Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: The Edible Front Yard

SUMMARY: The Edible Front Yard helps you combine the loveliest and tastiest edibles and ornamentals in a garden that is a year-round feast for the eyes. Ivette Soler teaches all the tricks, from laying out the design and choosing the best front yard plants, to clear instruction for a bounty of exciting projects like a fragrant carpet of herbs, a trellis privacy screen using runner beans, and an eye-catching raised bed that turns the hellstrip into a little patch of paradise. From the curb right up to your front door, the information in these pages includes everything you need to have a beautiful front yard and eat it too!
THE FARMER'S REVIEW: This is a gorgeous book! Ivette Soler has created a beautifully photographed, designed and written book about gardening that is suited to planning a home garden using any space around your home. We’ve always assumed that a garden of edibles belongs in the back yard only. After all, the tomatoes get leggy, the melons decide to move three states away on their stringy vines, and vegetable plants aren’t as decorative as flowers and shrubs. Or are they?
Ms. Soler not only suggests what plants are so beautiful you won’t want to plant them where the neighbors can’t see them but she suggests how to plant them, what kind of hardscape will best contain them, and then she offers instructions for how to build the retaining walls, walkways, trellises and other landscaping features.
If you are the handy sort, this book is the only instruction manual you need to create the most beautiful and functional front yard in your subdivision, neighborhood or area. If you would rather hire help to lay the pavers, build the structures and create your new curb appeal, this is the book to go over with your contractor so there is no misunderstanding about exactly the result you want to achieve.
I became interested in growing edible plants in the front yard the year I planted artichokes. My eyes popped as these vegetable plants grew into the most amazing foliage, flowers and ultimately delicious buds ever seen. I had the same experience with the asparagus beds: soft, fern-like growth that is a lovely background for other, smaller plantings. So, I planted some in the front beds, but just in clumps here and there.
Then I found Ms. Soler’s amazing book and realized that with a strategy, design and deliberate organization I could have a mind-blowing garden that would not only be seen as beautiful but upon closer inspection, provide food for me, my family and friends. It will take some initial work as well as a maintenance plan. The hardscape will not be cheap, but with a written scheme I can do what I can afford this year and add a little more as time and money allow. I am so excited!
Whether you are planning a garden for the front yard, a small plot in a corner of your backyard, or even on the balcony of your apartment, The Edible Front Yard is the reference book for you. Wait. It is not only an encyclopedia of landscape design, it is a book that is so pretty you will want to keep it out on your coffee table as I do. And if all you grow is grass, trees and a few shrubs, please, please get this book and get out of your rut! You won’t be able to resist planting just one pineapple guava shrub and when you see how pretty and useful that is, another fantastic fruit or vegetable plant that will be a treat for the eyes and your table.
The Suburban Farmer awards The Edible Front Yard 5 broccoli stalks and a MUST BUY!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Perfectly delicious home made mayonnaise in less than 5 minutes

The step that will take the most time is collecting the ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry!
(I used a bullet blender but you can use almost any blender.)
1 egg
1 c olive oil (or any oil you prefer - I like the olive oil's flavor)
1 tsp lime juice (or lemon juice or vinegar - I like the lime flavor)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp fresh tarragon (optional)

Using the bullet's flat blade, place the egg, 1/4 c olive oil, lime juice, salt and dry mustard in a tall bullet jar. Pulse for 10 seconds, three times. Add another 1/4 c. olive oil, pulse three times. Continue 1/4 c at a time until all oil has been incorporated. You will never buy store-bought mayonnaise after you've made your own. It takes almost no time, is delicious, you know exactly what's in it, and you know it's fresh and hasn't been sitting in a hot warehouse for a year.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston, by Bob Randall, PhD

Summary: If you are already a skilled gardener, this book may be of use to you because it has a lot in it, is updated every few years, and is particularly aimed at the Metro Houston area. But if you are not so skilled, it will only partly provide what you need. Learning horticulture is like learning nearly everything else. A textbook works best if it is used with good teachers, both sit-down and hands on. For nearly twenty years, an increasing number of other gardening advocates and I have been building a “neighborhood school system” that does just that. At Urban Harvest, we provide lots of classes at night and on weekends taught by people who know their subject and care about it. Multiple-class series taught twice a month are especially useful: we have a basics of gardening course in the fall; building your orchard course in winter; organic vegetable course in spring and sometimes we teach an organic landscaping course or a gardening with water course. Year round, we teach sustainable design through four permaculture courses. We also teach monthly classes on how to sell what we grow and how to start community and school gardens.  Visit us at
The Farmer's Review: This book is my Bible for gardening. I plant what it says to plant, when it says to plant it and buy seeds and plantings from where it says to obtain them.
I learned how to garden without pesticides from this book. It’s a very painful first year as you use the bad bugs to lure the good bugs, meanwhile losing many plants and vegetables to the bad bugs before the good ones eat it. However, I haven’t used any pesticides in four years and haven’t lost a plant yet. Oh, they take a nibble out of a leaf from time to time and get a vegetable once in a while, but overall it’s a perfectly fine garden that looks like there are no bugs at all. Look closely and see the good guys.
The other thing I’ve learned is if you try two or three times to grow something, watermelons, for example, and are not successful, give up and plant something else! The light or temperature or soil may just not be right in your garden. Keep growing what works, okra for example.
Bob Randall has retired and the book is apparently no longer in print. Used copies are available at Barnes and Noble online and Amazon online for up to $200. So, if you are lucky enough to come across a copy, hold it dear for it is as valuable as gold.
The Suburban Farmer rates Year Round… by Bob Randle
Five organic broccoli stalks!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Too much of a good thing?

Guess what came in the mail yesterday. More potatoes for planting. I guess I forgot how many I ordered from another company and ordered additional. *sigh* I'll find someplace to plant them. You can never have too many fresh, organic potatoes, I do believe.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rain! Blessed rain!

The garden got over 2" of rain yesterday in an all-day soaker like we haven't seen in almost a year of drought. The little seedlings are popping above the surface of the soil in celebration. Still no sign of potato vines, except the rogue sweet potatoes that just won't go away. It's too wet to work in the garden or flower beds today but this week looks like it will have time to dry out, so that's good.
With our Thanksgiving camping trip now in jeopardy we welcome this rain for that, too. Burn bans are in effect in nearly every county in Texas, including Polk County where we plan to camp in November. No campfires and no charcoal grills means no cooking and no s'mores by a warm fire at night. Come on more rain!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Summary: Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life—vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.
The Farmer's Review: I first read this book while on vacation and could hardly wait to get home to put into practice as much of Ms.Kingsolver’s philosophy about food as possible. Here we are four years later and I’ve done some.
I started and keep an organic garden, or as organic a garden as one can have in a suburban tract home neighborhood. God only knows what kind of fill is under the yard and house. I dug out my garden about 12”, added a mix of organic garden soil and organic compost, and began my hobby as gardener. I only purchase seeds from known organic suppliers and prefer to buy heirloom varieties. I shop at a feed store near downtown Houston where I can obtain organic, heirloom plants and organic fertilizers. I haven’t used a single pesticide since I started gardening, except for one application of rat poison. *shudder* I can’t stand rats.
I’m into the slow food movement, cooking almost every meal I eat at home or dining out where food is prepared in the restaurant’s kitchen. Sometimes I slip and hurriedly buy from a fast food joint but try to get a sandwich, soup, BBQ or baked potato from a shop where the food is prepared right there, from scratch.
I also became enamored of Ms. Kingsolver’s cheese making and ordered the book, video and equipment mentioned in the book. I still make some cheese but the biggest challenge is finding organic milk that has not been ultra pasteurized because that will not make cheese.
The funniest part of the book is when the Kingsolvers undertook to raise turkeys. They got heirloom chicks but because turkeys are usually slaughtered before they become sexually mature, her turkey had never learned how to have sex, so they were having trouble getting fertilized eggs and thus more chicks. One turkey fell in love with Ms. Kingsolver’s husband, to his chagrin.
I don’t live where I can raise goats for milk or chickens/turkeys for eggs but I always buy organic products.
I’ve become more and more “green”, with almost everything that is tossed out going into the recycle can or the compost heap. I put out the garbage can about once every six weeks or so, and even that is overkill – a giant can with about two or three pounds of trash that is not recyclable, such as chicken bones. I have considered becoming a vegetarian but like meat, poultry and fish so I try to eat healthy portions of organic meats and fish and pile more veggies on my plate than meat. The Forks over Knives movement is another step in this direction.
In conclusion, this excellent book changed my life and hopefully my little part of the planet. I recommend it highly and award Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Five Healthy Broccoli Stalks!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Something new

Late last night I realized I needed horseradish sauce for a beef tenderloin I'm preparing this weekend. None in the house and I didn't want to go to the store. Here's the good thing about a garden. A couple of years ago I had a bit of leftover horseradish root and stuck it in the ground where it has flourished ever since. Huge green leaves - it's a pretty plant above ground, and it had spread. So I took my trusty flashlight outside and harvested several roots. Found Emeril Lagasse's recipe for creamed horseradish on the Internet so I made about a cup of it. I love when I find I can make something that normally I would have just bought at the store. This goes in the category with marshmallows, graham crackers, sandwich bread, mayonnaise, pasta, cheese and other foods I've made at home instead of getting storebought. In some cases it's cheaper but not always (graham crackers require expensive graham flour) and sometimes it's more trouble than it's worth (marshmallows are messy). But it's always fun to try and often 100 times more delicious.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New shoots!

New shoots coming up: broccoli (sparsely), carrots, tomatillo, and peppers. No sign of life yet: potatoes. Probably too warm. I hope they don't mold and die before they sprout above ground. Looks like I double planted one row of carrots and missed a whole row. Oh, well. I'll get more seed. Two bell peppers are large and approaching pickin' time. Yum. Saving room for strawberry plants which should arrive in November. Also need to order artichoke seeds.