Every once in awhile it’s fun to get a great surprise. This weekend I answered the call on our local NextDoor app to help pick blackberries at a local non-profit farm and got a sweet one! Tucked behind the local middle school here on the west side of Nashville is the coolest garden project I’ve seen in a long time.
The Bellevue Edible Learning Lab garden is an oasis of a garden that shows off the beautiful volunteer work, company sponsored structures and an explosion of color. As you walk up to a wisteria- covered, rough-wood gazebo you are greeted with piles of produce that are for sale to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Baskets of garden gloves are ready for willing hands and Miss Deborah is happy to direct you to a task. Saturday’s conscription was to pick beautiful blackberries that lined the western edge of the 1 acre garden guarded by a flock of purple martins.
The garden provides opportunity for all to invest in something bigger than themselves. Whether you’re young or old, there are jobs to be done and lessons to be learned. The BELL Garden provides an opportunity to everyone in the community to come together and even encourages the students at the middle school to take part. My mom would have loved this! She was a pioneer in her day of teaching the value of the garden in her fourth grade classroom in Upstate New York. I remember her writing grant proposals for garden beds outside her classroom and using some of that money to purchase red wigglers to demonstrate composting with her students. Ellen was a garden trailblazer and she would have drooled over this opportunity.
If you’re local, stop by the market on Tuesdays from 4-6pm and Saturdays from 9am-noon or check out the BELL Garden website for information on volunteering! If you’re not in the Nashville area, check out your local agricultural extension for information on projects near you. You might be surprised by what’s around your corner!
July has warmed right up and the girls are feeling the Tennessee heat. I’m finding they spend more and more time on their roosts with their wings spread out a bit trying to catch any breeze they can or walking around with their beaks open as if panting. In the dead of summer when the heat index is in the 100’s we do everything we can to keep our chickens cool including reducing the fat in their diet and supplying lots of greens. The best thing we have found to keep our girlies chill is provide plenty of fresh, cool water morning and afternoon.
Chickens are curious creatures and we have found that adding items of interest encourages them to drink more. If we can add extra supporting nutrients, all the better. Our favorite mix is a bowl of cold water with cut up frozen berries and chopped herbs. We keep cranberries or blueberries on hand for this purpose because they are pretty inexpensive and just the right size when cut in half. We have an abundance of oregano, lemon balm and mint by the back door so that’s what my chickies get most often but we’ll add dill, lavender, rosemary and flowers as well. Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily has a terrific article on using herbs with chickens and she has an amazing guide on how to use them for all kinds of purposes. My girls flock to the bowl as soon as it’s set out and have been less stressed by the heat this year. Less stress means happier chicken and more consistent egg production. A win for all!
It’s summer and my son is back to soccer training at 7:00 in the morning in 90 degree heat and burns more calories than I can begin to imagine. This recipe came out of my desire to fuel his body well and feed his incessant hunger but I cannot think of turning on the oven. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It.
While my son is the main consumer of these treats, the rest of my family are fans as well. They are like a chocolate chip cookie that you can feel good about. They are gluten-free and can be dairy free If you use a veggie-based protein powder – it works beautifully. The collagen gives extra support for the gut and joints and We keep sugar levels lower by using THM or Lily’s chocolate chips but any chocolate chips will work. Today I used Nestle Mini Morsels – they worked great.
According to Healthline.com, these treats are a powerhouse of nutrition and support healthy skin, bones, muscle recovery, elasticity and have properties that help reduce inflammation. All in a tasty little snack!
The other advantage to this recipe is that you can clear out all those bits and pieces of healthy stuff stashed in your pantry. There are so many nutrients tucked into these nuts and seeds. I use a mix of rolled oats and other dry ingredients which can include any of the following:
After vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and healthy fats we add those tasty little chocolate chips that make it all go down so easy. Finally, I bind it with a mixture of nut butter and either honey or maple syrup and use damp hands to form the mix into golf ball sized bites. As I show you in the pictures, your hands will be a mess! I like to rinse my hands as the mixture starts to stick to add a bit of moisture to the bites and keep a bit cleaner. These are best if refrigerated for a bit as it makes them easier to handle while the cool air helps bring the flavors together.
2 cookie balls
Easy but a little messy
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup hemp hearts (shelled seeds)
1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 cup chia seed
1/4 cup integral collagen
1/2 cup protein powder (I use flavored or unflavored depending on what I have on hand)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup (or sub for honey)
Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl
Add peanut butter and maple syrup and stir thoroughly to combine
Wash hands thoroughly and then while your hands are still damp pack a small amount of mixture in a tight golf ball sized ball and set in a large bowl or plate
Continue to form the rest of the cookie balls, wetting your hands as necessary
Cover with plastic wrap or keep in a sealed container in the fridge
A bowl of these in the refrigerator keeps the “what’s there to eat” question at bay for a little while, but I will admit, there are times this recipe needs to be multiplied to last more than a day.
What are your go-to summer snack for your family?
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value *
* % Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calories diet. Your daily value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Some of my favorite things about our home are the things family and friends have shared with us. My brother in lawis an amazing maker and crafted a perfectly sized table in our entry way as a housewarming present. It is the first thing you see as you enter the house and is a sweet reminder of him every time we use it. My mom and dad gave me a painting that she painted and he framed. Every time I see it I think of my mom taking up painting as a retired elementary school teacher and how she thrilled to work with watercolors. I remember the hours my dad enjoyed working on projects in his shop. He would get so excited when he found a great piece of burled cedar or smooth walnut. He appreciated the color, texture and natural beauty of every piece of wood he worked with and the smell of fresh sawdust is still one of the sweetest smells in the world to me. These things add so much character to our home but when we head outdoors the blessings start to multiply.
Divide & Multiply
Just after we moved into our latest property my sister came to visit from Northern Virginia. She brought along with her a few pieces of lamb’s ear, a section of Lenten rose and a couple of peony roots. These have grown into the foundation plantings for two of our main flower beds. Every spring I get so excited to see these gifts grow more and more. These plants have history; a story to tell.
You see my grandfather was a gardener in the heart of Quincy, MA, just outside of Boston. They fed their family and many others through the Great Depression as they used the land God gave them right in in the middle of the city. He had a huge garden that took up most of their yard, chickens and even grape vines! He shared his appreciation for gardening and his peonies with my mom who raised us to love the process in Upstate New York. She shared them with my sister in Virginia who in turn blessed me in Tennessee. Those peonies have so much history!
As I look over our yard I see so many plants, both decorative and edible, that have been gifts from others and I strive to continue the blessing.
How to divide your plants
Sharing root plants is incredibly easy and beneficial for your plants, your own yard or better yet, for a friend! When you see the leaves a bit smaller or the plants are outgrowing their space it is time to divide. My favorite in-depth guide to dividing plants can be found at Garden Gate magazine. Their drawings of the root systems are very helpful. I’ve been most successful with this process in early spring while the ground is damp but not saturated. I take a shovel and cut parts of the plant (such as hosta or lamb’s ear) off the side and tuck it into its new home. If you are transporting the plants make sure the roots don’t dry out. My sister kept wet paper towels around the roots and transported them in a sealed plastic bag. Just make sure you don’t keep the plant in the sealed bag for more than 12-18 hours.
When spring flowering bulbs start to flower less and less, it’s time to divide in order to multiply. Divide bulbs after their foliage has died back so you can see where to dig without damaging any bulbs. A good rule of thumb is every 3-5 years to keep your plants flourishing. I tend to dig a few inches from where I think the bulb has grown in order to get any small outside bulb growth without causing damage. After digging up the bulbs I separate them and replant or share with a friend. Make sure you check each bulb as they should be firm. If you find any squishy ones throw them away to prevent the spread of any fungal issues or disease.
Seed saving is one the easiest ways to share your garden wealth. Each year I am more and more convinced that saving my garden seeds not only saves me money but the resulting plants are healthier and more prolific each season. When the seed adapts each season to your specific soil and climate the results are fantastic and include larger blooms, hardier plants and larger harvests. When we share with our neighbors we all benefit from regionally adapted seed. If you don’t know where to find seeds in your area check out NextDoor, Facebook or a Seed Saver exchange at your local library.
So, the next time you are admiring your friend’s garden or an abundant plant in your neighborhood ask if they might want to share. It’s a great way to keep plants healthy and make a new friend!
What plants are in your yard that might bless someone?
It is peach season in the south. Most people might think peach pie, peach ice cream or even pork chops with peaches but for me, I have a new favorite: peach vinegar. I have always enjoyed the fruit infused aged balsamic vinegars that can be purchased from specialty olive oil store like Williams Sonoma and the Nashville Olive Oil Company I have discovered the ease and intense flavor of making my own fruit vinegar concoctions. With a couple of simple ingredients, you can turn that ripe (or even overripe) bounty into salad dressing and marinade goodness.
No added sugar necessary
One of the drawbacks of the store-bought fruit vinegars is the sugar content. While I’m willing to take in a few carbs through beneficial fruit I don’t want to completely mess up my low-carb meals with the sugar laden aspects of manufactured products. My recipe uses a sugar replacement that emphasizes the fruit without loading up on chemicals. If you can get your hands on some Trim Healthy Mama Gentle Sweet use it but play around with your favorite sweeteners if you like. If you’d rather use honey or maple syrup, go ahead, it works beautifully.
Mix it up: Use other fruit
This recipe calls for peaches but I’ve subbed mango, apple and plum and they all work beautifully. The trick is to boil the concoction and let it sit until room temperature to pull all the flavor out of the fruit. One of the things I love is the beautiful colors that come from fresh fruit. They are gorgeous!
How to use your fruit vinegar
Our two favorite ways to use fruit vinegar are in salad dressings and meat marinades. Fruit vinaigrettes like this Simple Mango Vinaigrette or a Peach & Lemon Balm Vinaigrette brighten a summer salad and blend beautifully with salad greens, goat’s cheese & walnuts. The fall flavors of apple or a sweet deep plum are delicious paired with a salad of spinach, onion, toasted pecans and slivers of cheddar.
My family’s favorite dinner is flank steak marinated in a concoction of mango vinegar, avocado oil, soy sauce & garlic. The touch of sweetness helps the meat to caramelize beautifully and we can’t get enough. The same holds for chicken marinated in peach vinegar, olive oil and salt & pepper. It’s so simple and so good!
½ cup THM Gentle Sweet (or sweetener of your choice)
¼ cup Maple Syrup (optional but adds a varied sweetness)
In a large sauce pan add your vinegar and sweetener(s)
Wash you fruit but don’t peel it and cut into slices or chunks (discarding the pits)
Add the fruit to the vinegar and sweetener and bring to a slow boil on medium high heat
Boil gently for 10 minutes
Cover the pot and let the mixture cool completely
Strain the liquids from the solids with a fine mesh strainer into a non-reactive bowl (I use a glass bowl with a lip for pouring)
Transfer vinegar into a glass jar or bottle and refrigerate
I washed the label off the Colavita vinegar bottle for a pretty container for my peach vinegar. I love the top on this container as well as it helps dispense the vinegar without over-pouring. The rest of the vinegar went into a small mason jar for immediate use in a chicken marinade.
I’m on a roll making these and I’d love more ideas! Can you think of other uses for fruit vinegars?
I’ll be honest, I started this post in February. My excitement was high and seeds were calling my name as they waited for those vital components to grow: warmth, moisture & air. I got everything kicked off, photos taken and when my post disappeared before my eyes in a flash of technical mayhem and lack of content saving I chose to forego the redo for a bit and invest my time in more seed starting. The moral of the story here: “Jesus saves, so should you!” For my friends in the north, you’re still in great shape; for my neighbors down south, it’s time to get a move on people!
Before we begin there are a few items you will want to gather or purchase to kick off this project:
Seed trays – the ones I’ve used here were purchased at Lowe’s for $5 a piece. There are 72 cells in each and I’ll only get a couple of uses out of them but for the price – not bad. You don’t have to buy anything special though. I have used plastic berry containers with great success. You simply want to make sure there are holes for drainage in the bottom of your container.
Water (preferably filtered or boiled and cooled before use). I fill my tea kettle with water and boil it and then let it cool to room temperature several hours before I work with seeds. This purifies the water of chlorine that can inhibit or stunt seed and plant growth.
Seeds – Oh the choices! My priorities are organic & non-GMO. After that I pick what my family will eat and flowers we’d like to pick. I ALWAYS try at least one new variety each year. It keeps it fun. This year we’re trying several new flowers for the cutting garden as well as San Marzano tomatoes, green round zucchini and Rainbow Fiesta okra. I can’t wait!
Plastic wrapIF you are using a container that does not have a plastic lid.
Label Maker or Masking tape & Sharpie
Fill your trays: Pour several cups of seed starting mix into the large bowl and add enough water to moisten the starter throughout. Make sure you mix thoroughly so the starter mix is evenly moist. It should stick together when squeezed but fall apart easily. I take loose handful of the mix and place them on the trays and draw the mix across to fill the cells to the top. Don’t press the mix into the trays as you want to keep air pockets throughout.
2. Plant your seeds: Plan seed placement as if all of your seeds are going to germinate. I like to do two seeds per cell. If they both germinate they will do fine until it’s time to transplant or bump them up to a larger container. If only one germinates you have plenty of space for root growth. More than that tends to get crowded unless you’re going to prick out multi-seeds but we’ll save that for another lesson.
Now, tuck your seeds into the soil. You’re going to want to plant them about a seed depth into the soil. Watermelon or pea seeds will be planted quite deep compared to tomato or lettuce seed. These tiny seeds will only get nestled just under the surface of the soil. The little blue dauber I used in the photo below was great but I’ve been known to grab a sharpened pencil to accomplish this task.
3. Label your seeds: I mean it. LABEL THEM! Use a popsicle stick, label maker or masking tape with a Sharpie but somehow, some way label your seeds unless you want to discover mid-June that the 5 thriving tomato plants you gave pride of place in your limited garden space are NOT the amazing Roma variety you thought you were planting for the quarts of sauce in your dreams but rather the tiny cherry tomatoes that you ended up giving away by the bucketful because there is only so much you can do with kajillions of cherry tomatoes. Nuf said.
4. Cover and warm: Cover your seeds with the clear plastic top that came with your starter or a simple piece of plastic wrap if you’re using a different container. You’ve already provided the moisture your seeds need in the seedling mix so simply cover and place in a warm spot. One of my favorites is the top of the refrigerator but I invested in a couple of warming pads this year for the shelves in the garage that keep the trays at a perfect 76 degrees.
5. Watch & wait: Check on your seeds every day after 2-3 days. Once your seeds have sprouted THEN they need sunlight. Remove the plastic and continue to keep your seedlings moist until it’s time to move out to your garden or container. Southern exposure is the best and I’m fortunate my garage has south facing windows. I always thought this was an old wives’ tale but my tiny garage windows that face South do better than my picture windows that face East and West.
A final note: Your seedlings may get leggy as they reach for the sun. When you transplant these into larger containers or into your garden don’t be afraid to plant the whole leggy part into the soil. This portion will produce roots quite quickly and simply make your plant stronger.
Next up: “Bumping Up” your seedlings into larger containers
I don’t want to start a fight here or anything but my Grandmum’s carrot cake is the very best carrot cake, hands down.
Yep, I said it. You might think you’ve had the best but unless you’ve had this recipe – step back. Fact is, my Grandmum couldn’t have cared less who had the best recipe. She just kept herself very busy, working with my Grandpa to take care of their family and anyone God led into their lives. Waldo and Lenna lived on a massive 1/4 acre in downtown Quincy, Massachusetts and through thick or thin (including the Depression, wars and rationing) my grandparents home was open and tea was on the table.
I remember summers when they would visit us and settle in to enjoy “farm life” on our 5 acres in Upstate New York. Grandpa Burgess would help my mom in the garden while Grandmum would shell peas or grate carrots for her famous cake. I loved the cake but hated the raisins that my mom would ask her to include. Carrot cake doesn’t need the extra sweet, in my opinion, so I give you the real, the original, BCCE (best carrot cake ever).
For those of you who know my family and the way we eat, this is a very Saturday treat!
Best Carrot Cake Ever
Combine oil & sugar in a medium bowl and beat in one egg at a time. The mix will become fluffy.
1 1/2 Cups Oil (I use coconut oil)
2 Cups sugar
3 cups grated carrots
1 grated apple
1/2 C. crushed pineapple
1 C. chopped nuts
2 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients and pour into a greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until firm and caramel brown on top. Frost with this simple, delicious, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter (4oz, softened)
1 block cream cheese (softened)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar
Beat all ingredients till smooth and frost your completely cooled cake.
My mom was amazing at a lot of things but one of the things I remember most about her gardening was that she found a way to use everything she planted. What wasn’t fed to us, or friends, was given to the horses or compost bin. Nothing went to waste. Instead of horses I have chickens but the challenge is still alive. It is mid-winter here in the mid-south and while picking is slim we are blessed with plenty of kale, carrots and crimson mustard greens. The carrots are a yummy addition to any meal and while the mustard greens are pretty and abundant, my family has deemed them best as fodder for the chickens. It’s time to put the kale to good use.
Stir Fry Kale
4 cups fresh kale (torn into bite sized pieces)
1/2 T Butter
1 T Nutritional Yeast
1/2 t Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 t onion salt (Trader Joe’s is my go-to)
Heat your pan on medium high and melt the butter. Add your kale and top with the dry ingredients. Sprinkle the ACV over the whole lot and stir fairly often for 4-5 minutes so your seasoning mixes throughout and your kale doesn’t burn.
Serve with eggs or eat alone. This recipe makes two portions packed with vitamins A, K, B6, C, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese, fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, antioxidants, amino acids and B-12. Whew! You just thought you were having breakfast!
This past year has been a wild one but afforded our family the time to start our first serious garden project at this house. I started the plans in November when my boys were out of the country with no idea that we would have ALL THE TIME WE COULD WANT to get it off the ground (or is that “in the ground”?)
We’ve completed SO many indoor projects in the past four years (I promise that one of these days I will post about our hall bathroom, game room and basement bathroom remodels), but it’s time to head outdoors. Our goal was to have a big enough vegetable garden to provide for our family with dreams of having plenty to share with friends and neighbors. Honestly, I also wanted a project big enough for my three children to be able to pitch in as well! Hard work is a great teacher and so much fun.
We planned for 32′ x 18′ of fenced space for annuals (I’m not interested in sharing with my wild neighbors) with an additional 3′ on each side for perennials. We’re starting this experiment with Charles Dowding’s no-dig approach. (As a side-note: if you need a way to escape the craziness of life, Charles Dowding’s YouTube videos are inspiring and really restful.) Now, let the digging begin. No, no digging. Well, we did dig the holes for posts but I think our garden still qualifies. My oldest daughter, Annika, and I got the holes dug for the posts in about a week. Not bad! We chose 6′ cow fencing for our sides and left a 4′ space on the east end for an entry gate.
Next we posted on NextDoor for cardboard boxes and were able to collect plenty to cover the entire garden area. Our walkways and entry area needed a solid mulching so we sent a request to ChipDrop and got a beautiful FREE load of wood chips from a local arborist. We found a local landscape company that had a February special that would deliver garden soil if we purchased 5 yards so $150 later, we were set. We spent a few days with the wheelbarrow and placed the materials in a pattern of rows that I planned out with the help of the Farmer’s Almanac online Garden Planner tool. We were ready to… wait. It was only the end of February. Our last frost date isn’t until April 27th dang it! Patience is a virtue and indoor seed starting is about to become a new skill.
My husband thought I needed a little shed-type entry area to hang tools and provide some shade for our house critters that like to visit the garden with me. He built a 4′ x 6′ garden hut that is perfect for all of us. That’s Misty the dog and Winter the bunny taking advantage of the shade – getting a break from their hard work.
Overall we have been extremely pleased with the results of the project. We were amazed at the amount of vegetables we have harvested and the fun it has been to cultivate. If I were to start this again there are a few things I would change. First, I would have made sure there were NO exposed seams in the cardboard. The weeds we had in the garden (namely: Bermuda grass, wild chive and dandelion) all came up through the spots that we did not layer the cardboard at the seams. We continue to weed those spots but hope with diligence that they will clear out eventually. Second, we would have dug a trench round the whole project. Because Bermuda grass spread with runners as well as by roots and seed, we are now digging a trench that will be maintained to spot those stragglers. All in all, it has been SO worth it.