July in the Vegetable Garden

July has brought successes and failures in my veggie garden. The sun is strong, the temperature is very hot and the humidity is high, so I try to be out early when I need to do some garden work. Rain has been fairly regular, most often in heavy downpours. Despite all this, I've been eating, freezing, canning, and dehydrating my harvests, and the vegetable garden is free of weeds and looking good. (Can't say the same about some of my flower gardens, unfortunately!) Here are the details:
  1. SWEET POTATOES - My plants are still surviving attacks by leaf-eaters - probably grasshoppers, as reported early. Leaves grow back, pests come again, and the cycle repeats. I don't think this is harming the development of the sweet potatoes themselves, since the abundant green leaves can be harvested and cooked like spinach.
  2. EGGPLANTS - I took off the protective covers, and the leaves looked better than if I hadn't protected them, although some flea damage is still evident. Purple flowers have now formed into glossy eggplants and I picked the first one today. Anxious to try a new eggplant parmesan recipe from my sister Jean tonight!
  3. LEEKS - Growing well, while being fully ignored.
  4. BEANS - I harvested loads of delicious Blue Lake Bush green beans, and pulled up all the plants last week. The yellow beans, planted as seeds at the same time, are only just flowering now, but the plants are healthy. Overflowing the north side of the garden is a bed of Thai Suranaree "Long Beans", now in the flower stage. They were described in the catalog as "bush" but seem to be growing in long vines, so I am letting them trail. My beans need constant attention this year, to keep away whatever eats little holes in the leaves and beans. I spray with Garlic Barrier and keep scattering marigold petals over the beds. So far, so good. I froze 12 bags of green beans and I've started another small crop which will be great to eat fresh next month.
  5. FENNEL - I over-wintered fennel plants and now I have a huge flourish of flower heads, which I am letting mature so I can gather the licorice-flavored seeds. I'll have enough to supply an Italian sausage factory! The seeds are good for digestion.
  6. TOMATOES - I am now deep in battle with tomato blight, spread by a fungus in the soil. All the organic measures I have employeed to avoid it have only delayed the inevitable. I've already removed two of the plants, and three more are fighting blight. I've got some cherry tomato plants growing from my friend Sherry's seedlings, and they are healthier so far. I picked 13 beautiful half-pound tomatoes today, and in the last month I have harvested enough tomatoes to make lots of salsa (fresh, frozen, and canned) and salads, as well as eating them warm from the garden, like biting an apple. I plan to spoon a homemade bruschetta over the eggplant for dinner this evening. The white line points to a row where I've covered the soil with a garden weed-barrier cloth and transplanted 3 new tomato seedlings, so I hope to get a late crop, and I wish it to be blight-free!
  7. CUCUMBER - One cucumber plant succumbed to "wilt" which is spread by the cucumber beetle, a bug about 1/4" long with yellow and black stripes or dots. You'll see the leaves begin to wilt, one by one (see photo to the right). I delayed the damage by cutting off the bad leaves, but eventually it killed the plant. My other cuc plant, a different variety, is doing ok in comparison. I've planted seeds to start another plant.
  8. PEPPERS - In the collage of photos above, you can see the jalapeno plant which has been in the red Kozy Koat since I planted it last spring... it loves the heat and is loaded with peppers, with the plant growing tall above the red jacket. I've also picked a couple of sweet pimento peppers, but the sweet "Chinese Giant" variety (the tall one I've pointed to in the photo of the whole garden) hasn't formed any peppers yet. Funny thing, a friend to whom I gave one of these seedlings reports picking peppers already.
  9. MELONS & SQUASHES - I've started my late crop of cantaloupe - one here where I removed a tomato plant - as well as casaba melon and zucchini, next to the cold frame. I've put in 2 butternut squash plants also. I am hoping these late plantings are beyond the season for squash bugs, and our growing season is long, so I should have plenty of time for the fruits to mature.
In other growing news, I continue to plant successive rows of carrots, which I really like because they are content waiting underground until I decide to harvest a few for fresh eating - unlike other crops which need immediate picking when ripe. I'm still digging up beets, as needed, and some I had over-wintered are sending up flower stalks. I transplanted a few beets which I dug that were tiny, and some have re-rooted for a late harvest. Onions seedlings I planted last month are providing me with scallions while the bulbs form and grow. The Little Gem Lettuce started sending up flower stalks, as the leaves became too bitter to use. I'm letting it go to seed, since it's the only lettuce in the garden now; the seeds will not have been crosspollinated with another variety, so I can save them for future plantings. I've not been successful starting lettuce lately, even varieties described as heat tolerant. I even resorted to buying romaine last week, to have a big salad with all the other garden goodies. The flat leaf and curly parsley, as well as the Thai basil, are big bushy plants now, which do best with frequent harvesting by cutting off the plant tops. I picked enough parsley to dry some last week.

I found loads of ripe grapes on my two concord grapevines last week, and devoured a few handfuls. When I anxiously went to harvest a bucketful today I discovered some critter wiped out the entire crop (raccoon? deer?). I was so disappointed, after my careful pruning last February, fighting off a wormy thing in the spring, and saving the vines from Japanese beetles recently. I'll need to correct my timing next year. My garden education continues, and I hope you learn something from my experiences!


The Numbers Are In…

As you know from my writings, I am a big proponent of a good nutrition as part of a healthy lifestyle. One reason why I share my recipes, my choices of ingredients, and info on growing organic food is to help others. Certainly genetics are a factor in our health; reducing stress is important, and making time for laughter, good friends, and fun activities has positive effects. But I lean heavily in favor of a healthy diet and regular exercise. Is it ok to eat a bowl of ice cream or side of fried onion rings once in a while? Of course! But by maintaining a basis of every-day good eating, you'll most likely never need to "diet."

I just got results from a medical checkup, and I am pleased to be able to brag. I don't take any prescription meds, and, at age 56, my weight is about the same as it was 30 years ago, my blood sugar is 85, my total cholesterol is 184, my LDL (bad) cholesterol is 102, and my blood pressure is 100/70.

So thanks for following this blog and I hope the information helps you maintain or start a healthier life!


Therapeutic Elderberry Syrup

My friend Josie is picking fresh elderberries this week, so I thought it would be timely to post this recipe. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a natural remedy with high levels of antioxidants for building a healthy immune system, and with proven antiviral properties for treating strains of influenza viruses. A traditional remedy for fever, colds and colic, black elderberries grow wild here in the Southeast and can be cultivated. You can purchase ready-made elderberry syrups and tablets, but I prefer to make my own, adding other natural ingredients which make it even more soothing and tasty. If you don't have access to fresh elderberries, dried berries are sold in some health food stores or online from companies such as Mountain Rose Herbs.

Very soothing and therapeutic for coughs and sore throats due to viruses such as the flu, this syrup has no pharmaceutical ingredients and doesn't cause drowsiness.
  • 1 c fresh OR 1/2 c dried elderberries
  • 3 c water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 1/2 in piece of peeled fresh ginger root
  • 1 c honey
Combine all ingredients, except the honey, in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes. Smash the berries, strain the mixture. Cool. Stir in the honey. Stores 2-3 months in the refrigerator. Use as needed, by the teaspoon.

This is so tasty and healthful, there is not reason why you couldn't enjoy this syrup even if you don't feel ill! Thicken the initial mixture with a dilution of cornstarch or arrowroot powder and use it mixed into plain yogurt.


Tabouli, Fresh from the Garden

I love to make this salad / appetizer when the tomatoes, scallions, and herbs are fresh from my garden. Tabouli (aka tabbouli, tabouleh, tabbouleh) is a traditional Middle Eastern salad. Bulgur is a quick-cooking version of whole wheat kernels which have been soaked, boiled, dried, and cracked after the bran is removed. For a whole grain variation, I sometime use 2-1/2 cups of cooked quinoa in place of the bulgur.
  • 1 c bulgur wheat
  • 1 t salt
  • 1-1/4 c boiling water
Mix the bulgur and salt in a heat-proof bowl. Pour the boiling water on top and stir. Cover loosely with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain if necessary.
  • 1 c chopped parsley, packed
  • 1/2 c chopped scallions
  • 2 T chopped fresh mint
  • 1 c peeled tomato
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/4 c fresh lemon juice
  • salt & pepper to taste 
Mix the above ingredients with the bulgur and chill until serving time. Traditionally served with pita bread, and Scoops work well too.