Archive of ‘Gardening’ category

5 Easy Vegetables To Grow At Home

5 Vegetables for the First-Time Gardener | Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

It’s finally starting to feel like summer! I think this is the latest we have ever transferred our seedings to the ground. Have you started your summer garden yet? 

If you are new to gardening it can be very overwhelming to get started. Many gardening blogs talk about soil quality, zone hardiness, pH levels, companion planting, cross-pollination, disease and pest control… it’s enough to make your head spin.

Don’t get me wrong, these websites are very informative, but they make the learning curve sound so intimidating, I think it scares many people off from starting a garden. Most first-time gardeners probably have the attitude I had when I first started. They want to throw some seeds into the ground, water them, cross their fingers and hope for the best. If that’s you, that’s ok! Unless you come from a line of gardeners, you’re starting in the same place that most of us did. 

First-time gardeners aren’t worried about soil testing, row gardening vs. square foot gardening, and composting. Let’s get real, their number one concern is probably remembering to water the garden on a regular basis! 

These are my five favorite things to grow in my garden each year because they are low maintenance vegetables. They are all fairly disease and pest-resistant, which makes them easy to care for if you are new to gardening. That isn’t to say you will never encounter a problem with these veggies, but you aren’t going to have the same problems you’ll have with some other edibles.   (more…)

How To Freeze Kale

Kale is an awesome superfood that freezes really well for use all year-round. Kale has been dubbed the world’s healthiest food because it is super high in vitamins, K, A, and C and easy to eat in smoothies or soup. Below, I’ve included the steps I go through when freezing my annual kale crop.

How to Freeze Kale | Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

I’ve been in seasonal denial for the past 2 weeks, but there is no mistaking it, Fall has made an appearance in Chicago. The end of summer is always a bittersweet time of year because, as the gardening season comes to an end, I begin to can, pickle, dehydrate, and freeze everything I can get my hands on in preparation for the colder months ahead. 

This summer, I may have gone a little overboard by planting three kale plants instead of one because at the moment we’re swimming in kale! I don’t mind though because kale freezes really well and I love to add it to smoothies and winter soups. I was so sad when I used the last of our garden fresh kale last year that I was determined to plant enough to sustain us well into the winter. Hopefully, I have succeeded.

Every year, we plant Lacinato kale (also known as Dinosaur kale or Tuscan kale), but this method will work with any kale variety you have producing in your garden. I do not blanch my kale before freezing, but there are many tutorials out there that claim you should. Last year, I was using unblanched, frozen kale until March and didn’t notice a significant drop in flavor, texture, or color.

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5 Ways to Decorate a Chain Link Fence

One of the advantages of living in an urban environment is being blessed with an unsightly chain link fence along your property line. Chain link fences are slowly starting to become available in various colors, but I am willing to bet that the majority of chain link fence owners have something similar to ours. 

5 Ways to Decorate a Chain-Link Fence | cucinakristina.com

I started looking into the cost of covering our chain link fence with a fence kit or a lattice fence panel, but by the time we bought enough pieces to cover the entire length of our yard, we may as well have just replaced the fence completely. Unfortunately, a new fence isn’t in our budget this year so I started to look for ways that I could make the fence less of an eyesore.

The easiest option seemed to be to use the fence as a giant trellis and plant some climbing plants. If you want something organic, climbing plants are a great option. They would add a nice pop of color to your garden and the flowers would be great for attracting bees! 

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How To Divide Chives

Are your chives looking a little sad? Are they more than 2 years old? Has your plant outgrown its pot? It’s probably time to divide those chives and give them a little more space to thrive. This post will walk you through the steps you need to take to divide your chives so they will keep wildly producing!

How to revive and divide chives | cucinakristina.com

Chives are a great container plant to add to your herb garden because they are fast growers and easy to maintain. They are perennials which means they will live for more than 2 years and go dormant in the winter, but they will pop back to life in the spring. People sometimes confuse a dormant perennial with a dead plant, but chives are hearty and can tolerate pretty harsh winter conditions. If you invest in a small chive plant now, you will have it for years to come.

As with any potted plant, there will come a day when the plant outgrows its pot. The chives in the photo above are about 3-years old and, as you can see, they aren’t looking so hot. The leaves, although vibrant, are wilted and the flowers are shriveled and pale rather than bright and purple. This is because the bulbs have become too crowded and the plant needs more room to grow in order to continue to produce healthy leaves and flowers.

You don’t need to invest in a larger pot to give your chives the room they needs to produce. You can divide the plant into smaller clusters and transfer it into smaller pots. Dividing chives is easy and necessary in order to keep them wildly producing.

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How to Build Raised Garden Beds

Last year, my husband built 2 raised garden beds for our garden. I was so happy with the results, I talked him into building 2 more for me this year. They are relatively easy to build and provide many added benefits to your backyard garden including:

  • Customized soil – This is probably the best benefit to a raised garden bed. It allows you to use your own mix of soil and compost to yield the best results for your plants. If you are into testing pH levels (I haven’t found this necessary yet) a raised garden bed will also allow you to group your plants for optimal growth.
  • Better drainage – A raised bed will provide your bed with better drainage. Because the soil is contained within the bed, they also help limit soil erosion. 
  • Extend your growing season – Raised beds warm up faster than regular ground soil which can extend your growing season. Not only can you plant seedlings earlier in a raised bed, but you can also continue to harvest longer due to increased soil temperatures.
  • Weed control – A raised garden bed allows you to put down a weed barrier before filling the bed with dirt. There is a lot of back and forth on the internet as to how necessary this is because weed barrier fabric does not stop weeds all together. However, a weed barrier plus a few extra feet of dirt will cut down on the amount of weeding you have to do throughout the summer. Personally, I think it’s worth it.
  • Better on your back – Believe it or not, raising your garden bed even a foot off the ground helps ease amount of back-bending needed to harvest and maintain your plants.

Last year I posted some photos of our garden beds without any step-by-step instructions. That is one of my most popular posts so I thought I’d post directions this time around. We used cedar wood because it is the most resistant to rot.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed
Note: Our beds are 5′ x 4′. You will have to adjust your measurements for beds of different dimensions. The instructions below are for 1 raised garden bed.

Materials:

  • Two 10-foot cedar planks and two 8-foot cedar planks. We used 2 x 6’s – Have your hardware store cut them in half for you. This will leave you with four 5-foot boards and four 4-foot boards
  • One 4 x 4 cedar board – Have your hardware store cut this into 1 and a half-foot pieces. These will be your posts.
  • 3-inch outdoor decking screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Level (optional, but helpful)

Directions:

1. Lay two of the post pieces 5 feet apart on the ground and lay the 5-foot planks across them.

DIY Raised Garden Bed - Step 1

Step 1

2. Using a straight edge, make sure the plank is flush with the edge of the post. Attach one plank at a time.

DIY Raised Garden Bed - Step 2

Step 2

3. Drill two screws through the plank and the post. It helps if you pre-drill the holes in the planks. Screws should be about an inch or so from the edges of the plank and approximately 4 inches apart.

DIY Raised Garden Bed - Step 3

Step 3

4. Repeat steps 1-3 with remaining planks.

nail location

Nail the planks to the posts. I have circled where we inserted nails above. Click to enlarge.

DIY Raised Garden Bed - Step 4

Finished bed.

A quick note: We left about an inch of space between the bottom plank and the ground. This was so we could dig small holes into the ground to help anchor the boxes. In hindsight, this was unnecessary as the boxes are heavy and pretty stable once they are filled with dirt. It is up to you as to whether or not you want to build yours this way.

DIY Raised Garden Bed - Step 4

Step 5 (optional)

5. Before removing your grass and filling your boxes with dirt, check to make sure the beds are level. I don’t think this step is necessary enough to go out and purchase a level, but if you happen to have one it is a good idea to check this before they can’t be moved.

I hope this was helpful. Happy planting!

Regrowing Green Onions

Chicago turned 175 years old today, and since the name Chicago was derived from the Native American word for wild onion (shikaakwa), I feel there is no more appropriate time for this post.

I learned two things about onions over the last month. The first is that they should never be stored next to potatoes because this will cause them to both to spoil faster. Who knew? Certainly not I. I knew that onions and potatoes should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark (if possible) place, but I had no idea that storing them in the same container would speed up their spoiling. Ever since discovering that, I can’t get these crocks from Sur La Table out of my mind! I think I need them immediately.

Onion crock. They have matching ones for potatoes and garlic!

The second thing I learned about onions is that you can regrow scallions, sometimes referred to as green onions. I am far from having a green thumb, my fiancé is solely responsible for keeping our summer garden alive. I am only responsible for harvesting and taking pictures. I am proud to report that I regrew these onions all on my own, which proves how easy it is!

How to Regrow Scallions (Green Onions)

Supplies:

  • Green onions
  • Glass jar or a drinking glass
  • Water

Procedure:

  1. Snip dark green portion of the onion off so only the white and light green parts remain.
  2. Place in glass jar and fill with water until the white portion is covered. Change water daily.

Regrowing scallions

That’s it! The dark green part will start to grow back after a few days. This is what my scallions looked like after 10 days.

10 days later

You can use green onions for all sorts of things. You can dice them and add them to dips or butter. You can chop them and add them to salads or top tacos and fajitas with them. Since they have a mild onion taste, I love to grill them. Grilling them removes any onion bite they have and replaces it with a sweet flavor that is irresistible. If you grill your scallions and plan on regrowing them, you can  trim them a lot closer to the root than I did in the first photo above.

Grilled Green Onions

Trimmed and seasoned green onions. All prepped for grilling! I seem to have misfiled my “after” photo :(

Ingredients:

  • Green onions (aka Scallions)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Trim roots and toss green onions with olive oil in a shallow baking dish.
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Grill until tender and browned, about 10 minutes.

You can eat grilled scallions on their own or place them inside a warm corn tortilla and serve as an accompaniment to arrachera. Happy growing!

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