VF-11 - Working in concert with nature…

The VF-11 blog for the modern gardener

The current generation may not realize it but the gift of flowers is one that is always appreciated, loved, and can have innumerable meanings and uses. Flowers have been used in making a great first impression on a first date, helping you apologize when you mess up on a subsequent date, or for just adding some color to your living room. They can be used for celebration or for decoration, for romance or for sympathy, all throughout history and across different cultures. Flowers forge profound feelings of positivity, while also holding the power to effect your emotional well-being. It's no wonder that I have never seen a person turn down, or even manage a frown, when they are given a bouquet of flowers.

In a study that was published in an issue of Evolutionary Psychology, they were able to prove the effect that flowers had on human emotions. (view article here). From this study they were able to determine that flowers have an immediate impact on happiness. Not one of the participants, across all age groups in the study, could resist a "true" or excited smile when they were presented with flowers. The study also found that flowers had a long-term effect on a persons mood. Participants reported feeling less depressed, anxious, and agitated after receiving flowers. It also increased the participants sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction. Finally, (and perhaps a key reason for you guys who plan to bring flowers on a first date) flowers were shown to cause intimate connections between people. Merely the presence of flowers can lead to increased contact with family, friends, and lovers.

But what do you do with the flowers once they are given to you? Much like any gift that you give, it would be crushing to return and see that your gift was left to die lying on the kitchen counter. So don't crush the poor guys heart, follow this advice and you can keep those beautiful flowers (and your mood) happy for weeks to come.

First off, you're going to need a vase. Now, depending on the size of the bouquet, a bigger vase might be better. Make sure the vase is clean before you use it as well. The main enemy of cut flowers is bacteria and fungal rot so you want to start with something that is clean to begin with.

Now I'm sure you've probably seen the little packet of flower food that some flower shops give you when you buy a bouquet. Unfortunately not all places give these out and its only good for one batch of water, which brings me to my next tip: change the water frequently, about every two days. This will remove any bacteria that started to grow in the water and prolong the life of your flowers.

Here is a simple recipe for a homemade flower food using our VF-11 product:
1 Tablespoon VF-11 Concentrate
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon household bleach
1 quart of warm water (100-110 degrees fahrenheit)

This VF-11 flower food really works! The concentrate makes the water slightly acidic, which helps to emulate the natural chemistry of water within the plant. This allows it to be readily absorbed. The trace elements within the VF-11 formula also help to sustain the metabolic processes within the flowers, allowing them to last longer so new flower buds can open.

Now that your clean vase is filled with warm water and your homemade plant food mix you are ready to put in your flowers. But wait! Before you do, cut each stem with a sharp pair of scissors or garden shears at a 45 degree angle. This will reopen the vascular channels in the flower stem, allowing the water to be absorbed more easily. Do this every time you change the water so you can remove any rotten portions at the bottom of the stem. Last, be sure to remove any leaves or flowers that are damaged or touch the surface of the water, this will help keep bacteria and rot at bay.

Finally you are ready to arrange your flowers as your heart desires. Here are some last minute tips to keep in mind:
    •    Keep your vase out of direct sunlight and drafts. This will increase evaporation and cause your flowers to dehydrate faster.
    •    Keep your flowers away from where you keep your fruit. The ethylene gases that ripening fruit produce will cause your flowers to ripen as well, and not in a good way.
    •    Remove rotten or dead parts as soon as you see them or else the rot will spread and shorten the lifespan of your flowers.
    •    If the water begins to look murky change the water ASAP! The murk is actually bacterial growth. If this happens often you can try adding just a touch more bleach to inhibit the bacterial growth.

In my opinion, it is always a good idea to have some flowers around the house. It's hard to argue against them when they can increase your personal happiness. And to all you guys out there: Flowers should be as much for that lucky girl as they are for you. So next time you pass by the flower shop on your way home, stop in and pick some up, you'll be happy that you did.

Remember to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more gardening tips and promotions!

Twitter: VF11PlantFood
Facebook: www.facebook.com/VF11PlantFood
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/eleanorsvf11

Photo Credits:
By now you no doubt have a bounty of delicious fruits and veggies that are at the peak of their ripening. But what do you do if you have more than you can eat before they turn rotten? Well I suggest throwing a home grown party! Or if you are not so socially inclined you could use some of these techniques to preserve them so that they can be enjoyed throughout the summer.

Right now there should be a number of fruits and vegetables that are ready to pick in your back yard. It is now the peak of the season for plums, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, pluots, loquats, and it is nearing the end of the season for delicious strawberries, just to name a few. This month is also the time to start picking beans, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and summer squash. By picking these crops continually as they reach the right size and ripeness you will prolong their productive season and get more out of an individual plant.

If you have too much fruit that is about to go bad try making these delicious fruit cordials. Fruit cordials are essentially a syrupy juice concentrate that you can dilute in water to make a refreshing summer drink. Kids love the fruity flavors and vibrant colors and they are a preservative free treat as well. For those of you over 21, they work marvelously as mixers for alcoholic drinks. You can also freeze the cordial to make refreshing home-made popsicles.

Fruit Cordials


Step 1:

Place the fruit in a large saucepan and add just enough water cover the bottom of the pan. Approximately 1 pound of fruit makes about 16 fl oz of cordial. Simmer the fruit very gently for the least amount of time needed to extract the juice, only 3-5 minutes. Mash the fruit with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
Step 2:
Remove the fruit from the heat and allow to cool a little so it is safe to handle. Pour the fruit through a muslin or a fine sieve resting over a jug to catch the juice. Squash the cooked fruit in the sieve to extract as much juice as possible.
Step 3:

Pour the juice into a measuring cup and add 12 oz of sugar (The amount of sugar can be adjusted depending on taste) and 1 tsp of citric acid for every 16 fl oz of juice. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Step 4:
Sterilize enough bottles for the syrup by washing them with hot soapy water and placing them in a moderately hot oven to dry. Once they are dry pour the syrup into the sterilized bottles, fasten the caps, and allow to cool fully before refrigerating. The cordial will keep for 1-2 months in the refrigerator or for about 6 months when frozen. When you want to drink your fruit cordial dilute it in water to taste and serve with plenty of ice cubes. Enjoy! 
**Try adding some fizz to it as well by using sparkling water or by adding champagne to make it a fruity kind of mimosa**

Now i don't recommend trying to make a cordial out of beans and broccoli, instead lets try just freezing them to save them for when you're making a nice meal somewhere down the line. Freezing is a great way to preserve fruits and vegetables. Not only does it preserve their texture but also their nutrients for several months.

There are two general methods to freezing vegetables depending on how long you want to store them. For terms of 3 months or less simply cut the vegetables into usable sized pieces (snapping the ends off green beans, dismantling a whole head of broccoli into individual sprouts, etc. etc.) and freeze them on a tray. Be sure that you do not pile too many onto a tray at once, one flat layer per tray is fine. Once frozen take them out and bag them in serving appropriate quantities and put them back in the freezer.
For longer term freezing, you need to blanch the vegetables before freezing to destroy natural enzymes that destroy flavor, color, and texture. Blanching is when you briefly boil them before freezing.

Blanching Step 1: Bring a large pan of water to boil. Immerse smaller vegetables for 2 minutes and larger ones for 4 minutes only. Drain the vegetables into a large strainer or net to remove them all at once.
Step 2: Prepare a basin of ice water while the vegetables are boiling. As soon as they come out of the boiling water put them into the ice bath to stop them from cooking further. Leave for several minutes.
Step 3: Remove the vegetables from the ice bath and allow them the dry either in a colander, or spread out on clean towels.
Step 4: When dry, divide the vegetables into portion-sized quantities and pack them in freezer bags or sealed containers. Remove as much air as possible before freezing. Label and date each of them, they will keep for 6 months.
**Root vegetables should only be frozen after being cooked into soups or stews**

Fruits are much easier to freeze. Simply clean and dry them soon after harvesting and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet to be placed in the freezer. Once they are frozen solid they can be divided up into bags or boxes. When freezing cherries and plums, remove the pits first. The pit will leave a bitter taint to fruit if left in when frozen. If you want to freeze leftover strawberries try freezing them as a sorbet or a puree. Strawberries' high water content does not lend well to freezing them whole and they will become soggy when thawed.

Happy Harvesting!

Photo Credits:
Backyard Harvest
There's no need to be in the dark about growing mushrooms anymore. These tasty treats are fat-free, low in calories, and filled with vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients. So why not add some to your own home garden? Today I'll give you some step by step directions for growing your own mushrooms.

Some background:
Mushrooms are a fungus. But, just like cheese, it's a delicious one! Unlike normal plants, mushrooms can only reproduce by microscopic spores that need an organic substrate of rotting material in order to germinate and grow. They are a fascinating organism; some varieties mycologists (mushroom experts) tote as being able to cure cancer along with other ailments. Even the common White Button mushroom is thought to help prevent breast cancer. Mushrooms have been used as medicine and as a food source for centuries, there are even organizations that give lectures and help enthusiasts with harvesting them in the wild, but be careful! Some mushrooms are poisonous. Please do not try to eat mushrooms you find in the wild unless you are able to correctly identify it and know that it is an edible variety.

Mushrooms come in an assortment of varieties, each with their own flavor profile and uses. Some of the more common ones are listed below:

Shiitake -- (shee-TAH-kay) These have a rich, earthy taste with a hint of smokiness. Let them strut in more intensely flavored dishes.

Maitake -- (my-TAH-kay) A meaty texture with a woodsy taste make these a good match for pasta, smoked meats, or risotto.

Enoki -- (eh-no-key) Heat tends to wilt and toughen these tiny mild mushrooms- best served raw on salads.

Oyster -- With their easy-going flavor, these mushrooms do best in subtle soups or sautes.

Portobello -- This is the humdinger of mushrooms; they make good meat substitutes, and open up on the grill or in a saute.

White button -- You'll have no trouble finding this variety. Slice them up to nibble raw, toss them in a sauce, or a soup.

So how do you grow them?
The most common and easiest type to grow are the white button and brown cap mushrooms. Once you grasp the basics you can try your hand at growing some of the more exotic species, like oyster mushrooms.

1. There are several kits out there to help you get started, however, if you don't want to spend the money on a kit I can teach you how to do it yourself! The first step is to prepare the spawn mixture. This will germinate and harbor the mycelium until you add it to your growing substrate. For this step you can use little bits of anything organic- I've heard of a mixture of brown rice flour and vermiculite. Even coffee grounds, sawdust, and well broken down compost would do the trick!

Once you have your mix made up we need to sterilize it. Fill one or two mason jars with the mixture and set them in boiling water or a pressure cooker to sterilize- 20 minutes should do the trick.

Once the mix has cooled you are ready to add your spores. Simply buy or collect a few of your desired mushrooms, cut the stem flush with the bottom of the cap, and set them with the gill side down on some white paper for about 24 hours. When you lift the mushrooms off you should see the spores that are left behind. Take these and dump them into your mixture jars to mix in with the media. Be sure to moisten the mixture afterwards and let it sit in a dark place where it is lightly sealed with plastic wrap.

2. Once you see the mycelium (spider-web-like strands) all throughout the mix you are ready for the next step. For this step you are going to need a shallow pan, or a shallow plastic lined box. You are going to add the growing substrate to this so it needs to have four sides and be water proof.

Now, depending on the species of mushroom you want, you may need a different type of substrate. For example: White button mushrooms like a substrate of composted manure but shiitake mushrooms grow on inoculated logs. So get your hands on some manure if you're growing white buttons and spread a layer across the bottom of the pan, about 4-6 inches deep. Once you get that squared away take your spawn mixture and inoculate your substrate by lightly mixing it into the top soil.

Make sure the soil is well moistened and store it in a dark place (at roughly 70 degrees F). Spritz it with water occasionally to keep it moist.

3. After about 2-3 weeks you should see the mycelium colonizing the whole surface of the substrate. Once you get to this stage you can move the tray to a cooler dark place and wait for the mushrooms to appear. It should take 2-3 more weeks. When the mushrooms do appear wait till the cap fully opens before you pick them and try not to disturb the soil either. If you regularly pick the mushrooms you should have a continuous supply for about 6 months. 

Here's a little something extra to get all you mushroom lovers in the summer spirit! Try this recipe for Grilled Portobello mushrooms with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella:

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing grill pan
4 large portobello mushrooms (about 5 inches in diameter), stemmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 small to medium sized vine ripened tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces fresh water-packed mozzarella, drained, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Prepare the barbecue (medium-high heat).

Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil over both sides of the mushrooms. Sprinkle the mushrooms with salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil on grill pan to prevent mushrooms from sticking. Grill until the mushrooms are heated through and tender, about 5 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, whisk the extra-virgin olive oil and garlic in a medium bowl to blend. Add the tomatoes, cheese, and basil and toss to coat. Season the tomato salad, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Place 1 hot grilled mushroom gill side up on each of 4 plates. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Spoon the tomato salad atop the mushrooms, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil to finish, about 1 tablespoon and serve.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/grilled-portobello-mushrooms-with-tomatoes-and-fresh-mozzarella-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

Don't forget to have fun with it! There are lots of resources and organizations around if you would like more information or to expand your knowledge on the subject.


Things to do now:
Get your Squash and melons planted as soon as you can!
Harvest your herbs and lettuce now.
Now is also your last chance to plant most annual herbs if you happened to miss out on it earlier.

On a side note we would like to know if you have questions about anything plant related. Go ahead and leave us a comment and we will pick a few to answer each month!

Photo credits:

Here are just some quick things to help you get your yard ready for the season.

Lets start with your lawn.
Now that it's warming up and things are beginning to grow your lawn is going to require a lot more attention. Most turf grasses are dormant during the winter months, and when they wake up they are hungry… for nitrogen. Once your lawn starts growing again it needs to be fertilized, this will help it thrive and fight off diseases and even crowd out weeds from taking over your luscious grass. Eleanor's VF-11 now comes in a lawn food formulation that has an extra boost of nitrogen your lawn needs. Just mix it up in a hose-end sprayer and water your lawn with it once every week. Our unique formula is eco-friendly so it won't contribute to the growing issue of contaminating groundwater like other fertilizers.

Continuing our discussion about lawns, this would be a perfect time to check your irrigation. The past few months have been extremely dry in California and that is not helping with the already massive water deficit. If you have in-ground irrigation take some time to turn it on manually and look for leaks, low water pressure, broken sprinklers, and over spray. A lot of these issues can go on for a while before anyone notices them. These problems can cause significant damage and waste a lot of valuable water. Also check the coverage of the sprinklers, this could be the solution to any dry brown spots on your lawn. When setting your irrigation timing, the best time to water is in the early morning which allows the water to infiltrate the soil before the sun can cause it to evaporate.

How about moving onto those fruit trees?
Right now I bet some of you are wondering why your citrus fruit trees are looking so yellow? Well, when trees start pushing out their new growth they need nitrogen, and if there isn't enough of it available to them, they will start extracting it from the older leaves- turning them yellow. This is really easy to solve, just start fertilizing them now! If you wait too long to give them the needed nutrients they will not produce as much fruit for you. This goes for all fruit trees, now is the perfect time to start fertilizing them. For newly planted trees I would suggest mixing up a one gallon batch of VF-11 to water your tree with. Use the soil to make a ring around the tree that extends about a foot and a half away from the trunk. This will ensure that the water gets to the roots and doesn't run off. For larger trees use two gallons, and for very large trees you may need four or more. Do this once every month.

Last but not least, don't forget about those veggies!
Now is the time to get that vegetable garden started! I just planted some nice tomato plants along with zucchini. It's a little late to start them from seeds, but most retail nurseries should have a variety of vegetable transplants ready to be planted. If you're planting in containers or a raised garden bed be sure to use a good organic soil mix. If you plan on planting in the ground then prep the soil by tilling it to make it easier for the plant's roots to move through the soil. Mix in some organic soil or compost as you till it to provide more nutrients for the plants. Once you have your garden planted be sure to water it with Eleanor's VF-11 formula!

Happy Spring!

Photo credits:
I know for a lot of people gardening is hindered by the availability of space. Well if you don't have horizontal space then why not go vertical? In my garden the ground tends to fill up fast but I still want to plant more things! So I have started to look at filling the bare walls and fences with different vertical gardens.

Vertical gardens are not a new invention but they have become extremely popular and much more trendy nowadays. In the recent years there have been many companies trying to commercialize on the market for vertical gardens but I still think the best ones for the home are the do-it-yourself type. It allows you to get creative and be proud of the thing you built that's hanging on your wall. Not to mention it'll save you some money.

One of my favorites that I've seen so far, and one that can give your yard a chic modern look, is the converted shipping pallet. I think one of the best features of this type is that the inside of the pallet is completely packed with soil, giving the plants a lot more root zone, which means your plants will last much longer in one of these converted pallets.

To make one you first have to find one, which is often the most difficult part. Or you could also make a pallet from scratch, designs are easy to find online.

Now the conversion part is pretty simple and there's a couple different ways to go about it. First you have to decide which end is going to be your bottom and enclosing it somehow. I recommend screwing on another piece of wood to cover the opening.

Once you have that done you need to line the back with chicken wire or a thick weed cloth or shade cloth to hold the soil inside. I suggest lining the back side with the cloth material so the soil doesn't make a mess of your wall. I think the front side would be best with just the wire mesh because it will allow the plants to sprout through it where ever they please rather than having to make a slit in the cloth and plant a single plant in it.

After that fill the inside, from the top, with a good potting soil mix- really try and pack it in there because it will break down as time goes by.

Now you are ready to plant! These pallets are great for most plants. Annuals and small perennials will add a great splash of color to your walls but you could also try making a hanging vegetable garden. I prefer to use succulents because they are easy to care of and I find them to be more intriguing than most annual plants. Remember to start small, don't buy plants that are already in large containers because you will risk killing the plant trying to jam it into a small space. Seeds are a good idea because you can easily plant them in between the wire and they will grow through it and flourish beautifully.

When you water, be sure to use Eleanor's VF-11 formula. This is a great fertilizer for this application because it will not burn your plants and will supply nutrients through the roots and the leaves- a big advantage when gardening with limited root zones. A good way to ensure every space gets a good soaking is to take it off the wall and lay it flat. This will give the water time to penetrate the soil before running off and it won't erode your soil out of your awesome vertical garden.

If you don't think the modern warehouse deco is attractive then may I suggest a more artsy idea? Why not convert one of those old, outdated, picture frames you have lying around into your own living masterpiece! I think it would be fun to recreate the Mona Lisa using succulents but that's just me. It's simple enough to do and will look great hanging in your yard.

First you have to prep the frame, this may be the most difficult part if you are unfamiliar with wood working. Remove the glass and backing, then attach a piece of wire mesh that will cover the whole frame, front to back. The tricky part is building the box behind the frame that will eventually hold your soil media. It doesn't need to be very deep, about an inch minimum. Attach the box (basically a wooden square at this point) to the back using small nails through the top of the frame. Some nurseries might have prebuilt succulent frames that you could buy if you would prefer not to make one.

The next step is to fill the frame with your soil media. I suggest first putting a layer of moist sphagnum moss in against the wire mesh. This will help hold the soil in and provide a little moisture retention since these frames tend to dry out easily. If you're worried about soil coming out then pack the back side with moss as well before you put another piece of wire mesh across the back.

Now you're ready to plant! be sure that the soil is watered before you start, it'll add to your success. For this project you're going to have to use a different kind of planting technique. We are going to direct stick succulent cuttings. Succulents root very easily from cuttings and thus are the perfect plant for this. Now it doesn't matter how you get your cuttings, you could buy a succulent plant with many little plants and cut it up, or you could take some cuttings from your neighbor's yard (be sure to ask first!). Depending on whether you're an abstract artist, or a realist, you may want to take different size cuttings- they will all work well either way.

Here's a few ideas of plants that work exceptionally well for this kind of art:

Echeverias: These guys come in all different sizes and colors and are a great clump forming succulent that is easily propagated by pinching off one of the smaller rosettes.

Sempervivums: These grow much like the Echeverias but come in different colors and are a lot more compact.

Sedums: Sedums are more of a trailing type of succulent and work marvelously in hanging situations. Easily propagate them by cutting one of the trailing stems and stick it in soil.

Get ready to stick 'em to the frame! This part is easy, just stick the plants into the soil media, it's as simple as that! Always remember, green side up!

Once you have your masterpiece assembled you can hang it up immediately to impress all of your friends, however, I may suggest letting it sit for about a week to let the cuttings root in. Just water it when it seems to be drying out- about every few days. And Voila!  A living masterpiece!

The maintenance is also very simple. Just water it as it dries out, the easiest way is to lie it flat. When you do water it's best to fertilize with Eleanor's VF-11 because there will not be many nutrients in the little bit of soil in the frame so it will need to be supplemented. VF-11 works excellently for this because it works as a foliar fertilizer as well as being immediately available to the roots reducing the amount of wasted fertilizer. When you're beautifully planted succulents start getting a little too lanky, simply cut them back and restick them, filling in any whole that there might be.

If you're feeling adventurous try out this idea: Make a small succulent frame and keep it in a sunny place in your house. Use it to remind you of the outdoors while you sit in your office or to add a rustic feel to you living room.

I hope you enjoy planting on your walls!

Photo Credits:
Life On The Balcony
Stacy K Floral
Now is the perfect time to plant that delicious fruit tree that you have been dreaming of. But maybe you don't have the space for one? Or you just don't understand them? Well we have a few ideas to help you overcome these obstacles and get you on your way to producing those sweet fruits that you desire.

For deciduous fruit trees, like apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots to name a few, now is the perfect time to plant. Right now these fruit trees should still be deciduous, in their dormant phase, and available at most retail garden centers as either bare-root or potted trees.

Depending on what fruit tree you desire they will range between different heights, some reaching obnoxiously tall heights. But I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter! If you follow our simple tips and tricks we will help you cultivate the perfect backyard fruit tree that will thrive and produce plenty of delicious fruits.

Our first trick is container grown fruit trees. That's right, I'm saying that you can have a perfectly happy and producing fruit tree in the same amount of space as a lounge chair would take up. All you need is a large pot, I have found that half wine barrels work great but a decorative container of equal size would work as well. We also recommend that you use good quality organic potting soil for your tree, it will definitely pay off. Be sure to fill your container nearly to the brim because potting soils are mostly organic material and will break down over time and the soil level will lower. Plant your new tree at the correct level as well, planting the tree too deep will result in rotting at the base and planting too high won't allow for the roots to be fully effective.

Even if you wish to plant your tree in the ground it is still recommended to incorporate organic soil into the surrounding ground and to plant at the correct level.

After planting be sure to water it in with a mix of 1oz of Eleanor's VF-11 per gallon of water. This will help to reduce the risk of transplant shock and give it a kick-start to root growth.

That was the first and most critical step to your trees health, but step two will help you to control your tree and maintain its growth. Step two is pruning. Pruning should be done every year, starting with when you plant it. "Prune low, branch low, fruit low," is a great rule of thumb that I use when pruning fruit trees. If you keep this in mind when you prune each year then your tree will never get out of control. And it's simple: the first year, prune every tip back leaving 2-4 buds on the new growth of that branch. The next year, remove a couple stems that grew from each branch within the past year and prune back the tips just like before. As time goes by feel free to prune back harder if it begins to spring out of control. There are also plenty of creative pruning methods, such as espaliers, that can create some stunning fantastic designs.

This brings me to my third step, the step that keeps your fruit tree growing and producing for years to come. Fertilization. This is the key for fruit trees and used to be a tricky subject for home growers. It used to be that you would have to calculate pounds of nitrogen per rate of annual growth. And if you applied too much you ran the risk of burning the plant or converting all its energy to vegetative growth rather than flower and fruit. But with Eleanor's VF-11 formula we have simplified this issue. The unique formula of VF-11 uses minute percentages of potentially damaging nutrients because it only contains those forms that are readily usable to the plant. There is no risk of burning your tree with Eleanor's VF-11.

Be sure to water with a mixture of VF-11 weekly (or less if soil does not dry between watering cycles) and apply Eleanor's VF-11 as a foliar spray every week once the buds begin swell and new growth starts.

Happy planting! Photo credits: pakagri.blogspot.com phatbeetsproduce.org somecontrast.wordpress.com akithcengardeninkiheimaui.blogspot.com www.ecoturfco.com
Holiday Dinner Party
3 Course Menu Guaranteed to Impress
Recipes by renowned chef, Phillipe Breneman
Pan Roasted Bone-in Chicken Breast with Pan Jus
Roasted Beets with Black Pepper and Meyer Lemon Yogurt
Brussels Sprouts with Maple Syrup and Herbs
Pan Roasted Bone-in Chicken Breast with Pan Jus (serves 8)
8e bone-in chicken breast
10 cloves garlic
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch rosemary
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup white wine
2 cups roasted garlic oil
1/4cup grape seed or canola oil
Juice of two lemons
1/2pound butter
Begin 24 hours prior to cooking by marinating the chicken in the roasted garlic oil.
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Using a large braising pan, add the grape seed or canola oil and heat until a light smoke begins to rise from the pan. Season the chicken breast on both sides with salt and pepper and add the chicken skin side down to the pan. Brown evenly on the skin, turn over and place the entire pan in the oven for 12-15 minutes depending on the size of the breasts. Cook in oven until chicken is 95% done. Remove chicken from pan, add herbs and garlic and lightly brown the garlic.
Once garlic has browned, add wine and reduce by 80% scraping all the remnants of the chicken with a wooden spoon. Add chicken stock and reduce by 80%. Mount in butter slowly and finish with lemon juice. Taste for seasoning. Once the sauce has formed in the pan, add the chicken back to the pan and lightly baste the breasts with the sauce.
Place the chicken on a serving platter and spoon or ladle the sauce over the chicken.
Roasted Beets with Black Pepper and Meyer Lemon Yogurt(serves 8)
12e baby red beets
12e baby yellow beets (reserve 1 for shaving)
6e star anise
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 pint Greek yogurt
2e Meyer lemons
2T coarse ground black pepper
Olive oil
Begin by preheating your oven to 425 degrees. Trim the beets leaving the extended tip on but cutting the stems and greens to a flat point at the bottom of the beets (this will allow the beets to stand up in your casserole dish). Once the beets are trimmed and cleaned line them according to color in the casserole dish, keeping the yellow to one side and the red to the other. Add the water, anise and sherry vinegar to the casserole dish. Drizzle olive oil and salt over the beets. 
Cover the entire casserole dish with foil and cook in oven for 45-60 minutes. Check the beets by inserting a toothpick through the fattest portion of the beet; if the pick goes in and out smoothly with no resistance, they are finished. Set aside for 15 minutes. To clean the beets once cooked, take a paper towel and lightly rub the skin off of the beets.
Once the skin is removed, cut the beets in half and set aside.
For the shaved beets (garnish):
Using one raw yellow beet, slice the beet as thinly as possible on a mandolin and instantly place into ice water. The “shocking of the beet” will allow the beet to curl naturally and make a great raw earthy component to the dish. Reserve until ready to use. Once ready to plate, remove the shaved beets and place on paper towels to absorb the water content.
For the black pepper and Meyer lemon yogurt:
Place the Greek yogurt in a small mixing bowl. Add the black pepper, the zest of the 2 Meyer lemons and a pinch of salt to the yogurt and mix well. Check for salt content at this point. The yogurt should have a strong pepper flavor with a subtle citrus finish.
Drizzle yogurt over the beets and disperse garnish over the top of the dish. 
Brussels Sprouts with Maple Syrup and Herbs
3-4 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 bottle pure maple syrup
2 lemons
3 stems picked mint leaves (about 15 leaves) chiffonade
Sea salt
Begin by cleaning the Brussels sprouts. To do this, cut off the bottom of the sprout and remove any leaves that fall off. Once clean, cut all the sprouts in half. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and add the sprouts to the pot, cook about three minutes or until just tender, be sure not to over cook. Remove sprouts from the water and instantly shock in ice water. Let them sit in ice water about five minutes before draining thoroughly.
Once drained and dried, place sprouts in a bowl, adding maple syrup to coat completely but not saturate, place on cookie sheet and roast in a 450 degree oven for about 6 minutes.
Remove the sprouts and squeeze the juice of 2 lemons over them, sprinkle with sea salt and another glazing of the maple syrup. Sprinkle the mint over the sprouts they are now ready to be served.
Grab a bottle of wine or two and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Growing and Harvesting Squash

If you sowed winter squash seeds during the spring season, you probably have begun, or will shortly, harvesting the nutrient dense rewards of your labor.  When it comes to harvesting your different winter squash varieties, the rule of thumb is to wait for the skin to harden before removing from the vine.  They should be full color, as well.  If you do not plan on using your squash soon after harvesting, make sure you keep 2 inches of the stem to help preserve your squash.  Typical time frames from seed to harvest are as follows:


Acorn:  70-90 days

Buttercup:  88-100 days

Butternut:  75 days for Early Butternut; 85-120 days for all others

Hubbard:  100-120 days 

Spaghetti:  90-110 days

Sweet Potato:  90-105 days

Turban:  85-110 days


If you missed this growing season, do not miss the opportunity to plant squash next year.  Follow these simple guidelines to grow your own comfort food:


First, make sure you enough space to grow these low spreading vines.  They can sprawl over 15 feet of area.  If space is limited, you can train them to grow up a trellis (see our Watermelon Trellis blog).  Once you locate your planting location, amend or till the soil so, at least, the top foot is rich in organic matter.  You will then want to build small mounds that are about 6 to 12 inches tall and 20 inches across.  These mounds should be at least 5 feet apart.  Once you create your hills, sow 5 squash seeds 2 inches deep, with each seed placed 3 inches away from the next one.  After you spot the first true leaves, thin out to your 2 strongest plants.


Squash is a heavy feeder on both nutrients and water.  Immediately after you sow in your seeds, water the soil with Vf-11 through a hose end sprayer (rate 1:128), or mix up 1oz VF-11 to 1 gallon of water and feed the soil.  Continue feeding your plants with this ratio every week.  You will want to make sure your plants are getting enough water in between these feedings.  Always make sure your soil is holding moisture.  You can check this buy pressing your finger down into the soil about 1 to 2 inches deep. 


***Keep in mind squash plants love the sun.  Make sure they are not planted in the shade of taller plants and trees. 

 Once you have your vitamin-rich squash in hand, make it the star of your meal. 


Winter Squash Recipes We Love


Spaghetti Squash with Bolognese sauce



1 large spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise with seeds removed

6 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 lb. thickly sliced pancetta, chopped

1 1/2 lbs. of ground sirloin (ideally grass fed)

1 carrot, peeled and diced small

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup beef stock

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Serves 4



Pre-heat the oven to 4000F

Place the spaghetti squash halves, flesh side up, onto a baking sheet.  Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. of EVOO, salt and pepper.  Turn the squash over and roast for about 55 minutes or until the flesh is tender.  Once cooked, use a fork to scrape and separate the spaghetti looking strands.  Drizzle with 2 more Tbsp. of EVOO and salt and pepper.

While the squash is roasting, place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 Tbsp. of EVOO.  Add the pancetta to the pan and cook until crispy, about 5 minutes.  Add the sirloin to the pan and cook until browned, about 7 minutes.  Add the carrots, onion, and garlic to the pan and cook until the veggies are tender, about 5 minutes.

Season everything with salt and pepper, and then add the tomato paste, cooking it until golden brown and aromatic, about 1 minute.  Add the red wine and beef stock.  Cook the sauce until thickened and slightly reduced, around 5 minutes.

 To serve, ladle the meat sauce on top of each squash half and garnish with basil and parsley. 



Butternut Squash Curry




2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. fresh chopped ginger

1\2 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. cumin

25 oz. (about) of diced tomatoes in juice

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. cayenne

1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed (you can crush them yourself)

2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

2 tsp. sea salt

1.5 cup plain yogurt

1 cup water

About 5 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 lb. of ground turkey

2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

1 sliced avocado (optional)

Basmati rice, for serving




Put the vegetable oil in an x-large skillet, along with the turkey, onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, and cinnamon. Cook until the turkey is browned and onions are translucent.


Add the tomatoes, turmeric, cayenne, fennel seeds, black pepper and salt.  Stir and cook for 2 minutes, then add the yogurt and water, stirring constantly.  Now add the butternut squash.  Let mixture cook for 15 minutes (until the squash is cooked but still firm) and serve with chopped cilantro and avocado over Basmati rice. 



Sources:  www.rachelrayshow.com, www.cowgirlchef.com, www.lickmyspoon.com, www.healthyfood4life.wordpress.com, www.growfruitandveg.co.uk


Napa Valley is famous for their delicious variety and quality of wine, but you will be equally impressed with the gardens and landscaping at hundreds of Napa Valley wineries. Here  are a few of our favorites.
Far Niente:

Surrounded by 13 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, Far Niente makes our list as one of the most stunning landscapes in the Napa Valley.  The gardens are filled with thousands of southern azaleas that bloom in the spring, covering the grounds with bright colors of red and pink.  The estate property is very impressive and a must see.
Frog’s Leap:

Frog’s Leap has an unexpected large market garden on their property full of vegetables and herbs.  The seated wine tasting includes a tour of the gardens.  You will be amazed at the variety of what is being grown from pumpkin to rosemary.  All of the plants look really healthy and will get you in the mood for a fresh, flavorful meal.

Rombauer has an amazing garden that you can take a stroll through to admire over one hundred varieties of flowers and plants.  The garden is maintained and a big part of Rombauer’s property because Joan Rombauer was an avid gardener and her passion for gardening is still visible throughout the winery.
Chateau Montelena:

The landscaping at Chateau Montelena is gorgeous and reflects Chinese gardens.  The property features a peaceful lake which is the home to several fish and wildlife and is surrounded by weeping willows and native fauna.

If you want your winery garden to look as magnificent as these to lure in guests, you can create a plush, lovely garden by using Vf-11 plant food.

Pictures from respectable wineries, panoramia.com and destination360.com

Want a fun herb to plant mid-September to add to your favorite winter holiday dishes as seasoning and garnish? Chives are a perfect herb to plant in the fall and enjoy in the winter. They are excellent for an edible indoor garden and will add flavor and excitement to several recipes. Chives look very nice with other kitchen garden herbs like parsley, sage, dill, thyme or oregano.
Chives thrive in a contained environment. To grow chives plant seeds or small plants in a 4" pot or larger planter with regular potting soil. Place your pot near the window so the chives receive plenty of sunlight. Use one ounce of Vf-11 per gallon of water to keep soil moist. The Vf-11 will guarantee healthy, flavorful chives. To harvest the chives snip the chives with scissors. Here are some fun recipes for your freshly cut chives and for you and your friends to love.
This content unit connects website visitors with interesting articles, stories and videos. View Privacy PolicyChive Flower Vinegar

There is not much to this recipe. All you have to do is fill a jar half full with chive flowers and top with white vinegar.  Let the jar sit in a dark cool place for about two weeks. The vinegar turns such a beautiful shade of pink. Strain and enjoy.
Chive and Bacon Dip
This is a simple and tasty recipe from Seattle entertainer, Heather Christo. The chive and bacon combo is delicious!

Ingredients (makes 2 cups):
  • 3 strips bacon, thickly cut
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup chives, minced
  • 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1.   In a pan, fry the bacon over medium heat until very crispy and all of the fat is rendered. Set aside on a paper towel.
2.   In a bowl, using a fork, mix together the cream cheese and Greek yogurt until fluffy and very well combined.
3.   Fold in the chives and lemon juice and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
4.   Crumble the bacon and fold that into the dip as well.
5.   Garnish the top with fresh chive blossoms or minced fresh chives. Serve with fresh veggies or potato chips.
Almond Chive Salmon

  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 (1-ounce) slices white bread, torn
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray 
  • 4 lemon wedges
1.  Preheat oven to 400°.
2.  Combine first 5 ingredients in a food processor; add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Process until finely chopped.
3.  Sprinkle salmon with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Top fillets evenly with breadcrumb mixture; press gently to adhere. Place fillets on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
4.  Bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with lemon wedges.


Resources: heatherchristo.com, vegetablegardner.info, jaxhouse.com, myrecipes.com