Memories of Home

It’s been two whole years since moving to the mountains of western NC from the beaches of sunny Florida. Was it a whim? Maybe. Was I sure I’d stay? No. Am I glad I made the leap? Absolutely. Do I miss home? Definitely. 

So much has transpired since our move…which accounts for my blogging absense. Happy-Go-Lucky Foods, the grand granola empire (well, not really, but we’re on our way) is doing better than I imagined. We’re about to start building a home, and are ready to start a family. My wonderful hubby has settled into his new teaching career at a local university and is loving life. And we love hiking in the woods along the Appalachian Trail and taking in the views. All is well, and we live in a place that few are fortunate enough to call home…

…but I have saltwater running through my veins; I’m a beach girl. I do miss our Florida home. I miss our friends, family, and our old favorite spots all up and down Daytona Beach.  And I miss our house. And I miss our street. And I miss our neighbors. But I now have the most perfect and gigantic thing to make me smile:


See this? This truly makes me happy.  The awesome people behind Modern Map Art create maps that are simple and beautiful. I’m so thrilled to have this right in our living room. And they have cities from all over the world! Just choose your location, color, and size, and that’s it. Transplants like us will always have a piece of home.

And now we don’t feel so far away. 

With love,

Jenna 

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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).

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crazy kohlrabi

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so much kale

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heirloom tomatoes after the rain

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cosmically awesome

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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

Homemade Local Blueberry Jam

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What does one do with a massive bag of freshly picked summer blueberries? Sorbet? Sure. Frozen and dropped into a glass of Champagne? Absolutely. Blended into a fancy schmancy BBQ sauce? Sign me up. Cooked into  the perfect jam? YES. Today, I vote for jam!

This is the second post in the “It’s UnCANny…” series, and making homemade fruit jams are a fantastic and simple way to break free from the store-bought stuff.

To make this summery-sweet blueberry jam, you’ll need:

  • 6 cups of fresh blueberries, washed and picked of stems
  • 3 cups sugar

I realize I use a lot less sugar than a lot of jam recipes out there, but perfectly ripe berries are sweet enough on their own. Feel free to up the sugar ante if you’d like.

Method:

Using your favorite heavy saucepan or enameled cast iron pot (my personal preference), place the berries first and then the sugar. 

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Over a low heat and while stirring, cook the mixture until the sugar dissolves.

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In about five minutes, it should look like this.

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Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil.

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Boil until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. This batch took about 10 minutes.

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Enjoy the taste of summer.

Until next time…

Jenna

 

Florida Fall Gardening: Growing Organic Heirloom Lettuce in a Container

It’s a sad state of affairs, but I’ve yet to figure out how to grow lettuce in the Florida summer. Now, however, that it’s the fall, I’m giving it a go. As with last winter, I sewed a whole bunch of Southern Exposure’s Wild Garden Lettuce Mix seeds. I like this mix because there’s 60 types of seeds in one packet! You never know what you’ll get, but it’s always interesting and beautiful.

I sewed them in a 15″ pot about two weeks ago. I made sure to use good compost with some loose organic potting mix in a pot that drains really well. Last week, they started coming up. As you can see, I also had some tomato volunteers (that I shortly thereafter removed).

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As of five minutes ago when I took this photo, they look happy and healthy.

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They get about five hours of sun per day, mostly in the mid to late afternoon. Most guides say to grow lettuce between September and March in Florida, but it still feels so warm. I’ll be watching the delicate, tender leaves closely over the next few days as to see if they’re getting too much or not enough sun. The guides also say to be sure it gets at least eight hours of sun per day, but I’ve never had that much exposure, and the plants, no matter head or looseleaf, have always produced vigorously and grown quickly.

We’ll see what happens. I’ll be sure to post an update as to their progress. Until then, I’ll be spending a fortune on store-bought organic lettuce…

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:

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Within one week…

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In three more weeks…

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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.)

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

Heirloom Kentucky Wonder Beans Love the Florida Heat

I think I’ve found a bean that doesn’t hate the Florida summer! The Kentucky Wonder heirloom bean is a magical variety that appears to grow in extreme heat coupled with onslaughts of rain and icky humidity. What’s more is that I’m even growing them in a container. I’ve tried many other varieties in the past like Buff Contender Valentine, Golden Wax, and Selma Zesta, but they start strong and then putter out after a couple of weeks. Summer is tough around here. These babies, however, are climbing like crazy, and should start flowering before long. I built a simple structure from bamboo stakes and twine.

A week after sewing the seeds:

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Three weeks later:

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I’ll be sure to post updates about the growth and production of the plants. Wish me good green thumb luck!

It’s raining out, and all I want to do is dig in the dirt.

I feel a good, solid pouty face coming on. All week long, I’ve wanted to plant my seven heirloom tomato seedlings (three Thai Pink Egg, two Healani, and two Chadwick Cherry) that I purchased from TomatoFest.

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I watched them grow from itty bitty seeds, potted them up twice, and now they’re a foot tall.

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They’re ready to spread out and grow. And after a painfully hot, rainy, and humid summer of (*gasp*) no tomatoes in the garden, all I wanted was to plant them today. I was patient (OK, maybe not patient, but, nonetheless, I waited). Doesn’t that count for something?

The worst part is that I got glimpses of the sunshine all week long on my walks to meetings, the restroom, or my car, and I kept thinking, “On Friday, after work, I’ll get to go outside and play.” Stupid Murphy and his laws.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow will be the day.

Straight from the City Island Farmer’s Market: Purple Bell Peppers

Yesterday, I scored big time at my local City Island (in Daytona Beach, Florida) Farmer’s Market. I found the most gorgeous, locally-grown purple bell peppers. I got 5 for $2! I used them in a garbanzo and black bean salad that I’ll be posting about later today, but I really thought that these beauties deserved a post all their own. Yummy.

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Growing Organic Heirloom Buff Contender Valentine Beans in a Container

Great success! I harvested the first mini-batch of Buff Contender Valentine beans this morning.

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They’re perfectly firm, evenly colored, and super sweet. They’re the perfect bean for vegans and vegetarian dishes because they have a robust flavor and hearty texture that can really take center stage. And, what’s even better is that they grow amazingly well in a container. For those of us who have smaller-than-ideal yards, this is a major bonus. And for those of us who have absurdly hot and wet summers, these bean plants don’t seem to flinch.

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They don’t need to be supported with stakes, although I used a cage because of how windy it gets beachside. Oh, did I mention that they seem fairly pest and disease resistant?

The excellent flavor and ease of growing makes these a winner. You can get the seeds from Southern Exposure.
Happy gardening!