice.  Really helpful stuff.  This month in her magazine (get the iPad version—its awesome!) she discusses the benefits of companion eating.  In the garden, we often talk companion planting, but companion eating?

You know I was intrigued.  What was this strange new concept of pairing foods according to the laws of nature?  What were the benefits?  As a born-to-sell kinda gal, I think in terms of features and benefits, goals and rewards (a tough sell in my role as stay at home mom) and I wanted to know more.  Talk to me, Martha!  How can you help?

According to her panel of health experts, some foods are most effective—nutritionally speaking—when eaten together.  By pairing them, you maximize nutritional output by increasing absorption potential.  Have I got your attention, yet?  Snagged me right off the garden bed.

Spinach is packed  full of plant-based iron—not easily absorbed by the body.  Summon the lemon!  (Or grapefruit, oranges—anything high in vitamin C.)  Why?  They say the Vitamin C changes the molecular structure of this type of iron which makes it more digestible. Looking for a healthy breakfast?  Go for a similar effect with oatmeal and OJ.

Now here’s a kicker:  did you know that lycopene needs to be combined with fat to be absorbed via the intestinal wall?  And of course non-saturated fats are best.  Think: olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish.  I do love fresh garden tomatoes drenched olive oil.  Mozzarella and basil only intensify my delight.

Next time your child asks for a banana-peanut butter sandwich, run to the pantry, grab the bread, slice the banana, smear the butter and slap that baby together—quick!—before they change their mind. It seems the potassium in bananas inhibits the retention of sodium; a good thing!  Tuna and soy sauce work the same way as do romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing.  Very cool news.  While my low blood pressure appreciates the extra sodium, my old lady eyes do not .  At all.  🙂 

And speaking of kids, keep on serving up those whole grain cereals with milk because calcium can be rendered ineffective without magnesium (found in whole grains, nuts and soy).  Try serving their next grilled cheese with whole grain bread.  YUM and healthy.

Okay. Now this last one made me rethink the entire article. You mean to tell me there’s an actual science to why chicken soup is good for you?

Apparently.  According to Martha’s experts, the zinc in poultry, shellfish, nuts and beans produce a protein that transports vitamin A (found in carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens) to the retina.  Very important to sight.

While we’re on the subject of soup, Martha has one of the best recipes for basic chicken soup.  But for those non-soup fans, take heart.  Turkey and sweet potatoes work, as do beans and cheddar cheese.  Hmmm…  Are you with me?  How about a little bean chili for dinner tonight?

Whatever you do, don’t miss Martha Stewart Living.  Bright colors, vivid photography, savory and creative recipes, this is a subscription I look forward to each and every month.  Especially my iPad version.  Not only is it animated, but it includes videos, links, recipes I can click save (to a photo album) for later use in the kitchen.  LOVE it!

**This article is from the current issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine ~ pick yours up today!