basil | chilies | chive | cilantro | cucumbers | eggplant | garden | healthy eating | herbs | oregano | parsley | rosemary | seasonal | tomato | vegetables

The call of nature.

August 16, 2011

  “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” – William Wordsworth

My trusty gardening shoes; falling apart Chuck Taylor’s I’ve had since 8th grade, the laces have been replaced 4 times

The Victory Garden is back in full effect, and of course I’m going to show it all to you! Some people show photos of their children, I show photos of my vegetables, herbs, pets and cupcakes. As far as the garden goes, things are going really well so far. No tragedies, like last year’s zucchini “abortions.” *knocks on wood* I mentioned a few posts back that I bought a blueberry bush, so that’ my newest addition, although I’m well aware I’ll see no fruit this season. I’ve been using my herbs to cook with almost every night, which is so nice. Plus, the smell of the fresh basil, cilantro, dill & rosemary is so awesome, when I’m sitting on my patio on a hot day & the breeze blows, you get such a whiff of it. I can’t stress enough the convenience & enjoyment there is in my garden. It’s also like therapy, cheap therapy, relatively. I can go out there and lose myself in the dirt, all the weeding & trimming & picking and planting (and photographing). I recommend it highly. Same reason I recommend having a pet- taking care of something dependent on you is crucial to remembering the world is bigger than just you & your selfish bullshit. You can’t spend all day in bed when you have a pet to feed, or a garden to take care of, etc. It saves you from yourself. There’s a quote by an unknown author that goes something like “You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.” Unlike blogging, which just inflates your self-indulgence & self-importance to levels beyond all comprehension & has the tendency of blowing everything out of proportion, right into the stratosphere of insanity (if you let it). I know this firsthand. Everyone’s important on the internet, right? In that same vein, I’m no expert when it comes to gardening, or “micro-farming” or anything. I just enjoy it.

I’ve always enjoyed gardening, ever since my mom taught me how to dig a hole & “tuck the baby plant” into the soil, safe & sound. Then in a few weeks, it’d be twice the size! Ever since then I was hooked. Just me, the sunshine, & a bit of water, making beautiful things grow.

Some things never change.

The past few weeks for me have been so hard, my only consolation in all of it has been losing myself in this garden, and in my baking & cooking & jarring. It helps so much, really. My grandma loved to come see my garden, and talk about the vegetables, and she loved to eat a fresh tomato… just cut off the vine, with salt & pepper. So I know she’s happy when I’m out there doing my thing, but my heart is still heavy. Very, very heavy. Everything reminds me of her. She used to call me ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ referring to my ‘Victory Garden’ and all my from-scratch baking, cooking, canning, etc. She’d say how amazing I was, say how did I know how to do all of this. And I miss her saying all those things, and asking questions about each plant, how big will it get, etc. I miss that desperately. But life goes on, and she’d be the first one to tell me that.

And nowhere is the phrase “Life goes on” more clear than in nature. Buds on a plant die, the rest still stretch to meet the suns rays. The wind damages half a tomato vine, yet the rest of it tries desperately to cling to life. And when one entire plant turns brown, from disease or bugs or just nature itself… and it can’t hang on anymore, and it dies… the sun still comes up the next day to greet the rest of the plants. Life continues. The cycle keeps going. My garden is the closest I get to believing in a God. I don’t, but by being outside & watching things grow, I feel like I understand why people do. It doesn’t change my beliefs, as I’m a believer in nature not God. But I get it. I see why it’s such a popular notion. And sometimes I wish that the thought of a God comforted me or that I did really believe in it. But I don’t, and that’s okay. I’m happy with my belief in nature. The Bible has (very) few decent quotes in it that I can get behind, one of them being “You were made from soil, and you will become soil again.”

Everyone who has a few feet of space can have a container garden, and if you only have a flower box you can certainly grow some herbs, so I encourage you all to do so. It’s not too late; go buy some big pots, potting soil & some herbs & veggies at Home Depot, Lowe’s or a garden center. I had to stop myself at Home Depot around the middle of July, I saw three tomato varieties I wanted to buy; German Queen, a purple & a yellow … but I had no more big pots! And then I’d have to buy three new pots, a couple of bags of potting soil… and on and on we go. I get so excited about it, I can’t help it. Especially when I see some blooms starting! Whatever is left at this point might be a bit run-down, but I’m a firm believer that with a little TLC you can coax some beauty out of anything before the season is over. I check my garden everyday, mainly for bugs/mites/disease, but also to see the progress. Of course, I take photos of the progress to share with you (and also for my own edification). I love this kind of thing, and I have this silly idea some people out there reading this might too. It may even encourage people to grow their own food. Be self-sufficient & self-reliant as much as you can. But never make it a chore. It should always be enjoyable, never like work. The day I’m no longer excited about my garden is the day I stop doing it; same goes for baking or cooking or anything else. Why do something if it’s not gratifying and fun?

Most of my little container garden outside the porch (taken a while back in late June, before things really grew like crazy)

So many things have changed, it seems like forever ago that I first posted about my garden this season, although it’s only 2 months ago. People might scoff at container gardening, they might say there’s no way you can achieve results this way like you can by growing in the ground. I say they’re wrong. I have proof. Last year my harvests were tiny, really, but this year already things are growing twice as big with twice as many (in some cases three times as many) buds/fruits. I may have only gotten a few peppers/one eggplant/4 or 5 tomatoes from each plant last summer, but this year I already have 6 buds on my eggplant, and at least 20+ buds and about 8 or 9 growing fruits on each of my tomatoes, not to mention my insane peppers. Okay, well, let’s start with those peppers. I was so excited to get some Habanero’s & make some hot sauce, since those were the first of my peppers to “bloom” I had already planned what I was going to do with them. But then I saw how many there were & I realized I can only eat so much hot sauce! So many people are anti-hot anything, and won’t use hot peppers. You may not realize it, but there are so many health benefits in hot peppers (just be sure to wear gloves when cutting them)! Plus, hot peppers can increase metabolism.

  • All chili peppers contain phytochemicals substances called capsaicinoids that produce capsicum. The capsicum is the ingredient that gives heat intensity when habanero chili peppers are ingested or applied topically.
  • When habanero chile is consumed, it binds with the mouth and throat which are the pain receptors of the heat. Once it is transmitted to the brain, it responds to this burning sensation by increasing heart rate perspiration and releasing body’s natural endorphin.
  • Researches have shown that habanero chiles may have some beneficial properties as an anticoagulant. Small amounts of capsicum may help prevent heart attacks or strokes caused by blood clot.
  • In cases of cardiovascular diseases, some doctors recommend a bit of habanero chiles in dairy dishes because bad cholesterol could resist oxidation for a longer period of time and delay the development of a major risk.
  • Habanero chili peppers can provide symptomatic relief from rhinitis and possibly bronchitis by clearing mucus from stuffed noses or congested lungs.
  • Some studies in mice show that capsicum products in particular as could help people suffering from obesity to lose weight, even though this is not proved yet with human beings.
  • Capsicum peppers or Capsaicin in general are also a good substance for diabetes control by creating new cells that start producing insulin again.
  • In some countries, chilis are used in salves due to their slight anti-inflammatory and anesthetic effect. Some researches have proved in rats that capsicum products can block pain without causing temporary paralysis.
  • Habanero chiles consumption does not cause stomach aches or cancer even though people usually used to associate them. It has been proved there is not any relationship between them unless capsicum peppers have been adulterated with Sudan I, II, III, IV, para-Red and other illegal carcinogenic substances as aflatoxins and N-nitroso.
  • Several studies confirm that capsicum varieties could have an anti-ulcer protective effect on stomachs infected with H. pylori
  • Jalapeño and habanero chili peppers are a good source of vitamins as well as they are very high in potassium, magnesium and iron, which in turn, may be effective in protecting against cancer. They contain 357% more vitamin C than an orange: green habanero has twice as much as citrus fruit and red ones have three times more, plus an important amount of provitamin A. Moreover, they are a good source of most B vitamins in particular vitamin B6.
  • All kind of chili pepper powder and fresh habanero chiles may help control food contamination in countries where there is a minimal or even no refrigeration.

-(source)

As pretty as they are, I’m actually kind of scared to cut those guys, haha. I’ve been burned (literally) by peppers before. I am really excited to make some hot sauce & Habanero jelly, though. Anyway, the second to start blooming were my Red Bell peppers. Last year I only got one really nice one, between storms & a little animal that hangs around here (no names mentioned *ahem*THUMPER*ahem*), so I have high hopes this year. I’ve promised stuffed peppers to some very important people. So far, so good. Red peppers are so good for you…

Compared to green peppers, red peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene. The level of carotene, like lycopene, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers.[5] Also, one large red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C, which is almost three times the 70 mg of an average orange.

-(source Wikipedia)

 

My Cowhorn’s were the last to bloom. Slow little guy, huh? Ironically, though, while he was the last to bloom, he was the first to actually grow what resembled a “pepper” and the first ones that I actually cut & used (more about that later this week).

I cut those babies off before they were even matured and made this with them! Insane. My dad used some of them (& the basil) in his spaghetti sauce & said smoke came out of his ears. Bwahahahaha

That one… right there in the middle… he may look benign sitting on his little shelf, but he’ll burn your hair right off your head.

I felt the need to label it appropriately.

..

I think it’s amazing to see the growth in just a few days of each bud. Nature never fails to just floor me. It’s fucking beautiful. I know, I sound like such a hippie (which I AM NOT), but it’s true. If you can’t find beauty in a little seedling that grows to be a large, glossy green plant, bloom little flowers & then, from the ruins of those flowers, grow big shiny fruit or vegetables that we can eat, save the seeds from, and continue the cycle… then you’re just plain crazy. CRAZY, I say.

My romaine is getting quite large too. I love Romaine, it’s my favorite lettuce (I like Iceberg too, though). Romaine is full of antioxidants, which, like other leafy greens, are known to help prevent cancer. Also, it’s low in saturated fat and sodium, and very low in cholesterol, as well as being a good source of riboflavin, Vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, thiamine, folate, iron, potassium and manganese. On top of that, it’s mildly anti-inflammatory. Ya get all that?

All that in this little guy, who  actually grew like seven times this size before he was eaten.

And of course, true to form, basil is getting huge. I used some of it in that jar up there with the Cowhorn’s. Basil, like most things that grow in the ground, also has health benefits.

Recently, there has been much research into the health benefits conferred by the essential oils found in basil. Scientific studies in vitro have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and potential for use in treating cancer.[8][9][10][11] In addition, basil has been shown to decrease the occurrence of platelet aggregation and experimental thrombus in mice.[12] It is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes in India.

-(source Wikipedia)


….
Variegated oregano, from last summer, is doing amazing. Since this photo, it’s tripled in size (so has the basil).

 

And of course, my tomatoes! Two out of the three (Roma & Better Boy) I have are well on the way to giving me lots of beautiful fruits. The third, Beefsteak, is plodding along… quite slowly, I must say. It’s my first time with all three, so I have no experience with them. But the Better Boy seems like the winner when it comes to the amount of tomatoes! I’m thinking that I’ll use a few of the Beefsteak to make some fried green tomatoes. Tomatoes are good for you too:

Their consumption is believed to benefit the heart, among other organs. They contain the carotene lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. In some studies, lycopene, especially in cooked tomatoes, has been found to help prevent prostate cancer,[21] but other research contradicts this claim.[22] Lycopene has also been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays.[23] Natural genetic variation in tomatoes and their wild relatives has given a genetic plethora of genes that produce lycopene, carotene, anthocyanin, and other antioxidants. Tomato varieties are available with double the normal vitamin C (Doublerich), 40 times normal vitamin A (97L97), high levels of anthocyanin (resulting in blue tomatoes), and two to four times the normal amount of lycopene (numerous available cultivars with the high crimson gene).

-(source Wikipedia)

And of course, here are pics of the tomatoes that are budding so far.

Better Boy is budding, and… we have tons of tomatoes!! That’s oregano at the bottom… here are 2 more views of more fruits growing:

So cute.

Beefsteak is a little slow going, I’ve got buds but tiny ones. Sadly when I transplanted it, I knocked off a branch that had buds on it so the little guy had to start over. But he’ll catch up!

I apologize for the varying photo quality… but mother nature doesn’t care about anyone’s photography needs, so when the sun ain’t out- it ain’t out

 

My Black Beauty eggplant has just started to get some buds going too. This excites me, last year my eggplant only gave me two, one of which was knocked off the vine prematurely, the other of which was delicious in eggplant parmigiana. Like I said above, nature is beautiful, but can also be cruel. And so can I, when I want to smother you in bread crumbs, fry your ass up and serve you with homemade tomato sauce. But I’m already ahead of the game this time around, ’cause I’ve got tons of buds.

Eggplant’s fiber content is high, which helps our digestive process and also acts against coronary heart disease. Eggplants not only feature a number of vitamins, proteins and minerals but also contain important phytonutrients. These phytonutrients are known to act as antioxidant. In phytonutrients found in eggplants, there are phenolic compounds, such as caffeic and chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids, like nasunin. Potassium in eggplants brings a balance in salt intake and maintains a nice level of hydration. It also plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Eggplants also contain folate, magnesium and niacin as well as copper, manganese and thiamine (vitamin B1).

-(source)


As far as my cucumber (Burpless Hybrid), he was the second the latest bloomer I have, no pun intended. But finally, there were signs of little teeny cukes! Cucumbers also can be beneficial to your diet/health:

  • Very low in calories; provides just 15 calories per 100 g. Contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers.
  • It is a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte; helps reduce blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium.
  • It contains unique anti-oxidants in good ratios such as ß-carotene and a-carotene, vitamin-C, vitamin-A, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
  • Cucumbers have mild diuretic property probably due to their high water content, which helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.
  • Cucumbers surprisingly have high amount of vitamin K, provides about 17 mcg of this vitamin per 100 g. Vitamin-K has been found to have potential role in bone strength by promoting osteotrophic (bone mass building) activity. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.

-(source)

 

I can’t wait to pickle these guys!

Popular for it mild taste, Burpless Hybrid matures early for fresh cukes, fast. The fruit is straight, cylindrical, and excellent sliced, though it’s also good for pickling. Burpless varieties contain less curcurbitacin, a naturally occuring chemical that causes some cuke eaters to burp.

source

So that’s what’s happening around here. Of course, by the time this posts, these will be even bigger & there will be even more of them… considering at this point is when they grow like weeds (pun intended, ha) and just take off.

And the absolute best part of growing my own food? NO PESTICIDES. Pesticides have known health effects on humans & animals, you can read a bit about some of the registered ones here at the EPA website. I never use any kind of bug spray at all, not even the “super safe organic non-toxic” kinds. All I use is a mixture of Murphy’s Oil Soap and water or dish soap and water. Of course, I usually never spray the vegetable or fruit itself, just the plant, and I probably wouldn’t unless there are significant bugs on the fruit itself (which I’ve never had, honestly). And when it comes to herbs, make sure you wash them (and dry them) thoroughly before using. This Peppermint Castile soap spray sounds like an excellent idea too. The concept is that the soap dehydrates the insects & drowns it, it doesn’t poison. This website has a great resource for alternative methods to the soap/water bug spray.

My dill & cilantro went to seed and in turn are now brown & no longer growing. My rosemary, Italian oregano & parsley are all doing great, though. My chives are the craziest! I’ve cut them down 2 times so far, and they’re still massive. My parsley is getting there in size too, and considering it was a weakling when I transplanted it that’s saying something. I love having these fresh herbs right outside my door. But really, I’m just excited to start canning some more pickles with my own cucumbers & some tomato sauce/tomato jam with my tomatoes.

I love my garden. I’m only sorry that this year my grandma didn’t get a chance to taste my tomatoes, or eggplant, or peppers. I know life goes on… it’s just hard right now. Please excuse my temporary insanity. I know things will get easier with time.

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  1. I love watching the progression of your garden…it floods me with memories of my own Grandparents…watching Grandpa tend his big Italian garden was such a warm memory….remembering his grape vines ..for the wine…figs off the fig trees….the scent of all the veggies and herbs…ahhh. I do believe there is a reason your garden is blooming the best this season……Nana sprinkling her angel dust…I am sure of it….XXX

  2. Thanks Mara. That was a lovely memory to share! By the way, after being dormant since arriving, the rose bush bloomed again today, exactly a month to the day she passed. I think that’s a sign too.

    Thank you, Elizabeth. But… are you sure I’m not just a little insane? 😉

  3. I’m so proud of you…..you are perfect….your words touch everyone that reads them…XXX

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