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Unusual Garden Vegetables

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on March 25, 2015

Creating an unusual vegetable garden

Set yourself apart from other gardeners this growing season by planting unique vegetable produce. Add spice and life to your outdoor space and full flavor and exciting tastes to your dinner table with some truly delicious and original fruits and vegetables.

Strange fruit

Say goodbye to the humble carrot and potato and welcome the new breed of “glamor-veg” that is moving in to our garden plots. Why not consider swapping spinach for amaranth? Similar in taste to the favorite leafy green but with an elegant silhouette, this Bangladeshi native thrives in sandy soil and is best seeded in a sheltered, sunny spot after frosts have finished.

Or add a mouthful of the Andes to your dishes by planting up some oca. These pink tubers make a good substitute for potatoes and are certainly more exotic. What’s more, the plants produced by these tangy vegetables are pretty enough to earn a place in the flower border, with clover-shaped leaves and soft orange flowers. Oca should be planted in pots of compost in spring and kept in the greenhouse until frosts have passed. They are slow starters but patient gardeners are rewarded with delicious tubers in late autumn that add a mouth-watering twist to the table.

If you have a taste for Mexican food, why not grow some tomatillos to feed your passion? These little beauties are the key ingredients to perfect salsa. With their green or purple fruit, they are wrapped in a lantern-shaped papery case with lovely yellow blossoms. They are undemanding to grow and can be treated in the same way as tomatoes, planted in a warm sheltered spot in the garden or, even better, in the greenhouse. At harvest time, combine tomatillos with coriander, chili, lime and garlic for an authentic salsa to knock your socks off.

Good looks and good taste

Taking the exotic veggie path can be echoed in the design of your garden plot. The vegetables should taste good but the garden should be a pleasure to gaze upon from the kitchen window too. Install attractive wooden shutters that can be easily opened and closed for taking regular peeps out at how your charges are doing.

The bonus about the plants noted above is they offer beauty as well as bounty, with attractive foliage and flowers. A garden design that compliments the produce as it grows will have a pleasing, restful atmosphere.

Forget regimented lines and embrace curves and fluid shapes that give the garden flow. Raised beds make sense for small gardens as the soil can be adapted to suit particular plants. They are pretty, have good drainage and are easier to tend. For visual balance, don’t neglect an element of height in the garden. Exploit every growing opportunity by trailing climbing vegetables up trellis and fences. Underline the exotic theme with materials and accessories from far flung places: bamboo and cane matting work as a pergola sunshade; Andean textiles and mirrored pots add color pops and life to quiet corners; and Asian tiles and intricate wrought iron garden furniture offer a touch of Colonial-style luxury.

Live a life that’s more exotic with a vegetable garden of unusual produce. Today it’s tomatillos; tomorrow it could be edamame, kohlrabi, daikon or shungiku thriving under your green-fingered care.

This is a contributed post.

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Adding Native Bees to Your Garden

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on February 19, 2015

mason bees

Photo by Stephen Goddard

Did you know that one out of every three bites of food we eat is pollinated by a bee?  When we think of bees, we think of European honey bees.  However, there are over 4,000 species of native bees in this country.  One of the most important native bees if the Mason bee.

Mason bees are gentle, solitary bees that are super pollinators.  They don’t make honey, so they spend all their energy on pollinating fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers.  More importantly, mason bees are easy to raise and are much more efficient pollinators than are honey bees.  To pollinate a 100 fruit trees, it would take 25,000 honey bees or 400 mason bees.

Crown Bees is on a mission to expand the use of native bees by building a network of “Bee Boosters” that raises, harvests, and shares millions of gentle native bees in backyards, communities, and farms across North America.  Their goal is to take the pressure off honey bees, increase awareness of gentle, native bees, and diversify the bees that pollinate our food.

Crown Bees is starting a Bee Booster program.  They invite you to participate by doing the following:

  • Put up a mason bee house for mason bees to use and lay their eggs.  Of course, Crown Bees hopes you will buy their mason bee house complete with mason bee eggs already in it, but mason bee houses are easy to make.
  • Donate mason bee houses to community gardens, public parks, zoos, botanical gardens, and local farmers to increase native pollinators.
  • Share links on social media about mason bees and how they ensure food security.  Use #BeeBoosters #MasonBees @CrownBees
  • Donate to the CrownBees campaign.  They are trying to raise $100,00 on an Indiegogo fund to fund the redesign of Bee with Me, a social network that connects and maps Bee Boosters across the country.

If you hang a couple of mason bee houses in your yard, then give one away when it is full of eggs, you can help spread these gentle bees.  If you do not know anyone who wants them, you can send them to CrownBees and they will rehome the mason bees for you.

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Green Lacewings in the Garden

February 16, 2015

Green lacewings are beneficial insects that eat aphids, caterpillars, and other soft bodied pests as larvae.  The adults feed on nectar and pollen and the occasional aphid or mite that they come across.  Green lacewings are green, with delicate wings that look like lace because of the almost invisible membrane crossed by veins.  They have […]

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13 Ways to Go Green in Your Daily Life

February 14, 2015

You may know your stuff when it comes to the history of climate change, but do you know how to make small differences in your day-to-day life to help the environment? Read on for easy ways to go green. 1. By dealing with just a few degrees difference in the summer and winter months, you […]

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Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

February 12, 2015

One of the ways to reduce pesticide use in your garden is to attract beneficial insects to it. These insects keep the bad bugs in check. A good way to do that is to interplant flowers in your garden. The flowers then act as shelter and food places for the beneficial insects, who will move […]

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Time to plant early vegetables this spring

February 7, 2015

It is time to plant early vegetables once more.  This year we have had very weird weather and things are already blooming and greening up. Before you plant, let your ground dry out enough to work.  Working mud does nothing but damage the soil and frustrate the farmer.  When the ground is dry enough to […]

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Time to Plant for Fall

July 29, 2014

In the South, we are blessed (or cursed) with a long period of warm weather that allows us to have three gardens a year:  the spring garden, the summer garden, and the fall garden.  Of the three, the fall garden generally produces the most and is the most pleasant to work.  Plants are put in […]

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Growing Coriander

March 31, 2013

The Coriander plant produces two different kinds of herbs with different uses.  The greens, or cilantro, are used in Middle Eastern, Asian, and Latin American cuisine.  The coriander seed is used as a spice in whole or ground form.  It has been used since ancient times for its medicinal qualities and as an important ingredient […]

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Anthracnose in Tomatoes

October 6, 2012

Anthracnose is a fungal disease that will ruin your tomatoes in warm, moist weather.  It leaves in the soil and gets on the plant when you water it and splash soil on the plant.  The disease doesn’t do much to leaves or green tomatoes, but causes a rotten circle in ripe ones that can take […]

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Take Care of Your Gardening Tools

October 5, 2012

As garden season winds down, it is a good idea to take some time to maintain your garden tools before you put them away for the winter. Remove all dirt and debris from them with a garden hose and a stiff brush. Sharpen all the tools that cut and cultivate in your garden.  A metal […]

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Growing Fall Asters

September 27, 2012

Fall asters are a delightful addition to your garden.  Their startling lavender petals with gold centers provide welcome color at a time when many flowers are done blooming. They are good to plant around your fall garden to attract beneficial insects. Fall asters is native from Texas and New Mexico  all the way north to […]

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Attracting Toads to Your Garden

September 24, 2012

For those of you who wish to use fewer and less toxic pesticides in the garden, you should attract toads to your garden.  A single adult toad can eat 10,000 insect pests in a single summer.  Toads eat most insects, including slugs, gypsy moths, and earwigs.  In the United States, we have 21 different species […]

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Time to Clean Your Fruit Orchards

September 19, 2012

With the end of fruit season, it is time to clean your fruit orchards.  Remove any debris or fallen fruit from your orchard.  Pick and discard fruit left on the trees.  These steps remove places that pests and diseases overwinter and reduce your problems for next year.  Stop all pruning until the normal winter pruning […]

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How a Tree Dies

September 14, 2012

Home owners are frequently stunned when a tree that appeared to make it through the drought last year “suddenly” dies.  Actually, trees take a long time to die.  Many trees that appear to be dying now have been dying all year from the drought.  It wasn’t just the drought that killed them, but the high […]

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Fall Gardening in Full Swing

September 12, 2012

September is a busy month for gardeners in North Texas.  Cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale should be put out in the first part of the month.  Watering them in with a dilute solution of fertilizer will give them a boost as they start out. Radishes, beets, Swiss chard and turnips can be […]

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Growing Cilantro

July 4, 2012

Cilantro is a Greek herb that is in the same family as parsley.  It is used in a variety of dishes in cuisines as varied as Mexican and Thai.  Coriander, the seed of the cilantro plant, is also used to flavor a wide variety of dishes.   Cilantro prefers light, well-drained sandy loam soil, but […]

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Growing Dill

July 1, 2012

Dill was introduced into this country from Asia and is used as a culinary herb.  Both the fernlike leaves and the flowers are edible.  After the first year, dill readily self-seeds and will come back year after year. Dill is seeded directly into the garden after all danger of frost is passed.  Seeds should be […]

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Hand Pollinating Squash and Cucumbers

June 27, 2012

Are you having problems with your cucumbers and squash growing to two or three inches long and then rotting?  You may be having pollination problems.  Normally, squash and cucumbers have male and female flowers.  Bees bring pollen from the male flowers to pollinate the female flowers.  With the problems bees have been having with colony […]

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Spider mites

June 4, 2012

Are your plants showing yellow leaves, or even brown ones?  Do you have little cobwebs on the back of your leaves?  You may have spider mites, a common pest of ornamental plants.  These mites are tiny, almost microscopic, so they are very hard to see.  They vary in color from red to brown to green […]

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Haiku Day on the Blogathon

May 21, 2012

Gardeners  green thumbs, Growing various plants now, Harvesting them soon,   As you can see, haiku is not my skill.  However, today is haiku day on the blogathon. For more help gardening, buy my book, Preparing A Vegetable Garden From The Ground Up Available in print or ebook from Amazon.com or other retailers, this book […]

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Jane Goodall Still Helps Chimpanzees

May 13, 2012

Growing up, I eagerly followed Jane Goodall in the National Geographic stories about chimpanzees.  I even asked for, and received, the very expensive book she wrote about her observations of her chimpanzees, The Chimpanzees of Gombe.  She had a remarkable career but has paid for it in health difficulties that keep her out of the […]

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Texas Two Step and Fire Ants

May 9, 2012

What, you may be asking yourself, does the Texas two step have with fire ants?  It actually is a two step method of killing the nasty little creatures.  For those of you who don’t know what a fire ant is, consider yourself lucky.  It is a little red and black ant that is originally from […]

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Monarch Butterfly on Aster

May 7, 2012

I am seeing more monarch butterflies this year than I saw all summer last year.  The only one I saw last year was this one trying to weather a wind storm on an aster. For more help gardening, buy my book, Preparing A Vegetable Garden From The Ground Up Available in print or ebook from […]

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Squash Blossom

May 5, 2012

Did you know squash blossoms are edible?  In fact, Southerners take them and batter them, then fry them and eat them like fried okra.  Since only the female squash blossoms bear fruit, you can eat the male blossoms without taking away from the productivity of your vines, provided you let the bees and other bugs […]

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How to Move From Blogger to WordPress Without Losing Your Posts

May 4, 2012

This is a reprint of an article I wrote last year at the height of the Bl0gger Outage.  I thought it might help some people again this year who decide to make the jump to WordPress. I know the Blogger outage has made some people decide to move to WordPress.  First, WordPress.com is a free […]

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