Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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The last green stuff still growing

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Although we’ve had several hard frosts, my front flower bed is overrun with parsley, and it's putting up a valiant fight to survive.

I knew it was on borrowed time, so I picked it, tried to use it, hung it up to dry and gave it away every chance I got. 


My husband also got the bad news back that his cholesterol was too high, so I’ve been trying to cook more fish, especially the ones that are packed with Omega-3 fatty acid. When I found a pasta recipe that not only combined canned sardines (very high in Omega-3), but also incorporated lots of garlic and parsley, I had to try it. Well, technically, I had to modify it because I can’t seem to follow a recipe, but mine was similar to the original.






The result was delish, but I should preface that by saying that I love all things fishy. My husband is not so fond of sardines, but after he got over the first bite, which was quite a strong-flavored morsel, it grew on him. I will cook it again, but next time I’ll add kalamata olives because I like them and think they’ll help curb the strong sardine flavor.



In the meantime, here’s the recipe: (Keep in mind that I didn’t actually measure anything, so everything’s just a guesstimate)

2 cans sardines (I found some that were packed in tomatoes and basil, which I thought was pretty perfect to go with pasta)
1 pkg whole-wheat pasta
1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 to ½ C chopped red onion
3 minced garlic cloves
½ C chopped dried or sundried tomatoes
1/3 – ½ C pine nuts
1 -2 tbsp dried basil
½ C white wine
2 C chopped parsley
1 C chicken broth
zest and juice of half a lemon
1 ½ tsp capers
salt, black pepper
Parmesan cheese

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta – this is a quick recipe. While water is heating, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil in a large sauté pan. When slightly caramelized, add the pine nuts and sardines (you can add them whole – they’ll break up and crumble as the sauce cooks), basil and tomatoes, then wine. Let the liquid reduce by half. Toss in the parsley, add the chicken broth.
Hopefully, your water boiled and you’ve been cooking your pasta because now it’s time to drain the pasta, stir it into the sauce, along with the lemon zest, juice and capers. Several good rounds of fresh ground pepper are necessary, as is a liberal sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

I anticipate that if we do get those single-digit lows, my parsley will die. My husband will breathe a sigh of relief. He won't have to eat this pasta again until March when the parsley starts growing again. 


Grow joy

By Carol Clark
Monday, November 22, 2010

I sometimes get depressed in the winter. I don't know if it's the lack of sunlight or if it is mental.

Olan says I am part bear. When it starts to get cold I want to eat - A LOT - and I want to go to bed and sleep - A LOT. I really miss the garden and the warm days of summer.

My daughter and her roommates have the perfect way to keep their minds on the things that make them happy, "The Wall of Joy." They started by decorating index cards with things that make them happy and taped them to a wall. Their wall is the first thing they see when they walk in the door after a hard day at school and work. It is added to often and eventually they want to cover the whole wall with the things that bring them joy. Some additions are small like, "new pencils" and "macaroni and cheese," others are big, like, "God's grace."

Whenever a friend comes over they get their name on the wall and they can make their own joyful addition. A recent friend added, "frolicking." Growing your own wall can lift your dark winter spirits or it can be a great way to teach your younger children about being thankful for even the smallest of blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Harrah for the fun!

Is the turkey done?

Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!"

- Lydia Maria Child


Challenge for next year: Find more sunshine

By Penny Stine
Thursday, November 18, 2010

While our gardens are fresh in our memory, I’ve been asking fellow bloggers to write about what worked and what they’ll do differently next year. In my opinion, that’s one of the greatest reasons to garden – knowing that you can try again next year, armed with the knowledge gained from something that was less-than-successful this year.
That being said, the biggest challenge in my garden and my yard is the lack of sunshine. I love the big trees in my 35-year old neighborhood, but the shade wreaks havoc on tomato plants, watermelon and most other sun-loving veggies.
We rototilled a new garden area last spring in hopes of finding a decent amount of sunshine.



We were partially successful, but it’s so hard to know exactly where the sun will hit as it moves not just east to west, but north to south as it gets closer to June and then back again when the days begin to grow shorter.
I thought I picked a good spot, but by September, when I really wanted the late afternoon sun, the neighbor's trees to the northwest and my own house to the east gave me a garden full of shade.

I could burn down my house or be a bad neighbor and chop down the trees in the neighbor's yard in the middle of the night, but I don't think that's a reasonable solution. 

So, what’s a girl gonna do?
Look, there's morning September sunshine in front of my shady new garden:

I've got a great idea. Let’s kill some grass so we can rototill up more front yard next spring!




My husband was grumpy ‘til he realized that the less grass we had, the less time he would have to devote to mowing. Of course, it means more weeding for me, but I’m hoping that using an herbicide on the grass in early October will help it to truly die over the winter so I won’t have to deal with grass growing all over my garden like I did this year. By the end of October, the grass didn't look so good, which was the whole point. 

Half of the new area is way too shady for most veggies, so once again, I’m on the prowl for something that will do well in the shade. I welcome suggestions. Especially since I’ve got an entire new garden area to plan over the winter. At least I'll have something pleasant to dream about when I can't feel my fingers and toes this winter.

Oh, one more lesson learned: make the planting beds in the newest garden a little bigger. I had way too many jungle-like growths in the sunny portions of the garden. 


Going to seed

By Carol Clark
Monday, November 15, 2010

Autumn brings a wealth of free seeds just waiting to be saved by you, which can save you money and insure that you will be able to plant more of your favorites next spring.

Take the kids and go on a hunt to gather seeds, bring along some envelopes and a marker so you can remember which seed is which. If you think you will remember you may be in for a surprise.

Seeds are everywhere right now. Snip off whole pods and put them in envelopes or rub your hand over the pod with the envelope beneath. Check out your own yard and don't be shy - ask your neighbors if you can collect some of their seeds.

For a fun activity with children: Take old tube socks and put them over your shoes. Go for a walk in a field of wildflowers gone to seed. Take the socks off and bury them where you want your own wildflowers. This is how animals help move seeds with their fur.

You can easily collect a wide variety in a short amount of time. Be aware - Some seeds may not grow the same exact plant - especially with hybrids.


"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

Robert Brautt


Miracle food and human sacrifice: There’s no end to the gardening drama

By Penny Stine
Friday, November 12, 2010

When I was planning my garden and ordering seeds last winter, I admit that I was easily swayed by the price of some of the seeds, particularly for the flowers, since I garden because I love to eat. I’ll shell out the dough for a more expensive tomato seed if it promises flavor that’s out of this world, but I tended to stick with cheap flower seeds.
So when I saw an online sale of 75 cents for a packet of Amaranthus Candelabra seeds, I bought them simply because they were cheap. I had no idea if they’d grow well here or even what the plant looked like.
It turns out that they grow very well here. And they look cool. The amaranth is the giant droopy burgundy plant in front of the corn:

Before pulling the plant out this fall, I decided to gather some seeds for planting next year and Googled to find out the best time and method for gathering seeds. What I learned was shocking. Well, in a historical, horticultural kind of way.
Amaranth is native to South America and has been grown there for thousands of years. The seeds are supposed to be one of the most nutritious super foods out there, which is interesting. The Spaniards tried to wipe out the plant after conquering the Aztec empire, which adds intrigue.  

See, the Aztecs had that pesky little problem of human sacrifice and they mixed the blood of their sacrifices with amaranth seeds, which is rather nasty and horrible. Hence, the shocking part of its history.

Although cultivation was outlawed and stopped in many places due to its association with human sacrifice, the plant survived in a few remote areas. Nutritionists began doing more research about the plant in the 1970s and discovered its superhero qualities, which include an amazing amount of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids.

I cut the flowers from my plants and put them on top of the lid on the back of our Avalanche while trying to figure out the best way to shake out the seeds, which are the tiny little black specks that look like fleas on the truck lid:

Some websites say that the leaves are edible, too, but it’s really the seeds, which, as you can see, are practically on the microscopic scale, that are the miracle food. I read somewhere that it could be one of the more important crops for subsistence farmers in Africa.

Hmmm…. Really?

They couldn’t find anything bigger for subsistence farmers to grow and depend on than itty-bitty seeds that wouldn’t fill a hummingbird?

I managed to almost fill a small plate with the seeds from all those flowers.

I grew an ornamental variety and not the crop variety, but I’ve seen the pictures. The “crop” seeds aren’t much bigger. Growing microscopic food makes no sense to me, but I’m just a gardening blogger and not a plant research person with the potential to save the world from starvation.

I am saving seeds to plant more next year and may even try to grow another type of amaranth because it looked cool growing in the garden. And I may put a tablespoon of seeds in the next batch of bread I bake just to see if it makes me want to leap tall buildings in a single bound or save little children from burning buildings, but I'm not holding my breath that the seeds would keep me from starvation this winter if the grocery stores went out of business.  

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