Anyone Can Have a Vegetable Garden – Even Me

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Years ago I visited a friend’s parents who lived in Michigan. The mom was so sweet and hospitable, kind and generous. And she had a fabulous garden. I fell in love with her garden as much as her that weekend. When we arrived she summoned the dad to go grab some green beans from the garden “real quick”. He was back in less than 5 with a bag full of gorgeous green beans. I was in awe. Growing up in the south things like that didn’t happen. The harsh sun would have burnt them to a crisp long before they could produce something. She threw these delightful beans in a frying pan with some oil and salt. That was it. Oil and salt – 3 minutes. Then on a plate and in front of us in seconds. There they sat, a beautiful bright green color, crisp, yet warm and so, so tasty. The best green beans I have ever had. Ever.

That day I realized there was a different way to eat vegetables. They didn’t have to come out of a can all salt soaked and dark green, almost brown. They could be fresh and crisp and good in minutes.

I wanted a vegetable garden.

But I lived in Dallas where the sun scorches everything it can and not much grows except hot peppers. Oh, plus I lived in a condo with a 4×4 plot of garden in front. Not much hope for me.

But since that day I have had a desire to have a garden of my own where I could grow things and eat them. Sounds so simple. But to date, I have not lived in a place where I had enough yard to plant a garden.

Or so I thought. Until I went to a MOPS meeting this spring and our speaker told us about “square foot gardening”. A guy named Mel Bartholomew popularized the phrase square foot gardening in a book and a PBS television series in the 1980’s. This method is particularly well suited for areas with poor soil, beginning gardeners, children and small spaces. This is for me!

Here is a basic overview of what we did to build our garden using this method:

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Here’s what you will need: peat moss, vermiculite, potting soil, ground cloth or weed barrier, 4 1×8 boards cut the same length, nails, hammer, scissors, staple gun, string.

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1. Build your garden box.

You will need: 4 – 1″x8″ boards cut the same length. I had to use 2×8″ because my store didn’t have 1×8″ boards. And I used 2′ long boards but you can make yours bigger. Also, a piece of ground cloth to cover the bottom of your garden.

Nail the 4 boards together in the corners. I also used L-brackets to make it stronger. After that, staple the ground cloth on to cover the bottom. Then take some string and mark off 1 square foot sections by tacking the string to the side of your box in 1 foot increments. If you do this on both sides you should end up with a nice grid.

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2. Mix your soil.

The soil mixture should be 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost or potting soil. I poured it into the bed and mixed it up in there. The soil should last for about 3 years and there is no need to fertilize anything, it contains all the plants need. So, “just add water”.

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3. Plant

You can get crazy and germinate your seeds inside if you want. I went to the nursery and purchased baby plants to use instead. Once you know what you want to plant you can look it up online or get a book on square foot gardening that will tell you how many to plant in a 1 square foot section. For instance if you want a tomato plant, you can get one in a square foot area but other things you can get 16. So you just have to look that up.

I was surprised at how much you can get in this tiny garden. I will keep you updated throughout the summer on how well we are doing here! This is my first attempt, so let’s not have high expectations, ok?

If you are interested in trying this method yourself, here are some other resources on square foot gardening:

Books
All New Square Foot Gardening: Growing More in Less Space   by Mel Bartholomew
Cubed Foot Gardening:Raising Vegetables in Raised, Intensive Beds   by Christopher O. Bird

Online
http://timssquarefootgarden.com
Garden Web: Square-foot gardening forum http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/sqfoot
www.squarefootgardening.com

 

 

 

Farmers Markets and CSAs, Oh Yeah!

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Wednesday is the best day of the week in summer. Our local farmer’s market is open and my CSA share is delivered to my door! Oh yeah!

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA allows city residents to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. When you become a member of a CSA, you’re purchasing a “share” of vegetables from a regional farmer.

I have been a member of a CSA for the past 3 years. With mine, I know in advance what is coming each week and I can even swap out things we don’t eat. The hard part is meal planning around it. And I’m not good at meal planning anyway which makes it that much more difficult. So I have to admit I am still learning how to use all of it and not waste any.

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Last year, toward the end of the season, I started using Wednesday as a basic meal night where I grilled some chicken or fish and then used whatever veggies I had received that day to create a super fresh meal. It ended up being one of the best meals of the week. Usually I follow a meal plan from The Fresh 20 that I discussed before in Can Your Family Eat Healthy, Easily? But I found that while they use what is in season each week, it doesn’t always line up with what I receive. So I started buying basic meat each week to use on Wednesdays for my own creation. That worked well for me at the end of last season, so I am sticking with it this year.

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This past Wednesday, I also took the kids to the farmer’s market after school to get some bread, a treat, and my knives sharpened. Seriously, I am so happy that I have sharp knives today. You forget how nice it is to work with a really sharp knife.

That night we had grilled chicken, asparagus, a very crisp salad and fresh bread. It was really good.

You can ask the husband, but I am not known for my cooking abilities. The first meal I made for him was embarrassing. It looked something (or exactly) like frozen chicken breasts and frozen veggies from a bad dumped in a pyrex dish with foil over top and thrown in the oven for 30 minutes. Seriously, no seasonings, not even salt or pepper.

Rachel Ray taught me how to use the stove and The Fresh 20 has turned me into a decent cook.

But this past Wednesday night was all me (with the help of my CSA and local farmer’s market). And the hubby and kids all said it was good.

I was so proud. Oh, and thankful for summer Wednesdays!

Can Your Family Eat Healthy, Easily?

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Right after I had my first child I became much more concerned about what we ate as a family. I wanted to eat tasty, but healthy food. The first task was to learn to cook well. I was 30, but I didn’t know how to cook well, just ask my husband. So I started watching Rachel Ray who taught me everything I know about cooking. Not necessarily healthy, but she taught me cooking techniques that I use every day.

Fast forward 5 years and I have three kids now eating real food, not baby food, and another one on the way. I need to step it up another notch. I kept reading lots of stuff about picky eaters in my parenting magazines. From everything I had read I was sure I didn’t want one of those and I needed to figure out how to stop that from happening – fast. I was afraid I would end up like those other parents cooking 3 meals per night. One mac and cheese, one chicken nuggets and one hot dog, please. I didn’t have time for that and it scared me half to death that I would end up eating the same thing just because I didn’t have the energy to make a fourth, healthier option.

So I set out to read everything I could about how to avoid the picky eater trap. From everything I have ever read, and experienced myself, I surmised it is best to consistently offer a variety of healthy foods to your children and not cave in with macaroni and cheese on the stove in case they don’t eat the family dinner. Basically, you eat what is served for dinner or, hopefully, you will like breakfast better. After my pediatrician promised me they wouldn’t starve themselves I was willing to try this.

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So I gathered my cookbooks, magazines, and recipe websites and set out to do some meal planning.

I even invited a friend to join me. We would plan our meals together each week at the gym while our kids were in the play area. (Don’t worry, we worked out too.) We made these fancy meal planning worksheets and grocery list sheets. We would get 5 recipes pulled together, write our grocery lists and call it done. It took us roughly 1 hour per week to meal plan. It’s kind of a lot of time.

But it worked. We were eating lots of new things and I always had an answer for “what’s for dinner.” I was feeling good. However, I was worried I lacked the knowledge I needed to make the healthiest choices and I didn’t really have the time to sort through all the articles on the latest food research to understand it myself.

Then number 4 came, and then number 5. That hour each week became more and more precious.

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One day a few moms of 4 or more were sitting together having tea and talking about the challenges we face. Meal planning was top of the list. And one mom said she was using a service called The Fresh 20. It delivered, to her email, 5 healthy recipes each week with the grocery list.

WHAT? Then it got better – they used only 20 ingredients each week, mostly fresh food from the outside of the store (produce and meat) and very little from the (inside) processed foods area. So I tried it. Now, two years later we eat well and I have a much better understanding of what healthy looks like.

And it was easy for me!

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I needed a lot of help in the kitchen. My skills were lacking at the beginning but the desire was there. Rachel Ray taught me techniques and the Fresh Twenty took me to the next level. I hope someday I can do this on my own, but for now, this is what works for me.

In my discovery phase I found all sorts of tools and resources for meal planning. Here are a few to check out:

http://www.recipies.com
I keep all of my personal recipes on here so I can access them anywhere I go. The rating system is awesome and the comments on recipes have helped me many times.

http://www.epicurious.com
Search by ingredient, in case you want to get rid of something in your pantry or the CSA is bringing you too much of something.

http://www.foodnetwork.com
Follow your favorite celebrity chefs and use some of their recipes.

http://www.thefresh20.com
You have to subscribe, but they also have a blog that gives great tips and info.

Chris Johnson, On Target Living
Author, speaker and health guru. I have heard him 2 times and his stuff is really good.
https://ontargetliving.com/tools/
Free health assessment, videos, app, worksheets and blog. Make sure to check out the “Brand Favorite’s For Kids” worksheet. Very helpful.

 

 

 

Made From Scratch

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The other day I made some brownies to take to a social gathering of sorts. I was really proud of my brownies, they were just the way I like them, gooey and extra chocolatey. I was hopeful people would really enjoy them too. My brownies never look perfect, but they taste really good – to me at least.

No sooner had I set them down when another woman, a ‘friend’ who had just brought in some way-too-healthy looking cookies, asked me if my brownies were homemade.

I said yes.

I have always thought that if you bake it yourself it is homemade. It isn’t store-made, right? I started out with ingredients (even if some had been put together for me in a box), added others from my kitchen and then I baked them in my oven. That makes it home-made.

Made, in my home.

This person, who knows me fairly well, and who is clearly better than me, said, “I didn’t know you baked from scratch (ouch), they aren’t from a box or something?

Well, yes I used a box, I thought to myself. Why would I make something from scratch when the stuff from the box tastes so much better and is so much easier? And who are you to judge me or my brownies? Don’t eat them if they aren’t good enough for you and leave it at that.

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After all of that ran through my head I said, “Yes, I made them, at my home, FROM a box. I call that homemade.” And I walked away before she could reply, hurting me even deeper.

Things like this really wound me. What is it with people like this that they need to put me down? Are they better than me because they gathered all the ingredients from their kitchen, while I only gathered some? Does it make them taste better or worse? Does it make me lesser of a baker, cook or person?

NO, and I have news for any of you who stick your nose up at someone who makes their baked good from a box; ours tastes better than yours (most of the time).

But on the occasion that it doesn’t, I want you to know I still went through the trouble of putting my time and energy into making something to bring. That alone should warrant respect and thankfulness.

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So, to all of us who make our baked goods from boxes: BE PROUD of your work and effort. Show up with your baked goods in hand and your head held high. You are amazing! You put some extra effort in and it is going to taste good.

And for all of us who have to run by the store and buy something store-made (who knows what they are going to say about us now), bring along a cute little plate you picked up at TJMaxx or HomeGoods and proudly display them right on that beauty. If anyone asks, say, “yes, they are store bought, and with the extra time I had on my hands, I got my nails done, see?”

So just know this: I will accept your boxed baked goods, or your store bought baked goods with open arms ANY DAY. I will just be glad for the tasty treat and your generosity.

And for the record, I like brownies and chocolate chip cookies 🙂