Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A beautiful special publication

A couple of days ago, my friend Angela showed this copy of Organic Farm & Garden, she found at the bookstore, and asked how I liked it. Without reservation, I told her I absolutely loved it. She then said, "Good, because I bought it for you." I was thrilled of course, because this is not only a lovely, beautifully-designed publication, but is filled with great information about gardening organically.

One of the most interesting tidbits of information I have read so far is that before World War II, everyone farmed organically. It was later that chemical fertilizers and soil supplements were invented. It made me think that scientific advancements are wonderful, but you do have proceed carefully. Just because it is new doesn't mean it is environmentally good, but I am digressing.

There is so much good information in this publication, plus 7 mouthwatering recipes I need to check out. I liked the soil information and the recommendations for fertilizers. I am still reading about composting and I hope the information on pests is good. I really need help there.

I quickly decided I would love a subscription to this publication because it was so informative but unfortunately, it is only a special publication from Hobby Farm Magazine. They also have a number of other publications that are interesting but they don't focus on organic gardening or farming. I am going to try the Urban Farming Magazine and I am interested in Hobby Farm but I hope Organic Farm & Garden catches on because I would love to have a subscription to a magazine like this one. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Last week's photos of our garden

Last week's garden photos shows that our garden is doing pretty well, but the weather was pretty dry when I took these photos. The warm weather caused all the seeds to sprout and things are growing quite well, but I believe the rain will make our cooler weather crops shoot up overnight.

It is hard to see, but our onions are up front, then some lettuce, red onions, cabbage and Brussels sprouts on the end. To the left, garlic and greens.

A view from the other side.

A head of lettuce, beginning to form.

This is a row of mixed lettuce. The rain will really help the lettuce.

A close-up of mixed greens.

A row of English peas. We now have fences up for the runners. They are really growing and they grow well in the cooler weather that this week brought.

A closer view of the peas.

We were told that it was too early for potatoes, but these seem to be doing really well.

I am very excited about our spinach. It doesn't look like much here but we haven't had much luck with spinach the past couple of years and this is a welcome sight to me.

I am thankful that we didn't get the hail that some areas of our county received. We did fertilize this week and we're working on seeds, buying plants and ideas for our summer garden.

Photos of this week's progress will be taken this week so we should really be able to see the difference a week -- and a good rain make.

Homemade Pizza, a healthier version

Pizza is a favorite treat around our house. We probably could eat it every day without getting tired of it but we do have a problem with pizza. Some of us are lactose intolerant and while the cheese on the pizza makes it fabulous, the cheese also can cause discomfort, later.

My daughter made this homemade pizza this past weekend, with the crust made in the bread machine -- a great, easy way to have pizza at home with the healthier toppings we love (and the toppings that "love" us). It has less fat and more healthy ingredients. Best of all, it really tastes good. We are working on a crust without gluten but we aren't there, yet. The photo above shows the veggie pizza we made.

We also found some pepperonis without nitrates so the meat pizza we made is healthier and very tasty.

Here's the recipe. One suggestion. Make up some crusts, bake them slightly and then freeze the crust. You can then thaw the crust, add the toppings and bake. This makes a very quick and easy meal that is healthier than take-out pizza.

Here's the recipe.

Bread-machine pizza
(Makes 2 twelve-inch pizzas)

1-1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups white spelt flour
2 cups whole spelt flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast.

Use a bread machine for this recipe. Add ingredients for crust as directed by your particular bread machine. Mine recommends adding all dry ingredients first, then the yeast and wet ingredients last. Set the bread machine on the pizza setting, if you have one, and the dough setting if you don't.

When the dough cycle is completed, remove and stretch dough onto oiled pans or pizza stones. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. We usually have a rectangular-shaped pizza because our pans are rectangular.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

1 cup pasta or marinara sauce
4 ounces soy cheese shreds, mozzarella flavored
Toppings of your choice:
Chopped tomatoes
Sun dried tomatoes
Chopped green onions
Basil leaves
Spinach leaves
Mushrooms, canned or fresh

Some ingredients like mushrooms and peppers might be better if microwaved for three to five minutes or until slightly soft.

Spread sauce and toppings on pizza. Cover with a layer of shredded soy cheese and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until pizza is lightly browned around the edges and the pizza is fully cooked in the center. Raw vegetables, especially tomatoes might be a little watery and may need a few extra minutes of cooking time.

Serve immediately.

Two of my favorite toppings, fresh spinach and basil leaves. My daughter sometimes piles spinach on top. It is really yummy, but the leaves cook down considerably.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Buying herbs

 Have you looked at the prices of herbs these days? They are out of sight. A couple of years ago, I could buy a pot of herbs to plant in my garden for around $2 and the going price at Lowes and Home Depot is now around $4, if you include tax. I guess herbs have become a very popular item but that price is so high.

When my daughter went by a Farmer's Market in another state last weekend, she called to say they have some really great-looking herbs for sale. The price was around $3 per pot and they were lovely plants so we decided to buy. The beautiful mint above was one of her purchases.

I needed some mint. Everyone says that you have to be careful because mint will take over. I have not found that to be true in my herb beds. The mint just doesn't growing like crazy for me, so she found me some great spearmint and lemon mint. Guaranteed, I hope, to spread like wildfire. I may not like having that problem next year, but for now, I would love some fresh mint for my iced tea. I just love mint in my iced tea. It is so refreshing.

We still need dill for our garden. We planted some cilantro and I have planted some cilantro seeds as well. I am not always certain my seeds will do as well as I would wish. We'll see.

 She also brought back some basil and Italian parsley. Basil is something you have to plant fresh each year and I have read it is hard to grow from seed. It is my favorite Italian spice. I also like the Italian parsley.

Parsley can also be a bit hard to grow from year to year. I do have a little in my herb beds, I have noticed, but this will be very nice because I never have enough parsley. It is so good added to almost anything and high in Vitamin C, I am told.

Perhaps the nicest surprise was the lemon thyme she bought. It has varigated leaves. Isn't it beautiful? She bought some regular thyme, too. I do already have a nice stand of it, but this varigated variety is my favorite. It smells wonderful.

I have heard that people plant creeping thyme, a low-growing variety, between stepping stones because when people step on it, the fragrance that is released is lovely. I can see this is probably true because just touching this herb is nice because of the fragrance.

Isn't is beautiful? I just love it. I hope I have plenty to share. I would love to pot cuttings to give away next year. I hope it is a success.

My grandson says, "What about me?" He is helping to take care of the plants. What a sweet helper.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I really am a bag lady

I am officially "the bag lady" and I will admit, I love it.

You know you are a bag lady when people give you bags for presents on birthdays and holidays. My friend Joanie gave me the green bag above, appropriately on St. Patrick's Day but it really brightened my day because I was not having the best day at work. A project I am working on has dragged on and on and I'm STILL not finished, but I am encouraged by people, like Joanie, who do such nice things for me -- and she didn't even know I was having a bad day. I love the flowers and I love that it is green with butterflies.

I received the quilted bag from a very nice reader from the midwest. It is what I carry salads and cold dishes in when I need to transport it to an event or dinner. I love these quilted, zip-up bags.

The two bags on the right I received for my birthday. Gifts were inside but the Tractor Supply and TJ Maxx bags are perfect sizes for large items. I will stow them in my car for shopping trips. I just love it so much when my gift bags are "gifts."

Just had to share this. You must admit I am a bag lady.

Friday, March 18, 2011


This morning I had a big surprise in store for me. When I looked at my seed pots to check their progress, I discovered actual tomato plants. I am so thrilled. Last year they seemed to be slower in sprouting but this year, WOW!

Only one variety of tomato, Kellogg's Breakfast is sprouting like this. My other specialty tomatoes are showing signs of activity but the seeds haven't yet all awakened. Kellogg's Breakfast is an orange tomato and I am excited because the orange tomatoes are sweet and not quite as acidic as the red ones -- perfect for salads.

To keep it short and sweet, I just had to share and I am thrilled about my orange tomatoes!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The wearing of the green

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Hope you are wearing green. This morning when I woke up, I looked at in my closet and didn't find much green. I am wearing my only green article of clothing, a green sweater, but I have on some of my green jewelry. That is what I want to share with you today. My green jewelry is all of the "costume" variety but for some reason it is my favorite. I wear it as often as possible.

My most prized piece of "green" jewelry is my shamrock pin my mom brought me back from Ireland. Quite fitting for today. Of course it is pinned to my green sweater.

This lovely brooch was given to me by my friend, Angela. It is lovely and is the prettiest brooch in my collection.

This brooch I purchased at a department store a few years ago. I like it because it looks older, though it is not. I think it has a vintage look.

Another of my favorites is this jade and copper bracelet and earrings given to me by my sister. I love this set and I think it is very pretty. The copper could have health benefits, according to some people, though you couldn't prove it by me. I like the color. I know it will eventually be more brown than copper-colored but that will add to it's appeal.

I am not too much for corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes. I would prefer green tea and spinach salad for my St. Paddy's Day treats but the jewelry is the way I mark this day. I think my Granny would be proud. She always said she was Irish. I don't think her genealogy backed it up but I am wearing my green jewelry today in honor of her. If she were alive today, I am sure she would be wearing a beautiful green brooch.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lunch and my new gardening book

These days at lunchtime, I have a new occupation. It is the only time I have to read my new gardening book, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, by Edward C. Smith. While I munch my salad greens (my normal lunch menu) I read about gardening tools, fertilizer, garden plants and pests.

The reason I bought this book is because this book is specifically about organic gardening. You don't always find one like this. I didn't order the book last year because in Smith's bio I read that his garden was located in the northeast and my garden is in the southeast. We do have some different problems. He is fighting cold weather while I am dreading the hot weather. This book does take that into account. He recommends plants for our different growing regions, which I really appreciate.

He also is making me feel better about one of the biggest problems for organic gardening, what to use for fertilizer. This year, following his recommendations, I have decided to start with adding plenty of manure and then adding other recommended fertilizer for the individual plant. I know I will make sure my tomatoes have plenty of phosphorus and he does give some suggestions there. Last year my tomatoes were better, because my fertilizer was more balanced, but the year before we used way too much nitrogen and had nice plants but a low yield. This year, I hope to have an even higher yield.

I guess my only frustration is in the garden pest area. I keep reading (here and other places) that if the plants are healthy, the bugs won't be as bad, but so far, I don't see that. I have seen some really healthy looking plants devastated by bugs. He does recommend row covers and gives some recommendations for companion planting. I do plan to take some of his recommendations about this but I know it will be us vs. the bugs. I need all the help there I can get because last year, the bugs had more than their fair share of wins, in my opinion.

I think this book is worth it and has some helpful suggestions. It is going to take a few more lunch sessions before I am finished with the book, but so far, I like this book.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Garden fencing and more plants

This weekend we updated the wire on our fence and for one of our garden crew, this caused quite a shock. The wires on our fence weren't working a couple of weeks ago and even though my husband worked on it, the shock value was not what it had been in the past. A wire fence seems to weather and probably needs replacing periodically.

My sister decided to purchase some heavy-duty wire to see if this was the problem. After she and my husband finished stringing the new wire, they decided to test it. When the testing indicator didn't seem to be working, my sis decided to touch it herself and found that the new fence packed quite a wallop. I am sure the deer and other critters won't come into our garden because it is now stronger than ever. My sister has also decided NOT to act as a human guinea pig for the garden fence anymore.

We do have few nice piles of mulch sitting outside our fence, thanks to our local REA. We will be using it this year to help with grass and weed control.

We also did a bit of hoeing and fertilizing this weekend and our lettuce, onions, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are looking great.

Our mixed greens look good though they are a little spotty.

Our early peas (the two rows on the left) will need to be staked next week and the potatoes (right) are looking good. These potatoes were seed potatoes saved from last year. I am hoping for rain today to give our garden an extra boost.

When you step back it doesn't look like there is much there, but we are making good progress and I am thinking we will get an early start on our main crops this year. I am thinking that by the end of March, it will be time to plant. By that time our cooler crops should be providing us with the greens, lettuce and onions we need to see us through until the warm weather crops are ready.

We did plant some French shallots, mixed lettuces, arugula and beets this weekend so it is time to watch the garden grow.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Raising plants from seeds

I am happy to report that it is time to start raising my plants from seeds. It is something I did last year with flawed success and this year, I am hoping to correct my mistakes and raise some great plants from seed.

The main advantage to planting seeds in starter pots is that you can save money. You can also share plants with your friends from your extra plants, and (for those of us who are trying to grow organic vegetables) you can be sure that no non-organic fertilizer was used on your plants.

Last year, I didn't follow directions and put my seeds on top of each little peat disc and then added water. The seeds floated and I really had no idea what was coming up until each plant developed leaves and then I didn't know what variety of peppers and tomatoes I was growing. I had to wait until the plant grew fruit before I knew what I had. In the case of hot and mild peppers, that could be a really bad thing. It worked in the end but I didn't know what I was planting where. What a mess.

This year I am planting some unusual varieties of tomatoes like Kellogg breakfast and Yellow Zebra. I think I also have a Pineapple variety.

Thankfully, my friend Angela gave me some smaller trays for my birthday and this will be perfect for the plants I want to keep separate. In fact, I think smaller trays are probably the answer to my "mixed up plant" dilemma.

Anyway, here is your reminder. Start your seed plantings. Spring planting is just around the corner.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oatmeal cookies for a rainy day

What is a good thing to do on a rainy day? Make cookies, of course! This recipe for a healthier version of the old favorite are sweet enough, especially with the addition of plenty of fruit and easy to make. No eggs and no butter make these a healthy choice, plus they get better with age. Time seems to enhance the flavors of the fruit, nuts and oatmeal.

These are not gluten-free but they aren't filled with bad fats, either. You could try alternative flours like oat flour, but you really should add a little tapioca flour (1 to 2 tablespoons) to help them hold together. The eggs usually take on that job but not in these.

Perfect for a rainy day.

Oatmeal cookies

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup canned coconut milk (both regular and reduced fat work well, we used half and half)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 cups quick oats
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

Combine sugar and coconut milk until well-mixed. Add flour, salt and baking powder. Mix well. Fold in the dried fruit and nuts. Drop by tablespoons on baking sheets covered with parchment paper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Better the second day and moister than regular cookies.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Menu planning

Today I have a download for you ... but I will get to that later, because this is not only a blog post about boring chores, but also procrastination.

There are any number of things I put off. I don't want to put them off, but I just do it over and over. One of those things is planning a weekly menu. Years ago I did menu planning and I think it saved me money and time, but I just haven't spent the time in years to develop a menu and shopping list based on my menus. I also don't always have the ingredients for a great new recipe I just found and that drives me crazy.

I do try to keep a well-stocked pantry, but in spite of good intentions, we do tend to have the same things over and over and I have two problems with that. One, it is boring and two, it is healthier to vary the things you eat.

Today, I decided to make myself sit down and do the planning and instead of racking my brain to come up with new recipes I have decided to take recipes out of a cookbook I like, make sure I have the ingredients on hand to cook each recipe and if we like it, I will put it on my menu for another week. If not, we will never use that recipe again.

The cookbook I am starting this plan with is Quick-Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson. Obviously I am trying to have a more vegetable-based diet, though I am not trying to eat all vegetables. This book really helps because we can plan vegetable meals and then add meat for those of us who must have it. I will choose the recipes I like, mark them on my menu (with a page number included) then add the things I need to my shopping list from the recipe.

I think that sounds like a good plan so, hopefully, I will not procrastinate any longer on this task. I will be trying out all the interesting recipes I can possibly try -- and I love new recipes -- and will finally have a menu.

So back to the download. I want to share the PDF I made to help me plan my menus. I am planning to start a notebook using these pages that include weekly menu plans and shopping lists and I thought I would share the page I created because it might be a useful tool for you, too. Just click on the link below. I am hoping my procrastination about this issue coming to an end and let me know (if you download the page) if you enjoy it.

Download your menu planner here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A creamy "sour cream" alternative

I think I am always writing about foods I love. Today, I am doing the same thing. I do love sour cream. I love the creamy goodness on a baked potato or a quesadilla. Over the weekend my daughter made some mock sour cream for the lactose intolerant among us and it was surprisingly good, though all mock versions of recipes take a little time to get used to them.

This recipe uses tofu as the base and I thought it was very creamy, thanks to the cashews. It wasn't fat-free but it was the good kind of fat - totally unsaturated. We plan to experiment with it to see if we can give it the same flavor with less fat from the cashews but to be honest, tofu is not very flavorful without adding something like the cashews, onion powder or lemon juice.

One reason we wanted to try it was because the last time we purchased a very expensive Tofutti brand of mock sour cream we found it contained milk products. That made me very frustrated because if I didn't mind using milk products I would just use sour cream. Tofutti was much more expensive and -- I guess I am still bent out of shape about that one.

I was a little surprised when I tasted our concoction just how little it tasted like onions. I can't tell you why. I do think this would make a good base for a sour cream salad dressing or dip. If you added garlic and parsley, I think it would make a good ranch dressing -- maybe more water and perhaps some red pepper. Chives would be good and if using it with Mexican dishes -- cilantro. Yum!

Creamy Tofu Sour Cream

1-12 ounce pack extra firm tofu
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup raw cashews
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder

Soak cashews in water overnight or until soft. Place all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth and creamy.

That's it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I love daffodils

Daffodils are not my favorite flower but I love seeing them in the spring. To me, it means that spring is really here and they brighten my day. I love jonquils even more, but I don't have any in my yard, I only wish I did. Every year I think I would love to plant some bulbs but I never buy any to plant at the right time. I just wish I had them when I start seeing them emerge from their long winter's sleep. These little daffodils are fine with me though, especially on a dreary day like today.

When I was a little girl, we used to experiment with them by adding food coloring to see if they would turn a bright color. It was amazing to see a bright yellow flower become blue or red. It was a good lesson on how flowers and plants feed. My mother didn't let us do that very often, I suspect because they were very pretty the way they were (food coloring was also messy and probably expensive).

I had a friend who went dug up daffodils and jonaquils when she found them on the sides of the roads. She kept a shovel, trowel, gloves and bucket in her trunk for that purpose. They were on the right of way and were usually spill-overs from old farms and home places that were no longer there. She would then plant them, creating a beautiful sea of yellow every spring. I don't know if I agree with that or not. I kind of enjoy the surprise of discovering them on the roadside -- a bright surprise left by folks who loved these old-fashioned flowers so long ago.

They do multiply well and if you divide them and replant the bulbs, giving them room to grow. They will continue spreading and growing just like they do on the roadside.

I am planning to pick some of mine to enjoy them indoors. I would hate for frost to kill them and turn them brown, which often happens. Ahhh ... my first taste of spring.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Best ideas from the Flower Show

I hope you are not tired of hearing about the Flower Show but there were some great ideas in their displays I must share. The first idea: Throughout the show, whether it was in potted arrangements, in landscapes or just wherever, vegetable plants and herbs were used throughout. Above red choy is used in a border of flowers. Later, you can harvest and eat the vegetable plants and herbs so they are very useful. They will last as long as many of the flowers you can use and then plant another vegetable plant when they are harvested or when they are spent.

 I loved this door with herbs and lettuce overhead, a topiary dog made with herbs, and pots of strawberries and other plants. The fruit tree in the container looks beautiful with flowers planted around its base.

The old guitar was my favorite. One of the reasons for it in the display was to express the theme of the show, but isn't that a great idea for an old useless guitar? It is filled with strawberry plants.

Ivy in a pot, forced into a shape. This is a clever idea I must use. I have seen it before and I really need to do it for myself. I can foresee all kinds of shapes growing in pots from cuttings from my ivy beds.

The use of moss -- very nice. This was an entire moss arrangement but it was used as filler, to cover the dirt in pots and it gives a nice finishing touch to all kinds of plantings, not just terrariums.

Another great idea. Surround an outdoor seating arrangement with a "tent" of netting for an elegant and private dinner.

This was one of my favorite ideas. Raised beds. Perfect for anyone who can't get down to the ground level. This would be perfect for an elderly, sick or disabled person. I really loved the bird house and bird feeder on each side. Attract birds and maybe they will also do away with some insects while they are feeding.

I think raised beds would have to be watered very regularly. In the photo above you can see the hose is in a very accessible place. There are plants on the ground around the raised beds -- a great space saver.

This bed would easily accomodate a chair or even a wheelchair. This bed could be placed next to a walkway or patio. The rope attached to the left hand side is attached to something very interesting ...

... a hanging basket on a pulley. Just untie the rope and lower it to water and care for the basket. What a great idea. This would work for anyone! I hate having to climb on ladders to reach hanging baskets.

When we saw this wedding display we were awed. It was so lovely with gauzy white ribbons hanging from above with crystal tips and sparkling butterflies. Everyone stopped in their tracks when they saw it. This would be the perfect spot to cut the cake at an outdoor wedding. It was pretty impressive indoors.

A view from underneath.

A great use for vases. I have a big vase like this and I just can't haven't found a way to use it -- until now. Cutting from orchids and other flowers are just beautiful. I didn't expect these flowers to be underwater and I don't think I would have expected them to look so pretty but they do. I will use this idea. This was sitting on the corner stand on the beautiful wedding cake display above.

I loved this one, too. I don't love the ribbon but I love the white flowers underwater in the cylinder and then the flowers underwater in the round vase and the use of both vases together with the calla lilies. Take off the ribbon and I would stop to see this arrangement any day.

I promise this is the end of my Flower Show blogging for this year. Honest.