Friday, April 30, 2010


Mulching. I really can't say that I like to do it. It is a great help to a garden and I would highly recommend it, but it is really hard work. My sister and I weeded and mulched about five rows in our garden and it was tough going. The "hard" part was just moving the mulch to the garden.

We have a mulch pile that we load into the wheelbarrow by shovelfuls and move into the garden, where we scoop it out to place around our plants.

The mulch has been aging for about a year and it looks rich. By all accounts it is a good thing to do for garden plants. I must tell you it isn't the most pleasant task, however, after it is completed you do have some undeniable benefits.

One, as I mentioned, the soil is enriched.

Next, the weeds and grass don't grow up around the plants nearly as bad.

Plus, the soil stays cooler in the really hot summer days.

And, moisture is retained in the soil and the plants don't suffer as much from dry days.

I hate to complain, but did I mention it is really hard work? I know I will be glad we did it when we reap the benefits but right now -- I am sure it is one of those times -- you know, the times when it is over, you forget how unpleasant it was, but right now it is pretty rough. Ask me tomorrow and I will probably think differently -- when the garden is finally all mulched and pretty with no weeds and sufficiently watered.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Milk thistle tea

Lately, I have been drinking milk thistle tea on a regular basis. I can't always find it in the store, even at Whole Foods but I drink it for medicinal purposes -- I am taking a prescription medication that can be hard on the liver.

It is traditionally supposed to be very good at cleansing the liver. Many people use it as I do when taking a medication that is not very good for the liver. Surprisingly, my doctor even recommended it to me, so I feel very good about drinking it. She even told me it has few, if any, side effects and it could be beneficial. It is not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers.

I don't think I would recommend that just anyone use it. It would always be good to check with your doctor before taking anything that could cause a conflict or cause a side effect of any medication. You really can't be too careful, especially if you are seriously ill but there are times when milk thistle tea could possibly be beneficial.

There are many drugs, even over the counter ones that can cause liver problems. Tylenol is one of those OTC drugs. If you take more than is recommended, it can cause liver problems. I don't think milk thistle tea would be strong enough to help if a person overdosed on Tylenol, but milk thistle tea may help cleanse your liver if you are taking regular doses of Tylenol on a regular basis because of chronic pain.

It could also be beneficial to a person who is on a diet. Some think it helps to get rid of toxins from unhealthy foods. It also could be helpful for people who have diabetes and those who are trying to lower their cholesterol, but again, check with your doctor first. I have also heard of people drinking milk thistle tea when having mercury fillings removed and replaced from their teeth.

Herbal teas are not always my favorite. I love black and green tea and have found a few herbal teas I either like or can tolerate, but I really like the taste of milk thistle tea. It is smooth and I can add a little stevia and sometimes soy milk and it is a treat. Milk thistle tea is kind of -- milky. Though I think it is actually made from the black seeds of the plant.

This time of year I see milk thistle plants growing up everywhere. They can grow quite large and can be a nuisance. I can remember stepping on one with my bare feet when I was a child and all I can say is "OUCH! It is, after all a thistle.

And yes, it will stick you. When I look closely at the plant I wonder if I could harvest it and make my own tea. Normally, I might try it because I am a DIY sort of person, but I just can't imagine I could harvest these plants without experiencing a little pain. I think I would prefer to just drink my milk thistle tea and let the nice people at Alvita experience the thistle pricks.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Leeks: A great side dish

Yesterday, my husband decided he wanted to pick a few leeks from our garden. He loves the taste of leeks and wanted to see if they were ready to harvest. We planted them in the fall and they have gotten so big and are now beginning to flower.

It took a shovel and some muscle because they were really big and the roots didn't want to let go. The photo above, was taken after he had washed the dirt from the roots.

Above, the roots had been removed and they are ready for washing.

I always cut the leeks in half lengthwise and then under clear running water, I take them apart, layer by layer and wash all the dirt from each layer. This must be done because dirt and sand sometimes collects -- even down in the bulb. They are similar to onions because both have layers, yet in an onion, dirt doesn't usually collect in the layers, just on the outside. Leeks are more open and they take more cleaning to remove the grit.

After each layer is carefully washed, I chop the leeks, using the bulbs and the greens, as long as they are tender. Following the careful washing, I chop them into pieces.

I then pour the chopped leeks into a pan with about two tablespoons of oil, heated to medium high and begin to stir. If the pan gets too hot and the leeks begin to get too brown, the heat is too high. I usually turn it down when I see it is really cooking and turn it down again when it is almost finished -- usually to low.

Leeks are done when they are a bit translucent. Some light browning will add to the flavor. I finish on low and serve as a vegetable side dish.

Leeks are also good in soup stock and in stir-frys. I often chop them up and freeze them and then take out what I need.

They are very mild and a person who might have trouble digesting onions and garlic is less likely to have trouble with leeks. Leeks are also a healthy choice because they are high in fiber and can provide similar health benefits to onions. They don't cause your breath to smell like onions and garlic, so that is a major plus.

You will have to use more leeks than onions when cooking with them, because leeks cook down more than onions.

My family really loves it when I cook leeks, making them great to grow in our home garden, not too much work for the good benefits received.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Insect-repelling bracelet

Today, my friend and coworker Angela, brought me a surprise -- an insect-repelling band. I wasn't aware that such a thing existed and I really love the idea and can't wait to try it. I usually use an insect spray, but sprays are so messy and smelly. Sometimes the smell of the sprays can be almost as bad as dealing with the insects. Well, maybe not that bad, but I really hate the smell. I also have allergic reactions with lotions like Skin-so-soft, a proven insect repellent, so something like this would be good for a person like me, with sensitive skin.

I guess it is the same principle as the old flea collars for dogs and cats. I don't know if I will make a fashion statement with this "jewelry," but if it works I will be glad to wear it out in the garden and yard. Maybe I need one for my wrist and one around an ankle.

It also looks like it has natural ingredients. It might not protect you in the deep woods, but I think it is certainly worth trying and I really appreciated the gift. After I try it, I will update this entry with the results.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cabbage care

This year our cabbages look wonderful. Last year they looked good at times but we really had problems -- namely cabbage worms.

It looks like the cabbages like to be planted close together. I guess they really like company. These cabbages makes a pretty picture, I think.

Of course, if we like the way they look, the insects do, too. My sister has been caring for them well, but the other day she noticed what looked like some house flies on them. When she looked it up, she found they were cabbage maggots. Yuck!

They lay eggs on the cabbages, cauliflower and other similar vegetables and when their worms or maggots hatch, they bore into the roots and basically suck the life from the plants, turning them yellow and eventually killing the plant. Thankfully, my sister realized what they were and has been spraying with an organic spray. She hasn't seen any in the last couple of days, but we need to keep looking for them or our beautiful cabbages could be ruined.

We had almost forgotten we planted a few cauliflower. Yesterday we saw a little cauliflower head forming. They look great but we must protect them from pests, too.

There are many websites that have photos of garden pests and how to protect and get rid of them. The insects haven't gotten bad yet, but you do really have to keep ahead of them. I know we are certainly having to keep an eye on our vegetables. If we don't, the insects will ruin our crop.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Garden progress

Our garden has really made progress since the rain. Our green beans are up and we already have the poles in place. These were saved from last year and that made the job easier because last year we had to cut the poles. I think they look really good. Any day now they will begin looking for something to climb and we can start training them to go up the poles. It doesn't take much training. We just need to make sure they don't grow on the fence.

There is a row of cucumbers and some peppers on the right of the beans and to the left of the garlic.

The potatoes are up and doing nicely. They have really grown this year. Now they are weeded and nicely mulched. This should keep the weeds down and help keep the moisture in the soil. I think it might also keep the temperature down a few degrees which is a good thing in our hot summer weather.

Our tomatoes are looking good and are weeded and mulched. Most of them already have blooms.

The cabbage looks so pretty growing closely together. We do need to spray for insects now but I think this makes such a pretty picture. They sure look better than last year's cabbages.

These onions are looking very good. They are doing well and I think we will need to keep the soil loose to help them grow larger.

From this view you can see the butter beans growing horizontally and from the right the leeks, radishes more onions. Moving left are the parsnips -- the big leafy vegetables, then several rows of winter squash and the salad/garlic row. Horizontally from there are eggplants, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and -- barely visible are the cucumbers, kale, more peppers and then the green beans at the very back.

My mother said that when you start seeing lightning bugs, or fireflies if you are from up north, the garden really starts to grow. I did see one on my kitchen window last night so I guess we are in for a season of faster growth.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Salad from the garden

When I arrived home yesterday from work, my husband had a big surprise for me. He spent some time working in the garden and brought home the first harvested vegetable -- mixed salad greens. I will admit I was very excited.

I knew our lettuce was really growing and the rain a couple of days ago, plus the cooler weather were very beneficial. I knew it was just a matter of days, but this was a complete surprise and welcome treat. He picked a mix of green and red lettuce, mesculun and even a little watercress. It was really good.

If you are wondering if lettuce you grow yourself is better than from the store, the answer is definitely! It is fresher and will keep longer than what you get in the store. If you think about it, you can eat lettuce straight out of the ground where the supermarket variety has to be trucked in, usually from Florida or south Georgia.

Well, you do have to wash it first. I know you knew that.

This photo, above, was taken a little over a week ago. The lettuce has really grown since then.

I was a little worried that the weather getting so warm all of a sudden might harm our lettuce but now I can see I shouldn't have worried. We should have lettuce at least until some of our other vegetables are ready to pick.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tomato seedlings ready for the garden

The tomatoes I raised from seeds are almost ready for the garden. I am so happy about that. I was worried about them for awhile because they quickly outgrew the little peat pots and needed to be transplanted into soil. Now most of them are ready for the big garden.

I bought a number of tomato plants because these were a little slow and I wanted some early tomatoes, but the price is certainly right when you grow your own from seeds. It takes more time but I will admit I am more invested in these little seedlings and I really want them to grow and produce.

This year I decided to try a recipe to use when planting my tomatoes. It is from Life at Quail Hollow, a blog by Susan Coggin. Look at the post here.

It is a recipe she received from a friend who received it from a friend -- one of those time-tested down-home recipes that really works. I must tell you that I used it and the tomatoes I've already planted in the garden are already blooming. The plants look beautiful. I intend to use the recipe on all the tomatoes I plant.

It calls for bonemeal, Epsom salts, cottonseed meal, lime and fertilizer. Of course I didn't use regular fertilizer but mixed organic fertilizers together until I thought the mixture equals approximately 10-10-10. Bone meal and cottonseed meal are organic -- or at least what I bought was. Read the blog post. I think this recipe is really a keeper. I will know more as my garden grows but so far -- great. Follow the link here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Easy asparagus

My friend Kim, who is a wonderful cook, broiled some asparagus several weeks ago that was really delicious. I was glad to have the opportunity to watch her prepare the dish and was amazed how easy it was.

I cooked some for my family and a few guests, a couple of days later. Mine was very good, too -- much better than when boiled or sauteed.

My mother liked it and she cooked it very successfully, as did another guest. I thought I would share Kim's method for cooking asparagus since it is easy and so far for me, fool-proof.

I just bought fresh asparagus, trimmed it, washed it, allowed it to dry. I then placed it onto a baking pan in which I had poured two tablespoons of olive oil. The asparagus should be placed evenly on the baking pan. I then added salt and pepper and drizzled another tablespoon of oil over the top of the asparagus and tossed it a bit to spread the oil.

I turned the oven on broil at 500 degrees and cooked for 8 to 10 minutes on the center oven rack. It may take a little longer if you stack it, as I did. Normally, it should only take around 8 minutes.

Mine is a little crowded, but it worked fine, just stir at about 8 minutes and allow to cook a couple of minutes longer if it needs more cooking -- 12 minutes at the most. My oven is a little hot so it was perfectly done. Don't over cook. Asparagus cooks very quickly and is better when it is a little firm.

You may also wish to cook it on parchment paper for an even easier clean up.

This is SO simple! Sorry, but I didn't get a photo at the very end because we ate it too quickly.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Our most unusual plants

This year we were able to find some rather unusual plants to grow in our garden -- at least for us. Last year we stuck to the usual "garden" variety of plants but this year thought it would be fun to try a few new things.

One of the prettiest is the mesculun. It is a variety of lettuce with spiky leaves, usually mixed with other salad greens. This sure looks pretty in the garden. I think it looks like a low-growing bedding plant. I am sure it will be wonderful in our salads.

We have an even spiker-looking mesculun plant, too.

At the top of this photo, above, are the choy. I think it is bok choy but the tag said choy. I can't wait until we see what it turns out to be. I do know it is a chinese vegetable and I like how it looks in the garden. I think it is very pretty. Kind of like cabbage but with shiny leaves.

We still have the parsnips we planted in the fall. I am not sure we will have a good outcome with our parsnips but they are really growing large and green. I have read recently that they need to be harvested after cold weather returns but before they flower. I am very confused. I think they look good. Every few days I dig down a little to see if there is a parsnip on the end. So far I can't see anything promising.

Cold weather is supposed to make parsnips sweet. I love a good roasted parsnip but I am concerned that we planted them too early. Right now they are fine. I would hate to have to harvest them before cool weather. I might not like bland parsnips.

I guess a little uncertainty is part of growing new vegetables.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Garden fashion -- not so fashionable

What does the well-dressed gardener wear? I have no idea -- but, I can tell you what I like to wear.

For cold weather, I wear light cords with and elastic waist, a turtle-neck and I usually add a fleece pullover. I almost never wear a coat. The pullover is very warm and fits a little better than a jacket. It also has the added benefit of more pockets that zip so things I store in them don't fall out when I bend and twist. Lose-fitting jeans are nice, too but be sure not wear clothes that restrict your movements.

I almost always wear sunglasses and if it is really sunny and not too windy, I wear my straw hat. Sometimes, even in cooler weather I can get a bit sweaty and I have to take off my sunglasses and I then appreciate the shade the hat provides. If it is very chilly, I wear a knitted cap and sometimes a knitted scarf around my neck.

My shoes are some old crocs and I wear socks with them. I think they are the perfect outdoor work shoe. They never give me blisters and I think they give me a good foundation because they are so wide. I really love them -- rain or shine -- summer or winter.

And in warm weather my favorite thing -- short-alls. They are the perfect thing because they are cool and they have plenty of pockets. I usually dress in layers -- but thinner ones. I wear a sleeveless t-shirt and usually a blue jean shirt. I like the sleeveless shirt because it helps me maintain my tan. I always wear my crocs and like to wear short socks with them.

Last year I had an uneven tan on my feet because of the holes in my shoes. I probably will have the same problem this year, but I really don't mind.

I like to wear my straw hat in the summer to protect my face. This hat has a chin strap that holds the hat on in windy weather. Of course, I always wear my sun glasses.

It is very important to wear gloves when gardening. When working with dirt, manure and chemicals your skin can become damaged and this makes gloves very important. I am trying out a new pair of gloves with rubber fingers and palms but I can't recommend them, yet.

In the summer, one of the "must wear" items is bug repellent. I know it is not clothing, but you should wear it each time you go into the garden. It can be miserable without it, especially after dusk.

There really are very stylish things to wear while gardening and plenty of websites that will sell you gardening clothes. I am sorry I didn't show you anything stylish but maybe I gave you some ideas. I think I would have a problem with getting something dirty that is very pretty and gardening is a dirty job.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My helper and progress

I recently had a little helper in my garden. Riley needed to wear an apron to protect her dress from dirt and my green "crocoffs" were sturdier than her pink sandals -- and more fun. I thought the hat was perfect, but she wondered why I didn't want to take a photo of her pretty hair. Of course I did.

I wanted to get a photo of her new shovel, hoe and rake that are just her size, but she really didn't have time for posing. She needed to dig.

I think gardens are perfect for children. They can really learn something of value and enjoy the outdoors, too. My job is to provide tools and bug repellent and her job is to dig holes in the garden. I was lucky enough to convince her to dig the holes where I wanted them and we then planted hot peppers. She tired of the work pretty quickly and was ready for something else, but we did have fun.

Our lettuce is growing nicely. We got the watering system ready and have started watering with lake water. It's not terribly dry, but the thirsty young plants do need a drink every couple of days.

And -- we were surprised late yesterday evening with spaghetti squash plants peeping out of the dirt. I am very excited!

When we check around, we found the kale was coming up, too.

The zucchini plants look big, compared to the other squash plants. We planted the zucchini before the spaghetti squash so it was nice to see them coming up and looking so good.

And then we saw our potatoes. We planted them first but they were deeper than the other plants and it was so nice to see them already making an appearance.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Solving the lower garden problem

Here we go again. We are going to try planting in the lower garden area again. Last year we planted corn there three times and because of wet weather and crows, we barely had any corn at all. We did have a few little underdeveloped ears but all in all, a total disappointment.

We also planted some melons but we didn't have any luck there, either. In the fall, we planted a greens patch and it didn't even do well enough to pick. We thought that perhaps it would help to condition the soil when we plowed it under.

Here is the plan. First we tilled the soil really well. We will plant corn there, but also some things like zucchini, which we have grown successfully in the upper garden. We also will have some peas and lima beans -- maybe even some green beans.

We want to raise the rows a bit by piling up the soil and raising the planting area. I think that will help the corn. We will condition the soil with manure and make sure we fertilize enough.

Netting will be used over the corn rows to help protect them from the crows until the corn is high enough not to be "crow food."

We must have a fence around the garden to protect it from deer. This has to be done. We really don't have a choice.

I hope it works. Maybe we will have a great lower garden, too. It won't be because we didn't try.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wisteria Lanes

Ever since the weather turned warmer, almost every road I travel could be named "Wisteria Lane." I don't think I have ever seen so much wisteria blooming.

It could be because we had more rain than usual, but the roadsides are now colored lilac and when you drive past patch of wisteria you get a fragrant whiff of the blossoms -- very sweet.

There are a few patches in the sun, but most of the wisteria I see is climbing in shady spots.

It spreads up into the tallest trees. I think there is more of it than I have ever seen.

I know in a few days it will be all gone. The petals will fall and all that is left will be the leaves on the vines. Until then I will enjoy the sweet wisteria fragrance.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A beautiful weekend

Didn't we have a beautiful weekend? It was like a present of clear skies all wrapped up with a sunshine bow. I am sorry for being "poetic," but it was beautiful. The only "garden" job we had was to repot some of the plants we had grown from seed to try and give them a little nudge. We need to let them grow a bit larger so we can safely plant them in the garden.

Meanwhile, I admired some of the beautiful apple blossoms and wild flowers growing up all around us.

Our tomatoes, far from the straggly little plants I started in my bathtub, are looking much healthier. Some of them didn't make it after we put them out in the sun. I would say we have around 36 plants. If they make it, we will have more than we need to finish out our garden.

The apple trees are beginning to get leaves but they have some incredibly beautiful blossoms. Most of the photos I took were of the crab apple tree. Those flowers are just a bit redder than the regular apples.

What a beautiful sky!

I believe this was a regular apple blossom. It looks like it might be a good year for apples, if there isn't another frost.

We admired the ajuga, a pretty ground cover with purple, cone-shaped flowered stems.

The wild violets were just beautiful. It's not just the flowers, but to me, the leaves looks like little valentines -- hearts with scroll work on them.

And surprisingly, a wild strawberry. I haven't seen wild strawberries in years.