Archive for April, 2012

Super Sweet Potatoes

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2012 by PickMeYard

We grew a crop of sweet potatoes this year that really surprised us.  I had no expectations for the sweet potatoes and thought to myself that I’d figure it out as I went.  I tend to learn by ‘doing’ when it comes to our garden.  I make mistakes but I also learn to think outside the box.  It’s nice to not always follow the leader.

did do what I was told in regard to buying the sweet potato plants and not rooting the tuber from the supermarket.  A tuber from the store is easy to root, but apparently it can carry disease into your soil.  I’m certain this can happen any time you buy a little plant at the hardware store and plant it in your garden (especially with tomatoes).  I chose not to take the risk with potatoes and purchased some little plants from a local edible nursery.  The sweet potato starts were inexpensive but really tough to find.

I started with a variety called ‘Boniato‘ several years ago.  Now I’ve added several other varieties such as ‘Beauregard’ and ‘Tainung’.  To be honest, I’m not sure which variety is growing where in our yard.  Those labels are long gone.  This isn’t a problem for our us though because our sweet potatoes are for our table not a market.

Hydroponincally grown sweet potatoes at The Land in Epcot, Disney World.

I harvested a huge amount of sweet potatoes this year and it was back-breaking work.  These tubers were heavy and I had to dig and dig to find them.  I learned the hard way that I should never throw the potatoes.  They bruise easily and the bruise will turn into a rotten area.  I tossed a few a little too hard, but didn’t do too much damage.  Some of the tubers were gigantic.  I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing and worried that I waited too long to harvest them (maybe way too long).  My good friend Dr. Nune assured me that a larger sweet potato doesn’t mean it’s not tasty, just more of it to cook.  A farmer friend told me that the larger potatoes are more difficult to sell at the market.

Pick Me Yard's backyard sweet potato harvest.

This huge sweet potato was growing in the middle of the crop. Grayson named the potato "It" after the brain in "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle.

I was careful to keep my sweet potatoes from sitting in the sun while I was digging.  After I harvested my huge potatoes, I dragged the full and heavy wagon into my garage.  I left them to cure for a few weeks.  Then, I gave a bunch to Dr. Nune to be the taste tester.  She called me a few days later and said, “have you given any of those sweet potatoes away?”  I replied with a worried answer that I had not.  “Good”, she said.  “Let’s keep them only for us.  They are the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had in my life”.  She was right… they were.

We had a endless supply of sweet potatoes to fill this basket for months.

I thought I found every last tuber in the ground when I harvested.  I worked really hard to get them all.  Well, that was several months ago and I missed many, many tubers.  The area has completely grown back again with sweet potato vines.  This is a no-no in the gardening world because it invites the dreaded sweet potato pests and diseases.  Click here  for the latest on growing sweet potatoes in Southwest Florida as told by the University of Florida IFAS office.  I’m going to harvest most of the greens in this patch for my goats.  We’ll save a few for ourselves.

Our 5-year-old was so excited that a garden was growing in our garage. These will all be replanted. They're the left-overs.

The sweet potato leaves are a delicious edible for the dinner table.  Our friend Mama Do told us that steamed sweet potato leaves are a favorite in Vietnamese cuisine.  One evening I was making dinner and realized I needed a vegetable.  I remembered what Mama Do told us and I sent the kids out to cut a bowl of leaves.  I steamed them on top of the chicken I was cooking and we have been huge fans of the leaves ever since!  Even the kids loved them… probably because they picked them.

Edible and yummy sweet potato leaves. These are heart-shaped.

This year I have planted sweet potatoes all over our yard.  There are patches everywhere and probably look like crop circles from an airplane.  They grow great in our yard because of our sandy, Florida soil.  I never water them and it hasn’t been a problem.  They tend to crowd out most of the weeds and I just weed-wack around the edges of the big circle.  They’re almost maintenance free in our yard.   They also thrive in our hot, humid, sweltering summer.

I’ve tried something new this summer and have planted some in an area with pigeon peas, sunflowers and calabaza pumpkins.  I’m hoping it turns into a crazy mess of vines and little pigeon pea trees that crowd out all the weeds.  It could be great or it could be a disaster.  Either way, it’s an experiment and I’m growing most of this to feed to our lovely goats anyway.  It’s our goat garden and I can either cut it for them or put their leashes on and lead them to it to clear it out.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

This will continue to grow and fill in. By weed wacking the edges, it turns into a big circle.

This is just a small section of the goat's garden. It will be interesting.

Come grow with us!

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Stressed

Posted in Meet our Family with tags , , on April 25, 2012 by PickMeYard

There’s a lot of talk about healthy garden foods on this blog.  However, we do eat cake.  Sometimes we eat it for breakfast.

Did you know that stressed spelled backwards is desserts? That’s a funny coincidence.

My mother came over the other day with the sole purpose of making a cake with her grandchildren.  It wasn’t a holiday or a birthday.  No stress, just taking some time to smell the roses  eat some cake.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

We love our garden food but cake makes us happy too.  We wanted to share that with you.

Come grow with us!

Little Garden, Microgreens: Part II

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by PickMeYard

The beauty of growing a little microgreen garden is that it’s so compact and convenient.  The toughest part for us is remembering to water them everyday and to never let them dry out.  We have forgotten about them before and had to start a new batch, but it wasn’t such a big deal.

We like to re-use food containers to grow our microgreens.  My favorite was a big, plastic birthday cake container from the grocery store.  We used a lighter to burn holes in the bottom for drainage. It even came with a lid… perfect.  We’re amazed at how many food containers are ideal for growing our microgreens… trash to treasure.  I can’t take credit for this idea though.  It was sparked by You Grow Girl.com.  That chick has some clever ideas.

I think this container had lettuce in it. The plastic is thin which makes it easy to burn drainage holes in. Sometimes I use the lids as a base to catch drainage water.

I keep a bucket of mixed potting soil with a cup on my porch all the time.  It makes it convenient to start a new batch of microgreens.  We only put a couple inches of soil into the containers.  The first time we grew microgreens,  we filled the soil to the top.  When the seeds germinated they pushed the soil right over the sides of the container.

When we grow microgreens, we tend to use a lot of seeds.  The seeds should be sprinkled generously over the top of the soil.  I buy bulk seeds for growing microgreens since they usually have a better price.  Oh, and some seeds should be soaked overnight for a better germination rate (chard and peas, for example).  Also, keep in mind that each seed type will have a different growing ideal.  Broccoli and purples cabbage are some of the easier micro greens to grow, whereas celery and basil could poise a challenge.  We love to experiment, hate to follow instructions, and have a “just do it” attitude around here.  We try to learn from our mistakes though.

Bags of seeds for growing microgreens.

After we’ve selected our container, half-filled with it soil and sprinkled our seeds, we cover each container with a paper towel.  The paper towel should not be removed until the microgreens push it up with their growth.  The paper towel should not stick to them at this point.  Don’t be too hasty to pull the towel off or you could pull your microgreens out with it.  We like to lift up a corner of the towel and peek underneath to see how they’re doing.

Microgreens trays covered with paper towels. We water right over the towels. It keeps everything in tact and helps the seeds germinate.

The seeds do not need light to germinate, but they do need water and warmth.

Are they ready yet? Nope, not yet.

They can’t be allowed to dry out.  I made a watering canister out of an old juice container by drilling holes in the lid.  It delivers the water like a rain shower.

More trash to treasure. This juice container was saved from the landfill and makes the perfect microgreen waterer.

Grayson spreading his favorite seeds... fennel.

Master micro gardener.

How could this not be packed full of nutrients?

Beautiful, non-toxic and chemical free greens grown in our rich little garden… rich with life!

Come grow with us!

Little Garden, Microgreens: Part I

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , on April 23, 2012 by PickMeYard

We’re in love with microgreens.  They make the perfect urban, mini-garden.  I think you should fall in love with them too.  Oh please, please let me tell you why.  Don’t let your eyeballs glaze over… this is good stuff.

Are you wondering what microgreens are?  Sprouts?  Baby greens?  They’re not either.  Microgreens are the stage of growth when a plant develops its first leaves, after the seed sprouts.  If the microgreen is not harvested, then it grows into the baby green stage.  The microgreen is a treasure trove of nutrients.  I don’t have a nutritional analysis on this though, only logic.  For further reading, there is a fabulous book called Microgreens by Eric Franks & Jasmine Richardson.  Microgreens look beautiful, taste like heaven, and have health benefits.   They’re full of flavor and I don’t have to chew and crunch like I’m eating a salad.  They do actually melt in your mouth.

A bite of avocado with microgreens, shredded jicama, and a miso dressing.

However, the best part is they are incredibly easy and fast to grow.  I love the little garden look on my indoor patio.  Our favorite microgreens are fennel (tastes like licorice), basil, alfalfa, wheat berries, peas, amaranth, kohlrabi, celery, onion, beets (they’re red), sunflowers, red clover… but there are many, many more that we haven’t tried yet.

It tasted as good as it looks.

Our little microgrreen garden.

My children love to grow microgreens in the summer because there are no weeds, no insects and no hot sun.  It’s not possible for us to grow lettuce (and a lot of other stuff) in our Southwest Florida heat and humidity (during the summer) because the elements are just too extreme.  Our microgreen garden, on the patio or in the kitchen, makes up for this.  We can have our cake garden and eat it too.

Loring planting the seeds in our microgreen garden.

Kindergarten.

Have I talked you into growing some?  I’m trying really hard.  In my next post, I’ll share a really easy and inexpensive way to grow them.  We’ve been growing crops in recyclable containers on our lanai and in our kitchen.

Grapefruit with microgreens and edible flowers. Delicious!

Our wheat berry microgreens with water droplets on them.

Come grow with us!

Suyo Long Cucumber

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2012 by PickMeYard

We’re always on the lookout for vegetables that can stand up to our brutal Southwest Florida summers.  This summer we’re experimenting with an Everglades tomato bush that we were thrilled to find.  It’s doing great in the heat so far and setting fruit like a champion, but it’s not summer yet.  Extreme heat usually prevents tomato plants from setting fruit.  The true test for the Everglades tomato plant will be in July and August.  This special tomato deserves its own post.  I’ll be writing one soon.

I want to tell you about another heat-resistant vegetable… the Suyo Long cucumber (Cucumis sativus).  Okay, it’s not really a vegetable, it’s a fruit. We’ve been growing this cucumber for several seasons now and the results have been so rewarding.  It doesn’t mind the heat at all.

This is a Suyo Long cucumber growing up our fence. I threw a rotted cucumber by the fence and look what grew. I love it when that happens.

The cucumber package says the Suyo Long originally comes from China and is a sweet-flavored, tender, crispy, ribbed fruit that can grow up to 15′ long.   It’s a burpless, non-bitter and excellent for salads or bread and butter pickles.  We found this description to be completely accurate.  This cucumber is delicious!

Hello? Sorry, we can't come to the phone right now.

We purchased our Suyo Long cucumber seeds from SustainableSeedCo. com.  They’re heirloom seeds and definitely worth growing.  It’s very important to note that this plant must be watered every day.  If it dries out, it’s done.  The plants I had in the ground did much, much better than the plants I grew in containers.  Sometimes my plants don’t get watered and the ones in the ground always stand a better chance of survival in our garden.

The mustard greens in the photo above are wilted but I was growing them for the chickens.  They were loaded with eggs and caterpillars from the Great Southern White butterfly (Ascia monuste).  The girls went crazy when they spotted me coming toward them with my arms full of these.

An heirloom, Suyo Long cucumber that is ready to be picked.

Click here  for a good article on when to harvest a cucumber.  I can’t give advice on harvesting cucumbers because I don’t count the days from planting.  We just pick it and eat it around here.  However, I do know that it’s best to let the cucumber turn yellow if you plan on saving the seeds . We do practice this and it works for us.

Cucumber seeds from the Suyo Long variety.

This is damage from pests. I started spraying them with garden neem oil and it prevented it from happening again.

I’ve been using Theraneem Organix Neem Oil for the Garden and I’ve learned to love this product.  I spot spray it early in the morning before the honeybees wake up.  (Researchers say neem oil is non-toxic to spiders and pollinating insects). I also use this product around our dairy goats.  I mix some essential oils in it for them… rosemary, lavender, geranium and peppermint, in a base of distilled water.  The goats actually walk into the mist instead of running away.

Quick… how many Suyo Long cucumber jokes can you tell in 30 seconds?  Laughing is the best medicine!

Come grow with us!

Guinea Hen Weed

Posted in Herbs with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2012 by PickMeYard

I haven’t posted to my blog in a few months. Hopefully, you noticed.  However, I was invited to be a guest blogger for the Herb Companion magazine, so I did a post for them.  Check it out at HerbCompanion.com.

I’m a gatherer of information and I’ve been doing some serious collecting lately.  I’ve got lots of great stuff to share with you.  I’ll get right on that.

My latest favorite is the Guinea Hen Weed.  I find this herb to be absolutely amazing.  I’m wondering why there isn’t more of it around.

Dried guinea hen weed in my hand.

I learned about this plant in Kingston, Jamaica last year.  A friend (David Couch) asked me if I’d ever heard of it.  I hadn’t.  When he began to describe this herb to me I jumped up with excitement.  “Do you  have any? Can you show me?”  You’ll have to click on the HerbCompanion.com  link for the rest of the story.

This extraordinary plant fights cancer and scientists are actively studying its properties.  This herb can find and kill the cancer cells without damaging the good, disease-fighting cells. I need to add a disclaimer here in the middle of my story.  I’m not a doctor and I am making no claims about anything.  I simply gather information that I find to be wonderful and pass it along.  The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs by Leslie Taylor  has a wealth of information on guinea hen weed.   Click here for an excerpt from the book.

A bag of dried guinea hen weed with a label on it from a health food store in Kingston, Jamaica.

Guinea hen weed (Petiveria allicea) is a viney plant that grows all over the island of Jamaica.  It’s also known as ‘skunk weed’ because it has a really stinky smell to it when it’s fresh.  It doesn’t smell bad when it’s dried.

I found many stores that sell the dried herb in Jamaica.  I paid $200 Jamaican dollars for the bag in the photo above which converts to $2.85 U.S.  There’s a website called Rain Tree Nutrition that sells it in the United States in capsule form, (they call it anamu).

I believe interest in this healer is gaining in popularity and I bet you’ll be hearing more about it.

Come grow with us!