Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Falling into Transition

Geeeet ready!  The easiest Southern gardening season has arrived. 'Tis also the season of tough love. Summer plants that have waned gotta go. That real estate is better used cool weather vegetables like broccoli, swiss chard, spinach, turnips, kale, collards, mustard and lettuce. Okra, peppers, eggplant and surviving tomatoes get to stay. They produce abundantly right up to frost. Peppers and eggplant go crazy this time of year. Neighbors say thank you when I share but I sometime wonder if they're just being Southern nice. I've started apologizing when I give peppers...
We have more than five banana pepper plants...

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Grow herbs! They're easy! They smell good! On the more practical side, they are packed with vitamins and make food taste better. Scrambled eggs with mixed herbs?! Delish! Turns breakfast-for-supper into a gourmet experience.

I grew some newbies this summer. I bought a small lemongrass plant on a whim at Whole Foods in June. Uh. Two months later it is three feet wide and chest high. Now, I will learn how to cook with it. Also, I am assessing it's place in my 4x4 raised bed. Nice plant but maybe it will work better in my flower border. Guys. It is BIG. And it's year one.
Lemongrass, sage, basil, parsley, garlic chives in four foot square bed. 
When I purchased the lemongrass I also bought an herbal hibiscus. The critical ingredient in Red Zinger herbal tea which I love to drink in the cold, dark days of winter. The tiny plant in the 3-inch pot that is now five feet tall and four feet wide. I wanted it for tea this winter but I have enough to share with everyone I know. I'm thinking Christmas gifts right now.
The red stems and leaf veins give the hibiscus tea it's color.
The blue ribbon winner this year in the herb category is fennel. A gift from neighbor Suzy, it grew to six feet, was topped with umbrels of tiny yellow flowers, each became a fennel seed. The bees loved it. The butterflies loved it. I loved it. When I brushed against it while working the whole garden would be filled the the bold, spicy, fragrance of licorice. I harvested the seeds, gave them to neighbors, saved some for winter, then packed some up mailed it to my son who likes to cook. A happy surprise for us all!

Single petaled flowers, like these atop our fennel, are fast food for bees! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Celia's Field Peas

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot...
Years ago a neighbor-down-the-street gave me a handful of heirloom field peas her family calls Celia's Peas. Her grandmother grew them. Perhaps they go back further in history. Who knows their original name? Maybe not even Celia. They are climbers, not bush, requiring a tall support growing at least eight feet this year. The pods are nine inches long with 15  or more peas in each pod, shiny pale green with somewhat darker eyes. I have read that over time heirlooms adapt to their specific growing area and become individualized to specific micro-climates. I like that idea. I grow them every summer, save the seeds and replant the next year. Now, the most common field peas are bush varieties mainly because they are harvested by machinery. My grandmother grew Dixie Lee peas, a bush variety, because she liked how easy they were to shell. I like growing Celia's trellised peas because they are so easy to pick; no bending, no stooping. Oh yes, did I forget to say, they are also delicious!

Note: My grandmother kept a big ole pot of peas on the stove at all times. If the words "I'm hungry." passed anyone's lips, her ready reply? "Fix yourself a bowl of peas." Even if they were Dixie Lees, they sure were good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

the food mill

Oh my! I love my new food mill. I've considered one for years. Today I'm gobsmacked! In minutes I had processed the skins and seeds from our homegrown tomato glut! Minutes, I tell you! We will have a tomato saucy something for dinner. And I will redouble my efforts to keep the tomato plants alive in the god forsaken almost-drought we having.

Next up? Figs. Which I will use in smoothies instead of bananas. Take that all you fig haters. Free vs. 44 cents a pound.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

No Rain!

July was dry. August has seen no rain. So? I water. I'm selective in that I don't water the grass.

That's a joke. The grass looks dead. Bermuda grass does that. It plays possum when the rains stop then miraculously comes back to life, like Lasurus, greening up when the rains return. Right now it's brown, a pretty buff brown that contrasts with the green oases of the vegetable beds. 

Our backyard beds are slowly letting go of summer with this dry spell. Tomatoes are dying one by one. Squash bugs are taking out their hosts even before I get a fruit. Without water the okra and field peas would be goners. Even the herbs would have died had I not provided life support.

Fried pink and green tomatoes.

A few weeks ago I planted Waltham butternut squash. They too are being watered and are growing by leaps and bounds. I have itty bitty baby butternuts. Three days ago I planted spaghetti squash and low and behold there it was this morning peeping out of the moist soil! Which leads me to write about germination temperatures.
Itty bitty butternuts!

There is an optimum temperature for germination that varies based on the seed. Some like it hot, some not. Perhaps there is a logic to this but I haven't divined it on my own. I go online to Johnny's Seeds, choose the plant I'm about to plant, and check the graph for optimal germination temperature. 
Kale!These babies germinated overnight! What?!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's Cooking

Tomatoes Okra and Corn, a time honored Southern vegetable stew, is brewing this morning! They are as seasonal and local as it gets.
Ratatouille. Southern style.
There are many recipes online but the most important thing about any stew, in my opinion, is to cook it and let it sit for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors blend together. This will be eaten with fried pork chops and corn bread. A fine Southern tradition. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Oh my darlin'! Clementines. Mine.
I attended a class on how to grow tomatoes. It was free, taught by an agricultural extension agent in Cumberland County,  and lasted all afternoon.  A half day class?. Can you really lecture about growing tomatoes for 3 hours? Hell yeah! Here's what I learned about growing tomatoes in Southeastern NC:

1. Plant Clementine, Juliette, Mountain Magic, Mountain anything for success. They will grow here and make fruit that makes it to maturity.

2. Calcium. The kind used in hydroponic agriculture, bought online, and sprayed on the leaves of plants. If you just are not into this, and I'm not…

3. …fertilize generously throughout the season. Tomatoes are heavy feeders requiring generous supplements to continue producing and to stay healthy. It will help prevent blossom end rot which is heartbreaking.

4. Water. Almost as important as fertilizer because it is the vehicle by which the plant gets the fertilizer that prevents blossom end rot.

5. If you are going to water by wetting the leaves, DO IT IN THE MORNING. Give the plants a fighting chance by allowing them to dry out during the day.

6. Mulch. Generously. To prevent the wet-dry cycle that stresses the plants. Tomatoes are sensitive ya know.

7. Do not overplant. Crowding leads to poor air circulation which leads to air borne diseases.

8. Watch for stink bugs and stink bug's nasty cousin is the tomato hornworm. They are the dementors of tomatoes.

9. Know that you can pick tomatoes when they change from dark green to light green, yellow or pinkish. They will ripen, safely, on your windowsill and still taste great.

10. Heat, humidity and our long growing season causes almost all tomatoes to die off in late July and early August. It happens to the best gardeners. Pick suckers in early July, put them in water, let them root and then them late July or early August for a Fall harvest of tomatoes.