Archive for Veggies

Mother Nature’s Medicine Chest

Plant a garden of ancient herbs and learn how early healers used them to cure sicknesses and aid in emergencies.  By planting this garden in the shape of a horseshoe, you will have a fragrant arch that will send you back in time; back to a time were doctors and pharmacies, hospitals and nurses, and laypeople and grandmothers turned to plants for their medicinal needs.  Many of these green medicines are still used in modern medicines today.



1 seedling Aloe Vera

1 seedling Calendula

1 seedling catnip

1 seedling dill

1 seedling fennel

1 seedling lavender

1 seedling lemon balm

1 seedling parsley

1 seedling peppermint

1 seedling sage

1 seedling woolly lamb’s ear

3 seedlings cilantro


Slit open the leaf of an Aloe Vera plant and squeeze the clear gel on your skin.  It feels cool and soothing when used on minor burns or skin irritations.  Stuff a pillow with lavender to ensure sweet, colorful dreams, and make your own bandages with woolly lamb’s ear leaves.  You can concoct a lemon balm wash for cold sores, and a healing throat gargle from sage leaves steeped in vinegar.  The petal of Calendula will surprise you with their ability to cleanse wounds and heal chapped skin, and a cup of catnip tea may become your favorite sleepy time drink.


Pick out an area for an 8 by 8 foot size garden that will receive at least six hours of full sun daily.  Outline a horseshoe shape, approximately six feet wide and eight feet long with planting beds 18 inches wide.  Make sure the opening of the horseshoe is facing south


Prepare the garden bed as you would any new garden space.  You can with till the top layer of soil under, double dig the entire garden, or do as I do and use the newspaper method.  Spread a layer of newspaper over the garden area, and then begin layering shredded bark, mulch and compost over the newspaper.  Garden is immediately ready to plant and the new emerging plant roots will grow through the newspaper into the topsoil below.


One the horseshoe shaped beds are planted, fill in the open area of the garden with mulch or shredded bark to keep the weeds down and provide a comfortable place to relax.  When planting, maintain 12 to 18 inches between each plant.  The tallest herbs, like fennel and dill, should be planted on the north side of the garden to prevent shading of the shorter plants.


Uses for Some Herbs:

1.     Dill – helps with upset stomachs and heartburn.  The foliage, flower buds and seeds are the eatable portions of this herb.

2.     Coriander seeds – the seedpods of cilantro are called coriander seeds.  Snacking on these seedpods will give your mouth a breath-freshening feeling.

3.     Aloe Vera – the oozing gel inside an aloe Vera leaf will help sooth mild burns, sunburns and other mild skin irritations.

4.     Peppermint – rubbing peppermint leaves on your exposed skin will help discourage nuisance bug bits.

5.     Fennel – the seeds of fennel taste like licorice and a helpful with weight loss because they satisfy hunger and decrease appetite.

Home Remedies

1.     Tummy Tea – strip dried peppermint leaves from their stems, pack them into a clean tin, and cover with an airtight lid.  Store in a cool, dark cupboard.  Herbalists use the healing, anesthetic menthol of peppermint tea to soothe upset stomachs and indigestion.  Scoop 2 to 3 teaspoons per cup into a tea ball, place into a teapot, and add boiling water.  Steep for 8 minutes, cool, then sip slowly for gentle relief.

2.     Sage Gargle – Sage leaves are filled with astringent and antiseptic tannins that comfort sore throats.  Pack a wide mouthed jar with whole dried or fresh sage leaves.  Cover the sage leaves completely with apple cider vinegar and cap tightly.  Store in a cool, dark place, and shake daily.  After two weeks, pour the sage-vinegar mixture through a strainer and rebottle the liquid.  Put it in your medicine cabinet and use as a gargle for sore throats.

3.     Cold Sore Remedy – Strip dried lemon balm leaves from their stems, and fill a clean glass or tin container.  Cap tightly and store in your medicine chest to make an antiviral wash for cold sores.  Put 2 to 4 teaspoons of dried herbs in a container and add 1 cup of boiling water.  Steep for ten minutes, strain, and let cool.  Apply the cooled mixture to cold sores with a sterile cotton ball several times a day.

4.     Herbal Bath Bags – Bath bags are simple to make and can be washed and reused.  With pinking shears, cut a piece of fabric into an 8-inch square.  Fill the center of the fabric with a handful of lavender flowers and stems and lemon balm leaves, lift the edges to form a bundle, and tie closed with a piece of ribbon.  For a muscle-relaxing soak, drop the herbal bag into a tub of hot water.  Climb in, stretch out, and breathe in the heavenly fragrance.

5. Dream Pillows – Aromatherapists and herbalists recommend the sweet, blended fragrances of herbs and flowers for calming, colorful, dreams.  Mix together dried lavender flowers, lemon balm leaves, and fennel and dill seeds.  Cut a 6- by 12-inch piece of soft fabric and fold it in half.  Squeeze a narrow bead of fabric glue along two of the edges and allow the seams to dry.  Loosely fill the pillow (it should be flat enough to slip inside a pillowcase) and finish closing the bag with another bead of glue.  Slip the thin fragrant pillow inside your pillowcase and drift off to sleep on a cloud of herb-scented dreams.


Leave a comment »

Three Sisters of Life

Gardening in rows, while on the one hand is extremely productive, they are usually not much to look at.  With organic gardening becoming more of the norm these days, different gardening techniques are meant to provide healthier products.  Some of the gardening techniques implemented into agricultural landscape today is a throw back to the time of Native American gardeners.  Small spaced gardens and water saving techniques helped the Native Americans not only provide for their village, but to do it in an effective manner.


One unique way of gardening is to use mounds instead of straight rows.  Typically these mounds were planted with the “Three Sisters of Life” – which are corn, beans and squash.  This important trio of crops helped each other in several ways when interplanted.  Corn planted deeply in a mound can withstand high winds, and mixed plantings of crops aren’t as likely to be destroyed by pests.  Corn, the tallest member of the family, provides a support for her climbing sister, the bean.  The bean takes nitrogen from the air and transfers it into the soil, enriching it for her two sisters.  Squash spreads her big leaves over the ground, shading out sun-loving weeds and helping to conserve moisture for them all.


To experiment with my own three sisters garden, I started with an 8 by 8 foot square of land that was in full sunshine for the majority of the day.  I layered newspaper, shredded bark, and compost over the area in late fall.  By spring, I had the perfect planting bed.  I divided the garden into four equal blocks, with two pathways going through the center of the garden in a cross formation.


In each block of garden, I mounded the soil up approximately four inches to form a hard-packed boundary wall.  I filled each mound with composted garden soil to make four nice planting beds.


Corn is the first sister to be planted – I used red popcorn for my experimental garden, but sweet corn or field corn is just as acceptable.  For ease with planting corn, try soaking the kernels overnight in warm water to soften them.  Poke 4 to 6, 4-inch holes throughout the mound and drop a corn kernel into each hole.  Refill the holes with compost, and pat down thoroughly.  Water the mound to help settle the soil.  When the corn is about six inches high, thin to six inches apart and add another two inches of compost around the bases of the cornstalks.


After thinning the corn and adding more compost, make a one-inch deep hole near the base of each corn stalk.  Drop a bean seed into all but one hole.  In the remaining hole, plant a squash seed.  Water the garden again and keep the seeds moist until they sprout.  Check the soil daily for moisture; when the soil is dry, fill the mound and allow the water to slowly seep down to the roots.


Throughout the growing season, feed your plants every two to three weeks with manure or compost tea.  Lend a helping hand to the beans by guiding their vines up the cornstalks.  If the squash vines are crowding the corn, clip them at a leaf node.


When the corn plants are about a foot high, mound more compost around their stalks to provide support; take care not to bury the young squash or bean plants when doing this.


When the corn silks turn brown, the corn is nature.  Pick and hang them in a dry area, or spread on newspapers to dry.  Harvest the brown pods of pole beans and dry them on old screens.  Gather the squashes, wipe clean, and store in a cool, dry place.


I also tried another variation on the Three Sisters Garden, and I had great success.  Instead of using corn, beans and squash, I used sunflowers, beans and pumpkins.  I planted the sunflowers in the same way as I did the corn.  When the sunflowers were one foot tall, I planted the beans and pumpkins seeds exactly like I did the beans and squash.  When using miniature pumpkins, the vines can grow up the sunflower stalks just like the beans.  With larger pumpkins, you will have to let the pumpkin vines escape from the garden and grow along the yard.


Growing By the Light of the Moon

Some Native Americans plant their above ground crops, such as corn, on a waxing, or growing moon.  They believe that seeds planted on a waning moon will not grow.  They plant underground crops, such as potatoes, on a waning moon.  From the new moon to the full moon is considered the waxing moon because the moon appears to be growing in size.  From the full moon to the new moon is a waning moon because the moon appears to be shrinking in size.

Leave a comment »

New Fangled Tomatoes

A new idea I am trying this year is to grow tomatoes in hanging buckets. I’ve taken a 5-gallon bucket and cut a two inch hole in the center of the bottom. I also punch several small holes for drainage. Then I took a tomato plant and gently placed it in the bucket upside down. The plant will be hanging from the bottom of the bucket. I then placed moss around the opening to keep the plant securely in the bucket and then filled the bucket with compost. In the top of the bucket I planted two sweet potatoes. I have the bucket hanging from my clothesline and I water as needed. During the last cold spell we had, I brought the bucket inside to prevent frost damage.

I got this idea after seeing a commerical for a similar planter. The tomato vine grows out the bottom of the bucket and the sweet potatoes grow down the sides of the bucket. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this experiment!

Leave a comment »

The Pizza Garden

For too many years to count, Friday night has always been pizza night at our home. Our carry-out order is half meat lovers, half supreme, and it usually comes from Pizza Hut. For me, pizza is not pizza without veggies, and for my husband, pizza is not pizza without the meat; so we compromise. We also rotate between pan pizza and thin crust, depending on our mood.

With the increasing cost of groceries, this spring we decided that a pizza garden should be on our list of new gardening projects to tackle. By using whole-wheat flour to make a very filling crust, and growing our own veggies to use as toppings, we decided we would try and bring Friday night pizza kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Because of the tornado force winds that blew through Mercer County on Ash Wednesday, I was left with a garden already prepared to substitute as a pizza garden. Our shoe garden is located in the front yard with an old water pump used as a center piece. The wind howled through our gardens that night and blew over the water pump. For several weeks, I left the pump where it lay because the weather was too bad to worry about straightening the garden.

Now that spring is finally here, I have started planning what to do with this garden. Maybe this would be the perfect place to grow the pizza garden; the shape was already right – circular – and the soil has already been amended. I re-anchored the water pump in the center of the garden and outlined the area with large rocks to form a faux crust / border around the garden. I then divided the area into eight slices, outlining the areas with smaller rocks.

Onions and garlic are the workhorses of pizza and pizza sauce. I love sliced onions all over my pizza, and the garlic gives a wonderful taste to the homemade pizza sauce. Because garlic requires such a long growing season, I typically grow this in my large veggie garden. Garlic should be planted in the fall and allowed to grow through winter, spring and summer before being ready to pick the following fall. So, the new pizza garden will get one garden slice just for onion sets.

Most pizza sauces begin with tomatoes, so these will be the backbone of the garden, but they can’t be planted until we have nighttime temperatures of at least 50 degrees. Make sure you plant tomatoes on the north side of the garden, so they will not shade out other veggies in the garden. Plum or Roma tomatoes make a wonderful pizza sauce, plus they can always be sliced directly onto the pizza crust. Make sure you supply some type of growing support for your tomatoes; either cages or stakes. The tomatoes will take up two slices of the pizza garden.

Peppers are another veggie that is essential for pizza making, either bell peppers or hot peppers, whatever your preference is. Typically, our family doesn’t like really hot peppers, so bell and banana peppers are our choice. I like to use stoplight peppers: red, yellow, and green. These make a pizza look festive. You should have at least 4 or 5 pepper plants. Just remember, we planting hot pepper, place these where they will receive the most sun. They need long hot days in order to develop their heat.

Zucchini and eggplant are two veggies you may not normally think of for a pizza, but we have learned through experimentation that these veggies give pizza a whole different taste. I will plant only one zucchini plant in a slice of the garden all by itself, mainly because this one plant has the potential to take over the entire garden. As for the eggplant, “Little Fingers” is my favorite variety. The eggplant can be slightly roasted or grilled before putting it on the pizza.

The last garden slices will be interplanted with herbs: oregano, basil and rosemary. Oregano is a perennial, so it will be given a permanent spot in the pizza garden. Rosemary is a tender perennial, so I will plant it in a pot so it can be brought indoors every fall before the first freeze. Basil is such a wonderful and useful herb, so I want to plant at least three different varieties so we can vary the taste. Extra basil can also be used to make pesto, which keeps well in the freezer.

No pizza is ever complete without the cheese, so the pizza garden cannot be complete without marigolds and Calendulas. These festive flowers are the color of ooey, gooey cheese and they will be used to fill in around all the veggies and herbs. Not only will they provide the cheese coloring for the garden, they will help with pest control on the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.Just as each slice of pizza can hold a new surprise, your pizza garden will reveal magical changes on a daily basis. You will be able to nibble tiny, bite-size tomatoes, smell the wonderful scents of herbal seasonings, and meet friendly, helpful garden critters. To finish off the summer growing season, why not host a “do- it- yourself” pizza party.

To control weeds and conserve moisture, lay a two-inch layer of straw or shredded bark around each seedling, but do not cover the stems. Poke your finger into the soil each day and if it feels dry, water deeply. Feed your plants once a week with weak manure tea and once a month, add some deep compost around the plants and work it into the top few inches of soil.

To encourage tall, spindly plants to become bushier, pinch off the top few inches of each plant at a leaf node – the spot where buds and leaves are formed. Deadhead marigolds and Calendulas to keep them blooming. Do not allow herbs to go to seed because this decreases herb production; pinch off any flowers that form on the herbs.

At harvest time, ripe tomatoes should almost fall off the vine when they are twisted. Zucchinis can be used in the pizza sauce, or sliced and grilled for a crispy topping. The zucchini flowers can also be used as a topping. Eggplants and bell peppers can be damages very easily if you tug them off their plants. The easiest way to harvest these veggies is by clipping the fruit with a small portion of the stem still attached. Onions and garlic can be pulled from the ground without removing their tops. Pick Calendula flowers and lay them facedown on sheets of newspaper or paper toweling to dry. Snipped sprigs of rosemary, basil and oregano can also be gathered on sheets of newspaper. Make sure to rinse all the veggies, flowers and herbs and pat them dry before using them to assemble pizzas.

When the garden begins to supply you with fresh veggies, plan a pizza party for a Friday night. Pizza dough and sauce can be pre-made the day before and you can encourage your guests to go to the garden and pick their own pizza ingredients. Supply everyone with a cutting board and sharp knife and encourage them to prepare the veggies and decorate their own pizza crusts.

Throw the pizzas on a stone and cook in the oven until golden and bubbly, or try cooking the pizza on your outdoor grill. Pop open bottles of soda and enjoy family, friends and good times.


Bobbi’s Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast 

2 ½ to 3 cups of all purpose flour; bleached or whole wheat

½ tsp salt

2 TBSP olive oil

Combine water, yeast and 1 ½ cups of flour in a large bowl – mix well. Gradually add oil, salt and remaining flour. With a wooden spoon, combine ingredients until dough holds its shape. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic – about 5 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise until it has doubled in size – about one hour. Place covered bowl in refrigerator overnight. An hour before cooking your pizza, remove dough from the refrigerator and preheat oven to 450 degrees, (you can also cook dough outside on the grill). Punch a hole in center of the slightly risen dough and let rise for another hour. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough into 3 or 4 pieces. On a piece of parchment paper, using your fingers, spread dough out into an 8 inch round, slightly rolling edges to make a crust to hold the pizza sauce. After building pizza with your favorite toppings, cook in oven for 12 to 15 minutes.


 Bobbi’s Pizza Sauce

2 ½ pounds of Roma tomatoes (about 12 to 15)

4 TBSP olive oil

2 onions; peeled and sliced

3 cloves garlic; peeled and slivered

2 bell peppers; cored, seeded and diced

1 tsp salt

 ½ tsp cracked black pepper

1 TBSP sugar

3 TBSP fresh basil leaves; chopped

1 TBSP oregano leaves; chopped

2 sprigs rosemary; chopped

 Cut tomatoes into quarters and place in 3-quart saucepan. Mash with a potato masher, cover and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Pour tomatoes through a food mill to remove seeds and skin; set aside. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat; add onions and cook until softened and golden brown. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add bell peppers, salt, pepper and sugar; cook, covered, over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add milled tomatoes and continue cooking, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add basil, oregano, and rosemary and cook 10 minutes more until sauce thickens. Let sauce cool and then add more salt to taste. Refrigerate for 24 hours before use; sauce will develop a deeper flavor and thicken a bit more. (NOTE: cooking times vary depending on juice content of tomatoes.) Leftovers can be frozen for later use.




Comments (1) »