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

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Organic Wild Garden Lettuce Mix from Southern Exposure Seeds

So many people think lettuce is difficult to grow in the hotter regions in any other season other than winter. Well, it’s now nearing the end of May, and I’ve still got quite a beautiful, organic bounty. I think the trick to growing great lettuce is proper moisture and only a few hours of early or late sun per day. I have my lettuce in a very large concrete pot that I salvaged from a neighbor’s trash. A gardener could never imagine throwing away such a treasure! A pot on a rolling plant stand is ideal because you can easily move it in or out of the elements (wind, sun, rain, etc.) without breaking your back.

Anyhow, I cleaned out this FREE 20-gallon pot, filled it with nutrient-rich organic potting soil and some homemade compost, sprinkled some lettuce mix seeds on the top and gently worked them in. Don’t bury them more than 1/4″ deep. Water them daily, but only enough to keep the soil from totally drying out, and watch your lettuce babies sprout! Some will start sprouting in just a few days, and it grows rather quickly.

One of the best things about lettuce are the “cut-and-come-again” varieties. Romaine is the most well-known, but there are many others. Lots of the very leafy lettuces are this way. These kinds are great because you don’t have to harvest the whole head to get your daily greens. Cut from the outside first. You’ll be amazed at how long you can do this for. And I can’t prove this, but I think that snipping here and there makes the lettuce grow faster!

It’s salad season, so don’t be afraid to grow your own delicious, organic mixes. You’ll never be able to go back to grocery store lettuce again. Visit wild garden lettuce mix to purchase the same Southern Exposure product. (And, by the way, this seed exchange specializes in seeds for the southeastern United States!)

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Fancy Spring Chicken

Springtime recipes are a lot of fun. It’s the time where what I harvest goes into the skillet. I try to rely on my own homegrown produce as much as possible. Fancy Spring Chicken is a perfect example of this. I had Brussels sprouts and contender buff valentine beans, but not enough to use them on their own for a side dish. I also had a lovely chicken breast, some local baby bella mushrooms, sweet onion and, of course, lots and lots of pasta.

I started by boiling my farfalle (bowtie) pasta in salted water. I then blanched the Brussels sprouts and beans for two minutes in salted, boiling water. By the way, after you blanch, you must drop the veggies immediately in an ice bath to set the color and stop the cooking process.

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I then cut up the chicken in 1″ cubes and tossed with a small amount of olive oil, sea salt, garlic powder, and dried basil. I heated a skillet to medium-high and seared the chicken on all sides. Then I added a splash of good Chardonnay to the mix. Let the alcohol cook off. The concentrated flavor that’s left is oaky and amazing.

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Once the pasta is done to al dente, drain and set aside.

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Wipe out the chicken skillet, add a bit of olive oil, heat the pan to medium-high heat, and toss in the sliced mushrooms. Once those are about halfway done, add a bit of chopped onion, fresh garlic, and a generous pinch of salt and fresh ground black pepper. Wait about a minute and add back the blanched beans and Brussels sprouts. Make sure to drain the veggies well before doing this. Sautée for a couple of minutes and then add the cooked chicken back to the skillet.

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Once everything is filling your house with wonderful smells and is warmed all the way through, add the pasta. I drizzled more olive oil over the top and tossed in more basil and sea salt.

Crushed chili flakes and freshly grated parmesan cheese are also nice finishing touches.

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And, if you want to get really fancy (as if the bowtie pasta wasn’t enough), you can drizzle some balsamic vinegar syrup over the top.

Happy Spring, everyone!

Organic Heirloom Carrot and Cucumber Salad with Dill

This was a day to clean out the veggie drawer. My friend gave me lots of gorgeous heirloom carrots, and I have a volunteer cucumber plant that produces perfect cukes faster than I can eat them. Carrots plus cucumbers plus a mandolin equals happy Springtime in a bowl.

This recipe is one of those that’s not really a “recipe” at all. But, if you want to duplicate mine, take one large carrot and one large cucumber and slice very thin. Use a mandolin if you have one, but watch your fingers!

Add veggies to a bowl and add half cup apple cider vinegar, quarter cup water, a splash of canola oil, one tablespoon dried dill, teaspoon sea salt, teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper, two teaspoons sugar, and put in the fridge for a couple of hours.

This salad is the perfect companion to a sandwich, but completely wonderful and healthy on its own. Happy eating!