Gardening is a kind of disease. It infects you, you cannot escape it. When you go visiting, your eyes rove about the
garden; you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irresistible impulse to get up and pull a weed. ~Lewis Ganni

This blog will try and chronicle the growth, change, inevitable failures, pleasant surprises,
and many of nature's rewards of trying to grow a garden in poor soil, weather extreme ridden New England. I will have a
beautiful garden even if it kills me - and it just might!

March 28, 2011

A snack you never have to feel guilty about

I am not vegan, but I love earthy, healthy food and exotic ingredients and flavors, so vegan food is right up my alley.  One of my favorite places to eat is the Garden Grill in Pawtucket. I've never had anything there I didn't love.  During my last visit, it wasn't my meal... but instead what they gave me as sample while i waited for my meal that stuck with me.

Kale chips.  Salty, crunchy and potato-chippy. Leave it to a vegan restaurant to come up with a clever way to turn kale into snack food. I figured they were dehydrated, or deep fried and never thought to make it at home.  I love kale, so I'll eat it simply braised, or tossed in soup.  My 3 year old will eat a few pieces raw, but not cooked. I bet he'd love these!

Since then, I've heard several discussions about people making kale chips at home.  I looked up a couple of recipes online and learned it was just kale tossed in oil and salt and baked. Thats it. No dehydration, and no deep frying. YES!  I can make these I thought!  And so, today, I did.

First step is removing the tough stem from the leaves. I just cut the leaves off the stem with kitchen shears. The stems are a little tough and bitter. Make sure the leaves are completely dry or the moisture will prevent them from crisping up.

Next, toss them with oil and seasoning. I used walnut oil because I like the nutty flavor and its super healthy, but you can also olive oil. I used sea salt but I think next time I am going to experiment with chili powder, wasabi powder or garlic powder.

Then spread them on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  I used convection, so I did mine at 325.  You want them dry and crisp...a tiny bit brown, but if you overdo it, they'll turn bitter. I pulled them out before I could detect any real color.  Here they are before:

and after:

They are incredibly crispy, airy and delicate.  To me, they taste VERY much like potato chips. If you aren't a greens person, don't freak. They don't taste much like kale...its mostly a toasted, salty flavor that comes through. Don't think your kid will eat them???  Give it a try--I think you'd be surprised. Elijah couldn't get enough of them. This is the real test of success:

These took about 10 minutes to make, and the whole head of organic kale cost me $1.55 at Wholefoods, so they are not only easy, but nutritious and inexpensive.

This has me thinking....maybe I'll grow Kale in the garden this year!!!

March 15, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I used to bask in the smell of a freshly bleached house.  It smelled so CLEAN and clean means healthy.  It wasn't until years later, after I had my son, that I started questioning the chemicals I was pumping into my house. Turns out bleach is one of the most toxic things you can use. Ammonia is the 2nd.  I threw away the Windex, Formula 404, furniture polish and about 50 other overly scented, over priced items.  Now, I spend less money and my cleaning regimen is much more simple.  Who REALLY needs all those products under their sink?  You really only need a handful of staples on hand to naturally and safely clean your house.

The basics: 

I use these things mixed in various form for everything in the house: ordinary white distilled vinegar, castille soap (I use Dr. Bronners), baking soda, washing soda (Borax) and essential oils.

glass / shiny surface cleaner:  mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle.  If you want to eliminate streaks and increase drying time you can add some rubbing alcohol (I skip this step).  I use this for windows, stainless steel, ceramic tile..anything to want to sparkle without a residue.  You can adjust the strength by using more or less vinegar.  For some people (my husband), the smell of vinegar takes some getting used to.  If you can stand it, it is actually a great natural deodorizer.  The vinegar smell dissipates after a few minutes becoming undetectable but leaving a fresh smell in the air.

disinfectant:  add a few drops to the above mixture for a natural disinfectant. Tee Tree Oil is a powerful natural anti fungal as well as a disinfectant. Its amazingly useful--worthy of a post of its own. Perhaps I will do that someday ;-)

all purpose cleaner:  I have another spray bottle filled with water, a few drops of natural dishwashing liquid, a squirt of castille soap and some essential oil (my current batch has lemon oil in it).  The dishwashing liquid helps cut grease, and the essential oils make it smell fresh.  This is my go to counter spray - I use it many, many, MANY times a day!  You can increase the strength of this cleaner by adding some Borax, although I don't use that on the counters b/c Borax, while natural, is a bit potent to use around food, IMO. 

deodorizer / air freshener:  I cannot say enough about the powers of vinegar and baking soda to remove odors. They are, by themselves, amazing but even better when mixed together.  

I have a kitty cat who gets very angry when we go on vacation. When he's angry, he pees. If you've ever had the pleasure of smelling cat urine, let me assure you its the strongest, smelliest, hardest to remove smell on the planet. Is just awful.  Anything that can be washed goes into the washing machine gets soaked in about 2 cups of vinegar and 2 cups or so of baking soda (I just make it up--I don't really measure ANY of this stuff) with some warm water.  After a regular wash cycle, the urine smell is GONE.  So gone that even the cat can no longer detect it, which is very important because cats just love to re-pee on surfaces.  If it can't be washed I make a paste and spread it on the area needing odor removal. Let it dry, and vacuum it up.  Amazing!

Pour vinegar down stinky drains to freshen them up. For tough odors sprinkle some baking soda down there with it.

Simmer some vinegar and water on the stovetop after preparing a smelly meal.  It will clean the air.

Insect Spray:  If you've tried organic gardening, you've probably heard the term "insecticidal soap". Its an organic pesticide which is nothing more than fatty acids (made from soap) and water!  A squirt of castille soap mixed with water will kill many insects on contact but is most useful on soft body critters (aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, whiteflies and small caterpillars).  Many houseplant and garden pests can be controlled with this mixture.  

Castille soap is made from vegetable oils and the oil suffocates the insect, dehydrating him from the outside in.  Because the soap needs to come in contact with the bugs, once it dries the plant becomes safe for beneficial insects like bees and lady bugs.  Although its been claimed to be safe, always use caution when spraying when these beneficial insects are likely to be in the line of fire. Use caution when spraying around flowers in the daytime for example. 

These are only a few ideas of simple, safe homemade products you can make. The Internet is full of endless other suggestions.  Please leave me a comment if you have a favorite homemade remedy you'd like to share!

March 12, 2011

The Thaw begins!

The snow is gone, the clocks get turned ahead tonight, and the temps have warmed. It can mean only one thing. Its time for working in the yard!  I worked anxiously to clean up any reminders of the harsh winter, administered a little first aid to some injured plants and raked and dug around looking for any sprouts of green.  I can see the daffodils breaking soil, and the buds on the forsythia and redbud are swelling.  We are on our way!

While walking around the backyard woodland garden picking up broken limbs and pruning all the dead stuff off, I found Spring's first  true color.  My Vernal Witchazel has bloomed in spite of the miserably low temps and lack of sunshine.  It is the first to bloom in the garden, but I was surprised to see it this early. A native, witchazels are small understory trees or large shrubs whose winter spindly blooms are the star attraction. Until this year, it's failed to impress me much, but today's little pop of color has made me a fan (tough one to photograph though!)

And, of course, you can always count on the weeds to be green, even after laying under 3 feet of frozen sludge.  If this past winter didn't get them, then i stand no chance at slaying these buggers. Survival of the fittest at its finest.

Some things didn't fare so well. It was so windy this winter, I had begun to wonder if my arbor had blown away or something!  Turns out I did a stinky job staking it, and it had fallen was just buried for 2 months.  Good thing the Concord grapes haven't started to climb the arbor yet!

The birdhouse also myseriously disappeared and has now resurfaced. It too must have gotten blown to the ground and became quickly buried by all the white stuff.  I checked for any tenants who might have been trapped inside at the time, but luckily for me, I found no birdie remains. That would have ruined my day.  I definitely need a new one.

And, it wouldn't be winter without at least one deer fatality.  Don't worry, the deer are fine.  But my shrub is dead!  This is a type of Euonymous that we rescued from a friend who ripped it up from his foundation bed. I hate to see a healthy plant kicked out onto the streets so I planted it.   The only remaining leaves are on the limbs buried in the frozen snow. Its completely and utterly destroyed.  Sadly, this little guy will end up as compost after all.

I should have been more diligent about spraying, but I got the winter blues early on and didn't feel like trudging through 3 feet of snow to do it.  I swear by Bobbex spray and buy it by the gallon-full. I spray all year round, sometimes weekly, without fail.  Every shrub.  If you have deer, you need some. I know, I know. You've tried repellents and they don't work. Trust me, this stuff does!!!