Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Biodegradable Containers Are a Win Win Component For Any Garden

Over the past few years biodegradable pots have become increasingly popular with nurseries and gardeners alike. There are several reasons for their popularity. One is that the roots of the plants to be transplanted are not damaged during transplanting. Another is ease of use, all the gardener has to do is to dig a hole slightly larger than the pot, place the pot in the ground, and let nature take care of the rest. The most important reason that bio-pots are so popular though, at least in my humble opinion, is that they keep thousands of tons of plastic out of the landfills and return to the earth that which was taken from the earth making gardening a much more sustainable endeavor.

Bio-pots can be composed of many biodegradable materials the most common being, peat moss, coir fiber made from coconut husks, and yes, believe it or not, composted cow manure which are called, of all things,  cow pots. Bio-pots have come along way from the bland gray containers from yesterday. There are now colored pots available from a variety of companies that are made from grain fibers and bear a remarkable resemblance to the popular clay and plastic pots. These pots look great in any windowsill and even better, they won’t clog up any landfills once they’ve outworn their welcome.

While bio-pots do make gardening easier there is one important tip I learned from Doug Baldwin of Dos Arbolitos at the Old Town Scottsdale Farmer’s market. I have decided to try something a little different in this post and show that tip via video. Please please, hold the applause until after you’ve seen it :)

I plan to incorporate more and more biodegradable materials into my ever expanding garden and even have a few experiments planned in the months ahead. Until the next time, “Happy Gardening”

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Exotic Fruits and Vegetables of the Philippines

In my opinion, one of the best features of the internet and more specifically, social networking is that it allows us to communicate with people from other countries and learn about their culture. I have always had a curiosity for tropical foods. As a child I remember learning about papayas while watching a film about the people of the tropics in elementary school. Unfortunately I never tasted one until I was well into adulthood. Well, thanks to my facebook and twitter friend, Sunshine Abarquez Maxilom has been kind enough to share some pictures of some of the fruits and vegetables found at her local market. Thank you very much Sunshine!

The first is Durian which looks like a porcupine and supposedly tastes like almond-custard and smells like a cross between dirty socks and rotten onions which doesn’t sound too appealing but I am told they are really quite good and you can even eat the seeds; Shineshine tells me they are quite tasty.  Durian has the distinct reputation as being the King of Fruits, it also has a reputation for being banned from some hotels because of its strong odor which brings a question, “ If a hotel is to good for a King, who can stay there?” Durian grown on trees and can grow up to 6 inches in diameter and 12 inches long weighing 3-7 pounds which means this is one tree you wouldn’t want to stand under.


Durian, The King of Fruits

Next is the Gabi which is Tagalong for taro root. The Gabi, for all practical purposes is the equivalent of the potato in Polynesia. The majority of the Gabi plant is edible including the elephant-ear-like leaves. The root of the Gabi is starchy and sweet an is eaten as a vegetable or a treat.

Gabi (Taro Root)
Looking for a natural born cancer killer, the guavano or guyabano fruit has been touted as being more effective than chemotherapy for treating cancer. Long know for having many homeopathic uses, the guavano fruit is being studied by medical institutes, universities, and pharmaceutical companies for it’s ability to fight a vast array of illnesses.

Guavano is a sweet tasting fruit with a tough spiked skin. It typically grows from 6-8 inches long and weighs about 5 lbs. Inside it is filled with a creamy flesh and hundreds of seeds that are not edible which reminds me of a pomegranate which also has many healing properties. It seems like there is a connection between seedy fruits and hollistic properties which might be a great topic for another blog.

Guavano, a Medical Marvel

In the Philippines a sweet potato is called kamote and virtually the entire plant can be eaten. Kamote is typically boiled and is eaten with fish.  It is much more nutritious than regular potatoes and is a rich source of Vitamin A ,B,and C as well a iron, calcium, and phosphorus.


It’s been said that “good things come in small packages.” And evidence of this is a wonderful little orange called Kiat-kiat.   Kiat-kiats are sweet, easy to peel, and abundant in the Philippines making them an inexpensive and delicious snack. They are also good peeled and added to salads.  Kiat-kiats are a variety of Mandarin-Oranges which are those perfect little canned beauties that go so well with orange jello.  Because kiat-kiats are easy to transport it is not uncommon to see them in the produce section of many super-markets in the U.S.

Sweet and Tasty Kiat-Kiats

Have you ever eaten a sponge?  Patola, a common vegetable in the Philippines, when dried becomes stiff and porous and is often used as a bath brush.  Patola grows on a vine like a cucumber and looks like a cactus.  It is prepared and eaten by cooking or frying and is used frequently in soups and salads. Patola is a rich source of calcium, iron, and phosphorus.


While many of us have eaten bananas, in the Philippines they eat the heart of banana or Puso ng saging as it is called there; they are actually banana blossoms. Guinataang Puso ng Saging or banana blossom cooked in coconut milk is a popular dish in the Philippines. Puso ng saging are also available in many Asian Markets in the US.
Puso ng saging (Heart of Banana)

Not to be mistaken for the popular card game Uno, The vegetable Upo is a huge gourd that often grows into odd shapes. Upo, eaten only before it is ripe, hardens when ripened and can be used for such items as handbags and water jugs.  Upo is also know as winter melon because it is easily preserved and is often eaten in the winter in such countries as China and Korea.


Another vegetable common in the Philipines is called sayote and yes, it is also called chayoti in Central America. Sayote is a member of the gourd/squash family and is often lightly cooked or served raw with salads. While it does not have much flavor, it is a very good source of amino acids and vitamin C. See also my post on The Exotic Fruits and Vegetables of Costa Rica.


Our next fruit, Sweet Chico Pineras, look almost like brown eggs. I have not been able to learn much about them other than and people either love or hate them.

Sweet Chico Pineras

Last on our list is malunggay often referred to as the poor man’s vegetable it is now know as a  miracle food because it contains many vitamins that are beneficial to health and actually can be used as a remedy for many illnesses. Malunggay are neither a fruit or vegetable but an edible leave of a tree that just happens to be a fabulous nutritional supplement.


Once again I would like to thank ShineShine for taking the time to share these photos with us, it’s been a real treat. Just for the record, ShineShine is also a singer/guitarist, photographer and all-around talented person and without a doubt a rising star.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about these exotic fruits and vegetables as much as I have enjoyed writing about and learning about them. I look forward to visiting many more markets around the world either in person or via then internet, but most of all, I enjoy sharing them with you.

Until the next time, Happy Gardening

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Its a Miracle, The Food Safety Bill Passes in Record Time!

How can a bill that has a 95% opposition rate in the polls pass into law? What amazes me most is that only a few days ago the S 510 bill was dead on the capital floor.  Now, as if by some miracle it has passed both the house and senate and is expected to be quickly signed by the president.  It is just absolutely amazing how quickly a special interest bill can pass while a bill that actually helps the American public can take forever to be passed into law.  Well I have to hand it to the lobbyists, they pulled off a miracle and I hope everyone will want to thank them for higher food prices.  Fortunately, Senator Jon Tester D-Montana added an amendment to the bill that protects small growers who sell withing a 275 mile radius from the bulk of the regulations, but they will still have to have to identify hazards (whatever they are), and implement preventive measures which typically translates into one thing, higher costs for both the producer and the consumer.  Oh well, what else is new.  

I will pass on more information as I learn about it and how this will effect the consumer and our Farmer's Market's,  in the meantime,  please continue to support your local growers and businesses and please continue to be a pain in your congressman's rear-end!

Until the next time. Happy gardening!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Senate Bill S 510 Going Down In Flames

Hurray!  I love passing along good news and today I am happy to announce that the Food Safety Modernization Act is about to Die in Congress because of a technicality.....Yeah for technicalities!!  What has led to its demise is a law that states it must originate in the House if it is a revenue raising bill; it started in the Senate and then passed in both houses with overwhelming support.   Well, leave it to our politicians botch things but gratefully this time it works out in the people's favor. The democrats tried to attach a mega-spending bill to it on its second time through and it was crushed.  I just like to think that angels intervened on our behalf.

While this is a great victory for the American people, it is by no means over; someone is sure to draft another bill. There is no question that the United States need to protect is food supply, since when did it become a big problem.  I mean, e-coli and salmonella have been around for years and quite frankly there is no simple way to detect the presence of these and other food-borne germs.  Senator Tom Coborn R-Okalhoma opposes the bill and states in a CNN Politics Article that,  "it spends billions and increases government regulations without actually making the food supply safer."  What it would do though if it were to pass is to regulate small growers, farmers markets, and small producers to the point that it would be unprofitable for them to stay in business.  Add to this the phenomenal cost of trying to enforce and comply with these regulations and it is clear that the ones to absorb those costs will be the American people; we cannot afford to let this happen.

Therefore, I have appointed myself a watchdog for any other activity regarding food safety and I pledge to be a thorn is the side of any corporation or politician that trys to sneak through special interest legislation regarding food safety that does nothing for the citizens of the United States other that raise costs and eliminate the competition for the Mega Corporations.  I love being able to have the freedom to buy food directly from the grower, and I love the entrepreneurial spirit that is coursing through the veins of the American people right now and I am not about to stand idly by and watch our government extinguish that fire.

Until the next time,  Happy Gardening

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Container Garden Update,

It has just occurred to me that I haven’t done an update post on my container garden but I’m here to say things are looking mighty fine. The weather has been in the 70s during the day with plenty of sunshine and the low 50s at night so the weather is great for the garden. We did have a couple of nights the other week that dipped down to near freezing, but with a container garden it is easy to avoid frost damage; all I had to do was move them indoors.

My 1st Container Garden

The Heritage Tomatoes I planted are doing fantastic. All of the research I have done says that Heritage Tomatoes produce less fruit that hybrids but if my little garden is any indication of this, the facts are totally wrong. The heritage I put out early now has about 15 tomatoes on it with more about to appear. The real challenge with this is making sure it has enough water. I use a 3 gallon self-watering pot to plant my first heritage but next year I am using a five gallon. The 3 gallon doesn’t allow the plant to get a large enough root system to support itself. This means that if I want to get large fruits I will need to prune off some of the unproductive branches. This will assure that the fruit gets enough moisture to reach its full size. I do need to be careful not to prune the plant back too much or it will not produce enough sugar to fill out the fruits and it may even die. I will be doing another post very soon on pruning tomatoes as it is very important. As far as my hybrid tomatoes, there are plenty of flowers but so far only one fruit.

Three of the Fifteen HeritageTomatoes
On This  Plant

My Anaheim Pepper plant has four fruits each about half way to full size. I think that I would have gotten a better yield had I planted it in a larger pot to begin with as it is now finished blooming. Just a note, this is my first real attempt at a container garden so I am really learning much about the importance of container size selection; the next crop will be much more successful.

Anaheim Peppers

The Jalapeño Pepper has several fruits and again I used two small of a container, I should have used a one gallon instead of a half gallon. This will hold true for all of my peppers. The red peppers were kept in the original pot too long before transplanting so they are way behind the others and are not even flowering yet.
Jalapeno Peppers

There has only been one casualty in the garden; my Sweet Basil Plant withered and died when I put it out in the Sun. Last week when I was down at the market I ran this by Doug of the Herb Guys. He told me it was an acclimation problem common with plants bought at large garden centers. I will be posting a solution to this in an upcoming blog as well as an introduction to the Herb Guys and the wonderful services they provide to local gardeners.

Well it’s Sunday, the weather is gorgeous, and I feel like taking a hike so until the next time, “Happy Gardening!”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Valley of the Sun Farmers Market Cookbook Signing Event

1st Ever Valley of the Sun Farmers Market Cookbook

Hello All, I just want to use this post to get this word out that my friend Kathleen Ames will be having a Cookbook Signing in Phoenix Arizona.  Kathleen has put together an incredible cookbook that is destined to be a Kitchen Classic.  As stated in my previous blog post, this Cookbook is unique in that it was written by local chefs, growers, vendors, and processors with an emphasis on buying local.  Most of the recipes in this cookbook can be made using ingredients found at the local Farmers Markets.  Don't miss this chance to support local permaculture and to get a signed copy of one of the best and most unique cookbooks to hit the market. There will also be a second signing at a date to be announced later.  I will keep everyone posted.

The first of the Cookbook Signing Event will be this Thursday, Dec.9,2010 from 11am to 2pm. at the Borders Bookstore at 24th St and Camelback Rd in Phoenix,AZ.  The store is in the mall next to The Cheesecake Factory.

 If you don't live in the Phoenix area, and you still want to get a copy of her book, you can visit her website: ; its well worth the price.  I rarely get this excited about a cookbook but this is a must have for every kitchen and I hope to try many of the recipes myself. I will try and get pictures of the event to share on my next blog.

Until the next time,  Happy Gardening   -Scott-

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Truly Original Cookbook Supports Local Farmers Markets With Great Recipes

I wish I could say I thought of it first, but I didn't; thankfully Kathleen Ames did! Kathleen has created a fabulous cookbook titled The Farmers Market Cookbook  and the current edition is the Valley of the Sun Edition. The unique feature about Kathleen’s cookbook it that it is tailor-made to use ingredients that support local producers and vendors.

One of things I enjoy most about going to a Farmers Market  is all of the wonderfully creative people I meet. I originally stopped by Kathleen’s booth at Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market  because I saw that she had call to action flyers regarding Senate Bill 510. I discovered that Kathleen is also very passionate about open markets, and like myself, hopes to be able to visit markets all over the world. Kathleen is very enthusiastic about supporting Farmer’s Markets and has published a marvelous cookbook as testimony to this passion.

Valley of The Sun
Farmers Market Cookbook
 Kathleen Ames’s Cookbook is a wonderful, well-written collection of recipes contributed by local chefs, farmers, vendor’s and market supporters. If you enjoy gourmet cooking then you won’t want to miss this cookbook. There are over 300 recipes; everything from avocado rolls to zucchini bread. For those into healthy drinks, there is even a recipe for apple grass juice, and it looks delightful!

Photo From The Acknowledgement Page

Recipes are not all that can be found in Kathleen’s cookbook. There are many helpful ideas including meal planning tips, a list for keeping a well-stocked pantry, baking tips and hints, and measurement conversion tables. Among the many helpful items in the appendix is a calorie counting table and a glossary of cooking terms. Also included with the cookbook is a CD containing a list of many vendors and supporters of Arizona’s Farmer’s Markets and three pages of vendor coupons that can be used at the markets.

Right now there are only a couple of ways to get a copy of this fantastic cookbook! One is to order it on Kathleen’s website: , the other is to visit Kathleen’s booth at one of several markets listed the cookbook page on her website. Word also has it that her book will soon be available at Borders, and she will be having a couple of signing events in the near future; I will keep you posted as to times and locations.
Yours Truly with Kathleen Ames, Author of The Valley
Of The Sun Farmer's Market Cookbook.

For those of you who are looking for great recipes using fresh, high-quality ingredients, this cookbook is a must have item for your kitchen. The cost of the book is $14.95 + tax at the markets. Add $5.00 shipping and handling for online orders. Either way this cookbook is a bargain! I plan on buying several more copies to pass on as gifts and to use mine as a weekly meal planner and shopping guide. I look forward to hearing more from Kathleen in the future.

Until the next time, Happy Gardening.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Please Help Save the Farmers Market

I paid a visit to the Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market this morning and was pleased to see fliers standing out against Senate Bill 510! I am not surprised by this as most of the vendors in this Farmers Market will be out of business if this bill passes. I do not normally like to get political with this blog, but if I don't, and this bill passes as it is written, then much of the purpose of my efforts will be lost. Therefore, I will do everything in my power to stand against the passage of this bill as it is written and support those who favor the Tester-Hagan Amendment  and the Managers Amendment to this bill which gives more leeway to small to mid-sized farms and processors. The bill as it is written favors large corporate growers and processors and will force small and mid-sized producers out of business. Our economy and way of live will suffer for this and cannot bear it! We cannot do it alone, we need the help of the public to step up and stand with us.  It will only take a few minutes of your time and will preserve a growing trend of buying locally and will help encourage more small businesses to establish themselves.  The small businesses and local economies are what our country was built on; we cannot afford to lose them.

Please Please Please get involved!  Follow the links below and call your Senators. Just simply read them the following message:

I am a constituent of Senator_______________, and a representative of insert your local Farmers Market here Farmers Market, and I am calling to ask him/her to vote for the Manager's amendment and the Tester-Hagan Amendment to the Food Safety Modernization Act, Senate Bill 510.  We need a food safety bill that cracks down on corporate bad actors without erecting barriers to more local and regional food sourcing.  Size and practice appropriate food safety regulation for small and mid-sized farms and processors is vital economic recovery, public health, and nutritional well being."

You can find more information at They have done a fantastic job of summarizing this bill and of making it easy to take action.

If you live in states other than Arizona you can find contact information for your National and State Representatives at  In the upper right hand corner under the header GET INVOLVED is a search box. Just type in your zip code hit go and then click on your Senators name. This will return his/her contact info.

Other links to help get you involved are:

The John Birch Society  This link will allow you to attach your own comments to a prewritten message which can then be emailed to your representatives.  Very easy to use.

Popvox  This is a survey site and also lets you send comments to your representatives.

Govtrack  This is a link to a summary of the bill.  Please read between the lines and notice how much of it is directed at setting up offices in foriegn countries. This bill wreeks of outsourcing, hidden agendas, and the corporate monopolization of our food sources.

Again, Please Please Please Get involved and please send your comments,


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

S 510, The Most Dangerous Bill In US History, Who Does It Protect?

Well once again our corporate rulers are using congress to eliminate yet another of our freedoms. It’s being called the “Most dangerous bill in United States history and unless we act quickly to stop it, it may soon become law. It’s bill S510 and is named the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. On November 18th, 2010, the Senate passed a Motion to Invoke Cloture by a vote of 75 to 24. What this means is that the Senate will soon vote on this bill possibly as early as this weekend; we must stop them!

The reason this Act is so dangerous is because it severely restricts our ability to raise our own food or to buy food products from local producers by placing stringent regulations on food production. Basically I must admit I am appalled!  If it passes most Farmer's Markets and small producers will not be able to afford to operate because the regulations will be too cost-prohibitive. With the recent popularity of local markets and the move back to a simpler lifestyle is no wonder the food giants want to put tough regulations on food production. It’s really quite simple; they want to protect their profits.

I took some time to read through this bill and then I read between the lines. They make it look as though they are doing this to protect us from deadly bacteria that could contaminate our food supply. So tell me, they have had the opportunity to do this years ago so why all of a sudden are they moving so quickly and with so much stealth to steamroll this thing through? Well, in my opinion, its quite simple, if you want to sell someone a lemon, you gussy it up with a fresh coat of wax and put some sawdust in the transmission. Of course the buyer won’t realize he has a clunker until after he’s bought it and then it’s too late. It’s the same thing with this bill, they have added all kinds of colorful language stating that it’s to protect our school children from allergic reactions in the classroom and to prevent food-borne illnesses. When examined closely this bill speaks very little of protecting the people from contaminated food and speaks in volumes about setting up offices in foreign countries to monitor the food that is imported to the U.S. In fact, the majority of this bill addresses the importation of food also known as “Outsourcing” I doubt very much that our governments cares as much about the health of its citizens as it does about protecting the profits of the food giants.

I also find it very interesting that they want to be sure that all of the labs that test for food safety share knowledge and methods freely. How convenient, this means no one can dispute a finding or health concern so the government can effectively shut down anyone they want at any time and there will be no way for the affected enterprise to defend themselves by obtaining independent laboratory results.

I only recently found out about this bill and realize there is not enough time to put a strong argument together to stop the passage of this bill so I will post several links to other articles that support what I am saying. I am also posting a link to a summary of the bill itself. Please take the time to read it and then let your Senators know how you feel. You can do this by going to the John Birch Society and posting a comment which will be forwarded to your Senators. The link is:                                      
Another useful link to voice your opinion is
By the way, 95% of the people surveyed on this site are opposed to this bill.

Also, a good summary of the harm this bill could do to our individual freedom can be found at:
At the bottom of this article is a list of how your Senators voted. I will take a minute to thank Senators McCain and Kyl of Arizona for standing opposed.

I hope you will take the time to read through this Bill at:

Until the next time, Happy Gardening!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pico de Gallo Farmer's Market Style

About once or twice a month some of the people I work with have potluck lunches to celebrate someone's birthday or some similar occasion.  Usually someone will come around with a list asking what you would like to bring.  I'm often asked to bring the drinks or the utensils.  I suppose this is because I'm a guy and guys can't cook right?  Well I can cook but that's a different story. 

This time, as luck would have it, I was asked to bring the chips and salsa. "No problem," I thought.   A bag of Tostidos and a couple of jars of La Victoria  oughta do it.  Of course, the overachiever in me quickly ruled that out.  I started thinking chips and Salsa on a grander scale and then it occurred to me, I would make pico de gallo and I would make it completely with ingredients purchased at the farmer's market.

So Saturday morning I made a list of ingredients and set out to the Old Town Farmer's Market in Scottsdale. My list consisted of Tomatoes, Onions, Green Onions, Jalapeno Peppers, and Fresh Chives.  Let me tell you, nothing beats Pico de Gallo made with fresh ingredients.  You just can't get the flavor in store bought veggies and my mouth was watering before I ever left the market.

Tasty Ingredients Fresh from the Market

Now That's a Tomato
 I wasted no time getting to work once I arrived home and I thought I would share my Pico de Gallo del Farmer's Market recipe with with you along with some tasty pictures of the process.
Step 1:

Dice one large tomato and put it in a bowl. 
While doing this cut off one....ok two slices of tomato,
sprinkle with sugar or salt and pepper and sample it to
be sure it tastes as delicious as it looks.

Dice One Large Onion
I prefer to use Red Onions
which are stronger and really
Beef up the pico.  It's OK to cry
When you do this!

Remove the seeds from one
Jalapeno Pepper and chop into
itty bitty pieces.
Do not rub your eyes!

Chop Up The Green Part of 2 or 3
Green Onions.  Eat the bottoms.
Brush your teeth.  Take some Breath Mints

Chop Up, Tear Up, Rip up or somehow
cut into tiny pieces 2-3 sprigs of cilantro.
  Finally, ad a dash of salt, a spigeon of black pepper and about a half a tsp. of garlic powder.  Mix thoroughly and chill in the refrigerator a minimum of 30 minutes. 

Serve with chips or use as a topping to your
favorite Mexican food. 
I only made one mistake when I made this batch of Pico de Gallo, I didn't make enough.   The bowl was empty before half of my coworkers made it through the line.  There is just something about fresh ingredients that make your favorite recipe a stellar dish.  Everyone at work wanted the recipe and several will be heading to Old Town this weekend.  If you like Pico, head on out to your local Farmers Market and buy fresh ingredients, it will blow you away. Until the next time, Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

From Lemon Boys to Brandy Wines, Heirloom Tomatoes are FANTASTIC

They have such names as Lemon Boy, Brandywine, Arkansas Traveler. There are over 100 varieties and lately they have become all the rage. You might have noticed them walking through the garden section of your favorite do-it-yourself center. They’re called………. Heirloom Tomatoes.

A Delicious Heirloom
Heirloom tomatoes are nothing new, in fact before there were Hybrid Tomatoes there were Heirloom Tomatoes. The best way for me to describe Heirloom Tomatoes is that they are like the one’s Grandma used to grow. You know, the kind that were just bursting with flavor and were wonderful to eat sliced with some salt and pepper or my preference, a teaspoon full of sugar. Heirloom Tomatoes are simply tomatoes that have not been hybridized or genetically altered in any way; they are propagated with seeds from earlier crops.

Some of the drawbacks to heirlooms are that they do not produce as well as hybrids and they tend to be very particular about the climate they grow in. However, this does make them an excellent candidate for container gardening because if it’s too hot out side they can be moved to a cooler area, or vise-versa. Heirlooms also tend to have less fruit and more foliage but as a rule, more foliage means better tasting fruit. This is a great tradeoff.

You won’t typically find Heirloom Tomatoes in your local supermarket; this is because most growers prefer hybrid tomatoes because of higher yields, rapid growth, and resistance to disease. The drawback to hybrids is that flavor is sacrificed for rapid growth and yield. Just a note, Heirloom Tomatoes can be found at many Farmer’s Markets, and some organic supermarkets, however, the best way to get them is to grow them!

Until the next time, Happy Gardening!

Search for heirloom tomatoes

Monday, November 1, 2010

Container Garden October Planting

Well the cooler weather has finally arrived in Arizona and its planting time. This will be my first real attempt at container gardening. Ironically my bio states that my Grandmother raised tomatoes in the winter in Minnesota in containers. Well I shall do the same in Arizona. It’s funny too that the growing season here in Arizona is almost the opposite of that in the Midwest. We do have to watch out for midwinter freezes though (yes it does freeze in Arizona), but this makes container gardening ideal as I only have to move the pots under the cover of my balcony.

Tomatoes, Peppers, Chives and Cilanto, a Good Start
  To begin, I planted three varieties of tomatoes two of which are heritage tomatoes and one is a hybrid. I also planted Anaheim Peppers, Red Bell Peppers, and my favorites, Jalapeño Peppers. I also transplanted some chives I had started this summer and some cilantro. All I have left to do now is plant some onions and I’ll be able to make some garden fresh pico de gallo. I also planted some Sweet Basil that I started earlier but then almost killed it by putting it out too early. Apparently, Sweet Basil likes full sun but prefers milder temperatures. Our temperature here right now is between 75-90F and on the patio it reaches over 100. I’ll wait until the highs are in the low 70’s to put the Basil out. I am happy to say though that the Basil has made a miraculous recovery and looks to be available for spaghetti dinner in a couple of months.

Sweet Basil
 I’ve been using miracle grow potting mix but a little bird told me Lowes will not be carrying it anymore. I decided to try Sta-Green Moisture Max Potting Mix. Sta-Green claims that its soil is formulated to protect against over and under-watering. Sta-Green Moisture Max also contains Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potash, and Sulfur so no fertilizer is needed for nine months. I did notice that the Sta-Green soil drained more easily so I guess the real results will come with time.

One cool thing I’ve noticed more of this year are biodegradable planting pots. They are made of peat moss and can be placed directly in the soil. This is not only better for the environment but better for the plants as well because the root systems do not get disturbed during transplanting.

Biodegradable Pot
 I plan on adding some cooler weather crops such as cabbage, lettuce, and broccoli in a couple of weeks. My eventual plan will be to have a year around container garden. In order to do that I will have to come up with a lighting system because my condo is too dark and edible plants need lots of light, but that’s another blog.

Until the next time, Happy Gardening!

Search for potting soil

Search for planting pots

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rain Water Collection Systems Make Great Sense

During a recent visit to my brother’s house in Minnesota, my sister-in-law Julie, also a gardening enthusiast took a few minutes to show me the new rain barrel they purchased. All I could think was, “Wow, have rain barrels come a long way!” When I think of rain barrels I conjure up images of musky old oak-stave barrels sitting in a dark corner of the house where nobody can see them. I remember so well floating my toy boats in the one at grandma and grandpa's farm!
The Fiskars 5998 58 Gallon collection system with Spiced Granite Finish

Search for rain water collection barrels

As charming as they were I think many HOAs would shun them. These days, thanks to advances in modern materials, rain barrels, or rain water harvesting system as they have come to be known, have become aesthetically pleasing, often blending into the landscape due to the use of earth colors and textures. The system Julie showed me is manufactured by Fiskars. It is a 5998 Salsa 58 gallon Rain Harvesting System with a Spiced Granite finish. Fiskars offers a variety of styles and sizes of rain water collection systems.

Modern rain harvesting systems collect rainwater off of a home or businesses roof via the building’s gutters and downspouts. A 500 square foot roof typically will fill a 55 gallon barrel in one hour in a moderate rainstorm. The way the Fiskar’s system works, as do most systems, is by connecting into the building’s downspout. Once the barrel is full the water is carried away from the building by the downspout. This prevents the rainwater from running over the top of the barrel and collecting near a building’s foundation. The Fiskars barrels have a spigot located near the bottom which allows a hose to be attached to the system and allowing for easy watering of plants.

Using rain water to water plants has some very significant benefits both to the plants and to the environment. Municipal water, which has been treated for drinking, contains chemicals which are harmful both to the soil and to the plants. Collected rain water contains only small amounts of chemical contaminants leached from the roof and for the most part is pure water. This is very advantageous to plant health. Using rainwater also reduces runoff that can carry harmful sediments into streams.

I did a little math and based on US Census figures there were approximately 1.2 million single family homes in Arizona in 2000. By my calculation, if every single family home in Arizona collected an average of 100 gallons of rain water each month, that would be 120 million gallons collected or 368 acre feet of water per month or 4419 acre feet per year. Based on the rising cost of municipal water, the ever tightening water use restrictions, and the health benefits to plants, it makes good sense to install a rain collection system. Best of all, rainwater is FREE!

Until the next time, happy gardening!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love People-Use Things, Supermarket or Farmers Market Part Three

A Tremendously Popular Farmer's Market in Guadalupe, San Jose Costa Rica

A number of years ago I was taking a class in sales at a community college and something the instructor said has stuck with me all these years. He repeated a quote that went something like this, “Love people and use things – not love things and use people.”

I can’t help but think first of all how true that statement is, of how important it is to follow that adage in order to establish healthy relationships both in our home lives and in business. Then I can’t help but think of how far we have gotten away from that principle; it seems these days that it’s all about the bottom line, and that people have taken a back seat to profits or things if you wish.

My purpose for writing this series is not to tear down the supermarket chains; they have their place and we would be hard-pressed to survive without them. My intent instead is to remind them that the customer is number one and that it is a privilege to do business with them, not the other way around. It all begins in how you treat people. It seems that in their haste to maximize profits they do so at the expense of customer service. They seem to have lost sight of the fact that the real way to maximize profits is to value the customer and not just with words but with actions. I realize it has to be very difficult for a mega-store employee to have much passion for their job when first of all they are treated like a number and second of all they have no vested interest in the products they are responsible for. It’s pretty hard to be passionate about anything when the only ones profiting are shareholders and executives. So relax HMCS employees, I don’t hold those upside down smiles against you; they are understandable.

In stark contrast to the HMCS’s are the farmer’s markets. My other intent for writing this blog is to support them and to support all grassroots businesses who are trying to get a foothold in the “American Dream!” As I walk through the aisles of these markets the positive energy is invigorating. Here I see people who are truly passionate about their product(s). They should be, in most cases they are the entrepreneur responsible for the development, manufacture, and marketing of their product; it is their dream, their passion! When I ask someone about the tomatoes they grew, or the granola they made, or the honey they processed I can hear the excitement in their voices as they tell me all about why theirs in the best, and what they do to make it that way. They want me to be their customer because they feel there is something about their product that is beneficial to me; they are applying the “Love People” principle to their business plan and they in turn are successful.

The Phoenix Public Market

I am sitting here right now writing this blog and am eating some of the best salsa I have ever had; I can’t help but think that the most important ingredient for making this salsa taste so great is love. I know a little bit about the gentleman who created it, nurtured it, and perfected it. I know that he has won awards with it. I know that it is something that he has developed over many years and that he has always strived to make it better. I also remember, most of all, that he took the time to share all of this with me in the middle of a crowded market because he valued me as a customer. In turn, he has established a loyal patron.

I recently was talking to an acquaintance of how the corporations have monopolized many of the industries in this country and around the world. I mentioned my displeasure at how I feel they have been taking advantage of consumers and of how they are gouging us and selling us inferior products. I spoke with him about corporate downsizing, about putting more of a burden on fewer employees to increase the bottom line, and I chatted with him about the perils of outsourcing and about how we need to put the economy back in the hands of the people. His reply was that it was only going to get worse, and I can most certainly understand his sentiment, but I know better because I have seen the passion and excitement of not just the vendors at the markets but the patrons too. I have witnessed first hand the popularity of the Farmer’s Markets and can see that we are on the verge of something exciting and that the grassroots businesses will thrive again. Things will get better because no matter what, the customer is always first, and they will always go where they are loved!

Until the next time, happy gardening!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Supermarket or Farmer's Market part two, Checkout Chaos

It never ceases to amaze me how an HMCS will advertise how much they value their customers. I mean really, they greet you at the door with a half-hearted “Welcome to our HMCS,” and then walking through the store it seems as though the employees are too busy or maybe too disillusioned to even so much as smile or ask if you need help finding anything. But the real irony is that now-days, at the end of a visit you are checked out by a machine. Well let me share about my last experience with a self-checkout machine.

On my last visit to my local HMCS I got into it with one of these nasty little units. I mean, talk about a lack of personal care. This little robot was scolding me before I even got started. I was greeted with an, “Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

“What,” I thought, “I haven’t even taken anything out of my cart!” This must have been the last customer’s error…geeze!!

Not liking how this relationship was starting out, I looked over at the other checkout lines to see how many were actually manned by a human. I spot one lady checker working furiously to checkout a long line of people which should say something to the HMCS executives. “PEOPLE LIKE TO DO BUSINESS WITH PEOPLE!!!”

I decide that even though I hate it, I will stick with the robot because I don’t have enough time to wait for a human being which I am pretty sure was part of the HMCS executives’ plan all along. I press the start in English button and the madness begins.

“Please scan your shopper’s card or scan your first item.”

I scan my card. “Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

“What, I haven’t even scanned anything yet!”

I cautiously scan my first item which seems to work. I then struggle for a few seconds to open the plastic bag thinking, that I wasn’t even given a choice between paper or plastic. If there is one thing I struggle with it is opening plastic bags and I take about 10 seconds to do this instead of 5 and because of my slowness the stupid robot shouts, “Please put the item in the bagging area!”

“Man,” I think, “who programs these stupid things?”

I am only given a few seconds to get the can of soup into the bag before this ridiculous machine starts telling me I’m going too slow. I mean, this is a can of soup, not a hand-grenade. What’s the big hurry?

I get through the canned items and the dairy items with about the same level of harassment. On several occasions an attendant in summoned who I politely tell that I’ll let him know when I need his help. Sensing my frustration he shyly backs away. I finish with the canned goods and boxed goods dreading what is about to come…..the produce! This is when the real drama begins.

The first item is a bunch of bananas. Fortunately these are not in plastic so I can read the product code. Of course the machine doesn’t know I can read so it summons the attendant whom I brush away reminding him I’ll call him when I need him. Next are the apples. I can’t read the code so I decide to look it up in the machine’s data-base, not a good idea! “Item not found” the machine bellows.

What do you mean, “Item not found?” I ask out loud.

“4033,” the attendant chimes.

“Oh great now he’s getting in on the harassment,” I think to myself. By this time I am starting to get frazzled and in turn am making more mistakes. Not thinking I place the apples in the bagging area, a big mistake.

The robot, now blaring shouts, “ Unexpected item in the bagging area!”

“Huh,” I think.

“You need to place them on the scale,” the attendant says in a scolding manner.

“Well pardon my ignorance,” I think to myself.

This chaos goes on for another few minutes until I finally get this nasty little unit to accept my apples. This whole leaves me the feeling that I have been demoted all the way back to the second grade! Then, I look over to see that the last person in the human manned line has already left.

“I should have gotten in that line,” I sigh thinking back to a time when a friendly checker would chit-chat with me while the bagger asked if I wanted paper or plastic and if I wanted help out to the car. I wonder, almost out loud, if those days are gone forever. As my stress subsides and my thoughts begin to clear, I think to myself, “The Farmer’s Market’s, I need to shop more at the Farmer’s Market’s.”

Stay tuned for part three coming next week.  In the meantime, Happy Gardening!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Super Market or Farmer's Market

When I was taking English Composition in college one of the writing patterns we explored was compare and contrast. Well I just had a real life example of compare and contrast, and I simply must share it! So here today I am going to compare/contrast the Farmer’s Markets vs. the huge mega-corporate supermarkets or HMCS as I will refer to them from this point on.

Yesterday, I made a trip to the local HMCS but with great reluctance. I used to enjoy spending an hour or so in the local supermarket but that was when the people that worked there actually liked their jobs. To me the supermarkets are a cold and impersonal place designed to do one thing, take your money and shove you out the door with the least expense possible. Don’t believe me, ask their accountants. So without further ado about my dislike of the megastores, here is my short compare/contrast essay. I always save the best for last so I’ll write about the local HMCS first.

When I first walk in the door of the HMCS, I am greeted at the door by some poor old guy who couldn’t quite cut the mustard as a Wal-Mart ( oh my God, Wal-Mart is actually in the spell-check dictionary) greeter. Come to think about it, why did all these stores need to copy Wal-Mart anyhow, couldn’t they come up with something original, like a squad of cheerleaders at the door or maybe a circus clown who gives animal balloons to children and pretty girls. With all do respect though, Wal-Mart has awesome greeters. My HMCS greeter mumbled something which could have been,
“Welcome to HMCS” or maybe it was
“Hi, I hate standing at the door here but it is the only job I can do to supplement my measly Social-Security checks and I really need this job so mrmmmmmbkle c cooooooommmmmumble mumble.” He really did seem like a sweet guy though, just a poor pawn in the game of profits.

After getting past the shy greeter and a bunch of lawn furniture clogging up the bakery section (which begs the question: Just why is there lawn furniture in the bread aisle and what marketing genius thought this up?) I mosey on into the produce section and check my list. I need onions, green bell peppers, fruit, and a tomato. Looking through the bin of wilted bell peppers I finally find one that looks edible thinking to myself does anyone ever rotate this stock or has some accountant given them the OK to extend the shelf life to hit the maximum profit equilibrium point; the tomatoes don’t look much better. I buy some bananas and apples but pass on any of the other bland-tasting hybridized fruits which always look so delicious with their fresh coat of wax; I repeat, look delicious.

I quickly make my way through the rest of the store realizing that I need a few more items. I encounter a half dozen or so store employees but only muster up one shy smile and not one single “can I help you Sir.” It seems that in their quest to monopolize the grocery industry the HMCS’s have forgotten the words, “Customer service and quality.” and what they mean. I can’t blame the employees though, I know what its like to be a number in the realm of the profiteers wondering each day if you’ll be able to live up to the expectations of the accountants or if your number will be up! I am aware of how hard it is to be passionate about your job when there is no room for the appreciation of your efforts in the belly of the corporate beast and no security in those efforts. The employees of the HMCS’s might as well be robots.

Speaking of robots, don’t miss my next posting regarding my hostile encounter with the self checkout machine, God I hate those things. -to be continued-

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Goat Cheese Anyone

When you think of goat cheese what place comes to mind?  France, Switzerland, Spain?  How about Tonopah, Arizona?  That's right, part of the GDP of Tonapah Arizona is goat cheese and it is produced fresh on  at a cozy little place called Chili Acres under the brand name Barn Goddess Cheese and let me tell you, it really lives up to its name.  

I had the pleasure of sampling some Barn Goddess Cheese at the Phoenix Public Market a couple Saturday's ago and I swear, I'll be going back this Saturday to buy some.  It is simply wonderful.  I sampled the Fromage with Sun-Dried tomato and it is out-of-this world.  Cheese this good is hard to find in the supermarket unless, of course, you go to Whole Foods where I am told it will soon be available.

A Great Price for an Excellent Product.

if you want to know more about Chili Acres, Bubbles the Goat, or Barn Goddess Cheeses, they have a great website that will let you know all about them and set your mouth to watering at the same time. Their web address is or you can visit them and many other great vendors at the Phoenix Public Market.  For more info go to the PPM Website at,  Its a great way to spend a Saturday Morning!  

For a ton of great info and recipes,
Search for goat cheese