Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Growing Organic Potatoes Made Easy

Red LaSoda Seed Potatoes

Valentines Day means more than just Cupids here in the garden. It really means Potato Planting Thyme in Texas!

Mr. Garden, also known as El Spud by some has the easiest system for growing clean and easy potatoes in raised beds.

This year it seems one of the several compost piles had lots of extra oak tree leaves. We always use what we seem to have the most in as far as organic material goes. Last year it seems it was pine straw that was used. 

Part of the raised beds get filled with leaves. Then as you can see, Mr. Garden tosses in some seed potatoes.

Then we get in there and space them in nice straight rows about a foot to 18" apart. Pretty easy so far!

Next he simply covers the potatoes with more leaves. 

Our four raised beds take about 6 lbs. of seed potato. Mr. Garden likes to buy them just the right size (smallish) so we have no need to cut them like you would for the really big seed potatoes.

All that will be left to do is to water them in and wait for them to grow. As they grow you will just simply add a bit more leaves on the top. 

Be sure to check out my potato harvest article from last year.Storing and freezing harvested potatoes.

Here's to a Fresh New Year and Bountiful Harvesting!

Happy Gardening!


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Growing Heirloom Tomatoes From Seed

There are a few important situations that tomato seedlings require when starting them indoors. Timing, soil, temperature, lighting and proper watering methods will get your off to a great start.

Tomato seeds require temperatures of around 65 degrees and plenty of air circulation and sunlight in order to germinate.

You will want a good organic seed starting mix to begin with. We actually make our own by using a mixture of compost, peat moss and perlite. Our chicken manure is worked directly into the compost pile and provides much fertilizer.

The watering should be a good soak for the initial watering in. After that the pots need to become nearly totally dry before soaking again.
When the requirements are met your plants should be ready for their first transplant after 4 to 6 weeks before they are ready for the hardening off process and going directly into the garden.
My seeds were sown on the last day of January. It has now been 4 weeks and I have my first very nice umbrella of leaves. This is the perfect time to transplant them into bigger pots.
It will still be another 4 weeks before the average last frost date for my garden zone. What that means basically is I will not be putting them outdoors before that time.
But what I want to concentrate on now is getting a strong healthy root system and a nice straight healthy stem. In doing so my plants will hold up through the entire season.
The deeper the root system the stronger the plant will be in holding up through strong winds. The roots will also be down deep in the garden soil allowing them to reach the moisture level that is not always available towards the surface.
Your main stem needs to be strong and healthy as well. This is very important because the main stem has to go through the entire season of holding clusters of heavy tomatoes. You don’t want it to snap or contracting diseases.
Understanding heirloom tomatoes and the parts of the plant will help you grow a healthier plant with larger yields.
The most important thing to know about all tomatoes is that there are basically two types.
The first type is called a determinate, which is basically a bush type variety. Bush types are the best ones for growing in pots and containers for your patio. No pruning should be used when growing this variety. Staking or caging can sometimes be needed when the plant becomes heavy with fruit or if you are in a windy location.
The second type of tomato is called the indeterminate varieties which are the vining tomato plants. With this type pruning and tying the plant will be quite necessary. This is especially true with heirlooms and older varieties. Some heirlooms will vine well up to the top of your house.
We grow the vining indeterminate varieties of heirlooms predominantly in our gardens. So the first thing I will do is pinch off those first little leaves that I am touching in this photo. Then I will pinch off the first little side shoot right above it.
It is very important to make sure you have washed your hands good with soap and water before handling your tomato plants. They are very susceptible to disease at this delicate stage. It is also better to use your fingers rather than scissors. Scissors can transmit diseases. If you are using scissors be very sure that you have sterilized them. The young leaves and stems are very easily pinched off with your fingers, so I really don’t find scissors necessary at this point.
After I have pinched the leaves I am going to transplant into  a much deeper pot. I prefer a 1/2 gallon size at this point because of the length of my stem. Add just a sprinkling of your homemade garden soil mix to the bottom of the pot. Then set your plant all the way down into the pot. Cover the stem with more soil just to underneath the nice umbrella at the top of the plant.  Now new roots will grow from the stem beneath the soil.
I’ve only needed to water my seedlings once during the first planting. Now my plants will receive their second soaking and placed back indoors until they are ready for the garden. It is important not to keep your plants drenched in water while indoors. This can also cause problems with damping off and disease while they are inside.
There are still many cloudy days during this time of year. Be sure your plants get good air circulation during the warmer days and plenty of air on the sunny days.

Happy Gardening!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mexican Hot Chocolate In A Mason Jar

The kitchen gardens bountiful summer harvest of herbs are hanging about drying for winters use. The fragrances fill the air indoors as we begin to settle in on some chilly fall nights.  The aroma beckons their use in that first warm cup of homemade cocoa.  Who am I to argue with such things? It’s time to pull out the mugs and teapot.

The special blend for this cocoa stems from the history deep within the Mayan Indians and preserved among the Mexican People. Using a Mexican chocolate called Ibarra gives the cocoa a sweet touch of cinnamon. The final touch is an infusion made from the herb Mexican Mint Marigold. Also called “Texas Tarragon,”  the herb gives the cocoa the faint southern flavors of anise and licorice.

Mexican Mint Marigold comes from high within the mountainous regions of Mexico. It’s the perfect herb to grow in the southern regions where Tarragon simply won’t grow. The perennial is very drought tolerant and makes a beautiful display in our kitchen garden during the fall months. The tiny golden yellow flowers are among the last to bloom before frost still providing food to the honeybees. If harvested while the flowers remain on the stalks and hung to dry adds extra beauty to garden and herb crafts.

Simply add your cocoa to a mason jar and decorate with a sprig of Mexican Mint Marigold or your favorite mint, along with a couple sticks of cinnamon. Tie it on the mouth of the jar with a piece of jute rope or raffia. They make a simple and elegant gift to give during the holidays.

Mexican Mint Marigold (Texas Tarragon)

Mexican Cocoa


1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup powdered milk
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped Mexican chocolate (Ibarra)

Optional: pinch of dried Mexican Mint Marigold finely crushed

I put a couple nice size teaspoons of the cocoa mix in my favorite chocolate mug and sprinkled a small pinch of Mexican Mint Marigold on top. Just pour on some hot water and enjoy the warm Mayan Indian chocolate flavor.

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Time for Onions in Southeast Texas

We've been working the garden beds over since mid fall with green cover crops of peas and beans and agri- mustard being turned in to the soil. Layers of mulched leaves cover most of the garden as well as chicken poop and our homemade, rich and beautiful compost being worked in. 

The milestone of the organic garden is getting your soil nutrient rich as deep as possible. Earning some beneficial nematodes and earthworms takes a whole lot of shovel and wheelbarrow time. A lot of onions will be planted in the raised beds this year, as well as in other parts of the garden.

Our onion starts arrived on December 29th. They were shipped to us by Dixondale Farms located in Carrizo Springs Texas in only 2 days after they were ordered. Dixondale specializes in onions and have been in business since 1913. 

They have a fantastic planting guide to help you know exactly when to start your onions going by your zip code and then they help you determine which varieties are best for your area by mapping out an onion zone for the United States. 

We could have actually been planting our onions in mid December because of our zip code on the Gulf Coast. Because of being in such a severe drought for such a long time, we decided to hold on a bit for some rain. Our zone calls for growing the short day varieties of onions. 

However, this year we are experimenting a bit by ordering a couple intermediate day varieties as well. The storage is actually longer for intermediates so we thought we would at least try and see what they do. Our short day varieties keep stored for about 3 months. I'll keep you updated on the experiment. 

We also are planting Lancelot Leeks, which are not daylight sensitive and can be planted in any zone. They are so pretty in the garden mixed in with all the lovely spring blooming flowers. Leeks are fabulous to cook with and even better chopped up fresh in salads and summer time veggie dips!

This is a picture from the beginning of our 2009 harvest of onions laying out on the drying racks. We grew a few hundred that year. We have 600 or 800 to plant this year. 

The racks are located near the south side of the garden and get plenty of breeze to dry, but also sheltered by the little roof and by a few trees to keep the rain and sun off of them. 

The onions begin to finish up in May in time for the other vegetables to take over the garden. The drying racks will be used again for potato harvesting and I always seem to be throwing flower heads on them to dry for saving seed.

I'm so happy to be getting a chance to play in the garden again. I've been dreaming of the spring garden, going through catalogs and planning and ordering a few new heirlooms. It's a good time to be finding out your zones and not miss out on some sweet organic onions this year.

Happy Gardening!!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ginger Snap Cookies

It is truly fall around the house when I bake the first batch of Ginger Snap Cookies. The fragrance of Cinnamon and Ginger always does the trick.

I've been making this recipe for about 23 years now since my mother sent me a cookbook that women from her church had made. The ladies name who shared this cookie recipe was named Laura Covey. I don't know her, but I thank her because it turned out to be my son's favorite cookie.

I also use these Ginger Snaps to make my pie crust for pumpkin and squash cheesecakes. I always have to hide some cookies so I have enough to make the pie crusts.

I never changed a thing in this recipe until recently. I decided to change up on using the Shortening. I found an awesome way of switching it that has worked out perfectly and much healthier.

When baking the cookies it is important not to let them get over done. They should still want to be almost to soft to lift off the cookie pan with your spatula. That way when they cool they won't be to hard and still have a soft middle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup Grandmas Molasses
1 egg
2 cups organic unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger


Cream sugar and butter and coconut oil, add molasses and the egg. Sift salt, spices and flour, add to the creamed mixture. Stir and blend well.

Place cookie dough in the fridge until cold. One or two hours is good.

Roll dough into round balls about the size of a walnut. Roll them in some sugar and place on the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake at 375 for 10 to 12 minutes. Check them while baking to not let them turn to dark.

Happy Gardening and Happy Baking As Well!!!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Easy Texas Tamales From Scratch

 Tamales are actually a Native American tradition for the holiday's stemming from the Mexican people.

In Texas we call Mexican dishes Tex-Mex. I like to try to make them as traditional as possible.

It is quite easier to do these days with the Masa that is available.

All you have to do is add your broth and choice of oil, butter or lard.

Butter is very good as long as it is organic and unsalted. My favorite is part butter and part olive oil.

Some healthier choices might be organic canola or organic corn oil, but it is very hard to find it non-gmo.. 

You will of course need corn husks to make traditional tamales.

We are harvesting our first crop of Native American dent corn and saving those organic corn husks for the task.

This variety of corn made very pretty husks with pink stripes in them.

I use my big canning pot for soaking the husks in water with just a tiny tad of vinegar for cleaning. They really didn't need the vinegar, but if you buy yours from the store, you won't want to skip using it.

By soaking the dried husks it makes them soft and pliable for putting in the filling. They need to soak for at least an hour for best results.

I start my meat the night before in the crockpot. I did pork in one crock and chicken in the other this time.

I chose a pork ribeye roast, not real big and some chicken breasts for the other one.
I make plenty of broth in the crockpot as well because you need it for the Masa.

This is a great time to use some of those spectacular herbs and veggies from the garden.

Cinnamon is a key secret ingredient in tamales. I use some ground cinnamon as well as add the flower heads from my cinnamon basil.

The flowers of most herbs are really the essence of the herb when they are fresh from the garden.

I grow lot's of Mexican Oregano. I think it is the sweetest variety of oregano! This is great in the tamales.

Corn Husks
Pork Ribeye Roast or Chicken Breasts
Broth made from roast or chicken
4.4 lb. Bag Masa
Ground Cinnamon
Cinnamon Basil (if available)
Mexican Oregano
Chile Powder
Fresh Minced Garlic
Garlic Powder
Minced Onions
Celery Seed
Sea Salt to taste
Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
A Carrot and a Parsnip
Organic Canola or Corn Oil
The herbs and spices in this recipe are according to taste.

  1. Instructions
  2. 1.  I use my big canning pot for soaking the corn husks in water with just a tiny tad of vinegar for cleaning. They really didn't need the vinegar, but old habits die hard sometimes. By soaking the dried husks it makes them soft and pliable for putting in the filling. They need to soak for at least an hour for best results.

  3. 2. I start my meat the night before in my crockpot before we plan to make them. I did pork in one and chicken in the other this time. I chose a pork ribeye roast, not real big and some chicken breasts for the other one. .

  4. 3. I make plenty of broth in the crockpot as well because you need it for the Masa. This is a great time to use some of those spectacular herbs and veggies from the garden. Cinnamon is a key secret ingredient in tamales. I use some ground cinnamon as well as add the flower heads from my cinnamon basil. The flowers of most herbs are really the essence of the herb when they are fresh from the garden. Mexican Oregano and Thyme are also very delicious in the broth. You will also need Chile Powder, fresh minced garlic, minced onions, celery seed and a good pinch of cumin powder A dash of sea salt and fresh ground pepper is always important. I also chop up some carrots and a small amount of parsnips to give the broth a deeper flavor. By morning the meat is so tender and easily shreds for the filling.

  5. 4. Masa usually comes in 4.4 lb. bags. I start by using half a bag in my mixing bowl. I mince cinnamon basil, garlic powder, sea salt, cinnamon and chili powder to taste and whisk it together. I use 1 cup of oil per half bag. Drain your broth from your meat and set the meat aside. Start by adding 1 cup of broth at a time.With the paddle turn the mixer on low. I want the masa to get wet enough that you can squeeze it in your hand and it feels moist, not crumbly and not soggy.

  6. 5. Keep adding broth little by little until you get the desired consistency.

  7. 6. I take a corn husk out of the canner and gently shake off the water. Lay it on a board and get a fair size ball of the Masa in your hand. About the size of a golf ball is good. Place it in the corn husk and spread it by pressing with your finger tips until it is about a quarter inch thick. You want to make it easy to roll and wrap so keep it away from the pointed end of the husk at least a quarter of the way down.Also keep the Masa away from the sides by at least 1/2 inch on both sides. Next take your shredded meat and put a small amount down the center of the masa. Now I fold the entire thing in half length wise and roll it from the folded end. Then take the pointed tip of the husk and fold it down. The wide part of the husk will be open a small bit.
  8. 7. Set each one on a sheet of wax paper or a large cookie sheet until you have them all done. 

  9. 8. I use a big ole pasta pot for steaming the tamales. Place them in the strainer pointed side down. You need to stack them in rather tightly so they don't fall over.

  10. 9. Put a small amount of water in the pot and set the strainer in it. You need enough water to bring to a boil, but not coming up into the strainer.

  11. 10. Bring it to a boiling steam and then turn it down immediately to med. to med. low and keep it at a gentle steam. Take the lid off and place a clean cotton towel over the tamales and put the lid back on. This will help keep them from drying out.

  12. They will take about 2 hours to be finished. Make some of your favorite chili sauce to put on top.

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Prepare The Medicine Chest With Homemade Tinctures

The garden is a miraculous place for health and well being. It provides all of the nutritional needs that can be tailored to fit ones personal needs when well thought out. 
In other words, we should grow what our bodies require for optimal health.
Aside from canning and freezing fruits and vegetables, we sometimes miss out on preserving herbs and berries. Not just for culinary purposes, but for the medicine chest. 
The medicine chest should include preventative and immune building supplies as well as sure cure remedies when injury or illness strikes.
Instead of seeking natural remedies, many of us run to the doctors office every time we have the slightest little sniffle and headache or cut and bruise. 
I think it has become a habit to reach for those antibiotics as well as synthetic medications that more times than not have dangerous side effects.
Tinctures are another very easy way of preserving things for the medicine chest. You can use dried or fresh herb leaves or roots from certain beneficial plants and berries as well.
Simply place your herb in a glass container or small jar and fill it with pure grain alcohol that is at least 80% Proof, like Everclear or Vodka. Cork it off or seal it tightly and keep it in a cool dark place. It must cure for at least 6 weeks to achieve a highly potent quality.
The wonderful thing about tinctures are that they are so versatile for so many different uses. Take the herbs Lavender or Echinacea for example. Both herbs have high qualities internally as well as externally. Internally they aid in helping with colds and flu’s as well as other things.
A couple of drops of the tincture into a cup of tea, juice or even plain water works well. 
By adding a few drops of the tincture to a tablespoon of a natural oil carrier, such as almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil or even sunflower and rubbed into the skin can be a solution to a whole host of skin problems, from acne, eczema or for healing a simple cut.
It is time well spent learning to grow and preserve a few simple things to save for your medicine chest. It will save you hundreds of dollars and visits to the doctors office and local pharmacy. By learning the needs of your own body and becoming sensitive to oncoming symptoms, you will be able to simply step into your own garden and gather the cure the natural way.
Happy Gardening!