Mario Batali’s Kitchen Gardens: Pre-Fall Peppers!

With autumn so near at hand, you’d think the excitement would be winding down in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden. Most vegetable gardens in New York are offering up the last of their produce right about now, while green thumbs stow their trowels for the next spring planting. But at the NYBG, the best of the season is still ahead of us! In fact, the atmosphere is nearly humming with anticipation for the peak event of the summer: Mario Batali’s Edible Garden Festival. And while the legendary chef’s top culinary minds have inspired plenty of palates during Family Dinners throughout the season, it’s Mario himself that will treat your tastebuds for September’s pièce de résistance.

Now that the Family Dinners have come and gone, I got to wondering what might end up on Mario’s menu. And when you think of Italian cooking, you don’t have to be shy about it: your mind leaps straight to the tomatoes. Plump and delicious, blushing red (or yellow, or purple), they take center stage in so many of the dishes we’ve come to love. Still, while picking my way through the Family Garden in recent weeks, I thought to myself, “Why let the tomatoes hog the spotlight?” They’re delectable–don’t get me wrong–but Italy’s culinary history encompasses so much more! Mario knows this better than anyone. And when his acclaimed chefs first planted their vegetable plots, they dotted the Family Garden with leafy greens, pungent onions, and herbs enough to make your spice rack green with envy. And the peppers! So many peppers, in myriad shapes and colors.

The gardens of Esca‘s Dave Pasternack and Del Posto‘s Mark Ladner had their share of tomatoes, sure, but the peppers were even more inviting. Hot red mushroom peppers, King of the North varieties, and exotic, sweet cultivars like Quadrato d’Asti Giallo. Each plant tells the story of a complex and flavorful culinary heritage. In honor of such, I thought I’d share a pepper-friendly recipe from Mario’s latest cookbook, Molto Batali–something that blends many of the vegetables grown in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden since Batali’s chef’s first made their mark.

Sauteed Spinach with Cremini and Pepper
Recipe courtesy of Molto Batali (Ecco 2011)

Ingredients (side serves 4 to 6)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms, brushed clean and halved
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into thin julienne
12 cups young spinach leaves, trimmed
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a 14-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, cut side down, and sprinkle in the lemon zest. Cook, without shaking the pan or stirring, until the mushrooms are a nice, golden brown, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the onions and the peppers and stir thoroughly. Saute until the onions and peppers are soft and translucent, 6 to 7 minutes.
  3. Raise the heat to high and allow the mushroom mixture to sizzle. Add the spinach and cook quickly, stirring, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, seasons with salt to taste and the pepper, and serve immediately.

Tickets for the Edible Garden Festival with Mario Batali are now on sale, allowing you to join us on Sunday, September 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden. Available seats for the cooking demonstration and exclusive dinner event will disappear quickly, so be sure to register early! Don’t miss this rare opportunity to join Mario at the table as he shares anecdotes, memories, and inspirations over a four-course feast prepared by the master himself.

Enter to Win Great Prizes from NYBG!

To celebrate all the Edible Garden fun going on in the Family Garden, The New York Botanical Garden is giving away eight prize packages featuring a combination of Mario Batali Series Vic Firth Peppermills, pairs of Mario’s beloved Crocs, tickets to the Garden’s Edible Garden festival on September 23, and high quality cookware from the “Mario Batali by Dansk™ Light Cookware” line. These prize packages will vary and are valued at up to $310!

This week we’re giving away four tickets to the Edible Garden festival on September 23 ($100 value) and a 10″ skillet in turquoise (a $130 value)! View the full sweepstakes rules, and click here to enter. Each weekly contest will begin at 12:00 p.m. EDT on Monday and run through 11:59 p.m. EDT that Sunday. This week, entries will be accepted beginning at 12:00 p.m. EDT, Monday, September 10, 2012 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, September 16, 2012.

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Common Ground: The Ocean, Lakes, Rivers & Streams

SafeLawns, Surfriders Share Common Goals of a Healthier Planet

The SafeLawns Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation share the common goals of keeping the water clean. (Geoff Glenn photo)

If there’s one truism we’ve found as we begin our seventh year at the SafeLawns Foundation, it’s to expect the unexpected. To that end, last week we enjoyed a lengthy conversation with Surfrider Foundation, a group that initially came together in 1984 to protest threats to their local surf break at Malibu Point in California.

These days the Surfrider Foundation maintains more than 50,000 members, 80 chapters worldwide and, as we discovered, one of the most robust standards for earth friendly gardening of any group on the planet.

Homeowners who pledge to meet the proper criteria are allowed to post this sign in their yards.

“Bad lawn and garden practices are especially bad for the oceans,” said Paul Herzog, the Surfrider Foundation’s national coordinator of the Ocean Friendly Gardens Program. “All of that runoff from chemical fertilizers and pesticides eventually winds up in the ocean somewhere. So anything we can do to work together to minimize the impact of lawns and gardens is good for all of us.”

The Ocean Friendly Gardens program includes an ambitious homeowner criteria (below) that addresses everything from downspouts to drip irrigation.

“An Ocean Friendly Garden is a garden that applies CPR — Conservation, Permeability, and Retention© — to revive the health of our watersheds and oceans,” reads the campaign slogan.

An OFG Sign will be awarded to any garden that achieves the organization’s criteria. And it doesn’t matter if you live in Malibu or somewhere in Michigan, Minnesota or Maine . . . these are all good rules to live by in the landscape:

Turf Areas
* Climate-appropriate turf grass is limited to 20% of total square footage of the landscaped area.
* Turf grass is limited to only those areas where it serves a specific purpose (documented play area).
* Turf grass is maintained organically without synthetic fertilizers and never over-watered.
* Turf grass is kept away from the perimeter of the garden, where irrigation overspray is hard to control.
* Cool season turf grass is not in front yard gardens in areas receiving less than an average 44 inches of annual rainfall.
* Warm season turf grass, if present, is not over-seeded with cool season grass during winter months.

* No automatic irrigation is utilized OR: Irrigation system is in good repair (no breaks or leaks) with no visible signs from stains on nearby hard surfaces or erosion on vegetated surfaces from repeated overspray or runoff. (See maintenance details below)
* No spray irrigation of any kind is installed in areas less than 10 feet wide OR a total surface area of less than 100 square feet.
* Drip irrigation is ½ inch diameter tubing or larger — utilizing either line source (”in-line”) OR point source emitters (”on line”).
* No 1/4″ diameter irrigation tubing is present, except where needed for irrigating containers and raised beds. (See maintenance details below)
* Hoses have shut-off attachments.
* A weather-based irrigation controller (WBIC) or “smart” irrigation controller is installed OR
* Absent a WBIC, the irrigation controller has a rain shut-off installed.

* A minimum of 2 inches to 4 inches of natural woodchip mulch is present in all planted and open areas.
* 50% or more of the woodchip mulch must be smaller than 1 inch in length or diameter.
* Small open mulch-free areas are permitted if they are designated for native bee or insect habitat.

* Plants are grouped according to plant community or hydrozones including:
* Similar sunlight exposure, water requirements, root depth, soil type, hardiness and
temperature adaptation, and/or size at maturity.
* New gardens are planted with sufficient space between plants to accommodate mature growth without over-crowding, and to minimize pruning at maturity.
* Plants requiring regular shearing are not permitted, unless they are edible or produce edible fruit.

Healthy Living Soil
* Soil health is maintained organically without chemical additives.
* Soil health is maintained by the addition of compost, compost tea, and worm castings.
* Soil is not visible beneath a mulch layer, EXCEPT
* Areas 4 inches-12 inches around the crown of woody plants should remain un-mulched, and
* Areas 12 inches to 60 inches around the trunks of trees should remain un-mulched.
These un-mulched areas should be minimized, but depends on the size of tree/plant crown.

Our choices in gardening products, as well as how water flows in and around our landscape, can have tremendous impact on the water system at large

Permeable Hardscape
* Walkways and patios are made permeable with
* Plants, mulch or decomposed granite in gaps between pavers or other hard surfaces; OR
* Materials that permit water to “flow-through,” e.g., permeable concrete or asphalt.
* Impermeable surfaces or minimally permeable surfaces, such as permeable pavers or decomposed granite, are graded to direct excess surface flow of water into adjacent vegetated areas.
* Existing impermeable surfaces such as driveways or large patio areas have been altered to direct surface flow of water into adjacent vegetated areas or retention/detention devices.
* Plant material is 80% climate-appropriate unless it is edible or produces edible fruit. (Climate-appropriate plant material is defined as plant material with a Species Factor or Crop Co-efficient of 50% or less or is described by reliable local references as a “medium” water-using plant in the particular climate. In California, use for Species Factors.)
* Local native plant material is utilized for at least 10% of the visible garden area, whether or not the other plant material is edible or produces edible fruit.
* No invasive species are present. Invasive species are defined as those listed on the local Invasive Plant Council website as invasive or on the “watch list”. (General information at:, and in California

Water Features
* Water features may improve the habitat of the garden and are allowed within these guidelines:
* Water is recycled by the water feature.
* Open water features are covered at least 50% by vegetation,
* All water features are maintained without chemicals or additives that are toxic to fish.
* Overflow from the water feature drains into a vegetated area.
* Swimming pools and chemically treated water bodies are drained to sewer systems.
* Swimming pools must be covered to minimize evaporation when not in use.

Downspout Re-direct

* If gutters are installed, all visible downspouts are directed away from impermeable surfaces into vegetated areas, mulched areas or retention/detention devices.
* Rain chains and other devices to slow the fall of water are recommended as a replacement for downspouts.
* If gutters are not installed, surfaces beneath the roof eaves are EITHER
* Vegetated with hearty plants that can withstand the beating; OR
* Covered with mulch, gravel or other sturdy and permeable materials, AND
* Hardscape surfaces beneath roof eaves are altered to create areas of permeability and direct surface flow of rainwater into vegetated or mulched areas or retention/detention devices.
* Drains carrying roof runoff or surface drain runoff from back yards or areas not visible to the street are
* Directed into rainbarrels or cisterns at the downspouts to slow and reduce the flow of water into the drainage system, OR
* Disconnected from their overflow to street and re-directed into a vegetated or mulched area.

Sponge Gardens (Rain Gardens)
* The visible garden area has been designed to capture as much of the rainfall from rooftops and other impermeable surfaces as possible.
* The flat areas on the property have been replaced with high and low contoured areas (”graded retention areas”) to prevent rainfall from “sheeting” across the garden and off the property – helping to retain the first 1″ of rainwater after a dry spell: AND/OR
* A dry creek bed or vegetated swale (”bioswale”) captures the majority of the surface flow of downspout water and water from adjacent hard surfaces, creating sufficient area to slow, spread and sink it.
* Dry creek beds or vegetated swales are designed to hold at least 1″ of rain from roof and adjacent hard surfaces, AND
* Rainfall in excess of 1″ or the water-holding capacity of the garden, whichever is greater, is safely directed off-site after having been run through vegetated areas, including bioswales and creek beds, to remove pollutants and retain sediment.
* At least one tree or very large shrub has been planted at its proper distance from hard surfaces and buildings to help naturally store water for the entire garden.

Retention Devices
Rainbarrels or above-ground cisterns are visible and are:
* Installed properly in accordance with any prevailing local building standards or codes,
* Secured for safety purposes, and
* Overflow into vegetated or mulched areas, AND/OR
* Below surface retention areas and devices such as dry wells or cisterns are utilized to do the same.

Maintenance Details
1. Valve assemblies installed properly in permeable areas (preferably surrounded by mulch or gravel).
2. Irrigation shut-off valves are easily identified.
3. Separate irrigation valves are utilized for each hydrozone (see “hydrozone” description in 4a below).
4. Back-flow prevention and pressure regulation is visible in or at the valve assembly.

Irrigation Details
1. Spray irrigation is matched precipitation, “multi-stream, multi-trajectory.”
2. Spray irrigation requires anti-drain check valves to prevent low head drainage.
3. Spray irrigation heads of any kind are installed at least 24 inches from hard surfaces and buildings.

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Growing Shallots from Seed (Seed Sowing Saturday!)

Welcome to the first Seed Sowing Saturday of 2011! Where all of us seed starting fanatics recap our weekly seed starting experiences and share with each other what we’re working on, how we’re doing it all, and of course the results!

I chose to start my seed sowing this week by starting shallots. We do a great deal of our cooking in the kitchen with yellow onions and I love the red ones grilled but I think by far the best all around cooking onion is the shallot. It doesn’t have the overwhelming strong taste like the red onions and has a nicer flavor than the yellow onions. The only problem with shallots is that they are so expensive. So to increase the quality of our cooking without raising the grocery expenses we are going to attempt to grow shallots.

I like to use everyday kitchen trays to hold out seed starting pots. They are cheap and easily available. I filled this one with 16 small round peat pots. In the past I’ve used all kinds of plastic yogurt containers with holes poked in the bottom but I happened to have some small peat pots in the garage that were handy.

I added a commercial seed starting mix. It’s one of the easiest ways to go and is available in organic versions. Many people make their own formulas for seed starting mix but I haven’t as of yet (I’m interested in hearing about your soil mix if you have one!) After adding the mix to the pots I watered the tray and allowed the water to soak into the pots and the soil.

In went the shallot seeds! I placed two per pot for a total of 32 shallots. I hope they all germinate but there will probably be some seeds that are no longer viable. Onions have shorter shelf life than many other plants and these seeds have been around a little while.Even if only half of the seeds germinate I’ll still have a nice crop of shallots.

In our upstairs closet I have a grow light set up for our seed starting. It’s just an old fluorescent shop lamp but it’s always done a great job. I like to adjust the height so that it is close to the seeds. Once the seedlings are old enough I’ll harden them off to the outdoors and plant them as onion sets in the garden.

 Next week I hope to make my seed purchase for this year’s seeds. I usually go with heirlooms so that I can save the seeds but I may try a few hybrid summer squashes to see if any can resist the squash bugs, borers, and the rot issues I had last year. We love our summer squash around here and get cranky when we can’t grow it!

What’s going on with your Seed Sowing Saturday? Don’t forget to leave a link to your post below in the comments!

Originally written by Dave @ The Home Garden
Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without permission. No feed scraping is permitted.
All Rights Reserved.

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Tile Vs. Linoleum: A Flooring Dilemma

Several years ago, I had the unfortunate opportunity to help my father-in-law tile his kitchen floor and can honestly say that it was not one of my favorite experiences. Even though the tile has a beautiful end result, it can be a pain to put down.

I have linoleum in my kitchen, and I am not very fond of it myself. Honestly, though, I realized that in a battle between these two giants, I don’t know which one I would pick. They both have their fair share of pros and cons.

I think it is safe to say that the end product of tiling looks beautiful, especially if you have taken the time to pick the best color and texture for your kitchen or bathroom. When I helped my father-in-law, he had purchased several extra tiles in case of breakage, and that was a good investment.

The basic process of laying tile is simple. You start at one end of the room and place a piece of tile on the floor, putting a spacer in between the tiles to allow for the placement of the grout. The difficult part comes when you get to the other end of the room. Unless you are incredibly lucky, the final tiles at the end of the room will not be a perfect fit and will have to be cut.

There are electronic cutters that make the experience much easier, but my father-in-law used a manual cutter that was about as fun to use as an unplugged toaster. Basically, the cutter scores a line in the tile, and when the tile breaks, it does so along the score… ideally. It’s not always the case, though, and we went though many tiles because they broke every which way. Also, if you want your kitchen to look perfect, you need to be meticulous when you measure.

Once the tile has been laid, you fill in the spaces with grout to solidify the whole thing and voila! You’re done. If you don’t do a good job (and with two tiling novices such as me and my father-in-law, we did not do a good job), then the grout will eventually deteriorate and the tiles can become loose. Yeah, it doesn’t look good. This shouldn’t happen if you actually do everything correctly.

Linoleum is by far the easiest of the two to put down. There is adhesive on the back of the linoleum, and you just unpeel the protective covering and stick it down. When you get to the end of the room and need to cut it to size, a utility knife will do the trick with ease. The final product doesn’t look nearly as good as tile, but it takes you a quarter of the time. A drawback is that over time, the adhesive on the back of the tile can wear out, and it will start to curl and come up. Also, linoleum is much less expensive than the faux stone and textured tiles.

When it comes time for me to redo my floors, I would like to use tile because I love the look. Sure, it will take me longer than linoleum and it will be a pain, but I’ll make sure to buy plenty of extra tiles. I’m going to need them.

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Looking Ahead

It’s amazing how fast time flies, isn’t it? It seems like just a short time ago I posted my 2010 garden project list (which I can never fully complete!) Soon it will be time to write a new project list and bring back some of those projects that have been hanging around for years! I’ll have that list up after the 1st of the year but there are many things to start thinking about now in the garden like seed starting, planning new planting beds, and moving plants to better locations. All of that will have to wait a few days more until I have some time to get to it.

As for seeds I’m hoping to get some winter sowing started very soon. Winter sowing is great for plants that like some cold stratification. It doesn’t take much effort to winter sow which makes it a favored method of seed starting for many gardeners! I also have a magnolia I started from seed that needs moved before warmer weather comes along.

Two book reviews will be on their way in the coming weeks also. But what I am most excited about in the weeks ahead is the opportunity to blog for the Tennessee Gardener Magazine. Many of you may be familiar with the State-by-State Gardening magazines that offer gardening articles catered to each state and now once a week or so I’ll have a blog post up on their website in 2011. It will be a fun way share more gardening experiences with more people! (I think I’ll save the blowing up the lawnmower stories for this blog though!)

I hope everyone had an amazing Christmas with friends and family!

Originally written by Dave @ The Home Garden
Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without permission. No feed scraping is permitted.
All Rights Reserved.

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The Trials and Errors of the Do-It-Yourselfer

Being a do-it-yourselfer isn’t an easy task, and sometimes we get labeled as “Tim the Toolman Taylor.” All because we didn’t do every little thing on the repair correctly and got a little shock, started a small fire and ended up in the emergency room… again.

Why do we do it? There are many reasons. It could be that we believe the home is our castle and we should be responsible for taking care of it. It could be we are just too cheap to call that plumber, or we like to learn new things and home repair is a great place for learning. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as finishing up a repair and seeing it work, whether it’s putting in a new ceiling fan or unclogging the toilet. It’s a victory, and in life, there are far too few of those.

There is also nothing as disappointing as spending hours on a project only to have it not work or, even worse, break something else. I think we have all blown our share of fuses because we overloaded it with “too many” electrical components.

There are basically two types of do-it-yourselfers: the ones who know what they’re doing, and the ones who are feeling their way as they go. My dad knew how to do everything. If there was any repair work, from shingling the house or fixing the stove to unfreezing water pipes, then my dad had it covered. If he didn’t know how to do it, then he knew someone who did. We’d invite them over, and my dad and he would work on it together, and my mom would cook an amazing meal as a thank you for helping us out.

I am pretty skilled myself when it comes to home repair, thanks to years of watching my dad, but I still make mistakes, and sometimes I get in a little over my head. I had several friends from college who where suburban kids and never so much as lifted a hammer in their lives, and when they got older and bought homes, they decided to become do-it-yourselfers.

God bless them. They are committed, and over the years, they have made their mistakes and learned many lessons along the way… sometimes the hard way. This people are what being a do-it-yourselfer is all about. To them, it’s not a job or a project, it’s an adventure. I am always ready to help out a friend who has taken on a project and maybe has gotten a little lost or started that small fire.

Whatever the reason, these repairs are stories. Stories that you can tell your friends, children and grandchildren years later. They will love to hear about the time Grandpa accidentally took out the power for the whole neighborhood. What may seem like a disaster or a nightmare at the time becomes an anecdote years down the line. I have my stories, and my children have heard several already, my wife has made sure of that.

My advice for the intrepid do-it-yourselfer this holiday season is this: Whatever happens, don’t give up. Call in the professionals when you need to, but don’t be afraid to tackle it on your own. At the very least, it will make for a great story.

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