My foray into foraging…

(Friendly caveat: I’m not advising anyone to forage. This blog post is about my experiences as a novice forager.)

Within the last six months, I’ve gotten into eating wild food. More importantly, I’ve learned the joys of sustainably foraging. As a lot of you know, organic gardening is a huge part of my life.  Eating with the seasons, caring for the health of our Mother Earth, and growing the food that nourishes my little family is an inherent part of my identity. Foraging is just another facet of that. 

I have a wonderful friend who is from the Appalachians. She has a degree in biology, she’s an organic farmer, a homesteader, and a consummate steward of our planet. She knows more about our local flora and fauna than anyone I know. Megan is teaching me how to identify edible fruits and plants and how to harvest them sustainably. If I didn’t have her, I wouldn’t be foraging. It can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing or where it’s legal to do so.

I’ve learned enough to do some basic foraging for things that are pretty easily identifiable. 

So far, I’ve found wild ramps…

…morel mushrooms…

…tasty little wild strawberries…

…and wild black raspberries…

Recently I’ve spotted some sweet patches of blackberry bramble, and I’m salivating at the thought of eating them still warm from the sun. 

Foraging is the ultimate way to eat with the seasons. It’s exciting, it’s cost-effective, it’s a wonderful way to get outside, but it’s imperative to be safe. Eating things that grow wild can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Go with a knowledgeable guide or do a lot of reading on the subject before eating something you’re not sure of. And if you’re not sure, DON’T EAT IT. And don’t forage on private lands or in parks that prohibit it. And don’t eat things from roadsides or other places that have been sprayed with herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. (I know I’ve mostly just said “don’t,” but this is about my experiences as a novice forager and advice I was given.) 

I just want you to be safe, my lovelies. 

Until next time,

Jenna the Happy Forager

Advertisements

Yay for Gloria Jean’s Coffees!

Who doesn’t love coffee? Better yet: Who doesn’t love awesome coffee? Better still: Who doesn’t love awesome, coffee that comes from a company who cares? Answer? You do, of course.

I’ve been drinking Gloria Jean’s coffee for what seems like forever. It wasn’t a trip to the mall without a delicious GJ iced coffee in hand as I rifled through clothing racks (sale, of course) or leafed through new CDs. It was tradition. And it’s still as good as I remembered…if not better.

This morning, in fact, I enjoyed a Red Velvet Cupcake iced coffee with coconut milk and lightly sweetened with a coconut palm sugar syrup. I had a cupcake for breakfast (well kinda)! See how happy I am?

image1-4

And what makes this coffee taste even better is that Gloria Jean’s Coffees has been working with the Rainforest Alliance since 2007. Their entire line of flavored coffees, regular and decaf, contains Rainforest Alliance Certified beans. They support a healthy planet, stronger forests and an improved quality of life for farming communities. The eco-nerd in me is glowing. For more information on Gloria Jean’s Coffees and the Rainforest Alliance, click here.

From the  Classic Origin Ethiopian Yirgacheffe to the Limited Edition Red Velvet Cupcake, GJ knows their beans. And look how cute their camping-inspired mugs are!
image1-3

Maybe it’s the caffeine talking, but I’m in the mood for a couple of java-themed posts for my coffee-loving friends out there in the blogosphere. (You’re actually sipping a hot cuppa right this very minute, aren’t you?) I’ll be doing one on the perfect vegan iced coffee featuring the Gloria Jean’s Red Velvet Cupcake and then another on a homemade BBQ sauce featuring the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

If you want to be uber prepared for the upcoming recipes or just can’t wait to get your hands on some of this amazing Gloria Jean’s Coffee, click here. Until next time, my friends…

The Little Gardener that Could…Stop Being So Darn Stubborn

Happy Spring, everyone! I hope you’re all having lots of organic gardening successes and very few failures this season. But, if you’ve had one or two boo boos, I hope you’re writing them down as to not repeat them next year. I talk from experience, and I’ve certainly had my share of wretched mistakes. Occasionally, I’m stubborn (*wink wink*). But I’m growing as a gardener, steward of our planet, and as a rational human being. Learning from past failure is the reason for this post. Truthfully, I was afraid to write about this too soon. There was no way I’d jinx our success. But it happened, everyone, it finally happened. Houston, we have cucumbers…two kinds!

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.53.50 AM

This is a truly momentous occasion.

The Cross-Country Hybrids and Poinsett 76 cucumbers started out like any other: little, teeny tiny, cukes with unpollinated flowers at the end.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.36 AM

Isn’t it cute?

We were excited. But we knew, oh, we knew, not to get too excited. You see, we’ve tried this three years in a row at different times of the year, different gardening seasons, and different locations in our gardens. Every time (except for the one freak-volunteer-plant-in-January incident), we get both pickleworm and melonworm plus a lovely case of downy mildew. And this time was looking to be no different.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.58 AM

See the little jerks? Pickleworms were already invading.

But, as several people have told me to do, I finally broke down and got some Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT). And it’s my hero, my knight in shining armor, and my bestest buddy. BT a soil-dwelling bacteria that kills the worm larvae that make growing anything in the curcurbita family nearly impossible in our region. From squash to melons to cucumbers, it’ll work. And it’s OK for organic gardening, safe to beneficial insects (including bees), humans, and other animals. The one drawback that I see is that it degrades in sunlight and has to be reapplied often. It’s time consuming, but it’s saved our cucumber crops.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.09 AM

Cucumber Vines Basking in the Florida Sunshine

To treat, I spray all areas of the plants, but I especially focus on the new growth and flowers because that’s where we’ve found the most damage in the past. The pickleworm and melonworm moths lay their eggs around sundown and are active for only a few hours, but they lay enough eggs that hatch enough larvae to really cause some serious damage. Most of the time, the damage is so bad by the time it’s noticed that there’s no solution other than to rip out and discard the infested plants. I’ve literally cried over this. But not this year (not yet, anyway).

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.24 AM

Cross-Country Hybrid Cucumber

We’ve been harvesting quite a few perfectly shaped, sweet as sugar cukes a couple times a week. It almost seems too good to be true. I’ll bask in this glory for as long as I can. I’ll show off my cucumbers to my fellow vendors at the farmers market, and bite into one every single day. So, friends, the moral of this little story is to stop being stubborn. Don’t repeat the same mistakes season after season, and don’t give up! Listen to the seasoned gardeners around you and take their advice. And enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.

With dirty fingernails and an armful of cucumbers,

Jenna

Why do we garden?

“Of the seven deadly sins, surely it is pride that most afflicts the gardener.”

― Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

the salad I speak of

Why do I have a garden? I started thinking about that very question as I enthusiastically told a coworker what was in my bowl: Red Russian Kale, Louisiana Pink Tomatoes, Cosmic Purple Carrots, roasted Detroit Dark Red beets, etc. Do people often get this excited about salad? Why was I so overjoyed?

I think there’s something extremely gratifying about seeing something go from seed to plate. It’s more fun than farm to table. It’s labor. It’s nurture. It’s my urban garden.

It’s a lot of work. My back gets sore, my legs ache, and I always have dirt under my nails. Wearing gloves just doesn’t cut it. I like to feel what I’m doing because, well, gardening is intimate. It’s a kinesthetic art just as much as it’s visual. I love it so much that I’m always posting photos of my little backyard farm. As I look back through my Instagram feed, I see just how proud I am. Sometimes, I even take selfies with veggies (don’t judge).

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.32.57 PM

crazy kohlrabi

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.33.26 PM

so much kale

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.33.42 PM

heirloom tomatoes after the rain

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.34.12 PM

cosmically awesome

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.34.35 PM

my first spinach leaves

But is it cheaper to grow your own? Some people think that we save a lot of money by growing our own veggies. It’s quite the contrary, actually. I’m sure I spend more. The veggies cost nearly nothing to raise from seed, but it’s the soil, the water (our rain barrel never has enough), the organic amendments, and the time. Oh my gosh, if time really were money…

In the end of the day, it’s amazing to say “this was a seed and now it’s in my tummy.” I love to share with my neighbors and friends, and I really love to talk to other gardeners. There really is a sense of pride, joy, and commitment to playing in the dirt. It’s a way of life, and I wouldn’t trade my shovel and dirty fingernails for anything.

Until next time, my gardening friends. It’s Spring! Go get dirty.

my happy place

Yay, Florida Fall!

It’s finally Fall! I love the Fall. For a lot of people, it means leaves are turning beautiful shades of crimson, orange, and goldenrod, but for us gardeners in Florida, it means a whole new season of gardening. Actually, it’s the kickoff to eight glorious months of garden-friendly weather. Summer is a moot point; I’ve given up. Planting in the Summer only leads to heartache and asking myself “why, why, why did I do this…again?” So I wait. I patiently (haha) wait until October.

When the heat and humidity start to subside, that’s when the good things start happening in my garden. What’s more is that our homemade black gold is ready to be used! And we build a new bed to replace the hot mess that was there before. Thank goodness, too, the old bed was spent. See?

IMG_1089.JPG

The Old Overgrown Bed

The new bed is an 8′ x 8′ that replaced the 3′ x 6′ bed we used to have in the same location. This is the best spot for pure, radiant sun in the fall and winter. And it’s right next to the rain barrel and hose.

IMG_1097.JPG

The New Bed’s Frame

But this bed takes a lot of dirt! It’s taken many trips to the garden center to make up for what our homemade compost didn’t cover. No matter, it’s the Fall and we’ve got a lot of stuff to grow! I’ve grown some mean broccoli on this side of our house, and we plan to grow enough to freeze. And speaking of broccoli…

20140318-154253.jpg

Mean-Looking Broccoli

Seed shopping gives me palpitations and a major case of the “I-want-them-alls.” Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a mecca. I’m really tickled because they specialize in heirloom, organic, and non-gmo seeds for the southeast region. I only bought a couple things.

IMG_1139.JPG

I Behaved Myself

This weekend will be a busy weekend for us. I’ve already got baby heirloom tomatoes started indoors, and they will be planted this weekend, too. I’ve been hardening them off, and they’re nearly ready. And, compost bonus: there’s oodles of mystery cucurbit seedlings doing incredibly well. Butternut squash? Straight Eight cucumbers? Spaghetti Squash, even? Don’t know. Don’t care. It’s all good.

IMG_1138.JPG

Mystery Cucurbits

We’ve got sun, temperatures perfect for germination, and good dirt. What more could a Florida girl ask for?

Until next time,

Jenna

 

 

Big Things are Growing in our Tiny, Urban Garden

Spring is upon us. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, the trees are nearly filled in with lush, green leaves, and the garden is a-growin’. I’m always so hopeful in April. While I’ve already seen aphids, I’m not yet disappointed. (Click here for how to fight them organically.) Why? Because we’ve got gorgeous things happening:

Kentucky Wonder Bean plants, although tiny, are strong as can be…

20140419-080059.jpg

Stunning little heirloom crookneck squash babies are beginning…

20140422-090816.jpg

Heirloom tomato plants, all 23 of them, are green and working their way toward greatness. Some of them aren’t as grand as others, but they’re trying…

20140422-090523.jpg

I’m even pushing forward with several varieties of heirloom lettuce which is a bit questionable for this time of year in Florida…

20140419-080506.jpg

The carrots are looking good, the kale appears happy, the basil, sage, and parsley are enjoying the weather, and the onions and garlic should be ready to harvest soon. And what’s more is that we’ve already harvested one cucumber (oddly shaped little guy) and a handful of strawberries!

20140422-091050.jpg

Unfortunately, the swiss chard looks more like Swiss cheese, but…

20140419-175653.jpg

I can’t really complain about the minor gardening failures. Perfect is impossible, and I’d never expect as much; gardening is a set of learning experiences, wild experiments, and notes-to-selves.

I will say that, overall, the Spring has been good to us! How is your Spring going, fellow gardeners of the blogosphere? I’d love to hear from you!

Until then, happy sowing, digging, and playing in the dirt,

Jenna

20140422-091530.jpg

Organic Aphid Control for the Conscious Gardener

It’s that time of the year, my friends. For those of us in Florida, it’s already here. Aphids have latched onto my Calendula and Oleander already, and I fear it won’t be long before they’re on my flowering tomato plants. For those of you a little farther north and/or west, you may not have these little buggers yet (and hopefully you won’t), but just in case, here are a couple organic remedies to try:

1. Good, old-fashioned powerful blast of water: Yellow aphids have made their way to my oleander more than once. They latch onto newly forming flower buds and attempt to suck them dry. Instead of putting any harmful sprays or costly organic sprays on them, I go right for the hose. With the nozzle on the most powerful setting possible, I go for broke. Holding each flower cluster in my hand, I spray all sides. The aphids fall off in an instant amd the grass and neighboring plants get a nice watering. At first, I was afraid that the aphids would latch onto other plants, but that’s never happened. Because they’re soft-bodied, I’m not sure they survive the blast. This works every single time, but you’ve got to be thorough when spraying.

20140408-114711.jpg

2. Soapy water: My friend Justin Gay from the Seeds of Xanxadu has a YouTube video called “How I Handle Aphids.” Not only does he show how to identify them, but he shows exactly how to mix the concoction and how/when to spray. Besides, he’s a really engaging guy and fun to watch. Click here for the video.

Florida Fall Gardening: Starting Lettuce and Brassica Seeds Indoors

I’m quite fond of starting seeds indoors. Why? Because it’s easier. And because I have a small garden and can’t afford to waste precious space on things that might not even germinate. In the past, I’ve started all of my heirloom tomatoes and peppers indoors, then hardened them off appropriately before sending them out into the cruel, cruel world. This time, however, I’m trying something new. About 10 days ago, I sewed seeds for major hybrid broccoli, lime green brocoverde cauliflower, sweet Valentine romaine, and black seeded Simpson leaf lettuce.

I placed good quality organic seed starting mix in each compartment, and, initially, I thought I’d just put one seed in each compartment. Then I added a few more thinking I could tip the scale in my favor. I didn’t go overboard, though…I think. I labeled each row, watered gently with a spray bottle, and placed them in my sunroom. It’s the most humid and warm area of the house. I watered only when the mix felt dry-ish because seeds hate too much water.

20131113-142709.jpg

In about a week, this is what sprouted:

20131113-143045.jpg

There was a good show from the broccoli and cauliflower, but less from the lettuces. I wonder if I should have used a humidity dome. I wonder if the seeds from the black seeded Simpson lettuce were too old  (they were six months from expiring) as only one reared its cute little head. I wonder if the seeds are too finicky for the potting mix I used. I wonder if I could learn to communicate with seeds. (You think I’m kidding…)

I’d like to increase the seed germination rate next time. Thoughts? Advice? Words of wisdom?  I’m calling out to you, the big, beautiful blogosphere, for help.

Love and happy gardening,

Jenna

Safely Transplanting Indoor-Raised Plant Babies to the Great Outdoors

They grow up so fast, don’t they? Just a month ago, my little windowsill basil babies looked like this:

20130928-193950.jpg

Within one week…

20130928-194135.jpg

In three more weeks…

20130928-194226.jpg

They were getting too big for the pot. They all couldn’t stay in the same place or none of them would thrive. I had to eat them or transplant a few. I opted for the latter. I’m sure a lot of you avid gardeners have faced the pricking out and transplant dance…especially for things like lettuces and herbs that have tiny seeds. I’ve tangoed with this myself a time or two, and this was my first flawless performance. It’s been two days and they’re all in fantastic shape. (Feel free to applaud.)

20130929-094832.jpg

If you’ve never done this before or have done this with poor results, here are a few tips that might help:

  1. “Harden off” the plants before the 24-7 outdoor exposure. Start off with an hour or so, and then gradually increase the time outside. By the time you get to a full day’s worth of outside time, they’re ready to make the move.
  2. Choose an appropriate location that gets the right amount of sunlight, and prepare the soil by loosening it and removing any weeds.
  3. If they’re not in their own containers and in a clump like mine, carefully prick out the plants. Do this at the new site because you’ll want to get them in the ground ASAP.
  4. Dig a hole for each plant, and bury at least half the stem. Gently back fill the soil around the plant. Lightly tamp it down.
  5. Label each seedling if you’d like, and give it a good watering.

Of course Mother Nature can throw curve balls our way, but following these easy steps should help your plants to thrive in the great outdoors.

Let me know if you have any questions, and happy gardening!

Starting Pepper Plants Indoors for Florida Fall Gardening

Florida gardening is unique. We don’t winter over, so pests run rampant for most of the year. Starting seeds outdoors for things like peppers and tomatoes have proved unsuccessful (for me, at least). So I’ve really taken to starting plants indoors to make sure I’m planting healthy, hardened off, and well-adjusted plants in my garden. I like to give them a lot of TLC as I give them a head start. Also, I don’t have a lot of space, so I’ve got little room for error.

About three weeks ago, I began the indoor seed-starting project. Using a clean and sterilized a clean egg carton, I put some Miracle Gro seed starting mix in each compartment. I sewed four heirloom non-GMO Jupiter pepper seeds from Southern a Exposure Seed Co., four heirloom non-GMO Doe Hill pepper seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Co., and four California Wonder pepper seeds from Ferry-Morse. I marked the varieties with used wine corks on a bamboo skewer, so I’d know what I had growing. Yay, upcycling!

Humidity is very beneficial for seed germination, so I used a tray with a humidity dome that I got from my local gardening supply store. I placed the egg carton inside, sprayed each compartment with water from a clean spray bottle, put on the humidity dome, and placed the whole shebang in a sunny indoor location. I checked them and watered them lightly each day. This was the first adorable sprout that came up after about a week:

20130926-094716.jpg

I removed the dome after mostly all of the seeds germinated and popped up their little green heads. Sunlight would be their ally at this point. This is them two weeks later on my windowsill:

20130926-094939.jpg

As you can see, not all of the seeds germinated. All of the California Wonder seeds came up, though. I really wonder why they’re so dependable (maybe I should be afraid to ask?). Here are photos of each seedling variety:

20130926-100230.jpg

20130926-100241.jpg

20130926-100257.jpg

I’ll be potting up each of the babies this weekend, and when they’re about 6-8 inches above the soil line, I’ll start hardening them off little by little to get them acclimated to the outdoors. I’ll be sure to post on their progress, and, please, wish me luck in the meantime!

Happy gardening, everyone!