Thursday, March 13, 2014

One Amazingly Easy Container Vegetable to Grow This Year!

 Years ago I planted a decidedly non-trendy vegetable in the garden.  I'm not sure why I was compelled to grow something that I had no idea what it was, but for me that was typical in my early gardening years.  I was in the experimental zone with the garden as my laboratory and this promising new veggie was one of the first of my discoveries.

Tomatillo "Toma Verde"

The plants grew.  As a matter of fact, they more than grew.  They made their presence very well-known in my small garden space and I wasn't able to keep up with their fruits.  By the end of summer, I was pulling up seedling after seedling of this alien vegetable which was determined to take over the world, er, my garden and tomatillo was its name...

I didn't even know what to do with them.  I made up some salsa with them but was too afraid to eat it.  But the whole episode was not a loss.  I formed a connection with these super easy to grow plants that were prolific to boot.  I would be growing them again and I did but not until many years later.

Tomatillos in early summer.

Years later in the culinary scene, salsas were becoming "all the rage" and tomatillo plants were now showing up in garden centers (on purpose!)  I had begun to cook with them, actually buying them at the store for my White Chicken Chili and Roasted Salsa Verde.  So I decided to grow them again but realized I didn't have room for them in my small home garden and so I tried them at our community garden.

Early fruits and blooms

They grew well but were infested by a caterpillar that destroyed practically every fruit. Bummer.  I wouldn't spray my plants but decided to try them at our house again where the bugs weren't as voracious.  This time I grew them in containers.  

 Tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family and are a distant relative of our red tomato.  They originated in Mexico and are heavily consumed there after being fried, boiled or steamed.  With the hot pepper trend beginning in the U.S. over the last 10 years, tomatillos became sought after for their tangy, slightly citrus-y flavor and of course their amazing color.

Tomatillos in containers; late summer

Tomatillo fruits are covered by a thin husk that the fruit actually grows into after a small yellow flower blooms.  The husks continue to grow until you get a nice golfball sized fruit that means it's perfect for picking.

When I started my seedlings, I use the same growing culture as for regular tomatoes and grow them alongside them by starting them indoors at the same time.  The leaves of the tomatillo are definitely different than that of a tomato so no problem telling them apart. 

Why plant in a container?  Two reasons for me; first, I ran out of room in my garden and two, I didn't want their seedling volunteers to take over my garden then next year.  Not that I don't love volunteers, but they are very happy to multiply when they are happy where they're grown.  And besides, they grew very well in the 5 gallon pots I planted them in.  I didn't do much, just watered and fertilized with an organic mix a few times over the summer and gave them lots of sun and heat.  They did the rest.

A few pointers for growing them:

1. Make sure to plant more than one or two!  I only planted one container the first year and got all blooms and one fruit.  They need more plants in order to cross pollinate.  I also made sure the leaves and blooms all intertwined with each other so the bees would have no problems hopping from one plant to the other.  Four plants gave me enough for fresh eating as well as lots for freezing.

2.  To freeze them: Pick the fruit when it fills out the husk but before it turns yellow.  You can still use the yellow ones but the green ones are what you want.  Peel the husks and compost.  Lightly wash the fruit (they have a sticky substance on them) and dry.  Then place in a freezer bag on it's side in the amount you need to use for a recipe.  I used quart bags and filled them and placed a few hot peppers for instant salsa verde.  They freeze unbelievably well and last a long time in a deep freeze.  Just take them out to thaw, puree and cook when you need them.

So if you're a veggie risk-taker like me, then you'll love growing these plants and more importantly, you'll love eating them.

This is a great vegetable to add to your diet and perfect for a container garden!  You can find growing guidelines here at Organic Gardening.

Happy planting and blessings!

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How Gardening (Practically) Saved My Life...

Yes, I know the title sounds extreme and dramatic but let's face it; in the big picture of things it's true.  Before gardening, my dinner plate was a literal world of tan and brown with no intention for change.  I lived thinking that carbs were the new green and I embraced their ability to bring me comfort and joy.  Vegetables were the enemy and the further away I could be from them the better.  

Oh, I embraced the perennial favorite, corn-on-the-cob and well, that was it.  Really.  I sad.  It's not that I didn't want to be healthy, but hey - I was young and my body could take it!  So, I fed it lots of comfort foods and when I ate a small amount of green beans or an occasional salad, I figured I was "doing my body good." 

It wasn't until I began to have digestive issues that I began to take my health more seriously.  I was convinced that I was dying and when the doctor told me that I just needed more fiber, I was insulted.  How dare he say that what I had could be fixed by me eating better!  So, I added more fiber to my the Metamucil kind until I learned how I could get all the fiber I need from vegetables and fruit - who knew?!

Enter gardening.  I always liked to grow things when I was a kid...but these were of the flower nature.  So I started to plant lots of flowers...I mean lots.  I put them all over our small little yard and I still have a lot.  Then I progressed to herbs...after all, they flowered too and I was fascinated by the fact that you could eat and drink them and they could help you too.  Then I thought, why not plant a few tomatoes and a pepper plant or two as well?  Once that happened, I decided to can what I grew and the garden jumped into life.
So, I want to share with you how gardening is a practical way to "save" your life and learn how to eat better. 

1. Gardening Connects You to Your Food.
       I know it may sound silly, but when you grow it, you feel connected to your food.  You know the work and the effort that went into tilling and raking the soil, planting the seeds, and pulling the weeds.  It's a lot of effort and it makes you appreciate what you've had just grown.  It's way different than buying produce at the store. You didn't nurture that vegetable and you don't know where it came from - in other words, you have no emotional connection to it.  As strange as it may sound, planting the vegetables made me want to eat them!

I remember always planting a small patch of baby carrots and pea pods for our then toddlers.  I would tell them where "their" garden was and they would wander in and snack on them at will.  I'll never forget the time when our younger son came into the house with a dirt ring around his mouth after pulling some carrots...I very quickly introduced him to the garden hose!  The point is, he felt connected to his food and still loves those vegetables to this day.

2. "If You Plant It, You Must Eat It."
       This is very similar to the first reason; feeling connected to your food except in this case, it's more about feeling "responsible" for eating what you grow.  Yep, it's true.  I thought, "Wow, I just planted 10 rows of green beans and I really should can them and then eat them."  I never liked green beans.  I mean, I hated green beans.  However, they are one of the easiest veggies for me to grow and I grew them like crazy.  I had mountains of beans.  I felt very successful as a gardener but in order for that success to make sense, I needed to actually consume what I grew.   And I did, but I admit, very slowly!  

I also began to realize that if I actually ate what I grew, I could save some $$.  The practical side of me responded to this very much and I began to experiment with the vegetables, trying to find ways to "hide" them in food so I would eat them.  It eventually worked and I actually like green beans now and have fun growing lots of different varieties. 

3. Gardening Introduces You to Unique and Different  Vegetables.
      Everything from tomatillos to Mizuna...gardening has expanded my mind and palate to new flavors and textures.  After a while, growing just tomatoes, peppers and green beans radically expanded to new frontiers of vegetables like the vertical growing green; Malabar Spinach (which grew over 15 feet tall) to unique varieties of edible flowers.  I was amazed at all of the vegetable catalogs and the wealth of vegetables which were available to grow.

I began to include new and different varieties of the basic vegetables as well as including new kinds I had never tried before.  I remember talking about eggplant with my 100% Italian brother-in-law.  I began growing them, initially to give them to him and not realizing how many fruits they put on.  I knew we needed to start eating them too and eat them we did...slowly at first and now I don't think they've missed a season in our garden since...and that's been well over 20 years!  We grow them now because we love them and miss having them on our plates.  I have grown many different varieties of them as well.

There are many other reasons why gardening has "saved" my life, like the fact that it's a super fulfilling and even relaxing hobby.  I get so energized and yet still peaceful at the same time whenever I'm around my plants.  

And my health?  No more digestive complaints and I've been able to maintain the same healthy weight for over 20 years.  I thank my veggies for lending a hand in all of this and look forward to gardening for many years to come.  Most active gardeners live a long and healthy life!

I hope you are inspired to grow your own vegetables if you aren't already and maybe share how they helped to save your life as well!

How has gardening impacted your life?

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Power of Capsicum

Capsicum...aka; peppers.  We've been growing them for years.  All kinds, sizes and shapes, sweet, hot and in-between.  They are a rewarding plant to grow as they usually produce lots of fruit.  Especially banana peppers...they always make me feel like a garden genius. 

But what's inside of these savory fruits that make them so powerful?  One thing for sure is taste...they've been imported from all over the world and valued in many cuisines.  They are reported to have been in existence for 9000 years and cultivated for over 7000 years.  That's pretty amazing staying power for one vegetable!

"Capsicums are believed to have originated in regions of South and Central America. It was Christopher Columbus who collected capsicums from the West Indian regions in the 1492 and took them to Spain. It was from there that capsicums spread through the regions of Africa, Asia and Australia. Owing to the adaptable nature of these bell peppers, they grew well in tropical and temperate climates. Today, China, Turkey, Italy, Spain, India, Romania and Mexico are among the leading producers of capsicum with almost 20-27 species grown across the world." 1

Taste isn't the only thing that makes peppers powerful; they are also high in nutrition...especially once they turn red.  Remember, the green peppers are the unripened state of a pepper.  They have lots of Vitamin A, E as well as niacin and many other vitamins and minerals.  A really good vegetable to include in your diet.

So what about health benefits?  Peppers  "contain antioxidants like beta carotene (carotenoid), lutein and zeaxanthin (phytochemicals) and vitamin C. After consumption of capsicum, the body converts beta carotene into retinol, which is one of the most usable forms of vitamin A." 2

"Capsicums are known to lower the fat stored in blood corpuscles, called triglycerides, and thus help in burning calories. This can vastly improve the body metabolism." 3

"Apart from these benefits, capsicums promote cardiac health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It has anti-inflammatory properties, stimulates stomach secretions and improves digestion." 4

But that's not all.  The reason I wrote this post is to share about a component in peppers; capsiacin.  This chemical is the one responsible for the "hot" in hot peppers.  It's also been found to help relieve pain when applied topically.  I have used commercial preparations containing capsaicin for a good 15 years. 
   "Topical ointments and creams containing capsaicin are helpful in relieving pain from many different conditions, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve pain and lower back pain, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center. While capsaicin is not a cure for pain caused by these conditions, it does lower the amount of substance P, a chemical that helps transmit pain signals to the brain, when applied directly to the skin." 5
I have used capsaicin faithfully for years and I feel like it's been a life saver during bouts with pain.  Capsaicin is not for the faint of heart though.  It packs a whollop of heat and needs to be used sparingly.  If my pain is intense, I am able to use quite a bit, but it's important to follow directions when using.  

However you slice them, capsicums are a powerful, pain-relieving plant that deserve a place in your garden, diet AND medicine cabinet.  Blessings!!

Have you used capsicums or capsaicin?

2. Ibid.
3. Ibid, 
4. Ibid.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Make Your Own Spicy Stone Ground Mustard

Mustard. An American staple. As a matter-of-fact, mustard is used in the cuisine of India, the Mediterranean, northern and southeastern Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa, making it one of the most popular and widely used spices and condiments in the world.1

Made from the simplest ingredients, mustard actually is good for you. Some of the many vitamins and nutrients found in mustard seeds are selenium and omega 3 fatty acid2  Mustard has also been used medicinally for generations as well. This is one condiment that is good for you.  However, today's mustards have so many added ingredients that making your own can control what you put into it.  And unlike its ketchup counterpart, mustard can be made very easily, with no cooking and not much fuss.

I found this recipe while watching PBS many years ago.  It was with Mary Ann Esposito and I have loved this mustard ever since.  What can be better than making a condiment that not only tastes amazing but has health benefits as well? This recipe is hands-down the easiest gourmet mustard I've ever made and we think one of the tastiest too!

"Prepared mustard dates back thousands of years to the early Romans, who used to grind mustard seeds and mix them with wine into a paste not much different from the prepared mustards we know today."

This recipe uses two types of mustard...yellow and brown seeds.  You can use all of one or the other, but I really like the color combination of the two varieties.  The brown tends to be a little hotter but they are basically the same. 

For this recipe you'll need one cup of yellow (white) seeds and one cup of brown seeds.  Put them both in a non-corrosive container such as a handy mason jar.  

Add to the jar 2 cups of red wine vinegar. (I also use Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar to bump up the health benefits of mine.)  

 Now the easiest part.  Cover the jar with plastic if you're using a metal lid.  Otherwise you can top with a plastic lid and let the seeds soak for two days.  You'll be amazed at how much of the vinegar they soak up during this time.  

After two days, put your seed vinegar mix into a food processor and add 1/2 cup of raw honey, 2 tsp of fine sea salt, and 1 tsp of allspice.  Pulse until they form a coarse grainy paste.

Fill approximately six sterilized 1/2 pint jars with the mustard. Cut out wax paper circles larger than the jar opening and place over the tops of each jar before capping them.  

Unopened, the mustard will keep indefinitely, but once opened you'll want to make sure and refrigerate it. 

Need I mention that this mustard makes a great gift as well?  I gave a small bottle to friends one year and they raved about it so much that I ended up making them a quart of it!  

Hope you like this mustard and if you are looking for seeds to buy online, you can try here and
here. You may be able to find yellow mustard seeds any place selling bulk herbs and spices as well. 

Have you made mustard before?  What's your favorite additions?  Blessings!!

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pinterest Garden Inspired Christmas Decor!

When it comes to decorating, the garden is my favorite inspiration.  I love the diversity of colors...from earth tones to vibrant that the garden offers.  The garden also offers a huge variety of textures and shapes as well.  

Scanning Christmas Garden Decoration Ideas on Pinterest yielded some really fun ideas for your garden this year.  And...if you don't actually make them, the creativity they display is worth the look.

What's perfect for the kitchen this season?  How about putting together a small edible wreath made up of herbs from the garden?  Make it up a few days before gift giving and it's ready to use.  Or you can give it to them at any time and allow it to dry.  This wreath has bay leaves, sage, thyme and blooming oregano.  This is sure to please the savviest of cooks!

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I love this beautiful Moss wreath for Christmas.  The colors, the textures and the square shape make it a show stopper.  What reindeer wouldn't want to visit this house?  Click on the caption under the photo for directions on how to make your own.

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Simple is always nice.  This rustic garland made with dried orange slices and twine would look great on any mantel or Christmas tree.  Make your own or buy them at a craft store for an instant garden look inside!

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Even the most craft-challenged person can put holly berry sprigs under a wine glass with some tea lights on top.  This is a beautiful table top decoration for a special Christmas meal or use a flame-less tea light to use all season long.  A great way to use those crystal wine glasses tucked away in the cabinet. 

Have pinecones?  Gild them with a quick spray of white paint and hang them from a rustic chandelier for a super outdoorsy, nature inspired holiday decoration!  This one is simplicity at its best!

Photo Source

No need to put away those garden shepherd hooks this year!  Decorate them up with your own version of Christmas cheer!  Check out the link below the photo for step by step instructions from the Love Gone Wild blog.

I couldn't resist this photo because it's just so clever!  Made up of driftwood, this gardener has Christmas cheer all year long with this rustic branch tree.  It adds texture and character to the garden and I bet the birds like it too!

What's your favorite garden inspired Christmas decoration?


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gardener's Gift Guide for Christmas - 2013

Christmas is once again upon us and with it the time for gift giving.  When shopping for your gardening friends, it can be a bit challenging to decide what to give them...hopefully this gift guide will spark some ideas for you and your fellow gardeners!

Burt's Bees Res-Q Ointment

First up, a great stocking stuffer and a product from Burt that I especially love...his RES-Q Ointment.  Yes, I can make my own and have many times, but this little tin has lasted me a long time and is well worth the money.  I use it as a lip ointment and it does the job without leaving the waxy residue other products can.  

" Bruises, burns, stings, and scrapes -- soothe and comfort your minor wounds with the green magic of Mother Nature. Burt's Bees Res-Q Ointment contains lavender oil, vitamin E, olive oil, and more."

Mirrored Window Birdfeeder

I love this product!  I actually have used clear plastic bird-feeders for windows many times and they are by far my favorite kind.  They are squirrel resistant and great up close fun!  This one has a one way mirror in the back so the birds won't notice you creeping up to the window to watch them feed.  Great for adults and kids alike!

 What gardener does not love to garden even in the winter?  A terrarium can help fulfill the plant nurturing instincts even when the temperatures in most places are far from idea.  This kit comes with everything and makes for a beautiful display no matter the weather outside.

Oggi Stainless Steel EZ Open Compost Pail

OXO Good Grips White Kitchen Scraps Compost Pail

 Don't let the great kitchen veggie scraps go to waste!  Collect them all in one of these modern and helpful compost pails.  Stainless steel or sleek white plastic; they will hold your compostable gold in style!  I love my compost pail and use it religiously all year long.  It's a great item to use to fill your outdoor compost bin!

Deluxe Organic Fruit Box

How about giving the gift of good organic eats?  I really enjoy getting a fruit basket and this one is perfect with all of its organic fruit!  Yes, you can make your own for someone local, but this makes for a great gift for a friend or family member far from home.  Try this one from Cherry Moon Farms for a great edible gift.

That's my gardening gift guide for Christmas 2013.  Hope you'll find some of these goodies under your tree this year!  Blessings!

What was your favorite gardening gift?

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Easiest No-Can, No Fuss Storage Vegetable!

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 I have been canning, freezing and drying for at least 20 years and if I can find a way to cut corners, I will.  One of the ways I do this is by growing a vegetable that not only tastes great and is super nutritious but is also self-storing...that makes this veggie is a keeper!

And grow it I did, lots of them!  At the end of November, I still have a large supply and they are keeping quite nicely so far, thank you very much.

What is this vegetable wonder?  Winter squash of course!  Yes, I know you are able to can and freeze them, but why should I when most of them will be perfectly fine on their own?  And right now with the holidays upon us, there is an abundance of winter squash available for sale and it's the perfect vegetable to keep for the months to come!

Spaghetti Squash and Delicata Squash

If you're not eating squash now or only at Thanksgiving, now is the time to reconsider.  Winter squash is a great source of the anti-oxidants, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene.  It also is loaded with Vitamin C (one-third of our daily allowance) and a very good amount of the antioxidant mineral manganese as well.

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"While winter squash should not be treated as a high-fat food, it does contain fats, including the anti-inflammatory omega-3s. One cup of baked winter squash will provide you with approximately 340 milligrams of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)."

Butternut Bush Variety

Nutrients in
Winter Squash
1.00 cup baked (205.00 grams)
Nutrient%Daily Value

 vitamin A - 214.1%
 vitamin C - 32.8%  fiber - 22.9%
manganese - 19% vitamin B6 - 16.5% potassium - 14.1%
 vitamin K - 11.2% folate - 10.2%
tryptophan - 9.3% copper - 8.5% vitamin B - 28.2%
omega-3 fats - 7.9% magnesium - 6.6%

Spaghetti Squash - Small Wonder Variety

Winter squash is pretty great for you and worth keeping through the winter.  How long does it last in storage?  Here are a few tips when buying squash for storage:

1. Make sure the fruit is bruise (no soft spots) and blemish-free.  
2. The winter squash with the hardest skins will generally last the longest.

Here are the varieties and their storage times:

Pumpkins at 50% to 70% humidity and 50 to 55 degrees - 2-3 months
Acorn at 50% to 75% humidity and  50 to 55 degrees - 5-8 weeks
Butternut at 50% to 70% humidity and 50 to 55 degrees - 2-3 months
Hubbards at 50% to 75% humidity and 50 degrees - 5-6 months
Spaghetti Squash at 50% to 70% humidity and 50 to 55 degrees - 2-3 months

However, I have kept all these squash with the exception of pumpkins WAY past these dates...especially spaghetti squash which I was able to keep all the way through spring with no loss of eating quality.

AND...I keep them in my 65+ degree utility room and not outside.  I do lose some but if I rotate them once in while and keep them fairly separate, they seem to do well.  I just watch for fruits that are beginning to get bad spots, refrigerate and use them up right away.   

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I also choose small varieties (like the small Blue Hubbard pictured above) so I can cook one up fast and have about 4-6 servings depending on the variety.  If I were to buy the monster sized ones, I hate to process them because it takes so long, but the small ones I can peel or cook quickly and eat them every week.  

I am loving our winter squash and have been cutting them up, sauteing them and including them in soups, stews, chilis and even our spaghetti sauce.  We love them and here's hoping you'll be able to store some of your own this winter...Blessings!!

What's your favorite winter squash? 


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