Good Morning Garden Soldiers!  It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted on my gardening series since I’ve been so busy in my own garden.  I’m happy to say, everything is sowed in the ground and in different stages of sprouts to harvest.

Thinning Seedlings

One of the most difficult things for new gardeners to comprehend is that it is essential to thin your seedlings.  Every year at my community garden, I see many newbies plant their seeds, watch them grow and then get disappointed by their yields.  The culprit… they did not thin their seedlings.

So what does thinning your seedlings mean?!

Thinning your seedlings simply means that you are cutting away all but one seedling per space that the vegetable needs to grow.  You see why this is difficult to comprehend for newbies?  When we see so many sprouts growing we assume that we should keep them all to increase our harvest.  However, this is far from the truth.  Every vegetable needs it’s space to grow.  It’s essential to thin your seedlings for healthy plant growth and development and believe it or not to maximize your crop production.

This becomes even more important when planting your root vegetables such as radishes, carrots, beets, turnips etc.  If too many seedlings are growing together the root is competing for space and nutrients.

Below is an example from my garden.

Before thinning my seedlings (radishes)

After thinning my seedlings

Tips for thinning your seedings

  • Identify the proper spacing for plants.  This can be found on all seed packages.
  • Pick the largest and healthiest seedlings to keep.
  • Wait to thin your seedlings until the first true sets of leaves appear.
  • For small seedlings, use scissors to cut away the seedlings you don’t want at the soil line.  This is important so you don’t disturb the roots of the seedling you want to keep.
  • Add more soil if roots are exposed

 So take a good look at your garden.  If you have any crowded seedlings, make sure to thin them out!

My next post in this series is going to be on disease, fungus and insects that can damage your crops including preventatives and treatments.  We are coming to that time of year where we may encounter some of this and the effects can destroy all of our hard work.

It’s been so much fun hearing how so many more foodies are growing our own food!  If you have any pictures of your thriving garden, please send me pics to diana (at) phileodesign (dot) com.  In the meantime check out newbie Miranda’s garden from My Food and Life Encounters!  Yeah… after looking at her pictures you wouldn’t think this was her first year!!  AMAZING!!!

Until then Garden Soldiers! Let’s Grow Our Own Food!

Fresh Garden Salad with Bacon Fat Dressing
Fresh lettuce from the garden is something we have had in abundance.  Much more than my family can eat that I was able to share a couple bags of my harvest with my next door neighbor.  My next door neighbors have become friends of ours and the boys enjoy spending time with them.  Don and Judy are retired but quite the busy bees.  You can usually find Don working on his house and yard or his elderly neighbors house to the South.  Judy maintains their home, cooks and makes sure to take her daily walks a few times a day.  They are great neighbors and always vigilant of the neighborhood.

With extra bags of lettuce, I walked next door to give Don and Judy some of the harvest when she shared with me her mothers recipe for wilted lettuce.  It was actually quite funny because she told me that she had a wonderful recipe for me, however, it contained bacon fat so it might not be good for me.  I laughed and said, “Judy, if it contains pork fat, I want the recipe.”  She laughed!  She gave me the easiest and most delicious recipe for a bacon fat dressing poured over fresh harvested lettuce.  The lettuce wilts a bit with the heat of the dressing.  Hence the name, wilted lettuce.  After a quick search online for wilted lettuce, I found other similar recipes.  However, since Judy gave me the recipe with her mothers handwriting, I’d like to give credit to Edith North.

Fresh Garden Salad with Bacon Fat Dressing (Wilted Lettuce)
(Adapted) By Edith North


  • Leaf Lettuce
  • Green Onions
  • 4 strips farm fresh bacon
  • 2-3 tbls raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp mustard (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp raw honey
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 farm fresh hard boiled eggs


  1. Wash, drain and heap lettuce into a large bowl
  2. Add chopped green onions
  3. In a cast iron skillet or pan, fry the bacon until crisp and can crumble.  Set aside
  4. To the bacon fat in the skillet or pan, add vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil and stir
  6. Add crumbled bacon and pour hot over lettuce
  7. Toss, slice eggs over top and serve

Buen Provecho!


This post is a part of the new Real Food Carnival… Two for Tuesdays!

I’d like to ask you to please lift up my city in prayer.  We’ve had a lot of rain these past couple of weeks with more in the forecast.  The river banks are swollen and parts of our town is starting to flood.  My home church has lost power this morning and it’s basement, where the children’s classes are held, is flooded.  I just pray that the rain would subside and that people will not be left in ruin as in years past.

As for my gardening, I am really pleased with how this season is going so far.  What’s been great is that I’ve been saving quite a bit of money in groceries.  I’ve only had to buy a few items at the farmers market as I’ve been harvesting a steady supply of lettuce, green onions, radishes, and as of yesterday peas and chinese kale.  Having raised beds for my Spring planting has made a huge difference in production and the home made compost has encouraged growth.  One thing I have noticed is that the trees in my parent’s home are overgrown and casting a bit too much shade.  I feel if they had more hours of direct sun my veggies would mature quicker.  My father is seeing the need to prune his tree, so… I’m crossing my fingers he does it this year or next.  (If you’re reading this papi… wink… wink… ;)

Plots at the folks home


I feel my peas on either end of one of this bed would have grown much taller with more sunlight.
I noticed yesterday that some nasties (slugs) are starting to bite at my romaine!  Unfortunately, we’ve had so much rain here lately, that I can’t keep the area around them dusted with DE and beer in a small dish is getting drowned out by water, urghh!! I’ll get you nasties!
Beets!  Aren’t those leaves just gorgeous!  I think in the fall, I will plant beets specifically meant for harvesting of their tops.  They are so yummy!

Carrots!  I’ll be planting my third succession this week.
Mesclun Mix that keeps coming… and coming… and coming!
Chinese Kale
My heirloom tomatoes are taking off!
My potato in a sack experiment is going well.  I am sad as my french fingerlings drowned and rotted :(  My other 3 sacks are growing though and one of my potatoes in a sack has reached the top!  I’m excited to see what happens :)
Franklin Community Garden Plots
This year my husband raised me 3 beds in one of my garden plots at the community garden.  Since these plots are under direct sunlight every day, I planted my sun loving summer veggies in the new beds.
Nehemiah’s strawberry patch produced about 30lbs or more of berries this year.  We were really blessed with fresh berries for a good 3 weeks and it’s still producing about a pound every other day.  It’s so much fun to bike to the garden with the boys, pick fresh berries to snack on and visit the other plots.  After the rain disappears from our forecast I am going to have to mow this plot down and tend to the patch.  I plan on digging up all the old plants and leave the runners to encourage brand new growth and hopefully another great year of berries in 2011.
My new raised beds!  Aren’t they pretty :D 
In the first bed, I have 3 different varieties of squash growing and onions.
7 varieties of peppers!  Italian Marconi, Sweet Pimento, Cubanelle, Buran Red, Ancho, Jalapeno, and Chocolate Bell.
Eggplants and 6 tomatillo plants!  I cannot wait for my tomatillo’s!!!
The tomatillo’s are taking off under all the sunlight!
My Home
This year I’ve expanded my garden!  I enjoy gardening so much that I’ve ran out of room and decided to use the South side of my home and front yard for more gardening space.  Edible landscaping!   If things go well this year I may build up designed raised beds that would look spectacular on the corner edge of my front yard.  Next year… we’ll see, lol!
Below is a picture of my new corn plot.  In a few weeks, I’ll sow pole beans in this same plot and have them trellis up the stalks!  Perfect for small spaces!!  I’m also excited as this is the year we finally put up shutters on my home and buy a brand new door, screen and outdoor lights.  I also brought home ceramic address numbers from Spain that I CANNOT wait to put up on my home. I’ve been trying to recreate A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa.



My Grow Boxes.  I can’t wait to see how these do.  In one I’ve planted 6 cucumber plants and in the other 6 melon plants.  I know… according to the directions I can grow that many plants in one box!

My raspberry bushes quadrupled in size this year!  There are already berries ready for picking!  The kids love running out there everyday and eating them right off the bushes :)

I was given raspberry starts last year and to my surprise they were a yellow variety.
They are very sweet!


New plot I dug up.  I planted 9 more heirloom tomatoes and 1 more tomatillo plant.

My front patio filled with containers of annuals.  Mostly different varieties of geraniums and begonias.  My favorite display of flowers in Spain ;D



I could really use help in this area!  I’ve planted sun perennials in a space that is clearly shade.  Any recommendations of what I should plant here?  Any help is WAY appreciated.  One thing I do like are the snapdragons that had just dropped all of it’s flowers before I  took the pic :(  They came back from last year and are gorgeous!


This is what I have growing in my gardens so far.  With all of the rain I have not had time to hit the backyard yet.  I’m planting a huge plot to fill with sunflowers.  I think the display will look so pretty and I’ll be able to harvest all of the seeds for my chickens!  Also on the list this year is to paint my coop.  I can’t wait to have a super cute city coop in my backyard!
Have a great weekend!

Cuban-Style Picadillo
Picadillo refers to the Spanish word, “picar,” which means “to mince” or “to chop”.   A picadillo can be any combination of meat and vegetables chopped up and finished with a variety of spices and seasonings.  I really enjoy the way Cubans make their picadillo as they add hash browns fried in pork lard or rendered bacon fat to soften and add flavor.  A while back I was given a wonderful dish reminiscent of picadillo at my friend Abby’s house.  She topped it with a fried egg and served it to me with flat bread.  It was swoon worthy!  So to accompany this dish, I made my family flat bread.  A recipe I will share in a future post ;)  This dish can also be served topped with a fried egg which would make it that much more RICO!!

Cuban-Style Picadillo


  • 3 medium sized potatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbls pork lard, or 4 pieces bacon cooked down to render the fat (add the bacon into the picadillo if using this method)
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tomatoes, skins removed and pureed (or small can tomato sauce)
  • 1 cup beef broth, preferably homemade
  • 1-2 tsp chili powder (or to taste)
  • 2 tbls tomato paste (or ketchup)
  • 2 tbls red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup green olives, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a cast iron skillet, heat 2 tbls pork lard.
  2. Add the potatoes and brown.  Remove and set aside.  Save the fat for another day.
  3. In the same skillet, brown the ground beef.
  4. When the beef is about half way cooked, add the onion, pepper, and garlic.  Cook until the remaining of the beef is cooked and the onions are translucent.
  5. Add the tomato sauce, beef broth, green olives and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the chili powder, tomato paste, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the picadillo has thickened to your liking.
  7. Once it has thickened to your liking add the hash browns back in and warm for a few minutes.
  8. Serve over steamed white/brown rice.

This dish is excellent with flat bread and a green salad from the garden.

Buen Provecho!

My trip to Spain continued to Granada.  After a few days in Sevilla, we packed up the kids and headed to the train station.

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The most useful item I took to Spain had to be my Beco baby carrier. It made traveling with my rambunctious toddlers so much easier. I was able to strap Zekie to my front or back and it allowed me extra hands to push luggage, hold onto Nehe’s hand or simply carry my baby. 

Having my baby sleep on me was absolutely precious

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Baby Ezra was enjoying his Beco baby carrier as well!
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I wanted to share this picture below because it was really during moments like these that I really appreciated my Beco. I’m not sure about you, but my 2 year old wanders. During this 3 hour trip from Sevilla to Granada I kept Zekie strapped onto my front. He was able to sit comfortably on my lap and sleep the entire way. Had I not of had him strapped in, it would have been a battle of wills! My precious baby would have had me chasing him all over the train and pleading with him to sit still. Thank you BECO :D

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After a quick 3 hour nap, I mean train ride we finally arrived in Granada! Granada is absolutely beautiful. The city is clean, vibrant, and full of life.  Everything is taken care of immaculately.  Spring was in the air and the city exemplified Andaluz!  

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From walking the streets, it quickly became apparent that Granada is a University town, home to the prestigious University of Granada. Maybe that’s why this is the city of free tapas! That’s right, near the Cathedral, you can sit down at most bars, order a drink, and receive a free tapita. How AWESOME is that!

One of the highlights of our time in Granda was visiting La Alhambra.

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La Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex constructed during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus, occupying the top of the hill of the Assabica on the southeastern border of the city of Granada, now in the autonomous community of Andalusia, Spain.

According to wikipedia 
The Alhambra’s Moorish palaces were built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain and its court, of the Nasrid dynasty. After the Reconquista by the Los Reyes Católicos (“The Catholic Monarchs”) in 1492 some portions were used by the Christian rulers. The Palace of Charles V, built by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1527, was inserted in the Alhambra within the Nasrid fortifications. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the Alhambra was “discovered” in the 19th century by European scholars and travelers, with restorations commencing. It is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country’s most significant and well known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This Moorish palace is similar to La Alcazar in Sevilla.  The architecture and gardens are breathtaking.

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I’m so glad I had my Beco! I could comfortably go up tiny halls, and tall buildings without fearing for the safety of my baby! AWESOME!
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What surprised me, we even carried the big kids in it!! I knew it could carry up to 45lbs so Nathan strapped on 4 year old Xavier and he fell asleep on his back. The cutest thing ever!

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After a very long day we sat at a local bar for some free tapitas and a fabulous meal!

Delicious Croquetas!
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Pollo al Chilindron
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Granada was amazing and definitely on my list of places to return! Next stop… Chipiona!!

Green salad fresh from the garden
Spring is the season for salads!  My mesclun mix that I sowed in my garden has been producing abundantly and we’ve been blessed with fresh greens.  As easy as it is to grow from seed I really encourage you to give it a try!  Lettuce has a short root system so you can grow it just about anywhere.  From containers to gutters!  That’s right, roof gutters!  Nail it to a backyard fence, fill it with soil and plant away.  You’ll have lettuce popping up in no time! 

To top your salads, add anything you have growing in your garden or what you can find at your farmers market.  It’s always different when you follow the seasons.  For this salad, I added fresh green onions and strawberries from my garden and local feta cheese from Reichert’s Dairy Air.  With all of the organic raspberries I’ve been finding at my local markets, I couldn’t help but buy some and make a sweet and savory raspberry vinaigrette.  My patch is still ripening ;)

Green Salad Fresh from the Garden with Raspberry Vinaigrette

Raspberry Vinaigrette

  • 1 small package raspberries, mashed (save a few to top your salad)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbls raw honey
  • salt and pepper to taste

For your salad

  1. Toss any variety of fresh lettuce, green onions, and diced ripe strawberries.
  2. Pour raspberry vinaigrette over the salad.
  3. Top with crumbled feta cheese.

Buen Provecho!