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

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