Friday, August 29, 2014

Preparing the Fall Garden

The summer is about to come to a close; the children are back in school; vacation is fading into a memory; and it is time to prepare the fall garden or at least seriously consider gardening. Here are a few considerations for gardeners.

Location of the Garden:  It would be ideal to have the garden close to the kitchen door.  Wouldn't that be convenient?   In your selected spot, will the vegetable plants compete with trees and ornamental bushes for nutrients?  What about the traffic pattern?  Is it out of the way from children playing football or tag?  Does your garden interrupt the lawn cutting?

Sunshine for Your Garden:  One important aspect of gardening is sunshine.  Consider that the plants need at least six hours of full sunshine daily.  The only way to be sure is to track the sun for about a week to see what areas the sun covers. My preference is the morning sun.

Size of the Garden:  What is the purpose for your garden?  I have asked myself many times why do I garden?  The garden provides us with fresh vegetables around the year.  There is always something growing and ready for harvesting.  What is fresher than vegetables directly from the garden to the table?  My husband declares that "we eat damn good."

Benefits of Gardening:  Since it is only the two of us in our immediate family, we have a surplus of vegetables from time to time.  We take it to the Senior Citizens Activity Center and we share with our children when we visit them.  It's a win-win situation.

Also gardening provides time outdoors and exercise.  Gardening is not for sissies:  it is hard work turning the soil and weeding. When you are out there on a sunny morning, you are are also getting the benefit of the sunshine and natural Vitamin D.

          It is still too early for the fall vegetables to appear on the shelves at the garden centers.  After all, this is the sunshine state and setting out plants too early may dry the plants out or scorch them. The weather is still hot and humid.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Trace Elements for the Garden

Back in February when we had a fence installed, one of the workers recommended that we use "mineral traces" for the garden.  He said that it would provide the vegetables with minerals and trace material that was not found in regular fertilizer such as 6-6-6 or 10-10-10.

Take a look at the special fertilizers for citrus, roses, and azaleas to name a few and you'll find that they all contain a long list of small amounts of different minerals.  By using fertilizer with a large percentage of nitrogen, it will green up the vegetable leaves and vines, but the fruit and the vegetables remain small and malnourished.

Our garden had been producing well one year and the next year was a complete failure.  We added our compost, weeded, and fertilized but we couldn't quite count of an abundant vegetable production.

This year we added Ironite to our garden along with our compost and regular fertilizer.  The Ironite would provide the trace elements such as potash, calcium, sulfur, boron, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.  It is strongly recommended by the manufacturer that the Ironite be watered in well by the consumer and not to be used when heavy rain is expected (causing run offs to streams, lakes, and ponds).

The manufacturer also claims that the Ironite contains Mercury, "a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm."

There is an interesting study commissioned by the Dallas Morning News about lead and arsenic in the Ironite that I urge you to read and form your own educated opinion.  You'll  find it at

To use the mineral supplement, we would have to use an immense amount of the trace elements for many many years for it to be harmful.  We have used these trace elements sparingly and with great caution.  We do not want to harm ourselves, the birds and the bees, and whatever else visits our garden.

The Ironite may be obtained from home improvement stores and garden centers and it is certainly a decision that you will make about using trace elements.

Keep hydrated.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Return of the Owl

Monday morning came with a peaceful and quiet start of a new day and a new workweek.  The kids were back in school; there was no sound of traffic, and there was no twitter from the birds in our park.   While we were waiting for the coffee pot to perk, we watched the grass grow.

What flew in the sunshine and created a fleeting shadow?  It landed in our pond.  It was the return of an owl.  It looked somewhat smaller than the owl that had visited us before.  Maybe this was an off spring.  It landed on one of the PVC pipes holding the net over the pond to prevent birds from catching our goldfish.

The owl came without interference from crows and the local bird population in our trees.  The morning remained still and quiet.  The owl was preening himself in the sunshine that was breaking through the tall cedar trees across the creek. He may have been in search of a tree to get a nap.

My husband went on one side of the enclosed pond area and the owl looked at him to see what he was up to while I came from the other direction with camera in hand.  His head swiveled around and he looked at me with curiosity in his big dark eyes.  What?  The two of you?

The owl flew up into the large pine tree but soon returned to his perch on the PVC pipe, all the while keeping an eye on us.  My husband went out to the garden to feed the compost pile and cut some okra. He returned to the house and the owl was still our guest.

The owl returned again on Tuesday morning.  This time, he was accompanied by an assortment of noisy birds, mostly Blue Jays and/or Mocking Birds.  Some dove down on the owl on the PVC pipe.  The owl had now positioned himself directly on the net.  Oh, my gosh!  What if he got himself all tangled up in the net?  I didn't have to worry about him.  He was able to move around rather freely and the net held.

From my viewing area in the summer kitchen, to my horror I noticed the tractor cat running across the yard and directly for the pond area.  She is a small cat and if the owl couldn't get to the fish, maybe a running cat would provide for an interesting hunt and a tasty breakfast.

I rushed out to be with the cat that had to do her business.  Gee, woman!  Cat returned to a cool house and the owl decided to leave and we heard the birds escort him out of their territory.  Quiet was restored but something had to be done with the tall grass even in the mid 90 F degree temperature.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rocks of Ages

Rocks of all kinds, sizes, shapes, and colors are attractive to so many gardeners to have around the yard. Flower beds and tree areas are marked with rocks and even drive ways are marked with rocks.  We have carried rocks from Virginia to put around our small pond.  Territories and borders are marked with rocks, some large boulders in many cases, and most often hiking trails are marked with rocks.

A cairn is a man made pile of rocks made as a marker.  If you live in an area and find rocks in your garden, stack them up and make your own cairn or monument.  Rocks has been used for ages to make walkways and the imagination is endless.

I have collected a bunch of red granite rocks from the High Coast area in Sweden.  They have been shaped by the waves and water from the heaven and the sea.

When going though customs, I have often been asked if I had rocks in my luggage.  Of course, I did.  Some souvenirs are more precious than others and more natural, too.

These rocks, I keep inside.  I use them as part of a rustic decoration and a way of bringing outdoors inside.  

I was surprised to find  that they fitted so well and stayed stacked on top of each other.  Of course, they could easily be  knocked down.  I found out that some people used glue to keep the rocks in place.   

Let's take a moment to remember Robin Williams who brightened our lives and made us laugh.     

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Sweet Tomato Jam

The other day, we went to the Farmer's Market again.  Our tomatoes are all gone and the vine is pulled up.  We don't want it to stay in the ground to invite nematodes.  At the Farmer's Market, my husband bought a huge water melon and I couldn't say no to a basket of glistening red tomatoes.  My husband also bought a basket of peaches at one stand and I bought a basket of South Carolina peaches at another stand..

I got too many tomatoes so I decided to make Tomato Jam.  I had read too many yummy recipes and they all sounded delicious.

Some people like to take the skin off by quickly blanching the tomatoes and then peeling the skin of relatively easy.   The same people also like to remove the seeds from the tomatoes.  Now, all you have to do is chop or dice the meaty fruit.  I kept the skin and the seeds.

These are the ingredients that I used:

2 and 1/2 lbs tomatoes, chop or dice as finely as possible
1 medium yellow onion, also finely diced
Some fresh and peeled ginger, cut it lengthwise (to be removed later)
Sprigs of rosemary (to be removed when cooking is done)
Almost a full cup of light brown sugar
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
Scant pinch of red pepper flakes
1 stick of cinnamon (2 and 1/2 inch long, broken, and also to be removed later)
1/4 tsp each ground cumin and cloves

Mix it all together and cook for about an hour or until somewhat jammy like.  The "jam" turned out to be rather sweet.  It reminds me more of salsa than jam.  I have not yet figured out how to use this sweet jam.

Lesson learned:  Perhaps I should have removed the seeds as well as the skin because the seeds with that part of the fruit consist of a lot of water.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

The Pond

Earlier this summer, my husband worked on PVC pipes and netting to protect the goldfish from becoming breakfast for the tenacious blue heron that has been with us ever since we built the pond.  The heron still comes and visits now and then.  Let me tell you:  he is one sneaky bird!

Sometimes, you might be able to hear the heron go crax crax at night while nesting or resting in treetops.

One time, my husband went out to feed the fish and what should he see? but the blue heron ever so
carefully backing out from under the net.

We had a rather low and flat PVC contraption across the pond and we had to try something else, something more attractive.  So he used the PVC pipes again.  They are rather pliable to work with as well as inexpensive.  Attractive?

We still are able to see the water lilies and the frogs are able to move around any way and anywhere.
Some of the vegetation need to be removed from time to time and it easy to tilt one of the corners.

We are also able to feed the goldfish; the fish food (flakes) fall easily through the net.  So far the goldfish have been safe from predators.

The blue heron is still visiting the pond area from time to time but we think that he has learned his lesson and that he is too smart to get tangled up in the net.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Simple Banana Bread

On one of the hottest days, why not fire up the oven and make some simple banana bread?  Bananas are always in season, or so it seems, but they usually don't last very long in our household.  This time, the bananas turned a bit  brown before we could eat them all so instead of feeding the compost pile, I decided to make banana bread.

Loaves of Banana Bread
This bread is easy to make and not too many utensils are needed.  Start by melting 1/3 cup of margarine and greasing and flouring a 4 x 8 inch loaf pan.  Then mash 3 medium ripe bananas in a large bowl and add the melted margarine.

Mix in 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp baking soda, a pinch of salt.  Stir in 3/4 cup of sugar, more or less depending on how sweet you want the bread.  Beat the egg and mix that in, too. Finally, add 1 and 1/2 all purpose white flour.  I also added a smidgen of cinnamon and nutmeg (optional).

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 1 hour for starters.  You may want to add another 10 minutes to this time.  Check for wellness by inserting a wooden stick (toothpick) into the center and if it comes out clean, it is done.

Remove from oven and let the loaf completely.  Remove from the pan and slice with a serrated knife (bread knife) to avoid crumbling.  Eat and enjoy.

Stay hydrated.
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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Deep Fried Okra

Planted in rows, the okra makes a beautiful hedge with light yellow/beige flowers. Okra is a warm weather crop and a staple in gumbos, but how do you get children to eat okra and like it?  It is slimy and it is not . . .is not!

Earlier this week I wrote about Sonny's Bar-B-Q place and as one of their sides, they served deep fried okra and it was delicious.

I don't have a deep fryer pan and I only cook with Canola oil and that is using it sparingly but I wanted to re-create the deep fried okra as we had at in Sonny's.

At this time, we get okra every other day to make a serving for my husband and myself.  To make the deep fried okra, I cut up the okra into small bite size pieces and set them aside while I make a flour mixture and an egg/milk mixture.

For the dry mixture, I grate a slice of dried bread and add it to white all purpose flour (and/or some cornmeal, tool).  For the wet mixture, I beat one egg with a little milk.

In my skillet, I add enough oil to cover the okra and let it heat up.  In the meantime, I dunk the okra in the egg/milk mixture and then in the plate with the flour mixture.  The oil is hot and I carefully add the okra into the oil.  It does not take but a few minutes for one side to brown and I turn over the okra with a spatula to brown on the other side.

When the okra is golden brown, I remove them and place them on a plate covered with paper towels to soak up excess oil.  The fried okra is served with a small bowl of ranch dressing for dunking.  Eat and enjoy.

Stay hydrated.
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