Behind the Scenes: Fall and Winter Garden Prep

In this week’s Optimistic Gardener, I’m signing off for the 2020 Victory Garden season and sharing tips for getting your fall and winter garden prepped. We cover annuals, perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs, vegetables, herbs, mulch, grass, and houseplants. Shazam! It’s a lot.

Because the article was lengthy, I didn’t include any links for more information–so here you go.

Behind the Scenes: Microgreens

Last week I caught up with Tenita Solanto, Navy veteran, farmer, and all around badass. She owns Green Panda Farms in Siler City, where she and her wife live, and is a fount of knowledge on a gigantic subject: microgreens.

According to the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, “As the World’s population grows at an unprecedented rate, food systems must be revised to provide adequate nutrition while minimizing environmental impacts.” It goes on to state that “in the US, food production utilizes 50% of land and is responsible for 80% of total freshwater consumption.” Smart farming is the way to go, and microgreens are a smart solution.

You can read about Tenita’s journey from technology and electronics to farming in this week’s Chatham News & Record. She’s been and done a lot of things on her life’s journey, but she says with great humor, “I consider where I am now a success. Maybe not a financial success, but me as a person and how much more growth and development I’ve had, and my connection with the community.”

But I wanted to give a little more background on microgreens here.

Runner’s World has this easy explanation: microgreens are vegetables and herbs that haven’t yet matured—the middle ground between sprouts and baby greens. “Tiny as they are, these young plants deliver intense flavors, vibrant colors, and unique textures.”

If you’re going to try and grow your own microgreens, consider this list from Healthline, listing the most popular varieties of microgreens are produced using seeds from the following plant families:

  • Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
  • Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
  • Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
  • Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
  • Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet and spinach
  • Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber and squash

Tenita told me that if I wanted to grow them at home, I just needed good soil, with densely sprinkled seeds on top (in a single layer), and a little water. I planted a patch of arugula yesterday, so I’ll let you know how it goes. If you like more formal instructions, check out:

If you’re a fan of cilantro, try Tenita’s recipe for Butternut Squash Soup:

Microgreens from Green Panda Farms are available directly through Green Panda Farms, at the Durham Co-Op Market, and Chatham Food Hub.

NOTE: All photos in this post, along with the recipe (and pretty recipe card) are copyrighted by Tenita Solanto and used with permission (even though the newspaper copy didn’t attribute it correctly).

Behind the Scenes: KIWI

I caught up with my friend Lindy last week to talk about her kiwi vines. Those things are pretty awesome, let me tell you. To think that her mammoth twining vines started out as tiny little plants is amazing, particularly since being near them feels like standing in a copse of kudzu.

Beyond my local grocer, I didn’t know anything about kiwi until I talked to Lindy. Then I did some research. Healthline said that kiwi:

  • can help treat asthma;
  • aids digestion;
  • boosts the immune system;
  • reduces the risk of other health conditions;
  • helps manage blood pressure;
  • reduces blood clotting; and
  • protects against vision loss.

And Good Housekeeping adds to that list of benefits by sharing that kiwi may:

  • promote healthy skin and hair;
  • support immunity;
  • promote good digestion;
  • support healthy weight loss;
  • slow aging and help prevent chronic diseases; and
  • benefit moms and babies.

So whatever reason you choose to eat kiwi—whether it’s one of the points above or simply that you love the taste of it—get some kiwi the next time you see it at the store. Here’s hoping she’ll share one or two at book club next month!

For more information:

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.

For more information:

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.

For more information on zinnias, check out:

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.

For More Information:

Behind the Scenes: PEACHES!

If you saw this week’s column in the Chatham News & Record, you’ll understand why I put PEACHES! in all caps, with an explanation mark. Because PEACHES!

According to the Chatham County branch of the NC Cooperative Extension, “North Carolina’s climate and soils are well suited to grow many types of fruit trees.” There’s no shortage of full sun and slightly acidic soil in Chatham County, so it’s the perfect spot for peaches. We’ve been getting delicious peaches from the Pittsboro Farmers Market on Thursdays, and by the time we’re down to our last two in our household of three, we’ve got a Fight Club situation. 

But I caught up with Donna and Bill Moldovan of Pittsboro who have a small but enviable personal fruit tree grove. they’ve got seven varieties of peaches, along with nectarines, apples, plums, and apricots. I think if we had the same grove, I’d lay in the middle of it all summer and wait for fruit to just drop in my mouth. And die fat, dumb and happy. And full of fruit.

Shape Magazine had a great article this week on the health benefits of peaches. It said that peaches are low-calorie, a quick and easy source of fiber, have Vitamin C, help manage blood pressure, and contribute to healthy vision. So get out there and find some peaches. If you don’t have your own trees, or friends to share with you, check out the farmers markets and pick-your-own places along the Hwy 64 corridor. They’re not only tasty, they’re good for you!

For More Information:

Behind the Scenes: Fruitful Vegetables

The Optimistic Gardener | Fruitful Vegetables

By Dolly R. Sickles

This week in the Chatham News & Record I’m talking to my good friend, John Davis, whose wife Jean I’ve known for 25 years. John is just the coolest guy, with a totally interesting origin story

Born in Brazil to parents who were lay ministers with the United Methodist Church, John is a peaceful dynamo. Since his parents studied agriculture at Iowa State in the early 1950s, and their purpose in the small town of Lins, Brazil was to run the farm that supported the seminary school, I knew John would have great farming insight. 

You can read about his logic for planting in the ground versus raised beds, how he fertilizes, and the cool cistern watering system he developed in the article. I wanted to use this post for a true behind the scenes look at a childhood that was so very interesting and different than most of us. The Davis family lived in Brazil until John was 14, and during that time his peaceful father, Bob, turned out to be quite the radical Renaissance man.

In 1964, when the military took over the Brazilian government in a coup, Bob Davis stepped up to the plate. “Toward 1970, when we left,” John said, “dad was spending time with other people in the Methodist Church to get information out of the country, and to help get people under surveillance out of the country to safety.” They had a small apartment out back they used as a staging area to move people out, like an Underground Railroad. 

The Davis family constantly encountered exciting things—theirs was like a real-life Indiana Jones situation. There was the time when, one night, Bob was going to take a woman they’d been helping to the bus station so she could leave the country and get to safety in Argentina. Only, the police were there so she and Bob had to wait it out in the car. Another time John came home from school and headed to the vacant lot next door where he hung out, and noticed the ground was disturbed; he found a shovel and started digging. Turned out his dad and crew had been smuggling out documentation and information to US media sources that described the torture and imprisonment happening in the country. And then there was the period when Bob delivered the mail to missionaries and ministers in the field by plane—”a big, lumbering DC-3″ that needed a dump truck to start its propeller once. I kid you not, I could’ve listened to stories about John’s family for hours. 

And not to be outdone, Jean’s family also has an interesting history of gardening. Her mother worked for the famed Weston Nurseries in New England, as an azalea propagator. Jean also worked for Weston, though she was out with the garden crew planting bushes. “That was enough experience to know I don’t want to work in the garden again,” she said, laughing. “I like flower gardening, but I enjoy the fruits of John’s garden.” She turned out pretty good, farming aside, because she’s the President & CEO of MCNC. She’s basically a badass with a cool origin story, but that’s a topic for another day.

So let me assure you, the people around you are interesting as hell. You’ve just got to talk to them. Checking out their garden is a good way to break the ice. Get out there and be optimistic, people. And dig in the dirt while you’re doing it.

For more information:

Behind the Scenes: Mimosa Trees

I took a poll to see who loves and who hates mimosas, based on this week’s column in the Chatham News & Record. It’s super scientific, y’all, so you can take these results to the bank. LOL.

Love ’em:

JL: I don’t have one but have pondering on getting one. They are so beautiful and delicate looking.

MT: I think they are beautiful. I wasn’t aware of unexpected volunteers – is that a big problem?

MCS: I’d take a mimosa tree over a redbud. Ridiculous number of volunteers.

DSE: I must admit I would love one, however, I am leery of more than I bargained for.

PS: Foe.

JG: Mimosas are lovely. When we were kids we used to pretend the blossoms were powder puffs. But they are invasive. And they are very weak trees, lasting about 20 years. They are probably less of a nuisance than crepe myrtles, which attract ants and are incredibly invasive. Chop down a crepe and leave one sprig and you’ll be fighting that sucker (see what I did there?) for years.

KSC: Even natives volunteer. It doesn’t make them invasive.

Hate ’em:

PD: Foe. Had one and got rid of it but they keep coming up and then I spray. They drop all their flowers just like magnolias. Ugh

JGM: I truly admire them only on someone else’s property …

It looks like the Friends have it. Form over function.

Our son used to play video games with a kid named Kyle, who was super smart and a nice little dude, but he constantly changed the rules of any game on the fly. You had to stay on your toes with that kid. That said, since I’m a writer and not a math-er, I’m going to say that eight out of nine of those polled in my widely acclaimed Facebook poll like mimosa trees. There were two questionable yes’s, so I’m not sure if they should get a full point.

Photo by Dolly R. Sickles.

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