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Did you enjoy eating leafy greens such as lettuce or spinach as a child?


I would eat a little salad, with some needed prodding from my mother, but I didn’t really enjoy it.  Now, I love lettuce of all kinds and like to use a variety when I make my own salads.



Well, I may be older, but that doesn’t mean that my mother is finished with me yet.  The other day she brought over some kale from her garden.

I must admit that I have been somewhat resistant to eating kale.  I don’t have any good reason for it other than a deep-seated prejudice toward dark-green leafy greens.

Kale and Romaine Lettuce

My mother didn’t stop with just bringing freshly harvested kale over to my house.  No, she actually made a delicious kale salad with lemon zest and olive oil dressing.

I was a little hesitant before I took my first bite.  I realized that I really wanted to ‘grow-up’ and like kale and get rid of my ridiculous prejudice.

It turns out that I really did like it!  So much so that I plan on growing my own.

It just goes to prove that mothers do know what’s best for us – even when we are all grown up 😉


I hope you have enjoyed my winter harvest blog posts.  We’ve gone from broccoli to new vegetables and covered how to get kids to like cauliflower


Do you have a vegetable that you used to hate and now like to eat?

Do you like to try new things?


I do – especially in the garden.  I’m always on the lookout for new vegetables to try out, including some heirloom varieties, which aren’t technically new.



One year, I tried growing ‘container corn’.  You can read here how it did.

This year, I tried growing ‘White Icicle’ radishes, which are a cross between radishes and turnips.  My mother had given me the seeds and I’ve always had a very easy time growing regular radishes, so I thought I’d try these.  

They grew easily and the leaves reached over 2 1/2 ft. long!

It was exciting to pull them out and I couldn’t wait to try them.


While they were very easy to grow, I must confess that I didn’t like them.

I really wanted to and their flavor was a lot like a turnip, but they burned my mouth – much more than the radishes do.


My grand experiment last year was growing Swiss chard and afterward, I wish that I had been growing it all along.  It’s not only easy to grow, it also tastes great in salads!


I grow it both in my vegetable gardens and in pots.

So, while I wish that I liked ‘White Icicle’ I don’t.  But, it wasn’t a waste of time growing them.  You see, gardening is a grand experiment and it’s always fun to try growing new things and while there are going be some failures – there are also great successes (like my Swiss chard) when you discover what grows well that you like.
*This week, I’m sharing what I’ve harvested from my winter vegetable garden and sharing lessons learned.  Yesterday, it was broccoli and how to freeze it.

Do you grow vegetables in the winter?  Here in the low desert regions of the desert Southwest, we can grow vegetables all year. 


My winter vegetable garden is filled with a variety of cool-season vegetables and I have rarely had any problems growing any of them except for broccoli.


For some reason, in past years my broccoli has been rather lackluster.  Oh, the plant grows, but the broccoli heads are always small with no real central head forming.  


It’s been frustrating because my mother’s garden (just 2 miles away) always produces gorgeous heads of broccoli.  Every year, after harvesting a small amount of broccoli stalks, I decide that it is the last time I will grow it.

But come fall, I always relent and plant some more.  So, imagine my delight when I ventured out in to my garden this month and found two large heads of broccoli ready for picking!



Aren’t they beautiful?

So, what did I do differently?

I simply planted them in a different location (about 10 ft. away) in the vegetable garden – that’s it!

When planting them this year, I remembered that many people plant tomatoes in a different location from year to year to allow the soil enough time to replenish and I thought that I’d try it with my broccoli and it worked!

My entire family loves broccoli and nothing compares to the flavor of fresh broccoli.  But, you can also freeze it for later.  To do this, you need to ‘blanch’ it by cutting the broccoli into florets and then putting them into boiling water for 3 minutes.  Immediately afterward, dip the florets into cold water with ice cubes to stop the cooking.  Dry the cooled broccoli the best you can and place meal-sized portions into plastic freezer bags and freeze until you are ready to use!

So the lesson is, that if you grow a type of vegetable that does not seem to grow well despite doing everything right – try growing it in a different location.

Come back tomorrow, when I’ll share with you a new vegetable that I grew in my garden!

I love living in the desert Southwest.


I really do, except in August.  That’s when I start to tire of the long, hot summer and yearn for fall.  By September, the days begin to shorten and the weather begins to cool and I plant my cool-season vegetable garden.


One of the things that I love most about gardening in the desert Southwest is that you can grow fruit and vegetables all year long – even in the midst of winter when most of the country can only dream of growing things outdoors.

 Where else can you look outside and see delicious vegetables coming up and picking them fresh for your table in January?


Oh, and how about the citrus fruit that not only provides us with sweet, tart fruit – but also adds bright color to our desert gardens?

Over the next few days, I thought that I’d share with you what I have harvested from my winter garden in hopes that you will be inspired to grow your own desert Southwest winter garden.

Even if you don’t live in a mild winter area, growing vegetables is not all that different in other regions, except for the calendar.  So, you can always pick up some helpful tips from vegetable gardeners who live in other places.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my first-ever success in growing a vegetable that has given me problems in the past.

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Baby Watch Update:

Our second-oldest daughter, Rachele, is expecting her first child soon!  She is in the Navy and currently stationed in California – about 7 hours away from us.

She is being monitored closely because of the baby’s low birth weight and now the latest ultrasound shows a lower level of amniotic fluid.

Rachele has been seeing having weekly ultrasounds, stress tests and seeing the doctor.  On her last visit, she was told that they may have to induce her maybe a week early.

So, what does that mean for me and my husband? Well, I had to reschedule a speaking engagement on “Updating Your Landscape”.

Our plan is to hit the road as soon as we get the call from her that she is being induced and/or in labor. Hopefully, we will get there before the baby does!

Meanwhile, I’m off to pack my bags!
One of the benefits of growing vegetables in zone 9 is that we are able to grow vegetables all year long.  

However, despite our relatively mild winters, warm-season vegetables such as  peppers and tomatoes can’t handle temperatures when they dip below freezing.  So just before freezing temperatures hit, I run out to the garden and pick off all our tomatoes and peppers before pulling out the plants.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing this – I’ve done it for years.


I allow my green tomatoes to ripen indoors – click here to see how.


I then dice my green peppers, place them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer where I can use them whenever I make my kid’s favorite Mexican rice for dinner.

A few years ago, I decided to try to overwinter my tomato and pepper plants instead of pulling them out. 


This is what my tomatoes looked like with no frost protection.  That was no surprise.

But the next year, I decided to protect my tomatoes & peppers by covering them with old sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees.  

I even went one step further and hung an outdoor light underneath the sheets.  

To my surprise, both my tomato and pepper plants came through the winter just fine, with a small amount of frost damage, and I had an early start to the growing season.

It was a lot of work though – having to cover them and uncover them whenever temperatures dipped below freezing.

Also, that winter was a relatively mild one and temperatures never strayed below the upper 20’s.  However, we do occasionally experience temperatures that dip in to the low 20’s and in that case, protection or not, the peppers and tomatoes would most likely die whether or not they were protected.

So, do I still try to overwinter my peppers and tomatoes?  

The answer is “yes”and “no”.


I do throw sheets over my peppers, but not my tomatoes.  The reason is that tomatoes are slightly more sensitive to the cold.

If we were to experience temperatures in the low 20’s, my 2-year old pepper plants would most likely not survive.  But, that is what it is like to grow vegetables – you try your best, but sometimes it’s not enough.

**Have you ever successfully overwintered a warm-season vegetable?**

Earlier this week, I shared with you the four vegetables that I am growing for the first time this year.  I will be sure to share with you how they do as the season progresses.


In addition to my experimenting with new vegetables, I am also growing some favorite cool-season vegetables…


My favorite cool-season vegetable crop is leaf lettuce.  I love nothing better then being able to step outside to snip off a few leaves to make a dinner salad.  

Once you have tasted fresh lettuce from the garden, there is no going back.  Bagged lettuce is a poor replacement.

About 1/3 of my three vegetable gardens are taken up with beautiful leaf lettuce.  I like to grow different varieties of leaf lettuce including Romaine, Buttercrunch, Great Lakes and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce.

I usually grow lettuce from seed because it is so easy.  It needs temps below 80 degrees to germinate, so October is a good time to plant it.

**Don’t plant all your lettuce at once.  Stagger your planting dates by 2 – 3 weeks, so that when your first crop of lettuce is finished (bolting), then you will have more coming up.  Because lettuce can be planted throughout the fall, winter and early spring, you can enjoy lettuce until April, if you stagger your planting dates.  This is what experienced vegetable gardeners do to prolong their harvest.   


Isn’t this cauliflower beautiful?  I grew this one two years ago and made the mistake of not planting any last winter.  I’ll never make that mistake again.

I love cauliflower and cut the crown into small 1/4 inch pieces that we sprinkle over our salad – it looks like crumbled cheese and my kids like it.

Cauliflower can be hard to grow from seed, so I use transplants.

**Stagger the planting of your cauliflower as well, so that it does not all ripen at once.  For example: I plant 3 cauliflower transplants every 2 weeks until the end of November.


I do not like cooked spinach.  But, I do like putting it in salads or on a sandwich.  

I have grown spinach from seed and from transplants.  It lasts all winter and into spring.


Carrots are a mainstay of any cool-season garden.  Because they are a root vegetable, they need to be planted from seed.

**My first year vegetable gardening, I planted all of my carrots at once and was rewarded with an ENORMOUS harvest.  We couldn’t eat that many carrots.  So, don’t plant all your carrots at once.  I recommend planting some every month through February, so you will always have some to enjoy, fresh from the garden.


This is the only photo I have of radishes in my garden.  I must remember to take one when they are a bit more developed.

Radishes are the easiest vegetable to grow from seed.  They come up fast – 3 days after planting the seeds, which makes them perfect for kids to grow.

**Stagger your planting of radishes, just as I recommended for carrots for a continual harvest.


I have a confession to make…

I seem to have problems growing broccoli.  I’m not sure why and after each disappointing season, I resolve NOT to grow it again.  But, I am trying again this year.

The photo above, is not my broccoli – it my mother’s 😉

**I have only a few broccoli planted now and will plant more through November, for a longer harvest.


I always plant garlic in October.  I haven’t gotten to it yet, but plan to next week.

Last spring, I was happy with my larger then expected garlic harvest.

The last vegetable on my list is onions, which I will plant from onion sets this month as well.

I promise to keep you updated with how my garden grows throughout the season.  

I would love to hear about what you are planting and/or what your favorite vegetables to grow are.

As I write this, it is raining outside.  I love the rain.  I always have, even as a young girl growing up in Southern California.  

I especially like the thought of all the rain falling on my vegetable garden.

If you look closely, you might notice something growing that usually doesn’t belong in a winter vegetable garden (in zone 9a and cooler areas)….

Can you see what I have growing in the photo above that normally belongs in a spring / summer vegetable garden?
Well, if you said tomato plants, you would be correct.
Now before you scold me for planting tomatoes in a garden that sees frost every winter – I assure you that I did NOT plant any of these tomatoes.
No one else did either….
So, how did I end up with tomatoes growing in my garden this time of year?  
Well, they came up from seeds from fallen tomatoes from last summer’s vegetable garden.
I have actually had to pull up small tomato seedlings, but I decided to let 5 stay.  You may be asking, why am I letting them grow if they will be killed by frost?

I am hoping that this winter may be mild enough that they will survive if I protect them from frost.
Last week, we had several days in the low 30’s / upper 20’s.  I covered my tomatoes with old sheets and towels.  Additionally, I also put out two desk lights underneath the coverings (not letting the bulbs touch the sheets), which provides additional warmth.
The result?
Overall, the tomatoes did well.  Some of their upper leaves did receive frost damage, but the lower 3/4’s the plants did very well.
I am hoping that my experiment continues to do well.  Why?  Because I will have a huge headstart on growing lots of tomatoes.
I will continue to let you know how they do this winter. 
**In frost-free gardens, you can grow tomatoes during winter.  But, my zone 9a garden sees temperatures dip into the upper 20’s, so without protection, tomatoes won’t survive the winter. 

One of the many things that I love about living in the desert southwest, is the ability to grow vegetables 12 months of the year.  Now I have mentioned before that I grew vegetables during college as part of required classwork out in a field owned by the school.  I have instructed clients how to grow vegetables and have planted vegetable gardens for others.  But I had never grown vegetables in my own garden.  I had not experienced the excitement and wonder of checking the garden each day to see my plants growing bit by bit, see the flowers form and leaves grow and culminate in vegetables ready for harvesting.  I did not know how much better vegetables taste when they are from your own garden. 

And so, I had not experienced any of this…..sad isn’t it?

Well, early last spring we decided to plant a vegetable garden.  The kids were so excited, but I must admit that I was even more so.  My husband, always supportive of my gardening endeavors, was not quite as excited as I was, but was more then willing to do a lot of the grunt work.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, any woman whose husband shovels manure for his wife, is blessed!
I won’t go into more detail about our spring/summer garden because I have written about it before and I don’t want to bore those of you who have already read it 😉  But for those of you who have not seen it,  you can read about our early adventures in the vegetable garden here.
Once September came, I was eager to plant winter vegetables.  Visions of broccoli, carrots, lettuce and cauliflower filled my head.   Before we planted our seeds, we added additional bagged compost and aged steer manure -both available at our local big box store.
Then it was time for planting.  Now a common problem for many gardeners, including me, is that my eyes are bigger then my gardening space.  So, I had to cut my list of desired vegetables to the following: broccoli, spinach, carrots, romaine lettuce, garlic, basil and bunching onions.
My daughter Ruthie and I planted the seeds and then eagerly waited to see tiny green leaves break through the surface.  They did within a few days and then the unexpected happened….birds got to them.  So we began again and spread bird netting on the top, which thankfully worked.
My tiny vegetable plants were growing beautifully, but they faced another hurdle.  I was leaving for two weeks on vacation and my 18 year old daughter was staying at home and therefore responsible to take care of my garden, including watering my vegetables.  Now those of you who are gardeners understand my trepidation.  House-sitters are not always super reliable when it comes to caring for your garden.  Couple that with the fact that my daughter has not shown any inclination towards gardening….at least not yet.  Between college, church and her job, she has little spare time.  I was worried that she my not take her watering responsibilities seriously.  I might have mentioned to her ahead of time that you can always tell if a vegetable garden has been watered correctly by the taste of the lettuce.  If the leaves are bitter, then there were periods of dryness.  I think that maybe made the difference, because when we returned from our vacation, my garden was absolutely thriving.
I was so thankful for how wonderfully my daughter cared for my garden.  The one thing in the garden that really surprised me was how tall my tomato plants had grown….they were over 4 ft. tall.
I had planted Marigolds throughout the garden to help ward off any undesirable bugs and so far they are working – doesn’t my lettuce look beautiful?.  I also planted some Nasturtiums for the same reason as well.  I am fast becoming a firm believer in companion planting.
I love carrots and will thin them soon once they grow a little larger.
I do not like cooked spinach.  But I love putting baby spinach leaves in my salads.  It is hard to not to grab some and eat them when I am out in the garden…..I just know that I will succumb to temptation soon 🙂
My broccoli is coming up too.  They may be too close, but I will wait and see for sure before I pull any out.

My basil is growing in front of my tomato plants.  Whenever I look at the two together, it makes me want to go and make marinara sauce.

In front of my lettuce is bunching onions (scallions) and the taller one is garlic.  Did you know that you plant garlic from garlic cloves?  You can even plant cloves or garlic you buy at the grocery store.  My kids thought that was so cool.
As hard as I try to have straight, neat rows of vegetables, I always fail.  But, that is really not the point is it?  Vegetables respond to fertile soil, sun and water….not whether or not they are perfectly straight 🙂
It may seem like the rows are too close together….I did follow the instructions of the seed packets, but I can always pull something out if it gets too close.  I would rather fit all I can in my vegetable garden then have large bare spots which contribute nothing to my table.
**I am somewhat proud to say that everything in my vegetable garden, with the exception of the tomatoes, marigolds and the garlic, were all grown from seed.**  I personally have nothing against buying transplants at the nursery and growing them, but your options of picking out certain varieties of vegetables is limited and it does cost more.  I recommend growing vegetables from seed and if some do not, then by all means….buy the transplants 🙂
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Today, we are celebrating my daughter Gracie’s 9th birthday.  She wanted to have her party at our local pizza restaurant where she and her friends can enjoy all of the games.  I love the fact that I don’t have to have a sparkling clean house (I seldom do), I don’t have to prepare the food or clean-up afterward.  I did make the cake, which is something I do love to do.  

Happy 9th Birthday Gracie!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

I am what many people would call a “planner”.  I absolutely love to plan things ahead of time…..trips, schedules, and my garden.  As the month of August begins to wane, it is time to start planning my fall vegetable garden.

As a child, I would enjoy sitting down with my dad’s newest Burpee catalog, looking at the newest vegetable and flower seed offerings.  Now times have changed and instead of looking through a paper catalog, I was looking at a ‘virtual’ online catalog of numerous seed company sites.  One that I especially like is Botanical Interests.   They offer high-quality flower and vegetable seed at reasonable prices.  Even if you do not purchase seeds from them, they offer extremely helpful growing tips for each type of seed that they sell.  I have seen them for sale at some local nurseries and they are also available online as well.

Okay, back to my planning.  I have cleaned out much of my vegetable garden, which leaves a tomato plant (which weathered the summer heat very well under shade cloth), a pumpkin plant that is growing mostly outside of the garden and a few basil plants.  The landscape designer in me loves nothing better than a mostly blank palette 🙂  Tuesday evening, found me at Double S Farms having our weekly dinner with family and my mother (Pastor Farmer) brought out a wooden chest full of seeds.  She had more than she needed and offered to let me have some.  *I am often blessed by the generosity of the residents (my mother, sister, and her family) of Double S Farms.

 

Needless to say, I was in heaven.  The different seeds were stored in tiny plastic bags and then placed inside of little Gerber baby food containers.  I opened the broccoli container and was so happy to find 4 different types of varieties to choose from.
I filled up my share of Ziploc bags with all different types of seeds.  Have you heard the phrase “My eyes were bigger than my stomach?”  Well, in this case, I believe that my eyes were bigger than my vegetable garden.  I know that I do not have room to grow everything that I would like, but I have some definite favorites that I will plant.
The time to plant many vegetables and flowers begins in September in the lower deserts and I hope to find room to plant the following…..
Broccoli
Garlic
Scallions
Carrots
Lettuce
I am not sure that I have room for the following, but they can also be planted in September in our area:
Beets
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Celery
Eggplant
Peas
&
Radishes
I have also decided to plant some companion plants to help attract beneficial insects and deter damaging insects to my vegetable garden.
 Bachelor’s Button / Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
I plan on planting Bachelor’s Button, Nasturtiums and Marigolds.  Each of these flowers can be directly sown by seed.
Bachelor’s Button can be planted September through November from seed and attracts many different pollinators to my garden.

Nasturtium is a powerhouse in the vegetable garden.  They repel damaging insects such as aphids, whiteflies as well as some beetles.  Another benefit is that insects that eat scale are also attracted by nasturtiums.  *A lesser-known benefit is that both the flowers and leaves of nasturtium are edible.  The leaves taste great with mixed salad greens and the flowers make a pretty garnish.

Marigolds are well known for their ability to repel damaging insects in the garden such as aphids, whiteflies, crickets and grasshoppers.  French Marigolds (Tagetes patula), also help to repel nematodes in the soil.  The bright flowers of all Marigolds attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Here are a few other great companion plants you may consider growing in and around your vegetable garden….

Alyssum (attracts pollinators, beneficial insects)
Basil (attracts pollinators, repels damaging insects)
Chives (repels damaging insects)
Coriander (attracts pollinators, repels damaging insects, attracts beneficial insects)
Lavender (attracts butterflies & bees, repels damaging insects)
Petunias (repels aphids)
Rosemary (flowers attract pollinators, repels damaging insects)
Thyme (attracts beneficial insects while repelling damaging insects)

I plan on preparing the soil in my raised vegetable garden by adding a mixture of compost and aged steer manure.  *If you are like me and do not compost (I really should), or have cows in your backyard (I really don’t want any), you can buy both at your local big box store or local nursery.  I apply compost and manure twice a year – in in late summer and late winter.

Other types of manure that are recommended for vegetable gardens are chicken and horse.  Just make sure that they are aged and not fresh – fresh manure will burn your plants.

Nothing says “I love you” quite like a man who shovels manure for his wife’s vegetable garden.
I am so blessed 🙂 

**Many professional and amateur vegetable gardeners have their own special garden soil recipe and they all have great results using different ratios and types of compost, manure and other amendments.  What this really means to the backyard gardener is that there is no one ‘right’ recipe.  Rather, there are many.  The one overriding ingredient is compost.  Even if compost is all you use for your garden soil, you will grow great vegetables.


I tend to go organic when I work in my vegetable garden in terms of fertilizer, but I have been known to apply a slow-release synthetic fertilizer in the past.  If you decide to use a slow-release synthetic fertilizer, the labeling will tell you how long the fertilizer should last once applied.  However, in our warm climate, it will not last that long….cut the length of time in half to determine how long it will really last.  

 Big box stores are now carrying a wide variety of organic fertilizers.  I saw an organic fertilizer blend there just the other day that combined both bone meal, blood meal, micro-organisms as well as myccorhizae, which would work just great in my garden.  *Mycorrhizae is a fungus that forms an extremely beneficial symbiotic relationship with plants via their roots.


And so, this weekend will find me adding my semi-annual application of compost/manure and organic fertilizer to my vegetable garden and allowing it to rest for a week or so before planting my seeds, which will actually help the soil. 


I can almost taste my fresh grown vegetables…..


For more information about vegetable gardening including what and when to plant, you can check out this link.