Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Extra Tomato Recipe

It is that wonderful time of year when I am inundated with tomatoes. Every morning there are more beautiful, red fruits just begging to be picked. It really is true that there is NOTHING like a home grown tomato. I have a super fast and delicious recipe for all those extra guys you have from your garden. "Tomato Ziti" is ready in less than fifteen minutes and it's healthy to boot.

ziti pasta (whole wheat is best)
tomatoes (I used grape because that's what I had the most of at the time)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup Parmesan cheese
red pepper flakes to taste (I like mine spicy so I add a tablespoon)
basil (optional)

Put your pasta on to boil in salted water. Follow the al dente directions on the box for how long to cook. While that's going, heat your tomatoes in a saute pan with a tablespoon of oil. Cook on medium heat until tomatoes start to burst. Add the olive oil, Parmesan cheese and pepper flakes and gently combine with the tomatoes. Toss with the drained pasta  and add basil leaves just before you serve. Scrumptious!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Yellow Cukes?!

I got a little lazy this year when I planted my garden. Usually, I am meticulous about keeping a journal with what I planted and where, where I bought the seeds, how things were progressing. I even made little drawings. But I had just started a new job this year and I was growing ALL of my plants from seed. This was a lot of work because I live in the city and I do not have a greenhouse (but I will one day!). I was constantly moving trays from the top of my refrigerator to my car during the day, trying desperately to get things heated up and sprouting. These are all poor excuses for why I didn't make the time to journal this year. I had planted one of my beds with nothing but cucumbers but as the plants started to mature, the veggies looked more like squash. They were only slightly green but mostly yellow and very prickly. Had I mixed them up? Was it because  I was trying a different variety from what I had grown before? What was going on?

Once I picked the fruit off of the plants, brought them inside and gave them a good scrubbing I cut into the mystery veggie with bated breath. Indeed, it WAS a cucumber. A little sour, but still quite good. There were a few more seeds than I am used to, but still perfectly edible. So what had I done wrong? Most likely I waited too long to harvest them. I was expecting them to be long, lean and green but this was not the case. If I had picked them sooner they would have been sweeter. Another issue may have been inconsistent watering. You should never let the soil dry out and by the same token, never over water. Next year I plan on getting an irrigation system set up so I won't have to worry when I'm out of town and I'll also be sure to pick my cucumbers as soon as they are ripe and not let them sit on the vine for too long. Another possible reason for yellowing is missing nutrients in the soil.The solution to that is to add more organic compost throughout the season. One of the great things about gardening is each year is different and every season teaches you new lessons! I'll take note of these and have an even more productive garden next year.

Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes,and basil from my garden drizzled with oil & vinegar

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Raised Garden Beds

A raised garden bed has many benefits. First, you can control the quality of the soil.  Even if you're stuck with not so perfect dirt, you can add store bought organic soil that will create better growing conditions. The sides of the raised bed will stop the soil from washing away as well. Another pro is that the ground will not become compacted because you won't be walking on top of it.  If soil becomes compacted, the plants will not grow as well because air and nutrients will not easily reach the growing vegetable and the roots will not be as strong.With a raised structure, you can easily reach any part of the interior while comfortably kneeling or sitting on the outside. Raised beds can be very attractive and will create an interesting landscape. You can also plant earlier in a raised bed since the soil is warmer because of it's elevation. That means you can harvest sooner!

To build a raised bed, you can purchase a ready made kit or you can construct your own.If you choose to make one, make sure you buy untreated wood so that you can be certain that chemicals will not leech into your food. Of course you can choose to create a bed of any size to fit your needs but a bed that measures 4' x 4' will be accessible from any side. Have your local hardware store make cuts for you to make things easier. Usually the first two cuts will be free, but there may be a small charge for subsequent ones. To make one bed, purchase 3 pieces that measure 2'' x 6'' x 8'. I had two of them cut in half. These will form the body of the bed. You'll need four cuts from the other board measuring 2'' x 6"".These will be used to connect the body together. At home I attached the four longer pieces together with galvanized screws and the small pieces in the corners. Your bed is complete and ready  for planting!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Green Mowing

April showers bring May flowers...and the beginnings of grass mowing season. Traditional lawn mowers are gas guzzlers that pollute the air and produce unwelcome noise. You can avoid these irritants if you opt for a greener machine. Electric lawn mowers run on batteries so there's no gas or oil to buy. They are much quieter while still providing great power. While they can be expensive, you should remember that you'll be saving dollars by not purchasing gas and by reducing  maintenance costs. It's also very easy to start. Simply push a button. Goodbye frustrating pull cords! Most come with same features as the gas burning kinds like side discharge, bagging capability and blade height adjustment.

Another option is the push reel mower. This mower seems a bit old fashioned to many people but it is gaining in popularity because of it's many benefits. It is less expensive than other mowers and definitely safer. All you do is push and the rotating blades act like a pair of scissors. It's better for your lawn and provides a super workout. The grass clippings that it leaves behind are excellent for the health of your lawn. No toxic fumes, no pulling your back while you repeatedly try to start it...a reel mower is an exceptional buy if you have a small to medium size yard.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Problem with Plastic Bags

Most of us accept them without thinking twice. We give our groceries to the clerk and she automatically puts them in a plastic bag. Usually a lot of them. Items already in a sack, like a bag of potatoes, get put in another bag as well. It's so commonplace, everyone does it, and no one seems to think about the consequences.

And there are many consequences. Over a trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Only a very small percentage are recycled.  That leaves an enormous amount of plastic floating around our Earth. Many end up in landfills, where it will take up to a thousand years for them to break down. Hundreds are blowing around your town right now, ending up in trees or sewers. More are in our oceans and streams where they kill marine life. Even when the plastic does degrade, its' remnants contaminate the water and soil.

Many countries have taken action by either banning or taxing plastic bags. A few are China, Australia and Ireland. In the United States, several cities are taking action as well, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and The Outer Banks in North Carolina. Many more have legislation in the works. This movement is not going to go away. Plastic bags create too many environmental issues and cost retailers thousands of dollars. The best alternative is to get reusable bags and to use them. Most stores sell them for a low price or you can make your own. Take an old pair of jeans or a t-shirt, cut them up, and sew three sides together to make an up cycled bag. If you can't sew, pull out the glue gun. There really is no reason not to do it. Once you get in the habit of carrying reusable bags with you, you'll soon forget those flimsy, toxic plastic bags. Our world depends on each of us to think and make a conscious decision about what's important to us- destructive convenience or the future of our planet and wildlife.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hardening Off

Before you move your plants to their permanent location, you should harden them off. That means gradually acclimating them to the outdoors. They've been protected all of their lives and if you were to just throw them outside without preparing them, they may die and all your hard work would be for naught. Your plants have had pretty constant temperatures and light and a sudden change could have drastic consequences.

Before taking them outside, check their size. If you started your seeds in a flat they are most likely ready for a bigger container. Carefully loosen them from their present home and move them to a bigger one. Now  is usually  a good time to add some organic fertilizer. Give them a gentle watering and let them get accustomed to their new digs for a couple days. Once you can see that they have adjusted well, it's time to start the hardening off process. To begin, I take mine out for an hour at the warmest part of the afternoon. Make sure they are sheltered from any harsh winds or rains. The next day, extend their time outdoors for an extra half an hour. Keep up this routine until the temperatures outside are ideal for your particular plant. Once the danger of frost is past, it is safe to plant them in your garden.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Composting is the process in which waste is recycled into nutrient rich soil. It has been referred to as "Black Gold" because of how very valuable it is when you add it to your lawn or garden. When your garden is rich in nutrients there is no need for synthetic fertilizers. You are naturally amending the soil and that is good for the Earth and for the health of your family.

What can you compost? From your kitchen you can use leftover produce, coffee grounds, egg shells and tea bags. Fresh grass clippings from your yard are great as well. These items will provide nitrogen. When you compost these you are reusing cooking waste and reducing landfill refuse. Food left to rot in landfills produces methane, a toxic greenhouse gas. The Environmental Protection Agency states that as much as 30% of garbage taken to landfills could be composted.

You also will want to add "brown" waste to your compost pile. This includes paper, cardboard, straw, leaves and small twigs.  These provide carbon, which is essential in the breaking down of all the ingredients into the humus you want. Basically, you want a ratio of 3 parts brown to 1 part green.

You'll need to choose something to keep your kitchen waste in until you can get it outside. You can use an empty coffee tin or any container with a lid. Another alternative is to purchase a bin that is designed to hold your compost. I have one that is so cute, it sits on my counter right beside my stand mixer! It comes with a carbon air filter that absorbs odors. I bought mine from World Market.

You'll also to have choose a method of containing your compost outside. It's best if it is enclosed but it is possible to just have a pile in your yard. You can get one ready made at Home Depot like I did or your can build one yourself out of wood.

To have a successful compost pile you must do several things. Place small twigs on the bottom of your heap to provide drainage and air circulation. Alternate layers of "green" (waste that provides nitrogen) and "brown" (waste that provides carbon). Water the mix and cover. You'll want to keep it moist and you will need to turn the mixture every so often to aid in the breakdown of the materials. The smaller the pieces are, the faster they will decompose. It's ready when it's dark in color and there are no chunks of the materials you added. Be patient and keep at it! It takes time to produce your black gold but in the end you will be rewarded with a rich soil amendment that will give you an abundant garden.