Archive | Gardening RSS feed for this section

Pepper Harvesting and Preservation

12 Aug

One of my favorite crops to grow in My Urban Farmscape is peppers. You can get a lot of bang for your buck out of these compact plants.   Historically, peppers have been used throughout the world to flavor some of our favorite dishes with their crisp, tangy, sweetness or their hot, spicy, heat.  Think about it.  What would chili be without the pepper?  How boring would your veggie trays look at the summer picnic without a bright orange, yellow or green bell pepper?  Would tacos or fajitas exist?

Sweet Peppers

I have started to pick sweet peppers and I’m sure that you will soon if you haven’t started already.  As I begin to get an overabundance, I will share some, but I will also freeze or grill them.  For bell peppers, you harvest them when they are ripe, which is when they reach their mature size.  They will feel heavier and may start to turn color.  As you gently pull, twist the stem.  Or use scissors or pruners and cut the stem about 1/2” from the fruit.  For the colored bell peppers, wait until they turn their color (yellow, orange or red). 

Freezing Bell Peppers

It’s simple.  Slice the pepper in half, stem to blossom end.  Remove the stem and seeds inside.  Wash, and dry.  Place in a freezer bag or freezer container and toss into the freezer.  Use for cooked dishes.  They get soft once frozen so they won’t work well for fresh eating.

Roasting Sweet Peppers

Also easy.  These larger red sweet peppers give just the right flavor to some otherwise boring soups or stews.  Cook these directly on the grill or over an open flame on your gas stove.  You could also use the broiler in your oven. As they cook they will get soft and their skin will char, that is when you know they are done.  Remove from the grill and allow to cool some making it easier to handle when you remove the skin.  After the stems and skin are removed, chop and place in a freezer container what ever you don’t use. Yum!

 Hot Peppers

For hot peppers, most of them can be harvested in the green stages up to their colored stage.  These will be ready for harvest later in the season as they LOVE the heat.  Of course you can use any of the hot peppers fresh however you like.  

Freezing or Jam

You can freeze jalapeno peppers like bell peppers, removing the seeds.  WEAR GLOVES!  One of my favorite things to do with jalapeno peppers is to make pepper jelly.  The recipe I have used is on the Sure-jell box.  I like to spread this over some cream cheese and serve with crackers.  Secret: Want to give it a little more bite?  Leave in the seeds.  Watch out though if you take some for a holiday gathering and grandma tries some.  She might scream out some words you have never heard from her before.  Most grandma’s don’t  like hot spicy foods!

Drying Peppers

You can dry all chili types.  I like these to turn red on the vine.  You can spread them out over a screen, string up on fishing line or heavy thread, or use a dehydrator.  It’s fun to make decorative gifts or ristras.  Once you know they are dry, you can grind them in a coffee grinder, not used for coffee of course, but just for your peppers, and then store in a glass container.  These make nice gifts, and who knows, maybe you could come up with your very own famous chili spice mix!  I love peppers.  How about you?  What is your favorite way to preserve peppers?

Garden Do Over

22 Jul

“If I could do it over again….” That’s what I’ve been hearing in my garden conversations this week. The second part of the sentence is usually, “well there’s always next year”. Whether you are experiencing draught conditions, floods, weeds, bugs, diseases, overgrown plants, flopping tomato plants, gigantic zucchini or maybe you are just tired of the heat, don’t stop now. It’s time to plant again! Hooray! Right? Okay, maybe you aren’t as excited as I am with the thought of starting another garden in July, but really, it’s time to sow seeds for your autumn or winter garden. I know, I know, you are TIRED of working in the outdoors in temperatures over 90 degrees. Urban Farmerscapers don’t have the option to stop farming, just like our full time farmers don’t have the option to stop growing food for us. So, here are a few tips for your Garden Do Over.

Roma tomato before pruning

Stake and Prune. If you haven’t already, stake and prune any tomatoes or climbing veggies. Consider this the “Last Call”. Don’t be afraid to cut off the lower branches of tomatoes to ensure they stay up off the ground. If you are growing indeterminate types, the use of a stake is best. The taller the better. Prune all lower branches up to the first set of buds, or maybe fruit by now. Farmers are using trellising techniques that can hold these tomatoes up so high that a ladder is needed to harvest!

Roma tomato after pruning

Remove plants. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out a plant that has taken over or has gone to seed. I should have never planted this Clarey Sage in the space that I did, but I never grew it before, so I didn’t know better. We learn from our mistakes. I harvested the seeds and now I have space to plant some Cilantro or Parsley! Much better choices for My Urban Farmscape.

Harvest efficiently then replant. As soon as you are done harvesting all of the fruit in one area, prepare for your autumn garden. You should add equal amounts of greensand, colloidal rock phosphate, and blood meal. I use 5 pounds of each for every 100 sq ft., adding half at spring planting and the other half in the summer. Also add compost at this time. Then after “resting” for a week, re-plant you fall crop, making sure not to plant something from the same family. Here is a list of plants by family for your reference, along with notations for what you can plant in the fall.

Vegetables by Family

Plant a cover crop. If you have decided that your Urban Farmscaping days are over this year, then make sure you plant a summer cover crop to build soil and help eliminate weed volunteers. A good one is soybean, and for later, as the season cools, you could add some clover. Then make sure you shop at your local farmers market each week.

Eat your veggies!

Take good notes. I hope that you are taking notes of what worked, what didn’t, what you could do next year. I make comments on each plant, how it performed, how much I harvested from each plant, how many plants I planted, what varieties, disease or insect problems, dates of planting and harvesting. But most important, I write notes on whether it tasted good or not. That’s why we garden right? YUM! It’s full swing harvest season! How could you call it quits? Maybe you don’t need to do a whole do over, but maybe a spruce up and a re-plant. Need more inspiration? Read my post from exactly 6 months ago, January 22, 2012 titled “Winter Carrots”. YUM! Here’s a quick link.

So… what’s YOUR problem?

8 Jul

Remember in the spring, when the warm weather and sunshine felt so good, and how much fun it was planting seeds and plants in the garden?  Remember how that vision of germinating beans pulled at your heartstrings, so proud of yourself, you paused in amazement with life.   Visions of organic veggies and fresh-cut flower bouquets filled your mind along with sharing your bountiful harvest with family and friends.  Life is good you told yourself.  Then you went on vacation for a week, fun and sun, and when you returned home, the first thing you did was run to your garden, arms wide open, excited and shouting to all of your garden plants, “I am home!”  As you get closer, you see wilting chard plants, holes in the cauliflower leaves, the weeds have taken over your pepper patch, and where did that giant zucchini come from?  Oh my!


No matter where you garden or what you grow, you are going to have problems.  When you work every day, every other day, or even once a week in a garden, you start to get to know the plants.  You start to understand their feelings when they aren’t getting enough rain, or there are too many clouds, they weep, they really do.  Ok, maybe it’s not what they are feeling, but you know they aren’t happy.  What about bugs?  How many bugs are okay to have chomping away on your plants leaves?  One, two, ten, none?   Are they good bugs or bad bugs?  The first thing that you need to do is to determine if there is a problem or not. 


Scenario # 1:  I noticed that the cauliflower didn’t look too good this week.  The leaves were becoming all curly, weird, somewhat distorted.  I only have 4 plants in the brassica family in my garden, because I don’t like any of them, I don’t like to grow them, but I did plant these 4 for my family, because they like them.  Anyway, yes, maybe I ignore these plants a little, but I couldn’t help but investigate a little more.  So, upon a closer look, what I found rolled up in the center leaves were disgusting little creatures.  Problem or not? 

In this scenario, upon further investigation, I can see that I am dealing with aphids.  Aphids LOVE to suck on plant juices which will eventually kill it.   You will always find them at the newest growth.  Their natural enemies are lady bugs, but I haven’t seen any of those around.  For now, I will spray and wash the plants with soapy water and smash them with my fingers.  Watch them daily, and if they continue, start to use insecticidal soap per directions.  This should take care of the problem, but you have to stay on it.  You can’t let this go.  They multiply fast!  Or, I could pull them out of my garden….but then my family would be upset.

Scenario # 2:  On one of my tomato plants the leaves have been curling in an upward way.  Almost to the point where they look like a tube.  I can see that the little cherry tomatoes are developing okay, and noticed that the other tomato plants next to it didn’t look the same.  They are different varieties, but the leaves just looked odd.  Maybe they have a virus or something.  Problem or not?

It appears that the plant is expressing a physiological disorder.  No virus or disease problems, no insects, just a possibility that it has been too hot and this is what the plant is doing to deal with it.  I found a good explanation at  so no need to do anything.

Scenario # 3:  While I was crawling around my squash plants weeding, I noticed these little metallic brown balls on the leaves.  I found some on the tops of leaves, and also on the bottoms of some others.  They look harmless, and don’t seem to be doing anything but sitting there.  For now I will just leave them and hope to remember to keep an eye on them.  Problem or not?

These “little balls” are actually eggs of squash beetles.  You can smash them as soon as you see them.  That’s easy for an Urban Farmscaper to do, but not for a large-scale farmer.  I found some really good information on how to deal with these and other cucurbit eating bugs from Clemson:

I like to use deterrents such as hot pepper wax spray or garlic spray initially to keeps pests away from the garden.  They are bound to find their way in there.  If you suspect a problem,  the first thing you need to do is  observe the symptoms, identify the pest, and know when it is a problem and when to act.  This is also known as Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.  If you aren’t already practicing IPM, learn more at the Michigan State University IPM website.  Knowing if there is a problem is the first step, and how to deal with it in a sustainable manner is the next step to having a healthy garden with a bountiful harvest.   So..what’s YOUR problem?

Watering Basics

1 Jul

Typically in Michigan, we don’t worry about dought issues until July. Wherever you live, I think you would agree that weather hasn’t been very typical this year. I was visiting with my cousin who lives in northern Florida, and she planted her tomatoes which were soon drowned in their floods. It’s been tough at the community garden that I belong to hauling water back and forth from the water source to my plot. At least we have a water source. Other community gardens rely on rain, or connect many sections of hose together to get water from a donor’s home or apartment.

Rainforest Ecological Sprinklers

This year at My Urban Farmscape, I’m using a Rainforest Ecological sprinkler. I love how I can adjust the spray to reach as little as 6 feet up to the full 15 feet width of my garden. In this picture you can just see the green heart-shape which helps to break up water droplets. It’s time for me to raise this spike sprinkler or switch to the tripod sprinkler.

Now that plants are maturing in the garden it’s important to remember to water deeply. This will encourage roots to reach deeper and make for a stronger plant. So water longer and less often. Mostly, watch your plant. It’s okay if it starts to wilt a little. Look at all the plants around that are thriving in this crazy summer weather. Plants are tough and they do a good job taking care of themselves.

For more information and video’s visit the Rainforest website at

Here are direct links to purchase on Amazon

Spike Sprinkler (in my photo above) Ideal for single small spaces and ability to connect multiple sprinklers together
Contech 300000812 Rainforest Spike Sprinkler

36″ Riser Sprinkler To get above your veggie crops you can locate this sprinkler in the smallest spaces

6 ft Tripod Sprinkler If you have a little more room in the garden, use this.  It is collapsable and easy to store and the best part is that you can adjust the clips on the legs if you have uneven ground.  At 6 ft off the ground, you can really water a larger space if you have it.

Magical Lavender Wands

24 Jun

One of my favorite plants is  lavender, Lavandula sp.  I love the way the foliage is a shade of grey-green, the purple flower spikes, but most of all, its delightful fragrance.  It’s easy to understand why it has been such a popular herb for cleaning as well as perfumes since medieval times.  In recent years, chefs have been using lavender flowers to add a bit of its floral notes to culinary delights such as lemonade, cookies, as well as more savory dishes.

I live in zone 5, which is good for growing both English lavender varieties, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’.  I have My Urban Farmscape bordered with Munstead.  It’s nice to smell it as I brush up against it while weeding.  I can harvest and dry the flowers to use for cooking or crafts.  I sometimes put the dried flowers in fabric bags and place them in my drawers.

English Lavender at My Urban Farmscape

One thing that I like to do is to make lavender wands.  These date back prior to the Victorian era.  It is a simple way of preserving the flowers and stems and can be as decorative as I like.  When they dry, the flowers are tucked inside the satin ribbon-stem weave, and with a quick roll between my hands, the most wonderful fragrance is released.  The best variety for making lavender wands is Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ because it has such long stems and the oil content is so high.  It grows well in zone 6 and up.  So I wondered, what if I planted Provence in a garden tucked away in a little warmer microclimate, maybe I could grow this. I tried and have had been growing Provence for two years. Maybe luck. 

Top = Provence Bottom = Munstead

To make lavender wands, regardless of the variety you have, just follow these simple steps:

Harvest the lavender flowers at their peak, just as the lower petals start to open.  Do this in the early afternoon on a sunny day which will allow the flowers to be dry from any overnight dew or moisture from earlier rains.

Cut the stems as long as you can, and count out an odd number.  I used 21 for this lavender wand.  For Hidcote or Munstead, I would use a smaller number of stems or you will end up with a really fat wand, like a lollipop.

Line up the flowers so that the bottoms of the flower stalk line up.  Wrap the stems just below the flowers with a satin type craft ribbon that is ¼” wide.  You can use any color.  I like to be traditional and use purple.  Tie the ribbon in a knot tightly.  Leave a tail about 6” long, and don’t cut the rest of the ribbon from the spool just yet.  This is the part you will weave in and out of the stems.

Flip upside down and while holding the bunched flowers, start to fold the stems down over the flowers until they are all folded over them.  Keep the ribbon tail inside with the flowers.

Taking your ribbon still connected to the spool, start to weave over and under each stem, creating a basket weave.  Once you get to the third row it will get easier.

Once you have woven the ribbon to the end of the flowers, and the stems meet each other, tie the piece that was left as the tail and the piece that is still connected to the spool and tie into a knot then into a bow.  Cut the ribbon from the spool and even up the ends of both pieces.

Now you can do with them what you please.  Tuck them away to add a pleasant smell in your drawers, give them as gifts, or wave them in the air to cast friendly magical spells over your garden.  I just like to leave them out decoratively around my house  and as I pass them by, I give them a roll between my hands and am quickly transported to that summer day when I sat on the porch while making them.

Strawberries, Shortcake, and some Jam

17 Jun

As long as I remember, it has been a tradition in my family to have strawberry shortcake on Father’s Day.  Not that it was the favorite dessert, but mostly because strawberries were in season.  We would pick somewhere between 30-50 quarts, go home, wash, cut, bag and freeze them.  Sure, Michigan strawberries may not be big like some other states, but they are the sweetest and most flavorful berries on this earth.  So of course dad loved them, they were “sweet like him” he would say.  Especially when they were freshly sliced, allowing their sugary juices to escape as they were poured over top of a freshly baked biscuit stuffed with vanilla ice-cream.  Final touches of a little whipped cream and then strawberry shortcake dad’s way was ready for him to enjoy.  I preferred fresh strawberries over ice-cream, sometimes a shake, or just a bowl of plain fresh strawberries.  Still to this day, at least weekly, I will have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  You guessed it, with homemade strawberry jam.  Now that I think about it, I eat strawberries and yogurt a lot, and indulge in an occasional strawberry daiquiri made from the frozen strawberries, rum, and some fresh squeezed lime. 

Strawberries are so easy to grow.  You can grow them in the ground, or even hydroponically.  There are June-bearing strawberries, which are strawberries that bear fruit in June or Ever-bearing strawberries, A.K.A. Alpine strawberries, which bear fruit continuously.  These are a little smaller in size, but have more flavor.  At My Urban Farmscape, I have planted some June bearing strawberries around my blueberries.  They will tolerate the lower pH that blueberries need to grow, and it will provide a nice groundcover underneath them.  I have both of my favorite fruits growing in raised beds.  I am growing Alpine strawberries from seeds, so I won’t have any fruit this year.  These do well in containers, especially hanging baskets, which makes a perfect choice for smaller gardens.  I have to be quick to harvest, or protect the bed with a fence to prevent squirrels or some other animals from eating them before I get them.

Almost ready for picking!

Since I love to make strawberry jam, I needed more strawberries than I could grow, so lucky for me that my favorite organic farmer is growing strawberries.  I only paid fifty cents more a quart for certified organic.  Not bad.  I use the recipe that is included with pectin of choice, Sure-Jell or Pamona’s Pectin.    Pamona’s can be found at most health food stores or online.  I like using this when I want to make a no or low sugar fruit spread, or use honey or maple syrup instead of sugar.  If you have never made jam before, I would recommend starting with strawberry.  It is so easy!

Ready for eating…

If you’re not growing strawberries in your Urban Farmscape you should start next spring.  For now, visit your local farmers market for fresh Michigan strawberries,  buy extra for jam, or maybe take dad to pick some at the local u-pick strawberry farm.  Then when you get home, bake some fresh biscuits, slice some strawberries and allow them to become juicy.  Allow the biscuits to cool slightly, but still a little warm so the ice-cream melts just a little.  Pour over a generous amount of juicy strawberries, and top with some whipped cream.  YUM!  Can’t be with dad today?  Send him a jar of homemade strawberry jam.  One of the sweetest of all Michigan treats.

Strawberry Jam

Today at My Urban Farmscape

3 Jun

This has been a very busy week at My Urban Farmscape.  We passed our frost-free date here in Mid-Michigan so I have been busy planting, then we had a frost-freeze warning three days after I finished putting in my last tomato plant.  Figures.  I was like the town crier running while yelling down the streets, “it’s safe to plant your garden!”, then overnight, I turned  into Frankenstein and had the whole town hunting for me while carrying their burning stakes because they lost their unprotected plants in the frosty night.  Well maybe it wasn’t as bad as that.  There’s always a risk during planting time, and this year the risk has been higher than others with the early spring and warmer weather.

Today I will share a few things that are growing at My Urban Farmscape.  It’s so hard to choose specific plants writing only weekly.  There are so many to choose from.  I will try to write more often, maybe I will tweet from the garden.  For now, here is a little picture slide show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honoring with Poppies and Flags

27 May

Memorial Day Weekend has always been a tradition of planting the garden in my family. This is about a week after our frost free date, so naturally, everyone is talking about planting the garden on Memorial Day. I do recall while growing up going to parades, or my mother visiting the cemetery to plant something on someone’s grave that I never knew. I think it would have been a cousin of hers, or my great grandfather. We would cook hot dogs on the grill and eat potato salad, raise the American flag on the flag pole, and if I was lucky, get to go to the beach. I never knew anyone that died in a war, although my dad and step dad both served state side in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy. I just found my grandpa’s draft card for World War II. My son is serving in the U.S. Marine Reserves. I am proud and thankful for them all; including the men and women I don’t know who have and are serving in the military. I don’t agree that war is always the answer, but is has, and will probably always be, the way of our world.


Photo of my son courtesy of Toni Elliott-Lee

I think that my generation fell short from many of the traditions of my parents. I hadn’t experienced a war in my lifetime, or at least one that I could remember, so I never felt close to it. After 9-11, I thought differently. And when my son chose the military, well, it really opened my eyes and I could never imagine what families experience when they lose someone due to war. I wanted to know and understand more about Memorial Day and what it meant, not just plant my garden this weekend. So by doing very little research,I learned a little history from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website. This holiday was started to honor the people who have lost their lives while serving our country. Planting flowers on the graves of the people that died during their service on “Decoration Day” has been a tradition since its declaration by Major General John A. Logan three years after the Civil War ended in 1868. It was celebrated throughout the country on May 30th honoring those lost in the Civil War by the end of the 19th century. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and was meant to honor all service men and women who have died in American wars.

Soon after the first distribution in 1922, the VFW adopted the poppy as the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. You may be familiar with the paper poppies mounted on a green wire with a white paper tag being sold for a dollar at the intersections in your town by members if the VFW. These are assembled by disabled veterans or those veterans in need of financial assistance. This morning when I went out to my garden, this poppy had just bloomed overnight and now holds a whole new meaning. My garden will always have red poppies from here on out.

In 1971 Memorial Day was changed to the last Monday in May by Congress and in 2000, Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” which encourages Americans to pause in a moment of silence at 3:00 p.m. to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. The change of date has caused some controversy, and there is an attempt to change back to the original date of May 30th.

So whether you are gardening or attending a parade, planting in a cemetery or cooking on the grill, whatever day, the last Monday in May, or May 30th, take a moment to honor those who have died in service. Now I will grow red poppies in my garden, maybe reciting the poem by John McCrae In Flander’s Field when they bloom, and as always, I will plant my garden and raise the flag while remembering those who served and lost their lives to make sure I have the freedom to do what I chose.

Planting the Summer Garden

20 May

When the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees here in Michigan, I know it’s finally a safe time to plant the warmer summer season crops such as beans, squash, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes. This next week the temperatures are going to be very warm, so with a little water, seeds should germinate quickly and transplants should root in nicely.

planting bean seeds

When planting seeds, make sure you follow the directions on the package. As a general rule, you will plant a seed as deep as up to twice its diameter. For instance, you plant beans about 1″ deep. Some seeds you may just sow directly on top of the soil and barely cover. The most important part when planting seeds is that you keep the soil moist until it has germinated and is growing. If the root begins to emerge from the seed, and it dries up before it is able to become established in the soil, it’s a gonner.

loosing the rootball on this tomato plant

When transplanting vegetables or flowers to your garden, make sure you loosen the rootball of the plant and bury it in the soil at the same level it was growing in the container.

This rule can be broken for tomatoes, which when planted deeper in the soil, burying a leggy stem, will develop more roots on the soil covered stem, which is better for the tomato plant overall.

planting tomatoes to encourage additional root development

Even though we have reached our frost free date, and the nighttime temperatures are consistently over 50, I will wait another week or two to plant basil, eggplant, and some of my favorite peppers. I don’t want to take any chances and these plants really like to grow in warmer temperatures.

So when planting, keep in mind the following five tips:

  1. Make sure you know how deep to plant the seed or transplant
  2. Check the seed packet to see how far apart to place each seed  (or plant).
  3. Lightly pat the soil around the plant.  Don’t smash or compact the soil. 
  4. Water thoroughly and continue to check daily for watering.  Keep moist, but not soggy. 
  5. Label each planting with the name and date planted.  Then you can estimate the time of harvest.  Yum!

Happy Planting!


Gardening with Mom

13 May

For the nursery and floral industries, Mother’s Day is their biggest day of the year. Predicted annual sales are based on this weekend. A long time tradition for many families would be to take their mother shopping at a nursery on Mother’s Day, maybe selecting an annual hanging basket or perennial plant for her garden. For others it may be selecting or sending plants or flowers from the florist. Having worked in both fields, I was never able to have a day off during this time of year. My family would visit me at work and bring me lunch.

Mom planting annuals

No longer in the retail trade, I get to spend the day with my family, including my mom of course. My mother and I have different gardening tastes and styles. She loves to plant her annuals and weed. I prefer vegetable gardening and the more “natural” look. For mom this year, I have grown some violas and purple hyacinth beans. These have been her favorites for the past few years so I made sure I started them in time. We will plant them together per her instructions of course.


So what is it that makes planting such a great Mother’s Day activity? Not the casual conversation or the reminiscing, but touching the dirt. Yep, that’s what I said. Touching the dirt. Research conducted in the U.K. at the University of Bristol has shown that there is a bacteria in the dirt that can increase serotonin levels, working like an anti-depressant. Also, being outdoors and observing nature have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. While playing in the dirt, you are sure to have a wonderful day with mom. I am grateful for my mother who allowed me to play outside and get dirty. Now that I think about it, I am touching dirt everyday, so maybe that’s why I’m such a cheerful person. Thanks Mom!

Me as a kid at the beach

Maybe your mom has passed on. If that is so, then go outside and plant something in her honor in your garden or in a memory garden. This too may bring an uplifting moment to your day while reflecting on your mothers positive and loving spirit. Whatever you do, enjoy the day and also remember to celebrate and thank Mother Nature for the gifts she brings to us.


%d bloggers like this: