Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nasturtium inspires "driest-ever" material

Water beads on nasturtium leaf. Photo: Aaron Bell

Biomimicry, using nature's unique designs as models, has proven very successful in many fields. Advancements in water-proof materials are currently being forwarded thanks to a common, unassuming garden plant, the nasturtium. 

Due to the shape of the leaf surface (and particularly the vascular system of the leaf), the nasturtium ranks among the most water repellant materials found in nature. If you're familiar with the plant, you may have seen how dew or rain readily beads on the large, round leaves as well as on the blossoms.  A neat characteristic, to be sure, and one that's gaining attention industrially around the globe. Read more in this BBC article.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Kale, microgreens, and more

Pea shoots! (Photo: Aaron Bell)
We had our first kale harvest this week! The Siberian kale, planted in one of our raised beds, has been an impressive crop to date, growing vigorously all fall and providing us with 5 lbs for our dinner-tables this evening. We are also harvesting flats of microgreens and pea shoots. Microgreens have made a splash in the markets over the past few years with their nutrient-dense nature, quick harvest times and relative ease of growth. We are growing radish, mustard, kale, and peas and will be harvesting flats ever 2-3 days through the fall and again in spring. More info on micro-greens can be found here, and if you are interested in trying to grow some indoors this winter, check out this how-to from Organic Gardening magazine.
Zebra longwing nectaring on some zinnias. (Photo: Aaron Bell)

In other news, we're battling loopers and other caterpillars as well as a small number of aphids in the raised beds; hopefully, the next cold snap will drop their numbers and give the Lacinato kale a chance to grow. In the meantime, baby lettuces, beets, and radishes should be greeting us in the next week, while the turnips, collards, and Broccoli Raab are all healthy and happy.  

Below is a recipe from epicurious for bean and kale soup which is a regular hit here on the island. It's an excellent way to use kale quickly during times of heavy harvest. Interestingly, kale can also be frozen for months, making it an ideal crop for areas with little or no winter growing season. 

White Bean and Kale Soup

YieldMakes 6 main-course servings
active time1 hr
total time3 hr


  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped


Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Great summer, looking forward to fall!

It was quite the summer here in the Little St. Simons Island organic garden! We had an exceptionally wet season this year. For example, in just a three-week period, we had three storms with a total of 11 inches rainfall between them, and this pattern seemed to hold true for much of the summer.

Burgundy Okra (Photo: Laura Early)
As you can imagine, this is both a blessing and a curse and we've been busy just keeping up with the growth of both friend and foe. Thankfully, those long summer days provide plenty of time to get the work done and stay just ahead of the curve.

As our first tomatoes ripened, the crows got the first taste, but we were able to add garden fresh tomatoes to our dinner salads. Until a few weeks ago, we were still hip-deep (literally) in flowers as well; it's been a zoo of zinnias, celosia, and dhalia, all vying for a spot in one of our lodge-side flower arrangements. We also saw success with Burgundy Okra, Malaysian Dark Red Eggplant, and a variety of peppers and basil. Speaking of which, we've had incredible fortune with a variety of basil known as "Mammoth"- fast growing and hearty, with a taste like Sweet basil and large, wavy leaves.

Siberian Kale (Photo: Laura Early)
The fall season has been great to us so far as well, with the comfortable drop in temperature being just the first of our blessings. We have healthy beds of autumn and winter greens started and, so far, they're doing fantastically. Siberian Kale, in particular, has proven to be a hardy and fast-growing choice that is currently paired with "Misato Rose" radishes in one of our raised beds. This week should see the planting out of the rest of our first round of greens, including Georgia Collards, Broccoli Raab, turnips and spinach. As for harvest, we are in full swing with loads of Meyer Lemons and Satsuma tangerines already showing good color.

Finally, we got the opportunity to finish a year-long experiment in controlling our nematode population through cover cropping. We planted two beds in sweet potatoes, with one bed having been cover-cropped in rye which, in turn, had been plowed in before the planting. That bed produced 40 lbs of delicious potatoes while the other bed, our control, produced only 10 pounds! We will be employing this method on beds from here out and hope to continue to see improvements.

Other improvements we are excited to see include an expanded and extended blackberry trellis to double current size for our four new berry canes, and a more permanent structure for the 3-bin composting systems. Next time you are on the island, we invite you to the garden to have a look (smell and taste, too) at the progress!
Blackberry trellis (Photo: Laura Early)

Friday, May 31, 2013

A garden's evolution

Our gardens provide such a wonderful opportunity to witness close up the transformation all of life  undergoes with the changing of the seasons.   From the new plant life sprouting up as the soils warm, to the insect world expanding rapidly before our eyes and new polinators and benificials arriving to do their part of gardencaretaking, to the sweet cries of the eastern blue birds nesting in the garden bird box.

Here at LSSI our garden tenders are preparing for change this spring as well.  Amy, our gardener since 2009, will be handing off her trowel soon and focusing her energies in the pursuit of tending young minds and planting seeds of possibilty as a teacher.  With deep gratitude Amy has put together a short history in pictures of the gardens evolution.  It has been a wonderful adventure indeed!

LSSI Garden History on Vimeo.

Luckily another local gardener joined our team at LSSI recently, Aaron Bell of Jekyll Island, GA.  
Aaron will take over the garden tending and enhance our "seed to table" program by spliting his time between the growing the garden and assisting the Chefs in the kitchen.   Watch for Aarons passion and creativity to bloom in the Little St. Simons Island garden and dining room!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Garden Citrus Marmalade with Olive Oil Cake

Just when we need that extra boost of Vitamin C the winter's harvest of citrus ripens providing us with a wide array of both sweet and tart citrus for eating, juicing, and preservation.  Citrus was first introduced into the continental U.S. by early Spanish explorers at St. Augustine, FL in 1565.

Here on Little St. Simons Island we are enjoying the first significant harvest from our citrus grove planted 2 years ago (trees are now 3-5 years) in the USDA Organic Garden.
Calamondine Citrus
Citrus is grown by "grafting" (joining) a favored selected variety to the rootstock of a citrus known for it's hardiness and adaptability.  For our region Trifoliate Orange (Poncirus Trifoliata) is the rootstock to ask for at the nursery.  The first few years of a newly planted citrus need frost protection.  If a tree freezes below the graft it will grow back as the (usually inedible) rootstock.

At LSSI we have planted some of the most cold tolerant varieties that are common favorites for the home garden as well.  For a sweet peeling fruit we have grapefruit, oranges and tangerines.  The Satsuma Tangerine (mandarin) is one of the best for our region with it's easy to peel skin and sweet fruit.  It is also know to be very prolific.  A favorite variety is Owari.

Tart citrus are great for marmalade, jellies, and sorbets and are a great substitute for limes and lemons in the kitchen.  Calamondine (above) is hardy into the low 20's and Kumquats can handle temperatures as low as 15 degrees. A kumquat with more sweetness is the Meiwa.  Chef Paula reminds us to always use/eat the peel of these thin skinned fruits since it's in the peel where the sweetness is stored.

Meyer Lemon and Calamondine Fruit

Fresh limes are a lovely addition to the home garden but that typically been known for cold sensitivity.  A new lime-kumquat hybrid is showing great promise for our region and is next on the planting list for LSSI.

For detailed guidance on citrus planting and maintenance refer to this helpful UGA publication:

Chef Paula has been getting very creative with the citrus harvest this year.  Try this incredible citrus marmalade over some olive oil cake for your next special gathering.

Garden Citrus Marmalade
1 lb. calamondines, roughly chopped         4 cups Sugar
1 lb Kumquats, roughly chopped                3 Meyer lemons Juiced
1 packet liquid pectin
In a large, non reactive pot, bring oranges, sugar, and lemon juice to a boil.  Let it cook for about 10 minutes to give the peels time to soften.  After they have softened a bit add the pectin packet and let the mixture cook for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  When the marmalade coats the back of the stirring spoon smoothly, it's done.
If you want to can your marmalade, pour it into hot, sterilized jars.  Wipe rims of the jars off with the edge of a dish towel dipped in boiling water.  Apply new lids and screw on bands (you can always reuse canning jars and and the screw on bands, but you never want to reuse the lids).  Lower the filled jars into a hot water bath and process for 10 minutes.  Soon after you remove them from the water bath, the jars should let you know that they've sealed by letting out a pinging noise.  If you miss the signal tap on the top of the jar, if the lid gives at all, the jar did not seal.  Best to stash those in the fridge and enjoy now.
Olive Oil Cake with Citrus Marmalade

Olive Oil Cake
 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour               2 tsp. lemon zest
 2 tsp baking powder                          1/4 cups whole milk
 1/2 tsp salt                                       3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
 1 cup sugar                                       3 large eggs
  2 tsp orange zest                              2/3 cups sliced almonds,
                                                                 toasted and chopped

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil an 8 inch diameter cake pan then coat with cornmeal and remove excess cornmeal.  Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.  Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, eggs, and zests in a large bowl until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the milk.  Gradually beat in the oil.  Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended.  Stir in the almonds.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.  Place cake pan on the baking sheet to collect any possible spills.   Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes.  Transfer to a rack and cool for 15 minutes.  Remove cake and place on a serving platter, top side up.  Dust with powdered sugar.