Friday, July 31, 2009

Sweet Potatoes as Ground Cover and Food

In early May, our side yard was covered in mulch. Hence the name "Mulch Manor." Then we planted sweet potato vines. The leaves are pretty (we have three different colors) and it's edible. We had the space for the vines to crawl all about, which, they are happily doing, as you can see.
Denise said to dig up the potatoes in the fall, which, in our area, is about late October. But I'm so excited about growing my own sweet potatoes that I couldn't wait and just had to "peek" even though it's only the end of July. What I dug up from one vine is pictured on the right. I've never dug a potato in my life. Makes me feel like a real farmer!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Garden Critters Good and Bad

Experienced Florida gardeners told me that things die down in the heat of Florida summer. They also told me that garden pests thrive in summer. Now I know what they mean!

I'm discovering army caterpillars have made the beautiful large amaranth leaves into large lacy
amaranth leaves. Now they've moved to my grape tomatoes. Some of the zucchinis have blossom end rot but there are some still thriving despite the unusual high 90 degree heat.
Some other bug is eating some of the bean leaves, but they are still producing, though more slowly.

But then, I'm seeing several varieties of butterflies around the butterfly bushes and the marigolds. Now I need to learn more about butterflies too.

When I return from Massachusetts the third week of July, I wonder what state my garden will be in. Little did I realize when I started all this that I'd feel so responsible for all the tender young plants. They will get irrigated regularly, but as Denise said "nature has been here long before we were here", so I guess I'll let mother nature take her course.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Beautiful, Versatile Basil

I have to admit, before this garden project, I rarely used fresh herbs in my cooking. But now that I can step outside my door to pick them, I love experimenting with cooking with fresh herbs.   Basil has always been a favorite, so I tried making pesto for the first time.

It was delicious!  We ate it on pasta, with a garnish of grape tomatoes from the garden. I used a recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook.   A local Gainesville publication called "Hogtown HomeGrown" suggests this way to freeze basil and have fresh basil flavor all year long:

Place 6 cups of fresh basil leaves, no stems, in a food processor.  Begin chopping and then stream in 1 cup of olive oil. Process to desired consistency.  Scoop into plastic freezer bag and seal out air. When you need some fresh basil taste, just break off a chunk and add to whatever you are cooking. The basil maintains its color and flavor, but not the texture, so don't plan to use it as you would the raw herb.

If you don't have land to grow basil, you can still grow it in pots.  Just remember to water and fertilize it!  

Monday, June 8, 2009

Amaranth for dinner!

When I decided to enter into this venture of radically changing my landscape from mostly grass to mostly mulch, with edible plants and ornamental plants, I knew nothing about plants in Florida.  I didn't even know the names of the few shrubs that were existing in my yard, much too close to the house.

So I hired Denise, from Green Harmony, to design the overall landscape and choose the ornamentals.  Denise partnered with Joe, from Abundant Edible Landscapes, for the edible part and the drip irrigation installation.  The whole project took 8 days (just two days longer than the Garden of Eden,  I realize.)

Joe knows all about edible plants one can easily grow in a back yard.  For instance, he planted Okinawa spinach,  which has beautiful dark green leaves with purple undersides, and can be cooked or eaten in salads.  We've enjoyed it since the garden was installed.

Joe planted amaranth seeds.  I pretty much ignored the dirt plot where the seeds were scattered, as I did my daily inspections of some of the more exciting and colorful plants. growing.  Heck, I didn't even know what amaranth was, nor how to cook or eat it.  I went to my font of knowledge, the internet, and it said something about amaranth grains.  I'm thinking "I'm not about to grind up grains and cook them.  

Well, it seemed like overnight, but in reality, it was 2 months, and lo and behold, AMARANTH - hugh red and green leaves.  Joe said you can eat the leaves, so last night, after consulting my internet mentor, I cooked a bunch of leaves as I would cook spinach.  I added an onion. Delicious!  Not only delicious, but extremely nutritious, with lots of calcium.  Who knew?? (Joe knew.)

The plant is very pretty too, up against my fence. It's easy to grow in Northern Florida, and probably other places. You'll have to do your own research, but I highly recommend it.  And yes, I probably will experiment with the amaranth grain, just for fun.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Planting green beans and organizing your information

Every morning I just check over the garden to see what's new - there are always grape tomatoes to pick.  Today there was a ripe large tomato and a few green beans and two zucchinis. 

After many cloudy and rainy days, today is sunny and not too humid so I decided to do a second planting of beans. Thank goodness for the internet, my source of all gardening information.
I had read that it's good to soak beans before planting them.  But I learned that "seeds of ost varieties tend to crack and germinate poorly if the soil's moisture content is too high.  For this reason, never soak bean seed before planting." (University of Illinois Extension

I planted 10 beans - the bush bean type, which was more successful for me than the pole-bean type.  I added a little worm casting fertilizer to give the soil a boost.  We'll see how they do!

For those of you who are new to gardening, like me, here's a tip: get a 3-ring loose-leaf binder with tabs for A-Z.  As you find the information you need on the internet, or elsewhere, place it under the appropriate letter.  For instance, I have information about beans and blueberries under "B".  (I'm a retired professional organizer. I can't help it!)

Here's a recipe from the U. of Illinois website that I'm going to try:

Steamed Green Beans with Lemony Vinaigrette

Lemony Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon chives or green onion with green top, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon each, salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup canola oil or safflower oil

In a small bowl combine parsley, lemon juice, yogurt, and chives. Set bowl on a wet towel to avoid slippage. Add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until vinaigrette is blended. Chill.

Steamed Green Beans

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, leave whole
  • 1/2 cup red pepper, cut into julienne strips

Wash green beans and remove the stem end only, leave whole. Steam or blanch green beans for 3 minutes. Toss with julienne red pepper. Toss green beans and red peppers with enough vinaigrette to coat vegetables, about 1/3 cup. Serve warm. Leftover vinaigrette can be used as a salad dressing. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fast forward three months.  Grass replaced by mulch and edible plants, such as avocado, two fig trees, two chicasaw plum trees, two cherry of the rio grande trees, pineapple guava, strawberry guava, okinawa spinach, blueberry bushes, a papaya tree, passion fruit vine, yucca plants, ginger, and amaranth.  

Three raised beds are providing beans, summer squash, tons of tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.

There are challenges, like grass that keeps growing even after it was smothered by cardboard.  

Some mistakes:  I experimented with corn, and the ears never matured.  I also planted too many tomatoes and they are spreading over all three gardens.  I needed taller poles for the pole beans.

It amazes me how fast everything grows in Florida.  I'm thrilled to actually be able to eat from my own garden! 

The bottom picture is my yard three months after the work was done.  Cardboard was laid down to kill the grass, then good, nutrient-rich soil.  The workers cut out the cardboard to plant each plant, and then THREE truck loads of mulch were spread. Back in March, the plants were tiny, and the mulch certainly dominated the scene.

At a Homeowners Association meeting, people were talking about "keeping up the look" of our subdivision.  Someone asked "what about the Mulch House?"  I thought to myself, "what is a mulch house"?  And then, it dawned on me, "that's MY house!"   Hence the name "Mulch Manor Farm", which is much more elegant than "the mulch house", don't you think?