Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays

There's been a lot, a lot, of cooking this year for me. Lots. Thanksgiving dinner we had collard greens from our garden and sweet potato pudding. Today we included kale salad with our Christmas dinner. Tuscan herb salts were used on our pork roast and parsley on the mashed potatoes. Our garden enriches our meals almost every day. This year the garden made our holiday meals just a little nicer.

We had a few really cold days spaced out over a week. Knowing nights in the 20s were coming we cover all our plants with Agribon and left it for several weeks. Last week I turned back the cover on our 4x4 beds. Amazing! Everything had grown exponentially! Lettuce, carrots, rutabagas, kale and mustard-beautiful! Today I peeled back the cover on the broccoli and there are some ready to eat! Yay! Cabbages have a ways to go but they will be nice if we continue to cover when really cold. Once again, the things newly planted just before Hurricane Matthew survived and thrive...Still amazed they survived the thrashing they took.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


I am beginning to feel like gardening again. Hurricane Matthew took the window out of my sails. (Insert choice word here.) We had minor flooding that was a major disruption to our daily schedule. Construction workers gone, clean up followed. Anyway. Out in the garden the broccoli is heading, as is the lettuce. Our pot of arugula is just right, right now and the garlic, put in late has just pushed up. Carrots are lush. Rutabagas are a maybe. Cabbage looks good. Herbs are beautiful. We are eating kale and collards. Altogether, not bad.
Pretty enough to share. And I do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hurricane, Schmurricane!

Well, I had no idea! Powerless for days, and worse, without water fit for human use, we got slammed by Hurricane Matthew. It sucked. It still sucks. Water, water, dirty water everywhere and then not sure that even the ground water was clean. The rains came down, hard, and the floods came up. With 15+inches of rain in less than 12 hours and a river basin already full of water, it was astounding how the dynamics of a dike, Jersey bumpers lining up to hold water and Mother Nature conspired to create homelessness across economic lines. We experienced discomfort. Many experienced personal change forever. Some pushed into poverty.
The garden was the least of my concerns the whole month of October. Water to drink, bathe, and wash clothes with was foremost in my mind and time. Yesterday, I planted garlic. Normally planted in early October, we'll see what happens. The broccoli seems OK. Lettuce looks good. Peppers are still making peppers. Herbs took a lashing but survived.
Ironically, we have had only one rain, about 1/4 inch since the hurricane. The soil remains damp, river water levels have dropped and homes are slowly being repaired.  Our city is working on the water situation allowing schools and businesses to reopen and we are recovering our daily routines. For this, we are thankful.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pre-Hurricane Pickings

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day.
It is a sad thing to get a good distance into a season and have it wracked by rain and wind but that is the nature of gardening. Times like this make me think of how close to the edge people lived before all the conveniences I enjoy. And then, there are the Haitians. People still living in our hemisphere with no cushion to protect them from one bad day.
A few days ahead of Hurricane Matthew I went out and picked lettuce, green tomatoes and all the peppers. Our in-ground beds are puddles. Today I am thankful I have raised beds though I do not have much belief that the lettuces can stand the hammering they are getting. As of this typing we have had 7" of rain and have many hours more to go. I have a few seedlings on the porch protected from the storm. And, on the sunny side and there will be a sunny side, there will still be enough warmth and sunshine to replant some things like kale, lettuce, Swiss Chard and turnips. Making plans even as we taking a lashing. Gardener, a synonym for optimist.

I Need Some Space, Man.

Fall planning and planting is in full swing here. Every day I plant, transplant or repot something. It really is the best time to garden here in Southeastern NC. Two days ago I planted a second round of mustard. This morning they are up! Here's where the space is important. Some plants require lots of space. Broccoli, kale and cabbage need space. Summer plants like tomatoes and okra do too. They get big. They require lots of water and food and produce for months. Mustard, carrots, turnips, beets and lettuce, not so much. They can be thinned, eaten as micro-greens in salads and the remaining plants left to get bigger. I broadcast turnips and mustard because when prepping for cooking, small is good. Big leaves require that the stems be removed. Whose got time for that? Mustard, too can be cut and will regrow. How cool is that?
The photos:
Broadcast mustard seeds will be thinned for salads.
Okra planted about 8" apart.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hiding in Plain Sight

Disney has a color they call, Go Away Green. No kidding. Disney uses it to conceal unattractive buildings. Mother Nature invented go away green to conceal the fruit of plants and to help animals hide. Used especially with beans, peas and okra, they melt away into the mother plant. Suddenly, you are faced with six inches long (or longer) okra pods that are tough enough to use in furniture making. This fine example of   hide and seek in the garden okra is six inches long and is inedible, even in gumbo. Okra is best at three to four inches. Green beans do the same thing. But at least they can be shelled and the beans within eaten. Peas. Ew. Yuck. They become starchy. At least my neighbor’s chickens like them. Beware those go away greenies! Look at your plants from different angles and really study them when harvesting. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Gift The Keeps On

Field peas. I grew up eating them mostly at my grandmother's house. She always seemed to have a pot on the stove, day and night. Say you were hungry, her response, "Fix yourself a bowl of peas." It worked, staving off hunger for hours. I plant Celie's Peas. A gift from a neighbor who learned of my gardening adventures. Heirloom, I have saved the seeds, like her family for years now. They are amazingly generous plants. They are vining peas growing over 9 feet tall in a circle around on old wooden ladder for support they yield pods with up to fourteen peas per pod.  Reminiscing
with my Aunt Nina who died at 89 a few years back, she declared that there were winters when they might surely have starved if it had not been for field peas. Aunt Nina did not joke about hunger. She also informed me that when the hens stopped laying in the darkest days of winter, it was very hard, in the saddest voice.
When I first began gardening and it wasn't so easy, I remember thinking about my grandmother and how she and my grandfather together grew and raised almost everything they ate. If they could do it, so could I, because...well, so could I.
Today I picked a mess o' peas, have a full pot cooked in the fridge and will have some for lunch. With cornbread, there is no finer meatless meal.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Subtract six inches and they are still tall! 

It's been dry. We water but it is not the same as a good soaking rain. Then, when I think of soaking rain my mind takes me to the Louisiana rain event and I think maybe watering is OK.
Okra and field peas are steadily and abundantly producing with an occasional tomato. Lots of okra!  Peppers are coming on great. The jalapeño plant is amazing this year. Just one plant but soon I'll be freezing for winter use. We also have potatoes from our Spring crop. Last week we had stewed tomatoes and okra. I freeze when we get a glut of anything so there is always something in the freezer to keep us from taking the repeat too often on okra. Field peas? I could eat three meals a day.
Upon our return from Colorado I immediately started planting fall and winter seeds. Evergreen onions are up. Summer crisp and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce plants are putting out true leaves. Cabbage and broccoli seedlings are healthy and have been transplanted to larger pots. I have already give some away and promised some to others.
Our sunflowers were/are amazing, sort of a big surprise. I planted Russian sunflowers this year and they grew to their optimum height. Uh. Ten to 12 feet tall they tower above us. Soon, very soon, we will have lima beans if we water. The tops are covered with tiny pale, creamy yellow flowers. Green beans have also been replanted.
In the fruit category, we had some apples from our  Grimes Golden, the figs were plentiful, there were a few grapes, and we were gifted pears. All in July and early August.
So much to do now that we are transitioning to Fall. Off I go to water...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mother Nature

She giveth and she taketh away, Mother Nature. We've had traditional Southern thunderstorms this year. Every day or so as the heat and humidity rise, so too do the cumulous clouds. Rising and rising getting darker and darker until the rumbling starts soon followed by rain. I am so grateful when it rains! Our garden grows beautiful when we get these intermittent rains, But, night before last we had a doozie! Lightening filled the sky, the rains came down in sheets and the winds were ferocious. The limbs of great oaks lifted and swirled in the wind. The next morning street and yards were littered with large limbs and branches. Power was still out in whole neighborhoods in our small town and the garden had taken a beating. Our field pea tower, made of bamboo, snapped under the pressure. Okra plants, chest high the day before, lay in a whirl on the ground. A block away, following a straight line out from our garden, a giant oak fell on apartment building crushing the roof. Downburst? I think so.  

We heeled up the okra and propped up the field peas and picked up twigs and branches off and on all day. City crews and private owners cleaned up larger limbs and except for the crushed apartment we're back on track waiting for okra to bloom because the fruit forms almost overnight. Waiting. Waiting. Soon.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tomatoes 2016

Altogether it's been a good tomato year. With the exception of a two week rain-free period the end of June, we've had steadily space thunderstorms watering our vegetables. But. Tomatoes fade when the dewpoint rises above  70%. Slowly the tomatoes plants are succumbing. I've rooted suckers and hope to have plants through Fall. Right now we have a glut. Tomatoes line the kitchen window sills, are piled on the counter and overflow bowls. We eat tomato sandwiches for breakfast and slice them with every dinner. It is altogether a good problem to have.
Organically grown! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Diary of a Seed Saver

The first time I saved seeds it seemed like an awesome project. Nope. Silly me. It is not. It is easy. Mother Nature does all the work. Just leave a plant alone. It will slowly mature and dry up. The seed pods are ready to harvest then. Today I harvested arugula and dill. Come late August, I will sow and they will grow. We can do that here in the coastal plain of North Carolina, grow arugula and dill twice in one year. Sow, I do.
Arugula. Two seed pods. Sixty seeds. Free.
Today's tip: Tease the seeds onto a paper plate. They are easier to pour into an envelop or jar that way.
Note: A packet of organic arugula seed from a reputable seed company sells for $4.20.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Squash: The Struggle is Real

Squash bug eggs. Squash them! 

Summer squash is no easy vegetable to grow down South. With more than one enemy it's close to a miracle to get any. Too cold/cool and they will not germinate. Lying in wait in the soil, perp #2, are squash borers who bore into the main stem and surreptitiously suck the life out of the plants from the  inside out. The parents a bright orange and black flying critter too quick to kill are a sure sign of trouble. Squash bugs, perp #3, look like brown marmorated stink bugs. They lay clusters of down eggs on the tops and undersides of squash leaves. Their nymphs are light grey and black which suck  on young fruit until they wither and die. Perp #4 is powdery mildew. Spred by spores it thrives in warm humid weather. Like I said, it's a wonder Southerner gardeners ever get any squash. I kill all squash bugs I see and look for egg clusters which I crush. I pick all wilty leaves, a sign of squash borers and pick off leaves with powdery mildew. A daily chore, I know I will inevitably lose. I also know it is worth the trouble to have them grilled, stuffed, sautéed or casseroled for dinner. Be brave and carry on!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Time is on your side when gardening down South, especially in the coastal plain of North Carolina. If  it is not the right time for one plant, hang on, it is for another. It is no longer time for potatoes, but in their place I planted okra. Same with sweet peas. Out they came due to heat. In went field peas, aka Food of the Gods, in their place.
The time for green beans is upon us. Their window of opportunity is short. As the superheated subtropical heat pushes up from the equator, or the arctic air subsides, depending on your point of view, green beans fail. Tricky they are. The plants remain lush and green, the flowers continue to bloom but...the pollen of these self-polinating wonders becomes infertile in the super-charge heat of summer and beans do not form.
Now is also the time when ants emerge hungry. Very hungry. Native ants farm. They farm aphids. Aphids make a sticky sweet substance that ants adore. They suck the life out of the tender tips of plants like green beans for the ants.
Itty bitty baby bean! Victory! 
Time has taught me to look for ants crawling up and down the stems of plants. In no time aphids will appear. How do I deal with aphids? I squash them with my bare hands, gentle gardeners. If there are too many? I blast with the garden hose. If that doesn't kill them? I use diatomaceous earth. Take care. It is organic but, like all pesticides, it is indesciminate. It can hurt you too. Read the label. Especially your eyes.
Meanwhile. Sex and murder in the garden! As good as any trashy mystery novel!

Monday, May 30, 2016

New Composter

Every year I have one big experiment. This year it is a new, in the garden, compost bin. The inspiration came from a P. Allen Smith show on PBS way back in the dark days of winter. Very simply it is a wire cage linked into a tube around which are planted three tomatoes. The wire cage serves as a compost bin that, as garden and food waste is breaking down, fertilizes the tomatoes. It also keeps the tomatoes consistently moist and has, through this chilly Spring, kept the plants warmer. Here, now the end of May, the plants are taller than me, and are loaded with tomatoes. When the plants die back I'll let the compost finish breaking down and dig it into the garden. So simple! So brilliant!
The easiest composter ever! See July 9, 2015 for post on how to grow tomatoes.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Summer squash!

Hand pollinated because the bees are not here this year.

Way back in March I bought squash plants from a big box vendor of garden seedlings. If I hadn't had a plan they'd have been freeze dried several times. After planting them, I covered them with a wire fence tunnel, wrapped it all in Agribon and waited. They were covered for at least a month, warm and cozy in their gauzy cocoon surviving a frost and some really cold nights. Fast forward to early May and we are eating fresh summer squash. Sadly, the bees were hit hard by that same frost weather so I am pollinating them with a small paint brush every day. They are naturally grown using supernatural techniques.

Monday, May 9, 2016


Have mercy! What a beautiful, busy Spring! There have been weddings and celebrations and moving and projects and, naturally, garden plantings aplenty. Every morning I do a walkabout. I pull small weeds, water if needed, harvest, check for bugs (good and bad) and look for distressed plants. (When I worked I did it in the afternoon as soon as I got home from work.)Today I found a dead potato plant. Digging around I found a handful of new potatoes. There were a handful of asparagus spears that were just right for cutting and all the mature lettuce came out. Move over, rover, for summer plantings. Hot weather is on the way!
Hidden treasure! 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Cabbage worms

It begins in The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Brit, Eric Carle, the world's most avid plantsmen, "In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf. The next morning the warm sun came up, and pop, out came a tiny, but very hungry, caterpillar." Indeed.
The tiny white dots on the back of my broccoli plants are the eggs of what Southerners call cabbage worms. These tiny, pure green, "worms" will make your plants look like they've been hit with shotgun pellets. They especially love the tender forming heads of new cabbages. I watched the white moth/butterfly fluttering over the plants yesterday thinking I would find the eggs on top. Nope, they were underneath. First, I took a picture for you, then I brushed them off squashing them if I could. Then, I found the perpetrator of the hole on the leaf. Murder! I squashed him with my bare hands. Alternatively, you can use the pesticide bacillus thuringiengus (BT) but it was easy enough to use my hands. Stay vigilant gardening friends! These are bad, bad, bugs. Use the least invasive method to deal with bugs, because it is good for you and the environment.  Also, it is perversely satisfying to squash them.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Lettuce is the plant for novice gardeners. It germinates almost overnight when it's warm, like now, is a cook's best friend, and grows really fast. Here's how I do it from seeds.
I fill a pot or container with potting soil. Sprinkle some seeds around. Add a light layer of more potting soil. Water carefully, gently, lovingly. Leave in the sun. Keep them watered so the germinating seeds do not dry out, every day. In no time there will tiny plants peeking up from beneath the soil. Now, here's the important part. Let the first true leaves develop (see plants at the bottom of the picture). It takes about a week. Don't forget to water. Then take them to the garden, gently take them by their seeds leaves, lift them out of the pot and plant in a prepared bed 4 inches apart. Water with tender loving care and in a month you will be eating salads for pennies.
Tender, loving, care required. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


The weather has been unexpectedly warm here for the past two weeks. Most importantly the temperatures have been in the 60s at night. Hmm. So, I plant and everything is growing great guns! We've been eating salad for days. Potatoes are up! Way up. Baby broccoli and Swiss Chard plants are transplanted. Peas in our backyard garden are so, so. Kale continues. Beets and turnips germinated. I'm using the thinned ones as microgreens in our salads. Onions, garlic and shallots look good which leads to a story about onions. 
We planted onion sets and garlic cloves at the same time in October, just like we always do. El Nino sent twenty days for torrential rains in October that kicked off a monsoon season for the whole winter. Miraculously the garlic survived. The onions took it badly rotting from the inside out. We cut our loses, dug them out and replanted both sets and transplants. Much better. 
We now have two community garden beds in St Pauls. It makes a hug difference to have full sun all day. I'll show pictures when things are up a bit. 
Today's feature photo is parsley. The unsung hero of most dinners. When the rains came in October I had three beautiful established plants. This beauty in a raised bed is the only survivor overwintering with it's companions thyme, sage and rosemary, nicely. 
Italian flat leaf parsley.

Tuscan Herb Salt
Four cups of sage, rosemary, parsley and thyme
Six to eight cloves of garlic
1/2 to 1 cup kosher salt
Chop the herbs. Mix with salt. Pour onto a sheet pan.
Leave on counter for several days stirring occasionally until herbs are dry.
Use all winter on pork, chicken, roasted root vegetables and in sauces.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Days Away

In just a few short days our world will warm here in coastal NC! We are just days away from planting and transplanting. All next week, and the next, temperatures will be in the 60's. Lettuce, carrots, radishes, spinach, turnips and beets are at the top of my list of favorite things to eat and be planted. For a comprehensive list of things to plant now, google 'what to plant now'. A Mother Earth News site will appear in the list. Choose it, fill in your zip code and there will be a list of vegetables and herbs with planting times for sowing indoors or outdoors as well as transplanting. I've been using this site combined with The Weather Channel for years to guide me. Combined with knowledge gleaned from Johnny's Seed on best germination temperatures my little gardens have been an overall success. Wishing all gardeners a great year, we're off and running down South!
An aside: Early February (the 2nd) we had a warm spell. Knowing that small leafy greens will germinate in as little as two days, I seeded arugula in pots outdoors. Just as anticipated they spouted. I covered them these cold (20's and 30's) day and nights with Agribon and they are still alive.
Started in January and bigger now, they are ready for transplant when they are hardened off.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Procrastinate I Do

Quite by accident I have learned that waiting works. Also known as procrastinating, not doing led to a small harvest of early winter turnips and radishes. This summer, not cutting the flowers from basil yielded a summer-long pollinator. Basil, not my favorite herb, did really well this year. I had three huge plants. Letting one go to seed was unknown wisdom. Bees hovered around it until frost a pollinator plant in plain site for all these many years, unloved and unheralded. I gained a lifetime supply of seeds as well. I missed planting garlic in our backyard beds this October and finally got around to planting them in late November. They missed historic rains and may do better than our off site garlic plants that quite frankly look beat-down, bedraggled, sick. Too much rain can be the kiss of death.
Oakleaf. I take them out on sunny days. 
Witness our kale plants and spinach. I had a nice bed of spinach but the Christmas rains and sodden earth from previous rains proved too much. Gone they are, in Yoda speak. The kale plants are slowly dying from too much wet. Initially twenty plants, there are now eleven. The stems rot. It is an ugly way to die. Hope sits on the kitchen window sill, however. I have small lettuces emerging. Soon every sunny window will be home to a planter of growing seedlings. Soon.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Rain! Rain! Too Much Rain!

    There can be too much rain, much as I hate to say it. The drought we had a few years back made me think I would never call "Uncle!" on rain. The collateral damage of too much of too much wet includes moldy take-over of my entire spinach bed and lettuces and halving of our kale plants. It's just ugly. The turnips are beaten down into a mushy mess. Cabbages have died too. The India mustard is barely hanging on and the Swiss Chard is a wait-n-see. Two back-to-back nights of hard frost did not help matters. Perhaps a greenhouse would help...Today we have brisk twenty mile an hour winds, warm temperatures and bright sunshine that will, hopefully, dry things out a bit.
     It is seed catalog time. Every evening I take time to study and think happy thoughts about what I will grow this Spring and Summer. So much to grow. Potatoes and tomatoes, peas and beans, more lettuce and broccoli, I am overwhelmed at the thought of so much goodness growing! Soon I'll be planting all kinds seeds in pots because time is on our side now that we've crossed over the longest day.
Turnips harvested before the five inch Christmas rain. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016


A new gardening year begins with seed catalogs and a wish list. This year, however, poking around on the world wide web I found that Johnny's Seeds was having a sale on lettuce seeds. Sweet! More than any other seed I wanted some Red Sails! They add color to a salad, taste good and tolerate the heat on oncoming summer. And so, before Christmas, with lettuce at it's peak in our Fall garden,
planning and purchases for our Spring garden began. Happy New Year!