Blackberries at the BELL Garden

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!

PROTEIN COOKIE BALLS

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:

  • Flax – Omega 3’s, fiber, protein, B1, B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium
  • Hemp seed – complete protein, unsaturated fats, E, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, iron, zinc, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, B-6, folate, GLA
  • Chia seed – fiber, protein, B-3, calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous
  • Sunflower seeds – healthy fats, protein, fiber, E, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium
  • Walnuts – antioxidants! omega-3, polyphenols, magnesium, arginine (amino acid)
  • Almonds – fiber, protein, monounsaturated fat, E, manganese, magnesium, copper, B2, phosphorous
  • Pecans – fiber, copper, thiamine (B1), zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, iron
  • Protein powder – muscle recovery
  • Collagen – supports healthy skin, hair, bones & joints

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.

Serving Size:
2 cookie balls
Time:
20 minutes
Difficulty:
Easy but a little messy

Ingredients

  • 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)

Directions

  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl
  2. Add peanut butter and maple syrup and stir thoroughly to combine
  3. 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
  4. Continue to form the rest of the cookie balls, wetting your hands as necessary
  5. 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?

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size1piece
Servings2
Amount Per Serving
Calories100
% Daily Value *
Total Carbs8.3g
13%
Net Carbs6.4g
32%
Fiber1.9g
Total Fat7.7g
12%
Saturated Fat1.8g
9%
Trans Fat0g
Protein6.2g
10%

Sharing Your Garden

Some of my favorite things about our home are the things family and friends have shared with us.  My brother in law is 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.

Lenten Rose

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

Root 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.

Lillies from my friend Jeanie

Bulbs

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.

Seeds

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?

5 Steps to Healthy Seed Starting

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.

Seed starting mix – I look for an organic, sterilized mix like Burpee Organic Premium Potting Mix

Large bowl & spoon

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 wrap IF you are using a container that does not have a plastic lid.

Label Maker or Masking tape & Sharpie

Let’s go!

  1. 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.

Label People!

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

Getting Dirty

Its time to face facts.  Gardening and landscaping in my new yard is not going well.  My plants are lackluster (unless it’s a violet), puny (unless it’s a violet), and unimpressive (unless it’s a violet).  I am discouraged but not beaten and I think it’s time to stop adding, amending and irrigating and start getting some answers.  I am turning to the wise minds of the UT Extension Institute of Agriculture for help and answers.  It’s time to test some soil.

dirt

For $15 UT Ag Center will complete a Basic Test that covers Water pH, Buffer Value, M1P (Phosphorus), M1K (Potassium) ,M1Ca (Calcium),Analysis M1Mg (Magnesium), M1Zn (Zinc), M1Mn (Manganese), M1Fe (Iron), M1Cu (Copper), M1Na (Sodium), and M1B (Boron).  Additional testing available as well but for this first run I’m going to stay basic and see if I can get some answers – maybe even an understanding of why violets love my yard so much!

As per the instructions, I’m headed out to do a zig-zag collection of soil from my yard and beds.  I will be collecting about a cup of soil from approximately 6″ deep. I could pop on over to the Ag Center’s office but for my convenience, I’ll probably just mail this in.  If you do this make sure to follow the directions: “Do not place your check in the soil sample box.”  I’m sure that bank loved that!

Are you wondering how your are can produce better results?  Want to join me?  If you’re in Tennessee there are handy instructions, costs, and directions for collecting your soil at https://extension.tennessee.edu/Hamilton/Documents/Agriculture/Soil%20Testing/Soil%20Testing%20Packet.pdf if you are out of state, contact your local Agriculture Extension Office.

To be continued…

4 Steps to Test Your Old Seeds

January leaves me with time on my hands.  I was starting to crave a gardening project and ran across the idea of testing your old seeds to see if they are worth planting.  The fact is, I have a bag of seeds that I haven’t wanted to throw away because I remember the good stuff we grew. Some of these are looking mighty questionable though. I’m sure there are better ways to store seeds but I do well to stash them in the garden cupboard.

It’s a simple matter that only took 5 minutes to put together and a couple of days of patience – kinda like popping seeds in the soil in spring.  Only this yielded quicker results… to my decluttering efforts.

  1. Choose several of each variety of seed you want to test and arrange them on a damp paper towel.
    fullsizeoutput_1323
  2. Roll them gently to keep your seeds in individual rows and keep the moisture in,
  3. Put your roll of damp seeds in a Plastic bag to retain moisture. fullsizeoutput_131c
  4. Keep your seeds in a warm spot for a few days but keep in mind; seeds need moisture and warmth to germinate but not light – a closed cupboard is just fine.  Check them after 2-3 days for progress.  Mine took 5 days to show progress but it was in the single digits outside when I did this.

My results are below with the results in red to the right.  Way to go Asparagus pole beans!!!! Broccoli and  tomatoes brought up the rear but I’m not wasting precious garden square footage with a 50% chance of success.  Looks like it’s time to get out the seed catalog!  And I get to throw the rest away.  Ahhh! The satisfaction of decluttering.  Now, on to bleach those nasty tile counters! fullsizeoutput_132b

So much time…

2018 Calender…and so little to do in the garden.  I actually attempted to rid one of my future flower beds of weeds but realized the rediculosity of my endeavor when the plants just broke off in my hands.  Did I mention it was 22 degrees?  There is such a things as futility.

A friend of mine is plunging into the Master Gardeners course at our local extension and I crave the possibility of doing this someday but now is not the time.  Between homeschooling, work, home renovation, restarting my own gardens and a household to manage, this goal has to wait.  I am so looking forward to diving into my new dirt this year though!  The UT extension website has an incredible resource, free for the copying.  Check out your free 2018 gardening calendar here: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W436.pdf

Not a Tennessee gardener?  Check out your local Agricultural Extension for fantastic resources.  I’m getting ready to use my local office to have my soil tested.  There’s no use fertilizing dirt that doesn’t need it or using the wrong materials.

Baby Gold Peaches

 A new discovery! We get our best fruit from Bulk Natural Foods, a co-op of organic and naturally grown produce.  if you’re in middle Tennessee check out bulknaturalfoods.com This month they had the first of the fall fruits available.  Beautiful Gala apples and Baby Gold Peaches.  These peaches are pretty different. You don’t want to eat these fresh but rather mid-winter after being jarred for a bit. Their firm flesh is perfect after being stored in a simple syrup.

I’m experimenting a bit. While eating a THM diet, sugar is off the table for me. Frankly, I’d like to get sugar out of my house completely but the rest of my family is a little slower on the bandwagon. I’m making a few jars of peaches with sugar syrup, a few with a blend of sugar and erythritol, and some with a syrup of stevia, erythritol and xylitol.

We’ll have to wait til Christmas to find out but these beauties look so pretty I have great expectations!

Update: Success!! These babies are worth the effort! Deemed “really yummy” by my youngest and ready to eat right away! 

 

What to do, what to do?

It’s heading into late summer and I’m debating wether to plant one more crop or not. We’ve had beautiful tomatoes, an abundance of peppers, onions with real flavor, and herbs galore.  The “volunteer state” has given us an extra season of tomatoes and cantelope that are taking over. Who needs a patio anyway? A late season, perfect tomato is worth losing some real estate for a couple months.

With the nights getting cooler and days not quite so blistering, I’m left wondering what more I can get from my little plots before I put them to bed for the winter.

Veggiegarden.com offers a simple chart of ideas to get a bit more from your kitchen garden. I’m opting for beets, carrots, spinach and peas. It’s time to get planting!