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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Composting Lessons: Be wary of the seed

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Well, now I know why they tell you not to put anything with seeds into the compost.

We laid down some of our homemade compost in with our fresh dirt for our two new raised beds back in March. For over a month, we’ve had fast-growing, gargantuan rogue plants popping up everywhere before a single seed we had planted breached the surface. And I mean everywhere! Both beds were constantly coughing up these succulent, determined little shoots.

While I am all for upholding the old adage of “live and let live,” not knowing what this alien, uninvited greenery could be made my partner and me leery. We’ve left this one grouping (pictured above) to continue to grow, but pulled every other one (at least 30 in count) for fear they would choke out the seedlings. And we still have no idea what these mystery plants could possibly be. I can’t remember anything we’ve eaten with seeds that were THAT much in number. All I know is that there is more compost where that came from… so there’s plenty more of these rogue food seeds ready to sprout when we build more beds next year and lay down another layer of compost.

Maybe come May or June, this plant’s fruit will solve our mystery. And maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or maybe not!

But until then, a word of warning to you: When making a compost, be sure to avoid putting anything with a seed. Because goodness knows what will sprout in your garden!

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.

Composting basics

Gardens are a great way to help lower your grocery bill, get you moving around for some physical exercise, and provide a sense of pride that, “Hey, I grew that!” It’s simply satisfying. And one way to ensure that a garden grows to its fullest potential is to fertilize it with a layer of composted dirt. Want to start a compost bin of your own? Here are some tips.

Compost being spread over dirt in a raised bed.
Compost being spread over dirt in a raised bed.

What to put into your compost:
– Fruit and veggie scraps, peels and rinds
– Coffee grounds and filters
– Tea bags and tea leaves
– Used paper napkins, plates (no waxy coating) and paper towels
– Newspaper and other non-colored paper with only black print (no colors!)
– Plain cooked pasta or rice
– Stale cereal, bread, and crackers
– Olive pits, nut shells (not walnuts)
– Wine corks
– Toothpicks and bamboo skewers
– Shells (eggs and crustacean)

What NOT to put into your compost:
– Meat or fish
– Bone
– Dairy products
– Grease
– Animal/human waste
– Weeds, diseased plants, roots
– Charcoal ash
– Plastic or glass

It doesn’t hurt to mix organic dirt or organically produced livestock manure for a good base as you build the rest of your compost. And it’s helpful to have a nice balance of wet (veggies, plants) with dry (coffee grounds, paper) materials.

Good luck, and enjoy your fresh dirt and future gardens!

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

The fresh connection

The fresh connection

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I brought home our first-ever CSA (community supported agriculture) care package from an area organic farm. A CSA is simply an agreement where you pay a local farmer a certain amount for a set period of weeks, for which in return you get a weekly bag of the farm’s crop. They get the monetary support they need for daily operation, and you get a very healthy reward. Win-win for everyone.

When I ever got this bag home, I swore it was related to a clown car. The food just DID NOT stop coming, or so it seemed. This bag was simply BRIMMING with goodies, with even some greens I couldn’t identify. But that never scares us away. It just makes it more fun!

There were fruits, veggies, greens, spices… everything you could ask for. Two weeks later, I’m still trying to get through the last of it. And it was only $25.

Also let me tell you that when it comes to food, nothing says fresh better than taking your produce out of your “shopping bag” (pay no attention to the WHOLE FOODS logo on the side, does not indicate origin!) and each item is still covered with dirt and silt from the ground. They were probably only a few hours old out of the earth.

Aaaaaaaah!

Still think it’s expensive to eat SOUL-fully? Search for yourself to find local organic farmers in your area, and see if they either have Farmer’s Markets or offer CSAs. I don’t think that you would regret it.