Blog

gardening

Have a Healthier Thanksgiving Meal From the Garden

Gardening is one of the most rewarding activities that one can engage in. It’s an activity where your labors are rewarded with bountiful harvests that can be turned in tasty meals for your family. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and besides the opportunity to count our blessings, it is also an opportunity to utilize items that we grew in our gardens this growing season as part of the meal. While most of our Thanksgivings will look different this year because of COVID19 our celebrations can with careful planning include some of our favorite dishes made a bit healthier but just as delicious. If you opt to eat your current version of a Thanksgiving meal do not feel guilty. It is one day out of 365 and if you follow a generally healthy diet one day in the greater scheme of things will have limited impact. If however, your diet could benefit from some changes this article is for you.

Traditional Thanksgiving Meal

Holidays are often seen as an opportunity to indulge by preparing and eating large quantities of food. It is estimated that the average American consumes over 3000 calories on Thanksgiving. Each year it seems that there is a new high calorie dish to add to the table. Most graze all day eating their first meal at lunchtime followed by desert and then in many cases another dinner to sample all the things that may have missed on the first trip around the food table. The traditional Thanksgiving dinner has many high calorie dishes such as green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, fried turkey and southern style greens. These dishes using items from your gardens can be made healthier with just a few changes.

One of the most popular side dish served at Thanksgiving is green bean casserole. It is traditionally made with heavy cream, milk and cream of mushroom soup which adds loads sodium and extra calories. By opting instead to use skim milk, reduced sodium low fat cream of mushroom soup you can shave off many calories and drastically reduce the sodium content. This green bean casserole recipe is made using healthy substitutes. You may also opt to try other ways of preparing green such as this green bean almondine recipe or trying another side dish such as this carrot with pomegranate and chives recipe using home grown carrots and chives or a leafy green salad harvested fresh from your garden served with a light vinaigrette.

carrots with pomegranate and chives

Mash potatoes is another staple dish of the Thanksgiving table. When prepared in the traditional manner it adds 90-120 calories to your meal not including gravy. Using non-fat Greek yogurt , fat free sour cream, skim milk and reducing the butter can shave off some of the calories and fat. Two other options to consider are mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes or using sweet potatoes to make these maple mashed sweet potatoes, a lighter version of sweet potato casserole, or this yummy sweet potato gratin. Sweet potatoes are a great source of betacarotene and have more fiber than white potatoes. Whatever potato you choose to have making the changes suggested here will yield a healthier dish.

carving a baked turkey

The star of the Thanksgiving meal for many years has been the turkey and if you are fortunate enough to raise turkey for meat you can prepare your own turkey as part of your meal or you may purchase one from the store. One method of preparing turkey that is gaining in popularity is frying the turkey. This method adds one fourth more calories and and almost double the fat of the traditionally baked turkey. There are several ways to prepare turkey which are lower in fat and calories than frying such as baked, jerked, and smoked. Try one of these methods this year and you might discover a new favorite for your family to enjoy for years to come.

Another area where the garden can influence Thanksgiving dinner is with dessert. Homegrown pumpkins can be the start of a pumpkin pie, pumpkin mousse, or pumpkin tarts. If pumpkin is not your thing consider using some of the sweet potatoes you grew in a pie, or a parfait, or perhaps in making these harvest sweet potato tarts or even a low fat low sugar cheesecake. The dessert table can be difficult to navigate with its sugar laden tasty treats but there are healthy desserts that can be made from items from your garden that your family will be happy to have year after year.

Pumpkin Pie


This Thanksgiving whatever meal you choose to prepare for your family make it the best one you have ever had. One thing we all have learned this year is that time is not promised to anyone. Enjoy the fruits of your garden labor with the people that matter the most to you. Wishing you all a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving season.

gardening, How To, vegetables

Start A Garden in 7 Easy Steps

  1. Step Number One-Choose a Location

They say in real estate location is everything the same is true of gardening. Whether you have a large space or a small one choosing the ideal location for your garden is the first step to a successful garden. Prior to choosing a location however it is recommended that you conduct a study of your yard to assess the movement of light and choose a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun daily. Choosing a sunny location ensures that your plants will have the recommended amount of sunlight. While some vegetables thrive in the shade, most prefer a sunny location for optimal growth. Deciding on your location will determine how you will garden as well as what you can plant.

Summer Harvest Basket
  1. Step Number two- Determine Size of Planting Area

Although having a large lush garden is the dream of most gardeners, having a smaller space does not have to deter you from starting a garden. If space is limited, consider using containers, vertical gardening or square foot gardening. All three methods allows you to grow large quantities of food in a small space. Most gardeners without space constraints opt to grow in a combination of the following: grow boxes, containers, or directly in the ground. Each method has their own merit, review each method and choose what works best for your family, budget, time and health.

Swiss Chard
  1. Step Number Three-Decide what to grow

Choosing what to grow may be the most difficult step of starting a garden because there is just so many things that you can grow. One way to narrow down what to plant is to plant what you and your family love to eat. Do you love spinach, lettuce or broccoli then plant it! It is a known fact that if you grow vegetables that you like to eat you are more likely to stick with it and have a successful garden. Make a list of the foods you want to grow and create a layout of your garden. Consider how many grow boxes and containers or ground space you have and draw a layout of that to determine how much you can plant. Order your seeds ahead of your growing season to ensure that you will have what you want to grow. Do you value organic seeds? Will you be using starts? Will you be direct sowing seeds? Keep these questions in mind as you make your decision on what to grow. Once you know what you want to grow, it’s time to plan.

  1. Step Number Four- Create a garden plan,

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said that a goal without a plan is just a wish. Not planning your garden and hoping for success is in essence making a wish. Planning makes perfect and helps you to execute more efficiently. You can either use a garden planning program, an app or good old fashion pen and paper to draw up your plan. Keep in mind your space confines when planning to ensure that all crops have sufficient space. Overcrowding your garden beds can lead to decrease production, pest control issues and poor performance of your crops so a plan is imperative. Part of planning your garden is determining the layout of the garden. Keep in mind the size of plants, space, sun position and number of items being planted when planning the layout. A plan also helps you to develop a planting schedule.

  1. Step Number Five-Develop a Planting Schedule

Developing a planting schedule is a crucial step in planning your garden. A planting schedule helps you keep track of when and what you are planning to plant. It should include last frost date, days to harvest, when to plant, the size of the plant and when to start from seed. Most of this information is found on the seed package. Additional information can be found at your local extension office, Farmer’s Almanac, Mother Earth News or on many seed companies websites. Having this information in one place helps with the execution of the garden.

  1. Step Number Seven-Soil Management and Irrigation

Now that we are ready to plant let us talk about the soil that you will be planting in. Soil provides the nutrients for your plants so make sure to feed your soil so that it can feed your plants. Nutrient deficient soil results in smaller harvests, stunted growth as well as vitamin deficiency in your crops. Refer to my previous post for information on testing and amending your soil for planting. Another step to managing your crops is to decide how you will provide water to your plants.

There are two main ways that people provide water to their plants drip irrigation and hand watering. If possible set up your drip irrigation system at the same time your are setting up your containers or grow boxes. Retrofitting irrigation systems can be time consuming and frustrating. Hand watering is as old as time and is often the method used by beginning gardeners. It can be as effective as drip irrigation but uses more water and requires you to be present to water where as drip irrigation can be set on a timer. Hand watering is made most effective by watering at the end of the day, using a wand and watering at the base of the plant and not the leaves.

  1. Step Number Six-Pest and Disease Management
Snail on Curly Leaf Kale

The final step in starting a garden is developing a plan for pest and disease management. Every healthy garden will have pests as part of its ecosystem. However, if left unchecked pests will cause significant damage and could potentially destroy your crops. Both pest control and disease control can be done organically and non-organically. Although I follow an organic treatment plan for disease and pest management in my garden I encourage everyone to chose a method that works for you whether it is organic or non-organic. Treat disease and pests at the first sign of trouble, the sooner you take action the less likely you are to lose your crops and have progression of disease.

Starting a garden can be a daunting task but with careful planning and by following the steps outlined in this post you will have a more manageable task a greater chance of success. Happy gardening!

fall gardening, gardening

6 Gardening Tasks To Do in Fall For Spring Planting

If you are like me, at this point in the growing season you are tired and the idea of cleaning the garden and preparing it for the next season seems overwhelming. You are probably tempted to leave the garden as is until the next season. I mean after all you wont be growing anything until the next season right? What difference does it really make? It makes a huge difference in your ability to hit the ground running in the spring as well as in the overall success of your spring plantings. In todays blog post we will cover six tips to help you have a successful growing season in the spring with just a little preparation in the fall.

Spring 2020 Garden
  1. Clean Up Debris From Your summer Garden

It is essential to remove debris such as dead plants, weeds, and spoiled/rotted crops from the garden. Doing so helps to decrease the spread of disease, removes breeding ground for pests and prepares the garden for the upcoming season. It also helps you to create a clutter free space for amending the soil and designing the garden layout for the following season.

Pests are opportunists who capitalize on any weakness in your garden’s defense system. One of your biggest weapons against pests in the garden is to keep a clean and debris free garden because it limits places for pets to hide and it removes their food source. Pests such as cutworms, Japanese beetles, harlequin bugs, squash bugs, and tomato horn worms are just a few of the pest that will overwinter in your garden under debris.

Diseases that live and thrive on debris can also be hard to control and may spread quickly with poor garden sanitation. Yellow, black and brown rot, bacterial wilt and blight are just a few of the diseases that are linked to poor garden sanitation. Once debris is removed from the garden dispose of it in the appropriate manner. If there is disease present on the debris being removed from the garden do not not dispose of it in the compost. It is recommended that it is burned if allowed, buried deeply outside the garden or removed as far away from the garden as possible.

  1. Get Your Soil Tested

Not testing your soil is like taking a trip to the museum while wearing a blind fold. You may experience the museum but miss out on the full experience because you were blind folded. So is planting a garden without first knowing what is missing in your soil. You may not get the experience or yield you were hoping for. Even with this knowledge soil testing is an essential step that many gardeners forego. Testing allows you to know what is lacking in your soil so that you can amend properly.

There are several ways that you can test your soil. You can buy kits that are available online, use home tested methods or you can have your local extension office test your soil. Whatever method you chose consider doing it in November or December to beat the spring rush. You also want to have the test done prior to the ground freezing so that you can mix in any necessary amendments. After obtaining your soil test results, decide what amendments you will be using and apply it.

  1. Amend Your Soil

Soil amendment is the addition of additional materials (organic or inorganic) to the soil to improve it. Commonly used soil amendments include compost, manure, leaves, peat moss, fertilizer, lime, and sulfur. Some amendments are aimed at increasing water retention while others change the soils acidity, improve permeability and increase the soils fertility.

When amending the soil choose well composted organic materials. Addition of these items in the fall allows them to breakdown and be absorbed into the soil before the spring season. Make sure to follow instructions and apply the correct amounts of amendments. Adding too much or not enough of certain amendments can dramatically alter the PH of the soil, add too many salts and create an hostile environment for your plants. When adding amendments make sure to keep in mind the results of your soil test and follow the instructions on the package.

  1. Plan Spring Garden

After application of amendments draw up a plan for your garden. With careful planning even the most novice gardener can have a successful garden season. You can either use a garden planning program, an app or good old fashion pen and paper to draw up your plan.

Part of planning is looking back at each season and assessing the successes and failures of the season. Perform a S.W.O.T (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis of your garden and your gardening season. This allows you to see what were the strengths of your garden and capitalize on them for the next season. If something works duplicate it and do it again. Look for opportunities for improvement in the garden. What were areas that needed improvement or areas that could work with a little tweaking. Make the changes and reassess after the next season. Address any weaknesses that are identified to prevent it becoming a major problem. Identify any threats and develop methods for neutralizing them.

Once your SWOT analysis is completed address any deficits and develop a list of items you want to plant. Make sure to plant what your space allows, what your family loves and what your family will eat. Try something new but don’t feel pressured to plant everything that everyone is planting as this can be expensive.

  1. Order seeds (November or December)

It is recommended that seeds should be ordered in November to December to ensure availability of the items that you want to plant. With Covid-19, there has been a shortage of seeds and other gardening supplies so ordering when the catalogs are first released will ensure that you have access to what you want to plant. Companies with large varieties of heirloom and organic seeds include: Bakers Creek, Fruition Seeds, Botanical Interests , Seed Savers and High Mowing Seeds.

  1. Plan planting schedule

After you have obtained your seeds, organize them according to planting method. If you plan to start seeds inside look at the recommendations on the seed packet and plant accordingly. Most packets will tell you to start seeds a certain amount of weeks prior to the end of first frost. If you plan to direct sow, wait until danger of last frost has passed and plant according to the instructions on the package . Some people find that it helps to create a table/spreadsheet to keep track of their planting schedule. Planing software and apps are also helpful in keeping track of when to plant things.

Gardening doesn’t have to be a scary undertaking. With a little forethought, planning and implementation of the above tips you can achieve a smooth start to your spring gardening season. Happy gardening. Let’s learn and grow together!