30 March 2015

Three Best Small Space Edible Plants

When we bought most of our current seed collection, we had a large garden in mind, with room for everything we wanted.  We had no idea at the time we'd be moving to a place that, although it would have year-round growing possibilities, would be anything but spacious enough for everything we wanted.

In that sense, this list of the three best plants to grow small gardens in order to eat from your garden every day came from an unlikely large-space mentality.

In fact, I think that mentality is what has made our daily eating-from-our-garden goal possible day in and day out for the last seven months.  We just start the seeds and figure out where they'll be transplanted later!  There's always one more corner, or one more pot, where another plant will fit.

But even with that mentality, we did manage to stumble on a strategy that works well for bringing daily bounty onto our plates even in our small garden, and I think three of our plants have made it not only possible, but delicious. 

I love every plant in our garden, but these are the three that for the last seven months have been the most versatile, fitting easily into a wide variety of meals.


Since basil is good in several types of cuisine, we've found it to be one of our most versatile plants.  Last summer, I think we had twelve or thirteen plants for our household of two people.  Using a great pruning method, we had enough to use ourselves, to preserve, and to share with friends.

Dried:  I use dried basil in soups, home-made vegetarian chicken-like seasoning, and as a flavor for roasted vegetables, to name a few things.  Even when there's not much being harvested in the garden on a daily basis, the dried basil is so versatile that getting something into my mouth from the garden has been easy.

Pesto:  We happen to love pesto.  We eat it fresh, and we freeze extra batches to use for later.  And lest you think pasta is the only place for pesto?  Try it on toast, on potatoes, in stir fry, or even baked into a loaf of bread.

Fresh:  Bruschetta, chunky sphagetti sauce, and even as a salad tossed with sauteed garlic and onions and a bit of olive oil are just a few of the ways we've discovered to enjoy fresh basil.  It even works in green smoothies--as long as there are some other greens in there to help balance out the strong basil flavor.


It doesn't take too many parsley plants to supply the average person's need, but somehow we've ended up with, let me count, fifteen parsley plants in different stages of development.  Each plant can get huge, especially if your weather stays cool for a long time, which keeps them from going to seed, and you can just keep cutting from the same plant for quite a while.  Even though we've found ways to use a lot of fresh parsley ourselves, we've also been able to find friends to help us enjoy the garden bounty.

Fresh:  Parsley is an excellent garnish for hummus, it's great in scrambled tofu (or eggs) and hash browns, and in stir fries.  But one of our favorites has turned out to be using parsley as a salad green, especially in combination with cilantro (just use equal parts of each, and add whatever other salad fixings you love). 

Dried:  I don't use dried parsley nearly as often as I do dried basil (or even dill), but it's another versatile herb to use for seasoning all kinds of things, and therefore a great way to sneak in something from the garden at times when other fresh things might not be so readily available.

Red Sweet Peppers

Last spring we got some dried Guajillo peppers from the store.  They're a mild red pepper, and my husband wanted to try them in his home-made enchilada sauce (which is awesome, by the way).  He couldn't bear to let all the seeds from those dried peppers go to waste, so he tried sprouting some of them.

And that is how we ended up with a small Guajillo pepper forest in our front flower bed.  I'm sure they're all planted too close, but once you have all those plants you simply can't let any of them die.  So planted too close they are, and in an odd place at that.

Given the right conditions, pepper plants will produce loads of peppers even if they're grown in pots.  Last season, my father-in-law (who grows several varieties of hot peppers) harvested close to 1,000 peppers from one plant. 

Needless to say, you don't need a lot of space to accommodate a pepper plant or two if they're in a pot, especially with that kind of bounty coming from each plant!

Fresh:  These sweet peppers--or any other kind of red sweet pepper, I might add--fit easily into any salad, stir fry, salsa, taco, or vege platter.  

Dried:  When they're dried, any red pepper (in my opinion, at least) works well as a paprika substitute.  Talk about versatile!  Soups, sauces, home-made potato fries, and stir fries, not to mention enchilada sauce, are all great options for using a dried red pepper.

26 March 2015

Mighty Men of the Bible

Once you get past the nine chapters of genealogies in 1 Chronicles, it's not long before you get to a couple more chapters of lists.  These grab my attention more quickly than the genealogies.

First there's the guy who, in hand-to-hand combat, slew three hundred enemies at once.  Or the three men who planted their feet in a barley field and held the ground against the entire Phillistine army, and later battled their way through "the host of the Phillistines" simply to bring David a glass of water from his favorite well.

The lists of mighty men and their accomplishments continue on, with one eye-widening story of strength after another.

Then, as the lists of mighty men progress from David's time as a fugitive to David's early years as king in Hebron, some more mighty men caught my attention in a new way.

"And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment."  1 Chronicles 12:32

Oh, that spiritual Israel now would have two hundred and more mighty men (people), strong in their understanding of our times, to know what God's people ought to do!  And oh, that each Christian would strive the harder to gain such wisdom and understanding as God has promised to those who simply ask for it.

Because our times, too, are important in the history of God's people, and our times, too, demand understanding.

23 March 2015

March Loveliness

Is there anything so beautiful as dill plants in full flower?

On cloudy days, the blossoms catch my eye, their bright yellow acting as a substitute sunshine for the back yard, and I bask in their rays.  How pollen can seem to glow like that I still haven't figured out.

On sunny days, they make the perfect compliment for their blue-sky backdrop, stretching up above my head as if they want to reach as high as the sky.

I remind myself the unstoppable Texas heat is on its way, but right now, while the days are warm and the nights are cool and the humid air feels welcome and fresh, the garden and I bask in March loveliness.

The cayenne plant, I feel sure, grew several inches last week.  The bee balm put out more branches and looks like a respectable patch, when just a few days ago you could hardly tell if it would ever do anything ever.  The parsley row needs to be made into a hundred salads to keep it from going to seed soon.

And the dill?

It's hosting at least one little friend caterpillar who will turn into a black swallowtail butterfly, and the whole patch is making seeds enough for us and all our friends.  

Gardens are, after all, prolific.

20 March 2015

Beauty in Order: Appreciating the Genealogies

I'll admit it.  My eyes glazed over.

Nonetheless determined to get through the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles dedicated to genealogies, I prayed, asking God to help me understand why He thought it was so important to put in these long and tedious chapters.

Now, truth be told, I was recently more than fascinated to meet some distant cousins of mine and behold her amazing family tree.  It was a couple of rooms long, and a few feet tall, and there my branch was, all green and prolific and full of stories that came to my mind as I read over the names I recognized.

The difference between that genealogy and the biblical ones?  

Well, to put it bluntly, I'm in the one my relative showed me.  So are the people whose stories I've lived alongside and grew up hearing.

But with the biblical ones?

I suppose the Bible would be a much longer book if all the interesting stories that could be told about these lists and lists of people were actually included in the Bible.  As it stands, without the stories, the biblical genealogies fail to come to life for me, until I come across a long-lost familiar name, like David, or Joseph.

Which leaves me with a dilemma, because I believe what Paul said to Timothy about ALL Scripture being given by God and being useful for a whole list of really good things (see 2 Timothy 3:16).  

That means that if I think a part of the Bible is boring, it's my fault, not the Bible's fault, and I therefore need to grapple with it and ask for the gift of wisdom.  I don't think God would have just up and wasted nine chapters in His word without putting a blessing in there for me personally or for the cause of truth through the ages.

Meanwhile in the rest of my life, I've been on a quest to be more organized, more on top of the details.  I've been blessed to find some tools that are helping me immensely.  In fact, if you've been unfortunate enough to catch me at the wrong moment, you've heard all about my new checklist that I bought for a mere $8 and how it changed my life in less than 48 hours.

I'm experiencing on a day-to-day basis a rejuvenation of order in my practical life, and those little details on my cleaning checklist have life beyond the mere words "sweep kitchen and living room".

My cleaning checklist came to mind the next time I sat down with another long chapter of genealogies.  I thought of the New Testament admonition to do everything decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).  

I thought of how clean space around me sets the stage for beauty and creativity in my life.

And I came away impressed with my God of order, who not only inspired these detailed records to be kept in the first place, but also preserved them through thousands of years. 

I began seeing the genealogies not so much as something to plod through, but as an anchor, a clean start, a stage set for the chaotic stories to follow, a reminder of the One who lovingly counts the hairs on our heads and stores our tears in bottles, the One who records these details of history to remind me He has everything worked out for the future as well.

16 March 2015

A Musician's Thoughts on Sad Music

My soundtrack that last spring of graduate school as I studied, wrote papers, washed dishes (it DID happen sometimes!) was something we were learning in choir, "When David Heard", a Biblical text set afresh by Eric Whitacre.

"When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate, and wept, and thus he said,  'O, my son Absalom!  Would God I had died for thee!'"

The music had arrived late, which put us behind our rehearsal schedule for this fifteen-minute no-small-task piece, and our director asked us to listen to it often, following our parts.

And yes, I did just say fifteen-minute piece, and yes, the text above is the entire text. 

It's David weeping for his son, after all, knowing he might have been able to do something more not only for his physical salvation, but also his spiritual salvation, yet seeing that last chance slip through his fingers with his son's death in battle.

It's a complicated story, and I think David's grief was complicated.  Which, quite frankly, makes that fifteen minutes of beautiful and haunting choral weeping seem quite appropriate.

(If you're reading on e-mail, click over to the blog to listen to the YouTube recording.)

Then last week my mom told me about a talk she heard called "Ten Things to do to be Happy".  One of the things, she said, was to listen to sad music.

Wait, what?

The logic had something to do with the sad music giving you a venue to release and process your own sadness, rather than hanging onto it at the expense of your overall happiness.

Well, I had been feeling the weight of stress--my own, and some very intense experiences other people in my life had been going through--and I decided to give it a try.  I knew just where to begin, too, with that choir piece from graduate school, beautiful choral weeping spanning fifteen minutes.

And it sort of worked.  It did give me space to process.

The music made me cry a little, and while the words repeated over and over I had space to think and pray about all the things going on around me that didn't really make much sense.  In fact, I listened to the piece several times over a couple of days. 

There came, however, a limit.  Because the sad music didn't just give me the space to process, and then move on, but it also kept me processing beyond my need for the moment, and it KEPT me feeling sad.  

I needed happier music, and I needed it right away if I wasn't going to wallow in sadness indefinitely.

Enter "Eat Your Vegetables" (video below), another favorite graduate school discovery.  It's about prolific gardens and vegetables and the kind of bounty we all want our soil to bring forth, with a good share of humor mixed in.

It didn't take many rounds of vegetable music before I really did start to feel happier again.

So in case you're wondering if you should try listening to sad music to help you be happier?  Here's my vote:  give yourself a few minutes to listen to something sad, but plan ahead of time that you'll listen to something happy, too.

Because in the opinion of this musician at least, music not only gives us the chance to express and process the emotions we already have, but also the chance to influence the emotions and thoughts we want to have.  And if you want happiness, you can't feed yourself sadness and weeping, however beautifully composed, forever.

12 March 2015

Putting Down Roots

Is it even possible not to love orange blossom season?

By summer, I may well be weary of the relentless heat.  For now, though, I'm basking in the wisps of scent, here from the oranges, there from the huisache trees lining the running path.

There are days, even still, when this little transplant called me longs for something familiar, for family close enough to drive over for the weekend, for peaches in the summertime and tulips in spring.

Ah, but most days, when I walk out the door only to find whole flower beds full of blooming Amaryllis, or the neighbor's loaded papaya tree, or a real live alligator tussle in the nearby state park, or my very own year-round tiny plot of edible bounty....

My roots run just a little deeper into this foreign delight called tropical Texas.

09 March 2015

The Vine and Branches: On Learning, Teaching, and Bearing Fruit

Whenever I see a grape vine, I think of those days my husband and I went out to a little farm with 100-year-old vines where the woman let us pick grapes for a mere $9 a bushel.  

And then of course how exhausted I was that late night when we stayed up making and canning grape juice until 1:30 a.m. in graduate school, and how we still have one jar left in the cupboard (it has lived with us in three states now) waiting for an occasion just special enough to open it.

But mostly when I think of grape vines, I think of Jesus.  "I am the Vine," He said, "and you are the branches."

I think of Him, and I hope I bear beautifully delicious fruit by being connected with Him.

I read this week that Jesus taught so often out in the open air was precisely because He wanted the people who heard what He had to say--and all of us who now read what He had to say--to remember Him whenever we see the things He taught about, stopping to think anew about His words, and how they influence our lives.

A brilliant teaching technique, right?

It gives me pause to evaluate and grow both as a learner and a teacher, as I think about how to apply Jesus' words to my personal life, and His techniques to my own teaching.

05 March 2015

What's Growing, What We're Eating, Who We're Meeting

We haven't seen too many of our tiny lizard friends lately--too cold for them to be out.  The temperatures are still up and down, in the eighties for a few days, then in the fifties and sixties for a few days.  

I'll admit to looking forward to the warmer temperatures for two reasons:  the lizards, and the time of year when peppers, eggplants, and okra grow like crazy.

But right now I really can't complain about our various parsley patches--we're using parsley more as a salad green than an herb these days.  The dill patch, too, has finally done superbly well (after a couple of battles with butterflies...battles in the sense that we were trying to keep both the dill and the butterflies alive, of course).

Amazingly enough, while production seems to have slowed, we've still managed to eat something from the garden each day.  Except the day during a last-minute trip, but even on that day we ate something from my parents' garden, which I kind of take credit for because we got it set up there a year-and-a-half ago to accommodate my seedlings in the middle of our extended move.

So that means something home-grown has been on the table every day since September 1, 2014.  Pretty good record, right?

In November, we met the man in charge of the community garden near our house.  We don't grow things there, but I like to walk past it several times a week to get a glimpse of how things are doing.  They grow everything organically, and have built up the on-site soil for several years. 

When we met the man in charge, we instantly wanted to spend about five days asking him questions.  We settled for a few minutes of his time, though.  :)  

 One of the most important things we learned was that most tomatoes in our area succumb to the yellow leaf curl virus spread by white flies.  But since he told us which variety he grows with consistent results, we felt armed with knowledge to do better in the future, even though our tomato plants were already beginning to look sick.

What I didn't count on was how difficult it would be to find that tomato variety.  It took quite a few Google searches...but the good news is that now we know!  It probably didn't need to be such a prolonged research project.  

Nevertheless, I'm feeling thankful that I can go buy a six-pack of plants at a nearby nursery for $2.98, which gives me hope to have a few tomatoes this spring after all.

02 March 2015

Blue Seas Statice: Blooms on my Second-year Plants

When I first ordered seeds for Blue Seas Statice, I had no idea they would take until the second year to bloom.

The poor things did go through a lot of trauma--poor soil, heat, and being chopped up by the yard care man's weed eater on multiple occasions.  Yet they kept growing back, and I kept hoping as long as they kept growing.

Now the first one is just barely beginning to bloom, and I'm completely delighted with the color--as much as I hoped I would be.  Which of course means I'd better get some seeds started so I can enjoy them again next year.

We ordered ours from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and you can still find the same variety.