That Little Boy Arthur David…Now He was A Biscuit Eater!

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This is supposed to be an article that focuses on healthy eating and bread spreads, but first a little perspective.  Going back to my childhood, my family and I, but especially me, ate a lot of bread and any variety of it.  We ate biscuits, rolls, bread pudding, sandwiches, and just bread by itself.  I loved bread then and though I have personal restrictions in place, I love bread now.  I get a warm feeling, probably originating from my stomach, just thinking about it and the many ways I consumed bread.  If I was outside playing, it was easy to run into the house and grab a slice of bread and head back out.  I would pack my jaw with the stuff (Wonder Bread was perfect for this) and like some sort of rodent nurse off of it until it was gone and then I would get another slice.  Then there were the peanut butter and Alaga syrup sandwiches.  Alaga is a cane sugar syrup, and it is darker and thicker than most syrups.  I think it is a little sweeter too.  It, the sandwich, tastes just like those “Maryjane” candies.  Sticky and sweet…yum.  Looking back, if there is one thing that put me on the track of being a diabetic, it was probably my love for bread and whatever I could put on it, which was almost always sweet and at portions that would probably kill me now.

Yes, I was a real bad bread lover.  My brothers and I would have eating contests, like who could eat the most biscuits, rolls, pancakes (it’s not politically correct to say but we totally embraced the “Sambo” approach to eating pancakes) and syrup sandwiches or sopping syrup off of a plate that had margarine added to it.  Boy if only I knew then what I know now.

So now I am a diabetic and my situation has made me more sensitive and smarter about what I consume and when I consume it.  Now I only have 1 to 3 slices of bread a day and some days not even that.  My choice of spread is still peanut butter but a small jar of preserves can last me two months easy.  So what about the stuff we put on our bread, bagel or muffin?  What’s good for you and what’s not so good?  Thanks to the July/August of Diabetes Management magazine, I can tell you.  Knowing more about the nutritional content of bread spreads and the right portion size may help you to prevent becoming a diabetic or help you in other ways, especially in losing weight.  It is okay to use these products in small amounts, but let’s not do what I did as a child.  Did it hurt, maybe not…but it certainly didn’t help either.

All of the bread spreads discussed here contribute calories in the form of fat, sugar, or both—but some are better choices than others.  I hope that you can use this as a guide to help you to enjoy what you are eating while avoiding consuming too much saturated fat, trans fat, and sugar.

Butter

Basic Info:

  • Butter must be at least 80% milk fat by weight
  • One tablespoon of butter contains 100 calories, 11 grams of fat (of which 7 grams are saturated fat and about ½ a gram is trans fat), and 30 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol.
  • Whipped butter has fewer calories and less fat than regular butter.  It has air whipped in during processing.
  • One tablespoons of whipped butter contains about 70 calories, 8 grams of fat (5 of them saturated fat) and 20 mg of cholesterol.
  • Light butter spread has even fewer calories and less fat than whipped butter.  Some of the fat is replaced with water or gelatin.
  • One tablespoon of light butter spread has about 60 calories, 7 grams of fat (2 of them saturated), and 7 mg of cholesterol.

American Diabetes Association Recommendation:

  • Calories from fat should make up no more than 20% to 35% of the total calories you consume.
  • In addition, 7% of your total calories come from saturated fat, and that you avoid trans fat whenever possible.
  • A person that consumes 1,500 calories per day, this works out to about 33 to 58 total grams of fat, with no more than 12 grams of saturated fat.
  • The ADA recommends a maximum daily cholesterol intake of 200 mg.

The reason behind these recommendations is that diets high in saturated fat and trans fat are believed to increase your risk of heart disease by raising blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol, which promotes atherosclerosis (hardening and clogging of the arteries).  A high intake of dietary cholesterol can also raise blood LDL cholesterol levels.

Consumers who want the taste of butter but less saturated fat may want to try products that blend butter with oil (usually canola, olive, soybean, and/or flaxseed oil).  These products still have around 100 calories per tablespoon but only 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.  Oil-blended butters also come in light varieties, which decrease the calorie content to about 50 calories per tablespoon and the saturated fat to around 2 grams.

Brand Best Buy (serving 1 tbs.)

Challenge Spreadable Butter (Salted/Unsalted Whipped Butter): 70 calories; 7 grams of fat; 70 fat calories; 5 grams of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Land O’Lakes Spreadable Butter (Salted Whipped Light Butter): 45 calories; 5 grams of fat; 45 fat calories; 3 grams of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Margarine

Basic Info:

  • Margarine is made from a single oil or a blend of oils and must contain at least 80% oil.  (The other 20% is mostly water or nonfat milk).
  • Margarine is most commonly made from soybean, corn, safflower, canola, cottonseed, and sunflower oils, and some products also contain olive or flaxseed oils.
  • It is available solid, in sticks; soft, in tubs; even softer, in squeeze bottles; and liquid, in sprays.
  • Regular margarine contains approximately 100 calories and 11 grams of fat, of which 2 grams are saturated, per tablespoon.
  • Because margarine is made primarily from vegetable oil, it is cholesterol freeCholesterol only occurs in foods of animal origin.
  • Most of the fat in margarine is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.  These “fats” are known as “good” fats because they are good for your heart, your blood cholesterol levels and your overall health.
  • One type of polyunsaturated, Omega-3 fatty acids, may be especially beneficial to your heart by protecting against irregular heartbeats and lowering the risk of heart attacks.  Fish oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, is added to some margarine products.

Does this mean I should switch back to margarine?

American Diabetes Association recommends…

That as a consumer you need to be careful and make sure you read the labeling of any margarine product.  Some margarine products contain trans fat, which is created during food processing when liquid oils are solidified by adding hydrogen.  (Trans fat also occurs naturally in small amounts in animal foods, which why butter contains some trans fat.)  If the words “partially hydrogenated” appear in the ingredients list on a margarine package, the product contains trans fat.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows food manufacturers to list 0 grams of trans fat in the Nutrition Facts panel if the food has less than half a gram per serving.  If you eat more than one serving, though, it can add up.

  • Margarine spreads are lower in fat than regular margarine because more water is added.  Most spreads contain about 70 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 1-2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.
  • Light margarine spreads are 50% lower in calories and fat than regular margarine.

All margarines (and most butter spreads) are supplemented with vitamin A, often in the form of beta-carotene.  Some products are fortified with other vitamins and minerals.  Margarines may also contain plant sterols, which lower LDL cholesterol without lowering HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good”) cholesterol.

Brand Best Buy (serving 1 tbs.)

Blue Bonnet (Soft Spread): 40 calories; 4 grams of fat; 40 fat calories; 1 gm. saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Country Crock Spreadable Margarine (Calcium Plus Vitamin D Fortified): 50 calories; 5 grams of fat; 50 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Fleischmann’s Original Spread (Olive Oil): 60 calories; 6 grams of fat; 60 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (Calcium & Vitamin D or Light)45 calories; 5 grams of fat; 45 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Parkay Spreadable Margarine (Light): 45 calories; 5 grams of fat; 45 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Smart Balance Spreadable Margarine (Light Omega-3 Buttery Spread): 50 calories; 5 grams of fat; 50 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Cream Cheese

Basic Info:

  • Cream cheese is an unaged cheese made from cow’s milk.  Emulsifiers are used to make cream cheese firm.  The USDA requires regular cream cheese to contain at least 33% fat and no more than 55% water.
  • Cream cheese is high in calories, fat and saturated fat.
  • Two tablespoons of regular cream cheese contain 90 calories, 9 grams of fat (of which 5 grams are saturated fat), 120 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2 grams of carbohydrate.

Spreadable cream cheese varieties include regular, whipped, light, one-third less fat, and fat free.

  • Regular spreadable cream cheese contains 80 calories and 7 grams of fat (of which 4 ½ grams are saturated) per two-tablespoon serving.
  • Whipped, light, and one-third less fat cream cheeses contain about 60-70 calories and 5-6 grams of fat (including 3 grams of saturated fat) per two-tablespoons.
  • Fat-free cream cheese contains 30-40 calories per two-tablespoon serving.
  • Fruit-flavored cream cheeses contain more carbohydrate (from added sugar) than the unflavored cream cheese: about 6 grams in two tablespoons.
  • Flavored varieties, such as Kraft Philadelphia Snack Delights, which contain flavorings such as milk chocolate, dark chocolate, cinnamon, and caramel, can contain as much as 110 calories, 7 grams of fat (of which 4 grams are saturated), and 12 grams of carbohydrate in two tablespoons.

Brand Best Buy (serving 2 tbs.)

Philadelphia Fat Free: 30 calories

Philadelphia Fat Free (Strawberry): 40 calories

Philadelphia 1/3 Less Fat (Strawberry): 70 calories; 4 grams of fat; 40 fat calories; 2 trans fat

Jams, Jelly and Honey

Basic Info:

Jam, jelly, fruit preserves, fruit butter, and honey are high in sugar and therefore high in calories and carbohydrates.

1st the Differences

  1. Jam is made from the pulp and juice of fruits and has a semi-gelled texture.
  2. Apricots, berries, plums and peaches are the most common fruits used to make jam.
  3. Jelly is made from just the juice and is clear and firm.
  4. Preserves are made from whole berries or uniform pieces of larger fruits, such as peaches and pears.
  5. Fruit butters are made from fruit that is cooked until softened, then processed into a smooth consistency.  Peach, apple, pear, plum, and pumpkin are common fruit butter flavors, and spices such as cinnamon or cardamom are sometimes added.

Jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butters taste sweet due to their fruit content, but many also contain added sweeteners.  Always check for sources of added sugars on the ingredients list.  Common nutritive (calorie-containing) sweeteners found in jam and jellies include corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is a combination of fructose and dextrose.

Some products are sweetened with concentrated fruit syrup or fruit juice.  However, those products, often labeled “100% fruit.” May be no lower in sugar and carbohydrate than products sweetened with sugar or corn syrup.  Whatever the sweetener source, it’s important to check the Nutrition Facts panel on the label to know the carbohydrate content.

Honey is slightly higher in calories and carbohydrate than most jams and jellies.  It contains 60 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon.

Some food manufacturers make jams and jellies with a lower sugar and carbohydrate content.  Being a diabetic means that this is what I spend my money on.  Unfortunately most stores do not feature a wide variety of diabetic or sugar-free jams, jellies or preserves.  Depending on their ingredients and calorie counts, these products may be labeled “low calorie,” “no sugar added,” “low sugar,” “light,” “sugar free,” or “reduced sugar.”  In place of sugar or corn syrup, they may be sweetened with fructose, sugar alcohols, low calorie sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose, or a combination of low-calorie sweeteners and sugar alcohols.

What do you know about sugar alcohols?  I didn’t know much about them until after I became diabetic and I was encouraged to read the nutrition labels on what I was buying/eating.  Sugar alcohols are a group of carbohydrates that have lower calorie counts than sugars and starches—about 2 calories per gram versus 4—because they are incompletely absorbed in the gut.  Sugar alcohols you may see on ingredients lists include lactitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysate.

Sugar alcohols are not considered sugars for labeling purposes but they are listed on the Nutrition Facts panel:  Check for grams of sugar alcohols under total carbohydrate.  Be aware that sugar alcohols have a laxative effect on some people—you may want to limit your intake.

Personally, I was told to avoid the “tol” group altogether.  Sugar free does not mean carbohydrate free and I need to watch my consumption of carbs too.

Brand Best Buy (serving 1 tbs.)

Fifty50 Fruit Spread (Strawberry): 5 calories

Knott’s Berry Farm (Light Preserves, Strawberry): 20 calories

Smucker’s (Low Sugar, Strawberry)25 calories

Smucker’s (Sugar Free, Concord Grape Jam w/Splenda): 10 calories

Smucker’s (Sugar Free, Strawberry Preserves w/Nutrasweet)10 calories

Welch’s (Spread, Natural Strawberry)30 calories

Welch’s (Reduced Sugar Spread, Strawberry Spread, Strawberry)20 calories

Welch’s (Grape Jam or Jelly)50 calories

Peanut Butter and Nut Spreads

PeaNUT…PEANUT BUTTER!  Oh my god this is it…this is my favorite or should I say it’s my favorite right now.  Before I was trying to mind my health, I was good for 3 or 4 peanut butter and strawberry/apricot/peach or cherry preserves sandwiches a day.  My sandwiches were always thick with the preserves oozing out of the right places around the edge of the bread.  The peanut butter was spread evenly across the bread (only white bread) and nowhere on the sandwich were the contents unevenly applied.  My sandwiches where perfect!  Thick!  HEAVY!!  A meal unto itself.  Sadly, I can’t do that anymore L.  My dietician says one slice of bread.  It’s not a sandwich unless it has two.  Who wins this debate?  Most of the time I do (she’s not around to stop me), but I try to exercise a little harder and longer for my indulgence.

But, enough about me, lets talk about peanut butter and nut spreads.  They are both made by grinding nuts into a paste.  They can be “all natural,” meaning they are made just with nuts, or they can contain added oils, sweeteners, and other ingredients.

Peanut butter must contain a minimum of 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives.  Some brands add a stabilizer to keep the peanut butter fresh and the oil from separating; old-fashioned, or “natural,” peanut butter does not contain stabilizers, so the oil separates and must be stirred back in before using.  Don’t pour off the separated oil, or the peanut butter will become too thick to spread.

Basic Info:

·        Peanut butter is a good source of protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron, but it also derives around 70% of its calories from fat.

·        One serving of peanut butter is indicated on food labels as two tablespoons, and one serving contains 16-18 grams of fat, which includes 2-3 grams of saturated fat.

·        Because partially hydrogenated oils are frequently added to achieve a creamy texture, peanut butter may contain added trans fat.  Some, however, contain fully hydrogenated oils, which do not add trans fat.

·        Peanut butter spreads were developed as reduced-fat alternatives to peanut butter.  They contain 60% peanuts and provide 12 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.

Please be aware that when fat is reduced, sugar is often added, which may increase the carbohydrate content.  Since reduced-fat peanut butter is often not significantly lower in calories, and the carbohydrate content may double, there may not be significant health benefits to choosing it over regular peanut butter.

Hazelnut

Another nut-based product that is growing in popularity is hazelnut spread.  Hazelnut spread is a mixture of sugar, oil, hazelnuts, chocolate or cocoa, vanilla and milk.

  • The best-known hazelnut spread, Nutella, contains 200 calories, 12 grams of fat (including 4 grams of saturated fat), and 21 grams of carbohydrate in two tablespoons.
  • Nutella is higher in saturated fat than peanut butter because it contains palm oil, which is high in saturated fat, and its high amount of carbohydrate comes from added sugar.
  • The protein content of Nutella is only 2 grams per serving, compared to 7 grams per serving in peanut butter.
  • For a lower-sugar alternative try Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, which contains 180 calories, 15 grams of fat (of which 3 grams are saturated), and 12 grams of carbohydrate per two-tablespoon serving.

Best Brand Buy (serving 2 tbs.)

Fifty50 (Creamy or Crunchy)190 calories; 16 grams of fat; 140 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Jif (All varieties*): 190 calories; 15-16 grams of fat; 130-140 fat calories; 2-3 grams of saturated fat

*Jif Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread12 grams of fat; 100 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Laura Scudder’s All Natural Peanut Butter (Smooth Reduced Fat)190 calories; 12 grams of fat; 110 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Peter Pan (Creamy Whipped)150 calories; 12 grams of fat; 110 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Skippy (Natural Super Chunk, Reduced Fat Creamy/Super Chunk)180 calories; 12 grams of fat (Natural Super Chunk 17); 110 fat calories (Natural Super Chunk 150); 2 grams of saturated fat (Natural Super Chunk 3)

Source: Diabetes Self-Management (July/August 2013) – “Bread Spreads” by Lea Ann Holzmeister, RD, CDE
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My Garden Life – July 2013

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My Garden Life  – July 2013

The Old Farmers Prayer (abridged)

 

Time just keeps moving on

Many years have come and gone

But I grow older without regret

My hopes are in what may come yet

 

On the farm I work each day

This is where I wish to stay

I watch the seeds, each season sprout

From the soil as the plants rise out

 

I study Nature and I learn

To know the earth and feel her turn

I love her dearly and all the seasons

For I have learned her secret reasons

 

All that will live is in the bosom of earth

She is the loving mother of all birth

But all that lives must pass away

And go back to her someday!

 By Malcolm Beck & Robert Tate

 

Those of you that are regular readers on this site know what a difficult year 2012 was for me at my home garden and for my associates that worked with me at Nolan Elementary-Middle School (Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners).  Between the vandalism at the school garden that literally forced us to start over [1] and the oppressing heat that definitely affected farm and garden production across the country (record heat waves in the Midwest), 2012 was nearly a devastating year.  But through all that, my friends and I, fellow gardeners and kids survived and conquered our enemies, natural and man-made, to have productive yields at both gardens.[2] .[3] . [4].  So as the year ended I was feeling pretty doggone good!

One of the last things we did with the kids was a garlic-seeding lesson coordinated by what was then the Garden Resource Program.  We all met at a community garden in Hamtramck to do some clean-up work, drink some fresh pressed apple cider and learn how to plant garlic.  I’ve got to tell you…that cider was damn good…it was cold and tart and natural and cold and sweet and cold…it was fabulous.  One small cup was all I dared to consume.  One small cup…the nectar was addicting!  One cup more would have led to a jug and then just hanging out at the cider press.  This stuff was that good.  Of course we couldn’t keep the kids away from it, but we did manage to get them to focus at what was at hand.  It was a fun day and even I learned something because I was out there.

So I got some garlic from my good BUDDY John Adams and planted it on Nov. 4th along the back row of the garden.  Starting from the West/South end heading north I planted: Music (14); Japanese (13); Kilarney Red (27) and Chesnok Red (30).  Also buried pumpkin shells to add material to the soil.  I was ecstatic because I had a lot of momentum at behind me and I was feeling good about 2013’s prospects.

Two reasons I was feeling good were John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy[5] and Law Academy.  They both became members in the Project Sweet Tomato program.  They both had so much too work with, greenhouse (!!!), a more than cooperative attitude and importantly, the correct vision.  The teacher/coordinator, the newly retired Ms. Gwen Bouler was excellent to work with and when you see her garden you will know why [6].  Another reason for heightened expectations was the development of a fine relationship with the staff of Nolan Elementary-Middle School.  Nolan is an EAA (Educational Achievement Authority) project school and in this new environment there has been considerable growth and improvement in literally all aspects of the program…from administrative staff to the CEO Ms. Angela Underwood (principal) and her Parent & Community Involvement Specialist, Ms. DeAndrea “DeDe” Rogers to the teachers and most importantly the kids and their grade scores.  Wonderful things are going on over there and I am excited about its future.

There’s another garden-related program in the city that initially I was pretty high on.  The Detroit School Garden Collaborative, when I first heard about it I was ecstatic.  Six-raised bed with all the fixins’ would be given to Detroit Public Schools that applied for them.  There would be new jobs for students (paid-internships) and for adult assistants.  The gardens would grow vegetables that would be used in the school’s cafeterias.  There would be classroom programs, horticultural and agricultural education, nutrition, and community outreach.  Unfortunately they have had some problems getting it off the ground.  It is going to be a work in progress, and for it to succeed it will need help from a lot of organizations.

As the New Year started, when I am typically checking out my gear and determining what I want to grow (my seed catalogs were coming in almost daily), I found myself not counting the days, but procrastinating about what I was going to do and when I was going to do it.  The first thing off of my “bucket list” was germinating seeds indoors.  My excuse was I didn’t want to take on the process of converting my dining into a plant laboratory.  So to be sure, I cleaned up the dining area, got it looking regal and all that, but slowly but surely it got loaded up with seed packets and garden paraphernalia anyway.

Then came the cold weather crops distribution courtesy of my friends and mentors of Keep Growing Detroit (a spin-off from the Garden Resource Program) in April.  I thought I was going to regain my mojo but “po’ pitiful” me couldn’t get any traction.  The weather didn’t exactly help either (at this date a token excuse), but I did get out and plant carrots and for the first time since I began gardening here, I will be a carrot eating fool!!!  Yum, Yum Eat ‘Em Up!  That sound you hear is not thunder…nor a earthquake…neither a sonic boom, no that’s me taking a bite from a carrot pulled fresh from the garden.  I planted several varieties like:

  • Nelson
  • Danvers
  • Royal Chantenay

They are all doing very well, the stems, a parsley-like green…tall and flowing.  But, as exciting as the carrots are, I’m still not quite there.

The month of May kind of shot by for me and before I knew it, warm-weather crop distribution, courtesy of Keep Growing Detroit, was upon me.  I was picking up for my home garden and the Nolan School garden too!  I got there and instead of being excited seeing old friends and making new ones, I meandered from distributor to distributor and gathered my plants and split.  It was no big deal…it didn’t register on me then but upon reflection I should known then that there was a different feeling this year.

I shared my thoughts/feelings with several of my gardening friends and surprisingly was told the same thing.  Almost everybody I know, that is into gardening, considers this year to be an off year as for interest and effort.  They will get what they get but they don’t intend to work too hard to get it.  This behavior probably explains the lack of gardening conversations between my friends and I.  Everybody claims a lack of focus this year too.  They’ve got a lot of major projects going on elsewhere and something’s got to give if they are going to get them done in a reasonable space of time.  Something had to give and for many it was gardening.

I think that for myself, I have spent a considerable amount of time assisting the effort to get the gardens going at Nolan and John R. King.  Both of these school gardens got in before mine.  I was fortunate that some veggies that over-wintered in the garden gave me some of my earliest taste experiences.  I had lettuce and scallions in May and June, plus the garlic I planted last November has been harvested as I write this.  I didn’t really get anything in the ground until June 2nd.  I spent the entire day and the two days that followed (between rain storms) putting every plant I had in and planting seeds also.  So in spite of my laxity of energy and desire I have happily managed to get the following crops in:

  • Greens (All Greens Mix)
  • Arugula
  • Nelson Carrots
  • Napoli Carrots (Fall)
  • Lettuce (Mesclun Mix)
  • Spinach, Space
  • Yankee Bell Pepper
  • Early Jalapeno Pepper
  • Italia Sweet Pepper
  • Big Beef Tomato
  • Brandywine Tomato
  • Cherokee Purple Tomato
  • Black Cherry Tomato
  • Green Zebra Tomato
  • Paste Tomato
  • Marketmore Cucumber
  • Georgia Collard Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Belstar Broccoli (Fall)
  • White/Green Cabbage
  • Red Cabbage
  • Tenderbush Green Beans
  • Goldmine Yellow Wax Beans

For a guy that’s supposed to be experiencing an overwhelming feeling malaise this is no small undertaking.  There are 3-20 ft. rows of each bean type…17 tomato plants, 6 varieties14 pepper plants, 3 varieties24 cucumber plants (trellised)4 of each cabbage…6 collard greens…6 broccoli (plus 6 to be planted).  This year I didn’t plant two of my standards, yellow squash and zucchini, as well as a host of peppers (long/short cayenne, ancho/poblano, hot/sweet banana).  I also skipped on the tomatillos.  I guess the several containers of frozen Salsa Verde in my freezer should serve as a reminder of what I should not grow in the immediate future. 

Maybe I am slightly disaffected because there have not been the usual challenges as per seasons before.  I used to get so much fun looking out my office window, keeping watch on the squirrel population as they devastated my garden.  My BB gun has been in the closet now for two years.  Or the times when 50 to 100 birds, black ones with black beaks and iridescent chests, would land in my yard and walk from one side to the other eating and destroying (breaking) everything in their path.  They got a lot of insects but there was a toll to pay.  They would use the garden as a giant dust bath, just flipping and flapping…sometimes fighting around the garden.  Breaking whatever they could…collateral damage, right?  Of course there were the rabbits…my hip-hop friends that nibbled exclusively on young, tender shoots.  All of this has stopped.  Stopped virtually completely!  And I think I know why…my inflatable snakes.  The inflatable snakes from last year.  I haven’t had to put them out this year because no animal…bird or rodent…has come into my yard.  They stopped coming in last year and with the exception of one rabbit and one squirrel hopping quickly across the yard I have not see any pest/varmint in my garden this year.  Maybe they think that the snakes are still out there somewhere…lol.  I do miss the birds, especially the wide variety I did see, but I don’t miss the rest of them that’s for sure.

I ultimately think that I am slowed more than just a little because of the unpredictability of the weather, here and across the nation.  Last year, we were experiencing extreme heat and violent outbursts of weather.  A combination that was not conducive to high output at any level.  This year, with the somewhat mild winter, we were hit by a spring that was somewhat reminiscent of past springs (not as moderate as last year) and a summer that to me was kind of slow to take off.  Last year we had the heat and this year, so far, we’ve got rain…Rain…RAIN and plenty of it.  We have had more than enough rain.  Last year from June 1 through July 30, I hand watered each and every plant on almost an every other day basis.  Because of the heat, unfortunately I over-watered.  So far, this year, I have physically watered my garden only 3 times.  Imagine that…only 3 times (and one of those times it rained afterward).  Between June 1st and July 21st, 61 days…it has rained 29 times!  That’s almost every other day!  Perhaps, I and many others are feeling like we have no control…no control of the weather (how much rain can be too much rain)…no control over the care of the vegetables…no control of the overall outcomes.  All we can do is plants them…put them in that damn ground and nurture them to health and productivity.

Is this what our forefather’s faced?  The Scott’s brand or Miiracle-Gro didn’t exist!  Technology for them was a well that was not more than 10 steps from the garden.  Man, Woman, child, family and friends against the elements.  You didn’t get fancy or waste a space with something that wasn’t going to come close to expectations or needs.  It was about land management.  You had to seasonally rotate and manage crops so that you could eat all year.  Frigidaire?  What was that?  Kenmore?  Come On!  You better get your crops down into that “root cellar”[7] and let them set for keepin’!  Back then, you gardened/farmed with an ongoing desperation and frustration, so maybe that’s what I am feeling now.  As much as I would like to have it, that magically charged green thumb, it’s not going to happen.  I will have to adjust, think smart and adapt to whatever the elements and the environment give me. It looks like in several ways this year will be as good as last year and better too in specific areas.  My bean production should be up, while I am sure my tomato output will be down.  I will take a good bean yield any day! My cabbages are off to a slow start but the collard greens are doing quite rightly so.  Hot banana peppers are looking good and plentiful, jalapeno peppers are at standard and bell pepper plants are flowering.  I will have a good yield from my cucumbers; the plants right now look vigorous and strong.  I will need 101 different ways to prepare this vegetable if they hold to form. 

2013 photo 1

Cucumbers and plum tomatoes

2013 photo 3

All my little bean soldiers standing in a row!

2013 photo 4

2013 photo 5

A row of carrots planted between two rows of garlic

2013 photo 7

2013 photo 8

2013 photo 9

All of the garden scaffolding…can’t wait till the tomato plants fill them out.

2013 photo 10

These pictures were actually taken about 3 weeks ago and a lot has happened since they were taken.  I’ve got beans on the plants and tomato development and growth is improving.  Fall crops will get in next week.  I have come to like this garden.  It’s different…it’s practical…it’s creative.  Like most experienced gardeners and farmers, I will learn from this year, put it in my toolkit, and get ready for 2014.