Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas Present(s)

Of course much of what happens at holiday time centers around giving and receiving.
This is a wonderful opportunity to teach children.

christmas 2012

our little tree

When ours were old enough to understand, we would take an afternoon and go through their toys.
“If you want good things to come to you” we would say, “you need to make room.”

It was a simple concept and the decisions were difficult, but they learned valuable lessons about sharing with others (some toys were chosen to be donated) and about not being materialistic.

You see, we didn’t have much money in those days, so it wasn’t like they had an abundance in the first place.

They never knew that; because they also learned that when you have enough to share, you have enough.

Here’s to a wonderful 2013 everyone!


Christmas Future

Christmas is the most exciting time of year for many kids.

“Mommy, when are we going to make the Christmas cookies?”
“Mommy, when are we going shopping?”
“Mommy, when are we going to get the tree?”
“Mommy, when are we going to watch Rudolph on TV?”

Multiply that by 2 and repeat throughout the day.

Christmas Calendar

parental sanity saving device

In an effort to reduce the stress this was causing both to them, and especially to me :-P , a Christmas Tradition was born.

Every year as Thanksgiving approached, I would draw a calender showing all the upcoming events and when they could expect them.
Each child would take turns crossing off the days, and both were happy they knew what to expect.

“Ahhh..” sighed Mom.

Not only did it alleviate the holiday stress, something unexpected happened.
Mom became more organized.

Christmas Past

The most wonderful thing happened this year- Mandolin and I became grandparents, just one week before Christmas.

our grandson Sprout


With the holiday approaching, my daughter and her husband started considering what they will do when the time comes to talk to Sprout about Christmas.

You see, we didn’t tell her and our other kids about a jolly fat man in a red suit, we told them the story of St. Nicholas; and concluded it with
“And although he lived a long time ago, each year his giving spirit fills the house with happiness.”

If they thought that spirit came down a chimney and said Ho Ho Ho, well they didn’t get that story from us.


his eyes how they twinkle

Of course this leaves out that perceived parental advantage of
“Santa is watching, you better be good.”

But then, that was something we never really needed.

The Story of St. Nicholas

From All of Us to You

By their very nature, gardeners are a giving sort; always happy to pass on tips and seeds.

Since this is the season of giving, we decided to celebrate by handing out 5 signed copies of our gardening manual to you.
Well, maybe to you- an online randomizer will pick 5 names from all those submitted.

how to get more from your plants

Santas not included

For a chance to win, all you need do is post a comment here. Perhaps you have a favorite garden quote or a tip you would like to share.
Those would be wonderful.

Maybe there is a particular variety of veggie others would be happy to know about, or a natural way to get rid of a garden pest that you have tried successfully.

Please share with everyone, any time until the end of the year, and your name will be entered.
One entry per person, one prize per household.

Good luck and Thank You for stopping by!
NOTE 1/1/13: And the winners are:
Sharon S., Amy, Diana, Steve G., Beth, and since I found another copy in the box, Rafael

Foolproof and Fabulous

There are so many varieties of beans to choose from, it could make your head spin.
Purple, green, yellow, and red, pole and bush beans, snap, shell and dry beans- whoa!
A big variety is nice if you have the room and the time to keep up on the harvest.

a variety of garden beans

many shapes, colors and sizes

If you can’t always get to the garden when you need to, there are at least two kinds of beans you can grow that are all but fail-safe.

Kentucky Wonder Pole Bean

Kentucky Wonder Pole Bean

This tasty bean is also very productive. The best part though is that you can eat is as a young green bean, or if it gets too big for that you can still simply shell and enjoy.
It doesn’t stop there either. If you don’t harvest it in time, you can still just let the brown seeds dry in the pod to store on the shelf.

Tiger's Eye bush bean

Tiger's Eye Bush Bean

Whereas the Kentucky Wonder is best as a green snap bean, the Tiger’s Eye is most often used dried. It can also be eaten as a snap bean or shell bean, so if you need a few extra fresh beans for supper, go ahead and harvest some early.

So here’s the deal:
You plant these two varieties of beans.
Want some snap beans? You’ve got ‘em.
Didn’t get the time to harvest them? No problem, they can wait.
Forgot to water the garden? That’s okay, they don’t mind.

It’s hard to go wrong… don’t you just love it?

Seed source: Botanical Interests
Kentucky Wonder packet illustration by Donna Clement
Tiger’s Eye packet illustration by Susan Rubin

The Three Sisters of the Field

Many gardeners have heard of this technique of growing corn, pole beans and squash together. A lot of what is on the internet IMHO does not explain it right, so you may just be surprised to know:

The beans fix nitrogen into the soil, which the corn loves (you probably knew that).
The corn supports the beans (yeah, that’s not news.)
The vines of the winter squash help keep away deer (really?)

All three sisters are allowed to mature in the field, and harvested together.
(Say what?)
Yes my friends, the main reason the indigenous people of this country planted these three together was so that they could simply return in the fall to harvest.

growing winter squash

winter squash

The corn they grew is what is referred to as field corn. The ears are allowed to dry in the husk, and the corn was later ground into corn meal.
The squash was winter squash that prefers at least one frost before harvesting.
The beans were also allowed to mature in the field; you see, they planted dry beans.

Pretty smart, huh?

corn as part of the three sisters of the field

give corn a head start

If you want to try this in your garden, here’s what to do:
Plant the corn first. If you don’t want to grind it into corn meal, plant a variety used for popping.
Wait until the corn gets a good start, knee high is minimum but waist high is better. Then plant the pole-type dry beans close to the corn.
You can plant the squash at the same time, either as seeds or as young plants.
Mulch and water as needed and let them go.

drying dry beans

finishing the process

Come fall, and after a frost or two, bring the squash indoors.
Store in a cool area of your house or in the garage.

Place the dry beans in a paper bag, close and shake well to separate the seeds from the pods. Clean out any debris and store in a cool dry place. If any beans are not completely dry, allow to dry naturally before storing.

Remove the corn kernels from the husk, let continue to dry or finish them in a dehydrator; store like the beans.
Use the stalks as a wonderful fall decoration, or since they do not break down easily, as a weed barrier.

It’s the End of the World, As We Know it.

Today is the winter solstice, and as such one of our favorite days of the year.
It means simply that the winter tide has turned and the days will be getting longer- little by little we are headed towards spring.

Today also happens to be the day the Mayans stopped keeping track of their calender… scaring more than a few people.
I’m guessing it was a simple matter of the funding stream for the project running out.

So if today isn’t the last day of your life, what is it?
Y’all are soo smart! Yes- it’s the first day!
With that in mind, these are my wishes (and unsolicited advice) for you to make the rest of your life way better:

homemade egg rolls

healthier fast food

1. If you know you should quit, just do it.
Stopping smoking was the hardest, and best thing we ever did. It really sucks, really really…but it does get easier over time.
Seriously, it took 3 months before I could wake up and place my feet on the floor before I thought of smoking.
Now, it’s hard for Mandolin and I to remember ourselves as smokers.

Whatever you are doing that you know in your heart you shouldn’t be- take the time to suffer through it and stop.
It will get better, I promise.

eat healthy

eat fresh

2. Think about what you stuff in your face.
We have found that if we avoid meat, dairy and breads, we feel better. For us, that works.
If you feel wonderful, rock on. If not, try a change in your eating habits. After all, you know that old saying ‘you are what you eat’ is so true.
Please don’t ‘Diet’ – just make a personal lifestyle change.

yoga on the wii

yoga on the wii

3. Take a clue from the animals.
If you have a cat or dog, consider following their example- nap and stretch whenever possible. Consider a 5 minute yoga stretch in the morning or before bed. It can do wonders!
Naps might be a little harder to come by.

gardening is meditative

gardening is meditative

4. Don’t sweat it.
If today was the last day of your life, how would feel about it?
Did you make time for what was really important?
It’s never too late to start you know.

Here’s the thing, and it may sound weird- but we’ve gotten to know a lot of you, and there are many others out there reading this.
If today WERE the last, our lives would have been better off because of you.
Since it’s NOT, we want to help yours be better because of us.

The Secret of Life
The song reference.

3 Reasons to Rotate Your Crops (Otherwise, Don’t Bother)

Most gardeners would agree that crops should be rotated, but the reality is that this is not always necessary.
If you have a small garden, it may even prove impossible.

Think about it.
If you are growing any perennial fruit, vegetables or herbs, you already have crops that aren’t getting rotated.
Why sweat the others?

potatoes in the home garden

with a veggie garden...

1. Disease.
Late blight is most often the reason gardeners rotate tomatoes and potatoes. First off, if you didn’t have blight, there is no reason to rotate.
Secondly, since blight is airborne and can travel many miles, rotating won’t prevent it.
If you don’t want to rotate be sure to mulch your crops well, and water at ground level. Also consider a blight resistant variety.
If you have good strong plants they will be better able to fight off any disease, just like you and me.
Many a gardener has grown their tomatoes in the same spot for years… you just don’t hear about that.

peas in the home garden

you will have them eating out of your hand

2. Pests
If you have had an infestation of nasty little buggers like squash bugs, or cucumber beetles, just to name two, you should get those crops and their relatives as far away from the area as possible. If you don’t have enough room to do that, you may want to skip growing them a season or so until you have wiped them out.
If you have not had a problem, don’t worry about it.

okra and peanuts in the home garden

happy little campers

3. Nutrients
If you plant the same family of crops in the same spot year after year, eventually the food they want will be gone. Unless, that is, if you put it back.
Replenishing your soil is an essential part of growing beautiful, tasty veggies.
Long before I ‘knew better’ I had grown gorgeous carrots in the same bed for a number of seasons. They were mulched well to take them far into the winter months, and good compost and old manure were added each spring.
They were happy, I was happy.
Since then it has been a crap shoot. Every time I move them is like starting over, and last year was the last time.

growing tomatoes in the home garden

happy tomaters

“GJ, surely you’re not telling us we don’t have to rotate all of our our crops?”
Well, as a matter of fact I am…
and don’t call me Shirley. :-)

Conversely, there are benefits to crop rotation that apply more to those with large areas of land. Read this info on Wikipedia.

Confession #51 The Brown & Yellow Chicken

We all have snippets of life that we will always remember.
Not the major occasions like weddings, births, and funerals; sure we remember those.
It’s those little moments that have meaning to us, perhaps only to us.

baby chicks

chicks in assorted colors

Such was the case many years ago.
My father had retired and he and mom opened a ceramic studio in their basement.
They asked the kids to help by making samples of some of the pieces, something the students could use as a guideline.

free ranging chicks

free ranging chicks

Of course I chose a few gnomes, and also a chicken cookie jar.
I had never actually seen a live chicken before, and this was back in the days before the internet and no immediate source of info.
Not wanting to make the cookie jar too plain, I painted it yellow and brown.

backyard chickens

backyard chickens

When my mother saw it she laughed “Chickens are yellow when they’re ready to be cooked, but they’re white when they still have their feathers on.”
Not only did she laugh, not intending any harm of course, but her students found it quite funny as well.

“How could I be so stupid?” I thought, “Why didn’t I just paint it white?”

a brown and yellow chicken

a real brown and yellow chicken

That cookie jar on the studio shelf seemed to taunt me every time I stopped by.
Until a few years ago when we first got our own chickens.

Now the shop is closed and the cookie jar sits quietly in our kitchen with a look as if to say “You were right all along.”

chicken cookie jar

not far off after all

How to Grow -Chinese Cabbage

how to grow chinese cabbage

assorted varieties

Also known as ‘Oriental Cabbage’ and ‘Asian Greens, this relative of head cabbage has similar likes- mainly cooler temperatures and shorter days. Like other greens it can also handle a little more shade than many veggies.

Napa cabbage is often bundled into this category, but it is a different subspecies with slightly different needs.
More on that if we ever grow any.

tatsoi in the home garden

taller tatsoi

You can start the seeds indoors if you must, but Chinese Cabbage really does not like to be transplanted. If it’s essential, I would suggest using a degradable pot so you won’t need to disturb the roots.

We prefer to direct seed in early spring, about 1/4 inch deep and 6 inches apart.
In warmer climates, plant late summer to early fall.

how to grow chinese cabbage

tatsoi short variety

Our favorite variety to grow is Tatsoi. It is a deep dark green as you can see, and it tends to not bolt as soon as some of the others.

Botanical name: Brassica rapa, subspecies chinensis
Common names: Bok choi, Pak choi, Bak choi and other varieties
Days to Germination: 1-3 weeks
Spacing: 12-18″
Days to Maturity: 45-60 days
Yield: One plant per seed, but you can cut and come again
Use: Fresh in salads or cooked in soup, stir fry.
Storage: Best fresh, you can also freeze it.

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