Sweet Peas in Spring

Finally my sweet peas are ready!  After maintaining a steady grip during the cold, during the heat, and everything in between, my sweet babies have matured. 

Crisp on the out side, sweet delicacy on the inside, these are worth the wait.

And easy to store.  I’m freezing mine fresh — because I haven’t decided how I want to use them in the future.  But when I do, I know they’ll be delicious.  Already tried some.

Garden peas are especially precious in our garden as they are a limited commodity.  They prefer cool weather and now that it’s warming up here in Florida, I know these sweets will be on the way out.  It’s been so warm, my young broccoli are already bolting in rebellion.

Oh, well.  Just another day in the life of a gardener.  We take what we can get where we can get it!

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Kids Planting and Progressing

For the kids, this was a week of “seed fun.”  

With the warm wave of weather here in Florida, we’re taking our chances and planting now–to ensure our crops are ready before graduation.  We do have our priorities, you know and the harvest party is top of the list! 

To begin, we toured the garden to check on our plants’ progress.  The cilantro is turning coriander.  No longer content to remain in its original form, this plant is now shooting  toward the sky, sporting lovely white blooms.  Soon, these flowers will produce coriander seeds–which of course we will harvest.  I know there’s some parent out there ready and waiting with the perfect recipe.  And if not, the kids and I will find something to do with them.  (BTW, we’re open to suggestion.)

Our baby carrots are tender and sweet.  No, they’re nowhere near ready, but their greenery is quite delicate.

And just look at those potatoes.  The kids can almost taste those healthy potato chips and fries now.  

“Wipe off the drool, kids.  We still have a while to go.  And for increased production, cover those babies with dirt!”

And production we need if we expect to have enough potatoes for a party’s worth of chips!  Healthy of course, lightly coated with olive oil and herbs and baked to golden perfection.  (Food talk keeps the kids motivated.) 

Yet more fascinating than food are our beans.  Personally, I find the early stages of bean development to be the most visual examples of Mother Nature in action than most anything else.  More than leaves sprouting and stems growing, this life cycle literally unfurls before your very eyes. 

Why, just look at them!

You can almost feel the energy as it opens from the seed, erupting in a burst…

…exploding in green bloom.  Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

Magnificent.  Not into beans?  How about this sweet baby strawberry.  Precious, isn’t it?

Glorious.  Absolutely glorious.  We also planted cucumber and corn seeds, as well as transplanted tomatoes.

The kids learned tomatoes are best planted deep, covering the bottom two “leaves” as they bury the base.  By doing so, they’ll encourage stronger root growth and development for their small tomato sprout.  Important–as we anticipate big strong tomatoes come spring!  And on our way back to class, we spotted this early gem.

Delectable little devil, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to make preserves out of that little pumpkin!  Oh, didn’t I mention?  We’re going to learn how to can!  Berries, tomatoes…

It’s the simple things in life.

Grocery Inflation

As if we needed yet another reason to garden–have you seen the price of food lately?  From fresh vegetables to coffee and cotton, prices have jumped.  And don’t even ask about the price of chocolate.  Our beloved sweet may become a rare commodity, indeed.  No kidding.  Seems West Africa farmers are giving up the crop in pursuit of better wages in the cities while at the same time, world demand is increasing.  Have you heard the health benefits of dark chocolate?  Heavy on the cocoa, easy on the milk.  Not a good combination when it comes to the demand side of the equation. 

Then of course there’s a certain hedge fund manager who bought a ton (literally, I think) of cocoa beans for investment.  Downright evil market manipulation is what I call it.  How could he be so cruel?  Why, I have a mind to grow some cocoa plants myself.  I’m in Florida, they grow near the Equator…  Sounds like a feasibility study’s in order!

Thank goodness gardening is easy and fun, else we’d all starve of malnutrition and chocolate deprivation.  Plant, water, harvest, consume–easy!  

Okay.  You caught me.  I’m luring you in.  But truthfully, gardening doesn’t have to be hard.  In fact, once you learn the secrets to mutinous-proof weed maintenance, it’s even easier.  If you don’t believe me, ask my kids. 

Or, follow along as I guide my friend Julie through the process of starting a family garden.  We’ll begin from scratch and work our way through each step of the process, much like we did with Mandie.  Remember her?  She’s still gardening, I think.  (Please, Mandie–tell us you’re still you’re still growing green and strong!) 

But there are more great reasons to garden than it’s easy and fun.  Think of the health benefits (non-toxic, because we only garden organic), the convenience (who has time to run to the store every time they feel like a fresh strawberry and spinach salad?), the educational aspect (last time I checked, botany was still a subject at school), and of course, who can forget the main reason:  gardening for the sheer joy of it.  For the kids, it’s more the adventure factor–creepy crawlies tend to be exciting for them whereas we seem to have lost the enthusiasm for that kind of thrill.  (Wait–I know it’s here somewhere…) 

Stay-tuned and watch the fun as Julie and her family venture into the land of green.  Better yet, how about join her and start a garden of your own and share your experience wit us?  We learn by doing!  A lesson best achieved in the company of fellow enthusiasts. 

Though it sure would be nice if cocoa plants grew like this row of garlic.  I could wait a season.  But five years is pushing it.

Too Many Strawberries?

What!  How could you have too many strawberries?

Oh.  You took the kids strawberry picking this weekend.  Yes, I understand.  They do grab berries at alarming rates, don’t they…

And now you’ve had your fill of strawberry shortcake, strawberry smoothies, strawberries and cream, strawberries on your corn flakes.   What else could you possibly do with a strawberry?

How about tossing some in your salad?  When combined with a mix of velvety soft buttercrunch and crispy firm spinach leaves from the garden — they make for the most delectable lunch. 

Looks good, doesn’t it?  It is.  The secret to this salad’s appeal is the striking  contrast between fresh tangy berry and sweet mild goat cheese.  It’s melt in your mouth good.  Check my recipe section for details!

First time I realized strawberries made a wonderful addition to salads was dinner at my cousin Nancy’s home.  She added nuts along with a variety of fresh ingredients, but for me, the strawberries were the main attraction. 

Of course, the joy of picking them ourselves added to the pleasure!  This little guy just looks like he’s having fun, doesn’t he?

He was, we were…  Picking your own fruits and veggies is great fun for the entire family.  To find a u-pick farm near you–check this great website

Then you too, may find yourself in the midst of a sea of berries.   Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Replanting Beans

After our sorrowful discovery last week, the kids were back in the garden with their beans, albeit a new batch.  But that’s part of the lesson, isn’t it?  In real life, things don’t always work as planned.  Especially when your garden coordinator fails to watch the weather report!

Lucky for me, children are forgiving by nature and we spent little time crying over what could have been and proceeded to look forward to what can become!  (Is that grammatically correct?  Probably should check these things ahead of time when writing about students!)  Especially when your upper elementary kids come out to plant black eye peas.

However, in the business of gardening, scientific elements take center stage, not grammar, hence the assignment for upper elementary.  “Hey kids!  What’s the scientific abbreviation for Molybdenum?”

Would you believe they knew the answer?  I can hardly pronounce the word let alone rattle off its abbreviation!  But that’s why we’re in school, isn’t it?  To receive an education. 

Does it matter the adults learn, too?  I mean, my schooling was a long time ago.  And my brain quite full of important information…

Bet these kids don’t know that whites shouldn’t be mixed with darks in the laundry!  (Actually, many of them do.)  Back to the garden.  We planted black beans and limas this week, intermingling them for an intricate weave of color come spring.  And this time, the kids will be watching for the weather.  They have strict instructions to keep an eye on Mother Nature and inform their teacher at the first sign of temperature drop.

Who will then inform me, who will then promptly cover our little darlings in the garden.  See?  Problem solved.  We did notice our sweet onions popping through the soil.

Looking good, but they need to be covered, so the kids headed over to their compost pile.  Collecting the fresh organic matter we covered them and continue our wait.

Won’t be long now.  A few months and we’ll be in the salsa business!  Er–once we get some tomatoes in the garden.  But with another potential freeze on the horizon, I’m not yet willing to risk their introduction outdoors!

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