Thursday, April 28, 2011

How to plant potatoes from seeds in a small garden the easy way? Tires is the answer

I am fascinated with potatoes. They are the most versatile, delicious root ever. However, many people do not consider them for their small urban gardens as they think it is a difficult crop. They are supposed to take lots of space and you have to keep adding mounds of earth on them right? NO wrong!!

I have been growing potatoes very successfully for a couple of years now, and how do I do it? I grow them in old tires. Yes tires! Good old tires – It does not get greener than that!

Apart from being green, tires not only save you space, but make the whole process so much easier, from putting up the earth to cover the roots to the harvest process.

Here is how it works:

The first thing you need are good seed potatoes, you can use your own potatoes or buy seeds from a garden center – Both with good results. What you need to look out for is a potato with lots of eyes! Each one of the eyes will develop into a little plant.

You can cut your potato in pieces, make sure each piece has a least 3 eyes, let them dry a few hours and then you are ready to plant.

You will need 2 to 3 tires of the same size per plant (where to get tires? I got 2 of mine from a neighbor who just changed hers, and the following year we needed to change the tires of our car so I got 4 more. Ask around, a lot of people do have unwanted tires in their garages. You can also go to a local tire center and ask if they can give you a few)

Place your first tire in the ground and add a layer of good planting soil inside the tire, you can also put some small stones to add drainage.

Russet Potatoes

Red Potatoes

Put your potato seeds inside 4 to 5 per tire, no more.

Cover the potatoes with another layer of soil. Water and wait.

In a few days you will see the potato plants sprouting out of the soil. Every other day you will take more soil and cover the plants leaving only one set of leaves out. Keep doing this until the tire is full of earth and the plants are poking out again. At that time, stack a second tire on top of the first and repeat the process again. You can do a third tire if you wish. Remember the potatoes grow on those stalks that you are covering up all the time.

I will be posting photos of the process as my potatoes grow so you can see it.

After about a week - you can see the potato plants coming out!

Here is a list of following posts throughout the season so you can see the whole process working!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to plant spinach from seed?

Spinach is another cold crop – it can be grown from seed and transplanted outside before the last spring frost. I love spinach raw in salads and in cream of spinach soup. My kids love it too, so it needs to go in my garden.

I am planting my spinach from seeds next to my arugula and lettuces in a semi shaded area of the garden as I am hoping to be able to grow it until the beginning of summer. Spinach will quickly turn to seed and get hard and stringy if they get too hot, so a shaded area is ideal (I will let at least one plant go to seed so I can collect the seeds for next year)

I planted then at a rate of 4 per square feet. Make 4 holes (2 rows of 2) on your square and put 2 seeds in each hole and cover lightly – thin to 1 strong plant if both seeds sprout after they develop the second set of leaves. I am being risky this year and I am only putting 1 seed per hole – let's see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Black Truffle Infused Zucchini Risotto

Tonight I made Black Truffle Infused Zucchini Risotto for dinner.  This was a complete invention, so I guess I can call it my recipe! My son wanted mami Mac & Cheese, but I was tired of it I was not 100% sold on the idea. While looking in the pantry I saw a box of Arborio rice. I opened the fridge and saw a Zucchini, so the idea came to my head. The invention was a success! it was delicious, my kids loved it (I tell you, it is never too late to introduce them to the good things in life, like truffle oil and risotto!)

This is what I did:

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 cup of Arborio Rice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 zucchini (about 2 cups grated)
  • 2.5 cups of chicken stock (keep it hot)
  • 1 glass of white wine (I used Australian Chardonnay)
  • 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • Black truffle oil (just a little to serve)
  • 2 spoonfuls of butter
  • 1 spoonful of olive oil

In a deep pan brown the onions in the butter and oil.

Once they are browned, add the grated zucchini and cook for another 2 minutes until the zucchini is wilted.

Then add the rice and brown the rice for another 2 minutes.

Add 1 cup of the hot chicken stock and a little bit of the wine and stir. Put the heat in medium low and pay attention to the rice.

While stirring constantly, keep adding wine and stock a little bit at  time, keep adding liquid until the rice is "al dente" not too hard  not too soft.

At that time add the Parmesan cheese, stir and let it dry a little. Your risotto is ready to serve.

Put on a plate, and sprinkle with a little black truffle oil. Decorate with parsley and enjoy with the rest of your bottle of wine!

Note that even though the recipe has wine, it is OK to serve to kids. The alcohol in the wine will evaporate as you cook it, leaving only the nice grape flavor behind!

I hope you like my black truffle infused zucchini risotto - Next time I am making one with wild mushrooms and bacon!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Perennial Herb Garden

I am starting a perennial herb garden this year. I am so excited about it. I had a big area at the front of my house that was covered with a horrible ground cover. Half of it is under a magnolia tree so it is shady and not many things will grow on it, but there is an area that is sunny and that is where I plan to put my perennial herbs.

So far, I would like to have 2 variety of chives (regular and garlic chives), oregano and 2 varieties of thyme (regular and lemon). I wish I could put Rosemary but it is not hardy in my area, so I am growing my Rosemary in a pot so I can overwinter indoors.

I planted a set of chives last year and they did come back beautiful this year (it already has little flower buds! I can’t wait to see the beautiful pink blooms – which you can eat and look so elegant in salads)

I just planted a regular oregano and a lemon thyme from a pot – hopefully they will take. I am growing the rest from seeds so I will have to wait a little longer to get them out.

I will also have a section of annual herbs in my garden beds and in pots around my patio, but there is nothing better than perennial plants as you can plant them once and enjoy them for years to come!

I am on the look for a nice sign that says "My Herb Garden" or simply "Herbs" - if you know where to find a cool artistic one - please let me know.

Happy Easter!!

Happy Easter everyone! Glad to see that the Easter bunny brought us eggs and sunshine today. I was getting ready for hunting eggs umbrella in hand, instead we were able to wear beautifully short sleeves dresses that bounced in the warm breeze!

I wish you all a great day! Here are some Spring flowers from my garden to celebrate!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Gardening 101: How to plant carrots from seed?

Carrots is another one of these wonderful vegetables that you can plant early spring before the last frost date. In fact, they actually get sweeter if they get a little frost on them! Carrots are best planted from seed as they are a root vegetable (you eat the root!).

Planting them is very easy in the square foot garden. You just need to make sure of a few things before your plant. If you want to grow long carrots, you need to make sure that your soil is loose, so it needs to be worked well before the seeds go in. Carrots will find it hard to grow in heavy clay soil. Our soil in Illinois is very clay heavy, so I have been adding sand and a lot of compost through the years on my beds to soften it down. Although, if you do not mind if your carrots have funny shapes, you can always try carrots in not so loose soil. The root will always grow on the path of least resistance!! Last year I planted my carrots in a spot that was not as loose as it should have been and we got the most delicious “two legged” carrots. The kids loved them! If you are planting a short carrot variety you should be good with only working and loosening 6 inches of soil.

The other thing you need to do (or try to do) is not to grow carrots in the same spot for 2 years in a row. This is called rotation and it is to prevent pest and diseases that affect the same crops and also to allow the soil to replenish (as different crops take different nutrients from the ground).

Now once you have selected a nice sunny spot and have worked the soil, you are ready to go. I have a middle length carrot.

Select your square and with a pencil make 16 holes in 4 rows of 4 holes. Do not make the holes too deep, just a slight indentation.

Do you like my fading henna tattoo? I did it myself!

Put 2 seeds in each hole, cover lightly with soil. Water and you are done.

You need to protect your carrots from rabbits – in here I have them surrounded by Spring Onions and Sweet Georgia Onions – a nice natural barrier for rabbits.

Additionally, I have my friend the plastic snake! Believe it or not, the rabbits think it is real and they do know to stay away!!! I remember last year, my mother was helping me harvest some carrots and noticed the snake, I could hear her screams a mile away!! I guess she also though it was real too!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Homemade Pesto with Sunflower Seeds

I have managed to keep 3 big basil plants alive throughout the winter. I went to see them today and they were starting to seed, I needed to pinch them and I was hungry and they were big...... so it was Pesto time!!!

I really like Pesto, I am surprised I do not make it more often as it is quite easy to make if you have the ingredients on hand. If you are a food lover like me, you probably will have Pesto ingredients in your fridge: Basil, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, some type of nuts and salt. The original pesto is made with pine nuts (those I do not normally have and they can be quite expensive), but you can make pesto out of every nut. Each one will give your pesto a subtle change in taste. Today I made it with sunflower seeds and it was delicious. The walnut version is also quite tasty.

So here is the recipe:


  • Bunch of Basil leaves (no stalks)
  • Half a cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used my home infused garlic olive oil)
  • 2 or 3 fresh garlic cloves or 6 preserved garlic cloves (see my recipe here)
  • Half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup of nuts (pine nuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pistachios...)
  • Salt to taste

You can do pesto on your blender or on your electric chopper.

Put half of the basil in the blender, with half of the rest of the ingredients and blend until you get a smooth paste, put the other half of the basil and start adding the rest of the ingredients a little at a time so you can taste in between and can judge how much to use of each. Use the olive oil to thin the paste, the nuts to add crunch, the garlic for flavor and the cheese for saltiness. Keep adding and trying until you have the right balance and thickness for you.

I like mine quite thick as I like to use it as a spread and it uses less oil (so I think it is better for me).

Once you are done, put the pesto on an airtight container, you can use it right away or store for up to a week in the refrigerator. When you store it, a thin layer on the top of your pesto will darken a little, that is OK, just mix it all up with a spoon and you are good to go.

Pesto is great with pastas. I used it today as a topping on my spaghetti marinara. We also had pizza night and I spread pesto all over my slices! Remember, pesto is very concentrated, so a little goes a long way.
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