Spring is Here…Time to Prepare Your Garden

The weather is warming up and there is still time to get your gardens prepared.  The average date of the last freeze in North Texas is the third week in March so now is the time to get started.   I’ve followed Neil Sperry for many years for his expert advice on gardening and so much more on his weekly radio show .  I ran across this great online guide titled “Everything you need to know to plant a successful vegetable garden here in North Texas”.

He includes are some very informative tips, check it out.

http://www.star-telegram.com/living/home-garden/neil-sperry/article194406789.html

Pick the sunniest site. Vegetables need sunlight.

Provide perfect drainage. No vegetable crop grows well in waterlogged soil.

Start small. Too many gardeners are overly ambitious at the outset, only to become discouraged by their poor results when they can’t maintain all the space they’ve opened up. Choose only crops your family really likes, then specialize in those. You can always expand the second time through, but if you fail you may never come back.

Prepare the soil carefully. Organic matter is your key to success. Add 5 or 6 inches of a blend of sphagnum peat moss, compost, well-rotted manure, finely ground bark mulch and other organic matter and rototill to a depth of 12 inches.

Know the proper planting time for each crop that you’re growing. This is a really big issue! Every crop has a two- or three-week window in which it must be planted. If planted too early it may not survive the cold weather. If planted too late it may not mature before heat sets in. This is one of the main places where people set themselves up to fail.

Here are some of the main crops and their timing. Late January: English peas, asparagus (perennial), onions. Mid-February: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Irish potatoes. Late February, early March: leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, carrots, turnips, beets. Late March, very early April: beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, cucumbers. Mid-April into early May: sweet potatoes, okra, southern peas.

Choose the best varieties of each crop that you grow. Texas A&M vegetable specialists have lists online. In many cases they will be hybrids selected for productivity, yield, flavor and pest resistance. Many of the old heirloom varieties, tomatoes for example, are notoriously poor producers in Texas conditions. Limit the numbers of those that you try.

Care for your plants regularly. Check them daily once they start growing

Harvest your produce at the peak of maturity. In many cases, that will be before it reaches full size. Cucumbers, okra and summer squash, for example, should be harvested when they’re little more than half their full size. The same goes for carrots, green beans and lettuce leaves, and you harvest broccoli before any of the flower buds actually start to open.

Extend the season by planting fall crops in the same ground. Truth be told, fall vegetable gardens are often more productive than their spring counterparts.

Involve a youngster in your gardening plans. Whether it’s a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or students at a school in your neighborhood, there’s something magical about helping little hands plant big seeds and guiding them in growing vegetables all the way to harvest. It’s something neither you nor they will ever forget.

 

Fresh From the Gardens at the Garden Show in McKinney

The Garden Show in McKinney was a great event!

There were a variety of vendors who were eager and ready to greet you and envelope you in the world of gardening.  I had an awesome time visiting all of the vendors and learning about their products or services. Even bought myself a bunch of fresh, organic herbs...they smelled amazing! The speakers were so informative and passionate about their topics that it motivated you just hearing them speak. I felt honored to be able to share my passion of canning!

Though there was a lot of hustle and bustle leading up to the event and I even lost my voice a bit, I enjoyed every minute of it! From chatting it up with canning enthusiasts to hopefully gaining new canning friends in my seminar "Preserving Your Harvest", my weekend in McKinney was well worth it.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the Garden Show in McKinney and stopped by my booth or joined me for one of my “Preserving Your Harvest” presentations!  It was great meeting so many people and visiting all of the vendors at the show.

 

Fruit Trees – A Family Tradition

Spring is absolutely one of my favorite times of year.  I look forward to planting my Spring vegetable garden and I thoroughly enjoy the beauty of seeing everything in full bloom this time of year.

When I was growing up it was very common to see fruit trees all over our neighborhood.   Some of my fondest memories were plum, pear, and peach trees growing in our yard and also in my great-grandmotherdear’s yard, just one block up the street from our home. I will always remember the muscadine grape vines growing in her backyard. Talk about the best grape jelly!

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Carrying on this family tradition, I planted three fruit trees a few years ago, (plum, peach and nectarine) and to my surprise, in the first year my plum tree produced a couple of plums--yes two plums--and my peach tree also produced two peaches, as you can see in the pics.  They were all delicious and gave me hope for this year. I am hoping for a huge yield. My sister Agnes also planted fruit trees and her little peach tree was loaded with peaches last summer.

Fast forward to this Spring.  All of my fruit trees are currently in full bloom.  The pink blooms are from the nectarine and peach trees and the white blooms are from the plum tree. 

plumsI can’t wait to infuse some of my homemade jams and jellies into some amazing spring and summer dishes.

Will keep you posted! 

The Amazement of Swiss Chard

Did you know that Swiss chard is known for being one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world? Now that’s definitely a good reason to think about adding Swiss chard to your diet.

Growing up, we had a lot of different types of leafy green vegetables in our family garden including mustard, collard and turnip greens, and a variety of different types of lettuces. I can remember eating salads that included everything that came from our garden (the soft butter lettuce, the tomatoes, the onions, the cucumbers, the radishes, a couple of different kinds of parsley, fresh dill, rosemary, garlic, different types of mints).

However, I have to admit that I don’t remember seeing Swiss chard growing in our garden. Since becoming a chef, my culinary palate has really expanded and Swiss chard is now something that I grow in my own garden. It’s super easy to grow.

I picked a nice bunch of Swiss chard from my Fall garden and mixed it with a small bunch of rainbow chard.

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The best Swiss chard I have ever seen growing was in my friend Cory Russell’s garden. Fresh From the Gardens featured Cory’s Fall Garden in one of our gardening videos. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out. It includes some really good gardening tips.

Tip: You can also substitute azomite for the micro nutrient mix mentioned in the video. Axomite includes natural trace minerals for your soil. It’s not something you’ll probably easily find but if you google where to purchase azomite in your location, you should get a list of locations.

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Here’s a link for Texas locations to purchase axomite and to Garden Variety Organics which is where I purchased a bag of azomite. I am experimenting with the gardening method mentioned in my video and having great success. My dad also uses something similar in his garden.

http://www.azomiteminerals.com/states/Texas.html

http://www.gardenvarietyorganics.com

If you head out to Garden Variety Organics in Waxahachie, TX, make sure you use your GPS!

You’re probably wondering how to prepare Swiss chard so I’ve included a few recipe links below. I’ve tried Swiss chard a lot of different ways, and one my favorite ways to eat Swiss chard is to caramelize onions, toss the Swiss chard with the onions and finish it with a dash of sherry vinegar or red wine is also good. It really does make a great side dish and pairs well with baked fish.

What to Look For:

You'll typically find three types of chard in your grocer or farmer’s market. Look for crisp, vibrant green leaves with no yellow or brown marks.

  • Rainbow chard has colorful red, pink, yellow, or white stalks
  • Fordhook Giant is identifiable by crinkly leaves and thick, white, tender stalks
  • Ruby Red (or Rhubarb) chard has thin, red stalks and slightly stronger flavors

How to Store:

Rinse Swiss chard mildly and store in moistened paper towels in a plastic bag (with a few pinholes to allow air to circulate) in the refrigerator for two or three days.

Swiss Chard Recipes:

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/swiss_chard/#ixzz3qkJIB5Y8n

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/caramelized-onions-swiss-chard

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/swiss-chard-with-garlic-oregano

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/swiss-chard-creme-fraiche

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/sauteed-swiss-chard

http://www.food.com/recipe/sauteed-swiss-chard-dont-be-afraid-232055

http://www.chowhound.com/recipes/swiss-chard-with-lentils-and-feta-cheese-30566

http://blog.williams-sonoma.com/todays-recipe-swiss-chard-onion-cheese-frittata/

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Health Benefits of Swiss Chard

Just one cup of Swiss chard provides over 700% of our daily needs for vitamin K and over 200% of daily vitamin A. Swiss chard contains high levels nitrates, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise and enhance athletic performance.

http://www.webmd.com/diet/swiss-chard-9-healthy-facts

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284103.php