Backyard garden

Gardening with Chef Sandra: Starting A Garden – Selecting Your Plants

Many may feel like starting a garden in these challenging times may be difficult. We are here to tell you that it is not!  There are many resources that you can access to get your own garden started.  Whether in containers, above ground, in the ground, or planted in whatever you can find around the house, starting a garden does not have to be a tough task.
Let’s begin with ordering a few plants to start with.  You can certainly start with seeds. However, it is important to identify your zone so you can ensure that you are starting the right things at the right time of the season.  For myself, I just ordered some things curbside from Calloways Nursery.

Where to Order Plants

I receive a local Garden Center newsletter  “Calloway’s Nursery” and recently discovered they offer curbside service. I was ecstatic! Gardening is more than just a hobby to me. It is a way of life, one that I have grown up learning and knowing.  One of the locations I used to frequent in my area closed, so I was glad to see this being offered, especially now. What a great discovery!  I wanted to add a few more things to my garden and because of the timing to plant here, I wanted to find a few starter plants.  All of the plants I purchased are in 4 inch pots which are perfect for planting.  You can also order planting soil, fertilizers, pots, etc from them so getting everything you need for your garden is not a problem.  If you are not near a Calloways Nursery, check into your local nurseries and home improvement stores as they may offer the same convenient services.

Selecting Your Plants

First thing in the cart was a Basic Pepper Trio (includes 2 bell pepper plants and 1 hot pepper plant).  I also purchased their Herb de Provence Kit that includes a 5 pack of herbs that included lavender, marjoram, thyme, oregano and rosemary.  ALL of these items make an appearance in my cooking and they are so easy to grow! And as if I don’t already have enough tomatoes growing, I also purchased the Tomato Starter Trio which includes a large tomato plant, a plum variety, and a cherry tomato.  I could not resist.  There is nothing like a fresh home grown tomato.  We ate tons of them growing up in our family garden.
Once I get my plants, I will show you how to plant bell peppers in a container. In preparation for this, you need to get the right sized pot to plant your bell pepper plants. So what size pot should you get?

Preparing to Plant Bell Peppers

Bell peppers need a well-draining pot that is at least 10 to 12 inches deep and 10 to 12 inches across. The material of the pot is not as important as its size. You want something that is large enough to accommodate the maturing pepper plant.  It should also be deep enough to encourage proper root development.  You can find containers around the house or feel free to add it to your cart when purchasing your plants.
Check out my recent video about seeds and get a peek at my backyard garden!

Where to Find Seeds

To find out where to get seeds, check out the links in a previous post about Thai Basil.

National Strawberry Month

Every year, I look forward to strawberry season so I can stock my pantry and condiment supply with a variety of strawberry jams. Since its National Strawberry month, we wanted to share with you some of the things we like to do with our strawberries and also share a couple of quick tips.

Strawberry season is short here in Texas so I decided to head back out to my favorite spot to pick strawberries, which is at Good Earth Organic Farm.  The strawberries at Good Earth Organic Farm are plump, juicy, and sweet. This was my third year returning to pick some beautiful sun-ripened berries and I was not disappointed. After spending an afternoon picking those yummy red jewels, I am ready to get into the kitchen to make all types of things from jams and vinaigrette to refreshing smoothies.
Maybe you too have amassed a bunch of strawberries from one of those U-pick or roadside stands or picked up a supply from one of your local farmer’s markets and now have more strawberries than you know what to do with.  Here’s a few tips on making your strawberries last so you can enjoy them for more than a few days!

 

 

Quick Tips

Strawberries are extremely delicate so you should put them up as quickly as possible and if if you are making jams and preserving them, for the freshest quality, you should try to can them within a couple of days of picking or purchasing them.
If you don’t can, freezing strawberries is the simplest way to preserve them quickly.  You can then enjoy them in smoothies, desserts or in baking. Please note, frozen strawberries should be used within 6 months.
Don’t soak your strawberries in water.  They will loose their flavor and you will wash away some good nutrients.
It is optional to sprinkle a little sugar before freezing. I don’t add any sugar to my berries.

How to Freeze Strawberries

Remove the tops of the strawberries after rinsing.
Freeze them whole.
Whole strawberries are great to have on hand for your favorite smoothie recipe or to add to your favorite strawberry dessert.
Rinse them gently, spread them evenly on a baking sheet so they can freeze without touching each other and place the baking tray in your freezer until they are frozen solid.
Place them in an airtight container or you can also use zip lock freezer bags (not storage bags).  Be sure to put a date on your container.
 
Hope you enjoy strawberry season as much as I do!!

Herb Pesto

I’ve said before that even if you don’t have a green thumb, growing herbs is easy and fun to do. A sunny kitchen windowsill is a great place to grow herbs if you don’t have garden space. I like to grow basil and thyme in little terra cotta pots in my kitchen since I use these two herbs most and its convenient to have them near when I’m cooking. This year our garden has an abundance of herbs and since people always ask me how to preserve herbs I’ll share some quick and easy ideas and recipes.

imageimageMaking pesto is the perfect way to use up those herbs. I love any kind of pesto and having a variety of fresh herbs on hand lets me get creative. You’re probably familiar with basil pesto but did you know that parsley, mint, oregano, cilantro, and oregano can be used to make pesto? Not crazy about pine nuts? Use almonds, walnuts or pecans instead. Here are a couple of simple recipes for adaptable pestos that can be used on grilled fish, chicken, roasted vegetables and steaks. I also like to flavor mashed potatoes and soups with pesto and I’ve been known to dip my french fries in basil pesto too.

Herb Pesto

Ingredients

  • Fresh Mint Pesto
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup almonds toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh Herb Pesto
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed torn basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp oregano leaves
  • 1 tbsp rosemary leaves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Process: Add everything to your processor and whirl it around until it has a thick paste-like consistency. I like mine on the chunky side but you may like it smoother. If it's too thick , add a bit of water.

 

Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays and added to other recipes long after herb growing season is over. Just fill ice cube trays, freeze, then pop into a plastic baggy to store in the freezer.