Tag Archives: Vegetable

The Joys and Trials of Gardening


Spring came back, and went mad. After a long winter’s nap, she woke up ready to party hardy.  I’ve battled to keep up as it suddenly seems everything needs doing. Today my back is grumbling and I’m suffering from my annual carpel tunnel flare up.  And still seeking the perfect wrist wrap, one that offers support while allowing some flexibility. I can’t do anything with those wraps that imprison my hand and wrist in unyielding plastic like armor.  I like the Smart Glove but have to wash and dry it often to tighten it back up.  Maybe after two years I need a new one.  Even the simple ace hand and wrist support is helpful.  My best help is ibuprofen.  And the only individuals who want to assist me are quite small, or dogs. Not as helpful as you might think, but that’s the crowd I roll with.

Back to the garden.

“Gardening requires lots of water – most of it in the form of perspiration.”  ~Lou Erickson

“Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.”  ~Author Unknown

“Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.”  ~Lindley Karstens, noproblemgarden.com

My Solution to World Peace


This will come as no surprise to those of you who follow my blog, but I strongly feel and emphatically declare the world would be a far better place if everyone had a garden.  I’m convinced when people are growing things, they’re much less prone to destructive behavior.  Granted, violent extremists (and serial killers) seem beyond redemption, but the rest of humanity would gain immeasurably from a connection with the earth.  To cultivate a garden is to commune with the essence of life and the source of all creation.

“The best place to seek God is in a garden.  You can dig for him there. ” ~George Bernard Shaw

I urge planting herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers in an outdoor plot–convert a patch of lawn if need be–or as part of a community garden. This is a particularly good idea because it brings together people of all ages, from the very young to the elderly, and provides wonderful learning opportunities for children while tapping into the storehouse of knowledge many older people have.   The interaction between those joined in the common purpose of producing food and beautifying their neighborhood helps cultivate the people along with the plants.

Above pic from the site How To Start A Community Garden.

Our church has a communal garden with small plots for those who ask for them.  Folks garden side by side, sharing trials and triumphs and learning together.  More churches could do this if they tilled up part of their yard and put in vegetable plots  instead of only grass.

Sacrilegious?  I don’t think so.

Back to the garden, think sustainable methods, like making compost, and practice organic gardening.   Encourage beneficial insects, butterflies, and song birds to make their home in your yard.  You’d be amazed how many you can attract just by planting a patch of sunflowers and zinnias.

Anything that rots and hasn’t been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide can be used as mulch, although it’s best to compost the material first.  Old hay or straw make good mulch without needing to break down before using.   Different parts of the country have various natural material that can be used.  Organic matter feeds the soil and encourage earthworms.   Remember, as I tell my children and now grandchildren, happy worms make happy dirt.  Worms are the gardener‘s friend.  Non-hybrid, heirloom seed can be saved for next year and shared with others, and old-time flowers can be divided and spread around.

If digging in the earth isn’t an option for you, try growing plants in pots on a patio, deck, rooftop, sunny windowsill, or under fluorescent lights.  These can be fairly inexpensive to set up.   I used to have a stand with long fluorescent lights suspended over it about 6-10 inches above the foliage.   Raise the lights as the plants grow.  You’ll need warm and cool fluorescent bulbs for good plant growth, but not the more costly ‘grow lights.’  Although they’re good too.

“No two gardens are the same.  No two days are the same in one garden.”  ~Hugh Johnson

A film I really enjoyed about how gardening can reform and transform prisoners is Greenfingers with Clive Owen.  The movie is based on a true story which makes it even better, and it’s a love story, another plus, and the fabulous Helen Mirren co-stars.  I also really like actor David Kelly.  He’s wonderful.  The gardens featured  are gorgeous and I never tire of looking at Clive.   This is a feel good movie.

“Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart. ” ~Russell Page

Gardening Is Dear To My Heart~


“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.” ~ Ruth Stout

At long last, after a long, cold winter, spring has returned to the Shenandoah Valley.   If it could always be spring….what joy.   And I’m allergic to it, been on shots and meds for years, but I love it anyway.

And best of all, I’m finally back in the garden.  I come from a long line of plant lovers and inherited the gardening gene.  I’ve passed it on to my younger daughter, my right arm in the garden, but all of my children are fans.  And now, the little people, the grandbabies are our new crop of apprentices. My six yr old grandson is of some real help.  The same cannot be said of the three yr olds.  Toddlers are no help at all.  Nor, I might add, are well-meaning dogs who lie on plants.  One of our dogs, a lab mix, actually eats asparagus, corn and tomatoes.  He’s worse than groundhogs and raccoons, so we’ve secured our fence against him.

My main recommendation when it comes to gardening is to use a lot of compost and natural mulch, like well-rotted hay or straw, even leaves, in your vegetable and flower beds.  Robust plants better resist insects and disease.  Earth worms are a gardener’s best friend and thrive in natural mulch, humus-enriched soil.  I’ve even gone on worm finds and introduced more into the gardens, plus bought them from a reputable online source.  Yes, I’m nuts over worms as are my grandbabies now.  Thanks to my enthusiasm, they think worms totally rock.

Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides or you’ll kill the worms and other beneficial insects.   I mix up an organic brew to spray on susceptible plants to fight diseases and battle our most voracious pests.  I favor a blend of 1 tab. baking soda and 1 tab. liquid copper (both fight diseases),  1 capful (approximately 1 tsp or more) of liquid seaweed or some such sea based fertilizer, 1 tab. neem oil (fights diseases and chewing insects without harming those that don’t chew)  and 1 tsp. Safer’s insecticidal soap mixed in a gallon of water.  *Some directions for Neem suggest mixing one ounce per gallon, but I’ve had some problems with leaves getting burned at that rate.  Nor do I always add Neem to my brew.  Garlic is also good to fight diseases and pests, but must be strained well or it clogs the sprayer.  Always avoid spraying during hot sun or leaves might burn.  And don’t spray Neem on plants that host butterfly larvae.   They chew but turn out quite beautifully so in their case, chewing is allowed. The best plant protection, though, is healthy soil.

My primary focus in gardening is our vegetable, perennial & annual flower and herb beds.  I’m particularly fond of herbs and old-fashioned cottage garden plants, those heirloom flowers and vegetables passed down from generation to generation.  Some of these vintage varieties involve saving seed and ordering from specialty catalogues.  Those herbs and flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and honey bees are of special interest to me. I strive to create a wildlife sanctuary of sorts.  The American love of a chemically dependent green lawn is the opposite of what beneficial insects and wildlife need, and plants for that matter.  Think wildflowers and herbs.  Rejoice in the butterflies and hummers that will follow.

We rotate annual our garden vegetables as well as practicing companion planting.  Time honored combinations we’ve tried, as well as making some of our own discoveries, are to plant nasturtiums and radishes closely around the cucurbit family (commonly called the cucumber, gourd, melon, or pumpkin family) help to deter the squash vine borer and cucumber beetles which are deadly to the plants.   This family is our most trouble prone, so gets the greatest attention when it comes to companion planting.  Radishes are also a good companion for lettuce, spinach, and carrots.  If I were to choose one companion plant it would be radishes and the second, nasturtiums, but there are many excellent choices and we’re learning more all the time about effective combinations.

I interplant garlic with roses and have beneficial effects in warding off some of the pests and diseases that attack them.  *I prefer the old-time roses and David Austen varieties that combine the best of the old with the repeat bloom of the new.  My favorite rose is Abraham Darby by David Austen.

Tomatoes grow more happily when planted near basil.  Peppers also like it.  Sweet marjoram, which reseeds itself for us, is another beneficial herb to interplant with vegetables and flowers.  Mint helps deter cabbage worms.   Pumpkins and squash better survive when rotated from their usual spots.  This year we tucked a pumpkin in among the massive, native clematis vine growing along the backyard fence that we refer to as ‘the beast.’  The borers didn’t find it, plus ‘the beast’ helped cradle the orange globes.

We’ve observed that old-fashioned sunflowers with multiple heads (planted by birds from the birdseed variety) grow the most vigorously.  Sunflowers attract masses of goldfinches, a favorite songbird, and when planted in and around corn, reduce army worms in the ears.  Marigolds are an excellent companion plant for vegetable and flowers to help ward off Japanese beetles.  Borage enriches the soil, attracts honey bees, and is another good companion for squash.  Onions planted near carrots help repel the carrot fly.  Chamomile is another good companion plant but use it sparingly.

Encourage beneficial insects to make their home in your garden and experiment with companion planting.  Avoid monochromatic schemes and think variety.  And remember the old time, non hybrid varieties of flowers and vegetables.  A great book about growing heirloom plants and sharing them with others is Passalong Plants.   A delightful  book chocked full of information.

And Happy gardening!

Ties to the Past~Succotash and Sage


During my vast research for historicals set in early America I came across a wealth of plant lore and recipes.  An avid gardener, I love to grow herbs, heirloom flowers and vegetables. To see, smell, touch and taste the same plants known to my ancestors is a rich connection to those who’ve gone before me.  A common thread in my work, whether writing straight historical or paranormal romance is my passion for the past.

The following early American recipes are lifted from a slim volume I picked up at the nearby Museum of Frontier Culture located outside of historic Staunton Virginia in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley where my family has lived for several hundred years.  By ‘frontier’ they mean colonial.  At one time, the valley and mountains were the colonial frontier, the setting for my new release colonial Native American Romance Novel Red Bird’s Song.

From The Good Land: Native American and Early Colonial Food by Patricia B. Mitchell

SUCCOTASH:

“To make your own Indian style succotash, combine equal parts cooked red or kidney beans and cooked whole kernel corn. Season to taste with salt and pepper, butter or margarine (or bacon drippings)  and  heat.

Historically speaking, succotash is the forerunner of the popular Southern ‘Big-pot’ combination of vegetables and meats known as Brunswick stew. (Incidentally, boiled soup was typical Indian fare.  The Iroquois served soup at almost every meal. Each person had his own spoon and wooden bowl, and when invited to eat with a friend, he took along his own utensil and bowl.)

Sage is indigenous to the North shore of the Mediterranean, but when the Europeans brought it and other herbs here, the Indians were quick to investigate the new plants. They found sage useful as a curative for ‘a host of ills.'”

*The colonists were equally eager for the plants/herbal knowledge shared with them by the Native Americans.

Recipe for Old Sage Cornmeal Scones:

2 cups yellow cornmeal, 2 cups whole wheat flour,  Tab. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 3/4 tsp. sage, 3 Tabs. vegetable oil, 3 tsp. honey, 1 1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk

Combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl mix the liquids and then stir in the dry ingredients. Mix well. Using your hands, form two balls. On a level surface flatten these balls into discs about 3/4 inch thick. Cut each disk into eight wedges. Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 F. oven for about 10 minutes. Turn the scones over and bake another five minutes. Serve hot.

Gardening Tips On This Wintry Day


*My garden in a sunbeam, picture by daughter Elise. Ah gardening, so dear to my heart.  I come from a long line of plant lovers and inherited the gardening gene.  I’ve passed it on to my younger daughter, Elise, my right arm in the garden, but all of my children are fans to some degree.  And now, the little people, the grandbabies are our new crop of apprentices. My five yr old grandson is of some actual help.  The same cannot be said of the two yr olds. (*Pic of grandbaby by Elise)

My main recommendation when it comes to gardening is to use a lot of compost and natural mulch, like well rotted hay or straw, even leaves, in your vegetable and flower beds.  Healthy plants better resist insects and disease.  Earth worms are a gardener’s best friend and thrive in natural mulch, humus-enriched soil.  Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides or you’ll kill the worms and other beneficial insects.   I’ve even gone on worm finds and introduced more into the gardens, plus bought them from a reputable online source.  Yes, I’m nuts over worms as are my grandbabies now from my enthusiasm. (*Pic of nasturtiums by my mom)

My primary focus in gardening is our vegetable, perennial & annual flower, and herb beds.  I’m particularly fond of heirloom and old fashioned cottage garden plants.  Some of these vintage varieties involve saving seed and ordering from specialty catalogues. Those herbs and flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and honey bees are of special interest. I strive to provide a wildlife sanctuary of sorts.  The American love of a chemically dependent green lawn is the opposite of what beneficial insects and wildlife require, and plants for that matter.  Think wildflowers and herbs.  Rejoice in the butterflies and hummers that will follow.

We rotate annual our garden vegetables as well as practicing companion planting.  There are time honored combinations we’ve tried as well as making some of our own discoveries. Nasturtiums and radishes planted closely around the cucurbit family (also commonly referred to as the cucumber, gourd, melon, or pumpkin family) help to deter the squash vine borer and cucumber beetles which are deadly to the plants.   This family is our most trouble prone, so gets the greatest attention when it comes to companion planting.

Radishes are also a good companion for lettuce, spinach, and carrots.  If I were to choose one companion plant it would be radishes and the second, nasturtiums, but there are many excellent choices and we’re learning more all the time about effective combinations.

I interplant garlic with roses and have beneficial effects in warding off some of the pests and diseases that attack them.  *I prefer the old time roses and David Austen varieties that combine the best of the old with the repeat bloom of the new.  My favorite rose is Abraham Darby by David Austen. (*Pic of Abraham Darby Rose by Elise)

Tomatoes grow more robustly when planted near basil.  Peppers also like it.  Sweet marjoram, which reseeds itself for us, is another beneficial herb to interplant with vegetables and flowers.  Mint helps deter cabbage worms.   Pumpkins and squash better survive when rotated from their usual spots.  This year we tucked a pumpkin in among the massive, native clematis vine growing along the backyard fence that we refer to as ‘the beast.’  The borers didn’t find it, plus ‘the beast’ helped cradle the orange globes.

We’ve observed that old fashioned sunflowers with multiple heads (planted by birds from the birdseed variety) grow the most vigorously.  Sunflowers attract masses of goldfinches, a favorite songbird, and when planted in and around corn, reduce army worms in the ears.  Marigolds are an excellent companion plant for vegetable and flowers to help ward off Japanese beetles.  Borage enriches the soil, attracts honey bees, and is another good companion for squash.  Onions planted near carrots help repel the carrot fly.  Chamomile is another good companion plant but use it sparingly.

Encourage beneficial insects to make their home in your garden and experiment with companion planting.  Avoid monochromatic schemes and think variety.  And Happy gardening!  (If spring ever returns to these snowy realms.)

Images of our garden, goldfinch, and grandbaby taken by my daughter Elise and mom, Pat Churchman. Hummingbird is a royalty free image.

Autumn Harvest


A cold autumn wind blew as my younger daughter, Elise, and I scurried about the garden in the last of the light to gather in our treasures. She heaped great orange pumpkins into the wheelbarrow and picked the rest of her pink and blue Indian corn. Beams of sun touched the crimson cockscomb flowers just coming into full bloom, an antiquated variety that I seeded late and coaxed through our wet summer.

The vibrant color of the plumes stood out against the grayish black clouds like a king’s velvet robes. This wealth will quickly dwindle if the temperatures dip too low tonight. The weather is quite cool here today. Forecasters are calling for the chance of frost tonight, but only if the gray blanket covering the sky clears and bright cold stars come out. Then maybe Jack Frost’s chill breath will silver the hoary earth.

I must get myself to the garden and pick the last of the orange persimmon tomatoes–truly the most luscious variety in the world–and the heirloom lima beans, called Christmas limas. These beans are mottled a lovely wine color and very tasty. Perhaps I can get our dog, Mia, to help me. But I doubt it. She takes no interest in vacuuming or dusting either, just wants to know when its time to eat.

I have this wild hope in the back of my mind that maybe I will wake up one day and find the house ordered and gleaming, all put to rights while I slept. I suspect this delusion comes from my having read The Elves and the Shoemaker too often, and other fairy tales. I have also seen too many Disney movies.