Jan 21

Small Space Gardening

Gardening Jones looks at taking a large garden down to a more manageable size as she gets older.

As I mentioned in my last post, we are downsizing the gardens this year. Dramatically down. From about 800 sq. ft. plus containers, we're going down to less than 200 plus containers. In the pic above the colored areas were all planted last year. What it doesn't show is on the left, the yellow box labeled Garlic used to sit next to 10 other 4x4 beds that will be taken down.

There's not a lot of room to plant; I need to be sure what I want.

So here's what I expect:

-To go from 70-80 tomato plants to 16. Last year was so bad for tomatoes that our harvest was too little to can, so hopefully these few will produce enough that I won't feel like my efforts were lost.

-No more sprawling squash vines. I'm the only ones that eats the squash anyway, so I am going to limit myself to a few varieties like the AAS winner Winter Honeybaby. I grew this last year and it is delicious! I may try this in a planter.

-The same goes for watermelon. There is nothing that can compare to homegrown, so I will be vertically growing Sugar Baby and Mini Love. These are my favs and take up little space, yet they yield well and taste wonderful.

-Skipping potatoes all together since we rarely eat them. We started growing them because of their high levels of pesticides and other toxins. Over the past few years their place on the Dirty Dozen list has dropped, not necessarily because they contain less toxins, but because other fruits and vegetables are getting worse.

-No more attempts at broccoli and cauliflower. I give up, you won. 😉 I will grow some Napa cabbage for Kimchi, and some wee small Tatsoi for stir fry. Have you noticed a shift to a healthier diet? Yeah, that's part of this too.

-I don't need 6 kale plants and a full bed of chard. Two of each will be plenty for our daily smoothie needs.

-Skip the corn. That's what farmers' markets are for.

-I will grow celery again, but also not as much; I had 8, we really only needed 2.

-No more sweet potatoes, well, maybe. I love them, he doesn't, and they are high in carbs which we are watching. The maybe is because of this:
Gardening Jones is growing her own sweet potato slips.

These sweet potato slips are from the last of our 2017 crop. If they survive until planting time, they are going in. There's only a few, and they are a bush variety so won't take up much room. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Other than that, I will be growing smaller amounts and or more compact varieties of what I grew before. I do suspect I will become the owner of a few more large containers. 😉

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Jan 16

We’re Downsizing the Gardens. There, I Said it.

Gardening Jones looks at growing a smaller garden.

A co-worker in her late 70's told me the day she felt old was when she had to sit down to get her underwear on. I remember my Dad, a Navy man and lifelong swimmer said the day he felt old was when he went to dive into the swimming pool, and opted to use the ladder instead.

I get it. Getting old is when your body finally lets you know in no uncertain terms that it isn't going to do what it used to anymore.

The pic above is from a few years ago. Last year's garden wasn't nearly as plush and well tended. It was difficult for me to get down, and worse, back up, to plant the corn.

I almost lost my balance weeding, and really thought I was going into the onion bed head first.

It's time to make a significant change, and yes, it makes me feel old.

Maybe when we are actually making the new garden area I will feel better. Maybe I should start exercising and getting ready. 😉

So the garden you see above will have the already falling down fencing taken down and not replaced. The bed on the left will be shut down, and the others built up and planted with perennials or annuals with eye appeal. You know, like okra.

Haha, okay, not really. Well, maybe for the flowers. But it will become a garden more for appearance, and low in maintenance.

We have 15 4x4 raised beds in the front yard. The wooden ones will be disassembled and the wood used to raise these beds up. The 2 plastic ones will be moving to the backyard, along with a few planters. Himself said he will build a few more, so we have 4-5 4x4 beds.

For 2 people with family visiting, that should be enough. Hmmm, it will also be a challenge.

So maybe I'm not actually sitting down yet or using the ladder, maybe it's just a matter of learning to make less do more. I can do that.

Gardening Jones is paring down her seed stash and giving them away.

Which brings me to seeds.

All of these seeds are from 2014-2017, a lot were just purchased last year. Seeds last anywhere from 2 years for picky parsnips, to decades. Many have been opened and planted, some are still sealed.

All of the seeds were purchased, not saved.

I am going to divide these up into boxes, probably 5-6 packed tight, and send them out to randomly chosen readers at the end of this month.

Here's how to enter:

  1. Comment here.
  2. Share this on any social media site I am on (see above icons) and be sure to tag me.
  3. Comment on Facebook.

This gives y'all up to 3 chances to enter. Good luck and Happy Gardening!

Because the real reason to grow food is for the happiness gardening brings. <3

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Jan 10

The Tale of the Vera Bradley Purse

Gardening Jones finds a bag with plenty of room for her stash.
And so it was in June of 2016 I had just bought a new Vera Bradley bag.
Let me just say I don't normally go for a name brand, unless I really feel the quality is better.
Even then, I get something on sale, clearance if possible.

So I had used the bag I had for years, to the point where the shoulder strap was fraying, and it was time for a new one. I really liked the one I chose, it was the perfect size for what I carry, and a pretty pink.

Until that day in June, when I am sitting in a conference room being let go, and I noticed her purse. Not just the same fabric pattern, the Same Exact Purse.

"Crap!' I remember thinking, "Now I'm going to have to get rid of my new purse."

I suppose my mind should have been more on the task at hand, but to be honest I was more relieved at getting fired than anything else.

My job had gone from being respected for the work I was doing into a small town politics and revenge mindset, and frankly I was being treated bad enough that I wanted out.

If you believe in The Secret, that the universe will give you what you really want, well it did that day.

So I promptly emptied out my new purse and found a good home for it. I went back to a small handbag I had, not my favorite, but big enough since I wasn't going to work.

Until these past 6 months back on the job, being treated with respect, and in a much healthier environment.

"You need to get another purse." my husband said the other evening, laughing at mine on the kitchen table. "It looks like your stuff is all going to fall out of that one. You need a bigger one again, to carry all that to work."

Gardening Jones finds a bag with plenty of room for her stash.

Yeah, he was right, and I was happy to find this one on clearance. I love the more intense colors and pattern, they seem to represent my new job better. Vibrant, new. Loud.

But you may be wondering what this has to do with gardening.
Seriously?
Look at the size of thing... I bet it could hold a heckuvalota seed packets! 😉

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Dec 25

My Real Christmas Angel

A true Christmas story of giving from the heart.

Like many newlyweds, we were pretty poor our first Christmas 40 years ago. The angel pictured is a tree topper I had made while we were still engaged, and our only holiday decoration.

I did also make some snowflakes out of white paper to hang in our apartment windows, which was festive enough for us. We were going back to Pennsylvania for the holiday anyway, so not having a tree wasn't a problem. Not to mention the fact that in NYC where we were living they were $35 for even a little one.

Our entire Christmas budget was $30. That would have to cover our combined 9 brothers and sisters and 4 parents. Tight, but doable.

At that time Bill was working for a company that was running the food service for an area college. The hours were long and we only had one car, but I did what I could to help earn some extra cash. I did some door-to-door sales and babysat for his boss Joe, and his wife Mary.

I kid you not.

One evening Mary offered to take me to the mall to shop as I had no other way of getting there. We had fun and I was able to get something nice for everyone on my list. I knew I had only a few dollars left, so was shocked when I looked in my wallet and found a $20 bill.

We were in the car on the way home, and I said "I must have gotten the wrong change from someone. We have to go back."

"We'll never be able to figure out which clerk it was, there were too many. Anyway it's late and we have to get home."

I always considered that to be my Christmas Miracle. Recently Bill and I were reminiscing about Christmases past and this story came up. I mentioned that I had always wondered what had happened.

Then he said "Did you go to the Ladies Room before you left the mall?"

Thinking back, "Yes."

"Did Mary hold your coat and purse?"

"Yes, yes she did."

"I bet she put that money in your wallet. That's the kind of person she was."

I thought back to the scene in the car. She had asked me how much money I had left.

And I remember when I was saying that we had to go back, that there had been a mistake, she was smiling.

It wasn't about the money. It was about the giving.

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Sep 10

Pear Maple Bourbon Butter

Gardening Jones takes this recipe to another level by using fresh homegrown pears and locally made syrup.

Here is the recipe from The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving:

1/2 cup bourbon

1/2 cup maple syrup

4 lbs. (2 kg) pears, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

The instructions are likewise simple: Bring  all ingredients to a boil in a 6 quart (6 L) enamel or stainless steal dutch oven; reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 35 minutes or until pears are soft, stirring often to prevent scorching. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

The directions go on to tell you to process the mix in batches until pureed, pouring into a separate bowl until you are done. I used our Ninja, any food processor will do. You then return it to a boil back in the dutch oven; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until it thickens, darkens, and holds its shape on a spoon. Stir often as needed.

Ladle into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace, remove air bubbles, wipe rim, add the lids and bands and water-bath process for 10 minutes.

Yield: About 6 1/2 pint (250 ML) jars

Here's what actually happened. I had 5 pounds of pears ready to be used, so I added a wee bit more bourbon and syrup, real maple syrup BTW. I could see as I was cooking it down that I was not going to get 6 half pints.

So although maybe I was supposed to cook it down more, as it seems to me a 'butter' should be very thick, it was only at the level of a thick sauce; it hadn't changed color, but it would hold its shape on a spoon.

So I stopped there, happy with what I had. I barely got 4 half pint jars, I was scraping down both the pot and the Ninja to fill that last one.

It is seriously good. If you use a commercial maple syrup the maple flavor will probably be stronger. I really like how the real deal tastes with the fresh pears, so if you can get your hands on some I think it is worth it. I just used an inexpensive Kentucky bourbon though. How smooth it is doesn't come into play here IMHO.

These will be given out at Christmas time, so I use the pretty green lids & bands for that reason.

I'll add a little note: Use as a rub for pork, add to unflavored oatmeal, or use as a fat replacement when baking muffins.

Or maybe I should just attach a spoon. 😉

Find more Ball recipes here, or if you really like to make unusual foods, I highly recommend the book:

Here is a link to the green Ball canning rings and lids.

Please note I am an affiliate of Amazon, and if you do purchase an item using these links I will receive a commission. And thanks!

Recipe reprinted with permission. Recipes provided by The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving. Copyright (c) 2016,
Jarden Home Brands, marketer of Ball(r) and Kerr(r) fresh preserving
products.
Jarden Home Brands is a division of Jarden Corporation (NYSE: JAH).

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Jun 21

A Year in the Life

One year ago today my job lost me.

Gardening Jones shares some thoughts on losing a job, and bouncing back.

Fresh lettuce one year ago

 

I say it that way because at that time, I was considered by many to be the best at what I do in the area. Certainly I had been doing it much longer. :-)

There wasn't a particular reason for letting me go, it was more a matter of bruised egos and small town politics. But no need to go into that.

Less than 2 months later I was offered a similar, but better, job. The only hitch, it would be a new position that I needed to help create. No need to go into that either.

I'm not one to sit and lick my wounds, and expecting to be gainfully employed again in about 6 months (it actually took a year, thank you government regulations) I dove into many DIY projects I had been wanting to get done, some for years.

If we're Facebook friends you may have seen a lot of the pictures posted. Either way, here's a short video compilation I hope you enjoy.

There are two things I didn't do this past year of what I termed Endless Saturdays.

I didn't hardly play music and I didn't hardly write.

I posted a total of 26 blogs this past year, compared to the 3/week I had been writing  Most of those were either recipes from my other site I closed down, or selling soaps.

And although I learned to restring my fiddle, I haven't really played it. I missed a whole summer on the porch. ;'-(

It was only recently I realized why. Plain and simple, I was depressed. I felt like there was a hole me and I tried to ignore it by painting walls. Lots of walls.

You see, as a senior center executive director, at this facility for 13 years, my job was a home.

These seniors were there for me when my Mother died, and happy for me when my Grandson was born.

I know what was wrong now because I am coming back, into this new job that will allow me to give of myself, something I truly need to feel whole.

And guess what? Today I'm writing again, and tonight it will be fiddle, such as it might be, on the porch.

I will be blogging more, including some of the DIY's I have done, and new low-carb scrumptiousness recipes. There may be a few videos in the works, maybe even more music.

Now that I am fully back to myself, I have a whole summer to enjoy sharing it.

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May 03

2 Americans’ Ireland Experience

 

 

Gardening Jones shares some of the sights and sounds she and himself enjoyed while in Ireland.

Guinness... Every last one of them.

It was 10 years ago that himself and meself boarded a plane and flew across the pond to Ireland.

Unlike most tourists, or so they told us, we were not there to discover our family history. We are both of Irish descent though. Himself‘s mother was 100% American-Irish, and while mine was also, my Dad has some Irish blood in him as well. That pushes me over the halfway mark.

Sure we wanted to see the country, but mostly we wanted to experience it. The music. The brogues. Chowder made fresh from the day’s catch.

We also wanted to learn more of the history of the country, which much of the music is based on. So we drove not to the tourist areas so much as the smaller towns and back roads. We went to small museums and local music festivals.

We heard renowned artists like Mick Lavelle and Olcan Masterson in their own elements, in their wee hometowns you might say. Pubs with wooden floors and only a smattering of the locals, people of all generations, there to enjoy the evening.

One thing we hadn’t expected was the language barrier himself would face.

 

You see, when I was a child, my Great Grandmother from Ireland was still alive. To this day I can remember her talking different, I was enthralled by her speech. They tell me that I would talk with the same brogue she had whenever I was around her. Since she lived close by, that was fairly often. And from what I understand, the adults found it delightfully funny to hear.

I still tend to be something of a language chameleon, picking up accents unless I am careful not to, and easily understanding just about any person who speaks differently than me.

This has come in handy over the years. First when I worked with individuals with varying mental and physical challenges, and later on with older people from other countries. Rarely has there been anyone I could not understand.

But that was not the case for himself.

“Tell me when they are speaking English?” he would ask.

“They are speaking English.”

 

What made it even more interesting for us, was the way they looked at him. I may as well have been wallpaper, but everyone looked at him wherever we went. It was as if he was seen as standing out, and I wasn’t. A taxi driver told me “Until you started talking, I would have sworn you were a local.”

But it wasn’t until our last night, sitting in the airport’s pub, they we really found out what they were thinking.

Returning to our table with drinks for us, I told him how there was a gentlemen at the bar trying to guess where all the travelers were from. When he spoke to me he said

“Which county then?” 

“No, America.” says I.

“Well, you could have fooled me” says he.

 

“I wonder where he will think I am from?” responded himself to me as I conveyed what had taken place.

Now let me repeat that my husband is half Irish descent, the rest is ¼ German, and ¼ Italian.  He has ‘shoulders like an ox’ as they say in The Quiet Man, and a thick head of hair. Throughout Ireland, where they looked at him as if he didn’t belong, he wore jeans with a navy blue blazer that only accented his shoulders, and polo shirts.

So when it was time for another round, he went up to the bar.

“What part of Italy are you from?” asked the gentleman.

Actually,” himself responded, “I’m half Irish, and one quarter each German and Italian.”

“Well then,” the gentleman said, “Clearly, Italy won.”

Side Note: When we returned from the trip, I told this story during a slideshow presentation at a senior center comprised mostly of participants that were first generation American-Italians.

They broke into applause.

Please enjoy this video we made of our trip. :-)

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Mar 05

5 Tips for Choosing Veggie Seedlings

So your garden plans are ready, now it's just a matter of time until the local farm and garden nursery stocks their veggie seedlings. And one plant is pretty much like the next, right?

seedlings

Not really.

So before you walk into the arms of that gardening high we all feel, make a few notes as to what to look for:

1. Rethink buying cucumber plants.

And squash and melons for that matter. The few weeks you save by purchasing plants will likely be off-set by transplant shock. Consider buying seeds instead, and direct sowing them after your last spring frost. Many seeds last for years, so you save money as well. Better still, you get to choose the varieties you like.

The exception here is if you are battling squash vine borers, and planting later than usual outside.

Similarly, some plants just prefer to be direct seeded. Examples include lettuce, carrots, beets, corn, okra, peas and kohlrabi.

2. Size matters, but not how you may think.

You don't necessarily want the biggest plants, you want the best. A tomato plant that is flowering, or worse, has baby tomatoes, is too mature for the garden. If you must buy it, pinch off the flowers and fruit. Let it get a good-root hold first. You'll get more fruit in the long run. Likewise peppers. A bud or two is fine, but avoid the ones that are blooming. Here are some more tips on tomatoes.

3. How green is it?

Are the leaves beginning to yellow? Are the stems weak and spindly? If it doesn't look healthy, put it back. The exception is for end-of-season plants that might otherwise be tossed, but those are usually ornamental and hugely discounted or free. When it comes to planting your veggie garden you want the healthiest plants you can find.

These symptoms can have quite a number of cause, including bad bugs or plant stress. Avoid them if possible.

4. Look under the hood.

Are there roots hanging out from the bottom of the cells? Wee ones aren't too bad, but if you see long roots know that the plant has already outgrown its container. This means it is more likely you will cause damage to the roots when transplanting. This isn't usually severe, though it can be; why chance it?

5. Consider the source.

Some plants are treated with Neonicotinoids in an effort to keep them bug-free as they are shipped from the nursery to the store. This insecticide also affects good bugs like bees, and can remain in your garden for years. If the plants aren't labeled, ask. Smaller nurseries can ask their sources, big box stores should know. Or you can just buy organic seedlings and not stress it. The last thing you need is to start harming your pollinators.

Bookmark this or make a note before you head out to buy plants. Something happens to us gardeners when we are around plants, and often all sense seems to take a leave of absence.

Yeah, we've been there.

Learn more:
3 Tips for Transplanting Tomatoes

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Mar 04

Easy Version of Indian Tomato Lentil or Surati Dal

Color Me Delicious.

Color Me Delicious.

Unless I specifically seek out ingredients for a recipe, and even then only if I actually find them, can I follow a recipe verbatim.
So yeah, that pretty much never happens.

This is an example of that, based on a wonderful dish from the city of Surati, in the Gujarati State of India located on the Western coast called Gujarati Surati Dal. Dal refers to lentils basically. Here's the original recipe.

You can use whatever lentils you have on hand. Because we eat lentils a lot, we have brown, pink, and yellow, as well as split peas and mung beans. What can I say. 😉 Here's a link to some of the differences between them.

I went with the pink, aka Lal Masoor Dal or Lentejas Rojas en Espanol. Note the turmeric turned them yellow anyway.

Feel free to improvise, I did.

Ingredients

1 cup dal of choice
2-3 cups water, depending on the lentils
1 cup salsa, homemade if possible
2 tsp. chopped green chili, canned
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. Garam Masala
1/4 tsp. curry powder
2 Tbs. chopped almonds
1/2 Tbs. almond butter (because it was almost empty)
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
S and P if desired

I used my pressure cooker and just timed it for 18 minutes. You can precook the lentils and add the remaining ingredients, or just throw it all in a skillet and let simmer. Your call.

We used our medium salsa, and the results was a very mild taste. Add heat as desired in the form of a hotter salsa, sriracha sauce, chili powder, etc.

Can be used as a vegetarian main dish or add meat if desired. Also makes a great side or even a dip if cooked until thick.

Serve with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with chopped nuts, a fresh chili pepper, and/or lemon wedge.
In the picture is an Indian Puppodum, a cracker if you will.

I wish now I had picked up some mango chutney to go along with it when I was at the market; I've run out of that as well.

Oh well, next trip.
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Feb 25

4 Ways to Get Tomatoes Sooner

It probably dates back to the Victory Gardens, or even before, that suburban gardeners have unspoken competitions as to who would get that first ripe tomato.

For us country dwellers, it is more a matter of feeding the need to taste a sun ripened tomato again ASAP that drives us to find ways to make that a reality.

Here are a few things you can do to make it happen in your garden.

1. Starting Seeds Indoors

It is really easy to start your own seeds, and there is a lot of help online to make your efforts more successful. Usually you start 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date, by starting sooner you can get results earlier. Keep in mind that with most tomato varieties you will need to use at least one additional method to protect those seedlings.
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2. Season Extenders
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These can range from a simple inverted liter soda bottle to more elaborate cold frames, row covers, and even greenhouses. What you choose depends on your budget mostly, but also on how much you want to extend the season. Wall O' Waters are relatively inexpensive and a very effective tool, plus they last for years. You can use clear plastic garbage bags or commercial plastic, just be sure it doesn't touch the plants.

Clear plastic can also be used to warm up your soil sooner, a good idea if you are trying your hand at planting out earlier, most tomatoes need warm enough soil to thrive.
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3. Patio Varieties
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If size doesn't matter to you, consider trying patio tomatoes. Larger than cherry types but smaller than full size tomatoes, these container friendly varieties can be brought indoors if frost threatens. Time them accordingly, but you should be able to get at least a few weeks on the season. If a Wall O' Water fits your container, even better.

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4. Grow Oregon Spring or Legend Tomatoes

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These varieties were developed by Oregon State University through normal plant breeding to be exceptionally cold tolerant. They can be planted outside as much as a month before the last spring frost. Barring a very hard frost, they can take the cold with out additional protection. They produce a nice tomato too.

So here's our plan:

We have started seeds indoors for Oregon Spring and 2 types of Patio Tomatoes. We will use clear plastic to get our bed ready for the Oregon Spring, and will be transplanting the Patio Tomatoes in the greenhouse. If we didn't have that, we would use Wall O' Waters.

We expect to get tomatoes more than a month sooner than we usually do.

One year we actually had some in mid-June, where late July to early August is the norm.

Can we get them even earlier than that?

We'll keep you posted.

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