Organic Gardening

The Herb FARMacy in Salisbury, MA - Under the Monkey Bars

I like the idea of gardening, just not the digging your hands in dirt with worms part. Frankly, gardening stresses me out. Am I overwatering? Why is the plant turning brown? Did I plant it deep enough? Too close? Is this a good bug? Bad bug?

But I love food! And I love a gorgeous garden. Maybe what stresses me out the most is not knowing enough about gardening, yet not having time to figure it out.

A few weeks ago, my Mom’s Club held a green gardening workshop led by Rita Wollmering from the Herb FARMacy. After listening to Rita’s talk, even I was inspired to start gardening and create some culinary pots. Rita recommends planting after Memorial Day. Perfect timing: let’s get started!

Here are some ways to be more environmentally-friendly or green with your gardening, as well as tips to help your garden grow organically.

Start with good soil. Coast of Maine soil products are the best and they’re organic. Don’t reuse old potting soil because the nutrients are gone. There could even be diseases in there (ewww)! Sterilize your pots with nine parts water to one part apple cider vinegar; then rinse and dry in the sun. For planting in the ground, test your garden soil every three years. Rita recommends the University of Massachusetts soil testing lab. It’s just like getting your blood work at your yearly check up! Your garden will flourish.

Let the sun shine. You need lots of sun for a successful garden. Afternoon sun is best. Think Mediterranean: sun, air, wind. Don’t put plants near a downspout or crowd them against your house. Guilty and guilty. I need to re-think the design of my postage stamp yard.

Get some pots. If you use ceramic pots, be sure to soak your pots first before planting or the pot will dry out your soil. Use natural materials like shells and rocks at the bottom of your pot to allow for drainage. Don’t use packing peanuts or corks like I have in the past.

Water once. Water thoroughly until water comes out the bottom of the pot. If your pots don’t have drainage holes, drill a hole at the bottom. The best time to water is in the morning. At night, bacteria and fungus will grow. Try not to wet the leaves — especially on tomato plants.

Check out my herbs! Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Thyme, Terragon, Cilantro, and Parsley.

Check out my herbs! Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Thyme, Terragon, Cilantro, and Parsley.

Planting herbs. Culinary herb gardening is an easy way to get started. Plant perennial herbs in one pot and annual herbs in another. Rosemary, bay leaves, and lemongrass are perennial herbs but they won’t make it through a New England winter. Bring these herbs indoors and you’ll have them for your culinary garden next year. Parsley has a biannual lifecycle — but consider it an annual because it doesn’t have leaves the second year. Plant basil in its own wide pot because basil tends to grow out.

Harvesting herbs. From June through August, harvest your herbs. In September, cut only what you need. Clipping basil will cause it to flush out and grow better. Cut the main stem at the third leaf set with garden or kitchen shears. Don’t pick the tops! With thyme, Rita recommends cutting two thirds and leaving one third of the plant. This prevents browning at the base of the plant. You can cut chives almost all the way down.

Freezing herbs. Blending spices with butter, olive oil, or stock is the best method to freeze and use your herbs throughout the winter. Place chopped herbs in a BPA free ice cube tray, then top up the wells with a bit of olive oil. If you have lots of herbs, place the whole leaves in a food processor, add your butter, olive oil, or stock and process until finely chopped. Transfer this mixture to containers or an ice cube tray and freeze.

Strain it. Bottle it. Save it. You can use the herbs you harvest to make a delicious flavored vinegar. Densely pack herbs in a mason jar. Add cider vinegar and let it sit for 4-6 weeks. Strain with a cheesecloth into a clean jar or bottle. You don’t have to refrigerate the vinegar because it has a high acidity that acts as a preservative. A flavored vinegar would make a thoughtful hostess gift in bottles like these (you know I’m already thinking about holiday gifts).

Growing tomatoes. I was surprised to hear that tomato plants need three feet between each plant. Rita recommends planting tomatoes in five gallon pots. Use the space below to plant lettuce, arugula, or cilantro. Then cover exposed soil with salt marsh hay or mulch to prevent bacteria from growing. Think about planting different types of tomato plants so that they grow throughout the summer. Try cherry, a mid-season tomato, and beefsteak. Keep in mind that pink tomatoes are sweeter than red, while yellow and orange tomatoes are less acidic.

Working with weeds. Avoid spraying pesticides on your grass or patio because the chemicals can seep into your garden. Did you know that you can spray weeds with vinegar? Make sure the vinegar is at least 5% acidity and be careful not to spray your plants or grass.

Keeping the bugs away. Repel mosquitos with lemongrass, lemon thyme, citronella scented geranium, and santolinas. Plant combinations for a stronger repellant. Also consider plants like phlox and zinnias to attract dragonflies, which eat mosquito larvae.

Gardening with your monkeys. Channel your kids’ natural curiosity by teaching them to garden. Kids love being outside and they love doing things their parents do. Even if you’re not an avid gardener, you can learn together. Give your monkeys small tasks and responsibilities in the garden. Teach them garden etiquette, such as where to walk and how to water. It’s a fun project that will keep them busy this summer!

Books and supplies. Head over to your local bookstore or library for books on organic gardening. If you have a black thumb, EarthBox garden kits are a new foolproof system for container gardening. It’s a maintenance free high-tech growing method with a built-in reservoir to ensure that each plant gets the water it needs.

Ask me in September if I’m a gardener. Hopefully my freezer will be packed with herbs and my family will be sick of caprese salad. Either way, my nails won’t be dirty because I’m going to pick up some gardening gloves for me and my monkeys asap. Let’s get gardening!

Note: Did you know I’m the Parent’s Corner Columnist for Happy in Newburyport’s online magazine? This post originally appeared as my June column. Hope you picked up a few tips for your garden 🙂

Homemade Hummus

 Hummus

My monkeys have been gobbling up hummus since they were babies. Hummus is made of chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, and is super good for you. It’s so easy to make hummus and it’s a great way to save money. I make a batch every other week, sometimes once a week. That’s how easy it is!

When you make something yourself, you know exactly what you’re eating. Most store-bought hummus is made with canola oil (read why I won’t eat it here). My humus recipe calls for extra virgin olive oil, which is way healthier. Whole food, unprocessed, plant-based ingredients make hummus a great addition to every diet. Hummus is naturally gluten free and vegan. It’s so good for you that you could eat it every day!

Why is hummus good for you? Wait until you see this list! It’s anti-inflammatory, lowers cholesterol, high in fiber, full of protein, loaded with vitamins and minerals, improves digestion, and aids heart health. Plus chickpeas may help reduce your risk of cancer. If nothing else, I’ll eat lots of hummus for that.

Sweet Pea had an allergic reaction to a store-bought hummus (that we had been eating for years) shortly after she developed her peanut allergy. That’s when I started making homemade hummus. I don’t use tahini because it’s made of ground sesame seeds, which are closely linked to peanuts and could have caused the reaction. I’d rather keep Sweet Pea safe than risk ending up in the ER so we avoid sesame.  If you have food allergies in your house, you know that homemade is always best. 

I’ve tried several hummus recipes and this one is our favorite. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, and my biggest tip is this: do not waste time removing the skin on the chickpeas. Sweet Pea and I did that once — never again! It really doesn’t affect the texture enough to waste 20 minutes de-skinning chickpeas.

Bean and Sweet Pea don’t like hummus with fresh garlic. We use organic garlic powder instead of fresh cloves to make hummus. Same flavor, less bite. I buy these chickpeas. The cans are BPA free and the chickpeas are organic: win-win. If you haven’t ordered my favorite lemon squeezer, now is the time! I squeeze a whole lemon right into the blender, easy peasy.  

This recipe is for a basic, homemade hummus.  You can get creative once you try it out.  We love to add one whole roasted red pepper sometimes to mix it up, like in the hummus plate below (my lunch today). It may not look filling, but raw veggies smothered in hummus really fills you up! 

HummusPlate

Homemade Hummus
Serves 10
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Total Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 cans chickpeas, drained
  2. 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  3. 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  4. 2/3 cup filtered water
  5. 1 teaspoon sea salt
  6. 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
  2. Blend or puree until very smooth, adding extra water or olive oil one tablespoon at a time if the mixture is too sticky.
  3. When serving crack some himalayan pink salt on top, or add a dash of cayenne for a kick.
Adapted from Pinch of Yum
Adapted from Pinch of Yum
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

Note: You can make homemade hummus in a food processor or a high speed blender. The hummus will be smoother in a high speed blender, but still taste fantastic in a good ol’ food processor, which I was making hummus with until Don and the monkeys gave me a Vitamix for Christmas. BEST GIFT EVER. Just sayin.

And if you’re not already convinced that you should be eating more hummus…check this out, ladies!  Chickpeas contain magnesium, manganese, and vitamin B6 which help to reduce PMS symptoms. Thanks to  Dr Axe for that health tip. You learn something new every day, right?

Cómelo todo, amigos!

Pantry Snacks

PantrySnacks2

When you transition to a whole foods diet, snacks are the hardest habit to change, especially for kids.  My monkeys snack way less than they used to, but we still need our snacks!  Fruits and veggies are first on our list for snacks, but sometimes it’s not practical or convenient. 

It takes a lot of time, planning, and creativity to stay on top of healthy eating for the whole family. Baked goods are easy to grab and go.  Realistically though, there isn’t always time to bake something homemade — like our favorite Simple Coconut Chocolate Bars recipe.   

Snacks in packages are typically filled with preservatives and chemicals that won’t help your body stay healthy and strong.  But they are convenient!  And when you’re hungry, it’s generally what you grab.

I made a list of snacks that we keep in our pantry.  Yes, these snacks are processed; however, they are a better choice because they are organic and contain fewer ingredients.  These snacks are non-GMO, dairy free, gluten free, vegan, soy free, and peanut free.  We don’t eat this stuff every day, but we do keep it on hand for when I don’t have time to make something homemade.  

Pantry snacks, as we call them, are also great for snowstorms, when snack lovin’ friends visit, and when I don’t have time to be supermom.  Some days you just have to fly without a cape, and let it go….

Under the Monkey Bars Snack List
Lesser Evil Buddha Bowl Organic Popcorn: 3 ingredients

Dang Toasted Coconut Chips: 3 ingredients

The Good Bean Crispy Crunchy Chickpeas, sea salt: 4 ingredients

GoGo Squeez Organic Applesauce: 2 ingredients

Green Mountain Gringo Organic Tortilla Chips: 3 ingredients

Sun-dried Organic Figs: 1 ingredient

Sunmaid Organic Raisins: 1 ingredient

Wonderfully Raw Coco-Roons, Lemon Pie or Brownie: 7 ingredients

Dark Chocolate Mint Sun Cups: 6 ingredients

Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate Bar, Maca: 5 ingredients

Blue Mountain Organics Raw Nuts and Seeds: 1 ingredient each  
{NOTE: Use code TAKE5 at Blue Mountain Organics for $5 off a minimum purchase of $50!  This nut company does not process any peanuts.}

 

I’ve included links so you can check out these products online.  Some will be available at your local grocery store.  Our Whole Foods offers everything except the Buddha popcorn, Pascha chocolate bars, and Blue Mountain nuts.  Definitely stock up if you find these items on sale! 

One more idea: Try mixing some of these goodies together for your own personal trail-mix.  Bean and Sweet Pea love when I put out our mason jars filled with snack items on the table so they can fill their reusable snack bags.  Pantry snacks are a real treat at our house!

Don and I are getting ready for a ski get-away next week.   I’ll be blogging from Stowe, VT (yes, we are escaping the snowbanks of Newburyport for the snowy slopes of Stowe).  I already have some of these snacks stashed away and ready to pack in our new duffel bags.  Until then…happy, healthy snacking!  Have a great weekend!