THERAPY – BRAIDING GARLIC

Garlic Braids 2020

I spent my Sunday handling the garlic crop, which loves our mountain garden. My husband plants bulbs in the ground in the fall then we leave the mountains for the winter. By the time we return in late spring, the crop is ready for harvesting. Several years ago, I discovered how to braid the bulbs with stalks as an edible decoration. Also, I believe hanging them this way allows for them to remain usable for months. Dry circulating air keeps the cloves from drying out.

We use them throughout the gardening season and beyond. Usually I start running low on garlic toward the end of winter.

Here’s how to do it if you should grow your own or find them at a good price at a farmer’s market.

Harvest garlic with leaves intact. Lay them in a cool and dry place—we used our porch and placed them on newspaper. After approximately two weeks, the green on the leaves begins to brown. Robert chose the bulbs with the biggest bulbs for planting in the fall. The rest I prepared for braiding.

Clean the bulbs. Remove any lingering dirt before you braid it. In some cases, you may be able to remove the dirt and other residue by brushing it away with your fingers. I used both my fingers and a slightly damp cloth. On some of the bulbs, I removed several layers of outer dry skin to get rid of dirt. Do not remove all the outer layers.

Trim the garlic. There are usually long, scraggly roots attached to the bottom bulbs, so cut those to approximately ¼-inch. Also trim away any of the leaves that are scraggly looking.

Soak the garlic stems. You want the bulbs’ leaves to be pliable so they’re easier to braid. There are two ways to do this, but most importantly, do not get the bulbs wet during this process. You only want the leaves damp enough to be flexible. You can wrap the leaves in wet towels and leave for 20-30 minutes or longer. I tried this the first year, and it didn’t seem to get them pliable enough. The second year, I used a different method, which I liked much better. Fill a bowl or sink with lukewarm water and soak the garlic so just the leaves are submerged. Soak for 15-30 minutes until they are flexible.

Select three largest bulbs and crisscross them. It is suggested that for the best braids, you use twelve bulbs. I’ve used less than that to good effect. As you’re sorting the ones that you’ll use, set aside the three largest bulbs to serve as the start of the braid. Lay them on a flat surface with one bulb in the center, one to its left, and one to its right. The center bulb’s leaves should be pointed at you, while the other two leaves are crisscrossed over one another to form an X over the center bulb. It helps to secure the place where the bulbs overlap with a piece of twine. Make sure that the piece of twine you use is long enough to knot over the bulbs with enough excess that you can secure additional bulbs that you place in the braid.

Start adding bulbs. Place a fourth bulb over the existing bundle, so it matches up with the center bulb. Use the excess twine to secure the fourth bulb to the stack to make it easier when you start to braid. Next, take two more bulbs and align them with the two diagonal bulbs in a crisscross fashion.

Begin braiding. With all of the bulbs’ leaves lined up, it’s time to start the braid. Make sure that you’re grabbing the two sets of leaves for each section as you begin braiding. Take the two leaves from the right side and cross them under the middle leaves, so they become the centerpieces. Next, take the two leaves on the left and cross them under the middle leaves. Repeat using twine to secure as needed. I only used twine on the fourth bulb and then at the end.

Add more bulbs. Once you’ve started the braid, you can add three bulbs. You should line the leaves up with the existing ends of the braids as you did with the second set, so one aligns with the left section, one aligns with the center, and one aligns with the right. Start braiding again for one or two passes and repeat the process until you’ve added all of your bulbs. I’ve used as few as six bulbs so I could give braids as gifts.

Finish braiding and secure the entire garlic braid. After you’ve added all of the garlic, you should continue braiding the leaves until you get to the end. Use another piece of twine to tie off the end and secure the entire braid. I then used the twine to help me hang the bulbs.

Note: The first year I braided garlic, my husband only had green twine. I used it, but it was very conspicuous in the braids. The next year I made sure I had brown which blends in better with the leaves.

The “recipe” for braiding garlic, along with many other gardening tips and recipes, can be found in my book, From Seed to Garden Growing, Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Food.

PROTECTING THE GARDEN AND STILL BE ORGANIC

Pests can ruin your vegetable crop, but they can be controlled if caught early enough. Here is an excerpt from From Seed to Table on dealing with them while still remaining as organic as possible.

The definitions on organic gardening differ. At its most basic level, it means gardening with native plants, using natural fertilizers and pesticides, with the addition of composted materials. I’m not going to label our gardening efforts as organic, even though we might qualify under some of the more loosely interpreted definitions. We plant vegetables that are well suited to the environment where we live. We prepare the soil using organic materials, such as compost and mushroom manure/compost, supplemented with sand to help loosen the clay loam, such as what we had in western Pennsylvania. However, we do use Miracle Gro® on our seedling plants to help them grow faster and stronger, but we do not apply Miracle Gro® on the garden. For pesticides, we use natural concentrates including rotenone—if available—pyrethrins, spinosyn A and D, found in Captain Jack’s Deadbug Neem® oil concentrate, and bacillus thuringienis (BT) for general purpose caterpillar control. These natural, organic products are diluted with warm water according to instructions that come with the concentrates. We spray the cole family of plants and beans every two weeks or as needed, based on damage from cabbageworms or bean beetles. We don’t pick those vegetables until at least a week after spraying. All of these natural pesticides break down quickly after a couple of days in sunlight. Rains will wash them off, so it should be reapplied after a substantial rainstorm.

Here’s a chart to help determine what types of pesticide work well for individual vegetables.

VEGETABLES

PEST

CONTROL

Beans – bush and pole (green, yellow, purple), lima and butter beans Bean beetles, caterpillars, aphids, white fly, stink bugs, leaf miners Pyrithins, Neem oil, Captain Jack’s Deadbug (spinosyn A & D)

 

Tomatoes – all kinds and colors Hornworm, aphids, white fly, stink bugs, fungi (early and late blights, powdery mildew), leaf miners

 

Pyrithins, Neem oil, spinosyn A & D, except for fungi use copper octanoate concentrate (copper soap), or mancozeb (manganese and flowable zinc concentrate

 

Peppers – sweet and hot Stink bugs – white yellow blemishes on pepper Pyrithins, Neem oil, spinosyn A & D

 

Cole family – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, collards, turnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi

 

Cabbage worm or moth Pyrithins, Neem oil, spinosyn A & D, or BT
Cucumbers – all sizes Cucumber beetles, aphids, white fly, fungi on leaves

 

Same as tomatoes
Squash – summer/winter Squash bugs Same as peppers
Spinach Leaf miners Same as peppers

#FREE Downloads – May 12-14, 2020

THE ART OF COMPOSTING

CompostHere’s something you can start at home without much effort. You might have all the ingredients right at your fingertips.

We start with either a plastic or metal garbage can for the outdoors bin. But for the kitchen I’ve used many different containers with a air-tight lid, until recently. When visiting a friend, I spotted a stainless steel container on the counter top that blended right in with the kitchen appliances. I was happily surprised when she told me it was her compost container complete with a lid with air holes and a carbon filter  to capture smells.

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Stainless Steel Compost Bin

 

Here’s an excerpt from Seed to Table on composting.

Composting

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then I’ve composted on a twenty-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

It’s not a complicated process, although many folks hesitate to begin because they believe it’s difficult. If you simply follow a few basic instructions, you’ll be rolling in the black gold of the gardening world as quickly as the tomato plants begin sprouting green fruit.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils, or grease because they attract wild animals, take a very long time to break down, and can spread harmful bacteria into the soil and infect plants.

Eggshells, coffee grounds, and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold. We buy brown, unbleached, coffee filters, so we throw the grounds and the filter in the compost bin as well.

Once the container is filled with your kitchen scraps, empty it into the compost bin outside and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. The green things are those still close to the live stage, such as grass clippings, food scraps, and some manures. Don’t use the manure from pets or pigs, as it will promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Chicken manure is the best kind if you can find it. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves, woody materials, and even shredded paper. We use some of the ashes from our fireplace, too. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in the compost container and in the air without watering the pile. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are composters you can purchase from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $20 to several hundreds of dollars to make a compost bin. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost. However, I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and managed to do it successfully without expending tons of money.

We use the simplest and cheapest compost bin possible. We bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom and drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow airflow. You can spend a little more on a galvanized garbage can, but it will be more difficult to remove the bottom. Dig a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the outer sides to make it secure.

Cover the bottom on the inside with the dirt removed to make the hole. Don’t pack the dirt but keep it loose and airy. You’re now ready to throw kitchen scraps on top. We cover the scraps with leaves from the yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time we put new material from the kitchen into the bin, we stir or stab at the layers with a shovel. It is very important to cover those scraps with the brown material, or you will attract insects, and maybe even wild animals because the scraps will begin to smell as they decompose. The dead material hides the process of decomposing.

In the spring, I fill flowerpots with the healthy rich soil from the bottom of the compost bin to assist grateful petunias, pansies, impatiens, and marigolds. We’ll gaze upon the blossoming colors on the patio and take satisfaction in making fertile soil that originated in our kitchen and garden. Our vegetables, herbs, and flowerbed plants will all receive a healthy dose of the soil as well, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt.

I love the symmetry of composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

#GARDENING TIPS AND RECIPES TO SUSTAIN AND FEED OUR BODY AND SOULS

New Recipes and Updated Gardening Tips

I wrote From Seed to Table in 2013 while we lived in southwestern Pennsylvania. In 2015, we bought a cabin for summers in the Smoky Mountains of southwestern North Carolina, while returning to my north Florida home in north Florida. Since then, my husband has been learning to garden in two different zones, and I’ve expanded my repertoire for cooking and preserving the food grown during year round gardening experiences.

While self-quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided the time had come to work on revising the book. I’d been adding to a file but had put off revisions while I worked on other projects. The time seemed right to work on the revisions. There appears to be a renewed, and in some cases, new interest in planting gardens. It is my sincere hope that From Seed to Table will inspire others to grow their own food while giving plenty of tips to make the process fun and successful.

Happy spring and gardening to you and yours!

 

From Seed to Table – Growing, Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Food

S2T-5From Seed to Table is available in paperback and on Kindle. Kindle Unlimited members may download From Seed to Table for free.

“This is a friendly book that makes you feel like you are just sitting and having a chat with a knowledgeable modern day homesteader. P.C. Zick has adapted a sustainable lifestyle with gardening and preserving in different climates, (Pennsylvania to North Carolina mountains to north Florida) and urban to acreage. She shares her perspective in a manner that will benefit interested readers in varying locations. There are tips in there for the novice and the more experienced.” – Dr. Jennifer Shambrook, Author

From Seed to Table offers the personal experiences of home gardening from one couple. Starting with winter, the book follows each season from the garden to the table. Gardening tips, as used by Robert and Patricia Zick in their vegetable gardens in three different zones, are given along with preserving tips and recipes. The book also includes suggestions and recipes for canning and freezing vegetables. The Zicks hope some of their experience will inspire others to grow their own food and to eat local food as much as possible. While not an exhaustive reference for all gardening, preserving, and cooking techniques, it is filled with firsthand experience from an experienced gardener and a veteran cook.

How To Attract Hummingbirds To Your Garden | Garden Variety

Hello – I’ve been remiss in posting. Life has a way of interrupting things sometimes. But I came across this blog post today and thought it was cheerful and hopeful as winter continues to blast many regions in North America. I love my hummingbirds and believe this is the best way to get these little sweeties to our yard rather than using the sugar water in feeders, which need to be changed often and attract those pesky red fire ants in the South. Enjoy!

Greetings everyone…Spring has finally arrived and I couldn’t be happier. I still have a long wait before I can actually harden off my plants, and I am eagerly awaiting that day!

Source: How To Attract Hummingbirds To Your Garden | Garden Variety

GARDEN NEWS – IT’S ONLY BEGINNING!

 

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Jack’s Beanstalks?

Last year, our Smoky Mountain garden saw very little rain. The whole region suffered from a drought. But this spring and now into June, the rains have been frequent and steady. We left on our trip to Michigan hoping the rain would continue so our friend didn’t have to come over every other day to water. She came three times over a two-week period, but only to pick vegetables.

 

A few days before we returned, she hauled home a bag of beans, several green peppers and onions and a batch of peas. The day we arrived home, my husband went out and picked five plastic bags of vegetables, including a large bag of broccoli from plants that had already put forth heads. My well-heeled and prolific gardener husband had never seen such a thing.bowl

Yesterday, our first full day home, I spent in the kitchen. I blanched and froze fourteen bags of beans and seven bags of broccoli. There’s still a bag of beans in the refrigerator waiting to be steamed for three bean salad (see my recipe below).

Last night, he began digging up the garlic. This is the first year that we really have a crop. We’re letting it dry out on the porch now and before it rains this afternoon, Bob is outside digging up the rest.

20170619_105222Here’s a warning to family and friends we’ll see this summer – expect plenty of bulbs for your summer and fall garlic needs. I’d love to braid them, but haven’t a clue how it’s done. Anyone out there who knows how to do it?

Here’s the process for blanching and freezing both the beans and the broccoli.

20170619_105117Beans

  1. Wash and break into two-inch pieces.
  2. Place in boiling water and blanch for three minutes.
  3. Remove and immediately and drop into ice water for three minutes.
  4. Remove from water and put into freezer containers.

Broccoli

  1. Rinse and remove stalks and leaves. Cut into serving size pieces.
  2. Place in one gallon of salt water (1 cup of salt) and let soak for thirty minutes. This will make sure all the bugs are gone before blanching.
  3. Rinse thoroughly.
  4. Place in boiling water and blanch for three to four minutes (depending on the size of the pieces).
  5. Remove and immediately and drop into ice water for three minutes.
  6. Remove from water and put into freezer containers.

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Pat’s variation on a marinated green bean salad

From Seed to Table by P.C. Zick with Robert Zick

4 cups green beans, steamed for about 7 minutes

1 can black olives, chopped

1 can garbanzo beans

1/4 lb. Swiss cheese, cut into small chunks

onion, chopped (use amount to your taste – I used two small onions from the garden)

fresh dill, parsley or other herbs of your choice

1 red pepper, chopped (you can use green or banana peppers too)

1 TBSP balsamic vinegar

2 TBSP olive oil

juice from one lemon

Mix together all the vegetables and herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the vegetables and herbs. Chill before serving. This salad is even better on the second and third days.

green bean salad

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Available on Amazon – Kindle and paperback versions.

FLORIDA GARDENING

 

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House painting in progress

 

We’ve been in Florida since November. The time has flown as we’ve been taking back a house that had been a rental property for six years. We tore out the kitchen and replaced it with new cupboards, counters, and appliances. We painted most rooms and had renovations done in the bathrooms. And then in January, we tackled the exterior of the house turning it from gray to barn red. We love the results.

But through it all, my gardener husband, Robert, studied and planned and then he built. He sowed seeds and planted. We now have a 20 x 4 raised bed garden, a small herb plot (that was already here but filled with weeds), and three fruit trees planted.

Peas

Peas climbing

 

He’s been pulling seedling trays outside and then back in at night under grow lights. These will go to our cabin in Murphy, which he plans on putting in next month. Finally, this week he built a cold frame, which is large enough to be a guest bedroom, so those plants can just stay outside permanently until they’re ready for the ground.

 

ColdFrame

The Cold Frame

We only have a few months left to enjoy the Florida garden, but that’s all right. It will be a delicious two months. We’re eating lettuce and spinach every day now. Herbs are lush and green and grace every meal. Pea pods are forming, and the broccoli and cabbage appear to be doing well. Bush beans will be ready for consumption soon. What we can’t eat, will be blanched and frozen.

 

 

herb-beans

Beans and Herbs

When I prepared to roast a chicken the other day, I chuckled and hummed, “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” and that’s precisely what I put in the pot with the chicken.

 

Robert has found the best of all possible worlds for a gardener–year round gardening. And I am the lucky recipient of all his hard labor. It’s a good life.

There’s Gold in that there Yard

Hello – I published this post four years ago when I realized that so many of my neighbors were raking leaves and then giving them to the waste collector. Where they went from there, I had no idea.

And now that I’m back in Florida for the winter, my waste management collector reminded me about putting out my yard waste on the same day as recyclables and garbage.

Wait a second – those large sycamore leaves piling up in our front yard, are gold for other areas of our yard and garden. We will rake them into places where they can do their job – decompose and help other things grow.

So without any more hesitation, here’s how we deal with the autumn gold.

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Yesterday I read in the newspaper that leaf pickup begins in our area this week. I’m shaking my head in amazement that leaves are raked, put into garbage bags (biodegradable, but still. . .), and left on the curb for the waste management crews to haul away to where we know not.

But there are ways to know where those leaves go when you leave them in your yard. With that said, here’s my annual (second, no less) installment on the golden opportunity provided by those leaves littering your yard right now. So here goes:

Raking leaves into piles and then burning them was a tradition from my childhood. When I became an adult, I realized this was one tradition that needed to go. We don’t need to send more smoke up into the air. In many townships, municipalities, and regions of the United States, the act of burning leaves is in violation of the law. In in many areas under drought conditions, burning leaves is an absolute no-no.

The Environmental Protection Agency warns against the burning of leaves because it causes air pollution, health problems, and fire hazards. Sending them to the landfill is no longer an alternative in most communities because of already overburdened landfills. Besides, putting them in plastic trash bags and hauling away organic matter to the landfill makes little or no sense.

It’s still a good idea to get most of the leaves up off the grass. However, leaving a few on the ground will provide some great fertilizer on the soil as they decompose.

We have more than an acre in our backyard where three old maples made themselves at home decades ago.

Right now the yard is beginning to look more gold than green as the leaves begin their descent from the limbs. I wait to do my magic until most of those limbs are bare. Yesterday I mowed  one last time with our tractor. I mowed right over the leaves, chopping them into smaller pieces. I mow carefully making sure to blow the leaves into long piles. Around the trees, I make sure the leaves blow around the base.

With the remaining leaves,we load them either the tractor trailer or wheelbarrows and haul the piles over to the garden We place the chopped up leaves on the almost barren garden. We’ve never had a problem with mold developing as I’ve heard some people say, but maybe it’s because we use chopped up leaves rather than putting them on whole.

The rest of the leaves we put next to our compost bin and use them throughout the winter as layers between our food scraps. If you prefer, you could even bag them and keep them in the shed to use as needed.

If you don’t have a garden or you don’t compost, look for gardeners in your neighborhood. Some of them may be eager to haul away your leaves after you’ve raked them. But if you have shrubs, they make a good protective layer around those as well. Remember, the leaves are organic matter, so it just makes good sense to use them accordingly.

What do you do with your raked leaves?

GARDENING IN OCTOBER

dsc03682The garden started in March by building raised beds on the side of a hill are still producing! Tomatoes, winter squash, and lima beans grace our table. Although the butternut and Queensland Blue are there more for decoration right now.

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Queensland Blue Pumpkin – Cooks up just like regular pumpkin

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March 2016

 

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May 2016

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July 2016

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October 2016

Next on the agenda:  The Florida garden. We’re in the process of heading to our home in Tallahassee for the winter. It will be the first time my husband has spent the winter away from a northern climate. He’s already plodding and planning and ordering seeds. In fact, yesterday, he began potting some seedlings. He hasn’t even built the garden yet! But he plans on using the same concept of raised beds and creating his own mixture of soil.

How did your garden grow this year? Love to hear from you!

 

 

 

SUMMER LINGERS WHILE FALL BECKONS

 

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Wild turkeys outside my office window in the winter.

The wild turkeys gather together as summer wanes forming their “gangs” to wander the mountains surrounding our cabin. Last night we heard a rustling outside our front door. When we went to look, a large turkey flapped its wings and flew into a tree in front of our porch, settling on a branch precariously. We watched as it moved around on the bouncing branch. Finally, it quieted and went to sleep for the night. The turkeys have come home to roost.

 

As always, the summer flew by and our days are numbered in the mountains, although we hope to see much of the color burst forth on the still-green trees. Yet, signs are everywhere as berries form on the holly tree and the sumac leaves begin to turn red.

dsc03660Our first full summer in North Carolina satisfied us. The garden grew and grew, providing the pantry and freezer with plenty of vegetables and sauces for the winter. We froze peas, beans, cole slaw, soup starter vegetable sauce, and zucchini bread. I pickled dills, chips, and relish. We put up pasta sauce and salsa. And if that wasn’t enough, my husband went out and bought local corn from a roadside pick-up truck because that’s one thing he doesn’t grow. He froze twenty bags of corn kernels. When his lima beans only produced enough for the table, he bought a bushel from a local farmer of “butter beans” and froze seventeen bags of those. If you’ve never tasted fresh lima or butter (same thing) beans, then you have no idea of the soft buttery vegetable’s virtue. Try it sometime.

 

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Tomatoes waiting to become pasta sauce or salsa.

Our kayaks provided transportation on local rivers and lakes and gave us moments of serenity and inspiration. We’ve only begun to explore all the places of watery beauty in our area. We are the beneficiaries of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s damming of the rivers. The lakes that are formed as a result–Chatuge, Nottley, and Hiwassee–are deep and long. Plenty of boat ramps make them easy to access and give us a multitude of landscapes to explore.

 

Drives brought us to waterfalls with plenty more to explore and enjoy.

The only complaint I have is the weather. It’s been an unusual summer here in the mountains. We came here to escape the heat and humidity of Florida’s summer, but it followed us here but without the rain. Temperatures near ninety, humidity as high without even the relief of afternoon showers. The storms I love to watch moving across the mountains have been few and always bring us running to the front porch to catch a rare glimpse of darkening clouds and rain hitting the metal roof. Who knows what is normal anymore as far as weather goes? Maybe the winter will be sunny and warm in Florida all winter.

How did your summer shape up?