Accomplishment

By: Rachel Sircy

Recently, I wrote about how it’s good to shop at the farmer’s market for your food. However, I recently experienced something even better than getting your food from the farmer’s market…I grew some food for myself!

This is a picture of my tomato plant. I really wish I had taken a picture of it when I first got it, but honestly, I thought I was probably going to kill it. It was about 2 or 3 inches high when I first got this little tomato seedling. I planted it in a pot and now it’s about 3-4 feet tall. It’s so tall, that I have two separate stakes trying to hold it up and it’s pulling them both over. I didn’t bother getting a tomato cage, even though my neighbor told me that I should, because, like I said, I was pretty sure I was going to kill it.

I have a history with plants, mostly it’s a dark, sad history of dried up and forgotten impatiens and leafy ferns. But this year, in an effort to eat a bit healthier and closer to home (and also a bit cheaper) I decided I was going to try to grow my own herbs and some tomatoes. The herbs have done amazingly well. Parsley was the first plant that I bought and I’ve had it for about four months now and it’s still going strong. I have actually taken scissors and cut the plant all the way back to the dirt (a lot like cutting grass) several times now, and each time I do, the herb comes back fuller than it was before. I use fresh parsley in just about everything, and so this little plant, which cost me less than 5 dollars (it was a little over $11 for the terra cotta pot, potting soil, fertilizer spikes and plant all together) has saved me quite a bit of money. I was going to the grocery store and buying those little plastic containers of fresh herbs every time a recipe called for it. The thing is those little plastic packages are outrageously expensive, especially when compared to growing them yourself.

This little package of organic thyme cost me $2.99 pre-tax. I know I didn’t have to get organic thyme, but I prefer organic when I can get it. The terrible thing is, I won’t even need this much thyme for the recipe that I’m using, so I’m probably going to have to either throw the rest of it away or freeze it. If I paid that much for every fresh herb in every recipe I make, I would be totally broke. That is what I realized about four months ago. And so, I went to Lowe’s and picked up a little parsley plant which paid for itself in about 4 weeks’ time.

This basil plant was about two inches tall when I got it. It looks a bit rough right now, but just three weeks ago, I snipped almost every branch and every single leaf off of it for a large pasta recipe. At the time, it was standing about a foot and a half high.

Until this past weekend, the herbs were really the only plants that I had been able to use in my cooking. My tomato plant had some tiny cherry tomatoes on it, but they seemed to be taking forever to ripen.

But then, finally, I went outside and one of my tomatoes had turned red as if by a miracle.

I didn’t take a picture of it on the vine. I picked it and cooked it with eggs on Sunday morning. One cherry tomato may not seem like much, but the feeling of eating something that my own two hands had planted and helped to grow was absolutely magical!

So, if you are like me and you think that you have the hand of death when it comes to plants, you might just try something like herbs or a tomato plant and see how you do with them. Even if you don’t make it the first time, they are really not that expensive, so you won’t be out that much money. The fact that I could eventually eat these plants is what kept me really interested in them. Flowers never fascinated me the way that these plants do. I find myself checking on these plants daily and watering them regularly. I even talk to them sometimes. I think this is turning me into a gardener. And, in the end, growing your own food is a great way to save money on groceries as well as to eat healthier. When you buy organic produce from the store, you always have to take someone’s word that it really is organic. You can be 100% certain that your food is organic if you grow it yourself using organic methods!

For those interested, I found an extremely helpful app for my phone called “Gardening Know How.” It’s free and it has a gardening journal and tons of articles that are searchable. All of the articles are written in terms that are easy to understand for beginning gardeners. It’s sort of been my lifeline when I’ve run into problems or had questions about my particular plants.

Happy growing!

Stop and Smell the Roses, and Share Them, Too

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Working in a primary election some 10 years ago, a fellow poll worker, Mr. Gene Garvin, went home at lunch and came back with a gift: a Confederate rose plant. Not being a gardener, I was unsure what I was in store for when I accepted this rooting, simply a stick with a few leaves in a pot. I had no idea this nice gift from a retired Southern gentlemen would lead to a longstanding love for this special plant.

The Confederate rose, scientifically known as Hibiscus mutabilis, is an old Southern favorite. As I mentioned, I’m not much of a gardener, so I just planted it and waited to see what happened. No special care, no fertilizer, nothing. I was amazed how well it grew, and as it did, I thanked my benefactor with a card. It turned out to be the first of several over the course of that first growing season.  I was simply amazed at how well the plant did, and when it first bloomed, I was like a proud plant mama. True to Mr. Garvin’s word, the flowers started out white, and as they aged, they turned pink. Amazing!

I love to take a white bloom with me to work, and place it in a little vase so I can watch in go from bright white to pink in the course of 36 hours.

I was so proud of my plant, I shared my success with a friend, who was also a Master Gardener. “Oh, heck, Mary Pat,” she said. “A Confederate rose is so easy to grow it may as well be a weed.” I was crushed. Still, every year I delight over this wonderful plant/shrub/tree.

In memory of Mr. Garvin, I still root Confederate roses, and this year, I’m going to share them with friends who don’t have one.  At one time, I had a Confederate rose 101 sheet. I was looking for it today when I decided to start a new one, which morphed into this post. I’m still looking for the 101, so I can include it with the plants I’m gifting.

For now, consider yourself lucky if you have a Confederate rose bush, and if you don’t have one, see if you can get a branch to root from a friend.

Do you have a special plant that someone gave to you? How do you celebrate it? Do you share plants with friends?

Thoughts While Walking Back in Time

By: Jeanne Reynolds

If you find yourself in the most beautiful and charming of cities, Charleston, on a sunny spring day with the luxury of a free afternoon, the choices seem endless. Tour a historic house or visit an art gallery? Lunch and libations overlooking the water? Shopping on King Street?

All good, but to me, nothing can top a few hours strolling back in time through the gardens at Middleton Place. Here are some random thoughts from a recent visit I was fortunate to enjoy:

– Azalea beds are the only place pink, orange and red not only don’t clash but actually look amazing.

– What’s more important to enjoying the Lowcountry: no heat, no humidity or no gnats? Answer: Yes. Enjoy it while you can.

– A dogwood tree in full bloom festooned with Spanish moss looks like a decorated wedding cake.

– A single alligator attracts more excited attention than a whole field of flowers.

– The malicious destruction of beauty in an attempt to crush the hope of enemies is really sad.

– The amount of money, labor and, most of all, vision it took to create these gardens is mind-boggling — not to mention what it must take to maintain them today.

– Southern accents are generally more pleasing to the ear than those from “off.”

– Being led beside still waters really does restoreth my soul (I didn’t lie down in green pastures but I saw people who did).

– Bees will usually leave you alone if you leave them alone (at least one person lying in the green pasture didn’t think so).

– Looking closely at the intricate design of some flowers: Wow. Just wow.

– There are probably a lot of ghosts here, but I hope this incredible beauty is bringing them peace now.

Green Thumb? Not Me.

By: Shannon Boatwright

My Mama's Beautiful Flowers

My Mama’s Beautiful Flowers

While doing a little gardening research online, in an attempt to try to learn the correct way to plant some flowers I’d gotten,  I came across an article stating that this whole green thumb thing is a myth. The author wrote about how there is no divine gift, no such thing as being ‘born with gardening talent,’ and that it is merely a learned skill that one has to hone. Basically the claim was that anyone can read directions, stick something in some dirt and upon the right conditions, actually grow something beautiful.

My Aunt Susan's Pretty Flowers

My Aunt Susan’s Pretty Flowers

I appreciate all the info that I read, but here’s my deal… I flat out don’t like gardening or planting anything for that matter. I have a hard time admitting this, considering the fact that a majority of the women in my family all have what one would consider green thumbs! I do believe that they were born with some kind of special love and talent for plants and flowers and keeping them alive and beautiful. I can, with confidence, admit that I DO NOT have a green thumb – myth or no myth. I do not possess that talent, was not born with it and I do not enjoy attempting to learn the skills. Maybe the talent skipped a generation or something in my family, but I feel like I am one of few southern women that has zero green on her thumbs.

My Aunt Sandra's Gorgeous Flowers

My Aunt Sandra’s Gorgeous Flowers

Now, don’t get me wrong –  I do love flowers and plants! To look at, to gaze upon, to admire. But that’s about it. I walk past flowers and plants and depending on their looks and condition, I will either say, “Those are so pretty!”  “Wow, those need help.” or “Ugh, I don’t care for those.” One with a genuine talent, or green thumb as we say, looks at flowers and plants and immediately notices whether it needs water, needs to be pruned, needs more sunlight or fertilizer, etc. It’s amazing. I literally see a pretty or ugly plant and that’s about where it stops.

My Aunt Wanda even got Yard of the Month!

My Aunt Wanda even got Yard of the Month!

My amazing mother, my aunts, my step-mother, my mother-in-law – they have all told me names of flowers, plants, and trees, and have given me advice on planting, etc. For some reason, a majority of the information escapes my mind. They all possess the talents of the green thumb, yet even when I receive direction, I don’t seem to be very good at gardening and I just don’t enjoy it. I don’t mind watering, I don’t mind cutting grass or even weed eating, but ugh, I do not like any of the other yard work. At all.

So, I’ll just be grateful that my awesome husband has the talent, actually enjoys it and let all the green-thumbed ladies in my family guide him. I’m just fine with focusing on my other talents, which do not involve the messy, dirty process of planting any flowers or plants. A green thumb? NOT ME.

In The Garden

Every time I get the chance, I head to the garden. Or what’s left of it. I like to look about and see what’s new. I find the typical things like new blooms, remnants of pests, and on occasion, I find a sweet treat in the form of a friendly bug.  I recently found not one but two mantices. One was on the heirloom tomatoes and the other was in the basil. I was seriously so giddy and excited that I did a little happy dance. I’m sure my neighbors got a good laugh, but it had to be done.

Praying Mantis

With this growing cycle coming to a close, I took some time to reflect on how this year’s garden has progressed compared to last year’s. I must say, I have come to think that at this point one must just be flexible with their expectations. I say this because, as I look back, the only real thing I can control is the soil, location, seed type and how I deal with pests. The rest is up to God himself. I mean, it’s not like I can say, “Today I’m going to make it not rain for the rest of the summer,” which was the issue last summer.

This season has been challenging in its own way. We started with new soil, a hardheaded, I-can-figure-it-out-on-my-own gardener (aka: me), and of course the weather. Ah yes, the weather. This has been some trying weather, hasn’t it?

As you know, I started planting in February. Mostly to keep the kids interested and get things geared up for outdoor planting in mid March. Yup, that sure worked out real good. I think we shocked the heck out of them because these tomatoes have just started to ripen and the zucchini, squash and corn didn’t make it. I did manage to rehabilitate two sweet pepper plants, but they still don’t have any blooms. The Amish Peas did okay, but the yield was minimal. Honestly, I think I’d be in shock to if I lived through a crazy ice storm, was shoved into raw soil, and had inconsistent sunlight. Really now, who wouldn’t want to freak out at that point?

Anyways, the things I have learned over the past few months really can be compared to real life. For example; would you plant yourself in a life setting (the soil) you know nothing about? How can you flourish and grow in the unknown? Having yourself planted in a fertile foundation is instrumental in how you grow. If all of your roots are shallow and parched from lack of nurture, how can you produce fruit that will survive the storms? From now on, I will take the time to learn what is in “the soil.”

I always struggle with relationships. Mostly because, well, I think everyone is good. When I discover they are not, it shocks me. Even though I know better, I still get heartbroken. At church this past Sunday, a young man spoke about his mission trip to Honduras. He read from his journal, reciting things he had learned. It was really beautiful to see him grow in his faith. As he read his writings, he recited a message from God that “he will build us up and use us. Then break us down so he may rebuild us for another use.” I’m totally paraphrasing, but my take away was this: I will always struggle with relationships. I will because I am not in control. I am a tool that He uses to do His work; therefore, He will build me, mold me and break me down. I will learn new things along the way, some good and others…well, not-so-good.  Being God’s awkward tool sounds way better than being “shallow and parched.” With each changing season, I will learn how to grow and sow with the elements. I will plant myself in nutrient-rich soil. I will learn from the paths I am taken down, and hopefully do what it is I’m supposed to with those pests that pop up. Lord knows I’m not a good listener. It usually takes some blatant situations for me to “get it,” but when I do, there is no stopping me.

Now that it’s time for re-planting, I can apply these simple lessons. I will take a soil sample and head to the Clemson Extension to find out what’s needed to balance the soil. I will plant ornamental flowers that draw good bugs, and most importantly, I’ll have faith that with the right soil I can have a full harvest.

Presto! I Mean, Pesto.

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

If you enjoy growing plants, then you know how rewarding herbs can be. They grow fast and are easy to care for. Of all the culinary herbs, basil is probably the best known and can easily be crowned King. It’s ridiculously easy to grow, it’s packed to the gills with flavor and everyone likes it. You don’t really need a thumb of any shade of green to grow it. All you need to know is how to cut it back properly so that it will continue to produce all summer.

Fresh basilWe have a small kitchen garden this year. We have a beefsteak tomato, an heirloom “Mr. Stripey” tomato, cucumbers, zucchini, poblanos, jalapenos, habeneros, green beans, kale, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and of course, the basil. We both go out at least once a day to scrutinize the garden to see what has changed since our last inspection. About a week ago, my husband came in and asked me about cutting the basil. I was like, “yeah, yeah, I’ll go get some.” He kept on. He kept saying things like “Well, you better cut it before it goes to waste,” and “I think those leaves look pretty big; don’t want them to go to waste,” and “Don’t you think we should make pesto or something so that basil doesn’t go bad?” Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Why are you obsessing about the basil all of a sudden?”

Fresh BasilYou know how crazy it is that you can live with someone for (going on) 20 years and still learn something new about him? He proceeded to tell me that he’d never had fresh pesto until he met me. He loves it and just can’t bear the thought of the basil being right there in the yard and not in the form of yummy pesto (or anything else for that matter). Years ago, I taught him that when I have a good crop of basil, I make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays so that when summer is gone, I still have fresh tasting basil to add to any dishes I want in the doldrums of winter. Apparently, it registered and he hasn’t forgotten it.

So, I went outside, cut the basil and whipped up a small batch of pesto for him.  For Fresh Pestothose of you who are unfamiliar with making it yourself, let me assure you that it is the easiest concoction ever invented. You probably always have parmesan in your fridge, right? Garlic and olive oil should be in every house all the time. I keep pine nuts in the freezer. So, when you cut your basil, you just toss all these ingredients into the food processor, give it a couple of spins and there you go: pesto. It couldn’t be faster or easier.

So what can you do with it? The first and most obvious is to use it as a pasta sauce.  It’s great mixed into mayo for sandwiches or pasta salad. If you freeze into ice cubes, you can pop a cube into pasta sauce or minestrone to add that fresh basil flavor. It’s also wonderful to add dollops of pesto to a pizza. Or, make a simple béchamel sauce with pesto and serve with grilled tuna, salmon or gnocchi. Mix into some softened butter to serve over grilled steak or with fresh, crusty bread. I guess you’re getting my drift that you can do just about anything with pesto. It is the quintessential taste of summer, in my opinion. Herbal, fresh, light and invigorating. And that’s just pesto. Don’t forget Thai food, Caprese salads, drying basil for later use…

Since we’re moving into July, it may be difficult to find plants at Lowe’s or wherever you usually buy your annuals. But, don’t despair. A lot of grocery stores actually have potted basil plants in the produce section. It’s also super easy to grow from seed.  You could start seeds in peat pots and then just transfer to the garden or to a container on your patio. And, with our growing season like it is, you could have basil well into October.

mangiare bere e divertirsi!

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-Be Chef).”  Please read, comment and be merry! You can also follow on Facebook & Twitter.

Finally Flourishing

By: Sherree Thompson 

Flourishing garden

The garden is finally coming alive! The Amish sweet peas are taking off, the tomatoes have a few blooms and my rosemary is bouncing back from being frozen. I really thought it was a goner. It was just a bundle of sad twigs poking out of the soil.

Garden

It’s amazing how rapidly everything grew. One day I was thinking about the irrigation system, and then I seriously needed that irrigation system in place, which it is still not. Yikes! I thought I would have time to erect the proper size support for the peas, but nope! They have clearly out grown their home. This is becoming a running story throughout my life. I think I have enough time, so I put things off. Then I’m scurrying around like a kid wrangling chickens and get all stressed out. Anyone else do that?

Garden

At least I have been scoping out the bugs that have arrived. There have been some interesting little critters, not friendly either. I have already seen a leaf-footed bug that really liked my tomatoes last year. The only real way to get rid of that pain was to pick each one off and squish it. This totally grosses me out. Bug squishing is not my cup of tea. So when I saw the giant pest, my heart sank.  I found White Flies on my Basil and some other aphid type thing on the peas.

Bugs in the garden

My heart dropped when I realized that the corn and zucchini just won’t make it. I have a feeling my soil conditions are not where it needs to be for everything to flourish. I should have listened to the hubs when he told me to send a sample to the Clemson Extension for analysis. Ah, but that would be too easy. I mean, how will I actually learn my lesson if I follow instructions? Can you hear my sarcasm?