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%

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

Kale… It’s what’s for breakfast

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!

Dreamy (Almost) No-Dig Vegetable Garden Project

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.