Chicken Quesadillas

Chicken Quesadillas

Our blog guest is Norma and she is speaking to us on The Tastes of Mexico. This is her third appearance here on Splendid Recipes and More (SRandM). Link here to view the other blog posts with Norma and scroll to bottom of the page.

SRandM: So Norma, what do you have for us today?

Norma: I am going to show you how to make a really great Chicken Quesadilla.

SRandM: Awesome, let’s get started.

Norma: First of all, I would like to mention that wheat flour was brought here to the New World by Spain. From there the flour tortilla was made a new novelty in Mexico. Though, flour tortillas are only popular in Mexican dishes in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Also you can see these recipes in Tijuana and Rosarito.

Corn tortillas are commonly prepared with meat to make dishes such as tacos and enchiladas. Burritos on the other hand are made with flour tortillas as well quesadillas. These two latter dishes originated in northern Mexico, as I said before the flour tortilla is most popular there.

So now for the Chicken Quesadilla, here is what we will need.

2 tablespoons avocado oil

1 small or ½ medium onion, finely minced

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

½ cup chicken broth or water

2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning mix*

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons butter

8 10” flour tortillas

2 cups pre-cooked chicken, shredded (rotisserie works great)

2 cup shredded white cheese (Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack)

1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed and finely chopped.

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced – optional

 

With these ingredients you will have enough to makes 4 Quesadillas. Also at the end of the post I have included the recipe for the seasoning mix.

 

Add the avocado oil and onion to a  large cold skillet.  Heat over medium-high heat until onion becomes translucent, about 6 – 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 – 2 minutes or until it starts to turn brown. Add the chicken broth, taco seasoning and stir until dry ingredients are completely dissolved.

combine seasonings

Add shredded chicken to the pan and toss to coat in the seasonings. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer until any excess moisture is absorbed.

seasoning chicken

Remove from heat and keep warm.

 

Place butter in a clean skillet and heat over medium-high heat until melted. Swirl until bottom of pan is thoroughly covered. Place one tortilla in pan. Top with ½ cup seasoned shredded chicken mixture and ½ cup shredded cheese. Add fresh cilantro and diced jalapeno peppers, if desired.

tortilla topped with chicken and cheese

Distribute ingredients evenly and place second tortilla on top. Carefully flip once the bottom tortilla turns golden brown.

Once both sides are browned and cheese is melted, remove from heat and slice into 8 wedges. Serve immediate with fresh salsa, guacamole, sour cream or pico de gallo. You can even have them with a side of refried beans.

Plated Chicken Quesadillas

 

SRandM: Wow this looks delectable Norma. I am really hungry now, should we have some.

Norma: sure, why not.

SRandM: So what do you have for us next time Norma.

Norma: How about Classic Margaritas on the Rocks, and since watermelon seasoning is coming, I will make some Watermelon Aqua Fresca.

SRandM: How do you say Aqua Fresca in English Norma?

Norma: Oh yes, Aqua Fresca is fresh water.

SRandM: Great we look forward to that. To all our readers, we hope you return here tomorrow May. 7,2014  to see how Norma will prepare beverages from the Tastes of Mexico.

Link Here: Wonderful Beverages From Mexico

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

This recipe only takes a couple minutes to put together and costs less than buying pre-packaged taco seasoning. It also has less salt and no artificial additives or preservatives.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in an airtight container and shake well to combine. Use 2 – 3 tablespoons per pound of ground beef (use more or less according to individual taste preferences).

This recipe can also be made in larger batches. Store unused amounts in an air tight container for up to 6 months.

Link Here for next post with Norma: Wonderful Beverages From Mexico

 

What Others are saying About Quesadillas and Mexican Food:

Homemade Guacamole and Mexican Salsa

Homemade Guacamole and Mexican Salsa

Norma has joined us again here at Splendid Recipes and More (SRandM) to share more with us about the Tastes of Mexico (link here for previous post with Norma: Mexican vs. Tex-Mex: What is the Difference? ).

SRandM: So Norma, welcome again to Splendid Recipes and More.

Norma: Thank you. I am glad to be here again.

SRandM: I am really excited to get started, so tell us what you have for us today from Mexico.

Norma: I will be sharing a recipe on how to make Homemade Guacamole and Mexican Salsa.

First I would like to tell you a little about the avocado, if I can?

SRandM: Sure Norma, I would like to know and I am sure our readers would too.

Norma: The avocado tree is native to Mexico. The avocado is a tree native to Mexico and Central America. The avocados that are sold in the markets are from California, but also from Mexico. The name of the fruit is Persea Americana, and yes the avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable.

Also the avocado oil that is now being sold at the markets in the U.S. is from Mexico as well.

OK, so let’s get with the recipe. Here is what you will need.

2 ripe Haas Avocados or Avocados from Mexico

1 medium ripe fresh tomato, seeded and diced

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

Juice from a fresh Lime

1 tablespoon (+ extra for garnish) fresh cilantro leaves only, and stems removed and finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

So with a sharp knife, slice the avocado from top to bottom, cutting all the way around the fruit.  Place the avocado in the palm of your non-dominant hand and gently starting at the top slice down to the bottom of the fruit and up the other side until it easily separates into two pieces.

SRandM: If you don’t mind Norma here is an image I got from theamazingavocado.com.

Norma: No, please share it. Yes, as the image is illustrating remove the seed with a fork or spoon. Or as I do just whack the seed with the sharp knife your using so the blade sticks into it. Then gently turn the knife until the seed pops out.

How to cut an Avocado

Image Credit: Avocados from Mexico http://www.theamazingavocado.com

diced avocadoNow to dice the avocado, score the flesh while still in its skin but cutting equally sized slices from top to bottom. Then, rotate 90 degrees and do the same thing going side to side. This combination of horizontal and vertical cuts will give you equal sized chunks of diced avocado.

To remove the diced fruit from the skin, take yourself a spoon and gently scrape all on the bottom of the flesh where it meets the skin until all your diced chunks are removed. While you are removing the chunks place them in a medium bowl.

Next we will add the diced tomato, minced garlic, lime juice and fresh cilantro to the bowl and combine with a fork. If you want season with salt, pepper and additional lime juice to your liking.

Now you have Homemade Guacamole to serve with your favorite Mexican entrée or on its own with corn tortilla chips.Homemade Guacamole

SRandM: Wow this looks great Norma, now what about my favorite, Mexican Salsa. Yummy.

Norma: The traditional Mexican Salsa is made with an authentic Mexican Molcajete Mortar and Pestle.

SRandM: The molcajete is made from stone?

Norma: Yes, mostly from Granite. But I am sure most of your readers do not own one, so we will be using a food processor or blender to make our Mexican Salsa.

SRandM: If someone wanted to purchase one, where could they get a stone mortar?

Norma: Will at your local Latina Market or on-line at Ebay or Amazon. OK here is what you will need for the salsa. Oh, first I would like to say the best time to make this recipe is at the height of summer when there are plenty of fresh tomatoes available. If you have your own vegetable garden, that’s even better.

fresh ingredients for Mexican Salsa4 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded

2 – 3 cloves garlic, peeled

Juice from 1 fresh lime (about ¼ cup)

1 – 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro stems removed and finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

 

SRandM: Wow I can already taste it.

Norma: OK hold on we’re not done yet. Now cut the tomatoes into quarters and place them into a blender or food processor.  Next add the garlic cloves and half the lime juice. Pulse until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Dice the remaining tomato into evenly sized small pieces. Stir into the tomato mixture so it creates a chunkier texture. If that is something you don’t like, don’t add the extra tomato. Next stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro and you can adjust this according to your personal preference or taste.

Mexican SalsaAdd the remaining lime juice and season with salt and pepper, to your taste.

SRandM: What if you want a spicy or hot salsa?

Norma: You can add one to two Serrano chilies without the seeds and stem, along with the tomatoes before pulsing. Now serve with your favorite Mexican entrée or by itself with tortilla chips.

SRandM: Wow this was great Norma. What will you share with us next time?

Norma: How about Chicken Quesadillas to go with the Guacamole and Mexican Salsa?

SRandM: That sounds good, looking forward to it Norma. So to our readers we hope you enjoy the recipes Norma shared with us, Homemade Guacamole and Mexican Salsa. Return tomorrow for her Chicken Quesadillas.

 Link to: Chicken Quesadillas

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Mexican vs. Tex-Mex: What is the Difference?

Mexican vs. Tex-Mex: What is the Difference?

 

Today we have a guest blog speaker who is a native Mexican who will speak to us on the Tastes of Mexico.  Our guest speaker is Norma and the owner of Splendid Recipes and More (SRandM) is interviewing her.

SRandM: So how are you Norma?

Norma: Fine thank you. I just want to say I am excited to be a guest on Splendid Recipes and More. You have a lot of great recipes posted here on your blog. I had seen a few Mexican dishes as well.

SRandM: Will thank you Norma and I am glad you could speak with us. So Norma were in Mexico are you from?

playas de RosaritoNorma: I was born in the Mexican state of Baja California North, in a small beach town called Palayas de  Rosirito.

SRandM: Exactly where is Rosarito?

Norma: Across the border from San Diego, California. When you cross the border you come into Tijuana first, and Rosarito is about 20 minutes from Tijuana going south.

SRandM: So you told me you immigrated to the U.S. in 1992 and have been an American citizen since 2004?

Norma: Yes that is correct.

SRandM: What do you think about the Mexican food that is made here in the States?

Norma: For the most part it is authentic. But many Americans for their love of the Mexican food have made their own recipes using the ingredients we use in Mexico, and call it a Mexican dish. Such as New Mexico, they make enchiladas as we do in Mexico, but they use flour tortillas, and the Mexicans use corn tortillas. Some people have even made enchiladas, casserole style calling it an Enchilada pie, which is not authentic Mexican.

SRandM: Yes I understand. What do you think about the variations in Texas? Is Mexican food and Tex-Mex the same?

Before Norma answers our question, have you ever wondered what the difference is between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex food? If you look around online, you’ll find plenty of debate over which style of theorizing cooking is better. Some “traditionalists” even question if Tex-Mex is a legitimate form of American cuisine.

No matter where the debate leads, Tex-Mex has earned its place on the American table. Still, that doesn’t answer how Tex-Mex differs from authentic Mexican food.  So let’s allow Norma to answer that.

Norma: Will here’s a little history. The roots of Tex-Mex cuisine trace back to the Spanish. The Spanish missionaries brought their recipes to Texas, and when they left the area in the 1700s, the natives of the region had already assimilated portions of their cooking culture into their own.

chili con carneAlong with this influence, early colonization of Texas also included other cultures. For example, individuals from the Canary Islands brought a different flavor palate with them, which included cumin, garlic, and chili powder. These flavors now form the foundation for the Tex-Mex favorite, chili con carne.

SRandM: So chili con carne is not an authentic Mexican dish?

Norma: No, chili or ground meat with beans and the use of spicy peppers are a Western frontier dish.

This blending of outside cultures with Mexican farm food and Texas ranch food is evident in many other modern Tex-Mex dishes.

One example that comes to mind is the use of beef. You will find a lot more beef in Tex-Mex recipes than in traditional Mexican dishes. Even though beef cattle could be found in Mexico, grasslands were overgrazed and herds were scarce.

SRandM: What types of meat are most popular then, in authentic Mexican cooking?

Norma: Pork, turkeys, wild fowl, chicken, and seafood were more available to the average Mexican household, and as a result, these ingredients were used and are used today in Mexican dishes, with the exception of turkey. You won’t find that at all in any Mexican dish.

SRandM: I guess since beef cattle have long been a staple in Texas, it would make sense that beef plays a more pre-dominate role in Tex-Mex recipes.

Norma: That is correct.

SRandMore: What other foods are used in authentic Mexican dishes?

Norma: Will before trade and commerce exploded in Mexico, beans, corn, and rice formed the basis for many meals. As Mexican people moved north, these foods found their way onto the plates of many households in Texas.

In return, Texans introduced Mexican cooks to more plentiful milk and cheese, in addition to beef. This blending of cultures and cuisine created excitement, especially during the 1940s and 1950s as the borders between the two countries became more open.

 Los Pesos Tex MexSRandM: So could it be correct to say it was around that time when the term ‘Tex-Mex’ was coined?

Norma: Yes, and was proudly used to describe Mexican dishes adapted by Texan cooks. But I will say as the years passed, the recipes lost much of their heritage.

SRandM: How so?

Norma: Will by the 1970s, many Tex-Mex dishes were almost completely revamped into unrecognizable concoctions that are not authentic Mexican dishes.

SRandMore: Such as?

Norma: Will, like Chimichangas, cheese nachos, just to name a few is Tex-Mex cuisine inventions.

Much of what we know as Tex-Mex today can be traced in part to the fast food franchise explosion which introduced “Mexican” food to most Americans.

The menus you typically see featured in these restaurants have pre-made taco shells which house a variety of ingredients buried under piles of cheese and sauces.  Though these restaurants will give a general nod to a “south of the border” flavor, their menus really have little in common with authentic Mexican food.

Another fact I find funny, is restaurants that have popped up all over America make the claim to serve only “authentic” Mexican food, when they are actually making a stab at Tex-Mex.

SRandM: So do you feel Tex-Mex has stolen the spot light from the real thing?

Norma: Will when it comes down to deciding which is best – authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine – I really can’t find a right or wrong answer to your question.

All you can do is compare and decide for yourself which you prefer. There are many cookbooks available for both Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisines to see what appeals to you. You can also visit authentic local restaurants to try for yourself.


NachosSRandM:
Will that is all the time we have today Norma. Tell our readers what recipes you will be presenting in the next post?

Norma: I thought I would prepare some authentic Guacamole and Real Mexican salsa, a couple of great condiments that pair well with lots of Mexican dishes.

SRandM: We look for to that Norma. So to our readers, return here to Splendid Recipes and More for some authentic recipes that will be prepared by Norma, which is: Homemade Guacamole and Fresh Mexican Salsa.

Link to: Homemade Guacamole and Fresh Mexican Salsa

Image credits:

Chili con carne    

Palayas de Rosarito

Los Pesos Tex-Mex

Clip art of Nachos and Taco

What Others are Saying About Mexican and Tex-Mex food:

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Tastes of Mexico

Tastes of Mexico

What do you know about Mexico? Will did you know there are over 50 native tongues spoken today in rural locations. Spanish is the national language of Mexico. Mexico is also the most populated Spanish-speaking country in the world.

What do you know about the avocado, tomatoes, and chocolate? Descendants of the Aztecs speak a form of the Aztec language called Nahuatl (nah-watt-uhl). Many words of the Aztec’s have been translated and passed on to the English language, which the words tomato, chocolate, and avocado come from.

Mountain highest elevation in MexicoWhat is the highest elevation Mexico and when was Mexico City founded? Mexico has the highest elevation which is Pico de Orizaba at 18,490 feet and Mexico City is the oldest city founded in 1521 or 1325 if you count the Aztecs. It is also one of the largest cities in the world.

monarch butterflies in MichoacánMonarch butterflies migrate to Mexico every year from the U.S. and Canada to the forests of the state of Michoacán .

The first printing press in North America was brought to Mexico City from Spain in 1539.

Harvard University is the oldest university in North America. Wrong!! The National University of Mexico, known in Mexico as UNAM, was founded in 1551 by Charles V of Spain, and is the oldest university in North America. Harvard was founded later in 1636.

Did you also know Cinco de Mayo or May 5th is not a major holiday in Mexico? In the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day—the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16 (Wikipedia).

What do you know about Mexican cousin?  We have another blog guest to tell us about it. Her name is Norma and she is native to Mexico. She was born in the Baja of Mexico in a town called Rosarito.

The posts of Norma’s conversations will begin May. 4th till May. 8, 2014, and she will be speaking about the foods of Mexico. She’ll be talking about Chicken Quesadillas, Fresh Tomato Salsa, Guacamole, Margaritas and more.

So please join Splendid Recipes and More with Norma for the Tastes of Mexico!!

Link here for first post: Mexican vs. Tex-Mex: What is the Difference?

 

Image credits:

Header Image credit: lwzfoto / 123RF Stock Photo

Image of Mexico City Cancun 360

Image of Monarchs: Scott Clark

Source of Facts about Mexico: Cancun 360

 

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What is Kitchen Gardening?

This is the seventh post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first six posts please link here to read.

Now for – What is Kitchen Gardening? – with Judith Sorg.

Have you ever wondered exactly what a “kitchen garden” is or how it differs from a regular vegetable garden?

For starters, a kitchen garden or potager (pronounced puh-ta-zhay), is a special kind of edible garden with a rich history tracing back to old English and French culinary gardens.

Much like a traditional vegetable garden, a kitchen garden is a chef’s delight filled with delicious fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. In short, a kitchen garden is a celebration of fresh ingredients and delicious home cooked meals.

Both kitchen and traditional gardens offer a sense of satisfaction coupled with tangible rewards for a job well done. Beyond these similarities, there are some distinct differences between the two, however.

Picking tomatoes from a Kitchen Garden

Picking tomatoes from a Kitchen Garden

1. Convenience. One of the main characteristics of a kitchen garden is accessibility. It should be easy to grab the items you need to your prepare your daily meals. Therefore, a potager should be located as close to your food preparation area as possible.

Imagine you are in the middle of preparing dinner when you suddenly realize “this marinade could use a little more rosemary.” Rather than trek out to your main vegetable garden while you have pots simmering on the stove, wouldn’t you rather be able to reach right outside your door to snip a couple sprigs?

With a kitchen garden, the easier it is to grab what you need while you are cooking, the better.

2. Size. Kitchen gardens are usually smaller than traditional gardens because they are situated so close to the house. This isn’t always the case, of course, but having a culinary garden close enough to offer easy access while you are cooking may limit the amount of space available.

If you only have limited space available to plant a kitchen garden, here is a good rule of thumb to consider: A regular vegetable garden is about planning for the future, while a kitchen garden is about enjoying today. Therefore, the fruits and vegetables you plan to preserve for future use – or crops, such as corn, that take up a lot of space – are good choices for a traditional vegetable garden where space is at less of a premium.

Instead, kitchen gardens are normally filled with the items you prepare and eat while fresh. Therefore, containers of fresh herbs, compact cherry tomato plants, or an assortment of leaf lettuce varieties all make great additions to a potager.  If you lack the space for a traditional garden, a small kitchen garden can keep you in fresh, delicious produce all season long.

3. Beauty. While a standard vegetable garden is all about utility and production, part of the charm of a kitchen garden comes from its ornamental aspect. Due to its proximity to the house, a kitchen garden is harder to tuck out of sight than a traditional garden. Therefore, they are often designed to add a sense of beauty to your home, as well.

Some herbs, such as lemon thyme, can be used to create a beautiful and fragrant border around plants and containers. Edible flowers, such as violas and daylilies, can be incorporated to add a splash of color. Compact blueberry shrubs are also highly ornamental and make a wonderful, yet functional border.

potted herbsAs you can see, a kitchen garden offers both convenience and beauty in a compact space. The best part is it doesn’t take much to get started. All you need is a couple large pots, some fresh herbs, your favorite compact tomato plant and lettuce varieties and you’ll be on your way!

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Planning a Productive and Practical Potager

Woman and her child harvesting carrots from her potager garden

 

This is the sixth post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first five posts please link here to read.

Now for – Planning a Productive and Practical Potager – with Judith Sorg.

A well-planned potager, or kitchen garden, can be a beautiful and enticing way to incorporate more fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs into your diet.

  Little boy reaps turnip greens from a potager garden


Little boy reaps turnip greens from a potager garden

 

The traditional potager or kitchen garden, is a space separate from the rest of the residential garden, such as the ornamental and flowering plants and lawn areas. Most vegetable gardens are a smaller version of old family farm plots, but the kitchen garden is different, as it has its own history as well as design.

 

The following tips will help you plan a productive and practical potatger.

Tip #1: Pick the Perfect Spot.  When choosing a location for your kitchen garden, try to find a spot as close to your kitchen as possible.  After all, you want your own personal culinary garden to be easy to reach while you are preparing meals.

The location you choose must also take into consideration the kind of environment your plants prefer. Choose a sunny location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. If you live in a really hot climate, you may find a bit of afternoon shade is nice to have, as well.

Also, you’ll want to make sure the location you choose has easy access to water. You definitely don’t want to drag a heavy garden hose around the house or carry buckets of water in order to keep your plants hydrated.

Tip #2: Pick Your Plants. The easiest way to decide what you want to grow in your potager is to think about what you like to cook.

For example, if you use a lot of fresh herbs, you’ll want to keep a big pot of your favorite varieties on hand. Kids can’t get enough of your homemade salsa? Plan to have a steady supply of fresh cilantro and juicy tomatoes nearby.

In other words, you want to stock your kitchen garden with the fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers you use in your day-to-day cooking.  These are the items you will want to have convenient access to throughout the growing season. Items you plan freeze, can or otherwise preserve for later use are ideal for your regular vegetable garden.

Tip #3: Make the Most of the Space You Have.  Due to their proximity to the house, many kitchen gardens are confined to a relatively small space. If your proposed potager has a small overall footprint, don’t get discouraged. Instead – look up!

Take advantage of as much vertical space as possible to maximize your growing area. Consider growing juicy yellow pear tomatoes surrounded by creeping thyme in a vertical container or use hanging baskets suspended on shepherd hooks for your favorite herbs. Just make sure you keep them well watered as hanging baskets tend to dry out more quickly.

You could also add a trellis or incorporate a fence into your design to provide support for climbing plants, such as pole beans or cucumbers. If your potager has a blank wall with good sun exposure, you could add a ladder-like series of shelves to house a lot more plants than you could fit into the ground you have available.

beautiful potager garden

Beautiful potager garden

Tip #4: Make It Beautiful. Although some may argue that beauty for its own sake is neither productive nor practical, I disagree. Your kitchen garden is an extension of your home and will likely be visible to your family and guests. So, making the area as attractive as possible just makes good sense.

Balance, symmetry and repetition are components of any good garden design. To incorporate balance and symmetry into your potager, try adding two matching brightly colored containers filled with herbs and place them on each side of the entrance.

For repetition, add multiples of the same plants throughout the garden. For example, a group of 3 cherry tomato plants in attractive containers will have a stronger visual impact than a single plant. You can also create a sense of order by planting lovely borders of edible flowers or fragrant herbs along walkways.

One great thing about incorporating ornamental aspects into your potager is you may find you want to spend more time in an area that nourishes both your body and soul.

Next we will talk about the difference between kitchen gardening and a regular vegetable garden.

For Judith’s next discussion link here: What is Kitchen Gardening?

 

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How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds

This is the fifith post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first three please link here to read.

Now for -How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds – with Judith Sorg.

There are many benefits to using raised vegetable garden beds in your garden.

For starters, I have found elevated garden beds are easier on your back and knees because they require less bending, kneeling and crawling than regular beds.  In addition, raised garden beds offer better drainage, which means your plants aren’t stuck sitting in excess water every time it rains. Plus, it is much easier to build your soil UP than it is to work amendments into the ground.

raised garden beds for the handicapped

Raised garden beds for the handicapped

Raised garden beds also are great for those who are wheelchair or scooter bound.

Fortunately, building raised vegetable beds is a super easy do-it-yourself project. All you need are some readily available tools and materials, and an extra pair of hands.

How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds

Tools and Materials  

(makes two 8’ x 4’ x 6” high beds)

(6) 1” x 6” x 8’ cedar boards* – 2 boards cut into 4’ sections

Wood screws and/or 8 metal corner brackets

Power drill

Important Note: Cedar is naturally insect and moisture resistant, so it tends to hold up well in outdoor environments. Avoid using pressure treated lumber for your food growing areas because the chemicals used to create them can leach into your soil.

*Cedar boards come in a variety of lengths and widths. Obviously, using 6” wide boards will give you more shallow beds than 10” boards. Choose whichever length and width combination you prefer. If you find 4’ beds are too wide, simply reduce the length of each shorter section to 3’ – 3.5’.

Instructions:

To assemble your raised vegetable garden beds, line the ends of an 8’ foot section and a 4’ sections up so they form an “L” shape. While your helper holds the boards in place, secure the two boards together with wood screws or with the metal corner brackets.

Repeat this process with the remaining cedar boards until you create 2 wooden rectangles, each measuring 8’ in length by 4’ in width.

Once your beds are assembled, carry them a sunny spot in your garden and place them where you want your raised beds before you begin filling them.

Filling Your Vegetable Garden Beds

Of course, you can fill each bed with pre-packaged gardening mix, but you may find that gets a bit pricey. You can also create your own more cost-effective planting medium very easily.

 Build Raised Vegetable Garden BedsStart by adding a thick layer of newspaper or flattened cardboard across the bottom of your raised garden box. This will help prevent weeds and grass from growing up into your planter. Then, add alternating layers of peat moss, compost, aged manure or barn litter, and topsoil.

You can add additional amendments, such as bone meal or a slow-release organic fertilizer, once you decide which plants you want to grow in each bed and you’ve conducted soil tests to determine what nutrients your soil needs to accommodate those plants.

If you prepare and fill your raised beds in the fall, simply cover them with dark plastic to “cook down” all winter.  You will be rewarded with beautiful rich soil in the spring, but it will be quite a bit lower than you remember – so be extra generous when filling the beds.

If you assemble your raised vegetable garden beds in the spring, you can plant right into the layered mixture. Over time, the layers will break down to form a rich soil. In the near term, your plants will do just fine in it as long as you don’t use fresh compost, manure or barn litter, all of which can “burn” your plants.

As you can see, learning how to build raised vegetable garden beds isn’t difficult. If you follow these easy instructions, you can look forward to years of more rewarding and efficient gardening.

Next post will be March. 20,2014, themed, “Planning a Productive and Practical Potager.”

 

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How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps

This is the fourth post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first three please link here to read.

Now for -How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps – with Judith Sorg.

If you love to cook, learning how to plant a vegetable garden is one of the most rewarding things you can do. When you grow your own garden, you can harvest fresh seasonal fruits, veggies and herbs as you need them instead of having to drive miles to the nearest grocery store. It just doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Here’s How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in 4 Easy Steps:

simple garden layout

Example of a simple garden layout
image credit: vegetablegardenplanning.net
CLICK TO ENLARGE

Step #1. Decide What You Want to Plant. This is the fun part. Start by making a list of all the recipes you frequently make. Note which vegetables and herbs you use over and over again, because this will tell you not only what you should plant, but also in what quantity.

Don’t forget to jot down other items your family enjoys, even if you aren’t using them in your cooking currently. Growing your own vegetable garden is a great way to expand your culinary horizons.

This planning phase is a great time to get your children interested in gardening, too. Ask what they might like to grow or make fun suggestions if they are too young to come up with ideas on their own. Pumpkins, ornamental gourds and sunflowers (for their beauty and seeds) are popular choices with kids of all ages. Fast growing plants, such as lettuce and beans, are also great choices for children because they produce noticeable results quickly.

Once you’ve made a list of plants you want to grow, collect mail order catalogs, search online or stop by your favorite garden center to find seeds and transplants. You can learn a lot about what grows well in your area by tapping into these resources, as well.

Step #2:  Pick a Location for Your Vegetable Garden

Just like in real estate, planting a successful vegetable garden is all about location, location, location. If you want your plants to thrive, there are a couple non-negotiable items you will need to provide:

Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps with sunshine1. Sunshine. Pick a sunny location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

2. Water.  Make sure the location you choose has easy access to water. You will need to water your plants whenever Mother Nature refuses to cooperate, so make sure you have a convenient source of water nearby.

3. Accessibility. Gardens need care, so position your vegetable garden in an area that is convenient to get to with the tools you need to work in it. If you place it too far from the house or garden shed where you keep your tools or in an area difficult to reach with a wheelbarrow, you may find yourself tempted to neglect it.

Make your life easier and plant your garden in the most convenient sunny location you can find.

4. Good Drainage. You may have to do some work for this one, especially if you live in an area with heavy clay or compacted soil. If you find the area you want to plant tends to collect standing water, you will want to build your beds up to protect your plants from overly wet feet.

Step #3: Create Your Garden Beds

Once you’ve identified where you want your garden, you will need to decide where you want the individual beds within it. As you are doing so, keep in mind the orientation of the sun throughout the day because taller plants or those growing on trellises can cast damaging shadows if they aren’t positioned correctly.

To create the individual beds, many old school gardeners swear by the traditional practice of removing heavy layers of sod, then tilling and amending the soil beneath it before planting your vegetable plants.

Although this method will certainly work, you simply don’t have to work that hard.   Instead, you can use the Lasagna Gardening method of building your beds UP instead of digging down to create them. This methods works equally well with raised garden beds or directly on the ground.

compost needed for gardening in four easy stepsTo get started, add flattened cardboard or a thick stack of newspapers on top of the ground and then add alternate layers of peat, topsoil, aged manure or barn litter, organic mulch, yard clippings and/or compost.

You can either prepare these beds months in advance or right before you plant. Either way, the layers will meld together into a beautiful, rich soil for your plants.

For more details on this no-dig gardening method, check out Lasagna Gardening, a New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens.

Step #4: Start Planting!

Once your beds are ready, it’s time to start planting!

Before you start digging, you have some choices to make: you can sow seeds directly into the soil, start seeds indoors then harden them off outdoors before adding them to your garden, or plant established transplants you’ve purchased directly into your prepared beds.
Some plants require direct sowing, while others need to be started indoors several weeks before the frost-free date in your area in order to perform well. While you are creating your list of plants you want to grow, make a note of the growing requirements for each so you can give your plants the best chance of survival.

If you decide to follow these four easy steps to plant a vegetable garden, you will be rewarded all season long with an abundant supply of fresh and healthy produce. Plus, you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing you did it with your own two hands.

Next will talk about: “How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds.”

Return for Judiths next garden discussion March. 17, 2014.

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The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

This is the third post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first two please link here to read.

Now for -The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids– with Judith Sorg.

When I shop for plants at my local garden center, I always notice the ones that are marked ‘heirloom,” while others are labeled “hybrid.” When I first started my first vegetable garden, I wondered what these terms meant, and which ones were better to plant.

The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

Heirloom harvested peas

These terms can create confusion among novice and experienced gardeners alike. There are those who swear that heirlooms are the only way to go because they think hybrids plants are inferior­­­­. On the other hand, hybrid fans are convinced they are a better all around choice, because they tend to be more vigorous producers and are less susceptible to disease and pests.

But I have found from my own personal experience that there can be room in every garden for both types of plants. To better understand the distinction between heirloom and hybrid plant varieties, let’s look at how they came to be.

Open-Pollination vs. Careful Manipulation

Open-pollination is a form of plant reproduction which occurs in one of two ways:

 

  1. Cross-pollination (in the context of open-pollination) occurs when two varieties of the same plant species reproduce due to natural pollinators, such as wind, birds or insects.
  2. Self-pollination occurs when a plant possesses both male and female parts and can reproduce by itself. Self-pollinating plants, such as tomatoes, breed true to the parent plant and do not require isolation to avoid contamination from other varieties.

The term “heirloom” refers to older, well-established varieties of open-pollinated plants. These plants over time have developed stable genetic characteristics. Often, classic heirloom varieties evoke a sense of nostalgia because they were often found in the gardens of older generations. In fact, heirloom seeds can become an important part of a family’s history as they are passed down from one generation to the next.

This tomato is a hybrid cross of wild tomato lines from Europe. The tomato is green to deep purple on the outside

Hybrid plants, on the other hand, are the result of highly controlled cross-pollination between different varieties of the same species of plants. Although cross-pollination can and does occur in nature, the results are too random to be reproduced and marketed on a mass scale. Therefore, the hybrids you see in nurseries are not open-pollinated like heirloom varieties.

In order to sell a hybrid variety commercially, its breeding must be carefully monitored in order to ensure the same characteristics are present across all plants sold under that name. Unfortunately, this high level of human involvement in their development causes many to believe hybrid plant varieties are also “genetically modified.”

 

Are Hybrid Plants Genetically Modified?

No. Hybrid plants and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are NOT the same thing.

Once again, the difference between the two goes back to how they are created.

Hybrids are the result of highly controlled cross-pollination between two varieties of the same plant species. The resulting progeny will contain characteristics from each parent plant, just like if the two had crossed in nature.

GMOs are the result of scientific manipulation at the cellular level.

In a lab environment, plant cells are altered through the addition of outside substances like pesticides or DNA from other organisms. So-called ‘negative’ genes may also be removed in this process. The end result is a new organism that wouldn’t occur in nature without this type of manipulation.

There is a lot of concern and discussion surrounding the long-term safety of GMOs because they have been introduced into the food supply without any long-term studies to confirm their safety. Today, there is a lot of concern that GMOs may be linked to cancer and many other health problems.

As consumers become more aware of the presence of these substances in commercially processed foods, many are choosing to adopt an organic, whole food diet. In an effort to avoid GMOs, some are also avoiding hybrid plants unnecessarily.

Which is Better: Heirlooms or Hybrids?

There is no right or wrong answer to that question. Heirlooms are often treasured for their delicious flavor, while many hybrids are prized for their vigor, high yields and superior disease resistance.

The biggest difference between the two is this: Heirloom varieties grow true from seeds. You can save and use their seeds year after year and get uniform results.

Hybrids do not offer that type of genetic stability. Plants grown from the seeds of hybrid plants are unlikely to look or perform like the plant from which the seeds were collected.

So, if you like to collect and grow your garden from seeds, heirlooms are a better choice for you. If not, there is no need to limit your options to just one.

Next we will discuss, “How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps”.

Return March. 16, 2014, to view Judith’s next discussion on vegetable gardening.

 

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Deciding When to Plant Vegetables in Your Area

This is the second post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the Introduction please link here to read: 3 Must Know Vegetable Gardening Tips.

Now for -Deciding When to Plant Vegetables in Your Area- with Judith Sorg.

Deciding When to Plant Vegetables in Your AreaFiguring out when to plant vegetables in your area requires a little detective work. In addition to your geographic location, you’ll need to consider a few other variables, as well. For example, the type of vegetables you plan to grow and how you intend to plant them, such as seedlings, transplants or seeds will factor into when you should get your crops in the ground, as well.

If you live in an area with distinct seasons, your vegetable growing season will fall loosely between your anticipated frost-free date in the spring and the first hard frost in the fall. Unless you have a crystal ball, it is next to impossible to predict these dates with absolute certainty.

Fortunately, there are some valuable online resources you can check for general guidelines. A quick online search for “frost-free date” + your geographic area should give you a good idea of when it might be safe to plant in your region.

Of course, the published frost-free date for your area doesn’t take into account unexpected late season snow storms or unseasonably cold temperatures. However, if you wait until after the expected frost-free date for your area AND for the daytime soil temperature to reach 65 degrees or warmer, you should be in good shape. If you want to warm up your soil faster, you can cover your planting beds with dark plastic sheets for several weeks prior to planting.

As you develop your garden planting timeline, think of these two important dates as virtual “bookends” around your prime vegetable growing season. However, if you start seeds indoors or protect your plants from cold temperatures with mulch, cold frames, row covers or mini-hoop houses, you can extend your growing season even further.

Planting seeds and day to maturity Don’t Ignore “Days to Maturity” for Your Selected Plants

As you’re deciding when to plant vegetables in your garden, pay close attention the “days to maturity” information noted on the seed packages or plant markers for the vegetables you’ve selected. This number, which is often expressed as a range of days, tells you how long it will take until that plant is ready to harvest.

This is important to know because some vegetables reach maturity much faster than others. For example, radishes, lettuce and baby carrots can be ready for harvest just 30 days after they are sown as seeds. On the other hand, some pumpkin varieties can take a full 120 – 160 days before they reach maturity.

The “days to maturity” for a particular vegetable variety gives you an idea of how early you need to get that plant into the ground if you want it to reach maturity before your first hard frost date.

It also tells you how late in the season you can plant certain crops. For example, you can’t wait until late summer in northern climates to plant pumpkins seeds that require 160 days to mature. On the other hand, you can plant fast-growing lettuce varieties with confidence until 30 days or so before your expected last frost date.

Learning when to plant vegetables in your area is worth the effort. Knowing when your prime growing season begins and ends – and how you can get the most out of it – will make you a much more successful food gardener. It will help you decide which vegetables to grow and how to help those varieties thrive in your garden.

Next post is March. 15, 2014 and the theme is: The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

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