Archive for April, 2010

So Berry Good: Part II

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2010 by PickMeYard

There are many varieties of papaya .   The kamiah papaya is a genetically modified variety from Hawaii.  The Mexican red is very sweet and larger than the Hawaiian varieties.  The Mexican yellow has a firmer texture than the Mexican red and is not as sweet. 

The Solo is the most common variety of papaya and is bisexual (not kinky in the plant kingdom.)  The solo papaya plant will not produce any male trees so each plant will provide fruit.  However, much of the solo variety is from Hawaii.  It seems that most papaya from Hawaii is now genetically modified due to cross-contamination

Our Papaya Tree

Our papaya tree produced prolifically for us over the past two years, but… we want to plant more.  The papaya tree peaks in the second year and usually declines after that.  We have two red maradols (Caribbean red) and a Hawaiian sunrise planted for this year.  We obtained our Hawaiian sunrise variety from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.  They only sell organic and non-GMO seeds. We bought  two young red maradols from Echo Nursery in N. Ft. Myers, Florida that are bisexual.

We will be able to plant the seeds from these and there is a high probability that the seeds will be bisexual too.  These red maradols are not supposed to be genetically modified , but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.  They are, however,  a hybrid,  which is different from being genetically modified

Young Papaya Plants

Papaya is usually grown from seed.  The plant will reach about 10-15 feet in height and should give you fruit (a berry) within the first year of planting because it grows quickly.  The papaya tree has high water requirements and shallow roots.  It  must have warmth throughout the year and needs at least 10 months of heat to set fruit.  They grow well in a container.  

Some papaya plants have only short-stemmed female flowers.  Other papaya plants may have only male flowers on long stalks.  Some plants have both male and female plants (bisexual).  Sometimes the plant will change from male to female after being beheaded (garden language – don’t be scared.)  Pollination is usually necessary for fruit set and is done so at night by moths (and you thought all they did was fly around light bulbs.)   

Male Papaya Tree

Only female plants produce fruit.  One male plant is needed for every 15-25 females (bulls, roosters and papayas… every man’s dream life.)  If you have a bisexual papaya plant (solo variety),  it will act as its own pollen source for its flowers and nearby female flowers and will give you fruit. 

The non-GMO Hawaiian sunrise seeds that we germinated will be an assortment of male and female plants.  We are germinating all of them.  When they start to flower, we will compost all the males except for one (the dream ends here.)  We don’t have to do that with our red maradols.  Only one plant is needed to produce fruit. 

There are many pests that attack papayas in each region they grow.  In Florida they are susceptible to webworms, papaya fruit and white flies.  Florida also has a problem with nematodes in the soil that cause damage to the roots.  Mulching helps with the nematode problem.  Fungal and viral diseases can also be  problems.

I expected to have difficulties when we started growing papaya because we lots of pests and nematodes.  So far we have had no problems and a bountiful harvest. 

The orange-ish yellow fruit is ready to be harvested when the tip turns yellow.  I like my papayas to be really ripe, so I wait until they don’t look so picture-perfect on the tree anymore.  They bruise easily when they are ripe so they must be handled with care. 

A Ripe Papaya

Now… don’t you feel berry educated about this fabulous fruit?

Come grow with us!

So Berry Good: Part I

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2010 by PickMeYard

Technically, the papaya (Carica papaya) is a berry… and, it’s my favorite.  I wasn’t always a fan of papaya. My grandmother used to grow it in her yard when I was a kid.  I couldn’t stand the flavor.  When I was eleven-years-old I decided to give it another try. 

We were in Jamaica where the papaya was so beautifully presented on the plate that I couldn’t resist.  It had fresh lime squeezed all over it and the lime slices were also used as a garnish.  One bite and I was hooked for life.  The turning point for me was the fresh lime.  Whenever somebody tells me they don’t like papaya, I suggest they try it with fresh lime juice… they become converts.

 

In the West Indies, the leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach.  They are also applied topically to cuts and bruises.  The papaya is a healthy fruit with vitamin C, potassium, carotenoids, phosphorus, folate and fiber.  It has an enzyme, called papain, that has the power of digesting 300 times its own volume of protein.  It has a soothing effect on the stomach and aids the digestion of food.

 

The papaya’s seeds are rich in laetrile and also contain the papain enzyme.  The seeds of any fruit, except citrus, have laetrile that occurs naturally.  Papaya’s seeds are very spicy tasting… like pepper, and are commonly used as a pepper substitute. 

To prepare the seeds as a pepper substitute, soak the seeds overnight and then bake them at 150 degrees in the oven for about 5 hours.  I like to dehydrate my seeds in my dehydrator and then add a few of them to my pepper grinder along with pimento berries  and peppercorns.  My mom told me that she always eats a few fresh seeds when she is cutting a papaya.  I live by the motto, everything in moderation.  We consume the seeds in moderation due to the laetrile in them.  

Fresh Papaya Seeds

Dehydrated Papaya Seeds

The papaya is really easy to cut and prepare.  The fruit and outer peeling is soft like butter.  It can be sliced right down the middle and cut in half.  Then, gently scoop the seeds out with a spoon, fork or even your fingers. I simply slice fresh papaya for my family to enjoy. 

Sometimes I use the de-seeded halved papaya as a bowl for salsa or cooked shrimp.  When I’m making it for myself I skip the preparation.  I scoop the seeds out, douse it with squeezed  lime and dig in with a spoon (a grapefruit spoon is a handy papaya eating utensil.).  

Sweet Papaya "Berry" from our Yard

Scientists are researching papaya and its cancer fighting properties.  I’ve been told a hundred times in Jamaica that papaya  (“paw-paw” as they call it in Jamaica) “scare deh cancer”.  Jamaicans have always used food as medicine. 

 How long has it been since you tried some papaya?  “Ya mon, yuh muss try dem.”

Come grow with us.

Our Family Garden: Part II

Posted in Flowers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2010 by PickMeYard

Flowers in Our Garden

I wanted to plant more than just vegetables this year so I dedicated an entire garden bed to flowers.  I am so glad I did because we are enjoying them immensely.  I know I will be picking flowers out of this bed for years, but I don’t mind.

Johnny Jump-Ups

The Johnny-jump-ups look like a small army of flowers standing at attention.  Grayson says they taste like lettuce.  Loring loves to pick them and we are fine with that because it keeps the new flowers coming.  Johnny-jump-ups are a cool season plant. They don’t survive a Florida summer.  However, they will re-seed themselves and jump-up again in the fall in our zone 9b.  I always use them as a garnish for the kids meals because it makes their meal more interesting.  Sometimes I float one or two in their drink.  They should only be consumed in moderation and eaten only when they are grown in your own garden without pesticides. 

Zinnias

The zinnias are wonderful for cutting and bringing inside.  They have added an amazing pop of color to our table.  Zinnias are a warm weather flower and are best grown from seed because they don’t transplant well.  They come in every color except blue and some varieties can grow up to 4 feet tall.  We are planning to save the seeds from our zinnias to continue growing them. 

She feels like a real princess with all these flowers to pick

I don’t think our garden will ever be without flowers again.  We have enjoyed them too much to be without them.

Marigolds

These marigolds are as big as my fist and smell like summer.  I’ve noticed that marigolds grow throughout the year in my garden. I’ve decided they should be a permanent fixture.  We’re just going to keep growing them everywhere.  There are many types of marigolds.   

 

The kids have been keeping a close eye on this sunflower.  They’ve been watching it transform into edible sunflower seeds.  Loring says the flower looks happy and keeps giving it kisses.  We’ve planted a whole lot more sunflowers because we want to see a lot more of them in our yard.  They seem to scream, “it’s summer!”  It is definitely a great plant to grow with kids.

We will never leave flowers off our “grow list” again.  It has been so rewarding to learn about the different varieties and watch them grow and bloom.  I think our food tastes better when we eat our meals around a vase of freshly picked flowers.

The Family Flower Picker

Come grow with us!

Our Family Garden: Part I

Posted in Fruits of our labor, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2010 by PickMeYard

Our yard was beautiful before we started our garden.  It was simple.  I started noticing that we weren’t going outside much.  We would go outside to play a game or two, but even that happened less and less. 

Our yard before we started a garden

I started a small vegetable garden and realized that we were going outside all the time to look at the garden.  It wasn’t long before we turned the small vegetable garden into a large garden…and every year we make it larger.  We go outside every single day now.  Sometimes we spend the entire day outside enjoying our yard. 

Our Yard Now

Fenced-In Toddler Play Area

Last summer we fenced in a large area with chain-link for our toddler.  We wanted her to be able to play outside while we worked in the garden.  We are able to keep an eye on her and know she is safe, yet we are still be able to pull weeds.  Now that she is a little older, she is helping us pull weeds. 

Our Barbeque Pit

Last summer I also made a barbeque pit.  I envisioned the family sitting around it while I cooked our dinner over the fire.  My husband was irritated that I sacrificed one of our garden beds for the barbeque pit when I made it.  He got over it when he realized how much we used it over the past winter. We cooked a ton of marshmallows, hot dogs, and beans over the fire while we told stories.  The kids love it. 

Cooking over the barbeque pit

I do a lot of gardening in containers.  The black pots in the picture below are my favorite.  They are big but they don’t get too heavy.  They are made of plastic which is light and retains moisture.  I can move them around easier than heavy ceramic pots and the black color keeps the soil warmer in the winter.  However, I’ve decided that I don’t like the look of the black plastic and I am currently working on a new look. I’m going to paint them a natural green to blend in better with the surroundings and not stand out so much.  I tend to move them around a lot and “re-decorate”. 

Containers with Lettuce in Our Garden

Loring Working in Our Garden

Our Garden Beds

 Our garden has transformed over the course of many years.  It is always changing and we are always learning. 

Our Outdoor Chess Board

We love to play chess here.  I had Grayson help me build the chess board with concrete pavers and paint.  We collected the chess pieces from various discount stores.  I taught Grayson how to play chess and now I rarely win a game against him. 

Our Ship Playground

 This ship playground has brought my children many, many hours of sheer joy.  We added solar lights all over it that look like antique lanterns.  It looks like a Disney World pirate ship at night.  We’ve got solar lights in the garden beds that flicker to look like candles.  The effect is very pleasing.  There are several other assorted solar lights to up-light some small trees and light up the walkways.

Everybody Loves the Outdoor Couches

We find it difficult to leave our yard now.  We would rather stay home than go anywhere else.  Our perfect weekend is when we don’t have to go anywhere and we can just go outside to play in our yard with our animals and enjoy our garden. 

Our Ever Changing Garden

Come grow with us! 

The Wise Garden

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2010 by PickMeYard

It’s not very often that I am invited to visit a garden that is hidden and mysterious.  Grayson and I were elated when we got an invitation to see one.  The owner of this storybook garden is 80 years old and has been creating her garden for 60 of those years.  However, her garden is  not the kind of garden that looks perfect.  Her garden looks like a forest full of intrigue.  It seems like every square inch of her yard is planted with unusual and wonderful trees and plants. She grew everything from either seed or cutting and each of them has a story.

A huge java plum tree that gives delicious fruit for making jam.

Nona took us on a tour of her garden that we wished could go on and on.  She walked us around with a small machete and gave us cuttings, seeds and young potted plants of each plant in which we took an interest. She filled the back of our SUV.   While we walked around, she gave me a glass of elderberry wine… wine that she has been making for over 60 years.  The wine I was drinking was eight years old. It was sooooo good.  I am trying to get the nerve up to ask her for the recipe. Is that wrong?

Nona's Vegetable Garden

It seems like there are a lot of weeds in her vegetable garden, but she has her reasons.  She pulls out the weeds that she doesn’t want.  She said she keeps the ragweed inside and around her greens to keep the aphids out. 

Nona's Scarecrow

Nona said the birds watch her when she’s in her vegetable garden.  The trick in the above picture has always worked for her.  She gives the string a good shake and the cans make quite a racquet.  The birds hate it.

Guinea Fowl Running Everywhere

She has guinea fowl running all over her property.  They are insect-eating machines.  There isn’t a tick near her house for miles and they keep the mosquito population to a minimum. 

African Grey Goose...with a gander laying on a nest behind him.

Nona's goats provide her gallons and gallons of milk

The goats have their own trailer. Notice the goat sticking her head out the door.

Loring & her new friends

One of Nona's Roosters

Nona has many different kinds of chickens, including some rare heritage breeds.  Our favorite chickens were the Cuckoo Marans.  They lay beautiful chocolate-colored eggs that have a rich flavor.  She said that once we taste ’em, we won’t want any other eggs.  She gave us over a dozen to bring home.  We ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner the following day.  We want more.  I think our hen population is going to increase a little.  Nona has many different kinds of ducks as well.  She said the duck eggs make the best cakes we will ever taste.

She had a botanical remedy for every ailment in her yard.  She said she can’t remember when she last visited a doctor. Grayson and I planted everything she gave us the minute we got home. We hope that one day our yard is as special as hers.

Come grow with us!

Love it or Hate it

Posted in edible leaves, Edible Rhizomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by PickMeYard

Young Coriander Plants...Cilantro

People either love it or hate it.  I’m talking about cilantro (Coriandrum sativum).  Cilantro is pronounced [sih-LANH-troh] and it is the leaves and stems of the coriander plant.  The dried fruits of the plant are called coriander seeds and are usually referred to as a spice.  The dried fruits (coriander seeds) have a warm, nutty flavor when they are ground up or chewed.  Coriander was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun of ancient egypt, so it’s been around for quite a while. 

Coriander Leaves...Cilantro

The leaves taste like soap to some people.  Julia Childs hated it and wanted nothing to do with it.  The NY Times did an article on cilantro and offered a theory that some people are genetically inclined to dislike it.  My husband used to hate it and has learned to tolerate it.  I absolutely love cilantro and find it full of wonderful flavor.  I love to add it to salsa and chopped avocado. I also love it sprinkled over pineapple gazpacho soup that I make in the blender.  I sprinkle it over my own meal so my husband has the option to leave it out of his meal. 

Coriander Plant that is Flowering and Ready to go to Seed

Coriander seeds taste very different from the leaves.  When the coriander plant bolts and gets lots of flowers on it, the flowers will turn to seed.  The seeds will be green and immature at first.  If they are allowed to dry on the plant, they will turn brown and then can be picked and harvested as coriander seed.

Dried Coriander Seeds on the Plant and Ready to be Picked

Tons of Coriander Seed from One Plant

Our coriander seeds from last years harvest. One plant filled the entire jar. We are still eating from them. We will have lots to give away this year.

Coriander seeds are used extensively in India.  They use it as a thickener as well as a spice in their cuisine.  The seeds are also roasted and eaten as a snack.  Indians use it medicinally as a relief for colds by boiling the dried seeds in water.  In Germany, they use coriander seeds for pickling.  A beer is brewed in Belgium with the seeds and paired with orange peel for a citrus flavor.

The entire plant is edible.  The roots are used in soups and curries, especially in Thai cuisine.  The roots cook quickly and should be added last in the cooking process.  The roots are a favorite ingredient for many chefs.

Flowering Coriander...the Bees Love it.

Cilantro is a cool weather herb.  When the roots reach 75 degrees, the plant will flower and go to seed (bolt).  However, if it’s grown in a pot  it could be moved into a cooler spot in the summer. Extra mulch helps it stay cool too. This summer we are going to try a couple of experiments so we can have our cilantro through the summer…hopefully.  The plant is ready to harvest after 8 weeks when it’s grown from seed.  The plant has a longer growing season if the flowers are cut off.  If you let the plant go to seed, it will re-seed itself around your garden.  We have coriander plants popping up in the most unusual places and we just let them grow.

Cilantro growing in an oversized pot. A chicken is using it as a nest.

Cilantro tastes wonderful with avocado, pineapple, lentils, mayonnaise, peppers, onions, garlic, tomato, tomatillo, salsa, yogurt, and ice cream…just to name a few suggestions.  I found a cool recipe for cilantro ice cream at veglicious.blogspot.com   and a recipe for an avocado cilantro ice cream at makelunchnotwar.blogspot.com. There is a great soup recipe at about.com with coriander, carrot, and ginger.  

My favorite recipe with cilantro is a  pineapple gazpacho soup that I make in my blender.   The ingredients are: 4 cups chopped & peeled cucumber, 4 cups chopped pineapple, 1 cup pineapple juice, 1 small jalapeno pepper (no seeds), 1 scallion (green onion), 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1-2 teaspoons salt, a bunch of cilantro leaves, 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and a few chopped nuts ( I like macadamia best).  The soup should be chunky, so I don’t blend it too much.  Since my husband doesn’t love the cilantro, I only add it over the top of my soup and I don’t put it into the blender.  I change the recipe sometimes by substituting ingredients.  It’s great for lunch in the summer on really hot days.

My daughter loves the flavor of cilantro and my son does not.  However, they both love to harvest the seeds.

Come grow with us!

Industrialized Food

Posted in Problems with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2010 by PickMeYard

A friend asked me  recently why I would go through so much trouble to grow our own fruits and vegetables when I could just buy them in the grocery store.  My answer is that I don’t consider it “trouble” to garden in our yard and I have more control over the food my family is eating.  My post today is only one reason we are backyard gardeners, but it is a big one. 

Grayson eating breakfast in our garden

 

My biggest concern is genetically modified (GM) food.  There is a lot of talk about it in the media lately that can be confusing.  There is a huge amount of information to sort through, but it is absolutely crucial that we all understand what is happening.  We are all part of a huge biological experiment. We are the guinea pigs.  

 

Food is being industrialized.  Genetically modified foods have been engineered for many reasons, but the bottom line is that food is being genetically modified for bigger profits.  Genetic engineering is done by splicing genes through molecular cloning and transformation to alter the organism’s genes.  

This is a new thing for scientists so they are making many mistakes while they try to figure it out.  The problem is not that scientists are advancing technology, it’s that they have already let out their genetically modified seeds for economic reasons and the seeds are wreaking havoc on a global scale.  The responsibility lies mostly with a company called Monsanto. 

Monsanto was founded in St. Louis, Missouri in 1901.  They are credited with products such as saccharin, aspartame, DDT, Agent Orange, Round-Up, bovine growth hormone, PCB’s, and many, many others.  Monsanto has genetically modified thousands of seeds. They own these seeds because they have them patented.  They have over 11,000 patented GMO seeds.  

In 2003, the Washington Post did a front-page article on the environmental damage that Monsanto did to a small town in Alabama.  They had a factory there that was knowingly dumping PCB and mercury waste into local creeks for 40 years.  They paid out over $700 million in settlements for this case.  

There are others like this one.  Monsanto has been sued and settled many times for poisoning its employees.  In January of 2010, Monsanto was named company of the year in Forbes.  So…do you feel comfortable with them making the food you feed your children?  I don’t want them anywhere near our food. 

The research that has been done on the effects of consuming GM food is questionable.  There is a serious conflict of interest between the lobbyists and the FDA.  The facts that are coming out speak volumes.  My opinion is that this experiment needs to come to an end and we need to let nature do what she does best…be nature. Do we need to improve nature?  

These huge food companies seem to rule the world.  They are extremely powerful and have a dangerous amount of control over our food supply.  Our only defense is knowledge.  These powerful companies do not want us to be informed and they don’t want us to question what they are doing.  To them it is about money and to us it is about safety.  

I want to have a choice about whether I choose to buy GM food.  If the food isn’t labeled as GM, then there is no way to know.  The only way to know if you are eating GM food is from a website called NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.  I urge you to visit this website.  It is very informative.  They also have a free app for the iPhone called ShopNoGMO.  

High fructose corn syrup is on the GM list and so is sugar.  Apparently, if the label doesn’t say cane sugar or dehydrated cane sugar then it is probably sugar from beets.  There is a 90% chance that it is GM beet sugar.  After you visit the website, you will realize that you are probably eating a lot more GM food than you thought. 

Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) have been linked to thousands of allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals.  Almost every safety study on animals that has been carried out independently has shown adverse or unexplained effects.  

Switzerland has put a moratorium on GM food until 2012. 

The European Union has GM foods, but they require that it be labeled as such. Europe is showing a lot of resistance toward GM food. 

The Consumers Union of Japan are very against GM foods.  They say that independent research is being blocked by the GM corporations that own  the GM seeds and reference material. 

A subsidiary of Monsanto in India is allegedly employing children for $.50 a day to handle poisonous pesticides.  More than 4,500 farmers have committed suicide because of the debt the GM seeds have caused them.   The suicide rate is increasing. 

The United States has no regulations on GM food.  There is no labeling requirement.  The concern over GM foods hasn’t been high in the U.S. and we haven’t shown much concern about it.  

A really good documentary was released in 2005 called The Future of Food.  Click here  to watch it for free.  I highly recommend this film.  You won’t be able to stop watching it.  It is very easy to follow and you will be glad that you watched it.  The movie answers a lot of questions. 

Another great documentary is The World According to Monsanto that was released in 2008.  Click here to watch it for free. 

A good website to visit for more information is Jeffrey M. Smith’s Institute for Responsible TechnologyHe also has a blog that is linked to the website. 

The future of genetically modified food lies in anything out of the ocean, livestock, poultry, insects, trees and etc..   The possibilities are endless.  The future is up to us.  We need to be educated, stand together, grow together and demand that they leave our genes alone. 

Leave our Genes Alone

 

Come grow with us!