A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Archive for the ‘Organic Eating’ Category

The New Garden Bed

Last week, I wrote about the new garden bed I built on the north side of the house.  Although I’ve been growing veggies in raised beds in other parts of the yard for the past couple of years, I decided that I needed to do something different this season.  The main reason for building a new bed is that the veggies simply weren’t getting enough sunlight.  Vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight a day to be really productive and the other beds only allowed for a max of six hours of direct sunlight before being shaded from the house or the fence.  In years past, I’ve had struggles with low productivity as well as powdery mildew on my cukes and squashes.  I think the low productivity was, in part, due to the shortage of direct sunlight and, also in part, due to the extreme heat (tomatoes stop setting at consistent temps over 85 degrees, for example).  I am also fairly certain that the powdery mildew proliferated due to the amount of shade the plants received.  Being exposed to full sun all day should help this situation.  If not, I’ll be trying some different techniques to get it under control.  More on that later should the need arise.

This new bed is about four feet wide by eight feet long.  It is now in a location where 100% of the bed receives direct sunlight all day long.  If it performs well, I just might expand it for the fall, perhaps putting another 4×8′ bed next to it.  This summer, I’ll be growing tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, habaneros, cucumber, yellow squash, zucchini, watermelon and cantaloupe.  I skipped the bush beans this season, but might end up putting them in the additional bed if I decide to build it for fall.


the new garden bed

cantaloupe leaves



tomato plant

mmmm, fire.


yellow crookneck squash


green bell pepper


I heart herbs, and my kitchen herb garden

Herb garden 3/12/10

The herbs have been enlivened by the warmer, sunny weather, offering up a whiff of fresh aroma as I sit on the stones and pick out the few weeds that managed their way in.   The oregano has become quite a thick blanket of ground cover for the bed, entirely flanking the thyme plants in front of them.  The edge of the bed doesn’t seem to deter it either, as it snakes its way over the edges of the retaining wall towards the afternoon sun.  In the enlarged photo you can see just how dense it has become and how it is now threatening to engulf one of the chives.  The great thing about oregano is that it roots easily along its snaking arms, and it is rather easy to propagate because of this.  Just snipping off a section that has rooted is enough to grow an entirely new plant.  I’m going to cut a few off this weekend if I can make the time – I told my mother in law that I was going to provide some more herbs.

Greek Oregano

Mexican oregano

One of the strongest scents I encounter sitting on the stones is that of the curry plants, which are strictly there for their ornamental and olfactory presence.  I love Indian food, and the smell of the curry plant reminds me of warm curry dishes.   Indian curries are made using a variety of spices and, although they do not use curry powder as is traditionally sold in stores, they use many of the same spices that are contained in the premixed version.   The curry plant smells just like that blend.  Makes me want a plate of steaming  veggie samosas and peshwari naan.  Although the plant looks like it has rigid needles, it is a very soft plant, and the slightest touch releases that warm aroma.

Curry plant #1 is purely an ornamental that smells like the popular spice blend.

Curry plant #2

The English thyme is also rebounding nicely from its winter hibernation.  There for awhile, I was wondering if they were doing okay because they looked brown and, frankly, kinda’ dead.  Not so.  As you can see, they are covered with bright green growth.

English thyme plant #1

Thyme plant #2

The sage plants were also having a lot of trouble maintaining their foliage over the winter.  I’m not sure if that’s normal, or if it was attributed to the increased rainfall.  They are starting to show their true color again, too, with tender young leaves all over.    I’m sure they’ll be full, bushy plants again soon.

The sage got really wet over the winter and didn't like it.

Sage plant #2 making a comeback

The chives have erupted in a fury of green tentacles rising out of brown, shriveled leaves.  I have over twenty more seeds that have sprouted and are temporarily growing in paper pots under lights until I can transplant them.  Chive germination is somewhat unique in that one tiny, slender little blade of grass pokes out then sort of unfolds outward.

Chive plant #1

Chive plant #2

Chive plant #3

Four chive seeds that have germinated

The marjoram is another strongly perfumed herb and one of my favorite to brush up against.  It has become a well-rounded plant since it doesn’t have to compete with the basil plants – currently.  I’ll be putting at least one basil plant in the herb garden this year – two last year was way more than I needed.  I still have a lot of dried leaves that have lasted me since the other two plants met their demise at the first frost.


Parsley has taken over half a row that I allotted to grow lettuce.  There are still two heads under there managing to mature, but I’m going to have to do some trimming on the front side of the plants to get them back towards their space.    Again, overkill on the parsley – at least for my uses; however, parsley attracts a few species of beneficial insects, including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies.   Those are added bonuses, I really want to keep all of the parsley because it is a food for black swallowtail butterflies.

The parsley is surely not growing sparsely.

The several rosemary plants that I have are doing okay.  A couple of them have some dark leaves due to being too wet in their containers.  Some cuttings got pummeled by thunderstorms, but they’re doing okay now.  And the cuttings I planted late last fall are filling out in their pot.   I pulled the mother out of the ground as it was almost gone.  The corner of the house is not a good place for the rosemary – too much rain spills off the roof and rosemary hates wet feet.  I dried what was left and have a good salsa-sized jar of dried leaves for cooking – something I use just about everyday.

Transplanted rosemary cuttings from last fall, now well-established.

We can’t forget the two mint plants that I bought last summer and then cloned a zillion of them.  Well, not really a zillion, but maybe ten, which have multiplied to about a zillion now.  🙂  The spearmint is definitely the more aggressive of the two, while the peppermint struggles.

Mint spreading by runners

Spearmint abounds

Peppermint again. These were planted the same time as the spearmint.

Peppermint is very slow growing compared to spearmint.

For nostalgia’s sake, here is the freshly planted garden:

Herb garden 06/07/09

I have several Mexican mint marigold plants that I’ll add to the herb mix in the coming weeks.  I have three or four that I grew from seed and a couple other plants I picked up at a local nursery.  I’ve not tried growing it before, but it is a Texas Native, and can be used just like french tarragon in recipes.  I have a rich, creamy mushroom, caper and tarragon sauce I like to make to put over pasta and I’m sure this will be a great, homegrown substitute.

Eat What You Make

Addie Broyles wrote a good article for yesterday’s Statesman entitled, “Rediscovering the Art of Eating In,” where she highlighted the efforts of author Cathy Erway as she stopped eating out at restaurants for two entire years.  Erways book, The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, is a memoir of her experiences of cutting out prepared restaurant foods and instead preparing every meal herself in her own home on her own stove and is packed with recipes and tips on becoming more self-dependent in the kitchen.

While I haven’t read the book, Broyles’ article peaked my curiosity.   I, too, made the decision a few years ago to cut out as much processed and prepared foods as I possibly can.  This was not so much a matter of saving money, as Erways’ subtitle suggests, as it was a matter of eating healthier and becoming more self-reliant.  As Broyles points out, there are entire generations of young people who do not know how to cook a meal for themselves.   They have become dependent upon the agriculture, manufacturing and retail industries to bring them the foods they want with as little effort as possible; however, not only are prepared foods and restaurant fare full of artificial ingredients, trans fats, genetically modified organisms, high-sodium, sugar, and preservatives, they are missing one hugely important and nearly universally ignored ingredient: love.

I believe that, in everything we do or make, we expend energy and that energy is reflected in what we do or make.   That energy is conveyed to others in a very real sense.  In the case of food preparation, that energy goes straight into the food.   If the person preparing the food doesn’t use quality, wholesome ingredients, is slaving away at a hot stove to meet ten orders at one time, and is irritated at the front of the house manager for griping them out for arriving twenty minutes late to work,  that energy is conveyed to your food.  Or if the food is not prepared by human hands, but by machine, where is the love in that?  For the same reason, I opt to make bread by hand instead of using the bread machine.  It simply tastes better.  Likewise, I don’t eat restaurant food prepared by people I’ve never met, which is processed food their manager bought from manufacturing plants states away!

I remember growing up in the Midwest.  My mother gardened, canned and preserved a lot of our food for a number of years when I was younger.  She also cooked most of the meals we consumed.   Only occasionally did we go “out to eat” and just as rarely she would grab something on the way home from work.  Nothing compared to home cooked meals, however.  When I went away to college, I realized how much I missed my mother’s cooking.  The dining commons had a large selection of prepackaged, frozen and reheated (or worse, microwaved) items, and most of it was gross and/or bad for me.

Was she just a great cook?  Did she possess a certain skill that made her food taste better?  I do think she is an awesome cook, but I think the secret ingredient was, you guessed it, love.   She wanted us to have a good, wholesome meal – not the “crap you can get at a restaurant”.  She knew then that restaurant food is, for the most part, less healthy than a home-cooked meal.  The truth of the matter is that the restaurant industry, and the conventional food industry as a whole, has only gotten less healthy as the years have gone by.  She wanted to prepare a meal for us, made with ingredients she grew herself, and whipped together with her hard work, energy and affection.   It showed.  Mom, if you’re reading this, let me tell you that I appreciate all of that hard work.  Now I know that it was a LOT of hard work.

Since going to a 90%+ organic diet a few years ago, we’ve cut back on most processed foods and almost all processed foods that are not organic.  We never eat out.  Fast food?  Absolutely not!  That means that all of our meals have to be prepared by our own hands.  That takes time, energy, planning and a lot of patience and love.   It is difficult, I won’t lie.  We both work downtown and we have to fight traffic to get home in Round Rock.  We generally get home after 6:30.  It would be all to easy to do something quick, but we have found joy in taking the time to prepare nutritious, wholesome, well-rounded meals and sitting down together at the dinner table to talk about our days.   I guess it would also be easy to send our daughter off to school with money to buy the lunch they provide.  Instead, we send her to school everyday with a healthy meal.  That takes time out of our morning to prepare, but at least we know what she’s eating.  The kids take notice, too.  At first, they teased her a little about her bag of carrots and cucumber slices and about eating organic, but now they don’t.   I think she’s educated them a little.

That’s because we’ve educated her.  She knows how important it is to eat healthy and appreciates the meals we prepare for her.  She gets in there and helps us out a little here and there, and I know she’s learning how to cook for herself at the same time.

Most of my peers look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them how and what we eat, and, more importantly, what we don’t eat.  They invite me out for lunch with the firm and I have to decline because I just don’t eat that crap.  I could do without the MSG, hydrogenated oil, excess salt and God knows what else.   We have all heard the sayings, “you are what you eat” and “your body is your temple” and “garbage in, garbage out.”    That is why we choose to prepare our food ourselves for every meal.  This is also why we started gardening, to grow more of the food we eat so that we are in charge of nurturing it, loving it, preparing it and offering it to one another with love.

Here’s to healthier eating!