Saturday, May 23, 2020

Judy,s Broccoli Casserole

Judy's Broccoli Casserole

3 cups of fresh broccoli, chopped and lightly steamed
1 cup cooked rice
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 medium onion chopped and sauteed in 1/2 stick of butter
1 stalk celery chopped and sauteed with onion
Dash of paprika
1 cup chunked Velveeta cheese

Mix all ingredients.
Pour into a casserole dish.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

It doesn't get much easier than this.
This can be made ahead and frozen until you are ready to bake
or you can keep it in the refrigerator overnight to be baked the next day.

 Optional additions:

Chopped cooked chicken
chopped fresh spinach

You may add bread crumbs to the top before baking to add a little crunch
or crushed Ritz crackers on top for a buttery flavor.

Avoiding Crowded Spaces: The New Norm?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen the world take on an entirely different way of life. Small businesses have closed, large businesses have chosen to close some of their locations permanently and the general public has spent more time at home than they have in decades.
While it seems like we can't wait to get back to normal, we have to ask, what will that be?
Social distancing is not the worst thing that could happen, but it does make daily life a little more inconvenient. We have taken our daily tasks for granted in the past and paid no mind to who was around us. Now we watch each other closely so as not to infringe on anyone's space and to make sure that no one is invading our own bubble.

With the easing of our state-mandated stay at home order, parks and trails that had been previously closed are opening back up. People that have been home for a while are ready to get out and enjoy the outdoors only to find enormous crowds of people in these areas. This can be a little scary if you or a loved one is at risk. However, there are a lot of places where you can enjoy nature and avoid the crowds that may not show up in your first line of thought. This is where agritourism comes in. There are many farms, orchards, and vineyards as well as nurseries and greenhouses that welcome visitors. They are off the beaten path and out of the mainstream public eye. While you are almost sure to find others there, you probably won't find the hoards of people that are now inundating our public parks and recreation areas.

Check online in your area for businesses that welcome visitors. Or, if you prefer, you can just take a stroll down your local Main Street. Meander down the side streets and visit local businesses of the mom and pop locations that are the backbone of our communities. You will see things that you don't see on a daily basis and you will be getting your exercise while supporting local businesses. We have lost interest in our Main Street businesses. Now would be the perfect time to rekindle the love. You do not have to be on a trail to walk and enjoy the sunshine. You just have to be present.
Think outside the box, explore agritourism. The only thing you have to lose is the need for structured trails and parks. Get off the beaten path. Don't follow the masses. Support your local businesses and explore new resources for recreation and shopping. Let agritourism be the new norm for a new way of life.

Garden Companions
Garden Companions

Plants are living breathing things that need food, water, and sunlight to grow and flourish, not so different from we humans. It is human nature to search out companionship from others. When we have this suitable companionship, we tend to flourish in our lives and live a richer existence. Did you know that plants fair better with companions as well?
Maybe you have heard of a three sisters garden. That is a method of planting that incorporates three different vegetables planted near one another so that they may aid each other as they grow. One is corn. Corn will grow tall and will act as a trellis of sorts for the next plant that is placed in front of each stalk and that is climbing beans. As the beans mature they will climb the corn stalks and save you from having to trellis them. Last, you would plant squash between each stalk of corn to help keep the weeds at bay and aide in maintaining moisture for the other plants by shading the ground. While this may be the most common companion planting, it certainly isn't the only one.
Your tomatoes will enjoy the company of some basil and marigolds. Basil is thought to produce a sweeter taste in tomatoes when grown together. Though there is no scientific proof of this claim, gardeners have sworn by its validity for ages. Some gardeners even claim that they taste a hint of basil in their tomatoes. But aside from the claims that basil improves the taste of tomatoes, there is scientific proof that planting basil and marigolds with tomatoes can ward off some unwanted pests. Insects that normally wreak havoc on tomato plants and their fruit are kept away by the pungent scent of the basil and marigolds. Marigolds planted between tomato plants also help to repel root-knot nematodes. These pesky little plant-parasitic nematodes are responsible for about 5% of the world's crop loss every year.
If you plant marigolds or nasturtium among your cucumbers you will be able to keep the aphids and beetles away. However, you don't want to plant aromatic herbs with cucumbers as they may stunt the growth of your cukes.
Basil planted with peppers is thought to improve flavor and keep away aphids and spider mites. Also if you are planting onions you can plant them alongside your peppers to help keep insects away.
Planting rosemary and summer savory with your beans help to keep away beetles. Summer savory will also improve the growth rate of most climbing beans. A customer mentioned that she always puts savory in her beans when she cooks them.
If you want to try your hand at carrots, plant onions with them to help keep the carrot flies away. Generally speaking, you should not plant root crops with other root crops so that they will not compete for available phosphorus in the soil. However, onions are an exception to the rule. Planting sage and rosemary among your carrots is thought to keep some foraging furry friends at a distance as well.
Mint planted among your lettuce and leafy vegetables is a tremendous help with keeping away slugs. It is also thought that spearmint and peppermint actually help to sweeten the taste of your leafy plants. It is best to keep peppermint and spearmint in a container as they are aggressive.
In general, a good companion just makes life sweeter and less stressful. Without all the pests to bother them, your plants will grow happier and be more productive.

Growing Great Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes should come easy, right? Not for everyone. You may have trouble getting them to grow and produce fruit without losing them to blossom end rot or blight. Growing beautiful tomatoes really is a science but it is not rocket science.

Planting is best done at depths beyond the depth of the pot. Lay your plants on their side and bury them up to the top few leaves. This will allow roots to grow all along the stalk. The more roots the plant has the stronger the plant will grow. You will have to be careful not to drive your stake or cage through the roots or stalks. If you prefer, you can dig a deeper hole and just plant your tomato upright, up to its top few leaves. Either way the plant needs strong roots to grow a strong plant.


Sunlight is a huge factor in the amount of fruit that you will get from your tomato plants. The more sun they receive, the more fruit they will produce. Tomatoes love heat and direct sun. But the love of both makes watering a full-time job. 


Beef up your soil to provide the best start for your tomato plants. you can purchase a soil pH test at your local garden center or obtain one from your local cooperative extension office. Your tomatoes will grow best with slightly acidic soil. 6.5 to 6.8 is prime. If your soil is too acidic, add dolomite lime. If it is too alkaline, add sulfur or compost to your soil. Adding a calcium source is always a good idea and will help to ward off blossom end rot. You can use crushed eggshells or you can add calcium tablets to water and pour around your plants. Magnesium also can help to prevent some forms of blight and blossom end rot. Add a timed release fertilizer as most soils do not have enough. Plants need feeding just as we do.


Tomatoes require regular watering. Inconsistent watering can lead to fungus and a plethora of other diseases and problems. You cannot let them dry completely out and then drench them in an effort to compensate. Keeping the soil at an even moisture should be your goal. If you know it is going to rain then you can skip water till the rain subsides. Don't leave it up to mother nature alone to take care of your tomatoes. This past year has been an indication of how unpredictable and unstable she is. Do not trust her with the well being of your tomato plants! Once established, plants should be watered only once or twice a week, depending on the temperature. Water so the water soaks throughout the root zone. Water in early morning, so the foliage will dry before evening.


Your tomatoes will need support. You can give them what they need by purchasing a tomato cage or by staking and tying as they grow. Whichever method you choose will ensure that your tomatoes have the support they need to keep their fruit off of the ground. Being on the ground often causes disease and rot. Not to mention, being on the ground makes them easy targets for critters looking for a quick meal.


Removing suckers from the plant and bottom leaves will allow the plant to produce more abundantly. 

If you take the time to tend to their needs, tomatoes will provide you with fruit for your family. You can share with family and friends or you can preserve them in many different ways to get the most from your efforts. Or even better, send some to a local food pantry.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Quarantine Breakfast Casserole

Quarantine Breakfast Casserole

1 - 9x13 casserole dish or baking pan
Frozen tater tots
6  large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 lb of bacon or sausage (or both)
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced sweet onion
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice

Cook sausage and/or bacon and drain and crumble.
Preheat oven 350*
Spray the bottom of your baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Line the bottom of the baking pan with a layer of tater tots.
Add crumbled sausage and/or bacon evenly over the tots.
Add onions and peppers evenly over the sausage/bacon layer.
Mix eggs and milk in a small bowl and pour over all of the ingredients.
Bake for 15 min.
Remove from oven, add cheese, and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until golden.

Cut into squares and serve.

*Add spinach for added nutrition.

Building a Bird Garden

Bird Gardens

Who doesn't love to listen to the birds throughout the spring and summer? Whether you are watching through a window or from a porch or deck, there is a certain peace that comes from looking into the world of our avian friends. If you really enjoy bringing the birds to your yard, you may want to think beyond just your feeders. Bring them in naturally with plantings that take their needs into consideration.
1.) Shelter
Baby birds Mitchells Nursery King North Carolina
Shelter does not have to mean a formal birdhouse. This can mean providing evergreen trees and bushes to provide shelter and protection year-round from weather and predators. Some birds do not winter over in certain areas. Migratory birds are often what you will find nesting in your birdhouses. Year-round avian residents tend to favor the warmth and safety of dense brush or shrubs. That is not to say that some strategically placed houses wouldn't bring in some beautiful birds for the season. When placing birdhouses, we all tend to want them where we can watch them. That's a great idea till the neighbor's cat starts watching them too. You want to try to be mindful of where you place the houses keeping in mind that most birds are somewhat territorial and like space. So, you don't want to hang a bunch of them together. If you are trying to attract communal birds such as purple martins they like to have their flock all together. Keep them from being easily accessed by predators. Make sure the houses are not in full sun all day long as the daytime temps inside the house can easily reach over 100 degrees.
2.) Food
Mahonia berries Mitchell's Nursery King North Carolina
Mahonia Berries
We are all familiar with our favorite bird feeder. We are often compensating where nature lacks in our yards. You can attract more birds with nature than with feeders. Planting bushes, trees, and flowers that provide seed and berries will attract a wider variety of birds than just a feeder alone. We as humans try hard to keep the birds out of our food so consider berries that are not favored by humans, such as hollies, certain junipers, and viburnum. Flowers that produce seed such as, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, and coneflowers also welcome a wide variety of feathered friends. Mahonia also produces berries that the birds cannot resist.

3.) Water
Birdbaths are great. However, they are made even better if you have one with a solar pump as it helps to hinder the growth of algae and keeps the water cleaner for your birds. If you do not have a pump, be sure to keep the water as clean and fresh as possible to keep the birds coming back. If you are lucky enough to have a natural water source on your property, of course, that is optimal. Most of us don't have that option though. Garden ponds and birdbaths work very well when kept clean and filled with fresh water. Shallow water is best, not over 1 to 2 inches deep.  Birds enjoy bathing and preening in the water and you will enjoy the antics from your place of watch. No matter how you go about planning your garden, natural is always better. Combining natural and man-made elements together can provide a diverse selection that will attract an equally diverse bird population. With all of your ingredients in place, sit back, and enjoy what nature brings to your yard.

The Return of the Victory Garden

Victory Gardens are Back!

 The Victory Garden made its debut during World War II. It was a way to lessen the demand on public food systems and allow more of that food to be produced for the troops. This allowed more people to contribute to the war effort. The government asked the citizens of the United States to plant their own gardens to help with food shortages. The public response was very positive. During this time, 20 million families were growing 40 percent of the country's vegetables. You could find these gardens everywhere. Much like today, they came in many shapes and sizes. Schools even had their own gardens to provide fresh vegetables for student lunches. Produce grown in Victory Gardens was often preserved for winter. At the time there was no shortage of magazines and newspaper articles that were full of helpful information about growing and preserving your own vegetables. Women were doing their part as their husbands went off to war.
Though we are not at war, the Victory Garden has seen a bit of a comeback. More and more people are trying to become more self-reliant and are showing more interest in gardening and preserving their harvest. Many people are also sending their surplus vegetables to local food banks and hostels to help feed the less fortunate.
 Urban areas are utilizing vacant lots by creating community gardens. Everyone plants, everyone eats. This brings families and communities together for positive growth and sustainability. During uncertain times we all need to work together for our future, even if we have to do it from 6 ft. apart.

 No matter how big or how small you decide to make your garden, make it your own. There is some satisfaction in knowing exactly where your food comes from and everything that it has come in contact with during its growing process. You choose what goes in and ultimately what comes out of it. Enjoy your garden and all that comes from it.

 The return of the Victory Garden is a sign of the times. However, it does not symbolize the negative energy that has made its return necessary but rather, the hope and perseverance that comes from human nature when faced with challenges and changes. The spirit of a gardener exists in all of us, as does the strength to overcome adversity.

Happy Gardening!