Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

Strawberry Allergies No More!

June 19, 2009

StrawberriesStrawberries are very easy to grow and are a very beautiful addition to the garden. Unfortunately, we had a no berry zone in our garden for many years. My daughter has a lot of severe food allergies and one of her biggest allergies was berries. I say “was” with a smile on my face because she tested negative to berries this past year and we have slowly made them a regular addition to our meals. She is seven years old now and was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies when she was only a month old. Its been a very limiting road for us with food, however, we have always enjoyed everything we can. I am so much more aware of food, ingredients, preservatives, chemicals and organics because of this life change it was only a natural progression that I took to growing our own. I never would have thought that I’d be growing, jamming and canning our own food but here I am making so many foods from scratch and enjoying every step of the way.

After we slowly tried all the berries we could she decided that strawberries are her favorites and blueberries are a very close second. Since she is crazy about strawberries we had to grow them for the first time this year! I really do love to garden with children and most importantly I love growing our own food. With a lot of patience and the right timing gardening is really enjoyable with them. Earlier this year we picked up three different varieties of strawberries from the nursery so we could compare them. The first strawberry that started to form was watched by my daughter daily. She would go outside to “check on it” as often as I would let her. She would gently keep checking the mulch around it and make sure it wasn’t too thirsty. That first strawberry was such a milestone for us because not only could she finally eat them but we enjoy their beauty daily since they line our walkway to the front door. first strawberry

Okay, in all honesty the first strawberry was real small and very runty but it was delicious! Or so she told me since I didn’t even get a nibble! I had hoped that we could eventually grow enough so I can make some strawberry jam but the ripe strawberries rarely make it inside the house and are gobbled down immediately.

Who knows, next year we might expand our tiny strawberry patch and be up to our ears in jam but for now we enjoy each and every one like it was her first and appreciate her food allergy accomplishments.

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Cucumbers, Toddlers and Pickles

June 13, 2009

Do you love pickles? Do your kids? Grow some cucumbers and enjoy making homemade pickles with your kids! Kids always want to be entertained and that often makes us parents cringe because we will most likely be diving into our pockets. Why must entertainment and family activities cost so much? It doesn’t have to! Get back to basics with your kids! How about a little gardening? Oh sure, you might have a very reluctant black thumb but don’t let that stop you. Even a mistake in gardening can be a wonderful experience! You often won’t need much in the way of cost. Even if you don’t have a huge garden you can spend less than 10$, have a project for months and get a yummy treat at the end!

This year my daughter and I decided to grow six small pickling cucumber plants that we picked up from the local nursery with the intention of making pickles. She was focusing on the yummy result and I was thinking of all the little things she can learn from this project without knowing it!

Five of the plants were put in the ground in different areas in our front garden and one is in a pot. Okay so I admit we will never have the most beautifully landscaped garden on the block because of all of our random garden experiments, however, its our garden and I love it! Who says cucumbers don’t look right growing next to a Japanese maple or an azalea bush? Psh! Anyway, I chose to do this (knowing that some locations were not going to be ideal) because there are valuable lessons to be learned based on failed attempts in the garden. The idea is to observe the plants every week and tend to them all equally and discuss the differences. Kids are very perceptive and will often be quick to point out the noticeable differences! When the first blooms showed on the little guys my daughter made some interesting observations. This one in the pot is smaller than the ones in the ground. The other one in the shade has no flowers. The one in the hard soil is really yellow. I simply asked her questions as to why she thought all the plants that started out exactly the same are growing so differently. Her answers were mostly right on point however I didn’t agree with “The yellow plant is that color because our neighbors dog is using it as a toilet. So, lets not eat those.”

We planted our cucumbers very very early in the season and we are fortunate to be in Southern California and have a longer growing season so that means we already have cukes to harvest! The process of harvesting them was something we looked forward to every single day! Oh, and just remember that pickles are prickly so please wear gloves! Some were very short while others grew very crooked and we discussed the differences (and my daughter made her theories!). Some were consumed almost right away after a good scrubbing but most were put away for our original plan: Its Pickle Time!

I did most of the chopping and my daughter did most of the washing and we were both very eager to taste the end results. I wanted to use the easiest method for making pickles without having to deal with a lot of pots, wait time and mess. I found many ideas for “Microwave Pickles” and made my own that works for us! In about 15 minutes of wash, chop and nuke the cukes time we had our very own first jar of pickles! They were delicious!

The best thing about getting back to basics, including your kids in the process and having a delicious end result is that there is a lot to be enjoyed and learned along the way. My daughter isn’t too interested in cucumbers that we buy from the store but she wants an excuse to eat the homemade ones. Sure, she might not grow up to own her very own organic pickle company but she learns so much without even knowing it.

This is going to quickly become a regular project with my child care kids and we will easily be able to pick enough in one day to have for lunch. Even if you do not have a garden you can grow cukes in containers. You also don’t even have to grow your own to benefit from these ideas. Sometimes reading books about gardens and adding fun crafts can be enough! You can buy cucumbers and still have the kids learn how to turn them into pickles!

Below is a recipe for Microwave Pickles:

INGREDIENTS
5 – 8 small cucumbers.. slice them!
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
4 peeled garlic cloves *
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds *
1/4 teaspoon celery seed *
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric *

1.Mix all the ingredients and place them in a medium sized microwave safe bowl.
2.Microwave on high 7 to 8 minutes until cucumbers are tender and onion is translucent. I stop it every 2 – 3 minutes and give it a good stir!
3.Transfer to a sterile mason jar. Seal and chill in the refrigerator until serving.
* I find these ingredients to be optional and depends on what flavors you like. I personally just add the garlic and omit the rest. Its not that I don’t like the way it tastes with all the ingredients but I find that the kids all prefer it without them. So, use your own judgment! Plus, if you do not have all these ingredients you do not have to go out and buy them. They taste great without them!