Monday, April 30, 2012

Strawbales with--squash!

On Friday I left you with straw bales but nothing else. I was hoping my squash seeds would sprout up any day. Over the weekend I happened, sort of. I do have three little squash plants with the first two leaves  peeking out above the soil.

That is the good news, but it looks like I will be waiting for a few days on the rest of the squash plants to sprout above the soiil. As you can see by the photo above, my straw bales are still looking pretty bare. I have a feeling things are going on under the dirt and we will see the evidence of more plants by the weekend.

I am just relieved and I won't have to plant more seeds, just yet. The experiment continues.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Strawbale Update

Here is my straw bale squash garden. The bales have been fertilized, watered and watered and I am waiting.

I think I placed a little too much dirt on the top. Hopefully this method is forgiving of my obvious flaws. I am a person who thinks that if a little is good, a lot is even better. I know that doesn't always work but I can't seem to help myself.

The weather turned cool after I planted the squash seeds and I am still wating, and watering. There is a little straw grass growing. That is good and some flies buzzing around but no plant sightings yet. Maybe my next update will include squash plant sightings. It might be similar to watching a pot boil.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Baked Gluten-free Chicken nuggets

 Here's a recipe that I came up with after watching a video by Sarah Carey of Everyday Foods. It is a great recipe for Baked Chicken Nuggets and I was inspired to make it because my grandson really loves chicken nuggets but gets to have them only on rare occasions since he shouldn't eat wheat.

He was excited when I told him I was making his favorite food. He said, "Are they nuggets I can have?" I was happy to tell him yes.

I started out with 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them into nugget-sized pieces. I then salted and peppered them and drizzled them with olive oil.

I used 3/4 cups of rice flour to coat the chicken pieces. I then put them in an egg mixture of three eggs and one tablespoon of almond milk. The egg gives it that great yellow hue that make the pieces look like true chicken nuggets. You could also dredge them with plain almond milk but they won't have the golden brown appearance.

After that I used crushed Rice Chex cereal. Corn Chex would have worked, too but we were trying to make it a rice day. Those on rotation diets know what I mean. Any gluten-free cereal that is not sweet would work.

I put the Rice Chex in my blender (a food processer will work, too) and whizzed them on a low until they were all crushed up. It takes about one cup of crushed cereal for one chicken breast. Olive oil should be drizzled onto the cereal crumbles and mixed in.

The chicken pieces can be rolled in a bowl, as I did it, or the crushed cereal can be poured into a baggie and you can do a little shaking before the baking.

This step is very important and the reason I just had to try this recipe. I put a cooling rack on top of a baking pan and then put the nuggets on the cooling rack. The nuggets have the hot air all around them and that is why they are so crispy. I was so amazed! I had always used my cooling racks for just--cooling. I didn't know they had other purposes. I think this is the reason this recipe turns out so well. Thanks Sarah Carey for this great tip!!

After the nuggets were on the rack, I baked them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, turned them, changed the oven temperature to 450 degrees and baked them about 8 to 10 minutes longer and checked for doneness. I used a meat thermometer. Mine read about 155 degrees and I knew they were plenty done.

 Serve them with dipping sauce. I made some mustard-agave sauce but a barbeque sauce or ketchup would be great.

My grandson really liked them and said, "They are good, but not as good as Chick-fil-A." I was pleased. Not much is better than Chick-fil-A. My husband said the recipe was a keeper.

For the Mustard sauce I added a tablespoon of agave, 2 tablespoons of mustard a sprinkling of garlic powder and 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise.

Gluten-free "Oven-fried" Chicken Nuggets

2-1/2 to 3 cups of Rice Chex or other gluten-free cereal that is not sweet
Cooking spray
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into nugget-size pieces
Generous amount of salt and pepper for the chicken
Onion powder, optional
2 tablespoons olive oil to drizzle on the chicken and the cereal
3/4 cup white rice flour
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon almond milk

Prepare the Rice Chex by crushing cereal in a blender on low or in a food processor. You will need 2-1/2 to 3 cups of finely crushed cereal for this recipe. Pour crushed cereal into a bowl or gallon-size plastic bag. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil in crumbs and mix well.

Prepare the cooking pan by putting a cooling rack inside a large baking pan. Spray the rack with cooking spray.  Preheat oven at 400 degrees.

Cut up 3 chicken breasts into nugget-size pieces. Generously salt and pepper the chicken and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle on optional onion powder.

Put rice cereal into a bowl and break eggs into a separate bowl and beat well.

Dredge chicken in rice flour, then egg mixture, then roll in crushed cereal. Put chicken on top of rack placed on large baking pan.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees on one side, turn all pieces over, increase oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 8 to 10 minutes more or until chicken is completely done.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On planting organic squash

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you might be a little tired of hearing about my squash problems. We have tried so many things and have not had very much success. This year we are trying some extreme things and I am not holding my breath, but I am hoping to have some measure of success.

Even the expert gardeners we have talked to say everyone has problems with squash bugs and squash vine borers. The vine borers have been an epidemic in our garden. If we used sevin dust, as non-organic farmers do, we wouldn't have a problem at all but that is not an option for us.

This year we are using row covers to see if we can prevent our young vines from being exposed to the squash vine borer moth. I am hoping we can grow them under the covers long enough to avoid some of the horrible pests.

We have also planted some marigolds in between the squash plants and are hoping to discourage pests from our squash vines. At the very least it may be confusing to the pests. Of course the marigolds are not up yet because the weather has cooled and we may have to replant them.

It has also been quite windy and even though we have used pins to hold the row covers down, we have had to re-cover some of them. I am hopeful that using this row cover will help. After the plants are larger, we will mulch heavily and either uncover the plants at some point to let the bees pollinate the blooms or keep them covered and use a paintbrush to pollinate them ourselves.

What we go through to avoid those horrible pests and have organic vegetables!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Crossroads Garden Club meets tonight

 The Crossroads Garden Club will meet tonight at 3072 Hwy 154, Newnan at our regular meeting place in a restored barn.

Our speaker is Mike Cunningham from Country Garden Farms and his topic is "No Till Gardening." I am really looking forward to his presentation because he is a very talented and knowledgeable gardener. When he speaks, his love of gardening shows through.

Our planning committee recently met and have a few upcoming events to present at our club including a May trip to Hills & Dales in LaGrange. More will be presented at the meeting tonight.

It is such a pleasure to meet with fellow gardeners and we would love to invite anyone who shares that same love to join us at 7:00 pm for our meeting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's the year of the herb

 I just received an email declaring it was the year of the herb. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement because herbs are probably the best thing to grow in any garden, windowsill, porch or patio. I want to concentrate more on growing and using my herbs this year. I had already made that decision but when I saw that email, I had to add my agreement.

According to the article, Stevia is the number one plant that people are trying. When I bought my stevia several years ago, I found it at a Farmer's Market in another state. It certainly wasn't readily available at any of the places around here. I noticed that last year, you could buy it locally.

Herbs have so many positive qualities. They usually smell good, are easy to grow, don't need too much attention and bugs usually don't like them.

I think they are very pretty, too. The thyme, above, for instance looks very pretty in a mixed planting and it is quite a hearty plant.

I really love my mint and basil. These, plus stevia are probably my favorites. Until this year I had found that my mint was not coming back each year as I have read it should -- but this spring my mint really looks good.

I am planting more herbs in my garden to try and repel bugs but I don't know if that will work or not.

The only down side I can think of by this new appreciation of herbs is that the price of herb plants has gotten higher each year. I really need to go to the store to see if some of the lesser known and grown herbs are being sold. I wouldn't mind finding a new favorite or an herb that will keep insets away. That would certainly be worth it because herbs are the easiest thing I have ever grown and a great introduction to gardening.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Herbs on my porch

Every year I try to have some herbs on my porch so that I can have them to flavor my summertime meals. This year my sister was so sweet to re pot some of the herbs I had grown from seeds so I can just go out the back door and pick them.

Basil is my favorite, with cilantro and parsley tied for second. She gave me some of all of these and added a tomato in the center of one of the pots so I can have some of those, too.

Even if you grow herbs out in your garden as I do, it is really nice to have some on hand. In my case it is usually my deck. Right now they are on my front porch but eventually they will grow better on my back deck where there they will get more sun.

 I use the herbs in soups, stews, salad dressings and stir-fries. It pleases me to be able to run out and clip some onion greens, basil and parsley to go into a fresh olive oil salad dressing or marinara, cilantro for a Mexican dish or dill to flavor my pickles. I usually just take out my kitchen shears and clip enough sprigs of fresh herbs to make my meal extra special. The more you clip it seems he more they will grow. Last year I had fresh herbs at my fingertips until frost. I hope it will be the same this year and I think I have a pretty good start.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Don't throw away those broken pots!

Recently, while working on a story for our magazine, I was invited to go on a photo shoot to the shade garden of one of our feature writers. It was such a treat for me because while I have made the shade around my house into a big problem, she has turned all her shade into an asset.

One of the things I loved was the way she has recycled old objects, especially old broken pots, to add interest to her garden. I have noticed that one of the pots I got at a yard sale last year is broken and sitting on my back porch. The reason for the broken pot is that I forgot to bring it in for the winter and I know that pots can often break in freezing weather. They are great in summer but don't overwinter well.

Instead of throwing my pot away, I intend using it as a feature in the shade area of my yard. I love the pot above surrounded by ivy and other plants.

The pot above adds just a bit of extra green to a spot. It is such a nice touch. I really appreciated getting a look at Ruth's garden. While I won't tell you the focus of the story in our next issue, I can tell you it will be delightful. It's not about gardening in the shade either, though she could probably give us some great tips. I will not give away the reveal until the magazine is out, but I know you will love seeing just how creative she is.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Using pansies to decorate dishes

For a number of years it was fashionable to use edible flowers in food preparation. Then, for a number of years it wasn't. Now it is fashionable again. The old saying "Everything old is new again" is very true, especially in this case.

I mention this today because it is almost time for those beautiful pansies to become leggy and succumbing to the warm weather. If you want to "decorate" a salad of use them to spread a cracker with cream cheese and then top with a pretty pansy, now is the time.

Do make sure of a couple of things. Be sure to wash the pansy well and don't eat the stem or leaves. For pansies, the centers are edible. This is not true for many flowers. It is usually best to only eat the petals but the "rules" can change from flower to flower.

If you used poison on your pansies, don't eat them. It is hard to wash them well enough if you have used a poison. It is best to only eat organic flowers and best if they are used to garnish food.

By the way -- pansies taste a little like wintergreen and they do make a lovely statement when topping salads or hors d'oeuvres.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Starting my organic straw bales

We have been working for a few days to prepare our straw bales and we are making progress, though I don't think it really shows. The bales look kind of the same even after watering them for the last few days and topping them with blood meal--but I know they are "cooking" so that they will be prepared for the plants and seeds.

I am not sure if they are positioned correctly because most of the ones I have seen have been end to end rather than side to side but that is the way they were placed, and they do seem to take up less space.

It will take a few more days but we are well on our way to having a mini straw bale garden.

Just to clear up one point. I do realize that these bales are not organic to begin with so even though I am growing everything with organic fertilizers, it doesn't mean the finished product will be totally organic. I do realize that. At some point maybe I will be able to find organic bales, but for now I will use the best things I can to make it as organic as possible.

That is my update. I will continue to give updates as I make progress.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Gardem News

We have finally planted our garden or at least the majority of it. I must admit that it is not growing quite as well as usual. I really can't explain it expect that it has been a very unusual year. We are having some success. Our peas are beginning to grow and are about six inches high. It is not as what I expecting but they look very healthy. They just have plenty of fence to climb.

Next to it are our sweet peppers. We planted them and mulched them and they look good.

We have planted our green beans, squash, watermelons, red and yellow potatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots and a little bit of everything though much of it has not come up yet. Again, I don't know why some of it isn't up unless the nighttime temperatures have just not been high enough.

We planted pepper plants, sweet potatoes, a few tomatoes and some herb plants. We still have most of our tomatoes to plants. Most of those are the ones we grew from seeds.

You can see your kale, lettuce and bok choy that is a little bit of green in rows of tilled ground. I am glad we are seeing some green!

 We did plant some lavender, basil and cilantro and planted some red cabbage in between our onions. The lavender is pictured above and I believe planting flowering herbs will bring more beneficial insects, especially bees to our garden.

We will be working on mulching everything, at least as much as possible. The sweet peppers we layered with newspaper and mulched before planting the peppers. I think the mulch is one of the most important things we do. It keeps down the weeds adds to the soil, year after year.

We are not where we would like to be at this point but I feel we will get there if we don't get discouraged.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A grand experiment to avoid pests

Today my husband bought some straw bales for me. These bales will my grand gardening experiment for this year. When Charlotte Nelson told us at our garden club meeting about her fantastic success with straw bale garden (see photo above), it started me thinking about a garden problem we have had the past few years and gave me a possible way to solve it.

For the past couple of years we have struggled to grow squash in our organic garden. The first year, great squash, the second year things were looking good at first. We had some early squash but then the squash declined fast because of squash vine borers and were then attacked by squash bugs. Last year we had a great start and then the squash vine borers attacked. We had a few more squash but didn't have the success we should have had.

When Charlotte spoke at our garden club meeting, I asked if she had a problem with squash vine borers and she doesn't but she also doesn't garden organically. It did start me thinking about that first year. We didn't have the pests at first because it was the first year and the vine borers had to first find our garden before we could become infested. The second year, we had vine borers early because they had burrowed into the soil and were ready to pounce.

This year we have already planted some squash in our garden, but we plan doing a couple of things differently. First we will plant some squash in straw bales at our house rather than in the garden. I am hoping that in the bales, we can avoid the squash borers until later in the season just like the first year. I will also spray them often with BT, but I think this method of planting on new ground, in this case bales, will give us a jump on the pests.

In the garden, we will use floating row covers and take the covers off at some point for bees to pollinate but will cover them over the rest of the time. I am hoping this will help us have more squash without pests.

So this is my grand experiment. My goal is to grow plenty of squash and maybe outsmart the squash vine borers. So far the squash vine borers are ahead on the count but I hope I will be at least even with them after this  year. If I can avoid the pests I will still have to work to avoid them but I will have less of them the next year.

I will have to figure out how to do what Charlotte does but with organic materials. Here is what she does.
How to create a straw bale garden
Buy bales are very tightly held together. Never use loose bales.
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.
Other things Charlotte does:
* Place 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. 
* Choose one day as Miracle Grow day. I use Miracle Grow every other Friday.
* YOU MUST WATER DAILY. If it rains, no watering.
* NEVER let your garden dry out.

I will be starting with the bales and I will water them well for three days. After that I will use blood meal to fertilize.

I will update as I proceed with my organic planting in straw bales.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Our new family addition

I hope I will be forgiven for ignoring my blog for a few days but my daughter gave birth last week to our new grandson. His name is Isaiah and he weighed in at 6 pounds and 4 ounces. That was last week's total but it looks like he will be much bigger soon, since he is eating well and doing wonderfully.

He came a bit early, so I wasn't as prepared as I could have been but a big event like this is at least blog-worthy so I just thought I would share.

What is there to do with a new grandson. My advice would be to just enjoy him and we are doing just that.