Monday, July 18, 2016

Malabar spinach: a hot weather crop

Malabar spinach
The standard spinach varieties (Spinacea oleracea) are cool-weather annuals that are a little temperamental in Florida. Spinach is a member of the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae), which also includes chard, beets, and quinoa. All members of this family contain oxalate crystals in their leaves which can cause problems with kidney stones when eaten raw. Cooking or vinegar dressing will break down the crystals.

Malabar spinach

Malabar spinach (Basella rubra and B. alba) is a heat-tolerant, vining plant with leaves that taste like spinach. The two species differ in stem color--red or green. The red is striking--an ornamental edible. It's a perennial in frost-free zones and a freely seeding annual in the rest of the state.

This crop is a member of the basella family (Basellaceae) and is not closely related to spinach and has no oxalate crystals.

Leaves wilt quickly: hydrate them in a bowl of water
while waiting to serve them.
You can plant seeds or plant cuttings from the previous year's vines. You won't need many of these--each vine puts out an amazing amount of growth. Cut leaves as needed once the vine has grown to about three feet.

The leaves wilt quickly once separated from the vine, so if you need to hold the harvest for more than an hour, arrange the leaves in a container of water—stem-side down. Many growers harvest whole sections of vine and given its aggressive nature, this should not cause a problem.

Use as you would spinach--raw or cooked. It has a slightly mucilaginous texture and can be used as a thickener in soups and stews, but is not as thick as okra. Most people don't notice any sliminess when it's mixed with other greens in a salad.

I used one recent harvest in Green Goddess Eggs.

Green Goddess Eggs Recipe

For me this is a cook-to-the-harvest recipe and will vary depending upon what's available from the garden.

Egg & cheese mixture:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup cheese, preferably Feta
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons pesto*
2 tablespoons dried parsley
freshly ground pepper to taste

Frying mixture:
1/2 sweet onion
1/3 green bell pepper
1/3 cup celery
1/2 cup mushrooms (4 oz can)
1/3 cup garlic chives
1/3 cup black olives
enough olive oil to fry this mixture and lubricate the pan for the egg mixture.
- Crack the eggs into a medium sized bowl
- Add the yogurt, pesto, cheese, dried herbs, and pepper and stir well with a fork and let this mixture sit while you prepare the other ingredients..
- Chop the onion, pepper, celery, & garlic chives.
- Slice the olives and mushrooms.
- Cover the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil and preheat with medium heat.
- Add the frying ingredients, but hold the garlic chives and the olives until later. Turn down the heat after adding and slowly fry the mixture until the onions become translucent and begin to caramelize.
-Add the olives and the garlic chives and fry until heated.
- Scrape the fried ingredients to the side and add more olive oil before adding the egg mixture.
- Scramble the eggs with the fried vegetables to your liking.
- Serve alone or wrapped in 2 fried flour tortillas for burritos.

*Ginny's pseudo-pesto recipe

My pesto is different than most because I incorporate more ingredients to produce something that is more of a pesto-like sauce.  In the blender or food processor: 6 or 7 stems of basil with most of the main stem parts removed, one half of a medium yellow onion, 3 or 4 green onion stalks with roots removed, 2 or 3 bunches of garlic chives, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup mayonnaise,  1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon horseradish, freshly ground pepper to taste, and enough olive oil to make it creamy but not slimy.
Each time I made pesto it's different because of the greens that are available. I keep about a cup to use fresh, the rest I freeze in small Rubbermaid containers, so I always have some handy.

This summer's so called wet season

Looming clouds did not mean rain on this day.
It's been pretty darn dry for the wet season. July normally averages 6.5 inches, but so far we've had barely an inch. fortunately, the rain barrel water has been available to irrigate our edible beds, the compost pile, and a few woody plants that have been transplanted in the last year or two.

I hope you have rain barrels to use for your summer needs. If not, it's never too later to get started. Start with my first rain barrel article, which has links to several of my other articles for extreme details on open and closed rain barrel systems and how we elevated 3 of or barrels to use in our edible gardens.

Sustainable gardeners sequester as much stormwater as possible on their landscapes.  

Green gardening matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A failed onion crop

My onions failed to form bulbs. Were they a long-day variety?
I've had some wonderful onion harvests in the past, but not this year. See my post A sweet onion harvest to see what a successful onion crop looks like. Note: that crop was harvested in May.

So what happened? 

Well, I was distracted this fall with my #floweredshirttour for my third book, The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape—35 events in 11 weeks from September 1 to November 15th. Instead of taking the time to order my short-day onion plants, I just bought a package of onion sets, which I'd used before, with reasonable success. See my post, The skinny on onions, back when I was just figuring out what to do in Florida. The information I found at the time said that only short-day onions, which is what we need in Florida because we grow onions through the winter, were available as sets.

But when I looked at these onions at the end of June, none of them had formed a bulb or had begun to go into dormancy. I admit that I did not spend very much time babying them in the fall and then in early March, my husband and I were out of town for almost 2 months, so it's possible that they only needed more irrigation and better weeding. But wouldn't that situation just resulted in smaller onions?

Is the information I found about sets just another old gardener's tale? I think so. I believe that these onions are long-day onions because none of them formed a bulb. See my post: Recipe for failure: Long-day onions in Florida.

On the other hand, my garlic, which was a soft-neck variety, which we need in Florida, also failed, so maybe it was the lack of care. At any rate, I pulled up all the garlic and all the onions the other day. 

The whole, pitiful harvest after cleaning. 

 When faced with a failed crop, make soup!

A delicious cold soup for a hot day...

I made a version of my rogue onion soup, but with no celery because I had soooo many onions to use up. It's sad when a whole harvest can be used up in one batch of soup, but this supplied us with 7 large servings (3 dinners and a lunch for one). But, as usual it was really good and so good for us.

I'm loving my rangy marigolds this year—there is so much more biomass.

Marigolds condition the soil

Some of my tall marigolds had leaned into the path through our edible garden, so I trimmed it back and used those trimmings as a green layer in my working compost pile. The leaves of marigold contain a chemical that repels root knot nematodes, so including them in the compost will help condition my whole garden. Read my post Results: the nematode experiment.

Life on a stick...

Life on a stick

The other day I noticed this dead twig, which was totally covered with various lichens and a small ball moss.

Mother Nature is so efficient in finding places to inhabit. 

I've been reposting my articles from the team blog Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens that has gone dark. Our new space is for archiving only (no comments), but at least they are available. Here's my post there, From lawn to woods, a retrospective. From there, you can go the the blog home to see all the articles that have been posted so far.

I hope you are enjoying your summer.

Green Gardening Matters!
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Growing edibles has saved us 15% on our food budget

I've been sharing our harvests here on the blog and on
Facebook to show people what they could be harvesting, too.
This is a tabbouleh harvest includes lots of curly parsley.
We started growing food successfully a few years after we moved to North Florida in 2004. So we have a good record of our food costs both before and after growing crops. Our annual food budget is at least 15% less than it was before.

Actually, two things changed:
1) Obviously, we save money when we don't have to purchase as much food.
2) More importantly, cooking to our harvests has changed the way we eat. Our whole diet has become more plant based and we also purchase much less pre-prepared food. Why would we purchase salad dressing full of preservatives and other stuff when I have frozen containers of yummy, home-made pesto that we can use as a base for salad dressings? Also, we've found or invented some interesting recipes to consume an abundant harvest and not get tired of it. See below for a new recipe adapted from one I'd found on Facebook.

A recent harvest. The 3 little cucumbers were the end of the season runts, the rest of the generous crop was quite satisfactory.
Female squash flowers seen at a farmers market.
These were so fresh that bees working the flowers.
To grow larger on the vine squash crops need

The versatile squash family 

The wide ranging squash family, Cucurbitaceae, includes summer squashes with soft edible skins like zucchini, winter squashes with hard rinds like Spaghetti or butternut squashes, melons, cucumbers, and gourds. All members of this family have separate male and female flowers, which must be pollinated in order to develop fruit. It may take 7 to 10 visits by pollinators.

My friend Claudia, who grows her vegetables in a screened-in enclosure has to hand-pollinate her squash crops. On the other hand, she doesn't have to deal with flying pests like squash bugs or stem borers. She wrote a guest blog a few year back, "Zero to sixty in three years."

This year we have an interesting mix of squash crops—some intended, others not so much. I knew we were going to be out of town for several weeks beginning the 2nd week in March. So before we left, I planted cucumbers and I prepared a squash mound and planted 4 types of squash including the green tiger zucchini, as discussed in the previous post, which did the best, but is now beginning to peter out with the heat. 

Spaghetti squash scraped from the skins.

The two surprise squash vines were the butternut and the spaghetti that sprouted from my trench composting where I bury kitchen scraps into the garden. The photo above is the last harvest of the cucumbers, spaghetti & butternut vines. Fortunately, the winter squash keep well in our pantry, but we have been enjoying it for the last couple of weeks. I used to serve spaghetti squash in the skins with a marinara sauce topped with Parmesan cheese. Now I dig it out of the skins and serve it up like pasta spaghetti. This one squash served as a pasta substitute for 2 separate dinners—one with marinara sauce with veggie burger "meat"balls and the other with an Alfredo sauce and shrimp.

Pesto Time

Sweet basil waiting to become pesto... Meadow garlic bulbs are big this time of year.
I harvested my basil several days before I got around to making it into pesto and kept it fresh in a vase. When I make it this time of year, I use the native meadow garlic bulbs as part of the mixture, because they are dying back for the summer, the bulbs are larger than normal. See this post for more details on my pesto and this one for details on meadow garlic.

One of this year's cabbages.

An abundance of cabbage

This winter was a good year for cabbage in my garden. We shared some with neighbors, but we still have a few heads sitting in the refrigerator. We've used it for cole slaw, Chinese cabbage salad, soups, and more. We've used smaller amounts in tossed salads, pasta salads, and anywhere else that seemed appropriate. When I saw a recipe on Facebook that used a head of cabbage in a whole new way, I took notice and altered the recipe in ways that made sense to me. So here's my version, but the next time the ingredients will probably be somewhat different depending upon what's in the harvest. And I may even add a crust next time.

Crustless quiche with cabbage, onion, zucchini
- 2/3 of a head of cabbage finely sliced and then chopped
- 2 sweet onion chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 cup chopped zucchini
- 1/4 cup chopped garlic chives
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley de-stemmed and chopped
- 4 large eggs
- 1/3 cup plain non-fat yogurt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 & 1/2 cups of grated cheddar cheese
- Coat a 9x12' pan with olive oil
- Slowly saute first 3 ingredients in olive oil until onions are translucent.
- Stir in the next 3 ingredients and continue the slow saute until the zucchini starts to soften
- Stir the eggs, yogurt, & oil until blended and then slowly stir in the flour until smooth
- Lay the sauted mixture into the pan and distribute so that it's level
- Pour the egg & flour mixture evenly over the mixture.
- Sprinkle the cheese on top
- Microwave for 10 minutes or until the mixture is set.

This dish was amazingly tasty.
While the mixture smelled cabbagey during the saute process, this dish was not overwhelmed by the cabbage at all. Quite tasty! It was enough for 3 dinners for the 2 of us. I served it with carrot sticks.

More zucchinis on the way.

The keys to saving money by growing edibles

- Start small and don't expect miracles the first couple of seasons.

- Not everything will work every time, so don't be discouraged when something fails.

- Educate yourself so that you make fewer mistakes. For Florida, timing is tricky and most gardening advice doesn't work here.

Our "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida" covers the whole state with 3 monthly calendars. We also arranged the crops by plant family in the book, so your crop rotation will be easier.

- Fall is a great time to plant a wide range vegetables in Florida, but it's not too early to start work on preparing your growing beds. Remember you want to be able to reach the whole bed without stepping on the prepared soil.

Good luck!!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May crops and more...

It's zucchini season. I planted various types of squash
 at the beginning of March. The zucchinis
 win the race with fruit on the table by the end of April.

It's zucchini season!

I planted Green Tiger Zucchini Hybrid seeds by Burpee at the beginning of March along with 3 other types of squash—butternut, summer, and one called Delicata, which is white with green stripes on the outside, but orange on the inside. The others are just beginning to form fruit, while the zucchini harvest began at the end of April.

I used less than 1/4 of one in a stir fry, but since more are on the way, I decided to grate the rest of these 2 zucchinis for bread and for freezing. This produced 8 cups of zucchini strings—4 for bread and 4 for freezing in two 2-cup packages.

I combined 2 different recipes for the zucchini bread and it was delicious, so here's the combined recipe...
I froze 4 cups of grated zucchini in 2 packages for later use.  Yummy zucchini bread, hot from the oven...

Zucchini bread recipe

Ingredients: (for one 9" x 5" loaf)
Dry ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
(or 1 cup all purpose & 1 cup whole wheat)
1/3 cup old fashioned oatmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins or currents (optional)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
(or sunflower seeds)
Powered sugar for dusting

Wet ingredients:
2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups grated zucchini
Grate the zucchini first and let it sit in a
colander in the sink to drain for 15 minutes
or so. Squeeze out the excess moisture before using.

Mix the dry ingredients (except for the sugar) in a large bowl.

Beat the eggs with the olive oil with fork in
a small bowl. When the zucchini is ready, add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and then stir in the zucchini. Don't over-mix.

Scoop the mixture into a greased pan and
spread it out evenly in the pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until
the top of the bread is firm. Dust with
powdered sugar to taste.
Best served warm with butter.

Elsewhere in the edible gardens

A black swallowtail cat has slim pickings on the almost dead dill, while the parsley below is lush. Blueberries!
Black swallowtail butterflies seek out members of the carrot family for their larvae, but these days they seem to prefer our crops, such as dill or parsley, to the native species. Once the egg has been laid, though, the cats will not move from dill to parsley no matter how much more food is available. I did push over a slightly less dead dill plant next to the one with the most caterpillars. Maybe they found it, but all the cats were gone the next day. When food is short, the adult butterflies will be smaller.

We have a great crop of blueberries this year and for some reason the birds are not eating them. All the more for us! Read my article on our Florida blueberries. I planted them back in 2009 and they've been a good gardening investment requiring very little maintenance over the years.

A tabbouleh harvest: parsley, a small zucchini, cutting celery, garlic chives, and some tender cabbage leaves. I'd planted a different type of marigold back at the beginning of March, but I didn't know it would be so tall. Half of them are chopped off for use in preparing my okra swales.
Speaking of parsley, here's a harvest for a tabbouleh, which my husband made for us. So good and good for us, as well. Here's a link to his tabbouleh recipe.

The marigolds I planted back at the beginning of March were a tall variety, which turned out to be a good thing—I cut off the tops to help reduce root knot nematodes in the bed where I'll plant my okra. See my post Results: the nematode experiment for the details of the how and why.
Getting ready for okra includes burying marigolds to eliminate the root knot nematodes.  Swales are ready to go. After patting them in place, I wet them down and mulched with pine needles.
I prepared the okra bed by digging down about 8" on 1/2 of the bed, laying in kitchen scraps, bunches of marigold tops, a 3"-layer of freshly dug compost filled with worms, and then covering it with the soil that I'd dug out. I repeated the process for the other half of the bed.

This bed is about 4.5' square and I'll plant 2 seeds at each connection point in the swales and trim them back so I'll end up with 9 okra plants. This will produce enough for us and to share with neighbors. Read my post Okra swales to find out why I plant them in this arrangement.
A downspout rain garden collects rain water
so it has a chance to soak in to the ground.

Special appearance on May 21

I will be giving a presentation on rain gardens at the Florida Native Plant Society's conference in Daytona Beach. Here is a link to the FNPS blog article on rain gardens. The last day to register online is May 11th, but you may register in person onsite after that.

I hope to see you at the conference.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mulch is NOT the point of a no-lawn landscape

So you've removed your lawn... Yay! So now what?

All too often I've seen lawns replaced with vast areas of mulch instead of dense plantings of natives or other sustainable plants. Yes, we must plan ahead for mature sizes of trees and shrubs, but that doesn't mean that you need to lay down only mulch while you wait for your trees to grow. Look at this example:

Sad case study

A too-much-mulch landscape.  The same landscape from the other end.
I visit this particular location on a fairly regular basis and was pleased when the lawn was ripped out last year. They also pruned away the bottom branches of the shrubs. I wondered what the plans were, but surprisingly the plan seems to be mulch and little else. Upon closer inspection I could see that they used a black plastic weed barrier cloth, but only a few weeks later the weeds popped up anyway. (See below for my note on weed barrier cloth.) Eventually they installed two fountains with crotons at each of the four corners and some other plants with colorful leaves, At one point the mulch was pulled aside where the weeds were the thickest. On the next visit, the mulch was back in place. Months later, nothing has changed. So I'm guessing that this is their planned landscape. I'm sorry, but this is just a sad situation. I my opinion, their raggedy lawn was better looking than this and easier to maintain.

Removing lawns is a great idea and mulch is certainly recommended between plants to reduce weeds, keep in moisture, and to improve the soil, but mostly mulch landscapes are not a reasonable answer for several reasons. It is not maintenance-free, it is not an inviting ecosystem for pollinators and other wildlife, and the dyed cypress mulch used in this landscape is not a sustainable product. Whole cypress forests are being shredded to feed our need for mulch. The dye is completely unnecessary, some say it's harmful to the environment, plus it fades to a tired-looking pink. There are more sustainable mulches to use such as arborists wood chips, pine needles, leaves (shredded or not), and more. See my post, Follow the Yellow Mulch Road.

Black plastic weed barrier is not enough of a barrier for these weeds. See below for my thoughts on weed barrier cloth. The same too-much-much landscape several months later with fountains and a few pitiful landscape plants. Some of the mulch was pulled back so the caretakers could "get" the weeds.

Mulch is not maintenance free

Most mostly mulch landscapes end up like this one: Messy!!

Mostly mulch landscapes are weed magnets and need regular care to stay reasonable looking. Mother Nature will sow her seeds on the top of the mulch, deep-rooted weeds will come up from the bottom--yes, even through weed barrier cloth, newspapers, or cardboard.

Attractive and sustainable alternatives to mostly mulch

Muhly grass covers a non-lawn area beautifully.

Bob Chabot, gardener at the Jacksonville Zoo, explains how he plants this savanna with Florida natives so thickly that the kids are not tempted to walk through it. Yes, there's mulch, but it is not the dominant feature; the plants are.
Plant a dense stand of bunching grasses or other grass-like plants, use ground covers, or plant a butterfly garden filled with plants chosen to attract pollinators. These could be temporary plantings while you are waiting for your trees and shrubs to grow or a more permanent savanna-like meadow such as the one at the Jacksonville Zoo.

The choices for attractive non-lawn landscaping are endless and
so much better than endless mulch.

If you buy bagged mulch, you need to remove it from the bag
 for it to work. This bag sat like this for months.
It was along  one of our frequent walking routes.

Mulch is not bad

Mulch is necessary for most landscapes where you have a planting design. It keeps down weeds, it keeps in moisture, it reduces temperature fluctuations, and it eventually enriches the soil.

Choose a mulch made of plant material, chipped wood, pine needles, sawdust, dead leaves, but as mentioned above, not the cypress mulch.

Do not use chipped rubber because it releases toxins into the soil and doesn't enrich the soil.

While stones or gravel are widely used as mulches in more arid climates, they don't work particularly well in Florida, because our annual rainfall averages from 50 to 60 inches. With that much rain, weeds will grow in the rocks and soil will form. You're better off with a plant-based mulch that needs to be renewed every couple of years until your trees and shrubs drop enough of their own mulch.  

Cypress mulch is the least sustainable choice. 

Underground critters often push up weed barrier cloth making
 a mess  and causing it to be less effective.

A note on weed barrier cloth or geotextiles:

I have changed my mind on the use of weed barrier cloth (woven or non-woven) in the landscape for a number of reasons:

1) Weeds still grow on the top of the mulch or rocks or whatever.
2) Roots of both the desired plants and the weeds grow into the cloth to use it as a nice growing medium.
3) Animals that tunnel in the soil will find the edge or the seam and push it out of their way. And there is a surprising amount of underground activity.
4) It's a real pain in the butt to remove it.

It's not cheap and it's pretty much ineffective. So why use it?

I've used several different types over the years and some are rated to last 30 years in the landscape. To that, I say baloney.
A failed weed barrier effort.
Read my post Listening to your landscape for further information on why I pulled this weed barrier cloth out and stay tuned for more progress.

I hope you are listening to your own landscape, because advice from others, including me, goes only so far. You are the one who knows your landscape the best.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mâche or corn salad, an easy-to-grow spinach substitute

The honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) contains a single edible crop—mâche or corn salad.

When we wrote Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida, we arranged the crops by plant family (not the alphabet) so readers could have a better grasp on how to rotate crops to reduce problems with pests and to even out soil depletion and enrichment. There were not many families with only one crop. Corn salad fell into this category.

Grow corn salad (center row) along with other cool-weather crops. Here it's growing with some black-seeded Simpson lettuce, a reddish lettuce and dill. 

Here the corn salad is growing in a wide row with red-stemmed spinach
and next to some garlic.
Mâche or corn salad (Valerianella spp) is a fast growing cool weather vegetable with a mild spinach taste. A European weed, it often grows in wheat fields and peasants foraged it for their salads. The British sometimes call wheat corn, so it was the salad in the cornfield. There are a couple of different species. It's best to choose those with most heat tolerance.

Since it is basically a weed, it has a high germination rate. In both of these photos, I probably planted it a little too densely, but the quality was not affected.

Harvest sustainably

Harvest by cutting off the top of each plant leaving the base leaves in place.Lovely corn salad centers make a great addition to a salad.
An endless supply...

To harvest this crop, I cut off the center bunch of leaves from each plant. I leave the base leaves in place. I start at the beginning of the row and by the time I reach the end a few weeks later, the beginning of the row is ready to harvest again. You can see what I mean in this photo of the whole row. The yellowish base leaves are left where I've cut off the tops in the middle of the row.

Use like spinach

Use corn salad raw or cooked as an-easy-to-grow spinach substitute. Spinach is a cool weather crop and sometimes doesn't deal well with warm periods during Florida winters.

The taste of corn salad is mild and unlike a real spinach there are no oxalate crystals to deal with. Those crystals can make spinach seem gritty unless you use vinegar or cook it. Also oxalate crystals can cause the formation of kidney stones in some people.

I hope you are enjoying your cool weather crops, but it's time to begin the transition to spring...

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: The Water-Saving Garden

Buy a copy on Amazon
When Pan Penick asked me to review her new book, I was somewhat reluctant knowing that it was written for gardeners in the whole country and not just Florida. But once I received her gorgeous book, I was entranced by all her cool water-saving ideas and innovative designs.

Florida is NOT a desert!

First let me say that since Florida averages 50 to 60 inches of rainfall annually, it is not a desert and so we cannot have xeriscapes. The stone-scaping that works so well in arid climates, doesn't work that well here. Our climate and rainfall ensures that any bed of stone will be filled with weeds before too long. On the other hand, we do have a 7-month dry season which can make us feel like we live in a desert. So we DO need water-saving ideas.

Saving water

Many of the water saving ideas are obvious such as using rain barrels or cisterns and using drought-tolerant plants instead of thirsty lawns, with an emphasis on using native plants. I'm a native plant enthusiast, so seeing so much space devoted to natives made me happy. Other water-saving design ideas make sense once you think about them, but are not as obvious. One example is replacing a small front lawn with a steep slope, which dries out quickly because the water drains away with terraced beds that are level. Yes, you've replaced the lawn, but also the water stays in place better on a level surface. There are good ways to save water using container gardens, as well.

Pam also discusses the ripple theory of saving water where you can plant any thirsty plants close to your house, but as you move away from the buildings, the plants there will need less and less water. This is not particularly going to save you water, but this design idea means that you need to think about water resources when you plant and since we are talking sustainable landscaping here, it is certainly more sustainable to limit plants that need extra care close to the house.

Saving the aquifer

In addition to saving water in the garden, Pam talks about permeable paving and rain gardens to make sure that whatever rain you get is absorbed into the landscape and not rushed into the storm drains. The more water that soaks in, the better it is for the aquifers and our precious fresh water supply. 

Emulating water

As humans, we are drawn to the water, so Pam shows us some ways to emulate the serene feeling of water with colors in the landscape, flowing grassy areas, and with other tricks such as mirrors. Small water gardens can be added to soothe our need for water, but not use much water at all.

Good design

Pam is a garden designer located in Austin Texas, which receives about 30 inches of annual rainfall so her need to save water is greater than ours. Her beautiful book includes color photos of landscapes in many areas of the country on every page. She included many before and after examples, which make it easy to see the difference. She also wrote Lawn Gone and continues that theme in this book. There are so many beautiful ways to leave your lawn landscape behind. So just do ityou can have a beautiful landscape and save water, too.

I recommend The Water-Saving Garden to help you save water beautifully.

What are your favorite water-saving ideas for landscapes?

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

GMOs, food safety, and what we need to be concerned about

Weber and Ginny Stibolt probably discussing food or farming
at Thanksgiving in 2015. (Much of the feast was vegan!)
By Weber Stibolt
Food Science and chemistry major at University of Delaware

For seasoned veterans of this blog, you will remember my guest posts from back when I worked on a farm in 2014 in southern Delaware helping with food safety. Down on the Farm and Harvesting Corn. In brief, I helped this farm through an advanced USDA produce audit for the first time. It was the first time that I had done something like that, so it certainly was a learning experience for us both. Since that internship, I have continued my studies in food science and will be graduating from the University of Delaware in May.

Recognition of work

Recently, I was awarded a scholarship from the Food Marketing Institute Foundation for my work in the past with food safety and for aspiring to go into this field when I graduate. As an extra bonus to the scholarship, I was able to get to go to the annual Safe Quality Food Institute Conference in Indianapolis. While I was there, I learned so much about the hidden world of food safety and met many people who specialize in this type of work.
What has prompted this post in particular was a comment that I made on Facebook regarding the Chipotle outbreak following my attendance at this conference:

Crazy idea. How about instead of pushing for GMO labeling - which is inherently pointless considering that GMOs are ubiquitous - we instead push for labeling of food safety certifications of manufacturers. Something like "SQF Level 3 Certified" or "USDA GAP & GHP Certified Produce" would be much more beneficial to consumers than GMO labeling.

Chipotle has had many outbreaks - 2009 outbreak of E. coli. O157:H7 in Colorado, 2015 Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota, a 2015 norovirus outbreak in California, and now this O26 outbreak across Seattle and Portland. So think about that.

People are listening to peers rather than trying to understand the science

When it comes to talking about GMOs and food safety, I could honestly talk for hours. What bothers me the most about the complex nature of America’s food supply and the public that consumes it is that people will turn to peers rather than understand the science behind what is truly happening. This results in a public that is largely misinformed about GMOs and an unnecessary fear around food.

But let’s break it down. To start, there is no real definition for a genetically modified organism. We have been genetically modifying crops since the agriculture revolution began some 10,000 years ago. Choosing the best two plants for their desirable traits for next year’s crop is genetic modification. The crops from that time are, of course, going to look much different than their modern counterparts today. Take peaches, for an example...

The peach in its native state is not delicious.
In addition, paintings of watermelons from hundreds of years ago look nothing like what we know as watermelons today.

Detail of Giovanni Stanchi’s “Watermelons, peaches, pears and other fruit in a landscape” (1645–72), oil on canvas

So let’s bring it up to speed on the modern-day GMO crops. They essentially take the same process that previously has taken many, many, many generations and replicating it in a laboratory setting. This modern-day species are called “transgenic organisms.” It’s a very scary name, but in reality isn’t so scary. Gene insertion is a better name, in my opinion, for what GMOs are; scientists are adding a trait from a different organism into the DNA of an original crop to make it more tolerant of environmental pressures. <

What makes GMOs so exciting is that it makes seed that is more reliable for farmers. This means a more reliable income and less worry about environmental pressures like drought and weeds. One of the more exciting applications of GMOs for me personally is golden rice – rice that is fortified with Vitamin A for at risk youth in poorer countries. The possibilities on what we can create with GMOs are endless – it’s just a matter of finding the right organisms with the traits we want like drought tolerance, and herbicide resistance.

As promising as this technology is, it does pose some risks. Surprisingly, the risk is NOT to your health. Rather, it’s the overuse of them. Roundup-Ready corn is a great example of this issue–if it is planted on the same field, and the wrong amounts of pesticide are used, then new variants of weeds will pop up creating an even bigger issue than the farmer already has. Over time, this will create a cycle of using more and more potent chemicals which are extremely damaging to the environment.

More information on this issue can be found on this fantastic write-up of GMOs

As a soon-to-be food scientist, I am really excited about the notion that people are becoming more engaged with the food they eat.  However, the people campaigning against GMOs are doing it for all the wrong reasons. GMOs are safe to eat, and if used properly are safe for the environment – they don’t go through years and years of testing for nothing! If people are truly concerned about what they eat, we should be focusing more about the science of what is happening behind-the-scenes.

Or better yet–let’s talk more about food safety (looking at you Chipotle!).

# # #

Thanks Weber for the view from academia. Quite enlightening.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, February 12, 2016

Using subprime produce deliciously

Red bell peppers!!

Red bell peppers are delicious, but quite expensive because their shelf life is so short. These are fully ripened and are ready to begin rotting. Sometimes you can find them at bargain prices when they've passed the point of looking good. I took advantage of this the other day and bought 2 peppers wrapped in packaging so we could not examine the whole fruits. When we got them home, I unwrapped them and other than some slightly wrinkled skin, they were fine. I can relate, because my skin is wrinkled as well.

The plan was to use them that night for dinner so they would not deteriorate any further.

Cornbread-stuffed red peppers

OMG, was this delicious!
I'd made some cornbread a few days ago to go with some some fish/vegetable soup that my husband made on one of those really cold days. (Fish from our neighbor and vegetables from the garden) So when I considered my options for the peppers, I decided that the last 3 pieces of cornbread would be perfect to make stuffing for the peppers. So here are the recipes for the stuffed peppers and my cornbread. Enjoy!

Yogurt cornbread (This is adapted from a buttermilk cornbread recipe from Joy of Cooking, but without the sugar, salt, and bacon fat.)
Dry ingredients:
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup frozen corn kernels (You could coarsely chop the corn, but I rarely bother.)
Wet ingredients:
2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup plain, non-fat yogurt
1/2 cup water (Since I rarely have dairy milk on hand, the water and the yogurt simulate the buttermilk, which is also a cultured milk product.)
Several pats of butter

Grease a 9"x 9" pan with butter (I use a glass pan so I can see if the bottom is browned.)
Stir the wet ingredients in a bowl, add the dry ingredients, and mix quickly, but thoroughly.
Pour into the greased pan and arrange the pats of butter on top of the batter.
Bake at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes or until bottom of cornbread is toasty brown.

Cornbread-stuffed red bell peppers
2 red bell peppers
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup mixed herbs from the garden (garlic chives, oregano, meadow garlic, rosemary, and parsley)
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
2/3 cup crumbled cornbread
1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Water and olive oil as needed

Cut peppers in half and remove stems and seeds, Turn cut side down in 1/4" deep water in a microwaveable pan. Let them soak up the water to re-hydrate while working on the stuffing.
Fry the onion, celery, green pepper, and sunflower seeds in olive oil over medium temperature until onions turn translucent. Don't rush this process. The vegetables will lose quite a bit of their volume while cooking.
Add the cornbread and the herbs to the frying pan.
Thoroughly mix the stuffing ingredients in the frying pan and then add water a little at a time until the stuffing just begins to get sticky.
Meanwhile, cook the red peppers in the water in the microwave for 5 minutes or so until the peppers start to cook and get soft. You can tell by the smell when this happens.
Pour out the water the peppers cooked in. (Save it for later use in a soup or other stock.)
Turn the pepper halves over and fill with the stuffing. It will be a fairly high pile in each half. Lean the peppers on the sides of the pan and on each other so they stay in place. Add the cheddar on top and then grind some black pepper on top of the cheese.
Microwave until the cheese is melted. Let the peppers sit for 2 or 3 minutes then serve.


A healthy and filling dinner.

 And speaking of wrinkles...

Last week I met up with Sue Powers my college roommate for lunch as she was passing nearby. 
Sue Powers and I were roommates our freshman and sophomore years at UMass in Amherst back in the 60s. We don't see each other often since she's still in Massachusetts while I'm now in Florida. But we do go out of our way to meet up when it makes sense. We met for lunch when she was in the area on business. Fun.

This sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua)
was silhouetted by the sunrise over the St. Johns River
on a frosty morning. 

Sunrise sweetgum...

As usual, my husband and I walked along the shore of  the St. Johns River at sunrise this week, but it was below freezing, so we walked more quickly than normal and took only a few photos on this cloudless morning. Our 12 years in Florida has thinned our blood and we are not as cold tolerant as we used to be. I liked this Spanish moss-festooned sweetgum tree.

Today, it's in the 70s again and we'll enjoy a salad from the garden for dinner. More cooking to our harvest.

I hope you are enjoying your winter season.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt