Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Is Sheet Mulching?

These are not actual bed sheets, although if you had some old ones they could be recycled into the garden as well. But they would probably be better utilized for other projects.

In the photo are paper sheets. They were headed for the trash by a family that had recently moved into their new home. Along with all the paper used to pack their belongings was all of the boxes.

Fortunately for us it was all rescued and put to good use. It was a Huge Score!!

Sheet Mulching is used to help smoother out weeds instead of the use of  herbicide chemicals. It prevents soil erosion and helps retain moisture.

Sheet mulching also keeps all those beneficial microbes and nutrients undisturbed deep into the soil.

Tilling would cause the release of carbons into the atmosphere, which are the main cause of greenhouse gases.

Carbons are organic matter. Organic matter is what your garden thrives on. Organic matter is what makes a healthy loose and living soil.

When your soil is healthy your plants will be as well. Healthy soil in organic gardening is what keeps your plants free from pests and diseases.

There are many different ways to apply sheet mulching. Many gardeners will apply composts and manures before laying down the paper and boxes.

Once the sheets are applied the next step is to water them in. This helps to keep them from blowing in the wind and gives you time to get to the next step.

The next step involves adding a layer of mulched organic matter. This includes things like hay, tree shavings, bark wood chips, dried leaves and other aged shredded organic material.

I prefer to top layer with at least 2 to 3 inches of organic material. Although I've been known to go thicker with it, depending on the application and what the particular project is I'm working on.

For instance, this area of thornless blackberries was top layered rather thick. The blackberries will appreciate the extra moisture when late spring rolls around. Especially if we haven't received adequate rainfall.

Once this part of my project is completed, it is time for planting and sowing seeds.

I'll show you how I do it in my next post. For now we have much work to do.

Happy Gardening!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Putting Up The Sweets Canning Watermelon Jam

Watermelon Jam

My goodness this is so Good!! I'd been searching for ways to save and preserve for quite awhile as I've watched our watermelon patch go crazy this year. Watermelons are everywhere out there and my mind was racing with thoughts of making this a valuable food source during those winter months

Of course many of you have already heard about my Popsicle craze. Let me tell you Granddaughter absolutely loves them! I got even more creative and blended dewberries in them that I had put up in the freezer from some earlier spring pickings. Then I blended some Plain Whole Greek God Yogurt in them with a little squirt of Agave Nectar. 

Now I need to buy more molds! I know I could make my own, but the Grands love the sippy straws and frankly so do I because of the melt drips. What a easy fun way to preserve summers delights. 

Sweet Jubilee 

So I decided to go a step further with canning up the watermelon jam. I found a whole bunch of recipes for making it several places, but the most trustworthy one I found at Food In Jars. After reading how they made it and all of the comments that fans had posted I felt sure I could do this.

I did not find the need to alter it in anyway what so ever. Although I kind of chuckled when I read comments from people who wasn't looking for the Watermelon Jolly Rancher Candy flavor. All I could think was if I could actually achieve that candy flavor in a jar my family would be extremely happy. Who doesn't love Watermelon Jolly Rancher Candy in the South? 

I'm going to go ahead and give you the run down on the basic recipe, but I did do a couple of things to try to guarantee a decent good set for this jam. 

First, make sure you have a candy thermometer or even a meat thermometer will work as long as the temperature goes up to 220 degrees. That is the peek of perfection for the jam.

I still put two saucers in the freezer. The reason for this is to test the jam before you remove it from the heat. 

Once the jam reaches the 220 degree mark, grab a saucer out of the freezer and put a spoonful in the middle of the dish. Watch what it does, if it is really runny let the jam boil a little longer. Then test it again with your second saucer. If it begins to jell up it is done.

 This was also my opportunity to taste it while I stuck my finger in it on the saucer. YUM!!

Have some fun with varieties of heirloom colored flesh too!

The Basic Recipe
Makes 5 to 6 Half pint jars

6 cups pureed watermelon (remove any seeds prior to pureeing)
5 cups white sugar
6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
1 packet powdered pectin

Be sure to use the powdered pectin. After all the research I did, I had seen many caners having problems trying to use liquid pectin.

You really don't want to cut back on the sugar here. That is what helps it thicken and preserve it. I made mine in 1/2 pint jars because this jam is going to be considered a treat for special occasions. I can see it making an awesome dipping sauce combined with some other ingredients to use for dipping homemade egg rolls. 


Prepare your canning jars and lids. Canning jars should be boiled and bands and lids in hot water, just to before it reaches boil.

Crack open that watermelon and start in the middle section where there are less seeds. Cut out chunks and put them in a large bowl to get ready to blend it up in either a food processor or blender. 

Make sure you take out all of the seeds as you get nearer the rind where they are usually plentiful. After it is all blended measure out the 6 cups needed into your non reactive pot.

Note: Do not double this recipe and actually the wider your stainless steel pot is the better it will cook. 

In a large bowl whisk together the sugar and the pectin. Add this to your pot along with the lemon juice. 

Bring to a good rolling boil. It took mine almost 30 minutes to reach 220 degrees. It seemed as though it wanted to stay at around 117 degrees for quite awhile, but you can see the difference in the reaction of the boil when it reached the mark.Next time I probably won't need to use the thermometer after seeing what it does.

Do your frozen saucer test before you remove it from the heat. Do two saucer tests if need be. Once it has jelled on the saucer it is done. Fill your jars. Make sure you wipe the rims clean with a paper towel and then put on the lids and screw bands. 

Place the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Give this a chance to fully set. Sometimes it can take up to one or two weeks before it is fully set. So patients are needed while waiting.

Happy Gardening and Happy Preserving!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Baby Okra

This is the quick version of pickled okra. These go straight up into the refrigerator. In just about one week they should have marinated just right to start munching. 

The recipe is really just a matter of taste. I like mine spicy, but I always love just a bit of sweet to balance out those hot peppers. 

(For two or three pint jars)

Brine: 3 cups 5% distilled white vinegar to 1 cup distilled water. 2 Tablespoons of Kocher Salt.  Bring this to a boil on the stove in a stainless or non reactive pot, just until the salt has dissolved. 

In the meantime you can gather and prepare the other ingredients. Have your mason jars and lids sterilized and ready to go.

Per jar I used:
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 
1 very small dried hot petite red pepper crushed, 
Good Pinch of Celery Seed
1/2 tsp. Black Peppercorns
1/2 tsp. Black Mustard Seed
Good Pinch Organic Raw Pure Cane Sugar
Some Sprigs of Fresh Dill Weed (You can use seed too)
Baby Okra

Go ahead and put all of the above in each mason jar. Then you can begin arranging your baby okra. Make sure you have washed it and trimmed your stem a little. 

I know I don't always have exact measurements for everything I do. But like I mentioned before, it is really a matter of taste.

It always looks pretty when you can alternate the okra in the jar. Although it is not always easy when using the baby okra. 

Pour the brine over the ingredients and leave a little head space. You just want to be sure all of the okra is covered, but the brine isn't to close to the rim. 

Put your lids on and let it cool down before you place the jars into the refrigerator. 

I always enjoy putting a couple of these up in the fridge and some for the pantry too. For the pantry they will require a hot water bath and plenty of baby okra to make it worth your time. 

The refrigerated version will last up to 6 months in the fridge. But they should be long ate before all that. It's a southern thing!!

My Okra Patch

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Carrot Harvest Bread

We simply cannot harvest a huge bounty of organically grown sweet carrots without making a scrumptious bread  loaded with big juicy mixed raisins and walnuts.

Carrots are said to contain way more vitamins that your body can absorb when they are cooked. So in this recipe I steamed them and reserved the liquid for that extra carrot nutrition.

When carrots are grown in your garden naturally and without the use of any chemicals, the taste is unmatched by any you would find in the supermarket.

I managed to cut sugar out of this bread as well. There are a couple of plant based sweeteners that will work well in this recipe. I used Xylitol, which has become my favorite. 

Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in most plant material, including many fruits and vegetables. It is extracted from birch wood to make medicine. It is widely used as a sugar substitute and in "sugar-free" chewing gums, mints, and other candies.

 As a medicine, xylitol is used to prevent middle ear infections in young children, and as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes.

Xylitol is added to some chewing gums and other oral care products to prevent tooth decay and dry mouth.

Xylitol is sometimes included in tube feeding formulas as a source of energy.

Dog owners should know that Xylitol can be toxic to dogs, even when the relatively small amounts from candies that are eaten. If your dog eats a product that contains Xylitol, it is important to take the dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Stevia or honey could also be substituted instead of granulated refined sugars. I love using honey once in awhile for a special treat.

NOTE: I love making mini loaves of the carrot harvest bread to put up in the freezer for later. The loaves make such cute gifts too. 

The baking time will be 25 minutes for the mini loaves.

Carrot Harvest Bread
½ cup organic unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 cup Xylitol (Brand-Ideal)
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed steamed carrots
2 cups organic unbleached bread flour
Pinch of sea salt
1 tsp. Baking soda
1/3 cup warm water (use liquid reserved from steaming carrots)
1 tsp. Freshly ground cinnamon
½ cup organic golden raisins
½ cup Walnuts or Pecans (crushed)
  1. Makes one loaf
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  3. Steam carrots and let cool down a bit. Mash them with your mixer until fairly smooth. Set aside.
  4. Combine ½ cup softened butter, sugar and eggs and mix until well blended. Add the mashed carrots and beat them into the batter.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, flax seed, baking soda and cinnamon. Add this mixture to your batter along with the 1/3 cup of warm reserved liquid. Beat on medium until well combined.
  6. Stir in walnuts and raisins.
  7. Lightly butter your loaf pan. I use a metal pan. Spoon in the batter and smooth out the top.
  8. Bake on 325 for about one hour. Test by inserting a toothpick. It is finished when it comes out clean.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Time for Onions in Southeast Texas

A few of our raised beds that are home for Heirloom Tomatoes

We've been working the garden beds over since mid fall with green cover crops of peas and beans and agri- mustard being turned in to the soil. Layers of mulched leaves cover most of the garden as well as chicken poop and our homemade, rich and beautiful compost being worked in. 

The milestone of the organic garden is getting your soil nutrient rich as deep as possible. Earning some beneficial nematodes and earthworms takes a whole lot of shovel and wheelbarrow time. A lot of onions will be planted in the raised beds this year, as well as in other parts of the garden.

Our onion starts arrived on December 29th. They were shipped to us by Dixondale Farms located in Carrizo Springs Texas in only 2 days after they were ordered. Dixondale specializes in onions and have been in business since 1913. 

They have a fantastic planting guide to help you know exactly when to start your onions going by your zip code and then they help you determine which varieties are best for your area by mapping out an onion zone for the United States. 

We could have actually been planting our onions in mid December because of our zip code on the Gulf Coast. Because of being is such a severe drought for such a long time, we decided to hold on a bit for some rain. Our zone calls for growing the short day varieties of onions. 

However, this year we are experimenting a bit by ordering a couple intermediate day varieties as well. The storage is actually longer for intermediates so we thought we would at least try and see what they do. Our short day varieties keep stored for about 3 months. I'll keep you updated on the experiment. 

We also are planting Lancelot Leeks, which are not daylight sensitive and can be planted in any zone. They are so pretty in the garden mixed in with all the lovely spring blooming flowers. Leeks are fabulous to cook with and even better chopped up fresh in salads and summer time veggie dips!

This is a picture from the beginning of our 2009 harvest of onions laying out on the drying racks. We grew a few hundred that year. We have 600 or 800 to plant this year. 

The racks are located near the south side of the garden and get plenty of breeze to dry, but also sheltered by the little roof and by a few trees to keep the rain and sun off of them. 

The onions begin to finish up in May in time for the other vegetables to take over the garden. The drying racks will be used again for potato harvesting and I always seem to be throwing flower heads on them to dry for saving seed.

I'm so happy to be getting a chance to play in the garden again. I've been dreaming of the spring garden, going through catalogs and planning and ordering a few new heirlooms. It's a good time to be finding out your zones and not miss out on some sweet organic onions this year.

Happy Gardening!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Texas Pecan Yeast Bread

Texas Pecan Yeast Bread

This bread makes wonderful toast and sandwiches with a lot of variations. It's really delicious with a little homemade jam or honey on top. 

You can add a bit of cinnamon and nice big organic golden raisins to sweeten it up a bit. I just happened to hit the mother load on pecans this season and love them in bread. 

You'll enjoy this recipe because it's a pretty basic one that can be altered in many ways by combining different grains, seeds and even home milled legumes.

 I also use different organic oils as well, such as Sunflower, Sesame, Olive and Canola. The trick is to not add in all your flour at the beginning so you can adjust for the added in grains and such. 

The dough should always be sticky but not to the point of sticking to your fingers where it can't be kneaded well. Makes 2 loaves. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.


1 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (can substitute with local raw honey or organic raw sugar)
1/3 cup unsalted butter (can substitute with an oil)
5 1/2 to 6 cups unbleached bread flour (can substitute one cup for fresh milled wheat, bran or legumes)
1 cup organic whole oats
1 cup finely crushed pecans
1 tsp. sea salt
4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 nice large eggs from the hen house or cage free


Take the water, brown sugar and butter and put in a small glass bowl for the microwave. Heat about a minute and stir, then heat one more minute. Leave it to stay warm in the microwave while you prepare the other ingredients. (Optional: if you want to add raisins let them heat in the microwave in this bowl. It helps them swell a bit and makes a little raisin juice that's yummy)

You will need the dough hook and mixing bowl for this part. 

First put in the one cup of oats. Next add 5 cups of flour (Remember, that you can substitute one of the 5 cups for another milled grain like wheat or legume) add salt and yeast. I use a hand wire whisk and whisk it all together, then place the bowl on the stand with the dough hook. (If your adding cinnamon or any other seeds or spices this is the place to do it.) 

Take your small bowl out of the microwave and test it to be sure it's not hotter than luke warm and the butter and sugar is stirred well and melted. Pour the wet mixture in with your dry ingredients. Mix about a minute with the dough hook on speed two and turn it back off. 

Add the two eggs and turn it back on the second speed. When the dough becomes well combined and begins to pull away from the hook, check it with your finger to see how sticky it is. I will usually add 1/4 more flour here and then test it again. 

If it still feels to sticky I will add one more 1/4 cup. Pour it out of the bowl and knead the dough for a minute or so to make sure everything is worked in well. Lightly oil another big bowl and put the dough in, turning the ball around in the bowl to lightly oil the whole thing. Cover with plastic wrap or a cotton towel and set it in a warm place to rise. Usually about an hour until it is double in bulk.

Next, pour the raised dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it out and divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a loaf and place in the slightly oiled loaf pans with the seam side down. Tuck under your ends a bit. I take a small bit of milk and brush the tops and pat on oats or seeds. 

Again, cover with plastic wrap or a towel in a warm place to allow to rise double in size. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes on 400. You will know when the bread is done by tapping it on the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds a bit hallow it is complete. Cool on a wire rack.

This is another variation using Home Milled Brown Lentils and Golden Flax Seed

Happy Gardening!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Southern Pecan Banana Bread

This is an Old Southern recipe that is almost like cake but certainly bread. I always make extra to put up in the freezer for later. It's very simple and quick to prepare. Pecans are one of the main nut trees that grows so well in Texas. They are gorgeous tall stately trees that reward us with plenty of much needed shade in our hot summer weather.

Preheat your oven to 325

1/2 cup butter softened
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs, fresh farm raised if possible
1 cup bananas, ripe and mashed up
2 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached is preferred)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup chopped pecans ( I get them fresh from the farmers market as halves, place them in a ziplock bag and run my rolling pin over them)

Blend butter, sugar, eggs and mashed bananas until smooth. In a separate bowl mix together with wire whisk your flour, salt and baking soda. Add your dry ingredients to your banana mixture alternating in with your warm water. Stir in the Pecans and divide into 2 lightly oiled loaf pans. Bake for at least one hour. Check the center with a toothpick. When it comes out clean the bread is done. This old fashioned bread will crack at the top. It is so beautiful and the aroma will fill your kitchen. Cool pans a bit before removing them from the pans. Let them finish cooling on a wire rack.

Oh the Lazy Hot Days of a Texas Summer!!
Happy Gardening!!