Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Gardener's Classroom

With winters arrival, gardeners and farmers everywhere are taking advantage of this quiet time of the year to retreat inside for the life long learning, reflection, and inspiration that comes with the humbling efforts of putting seed to soil.
Organic Herbs, Thyme

The gift of darkness brings with it time to sink deep into gardening books and resources, time to lavish in the beauty and potential with the arrival of 2013 seed catalogs, and much needed opportunities to gather the community together for learning and celebration at one of the many farming and gardening conferences happening around the county this winter.

This blog entry comes with an invitation to it's readers to write in and share sources of knowledge and inspiration you are growing with to be added to the resource pages of this blog.

Here begins my list of reading and explorations to properly set my roots for the season ahead:


The Seed Underground; A growing Revolution to Save Food by the inspirational writer and local farmer Janisse Ray.

A Georgia Food Forest by Permiculturist Cynthia Dill.  An incredible perennial crops and permiculture gardening guide for Southeast GA, and beyond. 

Teaming with Microbes By Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.  The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web.  An excellent resource for understanding that delicate system of life beneath our feet on which all life stands. 

The Soul of the Soil by Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie.  A soil building guide for master gardeners and farmers.

Citrus Fruit for Southern and Coastal Georgia.  A UGA publication.  Winter and early spring are a great time to get new citrus trees planted for years and years of Vitamin C!

Regional Conferences to put on your calendar for 2013

The South Georgia Growing Local & Sustainable Conference
Reidsville, Georgia
January 26, 2013

Georgia Organics Annual Conference
Atlanta, GA
Feb. 22-23, 2013

Southern Sawg Annual Farming Conference
Little Rock, Arkansas
Jan. 23-26, 2013

North Carolina State University, Department of Bio & Ag Engineering, Annual Vermiculture Conference.
For all the Wormers out there sitting at the edge of their seats like I am for more knowledge on the Vermicomposting this is one to watch for next fall!  I was thrilled for the opportunity to attend the Nov. 2012 conference in Chapel Hill, NC with all the leading industry professionals, university researchers, and vermicomposters from around the world.  Professor Sherman's website is a great resource to explore for vermicomposting technology.

Great Seed Catalogs

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Johnny's Selected Seeds
The Potato Garden

"A garden is a grand teacher.  It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust." Gertrude Jekyll.

May Inspiration Bloom

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Garden Pepper Chow Chow

   Root -Knot Nematode Resistant Organic Bell Peppers

Organic Garden LSSI

Considering the Extreme challenges we have with the Plant Parasitic Root Knot Nematodes we are thrilled to report great success with our first planting of the RKN resistant varieties of  Certified Organic Bell Peppers: Carolina Wonder and Charleston Belle.

The first of organic seed with RKN resistance to be released comes from the company Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  Check out SESE  for an abundance of great information on heritage seeds and diverse crop varieties for southern gardens.  Their catalog alone is a masterpiece and will no doubt have you dreaming of your grandmother's garden.

Chili Peppers and Sweet Marconi Peppers

Another sweet pepper we loved this year is the Sweet Marconi.  An Italian Heirloom with tapered fruit that is known to grow up to 10 inches long.  This is a tall, very prolific plant that is great for containers or raised beds. 

Chef Paula has been making a lot of great chow-chow this summer with the LSSI garden peppers.
         Sweet and Hot Pepper Relish:
30 Red & Green Bell Peppers and Jalapenos Peppers to taste
3 cups White Vinegar
3 cups Sugar
1 1/2 Tsp. Salt
7 Yellow Onions

Chop Peppers and Onions in food processor or run through a grinder.  Put vinegar, sugar, and salt into an 8 quart or larger pot; heat to boiling and stir in peppers and onion.  When mixture boils, reduce heat and simmer (stirring often) for 30 minutes.  Pour mix into hot sterile jars.  Fix with hot sterile lids and tighten rings.  Makes 5-8 pints.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vermicomposting on Little St. Simons Island

         It is said that Charles Darwin began and commenced his career with the study of the Earthworm:

 "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals
which have played so important a part in the history of the world
as have these lowly organized creatures"
red wiggler, eisenia fetida, organic garden
"Red Wiggler" Worm (Eisenia Fetida)
With the arrival of Fall, the vermicomposting worms on LSSI have gotten very busy turning our food waste (about 150lbs a week)
into a much needed organic fertilizer for the garden.
These Red Wigglers prefer temperatures in the 70's and 80's.  As a sign of cooler days ahead, we are beginning to see the presence of the band seen on the worm above. It's called the clitellum and it is the indication that the worm has reached reproductive age .

Each mating worm will release a cocoon with 8 to 11 eggs,
The hatchlings will in turn become reproductive themselves in 60 to 90 days.  
These vermicomposting worms "process" food scraps into fertilizer in about 2 months time.   That's about 200 pounds of castings, every 2 months, from each of the wooden bins pictured below!
And what that means for us is whole lot of worm castings for our organic garden!!
organic gardening ammendment 
These worm castings ---known as BLACK GOLD by farmers and gardeners--- provide plant nutrients, micro nutrients, and growth compounds for healthy plant development and inoculate the soil with beneficial bacteria and fungi. 

Our vermicompost "castings" and the native soil

Increasing microbial activity in the soil benefits the garden by increasing organic matter, preserving soil moisture, and storing nutrient in the soil. This improves the plant’s resistance to disease and pests as well.
organic gardening, compost tea

We use our vermicompost castings in the garden in several ways;   added directly into the garden beds, in our seedling trays for plant propagation, by making "compost tea".  Small quatities of castings are of exponential value when made into a liquid fertilizer and used as a foliar spray or soil drench.  This 1 lb. bag will affectively cover 1 acre of garden, yard, or farm.
Vermicomposting on LSSI has made growing an organic vegetable garden at the beach possible.
Think what it could do elsewhere!  
Vermicomposting is a simple composting method appropriate and useful for urban dwellers, farmers, schools and other institutions alike looking for a sustainable resource management tool.  
For more information on Vermicomposting refer to the book  "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Appelhof and come visit the USDA Certified Organic Garden on Little St. Simons Island.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Horned Melon!?!?

Kiwano, African Horned Melon, Exotic Fruit, Organic

This unusual fruit has found a place in the Organic Garden on Little St. Simons Island. Cucumis Metuliferus, a member of the cucurbitaceae family, known as African Horned Melon, Jelly Melon, Blowfish Fruit, or Kiwano, is native to Southern and Central Africa. 

Having a cucumber flavor with hints of melon, lime, and banana it has proven to be a late summer harvest perfect for sorbet.  The fruit is considered a good source of protein and Vitamins C, A, Iron, and Potassium.  

Plus it can withstand the monstrous squash bugs in the garden right now--check out those spines! 
These prolific vines provide fruit here from July until the first frost --perhaps December. 

Organic exotic fruit, horned melonOur Chefs will soon begin to harvest the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, growing wild on Little St. Simons Island, to combine with the Kiwano Sorbet.  Served in its frozen spiky shell it makes for an intriguingly delicious desert and for great conversation!
Commercially these fruit are now grown in New Zealand and California.  If you can find them at your local grocer try Chef Paula's Kiwano Sorbet

Kiwano Sorbet Recipe
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·         10 Kiwano (African Horn Melon)

·         1 teaspoon lime zest

·         1/2 cup apple juice

·         1 tablespoon agave nectar

·         Pinch of sea salt


1 To prepare the Kiwano, cut them in half from top to bottom scoop out the jelly and seeds (keep the rind) and put into a blender or food processor and purée until smooth and soupy. Now strain through a fine mesh.

2 Now add the lime zest, agave nectar and sea salt and stir until incorporated.

3 Place mixture in refrigerator for one hour to chill. Also place Kiwano rinds in the freezer. After an hour taste sorbet mixture and adjust sweetness accordingly with agave nectar.

4 Process in an ice cream machine via the manufacturer's instructions. The sorbet will have a soft texture right out of the ice cream machine. Now remove rinds from freezer and scoop sorbet into rinds. Place back into the freezer for at least an hour.

Garnish with a sprig of Holy Basil.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Root Knot Nematodes to be banished from the island!!!

Southern Root Knot Nematodes are plant parasitic, microscopic roundworms in the soil, which feed on the root systems of plants, increasing disease potential and starving plants of water and nutrients.
As the summer temperatures rise so do the populations of Root Knot Nematodes making mid summer growing near impossible. 

 So we are taking advantage of the heat and using the sun to "solarize" the soils.

Keeping the soil covered with plastic for 6-8 weeks to trap the radiant heat is a safe and effective treatment for managing some biological and fungal soil diseases like verticillium wilt, as well as "cooking" soil pest organisms like the root knot nematodes.
Upon removal of the plastic we will inoculate the beds with our compost to replenish the population of beneficial bacteria and fungi.  Then we will plant a late season crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and beans.
How do you recognize these microscopic pests?
The galls are easily seen on the root system of a plant as rotting and swollen "bumps" (remember that legume plants have similar looking nitrogen fixing nodules that are a normal part of their root system.) 
Inspect trouble plants when you pull them up for these bumps on their roots.  If you find evidence of nematode damage do not compost that plant material and be careful not to "spread" the problem by sanitizing tools between plot/bed maintenance.
Plant Resistant Varieties:

There are newly available organic, non-gmo, seeds becoming available for summer crops with resistance to RKN.  This summer we planted Carolina Wonder Bell Peppers, Tropic VFN Tomatoes (both from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), and a sweet potato slip called Nemagold. 
So far all looks (and tastes) good!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pickling Time!

Chef Paula and Garden Volunteer Shelley harvest Coriander Seeds produced from Cilantro plants "gone to seed" to use in summer pickling recipes.  A colander works great to separate the seeds from the stems.

Chef Paula's favorite "quick pickling" recipe for the summer harvest:

16 servings, about 1/4 cup each
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes


  • 1 1/4 pounds pickling cucumbers, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 each sliced 1/4-inch eggplant, Serrano peppers, zucchini
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup slivered onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed,
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • Fresh herb sprigs, dill, rosemary, thyme, or oregano


  1. Place cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, and pepper slices in a colander set in the sink. Sprinkle with salt; stir to combine. Let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse, drain and transfer to a large heatproof bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, combine cider vinegar, white vinegar, brown sugar, onion, garlic, dill and mustard seed in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the hot liquid over the cucumber and vegetable mixture; add herbs stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to bring to room temperature.
  3. Prepare canning jars according to box directions.
  4. Ration pickle mixture among jars and seal. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 10 days. You can also use any fresh herbs you like to add more flavor to your pickles.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Herbal Bath Salts

The herbs are thriving this spring!  This winter we transplanted the herbs from the raised beds to a designated herb garden to provide more space for their roots and also to put them on a drip irrigation system.  Many herbs are quite adaptable to the native soils here. In fact we have had to restrain the mint and oregano from taking over the entire garden! 

It's been a  bounty of culinary opportunity and also great habitat for all our pollinator friends in the garden.  Bluebirds nested in the bird box this spring to hatch their young.   Praying Mantis are around to help with the aphid control & the Swallowtail Butterflies have been a delight in the flower beds each dawn and dusk!

Rosemary, Tarragon, Chocolate Mint, Lemon Grass, Sage, Sorrel, Cress, Dill, Lemon Balm, Fennel, Pineapple Mint, Oregano, Holy Basil .....

Recent "Great Clips" Retreat Guests harvesting to make Organic Herbal Bath Salts. Taking home a bit of relaxation to remember their vacation to Little St. Simons Island!

      Chef Matthew Raiford mixing the bath salts.

We used 3 herbs: Mint, Lemon Balm, & Rosemary

Some of the guests brought their salts to the beach for a foot massage and then  took a walk through the tides to rinse off!

Herbal Bath Salts Recipe: 

     2 cups Sea Salt
  1 cup Olive Oil
 5 drops each, essential oils of Lavender, Rosemary, and Peppermint
                             1/4 cup chopped fresh Rosemary
                    1/4 cup chopped fresh Mint
                                  1/4 cup chopped fresh Lemon Balm 

 Put salt into a bowl. Add olive oil, mixing well with a spoon.  Add the drops of essential oil and mix thoroughly.  Add fresh herbs and mix until incorporated.  Put ingredients into a jar and then enjoy with a nice warm bath or shower.