Day 268–Best Practices for Garden Food Safety!

Many of us know how to put a plant in the ground and give it some basic TLC to get it growing. But how do we make sure that the gardens we plant yield safe food that will not unintentionally make us sick? And what can we do to make sure children working with us are safe? The North Carolina organization, Advocates for Health in Action have a new web-based resource to address those issues. While it is primarily designed for people starting community gardens, I found plenty of tips for my own home garden!

Here is the link to the booklet. Happy (and safe) fall gardening!

Day 257–A Fall Garden

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So this weekend was Garden Weekend. Not quite as thrilling as Shark Week, our garden weekend involved pulling up our tomatoes and eggplants, refreshing our raised beds with certified compost, and planting fall and winter vegetables. Also, we spread compost over our front yard, which has been a clay pit, and planted grass seed. Crazy weekend. But 10 cubic yards of compost later, we are ready for some fall growing action! And, we have had some good workouts!

What do you plant in the fall? We have collards, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, book choi, and two kinds of kale. Are we missing something good?

Enjoy this late summer/early fall weather and plant a fall garden for yourself and your family! If you have room for just one thing, I’d plant kale. You can cut it and it will continue to grow so you can harvest all winter! Also, it is an amazing super food.

Happy fall gardening!

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Day 250–Update on a Volunteer Pumpkin

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Volunteers are pretty wonderful. They don’t usually eat your entire front yard though. This spring, we had a garden volunteer that ate my yard, walkway and my front flower bed. The volunteer in this case was the result of some lazy housekeeping on my part. Last fall, after our jack-o-lantern sat through several rainstorms, I looked at the mushy, squash-faced pumpkin and thought “I am NOT touching that mess.” Instead I took a shovel and tossed the goo into my flower bed. This was followed by some leaf compost and mulch from our oak trees. Then our pseudo winter came and I moved on to watching copious amounts of football. And basketball. At some point around the Final Four, we noticed a large and healthy-looking plant that resembled a squash plant in our front flower bed. We had no idea what it was, so we decided to let it go as an experiment.

And go it did. It spread it’s huge, green leaves throughout the garden bed. And the sidewalk. And the front yard. Once we saw the large, yellow blossoms, we knew we had a squash of some kind. Then, we remembered the ill-fated jack-o-lantern. Since the pumpkin looked far better than anything we planted intentionally, we let it continue to grow. All summer, the bees delighted in the huge blossoms and neighbors made Little Shop of Horror references as the vines continued to swallow the yard. But no pumpkins.

In early August, we noticed a small fruit that might be a pumpkin. Could it be??? We had long since resigned ourselves to the idea that we had some kind of Monsanto pumpkin plant that wouldn’t generate fruit until you paid a fee and signed your farm away, so the sight of a possible pumpkin was exciting. We watched it grow over the next few weeks. Gradually, it turned a nice shade of orange. We named it Gourdy.

So now it is September and our experiment has come to an end. Here is Gourdy, sitting pretty on my cake stand–a place of honor in our house. The vines have been cleaned up and composted. We can once again walk from the front door to the garage without taking a field trip through the yard. Summer is pretty much over. We’re trying to decide what to do with Gourdy. Not sure he’ll make it to Halloween, but we’ll give it a try. Regardless of whether he becomes a pie or a jack-o-lantern, we’ll save the seeds and try again next year. It’s funny how one little volunteer could give us so much mystery, delight and joy.

Thanks for the summer memories, Gourdy!

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Day 227–Planting a Fall Garden

Although it is still hot and humid here, we have visions of fall veggies growing in the garden. As much as I hate to see summer go, I do love me some fall vegetables. Broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, autumn squash, pumpkin, kale, collards…yum!

Our summer garden was miraculously unproductive. Someone picked all our tomatoes and eggplants¬†before we could get to them, and our cucumber plants bit the dust early (although we did get a decent number of cucumbers before that happened). Our herbs fared better than the vegetables, so that may be the way to go in the future. Because apparently, my neighbors don’t like herbs ūüôā

The urge to plant things is apparently greater than the urge to give up until I have new neighbors, so I’m planning on giving over some energy to a fall garden. And maybe installing a video camera.

What about you? What do you like to plant in the fall?

Day 169–Starting Week 26–Budget and Menu

We are almost halfway through the year already! Where did the time go? I feel like I will blink and it will be Christmas again (I think I just depressed myself). If time flies when you’re having a good time, I must be having the mother of all good times (and I think maybe I am!). The markets are just loaded with goodness this week–I’ve really had to curb my food hoarding tendencies. We came in under budget this week at $95.69. Our menu includes one night of Ellie cooking (hence the spaghetti taco menu, which she assures us is amazing).

Here is how our budget breaks down this week:

  • Produce Box (peaches, blueberries, green pepper, eggplant, onion, tomatoes): $23
  • Homestead Farm (1/2 chicken): $9.00
  • Calico Farm (fresh mozzarella): $4.00
  • Locals Seafood (skin on flounder fillets): $18.00
  • Hilltop Farm Organics (squash, zucchini, potatoes): $6.50
  • DJ’s Produce (okra): $2.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen mango, yogurt, soy milk, taco shells): $30.19
  • The Mitchells (paying ourselves back for 1 jar of jam): $3

What are we having for $95? Here is our menu for the week!

Menu

  • Wednesday–Farm fresh salad with cukes, tomatoes,¬†green peppers¬†and blue cheese
  • Thursday–Cornmeal dusted flounder, corn, saut√©ed okra and tomatoes
  • Friday–Panini alla Margherita, cucumber spears, peach cobbler
  • Saturday–Spaghetti tacos
  • Sunday–Balsamic marinated chicken, grilled eggplant and squash
  • Monday–Quiche, sliced tomatoes
  • Tuesday–Leftover buffet

Day 168–The Volunteer That Ate My Yard

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Who knew last November when I shoveled rotten pumpkin goo into my flower bed that I would be creating a monster. But a monster pumpkin plant is apparently what we have on our hands! This one plant has taken over the flower bed, the walkway and soon, the driveway. So far, it looks better than anything I actually planted on purpose and other than some compost from our bin¬†this spring, I haven’t fertilized it or anything. Its huge, orange flowers should be producing lil’ baby pumpkins. Should. But isn’t. Why??? Any ideas? Do I have one of those weird GMO pumpkin plants that doesn’t have fertile seeds?

In the meantime, I’ll be watching for any cries of “Feed me, Seymore!”

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Day 128–Garden Update

Our burst of 90 degree weather seems to be making the garden happy! The tomatoes are putting out flowers, as are the bush cucumbers. Our squash plants are just now recovering from our cold snap and have started growing again. Although my little side yard gets the most sun of any location in my yard, it is clear that one side is doing much better than the other. My two plastic raised beds are going gangbusters, but the wooden beds are just puny looking. Weird.

Overall, though, things look pretty healthy. The herbs are doing especially well, with parsley, dill, mint and lemon balm starting to go a little crazy (time for cutting!). Ellie has decided to dry the herbs we don’t use and try making her own teas. Should be a fun project!

Interestingly, the plant that is doing the best is not something we intentionally planted. We have a volunteer squash or cucumber that must have survived the compost bin and it is growing in our flower garden among the hydrageas! Not only did it survive, it looks like it came out of Jurassic Park. It is HUGE!! Too early to tell if it will actually produce something or if it’s all just

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Day 93–Gambling With a Garden

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Gardening is gambling with dirt.–Mark Twain

I am, typically, not a gambling person. I don’t buy lottery tickets, never been to Vegas, and don’t play bingo. Probably, much of this is because I do not have that “winner’s luck” required to succeed at games of chance. My mother has it. My brother has it in spades. Clearly, it skipped me. But still, I do get “the fever.”

You see, my gambling fever strikes me each year in February (no, not March Madness; my gambling there is with my pride, not with money). In February, we have the onslaught of the commercial seed catalogs. By the late winter months, I have forgotten about the bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the 95% humidity of a North Carolina summer. I have put last year’s gardening behind me and am staring at leafless trees and a brown landscape. Then, I open my mailbox in early February, and see color photos of beautiful, lush gardens, perfect flowers and tomato plants so full of juicy tomatoes that they need heavy-duty staking. It’s seed porn and it has me hooked. I am ready to take the risk. I mean, this could be the year, right? Right?

Betting on the success of our Cinderella garden, we spent the weekend organizing our gardening space to increase the odds of our success. We used the garden planning questions from the Dig In! conference to seriously think about what we have, what we can give and what we need from our little garden. Our garden is not large–just four raised beds–3 are 6′ x 3′ and one is 3′ x 3′. Not so much that we will get overwhelmed, but enough to keep us in the game. Here are some decisions we made using our planning questions.

  1. We know we hate to tote water around the yard. Knowing that watering is a chore in the heat of summer, we moved the raised beds from the scattered patches of sun in the yard to one central area, close to our rain barrels. This was helped greatly by the loss of a huge oak tree last fall. We may be eaten alive by mosquitoes come summer, but at least the sacrifice will be quicker.
  2. We are planting to save money and shopping time. In looking at what fresh items were the most expensive at the store and market, we planted the herbs that we most commonly buy–several kinds of basil, oregano, mint (in pots), lemon balm, rosemary, dill, flat leaf parsley and chives. These are typically pretty expensive and sometimes hard to find. In addition, many of these herbs overwinter here or at least re-seed themselves, so hopefully our investment will be seen over several years.
  3. We know what we want and we want fresh salads. Instead of buying a huge assortment of vegetables that we don’t consume in great quantity, we bought what we like to eat the most–cucumber, several tomato varieties, green peppers and eggplant. I’m betting (!) that we will get out and water in the heat if we know that the goal isn’t just random vegetables, but better salads.
  4. Our garden will be organic. I have never used pesticides other than insecticidal soap and I don’t plan to now. With that in mind, we understand we will need to be extra vigilant for bugs, bunnies and other critters that find our garden as appealing as we do.
  5. We want our garden to look nice. All our beds are now in a side yard that is easily visible to our neighbors. They are terrific neighbors and don’t complain, but we’d like the garden to be attractive for them when they look out their windows. We also want it to be a contemplative space for us. So, we’ll be adding a mulch path, some butterfly friendly flowers and other decorative elements as we go through the spring months.

Maybe our gambling luck is turning in our favor. Hours after filling our beds with compost and planting our initial garden, we had a very scary storm that included hail. “Good grief,” I thought, “you have got to be kidding me.” (Tom can attest that my words were, indeed, stronger than “good grief!”) Lo and behold, the next morning we checked on the garden and not a plant was touched by the hail.

If I were a betting girl, I’d say that was a sign…

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Two of our raised beds in their early stages!

Day 88–Worm Composting from The Soulsby Farm

At the Dig In! conference we attended, we learned a lot about vermiculture, or composing with earth worms. Apparently, these suckers can eat a great deal of vegetable scraps, paper and coffee grounds and turn it fairly quickly into rich compost. We’re interested in trying it, but I have to admit to being a bit squeemish about worms in my house. I was going to post instructions, but another blogger, The Soulsby Farm, did such a great job, you should just go to their site for more information. Check it out–it is pretty fascinating!

Let’s Build a Worm Farm!¬† http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/lets-build-a-worm-farm/

Day 86–Planning Your Garden (from Dig In!)

Produce doesn’t get more local than your own yard or patio. It’s gardening season again–what are your plans?

This week, we are finishing up plans for our vegetable and herb garden. We have made some changes to our gardening to take advantage of our strengths and minimize our challenges (which are many). Our raised beds now make a more cohesive gardening area in our one patch of full sun, and we have plans for a mulched¬†walkway leading to the back yard, which should make our sunny side yard a little more appealing. Although we had hoped to fill our raised beds with compost this weekend, several days of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings (nature’s way of telling us to watch more basketball) kept us inside. Our goal is to get a LOT of work done over the next two weekends so we can take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and get plants in the ground a bit early. One thing we need to do once we decide the raised beds will stay, is have a water spigot added to that side of the house. In the hot summer, even water from our rain barrels isn’t enough to keep the plants going and hauling a hose from around the house while mosquitoes are attacking me is not my idea of¬†a good time.

Previously, we planted only vegetables in our raised beds, but this year we are adding more herbs to the mix. Not only will the herbs complement the vegetables we receive from our CSA, many of them will overwinter, saving us some work and expense next year. They will also save us a good deal of money this year. Those packets of fresh herbs at the grocery are crazy expensive!

Are you planning a garden this year? We received some wonderful information and support at the Dig In! conference, sponsored by Advocates for Health in Action. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself before you start picking out plants and digging your garden beds.

  1. What do you want from your space?¬†–Do you want flowers for the table? Food for your family? Both? Herbs to season your food? Does the garden need to be decorative?
  2. What are you willing to put in?–This is an important question and my guess is that most gardeners (myself included) don’t confront this question honestly. I swear to myself that I WILL water the garden even when the mosquitoes are as big as horses and coming after me. This, of course, is a lie. Think about what you can really give in terms of time, money, work, effort and space.
  3. What kind of land do you have?–Is your plot of land a balcony? A small farm? A suburban lot? A plot in a community garden? The kind of land you have (and how much) will dictate whether containers, raised beds, or a tractor are in order. Even a small space like a balcony can, with the right sun, be a vegetable garden.
  4. Get your soil tested!–I don’t do this because with our tree roots, we use raised beds. We fill them with certified, composted material and fertilize with fish emulsion and as long as we are watering (read #2 above), we do well.
  5. Know what soil your plants need.–If you like boggy plants (sweet flag, some irises), put in a pond. If you want roses, you will need a richer soil. We like many Mediterranean herbs (oregano, rosemary, basil), and these don’t require rich soil or a great deal of attention, but they also don’t like to be overwatered as their natural climate is hot, dry, with rocky soil. Any good garden center will be able to tell you what your plants need.
  6. Create a friendly space.–If you want to spend time in your garden puttering around or if you have outdoor animals (or small children), don’t plant thorny or toxic plants. This sounds obvious, but some stunningly lovely plants can be toxic if eaten. And if you want your child (as I do) to feel comfortable tasting in the garden, you need to check out your plants!
  7. Consider all the senses.–Consider taste, scent, appearance and texture in the garden. Good plants to start with are swiss chard, lemon balm, rosemary, fig trees and strawberries.
  8. Compost!–We have a rolling composter¬†that is wonderful for using up the many leaves we have in the fall plus the coffee grounds and vegetable trimmings. Homemade compost practically makes itself and is almost like free gold for your garden! If you have a patio garden, there are smaller composters that do not take up much space or you can try worm composting (more on this later).
  9. Use readily available materials.–If you have a patio or container garden, go to your local garden center and ask for larger black pots that shrubs and small trees come in. They may charge you a bit or they may be so happy to find someone to use them that¬†they will be free. Also, if your town does some landscaping, they may have all¬†kinds of pots for you.¬†
  10. Consider an herb spiral. These spiral shaped gardens use brick, rock or other materials to create a spiral with plants added between the lines of the spiral. See one here from another blogger, The Kale Yard.

Here’s to the optimism of spring, when all gardening miracles are possible! Have fun planning your garden, whether it is a few pots or a few acres!