Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saving money on our fall garden

To save money, we planted seedlings to transplant into our garden. (Buying seeds rather than plants is a huge savings!) We started with used pots from plants we had previously purchased.

The first step was dipping the cleaned pots into a bleach/water solution. We then filled the pots with organic potting soil that contains fertilizer and planted seeds in each pot according to the package directions, mostly 1/4 to 1/2 inches deep.

The pots were then placed in partial shade near the backyard water source where they are easier to water. We'll keep them nice and moist and they will be ready in a couple of weeks to plant.

One useful tip when potting: reuse old plant markers.

Usually I just throw them away, but my sister saves them and then sticks a label on them with the name of the seed you planted and, voila! You have an almost free plant marker. Using a marker is so useful because you really can't tell most of the plants apart until they get their secondary leaves. Even then they all look pretty similar. You might be able to tell a squash from a lettuce leaf, but you won't know what kind of squash or lettuce you have unless you mark it. I love this because markers are pretty expensive in small quantities.

If you have other money-saving tips, leave a comment and I will post them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mexican stuffed peppers

I love stuffed peppers and I have plenty of peppers from my garden. I decided to try a spicy variation on the old standby recipe. The results were really good.

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

1 lb. ground beef
1 8 oz. package Mexican-style saffron rice, prepared according to directions (I used Vigo Mexican rice, but it does have MSG and corn solids. I think any kind of rice mix would work.)
2 cloves garlic, chopped (or green onions)
1 can black beans, drained
1 large tomato, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (use more if you like it hot)
1 tsp. Adobo seasoning (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 cups mild salsa
6 green bell peppers, washed and halved, lengthwise with seeds and cores removed
cilantro, chopped
4 to 6 oz. Mexican cheese grated (I used Sargento artisan blend)
4 to 6 tablespoons water

Cook rice according to directions. Brown ground beef in large frying pan until well browned and "scrambled." Drain ground beef. Add garlic and brown. Add rice, beans, tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, seasonings and salsa. Mix well. Pour half of the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 casserole dish and pour 4 to 6 tablespoons of water over rice mixture. Stuff peppers and place on top of the rice mixture in casserole. Sprinkle with cilantro and bake, covered at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until peppers are soft. Uncover and sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Bake for 15 minutes longer and the dish is ready to serve.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Getting down and "dirty" with garden soil

Above is a photo after an afternoon of tilling the soil to prepare for our fall garden.

The results are finally in from our soil samples we sent in a little more than a week ago and the news is good. We have really good soil but we would benefit by lowering our ph levels. That means we need to add a half pound of garden sulfur for each 1,000 square feet. I had never heard of garden sulfur but they sell organic sulfur so I think we are good there.

Their other recommendation was to add 20 pounds of 16-4-8 per 1,000 square ft for medium feeders like beans and cucumbers and to double that for heavy feeders like broccoli and greens. Now I need to find where I can get 16-4-8 in organic fertilizers or where I can find the information that will help us mix up our own. So far we have not had a scientific approach for gardening, but we are getting there.

Our report below, is in beautiful black and white.
We will begin fall planting this week and we want to make sure we make the soil the best it can be before we put in our plants. I think these recommendations have been very valuable. We will see how they help. I am happy about this service and plan to take advantage of it every growing season.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Market Bulletin update

Since mentioning the "Farmer's and Consumer's Market Bulletin" the other day, I have received several requests for the contact information. Next time I mention something, I will try to remember to include the contact information. The "Market Bulletin" is available free for Georgia residents.

I just received my new copy yesterday and it had a great listing for "pick your own" farms for muscadines, one in my own county. One of the reasons many of you want to subscribe is because of the great recipes included in each biweekly issue. Here is the contact information.

From their website:
If you live within the state of Georgia and you would like a subscription to the Market Bulletin, you can send your subscription request via e-mail to Geraldine Fort, at the following e-mail address:,2095,38902732_76248188,00.html

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A great cooking magazine

I have many favorite recipes. I clip them from magazines and the newspaper, intending to cook them as soon as I can -- but some of the recipes just don't fit in with my busy lifestyle. Others are just not healthy and I think better about cooking with ingredients I know are bad for me. Most of them don't make it to my dinner table, but wind up in "file 13."

That is why I really appreciate one of my favorite magazines, Everyday Food. I have never received an issue that has not included at least one recipe or technique I have tried right away. Many of the recipes I have used repeatedly.

I like that the recipes don't have many ingredients. If there is an ingredient that is unusual, they generally explain it and most recipes are quick, easy and healthy. That is a combination I don't often find.

I like that they have recipes for vegetables that are in season and give you a number of ways to prepare them. They give you a week's worth of menus and a shopping list to help make it easy. Also, you will find mini cooking lessons using kitchen tools. All in a very convenient digest size that fits easily into a bag and doesn't take up too much room on a kitchen counter.

They also are not afraid to use grains that are not mainstays of the American diet. This is really great since so many people are becoming allergic or sensitive to gluten.

You can even sign up online for a daily email to help plan your meal each night. How helpful for me, since I don't always plan my meals ahead. I should, but I just don't always do it.

I have to go now because I need to find some new and tasty ways to cook with eggplant, which is in season right now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A shocking development

I am so excited because we now have our new electric fence that will be protecting our garden from deer and other animals. They have given us fits all summer and we just couldn't stand the thought of going through another gardening season without something to protect our handiwork.

The first day or so, the deer tried to enter the garden and even tore down a strand of wire, but they evidently received a shock because they haven't returned in the last few days. Every now and then we see a rabbit that must have brushed the fence because it seems to be running for its life.

The electric fence is certainly the way to go. It is inexpensive and really does a good job. We purchased the kind of fence that has a pulsing current so that it is harmless to animals (it allows small animals to get free of the fence because of the pulsing, rather than constant current). While it does give animals who get too close a shocking experience, it doesn't hurt them and trains them to keep away.

Just what we needed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reasons to go, tips for yard sales

I think I have already mentioned that I like yard sales, but I wanted to show you three of the best reasons why. The silver tray, crystal bowl and teapot were all purchased at yard sales in the last year. I spent a total of $12 on these three items and I have really enjoyed all three.

Now that school is back in and the weather is not so extreme, yard sales are going to pick up. They actually happen year round, but they peak in the spring and again around Labor Day. It is a very popular way to get rid of old stuff and a good opportunity to pick us something useful. I am hoping to host my own sale as soon as it gets a little cooler.

Tips when shopping:
Only buy what you KNOW you will use, re purpose, resell or can give away. Just because it is a good deal doesn't mean you have to have it.

Try to talk people down on prices, but never be rude. You are the guest. Just because their prices are too high or seem offended, doesn't mean you have to respond negatively. Just walk away. You will find the item down the road or another weekend for a great price.

If you think you can resell the item for a better price, then buy it. So many people are finding they can sell something on eBay and make a few dollars -- but this is risky. If you don't care about taking the risk, buy, if you don't like risks, don't do it.

Just because there is a sign on the item saying it is an antique, doesn't mean it is. I saw an old computer desk the other day at a yard sale with a sign saying it was an antique. It had a hefty price. Who were they trying to kid? It was crazy! Just don't be fooled by the tags. Make sure you know antiques. Also, for antiques to be worth a high price they must be in good shape. A dented and scratched chest with a high price just isn't worth it. You can go to an antique store sale and often get better prices (and genuine antiques). Of course it if is worth it to you, buy it, just beware about claims on yard sale tags.

If you want to re purpose something, check it over thoroughly to make sure it is something you can fix or reuse.

Use a GPS or Google maps or something similar to map out your yard sale adventure. This will help to save on time and gas.

Don't worry if you have to miss some yard sales. There will always be another one next weekend with similar items. It's amazing how many of the same things I see.

Have any more tips? Leave a comment and I will add it to a later blog post.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Can an ingredient make your recipe "pop" ?

I am a little tired of all of the decorating shows where they tell you if you do this or that you can make your room "pop." It's like they can't think of anything else to say so they tell you it will "pop." I find it so irritating!

I was reading a tip about vinegar from the most recent issue of "Everyday Foods," a magazine I really love and there it was. Add a spoonful of vinegar to make the recipe "pop."

Okay, enough already. The tip is a very good one. Adding a little vinegar to a recipe will enrich and enhance the flavor. The reason given is that the acid enhances flavor. I totally agree. In my experience this is correct. I have often used vinegars, especially balsamic vinegar to enhance the flavors, but let's not go any farther with the idea of "popping" food. Popcorn pops. Enough said.

I decided that since you put up with my rant, you should be rewarded with a good and easy recipe for a healthy balsamic vinaigrette. I must admit the flavor is better when you use good ingredients.

For olive oil, I always use a cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. I like the quality and price on the Whole Foods, 365 brand. I also like Newman's Own. If it doesn't say extra virgin, don't bother. I also think it is better if the oil is in a glass bottle. I can't explain it, I just think it is better.

And the balsamic vinegar must be from Modena. I can't explain that either but I know when you shake the bottle, if it is thicker, it is better. I am sure an Italian cook could provide a more useful explanation but I know from experience to buy only this kind.

To use, sprinkle it on salads, add a tablespoon over a vegetable stir fry or in stews and soups. Or make my balsamic vinaigrette, recipe to follow.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (Use less oil if you like a strong balsamic vinegar taste. I often use 1/2 cup.)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 basil leaves
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in food processor or blender. Mix on high until it has a creamy appearance. Chill for about an hour and serve over any salad.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Useful -- not flashy, but it's free

Recently, I ordered the free, bi-weekly publication, pictured above, by our state agriculture department. I remember that my father received the "Market Bulletin" during the entire time I was growing up. It is certainly not flashy -- no color -- no pretty photos, but it does look to be useful, since we have decided to have a garden.

Inside, farmers, gardeners and crafters place ads to sale or buy cows, horses, chickens, rabbits, fish, farm tractors and equipment, seeds, flowers, plants, manure, feed, hay, quilts, handmade dolls and so much more. Need farm employment, equine products or a granite grist mill stone? You can place classifieds for things you need, too.

There is even a category called "oddities." Listings include frozen catalpa worms, lucky buckeyes and peacock feathers. That is odd.

There is a recipe in each issue, and interesting bits of information like a 2009 planting schedule for fall vegetables and upcoming agricultural events in our state.

Did I find anything I am interested in? I thought the organic workshops were interesting and I may just call the person in Gainesville who is selling a gallon of old-fashioned multiplying onions for $12. I can't wait for the Handicraft Edition that comes out on September 9. Might be a great place to look for Christmas gifts.

I don't think it will take the place of the local newspaper, and I may not be able to take advantage of things being sold in the far corners of the state, but I am looking forward to finding out what kind of neighbor-to-neighbor country products I can find.

If you don't live in Georgia, check out your state's agricultural office or extension office to see if they have any free publications for you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A movie review and more

This will be a short blog post because I really want everyone to scroll down to see Charlotte Nelson's gardening technique.

I just wanted to mention that my mother, sister and I went to see the movie Julie & Julia and we loved it. I would recommend it for any person who loves to cook, publish a blog or works on a deadline. I do all three and I am coming up on a deadline as the art director of our local magazine. My mother said it was the best movie she had ever seen and Meryl Streep was wonderful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Charlotte Nelson's straw bale garden

Knowing that Charlotte Nelson was a "garden nut," one of the clients of her small business suggested this method to her, after discovering it on the Internet.

Charlotte said, "Well, being the garden nut I am, I had to take the challenge ... without a doubt, this has been the most prolific garden I have ever had."

"I am trying to tell everyone I know about this, especially older folks that love to garden and maybe find traditional gardening too difficult with aging. There is ABSOLUTELY NO digging, hoeing, weeding, etc. One of the things I found so incredible, was how quickly the plants grew."

How did she do it? Here are her instructions, with more pictures to follow.

How to create a straw bale garden

Day 1-3

Water bales thoroughly for the first three days. I watered in the morning and evening.

Day 4-6

Once a day, sprinkle each bale with ½ cup of ammonium nitrate (32-0-0) then water thoroughly.

Day 7-9

Once a day, reduce ammonium nitrate to 1/4 cup and sprinkle into each bale and water thoroughly.

Day 10

No more ammonium nitrate … but add 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer to each bale and water thoroughly.

Day 11

Plant your garden

Charlotte also shares a few hints from her experience:

* I placed 3 inches of potting soil on top of each bale on day 10 after last 10-10-10 fertilizer is added.

* Use a spatula to push the transplants into the bale, it opens the bale a little better than your hand. I plant my squash from seed.

* Plant each transplant to the first leaves and press straw back together. I planted Roma tomatoes, all kinds of pepper, eggplant, squash, zucchini and you could even do cucumbers, strawberries, cabbage, or whatever grows well for you.

* I choose one day as Miracle Grow day. I use Miracle Grow every other Friday.

* YOU MUST WATER DAILY. I water in morning and again in the evening.

* NEVER let your garden dry out.

* Tall plants, like corn or okra, supposedly will not do well, but I have not tried.

Charlotte begins her straw bale garden. After the bales become soaked, they are very heavy and hard to move. The cords on the bales hold them together.

Charlotte uses a soaker hose to water. What a good idea!

Plants and seeds are planted into the dirt that tops the bales.

The plants are generally planted two to a bale.

For some plants, such as squash, Charlotte uses seed.

This is a great method for people who might not be able to do a lot of digging and heavy lifting. This would also work for those who are physically challenged, but still like to work outdoors.

Charlotte also said, "As the summer is coming to a very hot close, I am still gathering quite a lot of goodies daily. I have uprooted a number of things to make room for new stuff."

"Now that this straw bale bug has bitten, I am planning on buying more bales and planting a number of things for the cooler months, just to see what will happen. According to most (Internet) sites I have found, they mention that the bales will last two seasons, we shall see."

"It's funny, I told my husband I am going to wind up with a maze of bales in the backyard that will help me NOT to have to cut as much grass, lol!"

Thank you Charlotte. I think I just may have to try this method myself next year!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A special guest and more about problems

Tomorrow, I would like to extend a special invitation to check out my blog because I will be introducing a special guest gardener whose new techniques are just amazing. Charlotte Nelson is a local garden enthusiast and business owner who tried a new gardening technique that she just loves. She has graciously allowed me to share with you. I was so amazed and impressed and I just can't wait to share her photos and instructions.

Today, I want to share another problem area in our garden and it is the corn. We had early problems with crows in our corn and had to replant three times. I think the short drought also was a problem. We probably didn't put the correct soil amendments in the soil and probably could have fertilized and watered a little better. We do have some seeds left and will store them in the freezer for next year. I think the soil testing will help and next year we intend to have a bumper crop. This was our biggest disappointment.

The dragonflies do like our corn and I love dragonflies.

One more comment. This is a good thing/bad thing. I love these shoes. They have been my wonderful garden shoes this season. They are "crock" wannabes I bought at Payless and they seem to be indestructible! I certainly have put them through the wringer and they have been very comfortable. My only problem is that I now have tanned spots where the holes are. It is not very attractive when I wear my regular sandals, but I honestly wouldn't trade them for anything even if they cause ugly dots on my feet. I plan to continue to wear them this fall but I will add socks. They are great garden shoes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Get the dirt" on garden problems

We had a great garden this summer, but it is always a good thing to review garden progress to see what you did right, what you did wrong, and make changes for the next gardening season. I have discussed our #1 problem which was the failure to keep pests out of our garden.

The second problem was that we didn't test our soil before we began our garden. To test, your soil -- dig about five inches into the soil in eight places in your garden, scoop up an equal amount of dirt from each place, pour into a bucket, take out any debris and rocks, stir it well and put it into a sandwich baggy. Take it to your local extension office and for a fee ($8 per sample in our case) they will send the sample off and have it tested to see what kind of amendments your soil needs for the next season.

We did that yesterday and I am very interested in what we will find. I think it will help to prevent and identify garden diseases, especially in tomatoes. I'll let you know what we find.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The second wave has begun

My sister noted today that the second wave of gardening has begun for us and I agree. It is official. We now have our seeds and the work on our fall crop can begin.

A couple of weeks ago, we planted cucumbers, yellow and zucchini squash and last week we planted our pumpkins. By the end of the week, we should have our electric fencing up and a number of things planted, including more winter squash. It really depends on the weather. If it seems to be mild we can plant more things but if it is really hot, we need to wait.

We do plan to plant our seeds we need to transplant, including broccoli, cauliflower. Some of the lettuces that head will need to be seeded, too. We plan to fill small pots with potting soil and manure and grow the plants in a protected area.

Our root vegetables and peas, greens and many other things can be sewn directly into the ground.

Now is a great time to get seed deals. The seed packets above were only 5 cents each and the seeds in the plastic were reasonably priced online. We will need to buy cabbage plants and potatoes, but the plants won't be available for awhile. We have plenty to do in the meantime.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Estate sale finds

Last week I was invited to tag along at an estate sale and I decided to share my finds.

I found these six beautiful handkerchiefs. Some were embroidered, with crocheted edges. I can use them to catch a sneeze in style or wrap a small gift. I always had handkerchiefs growing up and it is a great way to save on tissues. These heirlooms -- $1 each.

A small porcelain lidded dish. The price -- $1.

Eight mint green napkins. I save so much on paper products since I began using cloth napkins. I pick them up everywhere. The price for this set of eight -- $3.

Tatted lace -- $1. I don't know how I will use it but it will make a beautiful edging.

And finally a basket -- $1. It is a perfect size for gathering vegetables, storing magazines or filling with a gift.

Everything needs to be cleaned but I think they are great finds.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fixing our #1 problem

We have decided that our number one problem this year is not having the ability to keep animals out of our garden. Right now it is deer. We can spray deer-away products but that really doesn't last. They have eaten all our peas and all the tops of our okra.

So we went to our new Tractor Supply Company and purchased enough electric fencing to keep the deer away for good. They may get a little shock but after that they should stay away. Everyone we have talked to about this problem said the electric fence is the answer.
So, we went to the new Tractor Supply yesterday because they were having a grand opening ten percent off sale. When we arrived, we found our cousin Evan who loves his new job there and he helped us get all the supplies together. He was so nice and helpful.

This week we are going to put up that fence and take care of our number one problem. Watch out deer. You are going to have to give up the okra and peas. You can only eat the apples from the nearby apple tree now.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dog days of summer

Summer is winding down. Children will soon start to school and we are in what my mother always called the "dog days" of summer. I never quite understood what that meant but I knew it was usually hot and dry when she mentioned it. Things are not quite as lush as they were at the beginning of the summer. There aren't too many flowers left but some varieties of roses are still blooming.

There aren't too many wild flowers now, but you can still find a few. I can't identify the one above but isn't it pretty?

The one flower you can always count on in august is the marigold. It is cheerful right up until frost.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Planning a fall garden

One of the great things about living in Georgia is that you can grow vegetables until frost. We have already planted our second crop of zucchini and yellow squash and we are getting ready for cool weather crops like lettuce, greens, broccoli and sugar peas.

We also need to plant right away if we want to have any pumpkins for Halloween. I already have the seed and I hope we can grow some big ones.

The best place to go for information regarding what to plant to to our Cooperative Extension website to see what they recommend for this area. Click on the website icon above to see for yourself. You can even download a month by month plan for our climate and region. If you are not from Georgia, look up your state's Extension office and be ready for a flood of information.
Above are some of the publications I downloaded to help me with my fall garden. I plan to print the ones I need and put them in my three ring garden binder to refer to from time to time. There are so many things to choose from. I chose the publications that gave me yearly calendars for planting, and caring for my plants in the garden and at home. Click above to take a better look. You can find great free information on just about anything you can grow right at your fingertips.

This is my first fall garden so I am hoping it will be a good one. I thought my summer garden was pretty successful but we will see.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Old fashioned pepper sauce

I grew up using pepper sauce on my greens -- turnip greens, collards, mustard greens and kale. It was always on our pantry shelf . Even though my mother was the cook, my father was the pepper sauce maker. He took great pride in his pepper sauce and worked hard to perfect it.

We didn't have his recipe for many years after he passed away, but were delighted to find he had given his recipe to a friend. She put it in the cookbook published by our home church a few years ago.
This year has been a great year for growing peppers in our garden and I have been making peppers from my father's recipe. I am so glad he shared the recipe with our friend and neighbor because she eventually returned the favor. It will be nice to have pepper sauce again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Deodorant and a space experiment

What does the recent Endeavor space shuttle mission and my choice of deodorant have in common? Strangely enough a recent experiment by a Japanese astronaut reminds me of my deodorant solution. You can read about it here.

This Japanese experiment to find ways to extend the use of clothing while in space is practical, but I can also understand why many thought it a bit strange.

Now why is my deodorant similar to the Japanese experiment? Some time ago, I developed an allergy to the aluminum in regular antiperspirant deodorant and on a recent visit to the allergy doctor, I mentioned that fact to him.

He recommended an antibiotic, used by people who suffer from acne, for use on my armpits. He said I would still sweat but it wouldn't smell because the antibiotic would kill the bacteria. Amazingly, it really does work!

Now, every morning, I apply a drop of clindimycin to each armpit and after it dries I apply a natural deodorant, like the one above, for a fresh smell. It really works. I found that sweat doesn't really smell until it grows bacteria. If you kill the bacteria you can avoid the unpleasant odor. Kind of like the Japanese astronaut's discovery with his space underwear.

Before this, I had experimented with natural ingredients to make my own deodorant but nothing ever worked. So my recommendation for those who have an aluminum allergy is to check with your doctor for a solution. You won't even have to go to space to discover it.