Behind the Scenes: Happy Houseplants

This week we discussed happy houseplants in the Chatham News & Record. I find that our “house jungle,” as our son likes to call it, is quite easy to care for. To date there are only two houseplants that don’t do well for me: orchids and asparagus fern. In fact, they die horrible deaths with me (who knows why?), so I gave up on them years ago. On the flip side, though, is my husband, “the orchid whisperer.” It just chaps my ass that he has a thriving orchid jungle to rival the rest of the house jungle. Sigh.

Houseplants make you healthier. They help you breathe easier and improve the quality of air in your home. They add color and liveliness, give you a sense of accomplishment, and generally beautify your space.

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Thanks to the honeybees

My husband started keeping bees early this spring because, thanks to quarantining and no business travel, he suddenly had the time. I jest, but I’m happy to report many good things have come from staying at the meadow. One of them is our garden–both vegetables and flowers!

We’ve had a little more rain than usual, the summer has been hotter, our beds are more established … all of these things are true. But I think we can really attribute much of Mother Nature’s success to honeybees. I did a little digging. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service states that “Roughly one of three bites of food is dependent on the work of honey bees and other pollinators, mostly wild native bees.” And according to the American Beekeeping Federation, “Many of the country’s crops would not exist without the honey bee at bloom time. Crop yield and quality would be greatly reduced without honey bee pollination.” I concur.

Perdue University’s horticulture program has an informative guide on the use of bees with vegetable crops, and according to them, our cucumbers and squash greatly benefitted from the bees. Our okra and pepper “set fruit without bees, but bee activity has shown to increase yields.” And our snap beans and tomatoes apparently got nothing from the honey bees other than having their pollen and nectar collected. But I don’t believe that, because my tomatoes have been more productive than ever this year.

So whether you’re relying on wild native bees, or are a practicing beekeeper, keep on providing a safe space for honeybees in your area. Their direct and indirect hard work pays off. Check out today’s tomato haul: 20!

Optimistic Gardeners in the News

We’ve long been fans of Jim Gaffigan, and this morning’s piece on CBS Sunday Morning was made all the more charming by his delight at finding success in the garden.

– – > Jim Gaffigan goes green

So, if a city boy with no experience with vegetable gardening can do it, so can you. We’re coming to the end of the summer growing season, but there’s still lots of hot weather left in most of the lower 48, and then fall, and then … well, you get the idea. Get out there and dig in the dirt!

Behind the Scenes: Zinnias

This week I caught up with Maggie Zwilling, with her beautiful zinnias, artistic aesthetic, and laissez faire attitude. She’s a badass. “I’m not a tidy gardener,” Maggie told me, “nor do I care if colors don’t match.” See what I mean?

Maggie is a big chronicler of butterfly and moth activity, and plans her garden with them in mind. Check out some of this summer’s swallowtail visitors from her garden:

Zinnias are easy annuals to plant and care for. They add vibrant pops of color throughout your garden, whether they’re the centerpiece or sprinkled in. Plan ahead to make sure you have enough for a cutting garden, so that even when you’ve got a bouquet of zinnias indoors, there’s still some gracing the garden.

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Bumper Crop: Tomato!

Last summer I couldn’t get any of my tomatoes to ripen, and this summer we’ve got tomatoes out the wazoo. I’m not complaining, mind you, because there’s nothing better than fresh field tomatoes. But we can only eat them so quickly. I decided to put some up for the winter, and am super surprised at how easy it was.

I used what we’ve got: Roma, early girl, and big boy. I tried one batch with citric acid, at the suggestion of my friend Karla. And I tried one batch like Vivian Howard, with lemon juice, salt and sugar. Both were super easy, so I think I’ll stick with Vivian’s because we always have lemons, salt and sugar on hand. I borrowed a large 16 qt gumbo pot from some friends down the way, but am going to get one to have on hand. The process was the same either way, and because it uses a hot water bath rather than a pressure cooker, you can consider me a forthcoming regular practitioner of canning.

Sterilize your jars and lids, either in the dishwasher or in the pot where you’ll be canning. Wash your tomatoes, then score them on the bottom. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then submerge your tomatoes for 30 – 45 seconds (I typically put them the water, then roll them around a couple times with my strainer spoon) and shift them over to a water bath. Peel, core and then quarter them. Add the quarters to your sterilized jars — I filled them to the top and pressed just a bit to make sure they were nicely filled. Run a knife around the edge to make sure you get out any air pockets. Then sprinkle 1/4-tsp of the citric acid over the top — or, if you’re using Vivian’s recipe, add the lemon juice, salt and sugar to the bottom of the jar before you add the tomatoes. Screw on the lid and place them down into the hot water, making sure you’ve got an inch or two above the top of the jars. Karla said to keep them at a low, rolling boil for 75 minutes, which I did, and it worked. Use jar tongs to remove the jars, and place them on drying racks on the counter. Leave them for 12 hours, and then move them to the pantry. I like an easy recipe, and this was definitely easy.

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Rain lilies

In May, my friend Maggie brought me a bunch of gladiolus and rain lilies. The gladiolus have since bloomed and faded, but the first little rain lily has finally shown her face. And, oh, how pretty she is! FYI, just ignore the bare ground … Mr. Sickles and I are in desperate need of mulch, but at this point we’re waiting for the fall.

Pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes carinata) are perennials native to Mexico, Colombia and Central America. They’re vibrant and delicate, and a shocking pop of color in an otherwise green portion of my garden. One great element of this little beauty is that we won’t have to dig her up to winter indoors, thank you baby Jesus. And with rain on the horizon, the rest of the bulbs are likely to bloom this week, too. Hurricane Isaias is forecast to head this way in some capacity, so batten down the hatches and stay safe, y’all.

Behind the Scenes: Tomatoes

In this week’s Chatham News & Record, I talked about tomatoes. I’ve been reading Max Brooks’ latest novel, Devolution, which is why I mentioned I’d be willing to arm wrestle a sasquatch for the last tomato. That opinion stands yesterday, today and tomorrow … because even if the sasquatch eventually does me in, I’ll die happy with a belly full of tomato yumminess.

I also mentioned Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. If you’re a child of the 70s and 80s, you know what I’m talking about. I grew up on an Army base in Germany, and we didn’t get the same shows in the mid-70s as American kids did in the states. I love Sesame Street, but didn’t see that until we got back state-side. Before that was the Electric Company, which I’m certain heavily contributed to my ADD. Because, HEY YOU GUYS!

But I digress … we’ll blame it on the Electric Company effect. Back to tomatoes! I always ask my community gardening experts about fertilizing and pest control, and Kathryn Robinson said, “Early on, I use an organic tomato plant fertilizer every few weeks.” She’s also the unicorn of farmers because the Japanese beetles in her garden “don’t seem to like the tomato plants.” 

If there are any tomato-whisperers out there, hit me up. I’m always looking for ways to improve my tomato game.

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