Thursday, December 13, 2012

Build a DIY Coldframe Out of an Old Window

You can grow a winter salad garden even in cold climes with the use of a coldframe.
A coldframe can easily be made with salvaged materials and provide you with an earlier harvest come the new season.

Cold Frame

Like a mini greenhouse, usually just a box with some sort of glass top to let the sun in.

Our project uses some lumber, a couple of hinges and an old window!

In northern climates, placed up against a southern house wall to give it more warmth in the winter.

In the south, too much warmth ends up being a problem, so placing somewhere cooler in the yard would be better, afternoon shade would be good.   Make sure you raise up the glass during the day so your seedlings don't cook.

Transplants for the spring garden are easily started in a coldframe well in advance and since it's outside, you can probably place it for more sun than starting indoors.

Get complete instructions for ours at coldframe.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Toby Hemenway Speaks of Pathways to Permaculture

Renowned author and international speaker Toby Hemenway, spoke in Sarasota on November 2nd to a very attentive audience, hosted by Transition Sarasota.

Toby – author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture - gave everyone a fascinating history lesson about how we arrived at the destructive practices of conventional agriculture. More importantly, he talked about how we, as a community, can convert to the more sustainable practice of horticulture, or “tending to plants,” as opposed to what we do now, agriculture, or “tending to fields.”

Having traveled internationally, Toby said he has witnessed many cultures with few resources and materials at their disposal create beautiful permaculture gardens to feed their families and neighbors.

But is it possible for a modern society like the United States to adopt a more natural, sustainable way of providing for our food? A mild-mannered and humorous man, Toby made no grandiose claims that we should demand agriculture be abandoned immediately, but rather that people begin transforming their yards, neighborhoods, and communities into “food forests,” providing for our own needs as much as possible, and working with nature instead of fighting against it.

Read More....

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Canning Produce for the Winter( if it makes it that long!)

Here in Florida I am lucky to have a fresh garden most of the year, summer being the leanest because of the heat.

So, canning usually happens when I have excess to harvest.  I like to do small batches as they can be done quickly when you only have an hour.

But being from the North, I sure miss my New York and New Jersey tomatoes and peaches. So this year I decided to bring them back from New York after our trip there. I bought them from my favorite market in Oneonta, Annutto's Farm Stand.

I bought one box (1/2 bushel) of peaches and 2 boxes of Roma tomatoes (25 lbs each).  They lasted 3 days without refrigeration while we drove home to Florida.

When I got home after 4 weeks away, I had a harvest of hot peppers waiting for me here. So I made hot sauce to can while I was at it.

Although canning is so satisfying to the soul , it is work and one should plan on hours spent if buying bulk or if your garden produces bulk.

Here's what I "put-up":
   19 pints Lite Raw Pack Peaches
   4 pints Cinnamon Peaches, 2 with a hot pepper added to test!
   8 pints Seasoned Tomato Sauce (with garlic, oil, onion and salt and pepper only)
   14 pints Stewed Tomatoes
   6  6 oz. jars of Hot Pepper Sauce made with Cubanelles, Pasillas, Serrano, Fish, Bulgarian and Ancho peppers and vinegar.

I did it in batches over the weekend, spending 2-3 hours at a time, total time about 8 hours.

Canning is easy and not to be afraid of, success is a given if the basic principles are followed:
  1. Cleanliness is #1 priority.
  2. Get a basic book on caning like the Ball 'Blue Book Guide to Preserving"canning Book and READ it first.
  3. Get a canner with a rack and the tool kit. Makes easy work of canning!
  4. Start with small batches to learn.
  5. High acid foods like fruits (tomatoes are a fruit) can be canned in a hot water bath.
  6. Low acid foods like most veggies and meats have to be canned in a pressure canner.
  7. Clean your jars and lids with soap and water even if new.
  8. Sterilize jars and keep hot untill ready to fill.
  9. Leave correct space in top of jar, called "headspace".
  10. Remove air from jar and clean edge of jar with damp CLEAN dishcloth before putting on seals and lids handtight.
  11. Process for required time for the recipe, usually 10-25 minutes, keeping 2 inches water over jars.
  12. Cool and wait for that magic POP which lets you know you have a good seal!
  13. After cooled, check for seal by pressing center of lid (should no longer give).
  14. If any jars have not sealed, just put into frig and use those first. I have canned many times and have always had good seals.
Try it, the taste is so much better than store bought because your produce was at the peak of ripeness!

The Canning Kit

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Make your own Hot Pepper Sauce!


Hot pepper plants seem to always produce more 'fruit' then one could possibly eat fresh.
Since they are a low acid food they would have to be pressure canned to preserve as is.

But since pepper sauce uses vinegar as it's base, you can preserve it by the boiling
water bath method or just bottle and keep in the frig, it will keep for months or
until the next crop, next season.

Unlike the typical "how hot can we make this" sauce you find in the stores, you can
make your sauce as mild and flavorful as you like by adding in sweet peppers,
tomato and other flavorings.

If you want to go easy on the vinegar, you will have to keep the bottles in the frig,
as it's the vinegar that makes it shelf stable.

I came up with this recipe below and because it's mild you can use it liberally on
steak, eggs, hamburgers, sandwiches. We've been using it in everything!

Make this sauce as hot or sweet as you like by the peppers you use.
This recipe is medium heat with lots of flavor.

Pepper Hot Sauce 

10 hot peppers
5 small sweet peppers
1 tomato, seeded
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp coriander seed, crushed
1 handful fresh lemon, lime or sweet basil
1/2 cup white wine or sherry
1 cup vinegar
1 and 1/2 cup water

1.  Chop tops off of peppers and seed.

2.  Saute in skillet the peppers, basil, tomato, coriander and honey in the oil until
 peppers are tender.

3.  Deglaze with wine and cook 2 min. more.  Add vinegar and water, cook a few
more minutes.

4.  Place half of mixture in blender and puree. Remove contents of blender
and puree second half.

5. Pour into sterilized bottles or jars with sealing lids if processing in boiling water bath.

6.  Can using boiling water bath method for 15 min. or just cap bottles and keep in
refrigerator (will keep for several months).

Makes 3-4 cups

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Victory for the Honeybees!

In response to concerns over a mounting problem with "colony-collapse disorder" of honeybee hives nationwide, Florida has approved legislation that prohibits counties, municipalites & planned communities from banning backyard beekeeping in residentially zoned areas.

Signed into law July 1, 2012, HB1197 establishes the Florida Department of Agriculture as sole power to regulate beehives & prohibits counties & municipalities from enacting beekeeping laws.

The bill primarily protects hobbyists with a few hives in residential areas. The argument was successfully made that the Dept. of Agriculture, which already regulates & inspects commercial beekeeping operations, is better able to make sound decisions through knowledge than municipalities that know little about beekeeping.

With many farmers having their bees die off or simply fly off, they testified to the need of hobbyists with a few hives in residential areas to help fill the void from large losses by commercial keepers.

Having managed honeybees out in the environment competing for the same forage & food helps discourage Africanized bees from moving into the area. European Honeybees, the only bee allowed through the new law, are docile and non-aggressive. Africanized bees, on the other hand, are extremely aggressive & have moved into central & south Florida in the last few years.

County Commisioners, Dept. of Agriculture agents & County Extension agents are working together to come up with new guidelines to make sure the hives are maintained properly & proper barriers are required to protect the public, especially those that are allergic.

Hobbyists welcome the regulation by the Dept. of Agriculture, saying that hives should be inspected for proper care.

While the officials hash out the details, we can all plant more bee-friendly trees, flowers & grasses in our gardens to help attrack the bees to our yards.

Some common bee-friendly plants are:
Trees: Hollies, Magnolia, Dogwoods, Catalpa, Redbuds, Avocado, Almond & fruit trees (especially citrus)
Native Grasses
Vines: Coral , Honeysuckle
Perennials: Rugosa roses, Hyssop, Milkweed, Mallow, Butterfly bush, California Poppy, Cosmos, Purple Coneflower, Spiderwort, Russian Sage, Sunflowers
Herbs: Oregano, Rosemary, Lavender, Mustard

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Organic Gardens Survive Drought & Heat Better

This year has brought many a gardener to their knees begging for rain and relief from the heat.

No doubt, heat and drought are  killers to most gardens, but there is a solution. ORGANIC gardening!

It's not so much that the plants are stronger if grown organically, but that the SOIL is better.  Since organic gardens rely on adding amendments to the soil to fertilize their plants instead of "the blue stuff", the soil itself has better retention of water and will stay cooler when the temps soar.

These are bulky, humus rich amendments such as manure, compost, leaf mold, peat moss, coconut coir and lawn clippings. Most gardeners apply them liberally and often to achieve nutrient rich soil. These amendments are very water retentive.

On top of that, organic gardeners use copious amounts of mulch materials like bark chips, pine needles and leaves to eventually break down & add even more nutrients to the soil. It's a constant process, just like the leaves falling in the fall to nourish the forest floor! These mulch materials keep the soil surface from drying out from wind, solar and heat.

Another technique used by organc gardening is the growing of cover crops or "green manure" as some call it. Cover crops can be grown along with your garden plants in any bare spots or while your annuals are filling in. Legumes are a great nitrogen fixing cover. I like cowpeas because they are attractive in the landscape and provide a fast, lush ground cover. Having a growing cover provides shade on the soil providing cooling & moisture retention.

Don't let the dog days of summer ruin your garden, GROW ORGANIC!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Baking Pie on a Wood Fire?!

Years ago I went to a Revolutionary War Reenactment & noticed a tent city behind the battlefield (muskets only fired about 50 yards).  The wives went to the battlefield with the men to support & feed them. At one tent I noticed a beautiful pie cooling on a table.  Realizing they only had a fire pit to cook on I asked the woman there, "Did you bake that pie on the wood fire?" And she proudly exclaimed, "I did!". She did it with a cast iron Dutch Oven.

You may be familar with the term Dutch Oven as most of us have a big pot in our kitchens called a Dutch Oven. If made of cast iron, it is made to be used as a small oven over a wood fire.

Back in the early days, they would make a bed of coals and rest the oven on top of the coals to heat & bake, replenishing the coals when needed. The Dutch oven has little legs to rest on the coals. It also has a lid with a large lip to place coals on top for heat to be even all around the oven. Anything can be baked or roasted in these little ovens; pies, custards, roasts, whole chickens, beans.  I haven't tried to bake a cake or bread as the heat is hard to keep at even temp.

Cast iron has fallen out of favor because it was actually made for the wood fire & we just don't cook on open fire anymore. Although, I believe EVERYTHING tastes better cooked over wood. (except coffee).  Cast iron does take care to oil & season it (bake with coating of shortening to preserve surface & keep from rusting) & it is HEAVY.  There is a reason for the thick contruction & weight which one does not realize until you use it on a wood fire. The thick, heavy walls make for even heat distribution! So began my devotion to my 2 cast iron Dutch ovens.

But, always being impatient, I devised a new method of baking in the Dutch oven that takes less monitoring & time waiting for coals to be ready.

  1. Ready the oven by placing three flat stones in the bottom of the oven for air spacers. This will help keep from burning the bottom of whatever you are baking.
  2. Line the oven with foil if you are baking something which may have sugar boiling over.
  3. Put on lid, hang empty oven over newly started fire to "Preheat",
  4. Notice the flame roaring & touching the bottom of the oven in the pic, only allow this to happen during preheating. If done during baking, flame touching the bottom will surely burn the dish!
  5. As the fire cooks down, the flame will subside. At this time remove the lid and put in your pie or other dish that is in a regular metal pie plate or baking dish.
  6. Place the oven back over the fire, making sure that the flame does not touch the oven.
  7. Check on your pie every 15 min or so to make sure the heat isn't too low or high. Also rotate the oven for even cooking.
  8. After about 30 min, you should have some large coals in the bottom of the fire which you can now place on top of the oven to brown the top of the pie. This will happen quickly, so keep an eye on it and using a stoker for the fire (these are actually made to make lifting of the top easy) to lift off the top to view the contents.
  9. Baking time is pretty much the same as a conventional oven, about 40 min. total.
  10. Remove oven from heat and remove lid to cool pie inside or keep lid on to keep warm till eating.
  11. To clean your oven, place on hot fire empty to bake off spillover in bottom or fill with hot water and scrub with wire brush. If using soapy water, you will have to re-oil it to keep from rusting.  Also, keep dry with paper towel inside & cover and store away from moisture.
And here you have Peach Streusel Pie baked on a wood fire!
Find the recipe on   Under RECIPES/DESSERTS

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Barbeque or Grilling: What's the difference?

Summer is almost here and it's time to B-B-Q! Well, according to the experts, what most of us do in our backyards on our electric ignition gas  or charcoal grills, is grilling not barbeque.

Barbeque is the "low & slow" smoking & cooking of meat, fish & veggies by means of indirect heat.  Grilling is the quick cooking of  meats, fish & veggies by direct heat either through the use of gas flame or charcoal briquets. You know, giving those beautiful grill marks!

According to Mike from Beefy's Bar-B-Q in Bradenton, Florida: northern barbeque is usually cooked on an open pit whereas southerners use a closed pit. Since Mike hails from Maryland, his barbeque is open pit and very tasty. We met up with him at the Heatstroke Hot Rod Hoedown this past weekend.

The beef was fabulous and this vegetarian enjoyed half my husband's sandwich. Choosing the sauce was difficult since he had so many to pick from.

Mike can be reached at (941) 918-9670 for special event catering.

Look for a lesson in barbeque & grilling coming in the next edition on

Visit the site and sign up for notification when new editions are published.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Taming of the Beast; Clearing Vines from the Trees

If vines are allow to climb up your trees, they can take over the tree & kill it as they will shade the trees leaves & block out all sun.

Since NOTHING likes full sun in Florida, I've decided to start clearing the vines from the area near the creek & leave only the shrubs & trees for partial shade of the borderline Zone 9 edibles I wish to grow.

Morning sun will come right in, but afternoon shade will keep the plants from wilting in the summer heat. Well, at least that's my hope.

So where to begin?

1. Start from the outer edge.

2. Clip as close to the ground as possible as many vines as I can get to.

3. Then I clip the same vines as high as I can reach with my telscoping loppers ( love them).  I found that if I just clip at ground level, the new sprouts will just grab onto the old vines all climb again.

4. Then, I rake out that small section or row. This will expose ones that I missed in the ground, so I clip them out.

5. Then I do another section or row, raking all the clippings out to a big pile in the sun to cook so they won't try to re-root.

6. Some vines are full of thorns so doing layers at a time helps from getting snagged all over.

7. Slowly, I will reach the epicenter of this mess, which is one gnarly, twisted multi-trunked bohemouth!  He will have to be cut with a chain saw.

8. To help prevent new growth, I'm layering cardboard from shipping boxes where I want my new beds to be and covering with pine needles and all my new composting materials from the yard.

9. In about 6 months I can go back to the dead vines still hanging in the trees and pull them out, but
I have way too much to do that, so I will let nature take care of shedding the dead vines

This is quite a workout, so I am doing it in sections, a little at a time. Of course, this will be a continual maintenance, but if I don't let it get out of control, I should have a wonderful, fertile & partly shady garden!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wild Bunny nest inside the garden fence!

When staking a tomato plant in the fenced garden (fenced with rabbit fencing), I heard a grumbling. Thinking I impaled a poor frog, I cleared the mulch & some soil to see, 3 baby bunnies!

The gate to the garden had been open 1 nite the previous week, so now what?

I have to keep the gate closed, everything is up & growing beautifully.  If I close it, will I keep Mom from nursing?
I decided to keep the gate closed & keep track on them to make sure they were being fed, they were too cute to kick them out.

So, I checked out bunny life online. Here'e some interesting facts:

Bunny nests may be found anywhere, even in the open. Mine was fortunately under a layer of leaf mulch, keeping them safe from hawks & snakes and high temps, it's been 80's here lately.

Mom's come to nurse in the middle of the nite for 5-10 minutes only a day! Milk is so rich that's all they need.

It's best to leave them alone & not try to rescue them, as wild rabbit rescue usually fails.

To check that they are getting fed, pinch the back of the neck. If the skin stands up like a tent, they are dehydrated and need help. Also, their tummies will be rounded and not sunken in.

Checking on them every day, they always seemed well fed. (don't know how Mom was getting in)They didn't mind me touching them when they still had their eyes closed, but once open, they would try to hop around when I touched them.

Today, 2 weeks later, they have left the nest. During their stay, Mom nor the babies ate any of my veggies except for a little nibbling on my peanut plants.

I wish them good luck & thank them for being such good garden guests!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cauliflower needs to be Blanched

Cauliflower needs to be 'Blanched' even if the self-blanching type.  I use a small clamp with rubber tips.
Simply pull up closest leaves and overlap them to totally cover the new-forming head. Don't worry the leaves are pretty tough to handle it.

If not  blanched, the sun will darken the head and flavor is not as delectable.

here's the result, a nice white head.

Although I love the cheese sauce, a less caloric way to prepare is below:

Cauliflower chips:  recipe from

Slice florets in 1/4 inch slices.
Place in a bowl & drizzle with soy, sugar & oil.
Mix well to coat.
Place on foil-lined cookie sheet.
Bake in 400 deg. oven for about 20 min.
Flip over after 10 minutes.

These are so easy & so good!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Here's A Mama sparrow that has taken up residence in my greenhouse.

And then there were 4 eggs:

And then there were 4 babies born April 12, 2012. I day old in this pic:

Mama is used to me now. I noticed she didn't quite chew up the worm she gave one today.
It was stuck in it's mouth like a boulder. The baby bird wasn't swallowing it or coughing it up. 
So I took a pair of tweezers while Mama was out of the nest, and plucked the boulder out of it's mouth, without touching the baby. Whew!!

The nest is tucked into a basket on the wall with many items to block a predators attack, aka snakes.

I'll be full of worry until they 'fly the coop'! But I can't wait to watch them grow up.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Table Top Lettuce

Table Top Lettuce
Yes, you can grow lettuce right on top of the table or counter, as long as it’s in a sunny window, BABY lettuce that is.
What you will need:
  • A shallow, wide container with holes in the bottom for water to drain. We used a berry container here.
  • Another larger, shallow container or tray to catch the water underneath as it drains. (no holes in this one)
  • Coffee filter or paper towel.
  • Sterile potting mix or seed starting mix. Do not use garden soil.
  • Package of lettuce seeds.
  • Water
What to do:
  1. Place the coffee filter or paper towel in bottom of smaller container, covering the drainage holes.
  2. Fill the container with very moist potting mix, up to 1 inch from the top.
  3. Place the small container inside the larger one. Rough up the surface of the potting mix with a fork, forming nooks & crannies.
  4. Sprinkle the lettuce seeds all over the top of the potting mix.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap or in the case of our berry container, it comes with a top!
  6. Put in a warm spot, (not on the floor) in bright light but not sunlight until the seeds begin to sprout & show a little green, about 4-10 days. Don’t uncover & poke at them, be PATIENT.
  7. Uncover, and put in a sunny window.
  8. Every day or two, add a little room temp water to the larger container to “bottom water”. The potting mix will suck up the water & bring it to the seedlings roots at the top by what is called capillary action!
  9. After about a week, you can FEED them with a tea mixture or you can make from water & veggie scraps, and then strained. Water in bottom container.
  10. Harvest in about 2 weeks with clean scissors and use on sandwiches or in a salad. BABY lettuce is always sweet & tender!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Frog in the House

A good sign of a healthy yard & home are frogs & toads, even in the kitchen?
I wonder if this guy thinks the other frog is real?
Anyway, he was gently captured and put outside before the dogs noticed him!

welcome to greengardenchef's blog

Although a have a website that I love to write educational stories about organic kitchen gardening & cooking, many times I just have something that needs to be said , now.

 So, I've started the blog for,  because so much happens here in my Florida garden & also in our New York mountain garden!