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For the Record…

Just for the record, Burpee’s do not now, never have, and never will sell GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds. Here’s the scoop straight from the owner’s mouth:By George Ball – Burpee Chairman and CEO

I and others at Burpee are asked occassionally about our alleged connection to Monsanto and whether we sell GMO seed. We have even been accused of being owned by Monsanto on the Internet. I’ve decided to address these questions and false allegations formally with the hopes that someone out there in cyberspace may refer back to this post for information on these issues—straight from the source.

For the record, I own W. Atlee Burpee & Co. Burpee is NOT owned by Monsanto. We do purchase a small number of seeds from the garden seed department of Seminis, a Monsanto subsidiary, and so do our biggest competitors. We do NOT sell GMO seed, never have in the past, and will not sell it in the future.

A Walk Through My Dream Garden Part1

As I peruse this year’s Burpee catalogue, I imagine my dream garden.  I see eight or ten raised 4′ x 8′ beds, filled with the perfect mix of compost, vermiculite and peat moss. The walkways between the beds are unobstructed and wide enough for my garden cart. Each bed has a trellis frame at the northernmost edge, so each has the option of hosting vertical crops. Two beds are dedicated to flowers, the rest are ready for vegetables. I also have several bean beds, which oare narrow – only 2′ deep and 8′ long, with an aluminum pole frame over the top that will later secure the bamboo poles I set when I plant the seeds so the vines can freely climb.

This year’s catalogue has 3 full pages of bean varieties from which to choose. There are yellow wax beans, lots of bush beans, pole beans and my favorite, yard long pole beans. These beans grow a full yard long and are tender and delicious. I’ve grown them several years in a row, and they are abundant and easy to harvest. Eight or ten of these bad boys are enough beans for supper for Rick and me. I harvest them, curl them up in quart size zip lock bags and toss them in the fridge. They keep for weeks, but are so good that we eat them long before then.

To plant pole beans, soak them overnight in water to get them started. Then drain off the water and sprinkle lliberally with a legume inoculant to help them to fix the nitrogen producing bacteria. (It’s a bean thing…)  With your finger, make a furrow about 3″ deep and drop a seed every 1 – 1/2 inches along the furrow. Cover loosely with soil and make another furrow 6″ from the first one. Drop the seeds in the second furrow, cover with soil, then place your bamboo poles between the furrows, every 4′ apart. As the pole beans grow, they’ll find the bamboo sticks and climb easily. Water the bed well every day, but try to not wet the foliage when you do.  In about 55 days you’ll have your first harvest. Pick as you get them and the plants will keep producing for weeks.

Bush beans can be planted the same way, but you won’t need the poles for support. These beans will produce a large crop all at once, then a second smaller crop a few weeks later. Then they’re done, so you can dig them back into the soil. Bean plants are a green fertilizer, providing lots of nitrogen for the soil.

My current Burpee catalogue also has pages and pages of beautiful squash, peppers, carrots, artichokes, okra, and lots and lots of tomato varieties. I’ll focus on them next.

Seed Catalogues Are Coming!

I just got my new Burpee catalogue in the mail, filled with delightful photos of the huge variety of seeds that are available for the home gardener.  I just love this time of year and drool over the beautiful vegetables that I can grow.  For the Florida gardener, now is the time to plan your 2012 winter garden and get your seeds. If you are anywhere outside of zone 9 or 10, you can plan on a spring planting.

You want to start your seeds at least 2 months prior to your estimated planting date. There are many seed starter systems available, and a grow light is a must for your indoor starting. Two things are vital to start seeds: light and temperature. It must be warm enough for the seeds to germinate, so if you’re starting them in an unheated place like a garage or shed, you’ll need some seed warmer pads to put under your seed starter trays.  If you start them indoors, you won’t need the warmers, but you will need a grow light.

I like a self contained seed starting system and have tried several. There are many to choose from; I usually get mine from Burpee or Gardener’s Supply. Here is one of their systems as an example.

This system comes in several sizes and is affordable and reusable.

Don’t be afraid to start your own seeds. You’ll be rewarded with the exact variety of vegetable you want, so when the catalogues arrive, pick out what you want, then go online, click on one of my links and order your garden supplies!

Happy gardening.


Recipe – Kale Chips

One of the latest rages nutrition wise is kale. Full of antioxidants, it’s considered a “super food.” Now there’s a way to turn it into a healthy crispy snack. Enjoy.

  • 2 bunches kale
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • garlic powder or salt
  • fresh lemon

Take the center stem off of the kale leaves and tear into bite sized pieces. Put in a large bowl and drizzle over the olive oil and toss well so each leaf is lightly coated. Lay out in a single layer on 2 sheet pans and sprinkle with salt and pepper flakes. Bake at 350° for 10 – 15 minutes until crisp but still green. Remove from oven, squeeze over a little lemon juice and sprinkle with garlic powder. Serve immediately.

Beautiful Cabbage!

Beautiful Perfect Cabbage-BiotaMax Treated Side


Isn’t this a beautiful sight? This tender young cabbage plant is just perfect, growing beautifully because of the proper probiotics I added to the soil by using BiotaMax. Not only do the right organisms in the soil aid in growth, but they strengthen the plants so that disease and pests aren’t a threat.

If you use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, you’ve effectively killed your soil. Soil needs life in order for the plants to be able to absorb the nutrients in the soil. If you’ve stripped your soil, it is necessary to add these essential bacteria and fungi back into it. BiotaMax is a product that’s economical to use and very, very effective.

Of course, the best way to feed your plants is to ditch your chemical fertilizers (sorry, MiracleGro) and start a compost pile or bin. Composting is simple, economical and a great way to reduce waste and recycle your vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and table scraps. You can put it all in your compost, but please don’t put andy meat or meat fats into it or you’re inviting problems and pests.

I prefer a compost bin that has a handle that I can turn once a week so I don’t have to take a pitchfork to a pile of scraps. Compost must be turned as it “cooks” to distribute the essential bacteria that break it down into useable fertilizer for your garden. The other advantage of a compost bin is that you won’t have the neighbors complaining about the unsightly pile of refuse in your yard, the local raccoons can’t get into it, and the smell is contained. Vegetable compost doesn’t really stink, but anything that decomposes will produce some odor. When you’re rewarded in a month or so with rich, brown, crumbly compost that you can use to dress your garden and nourish your plants, you’ll be so proud!

Happy gardening!

Recipe – Spring Onion, Carrot, and Tomato Salad

My favorite garden salad recipe was inspired by the great chef, Jamie Oliver.  He has a terrific show, Jamie at Home, in which he pulls produce out of his amazing garden of raised beds and prepares it fresh.  His method of prepping onions for a salad is the best. He slices shallots, spring onions, or red onions “wafer thin,” then squeezes a lemon over it, sprinkles a good amount of salt, then with his hands squeezes the mix until the onions are instantly pickled. It’s amazing – this takes all the sharp heat out of the onions without sacrificing the onion taste.


Onion, Carrot, and Tomato Salad

3 spring onions, thinly sliced all the way to the end

4 carrots, any color, shaved with a peeler into thin strips

3 cups of chopped tomatoes – 3 beefsteaks or 4 Roma

Herbs – parsley, dill, cilentro or basil all work well here.

Juice of 2 lemons


olive oil

fresh garlic

Slice the onions and shave the carrots into a small bowl.  Squeeze 1/2 lemon over it and add 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt. With your hands, “scrunch” the carrot shavings and onion slices several times.  Set aside.

Chop the tomatoes into coarse pieces. Mince 1 clove garlic and add to the tomatoes.  Add the carrots and onions, drizzle with olive oil and squeeze remaining lemon half over it. Use more lemon juice to taste if needed.  Salt and Pepper to taste – fresh ground pepper is the best.  Coarsely chop herbs and sprinkle over salad to garnish.  Serve on a bed of Rocket (arugula) if desired.  Serve immediately.

It’s Not Too Late!

Ok, all you procrastinators…there’s still time to get in a few veggies for your winter garden. Some veggies thrive on the cooler weather, and in fact, taste better if they have cooler temperatures. Among these are peas of all varieties, beans, and the cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, rutabagas, collards, and Brussels sprouts.

Every garden I grow, I plan a bed for my cole veggies. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Cruciferous veggies grown in the same bed with nightshade plants like tomatoes and eggplant will hinder your nightshades from producing fruit.
  2. Crop rotation is essential season to season, and the diseases and pests that love the cruciferous veggies don’t bother the nightshades and vice versa.
When I plant broccoli, I always plant it at the north end of the beds because it’s one of these cole vegetables that keeps producing after the main head is harvested.  The broccoli plant will continue to produce florets for about a month after the main head has been sliced off. The broccoli plant will grow tall, send up flowering seed pods eventually, and would shade out other cruciferous plants like cabbage and cauliflower.
Plan one square foot per plant for all these vegetables. Here’s a typical plan for a cabbage patch.

The Cabbage Patch

Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and get some nice cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and collards, or whatever you love of the brassica family and get them in your garden. They’re virtually maintenance free and in 2 months you’ll have the sweetest cabbage, the crunchiest Chinese cabbage, the most flavorful cauliflower you’ve ever eaten.
Happy gardening!

My Favorite Tomato Varieties

This pink indeterminate beefsteak is my favorite tomato! It’s called Brandy Boy and Burpee claims it’s their best tasting hybrid tomato. I must agree. The fruit are big, sweet, juicy – everything you want in a tomato. Each plant will give me 30 to 40 lbs of tomatoes over the course of a season. The potato leaf plants are disease resistant and get 7′ tall!  Thankfully, the cages I use make these easy to grow.  I just keep tucking them into the cages as they grow.

These beautiful yellow tomatoes ripen quickly, and the determinate plants set a heavy crop of fruit.

Of course, no garden of mine would be complete without the tie-dye variety!

My favorite cherry tomatoes are these sweet baby girls by Burpee.  They are prolific, hardy, and each plant yields more tomatoes than we can eat. They’re the sweetest, juiciest cherry tomatoes I’ve grown.


Click on the photos above to order seeds.

Happy gardening!

Companion Herbs and Flowers

Basil is a wonderful companion to tomatoes.

Basil is a wonderful companion to tomatoes.

I’d like to take some time to tell you about the basic companion planting tips that I’ve found to be very beneficial.  I read once that growing basil next to your tomatoes makes the tomatoes more flavorful.  I don’t know if this is really true, but they go so well together in a salad, I might as well tuck a few plants in around the tomatoes.  The same principle applies to oregano, parsley, dill and thyme. Basil can grow to about 2′ tall, so put it right in front of the tomatoes, next to the peppers, in what I call the third row from the South end.  I reserve the back 18″ for the two large beefsteak tomatoes, or a beefsteak and an eggplant.  These two plants have large leaves and will shade anything planted too close to them.

The main principle of companion planting is to introduce plants that repel the bad bugs that will eat your garden, and to attract the good bugs, lizards, and birds that eat the predator bugs.  One way to do this is to plant “smelly” herbs that will confuse the bugs’ sense of smell.  Onions, basil, dill, marigolds, zinnias and chives are all great to put in your tomato beds. Every tomato bed should have at least one marigold plant. These repel nematodes that will destroy the tomato roots.  Marigold blossoms need to be “dead-headed” or the plants will die.  Just pinch off the dead flowers.  The beautiful flowers also attract bees, your garden’s worker friends.  Don’t worry about being stung, either.  I suppose it might be possible, but I’ve found that if I respect their space, they respect mine.  The same thing goes for lizards.  They hop on, hop off.  They eat mosquitoes, which is reason enough to keep them around.  Spiders will spin beautiful webs if you let them, which catch mosquitoes as well, but be aware that all spiders will bite if threatened.  I knock the webs down usually as I find them so they’re encouraged to go elsewhere.

Dill is great planted with tomatoes in the early stages of the tomato plant’s growth because it attracts the tomato hornworm’s larvae, which are easily spotted on the feathery leaves. Once those suckers get on the tomato plant, they’re so green that they’re impossible to see.  The dill should be pulled before it matures, however, as it will compete for root space eventually. Dill also goes great with tomatoes, as well as cukes and salad greens.

Zinnias tucked between cabbage/broccoli/collard plants peek out and make a beautiful bed.  Sunflowers planted around the outside of the beds attract birds, whose droppings add nitrogen to the garden.  Keep a fresh supply of water for the birds and they’ll leave your tomatoes alone.

Onions can be tucked around tomato plants, and their recommended spacing is only 2″, so you can tuck them in all over, just make sure they’re South of the tomato plants, as they like full sun and plenty of moisture.  I always put lettuce in three of the front square feet. I use seed tape because it spaces the seeds perfectly.  I put the furrows about 2″ apart, stick the seed tape in, cover with soil and water.  Raised beds are great for carrots because the soil is loose and deep and the carrots are free to grow long and straight. I put the carrots in either the front or the second row of square feet. Radishes are also short plants, so i always include one square foot of radishes (36 per square foot) for the front row.  If you like beets, their greens also grow pretty low and work in a second row as well.  I like the red onions so well that I make sure I have at least 3 or 4 squares full of them, too.  When they’re about scallion size, I begin using them in salads, harvesting every other one so the remaining onions have 4″ between them.

Happy Gardening!


Turn one bed into a cornfield.

I grew up in Indiana in a Chicago suburb. In the neighboring farms, corn and beans were always growing. Fresh sweet corn was always available in roadside stands, along with tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and apples.

One summer a friend of my parents in Gaylord, Michigan invited us up to his cabin for a vacation.  On his property, he had planted a corn field.  With instructions to his wife to get the pot of water boiling, we hiked out to his garden to harvest some sweet corn for dinner.  Each corn stalk sported one or sometimes two ears of corn.  We plucked what we needed, and then we kids were given the ears of corn and told to run back to the cabin.  With all of us shucking corn, we were able to get the corn into the boiling water within 10 minutes of picking it.  It was so sweet, I remember it to this day, some 45 years later. From the moment it’s picked, the sugars in corn begin turning to starch.  When you grow your own corn and can cook and eat it fresh, it is the sweetest corn you’ll ever eat.

Burpee has many varieties of corn. I’m fond of this one: (click on the picture for the link to their site.) This is their triple producing white corn; it’s so sweet and delectable!

Corn is an interesting crop. It’s best to plant it in blocks to facilitate pollination. Each ear of corn sends out silk. Each strand of silk is attached to an undeveloped kernel of corn on the cob. If that strand of silk does not get pollinated, that kernel of corn will not develop.


The pollen forms on the tassels at the top of the stalk.  It’s large and looks a little like wild rice.


When the wind blows, the pollen drops from the tassel onto the silk, which hold it long enough to pollinate the ear.  If you grow a single row of corn, it’s going to be difficult to pollinate, even if you do it by hand.  You can pull the loose kernels of pollen off of the tassels and sprinkle it onto the silks manually if you want to help it along.

You can plant corn in a staggered pattern that will yield 4 to 6 ears of corn a week for four weeks.  Here’s how:

To grow a little corn field in a 4×4’ bed, you’ll want to plant one row at a time for a staggered crop. Corn likes to be planted deeply, so get 16 disposable cups that are about 6” tall and cut the bottoms out of them. Divide your bed into 16 square feet. Beginning with the northernmost row, dig a hole in the center of each square so that you can put one of the cups in it, with the top of the cup even with your soil line. Now, take a pencil and poke a hole into the dirt in the bottom of each cup so that it’s about 4” deeper than the bottom of the cup. Place two corn seeds into the hole, push them down with the pencil, and fill in the little hole at the bottom of the cup. Fill the cup with water and move on to the next square. When the corn sprouts and grows above the soil line and the top of the cup, remove the cup and fill the hole in with soil. If both seeds have germinated, cut off one of the plants below the soil line. You now have one row of corn planted at a 10” depth, which will give added stability to the plant. As soon as the seeds germinate and the seedlings are about 2” high, it’s time to plant the second row. Don’t wait too long, or you’ll have pollination problems later. Continue with the next 2 rows, planting as soon as the seedlings from the previous row germinate. What you’ll end up with is a tidy little corn field, with each row producing 4 to 6 ears of corn, and they’ll mature at a staggered rate as you planted them.


Corn loves nitrogen rich soil, and beans are a wonderful companion to corn. Beans develop nitrogen nodules on their roots and are considered a “green” manure.  As you plant your corn, you can plant 4 to 6 beans of the vining variety in a circle around each cup. The corn stalk will provide a support for the beans, and the beans will provide nitrogen for the corn. The corn stalk roots grow deeply; the bean roots are shallower so they won’t compete for space.

You will thank me for this if you do it.

Happy Gardening!