So unexpected (plus a recipe)

Me? Write a cookbook?

Well, after deciding a meal my husband made was too pretty to eat and took out my new studio lights to take pictures – I was hooked. I have awakened a new passion the past few days to design recipes and artistically and visually capture the love I have for food, cooking, and a SOUL (seasonal, organic, unprocessed and local) lifestyle.

Want to take this journey with me?

Continue reading “So unexpected (plus a recipe)”

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7 ways your garden can save your life

 

Gardening is not just for flower lovers, and is moving out of people’s window boxes and into their backyards. In the past few years, food gardening has increasingly become an activity done to facilitate better physical fitness, healthier eating and well-being.

And science backs this up. Gardening helps you:

Continue reading “7 ways your garden can save your life”

Desert gardening: Miracles do happen!

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As I had mentioned in an earlier post, my partner and I have taken to gardening out here in Arizona. It took eight days and a night for these little beauties to emerge. *chokes back verklempt sigh of pride.*  They began reaching for the sky right after a substantial rainfall this past weekend, that is actually our first for 2014. So far, according to our garden map, we’ve got spinach, thyme, and rosemary racing out of the growing gate this spring.

I’m not surprised at their appearance, though; it’s just the keeping them alive and happy that has been a challenge in my experience.

Although the weather is beautiful and springlike in the desert, our concern lies in the hotter, summer scorching days to come. Currently, we are hand watering by hose (and rain!). But during the triple-digit temperature days, it is almost impossible to go without irrigation, which we’ve yet to set up. But what we have done to help combat the coming sunny onslaught is:

A) Set up the boxes where the sun only passes over it in the morning and early afternoon. Since that side of the yard is always so choked with weeds, we decided to listen to the plants. They tell us it’s a good place.

B) We have bought some thick sun screening that we can drape over the plants beds, which cut down the sun’s intensity by 30-40 percent, and a few degrees. It’s amazing what that little relief can do for any living thing out here.

C) We plan to water only at night. It’s basically useless to do it during the day, because it would evaporate too quickly for the dirt to get a good soak. Plus any watering when the sun is out could burn leaves, and hurt the plant.

And that’s our plan! Keep posted, as we learn together what works – and what doesn’t.

Desert gardening

It’s spring! Well, at least it’s starting to feel a lot like it here in Arizona. We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter thus far.

And so, my partner and I have decided to FINALLY break open the boxes of raised beds I had bought several years ago, shovel out some of our compost dirt that I’d been working on (ongoing) for at least three years, buy some good organic dirt from a local nursery, and finally plant some organic food and herb seeds I’d had lying around the house for years.

My dream of a garden has been held off for so long, because I have been trying my luck with small projects first. But my first few projects did not bode well. My first ivy houseplant died due to an infestation of spider mites (which, I’ve learned, they’re prone to here in the desert). The subsequent ivy also died… mysteriously. My first tomato plant and pepper plant I bought just withered before my eyes once the scorching summer hit. My first two potted seed-start experiments were utter disasters.

It looked hopeless.

But about six months ago, my partner and I bought each other houseplants as housewarming gifts. Those two houseplants have grown to six (and counting!) and are thriving! So, my dream of being able to play in the dirt and dote like a proud mother on strong green plants may soon be a dream come true. I hope to be able to share with you the triumphant stories of my harvests in the next few months.

We planted spinach, tomatillos, beefsteak tomatoes, and cucumbers in one of the raised beds, and herbs in the other such as cilantro, chives, basil, rosemary, catnip, sage, parsley, and lemon balm.

And to think, it all started with a compost bin and some horse manure – and a dream.

Keep posted, as I provide updates on the pitfalls and prideful successes this new adventure in gardening provides! Eat clean, locally, and well, everyone.

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Want to start your own compost? Here are some basic tips.

Teaching people to feed themselves

Gardens – while my black thumb has been a major hurdle personally trying to get one up and running, I’m passionate about them. From the schoolyard young to the mature and elderly, it is never too late to share the magic of tending and growing their own garden for food.

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By Linda Bartlett (Photographer)

Why do I feel this is a vital part of our society? Well, growing gardens fosters a sense of community, first of all. What I mean by that is, how many of you gardeners have grown a type of food and ended up with so much of it come harvest time, that it seemed a waste to let it wither on the vine? What do we do at that point? We’re offering to unload all of this food to anyone willing to take it: Neighbors, co-workers, friends, family. Now imagine for a second that one out of five people in the US had a garden. I’m not even talking everyone, just one out of five. Imagine how much food would be flowing through your neighborhood. Food deserts, what is that? Hunger, what is that? Food insecurity? We could create a lot more community by getting to talk to your neighbor and trade food, sharing, and assisting those in need. And eventually, it could potentially lead to seeds swaps where you are trading seeds with your neighbor for a variety of lettuce or tomato you’ve never grown before.

Secondly, it just makes sense to teach people to grow their own food because it is cheaper in the end! So many times, I have mused to my partner, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be snacky and just go out into the backyard and snag a fruit from one of our trees, or grab just enough cilantro for my salad instead of a huge bunch at the store that sometimes goes to waste?” The only investment you make is time.

Thirdly, it negates the worry about GMOs and pesticides in our foods if we are buying and trading organic seeds. If you have a home garden, you have so much more control over how your food is grown. You can rest assured that the food your kids pick from the garden in between bouts of throwing the football or biking around the neighborhood is nutritious, natural, and healthy for them.

Now that I have said my piece, I wanted to share some information from the Community Food Banks of Southern Arizona about garden grants with deadlines coming up.

There are three grants – one for schools, one for any charitable or educational nonprofit program in the US, and another that can be put toward any number of garden projects for schools, 501c3s, food banks, community gardens, colleges, libraries, prisons, senior programs, etc.

If any of these speak to you, check out these links, and see if you can start a food revolution for your community!

Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Grant
Award: $500 in garden supplies, plants, compost, etc.
Due Date: Jan. 17, 2014

Award: $300 cash + ~$200 in other garden perks
Due Date: Jan. 5, 2014
Award: Rototiller (pictured right) – $350 value
Due Date: March 7, 2014

Gemme’s famous “from seed” experiment

Well, for good or for ill, I have opened up four packets of veggie/herb seeds, and planted them in a starter situation to see what happens.

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I took spent newspaper rolls (biodegradable – and good for your compost bin, as well!), cut them in half and planted them firmly inside of a the bottom of an egg carton. I filled each half-roll with organic from-seed dirt, planted the seeds, took a deep breath (and yes, maybe even sped through a prayer), and set them aside after wetting them down.

It feels late in the season to plant. But in Arizona, there is no such thing as spring frost. So the weather is probably more than perfect to coax a seed to sprout.

Why am I so hesitant, though? Well, my sordid history with plants looks more like willful herbicide. I’ve taken home plants from the store all excited to repot and start my much-sought after garden. Yet within a week, most have bitten the proverbial dust. The best I did was an indoor ivy, before spider mites made a feast of it. And with three all-too-curious cats and very few light-heavy areas in the house, I just gave up on growing anything for a while.

But this year is the year, for some reason. So …

The sample specimen hopefuls are: Organic Genovese Basil (because it sounds aromatic, and possibly good for future recipes), organic beefsteak tomato (c’mon, the whole point of a garden is having tomatoes!), green onions (yum), and the queen of the crop, the wonderful smelling rosemary. Even if I don’t use rosemary for food, as it can be overpowering, just using it as potpourri will make for a happy household.

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Rosemary germinates within 14-21 days, so if I’m lucky, it’ll be ready to call a pot a home by April 21 or so.

Chives/green onions are 15-21 days, so it should be about the same time I see those shoots…if all goes well.

My belov’d tomatoes, on the other hand, are much more eager. Within a week’s time by next Sunday, I could see sprouts. God, here’s to hoping!

The basil is just as eager, with a 5- to 10-day germination period.

Once sprouted, I can transplant the seeds WITH the toilet paper rolls, which will eventually rot away naturally.

Many of the plants I’ve brought home in the past were boxstore-bought, and probably not the pick of the crop. Time after time, I’d lose them each one of them, no matter what tactic I tried. Not enough sun? Moved it? Oh maybe it’s too much – moved it again. Not enough water, too much sun?  Or maybe I should let it dry out, get LOTS of sun and….oh, plant, just TALK to me! What do you NEED?!

And so it went. I probably shocked them to death.

On the other hand, I’ve always been terrified of seeds. I can’t explain why. Growing from seed seemed so complicated and frightening. Seeds. Like babies. Breathing on them wrong could cripple their growth, right? Even opening the seed packets this evening made me shake my head in awe. When I usually think seeds, I think gigantic pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, bird seed even! But each of these seeds was something so small and insignificant, so tiny, I would never have looked twice at them out in the wild. To think this tiny wisp of organic matter that could fit three shoulder-to-shoulder through the eye of a needle would grow into such large plants is indeed amazing.

Despite their underwhelming size, they still made ME feel insignificant. I handled them like a frightened yet already proud mother seeing this tiny “creature” for the first time, depending on me for everything to make it grow strong and healthy.

So today, I am hoping with the right amount of TLC, growing plants from seed may be my salvation. I am hoping they’ll be stronger and more acclimated to my backyard. I want a garden in the worst way, but I’m starting off very small: Four potted plants

Baby steps. Talk to me in a week 😉