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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Butternut squash soup

Harvest-directed meals 

I've been growing crops here in Florida for about 10 years now. Over that time, the food expenditures have been reduced by15% to feed my husband and myself. It's not just that we don't have to buy so much, but also because harvest-directed meals have changed how we cook. Yesterday, for instance, I created a lovely squash soup. I did buy the squash because my supply ran out a couple of months ago and I also bought the onions, but most of the other ingredients were freshly harvested.

Butternut Squash Soup

Soup harvest: garlic chives, assorted carrots & white radishes, 3 cabbage leaves, meadow garlic, rosemary, curly parsley, and Greek oregano. Note on the cabbage leaves: I have about a dozen cabbage plants that are growing well, but none have developed a head ready for harvesting yet, so I've been picking leaves from one chosen cabbage that I'll sacrifice for for cabbage now instead of a head later.
This is a vegetarian recipe, which starts with making the olive oil-based vegetable stock.
Brown onions, celery, garlic, garlic chives,barley, carrots, & radishes in olive oil until onions become translucent.
1/4 c olive oil
1/3 c of dried barley
1/2 c celery
2 quartered onions
1 tbsp chopped garlic
Harvested vegetables including some root crops chopped into manageable pieces
1 large butternut squash precooked (split half lengthwise and turned cut side down in water in microwave or oven until easily scooped out.)
8 c water
1 c plain yogurt
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped fresh dill and more yogurt and cheese for topping.

Heat oil in soup pan and add the next four ingredients. Cook over medium high heat and stir often to heat all the ingredients evenly until the onions shrink and turn translucent. The carrots and other root crops will not have cooked through at this point. Add water and squash. Bring to a boil and simmer for half an hour or until the carrots are soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a bit.
Scoop the soup into a food processor or blender in small batches and pour in a storage bowl. Mix in the yogurt, pepper and cheese.

I served it with a dollop of yogurt, fresh dill chopped, and more grated Parmesan cheese.

Served with a dollop of yogurt, fresh dill, grated Parmesan cheese, and wheat thins.

Harvested salad

The night before, here's the salad harvest: white radish, come-again celery, garlic chives, 1 cabbage leaf, parsley, rosemary, Greek oregano, dill, and assorted lettuces.
The night before the soup, fixed a harvest-based salad. What is not shown in the photo was a previously harvested purple carrot. I grated the carrot and 1/2 of the radish and actually only used about half of the lettuce. I also added some finely chopped onion, 1/2 a cucumber and 2 types of grated cheese from the store. It was topped with grilled and flaked kingfish from a neighbor. I share some of my harvests with his family. We dressed the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper. Also yummy.

Order your copy today. 

Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida

If you don't know how to begin growing your vegetables in Florida. Our book will help you get started on the right track.

It's the only Florida-based book to cover organic growing. It covers the steps from seed to plate. And if you're going to grow your own, isn't one of your reasons to have the most healthful food possible for you and your family?

Let me know how you do.

Green gardening matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Sunday, January 17, 2016

GMOs: Good or Bad?

GMOs were discussed as the cover story CBS Sunday Morning today, Digging for Seeds of Truth in the GMO Debate.. This is a pretty good and balanced discussion of this controversial topic. 
A GMO papaya grown in Hawaii.
The reporter, Barry Petersen, talked with a papaya farmer in Hawaii, who explained how the vaccinated seeds have brought back this crop that was entirely destroyed by a blight. These GMO seeds, which have been used there for 20 years, have saved this crop and the farms with no side effects. He also spoke with others on both sides of the argument.

There are no easy answers

I have 2 big issues with GMOs:
1) Do we know what Bt and other insecticides do to our gut biome?
2) Round-up ready crops mean that we are consuming glyphosate, which has been shown to be dangerous to humans. It is even more dangerous to monarchs and many other pollinators that need weeds to complete their life cycles.

I was struck in the story that someone claimed that there is no environmental damage. I take issue with such a broad statement.

GMOs are not the same as the age-old plant breeding programs that select for the best characteristics, but they are pervasive in our food supply and have helped to bring back devastated crops. So are they good are bad? The answer is not straightforward.

As home gardeners, it is unlikely at this point that we would have access to GMO crops, but this may be changing. We need to be careful from here and not let Big Chemical force the issue to sell their products.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, January 1, 2016

A greener 2016 and into the future

Outdoor activities should be a regular part of a kid's upbringing.

Reflection on 2015

As the year comes to an end, many people look back to see what went well and what could have gone better. Spending some time with my 13-month-old granddaughter this past week has caused more reflection than normal.

Why do I do it?

When I was on my 35-event, 11-week-long book tour this fall, a couple of people asked me why I worked so hard when I'm supposed to be retired. My husband sometimes asks the same thing. The quick answer is that I think my Florida gardening books, other writing projects, and outreach help people be more successful in creating more eco-friendly landscapes or to help them grow vegetables successfully. All of this is good for the environment. 
A poster created for my 3 events in one week in SW Florida.

This was my 3rd book tour and was by far the most successful in reaching people and selling books. I appreciate all the help and support I had from members of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) who created and organized events. Also October was declared to be the first ever Florida's Native Plant Month, which fell right in the middle of my tour dates. Several chapters arranged for special workshops, plant sales, and more to celebrate the month and to get out the word. I was pleased that I was available to help. (I limit my speaking to specific tour dates, otherwise nothing else would get done.)

I enjoy the speaking and I've heard from many people over the years, that my plain, common-sense approach to gardening is what they want to hear. So that's good. If gardeners have good and useful information, they are likely to be more successful and once this happens they'll continue their activities instead of giving up and saying that they have black thumbs.

Let's do the numbers: 35 events with an average of 40 to 50 people attending the meetings and many more at other events. So that means that I reached more than 1,500 people directly. Maybe half of them have started to change their landscaping practices already and maybe another third of them are planning to change. Maybe some of them have joined FNPS and maybe some of their neighbors get good ideas from my direct contacts. You can see where this is going...

Planting native seed helps to restore authenticity
to your landscape. 
Every person who starts using more native plants and begins to use more sustainable landscaping practices is making a difference for the health of his or her local ecosystem and when this is multiplied by my 1,000 gardeners, the total effect is enormous. While it's possible that I could have a similar outcome by just staying home and using social media to spread the word, I think the person-to-person, face-to-face contact is much stronger. At a live event, questions can be answered and knowledge can be demonstrated first hand.

Each person that I convince to be kind to Mother Nature means that our only planet will be that much healthier.

One more note on this book tour compared to the first two, is that people seemed to be much more impressed that I've written three books, which have all been beautifully crafted by University Press of Florida. Thanks again to my wonderful publisher. Of course, I'm now working on a fourth book and a couple of others are not far behind. Stay tuned.

I spoke to FNPS's newest chapter at The Villages and to many other chapters at meetings and at events.
(I was adjusting the microphone box when the photographer snapped the picture.)
Week after week our garbage pick-up is just one small bag.
We don't buy much and recycle everything possible.
The  kitchen scraps go directly into the garden or compost. 

Ways to be greener...

In addition to writing about greener gardening topics, I've also worked to green up my own lifestyle in many ways. I wrote this in my preface to "Sustainable Gardening for Florida", which lists some of the items we work toward:

" If I may get up on my soapbox for a moment. . .
The environment is not something that is separate from us. We are all participants in it. Our actions, lifestyles, consumption are all part of the mix. We won't make much progress if we just talk about "the environment" or if we fund yet another study.  No matter how much we pay for it, talk is cheap. There are many other lifestyle changes that we may make, outside of the scope of this book, that will further reduce our footprints on Florida:
- Recycle more. Fill up the curbside recycling bins with aluminum cans, bottles, and paper; reduce what you throw away. Recycle your old computers. Donate old cars, used clothing, and other usable items to charities.
- Handle hazardous material correctly, and report anyone pouring hazardous waste into the streets or storm drains. Clear debris from the storm drains in your neighborhood, so less organic material enters our waterways.
- Drive less and drive fuel-efficient cars. Walk or ride your bikes more, and lobby for bike paths and village centers so people can find more of what they need close to home.
- Eat lower in the food chain. Eat more vegetables and fruits and less meat—it's better for your health and the health of our environment and reduces the amount of energy required to put food on your table. Of course, if you raise some of your own vegetables and fruit, you're using even less manufactured energy to sustain you and your family.
- Drink filtered (not bottled) water, if tap water offends your taste buds. This will reduce the amount of plastic waste that goes into our landfills and especially into our waterways.

- Install solar panels to augment or replace your hot water heater or to generate some of your own electricity. Use solar powered outside lights, too. Install fluorescent bulbs or LED (light-emitting diode) lights all around.  Cut back on extraneous outdoor lighting--it's better for plants and wildlife to experience darkness at night.
- Insulate your house, use double-glazed windows, install ceiling fans, and then set the thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter. You may find that 82 or 83 degrees is quite tolerable in the summer if you use fans to move the air. In the winter, set the thermostat lower and dress warmly. Encourage businesses to turn up their air conditioning—it's ridiculous that we have to carry sweaters in the summer.- Consume less and buy items with the least amount of packaging.
- Get involved in neighborhood and local politics to change unsustainable policies concerning lawns, community lands, development, and other environmental issues. Support and vote for public officials who will make greener choices for Florida and the country.

This book is a call to action on a wide assortment of sustainable practices and techniques to use in your gardens and landscapes. But I suspect that you (like most folks) will start with just a few items that make the most sense for your situation. This is fine because when you find that you're saving time and money, you'll include a few more sustainable landscaping practices each season--it's better for the environment and it's addictive. And while you're at it, pass the word. Involve youth groups, community associations, and local governments in sustainable landscape management, and see if you can get the local press interested."
We grow enough produce to reduce our food bill by 15%

Walking the talk...

As an example, I grow enough vegetables so we save 15% on our food bill. The garden has changed our eating and cooking habits. We included many recipes, especially for unusual vegetables in "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida" to help readers get comfortable with cooking to the heir harvest.

50% of the royalties for "Sustainable Gardening for Florida" is automatically paid to The Nature Conservancy for Florida.

Also 50% of the royalties for "The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape" will be automatically donated to the Florida Native Plant Society.

My donations to these and other green, action-oriented organizations makes a difference as well. Walking the talk is the only way to make progress. If you see something that needs doing, don't whine about, just take action yourself. An example of people taking action is a group called Sea Angels who clean up beaches. This year I vow to do even more to help Mother Nature.

The future generations will inherit what we leave

Rainbow carrots for Christmas dinner. Watching butterflies in the garden...
I think it's important that kids understand where food comes from and eating directly from the family garden is better for their health as well. After spending time with my granddaughter this past week, I was reminded that kids are incredibly observant. Even at this age when her vocabulary is extremely limited, she notices everything from the birds and butterflies to the falling leaves and so much more. I hope she retains her curiosity and interest. Too many older kids and adults do not pay attention to their natural surroundings--nature blindness. If they don't notice the natural world, how will they know to protect it?
Sowing green gardening ideas & hoping that many of them take hold in new places and spread from there. As my daughter and granddaughter move into the future, I want to leave the best possible world for them.
For more reading, here are links to some of my articles that cover some more on this topic:
A look back to find lessons for the future
Getting Started with Native Plants in Florida
My name is Ginny and I’m addicted to the Florida Native Plant Society!
Eco-activists: a few people can make a real difference
Supporting wildlife beyond your garden gate 

Thanks for reading Green Gardening Matters and I wish you a happy & greener 2016.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thanksgiving, gardens, and pesto dressing

My husband and I made the long drive up to Maryland
to visit with friends and family.

Pesto harvest includes garlic chives, meadow garlic, Greek oregano, and lots of basil--I cut it off near the soil line so I can get another harvest before our first frost.  Sweet basil has been prone this fungal blight. I used only the green parts of the leaves.
My plan for my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was to make some pesto dressing for a tossed salad made mostly from the chef's mix salad greens. I harvested all the basil, which I'd planted at the end of September and was showing signs of disease. I made the pesto using my variable, harvest-based recipe, which you can read in this post: A field trip, a Florida native plant hero and a pasta salad.
I ended up with enough pesto to freeze several pints. I harvested most of my first lettuce crop and other salad makings just before we left.
To make dressing from the pesto, I added olive oil and vinegar to make it more liquidy. I washed and bagged the salad makings, put salad stuff in our portable fridge, and then we were off.

But first Washington, DC.

Fall in DC Milkweed is ready to fly in DC's sidewalk gardens.
We rode our bikes up and down the length of the Mall and stopped a a couple of museums, but we really enjoy the gardens along the way. Fall is certainly beautiful in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Asters! (Symphotrichum oblongifolium) Asters and red ribbon grass (Panicum virgatum).
I love how the caretakers of the sidewalk gardens are using more natives or near natives rather than the formal seasonal plantings. I wrote about this after I visited the High Line Park in NYC and Lurie Gardens in Chicago. It helps to offset the thought that everyone needs perfect-looking landscapes. These native landscapes have dead flowers with seeds to feed the birds that might not be tolerated in more formal settings. Redefining what a beautiful garden should look like...

At the end of the day we had put 12 miles on our bikes and had satisfied our DC deficit.


My smart granddaughter Olivia. Behind my shoulder is a sketch of her mother and aunt when they were children. My son Dana and grandson Weber.
I make a point when talking to Weber as dinner
is declared ready for the group.

So we had a lovely dinner with traditional and vegan offerings. 20 friends and family made short order of everything.

We also spent time with my good friend Lucia Robson. It was so much fun to catch up.

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Monday, November 16, 2015

After the #FloweredShirtTour

I was leaving for a multi-day trip
at sunrise with my 3 flowered shirts.

"The Art of  Maintaining a
Florida Native Landscape"
I named my latest 11-week book tour (Sept. 1 to Nov. 10) the #FloweredShirtTour. My third book, "The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape," was published by University Press of Florida in September. Back in May I was a speaker at the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) conference and at the end of my talk, I held up my calendar and asked the audience to fill up my dance card. Did they ever!

I sent emails to the contacts on all the chapters' websites and had also arranged to hold an all-day workshop of the chapters on outreach in September. In addition I'd contacted other groups that hold events in the fall and asked to be on their programs. All in all, I ended up with 35 events in 11 weeks. I've documented most of the events on my Appearances Page.

October was Florida's Native Plant Month, which featured proclamations from state, county, and local officials. My snarky guess is that many of the people reading the proclamations had never put the words "native" and "plant" in the same sentence before. 
It was a bit of serendipity when The Society worked on an initiative to declare October Florida's Native Plant Month. Some of the chapters created special events or they redesigned already scheduled events to celebrate the month. I was honored to be part of many of these special events. I love working with FNPS members—some of the smartest and most dedicated people working on behalf of Florida and her natural areas.

A poster for a 3-hour  Martin County workshop.  A poster for 3 events in SW Florida.
Organizers for my events created some great posters. Off to a local farmers market.
I've already written about a couple of the events: 2015 Master Gardener Conference; Florida Local Food Summit; and part of my Autumnal equinox post included details on my Wakulla County event.

A montage of some of the many flowered shirts I wore during the tour...
Some of the many different flowered shirts...

This was also a tour of Florida

I roamed along many backroads on my way to various events. This is "The Real Florida." Sometimes, if there was time and a safe place to pull off the road, I stopped to take photos, but other times I appreciated the view as I drove by. What a great state we live in.
Swamp sunflowers dazzled along the roadsides for a few weeks during my tour.
In Lake County, I stopped between venues to capture these reflections of Florida's mountains in one of her many lakes. 

A foggy sunrise at Wekiva State Park.
I wish to thank all the organizers of the events and am pleased to have met so many people in my adventures. Thanks to everyone who bought books from me or one of the book sellers. And a special thanks to my hosts for overnight stays: Loret, Gail, Rose, and Marlene.

So off to work on the next book projects and many other items on my ever-expanding to-do list...

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

2015 Master Gardener Conference

A book signing...

At my signing table I not only signed books that people purchased from the IFAS bookstore, I also passed out native plant society brochures with the message that we think Florida should look like Florida and not Hawaii.
It was fun to talk to so many Master Gardeners: many I knew, but others are now new friends.

Education is the name of the game

There were posters and information lining the corridors.
Florida Friendly sign part I.
Florida Friendly II
A Florida-Friendly plant guide is a available for a moderate price. I just wish that more natives had been included in the FF recommended plant list. Not sure what's in the app.
A bug info poster.

The vendors

Vendors included fertilizer and pesticide companies and also  Bonnie Plants. I talked to the 2 reps at length about how frustrated I am with their offerings.
I have been frustrated with Bonnie Plants for a long time now because they sell plants that absolutely don't work in Florida such as long-day onions, which I've ranted about before. I approached the two women working the table with the hope that I could speak to someone about their plant selection. I wrote down my complaint on the back of one of my bookmarks. I tried not get angry because this situation is not their fault, but as an educator, I wanted to show how I could help their company. This was a down time for the vendors because the Master Gardeners were attending the keynote, so I went back to my table and brought a copy of my vegetable book to show them I wasn't a hack and indicated that it was a university press book. Then I praised them for Bonnie's third grade cabbage program and how important their program is for kids. So we'll see if this leads anywhere...

I did not approach the fertilizer and pesticide vendors. I know that conferences depend upon vendors and sponsors, but these products are causing harm to Florida's waterways and other ecosystems. How can you have a butterfly garden when you poison your landscape?

I signed books only for a couple of hours after the keynote speaker.
I was disappointed to see that Laurie Trenholm was speaking about fertilizers. That she recommends turf down to the edges of waterways and that lawns need fertilizing 3 to 5 times a year is so wrong for the health of Florida's waterways.
In my presentations, I talk about our "Freedom Lawn" (Free from fertilizer, free from pesticides, and free from over-watering). One time I mentioned that IFAS (Florida's extension service) is still recommending lawn fertilizer and received this rant on my Facebook page.

You threw us under the bus using your platform to say that Master Gardeners go out and TELL PEOPLE TO FERTILIZE their lawns. Um No,,, we have been trying to teach our community lagoon friendly landscaping, volunteering our time with lectures and training. I personally am out teaching composting, rain barrels and vermi-composting. The extension office has to train commercial landscapers THE CORRECT way and times in fertilizer and pesticide use for their licensing. If someone comes with questions on fertilization we do answer them because some HOAs demand St Auggy grass and as you know it is bad news for the lagoon. And then there are the golf courses, soccer fields, nursing homes and schools that need this help. I belong to the Native Plant Society as well as being Pres. of our IR Master Gardener program for several years. I found it extremely hurtful and discriminatory that you clump all MGs into category when they PAY for their training and volunteer their hours to be HELPFUL to the community. I don't doubt that there are a few old school MGs that may still say MIRACLE Grow is the way to go BUT,,,,, most of us are trying to push the natural methods. I think you owe the nature loving Master Gardeners an apology .

I pointed out that while I appreciate that she is doing the right thing, IFAS as an organization, is still featuring Laurie Trenholm on a regular basis, which was my point. This is yet another instance... I really do appreciate that Master Gardeners do pay for their training and they volunteer untold hours, it's amazing how many good positive projects they are able to complete..I'm just trying to convince people that lawns can do quite well without any fertilizer and our waterways would be in much better health..

Only a few events are left in my #FloweredShirtTour. I hope to see you at one of them.

Green gardening matters, 
Ginny Stibolt