Composting 101: Scratching the Surface on Healthy Soil

Image from Pixabay

Written by guest blogger, Clara Beaufort of GardenerGigs.

Compost[ing]: Rich, nutrient filled soil formed by decaying organic matter. Used as an additive to gardens and beds and when planting trees and shrubs to enrich pre-existing soil.

That’s a down-and-dirty definition of the substance gardeners call “compost.” But there’s more to this miraculous material than meets the eye – or the nose, for that matter. Are you a gardening novice looking for a way to boost your physical or mental health? If so, then mulch can make your plants bloom like the proverbial rose. Let’s take a peek at this perennial topic and see what comes up.

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We’re looking for great Social Media and Communications interns. Join us in spreading the love for gardening and local food sharing.

local food startup internship
Food should be shared!

Are you a social media jedi master? Do you love writing great posts and taking gorgeous photos in a flash for IG, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat?  If you answered yes to either of those questions, hurray!  We have an internship opportunity made for you. We’d love to hear from those really interested in applying their social media savviness and building out a portfolio and getting hands on experiences. If you love to snap, post, tweet, or craft a great IG and you have a creative streak and a love for food, please apply!

Giving Garden is a local Davis startup with a big, global mission to grow communities around food and food around communities. We are focused on building local food and gardening communities with the help of technology. We specifically want to bring food knowledge and produce sharing into the 21st century with all the data and tools that are at our generations fingertips.

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Make the most of your winter squash!

In most regions of the country, winter time means no sun and no to low yield. However, we Californians are extremely lucky to be gardening in a Mediterranean climate where the growing season is year-round. One of the staple winter crops we’re able to produce is winter squash. Some of the most popular varieties are Acorn, Butternut and Spaghetti. From salads to desserts, here’s a list of some great ways to incorporate this holiday favorite into your recipe repertoire.  

“Slaw-some” butternut slaw

  • Cut butternut in thin julienne slices
  • Add vinegar, mint, scallions
  • Bonus: juice the scaps, boil to thicken, add butter and meyer lemon for a sauce that pairs great with seafood.  

Ham n’ Squash

  • Cut butternut and acorn squash into wedges and roast
  • Wrap in country ham and garnish with crispy fried sage

The sweetness of the squash compliments the salty ham perfectly!

Grill it!

  • Slice butternut squash
  • Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and throw it on the grill.
  • Squash does not burn easily do don’t be afraid of high heat to get good caramelization.
  • Bonus: Blend the grilled squash to make a butternut squash soup.

Use the skins

  • Peel acorn squash with a peeler, and don’t worry about getting into the fruit’s tiny grooves.
  • Take the peels and fry them, no batter needed.
  • Salt the peels and serve as a healthy potato chip alternative or garnish on dishes to add extra flavor and texture.

Squash Carbonara

  • Peel a butternut squash, and cut the neck into half-inch cubes and roast
  • Remove the seeds from the bulb of the fruit, rinse them, season with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast
  • Note: Set aside all the squash’s odds and ends that you did not use. These will be used in the sauce
  • Render down some bacon, and saute the squash scraps that you saved in the same pan
  • Throw in some sage, thyme, shallots and garlic
  • Add chicken stock and simmer until tender
  • Add a touch of cream, then puree in a blender to create a rich, smooth sauce
  • Cook some spicy sausage, and add along with the previously roasted butternut squash and parmesan to rigatoni pasta
  • Top with the squash sauce for a delicious squash carbonara

No-Noodle Pasta

This is a great healthy and gluten-free alternative to normal pasta dishes, using spaghetti squash.

  • Cut the squash in half lengthwise and season with butter, brown sugar, chili flakes and salt
  • Place the squash face-down in the oven and roast until tender
  • Once the squash cools, remove the strands of squash with a fork to make them look like strings of spaghetti

Butternut squash Risotto

  • Begin by cooking the risotto rice, adding saffron
  • Saute onion, garlic and butternut squash with cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg and a little honey or agave nectar
  • Blend it all together with some water or stock and season with salt and pepper
  • Add the squash puree into the risotto for a creamy and delicious dish!

Pot De Creme Dessert

An easy, delicious and gluten-free dessert!

  • Simply bake a squash of your liking in jars with some cream, milk, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and curry


With such a variety to choose from, there’s no limit to the ways you can use all your garden’s squash, and get creative in the kitchen with this versatile holiday favorite. Don’t forget to use the Giving Garden app to share other recipes, helpful growing tips, and trade or sell extra squash to help prevent food waste.


Giving Your Garden (and Your Kitchen) Homegrown Garlic

October marks the time to harvest pumpkins and winter squash, leaving plenty of room in garden beds to get creative. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance and flavorful winter crop to incorporate into your winter garden and spring recipes, garlic is the perfect choice. Garlic is an important staple of almost any dish, and Davis’ Mediterranean climate lends itself perfectly to healthy plants.

There are two main subspecies of garlic: hardnecks and softnecks. Hardnecks are characterized by their stiff stalks, and large, uniform cloves. Hardnecks are praised for their deep, savory flavor and aroma, and are favored by cooks because they peel very easily. Hardneck varietals that do well in the cold, wet winters like those common in Davis and Sacramento are the German Red, Spanish Roja, Musik, Turkish Giant, and Chesnok.

  • German Red
    • Strong, spicy flavor. Successful in mild climate but produces particularly well in cold winters.
  • Spanish Roja
    • Very easy to peel and uniform cloves.
  • Musik
    • Large size, strong hot flavor and disease resistance.
  • Turkish Giant
    • Famous for its “giant” cloves and is also very easy to peel.
  • Chesnok
    • Known for its hardiness and ability to withstand numerous climate conditions.

Softneck varieties differ from hardnecks in that they have a more mild flavor, smaller and less uniform cloves, and a larger shelf life. They are very easy to grow because they can tolerate different climates, and do better than hardnecks in warmer weather. The softneck varieties that do particularly well in northern California are the Nootka Rose, Silver Rose, Chinese Pink and Early Italian Purple.

  • Nootka Rose
    • Stronger flavor than most softnecks, proven reliability in temperate climates.
  • Silver Rose
    • Rose-colored cloves which make it a beautiful garlic to braid.
  • Chinese Pink
    • Matures extra early.
  • Early Italian Purple
    • Large bulb, widely grown in the garlic capital Gilroy.

To plant your garlic, all you need to do is break the bulbs into individual cloves and place them about 1-2 inch deep into loose soil with high amounts of organic matter. Make sure each clove is about 4-6 inches apart. If you are planting in rows, space each row about 12-18 inches apart. After the cloves are planted, be sure to mulch the soil to lock in moisture, prevent weeds and increase nutrient delivery to the plant. Alfalfa hay is a common and affective mulch that can be bought at any feed store. Next, saturate the soil and mulch with water, add another few inches of mulch, and let it be for the winter until the tops begin to emerge in early spring.

Your garlic will be ready to harvest around May or June. You will know when it is almost time to harvest when the leaves closest to the soil begin to turn brown. Wait a few more weeks and then, carefully dig up the bulbs with a spader shovel and enjoy!




Too Many Extra Cucumbers? No Problem!


Harshal Hirve

Sure, cucumbers are absolutely delectable in a salad but what do you do when you have too many cucumbers for your fridge to hold and your family to consume? Fear not, we are here to help; soon enough, you’ll never have to throw out those home-grown cucumbers ever again! The following tips will also help you reduce food waste, which is a significant issue throughout the world. Did you know that globally, four billion tons of food is wasted each year and in the U.S., approximately 40% of all food is never consumed. So let’s start putting our extra cukes to good use and stop wasting, starting with these 5 uses for extra cucumbers :

#1:  Repellent for those Nasty Garden Critters. If you’re an avid gardener, the last thing you need are those pesky grubs, slugs and bugs destroying your planting beds. As you know, these critters are a huge nuisance when they hinder the growth of your plants. This clever trick can work wonders. Just chop up some of your excess cucumbers and lay them around your garden, particularly in areas where you have noticed an insect infestation. The chemicals in a chopped cucumbers emit a scent that is undetectable to the human nose but irritates some garden pests, causing them to flee. Not only does this work in gardens but sliced cucumbers can be used around your home to deter ants. Placing sliced cucumbers in soil near the entrances of your home will prevent ants from entering your home. Putting them in soil allows the cucumbers to decompose slightly, which strengthens the scent that will deter critters. Cucumbers will also deter moths and mites around your home. Although placing them around your home (where you have noticed outbreaks) may raise the eyebrows of a few of your visitors, you’ll be happy to no longer see moths and mites in your place of residence.

#2:  Scrub-a-dub-dub! What is better for your own skin than freshly grown, chemical-free cucumbers?! Cucumbers are an excellent ingredient used in many natural face scrubs, some of which you can make in your very own home! Grab half of one of your home grown cucumbers and puree it in a food processor. Mix this puree with 3 cups of granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of grapeseed or coconut oil, both of which are  easily accessible at a supermarket or health food store. There you go; a natural scrub which will leave your skin soft as a baby’s bottom! Don’t worry if you made a little too much… you can store your scrub in the fridge to prolong its use!

#3:  Clean with Cucumbers. No, we are not kidding. Cucumbers contain chemicals which are effective in reducing bacteria and can be used for many things around your home and on your own body. Rubbing slices of cucumbers on the glass in your shower will prevent it from fogging up while you bathe while adding a spa-like aroma. Looking for a chemical free way to clean your stainless steel? Cucumbers! The natural juices of a sliced cucumber will remove years of dirt from your steel faucets and sinks while returning it to its former shine. For the next trick… no need to slice your cucumber. Use the exterior of the cucumber to remove crayon and markers that your kids have used to decorate your walls! Can’t find your shoe polish before an important interview because your home is overwhelmed with cucumbers? Don’t fret! Slices of cucumbers will create a lasting shine that is sure to impress. Shortly after you clean those leather shoes, you notice that the garlic you ate for lunch may not be the most pleasing scent. Hold a slice of the cucumber on the roof of your mouth and leave it for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath. By using cucumber as an alternative to harsh cleaning chemicals, you are having a positive impact on the environment.

#4: When life gives you cucumbers, make lemonade! Yes, we did say lemonade. Or shall we call it cucumber-ade? Trust us on this one. Cucumbers will no longer slowly rot in your fridge once you learn of this quick and delicious refreshment. Simply boil 1/2 cup white sugar with 1 cup of water until the sugar dissolves. Throw this syrup into the fridge to speed up cooling. Meanwhile, puree 2-3 cucumbers and strain until you have 2/3 cup of juice. Mix the cooled syrup and cucumber liquid with 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Serve over ice and mint leaves. Once your tongue has savored this yumminess, you’ll never be able to drink regular lemonade again! This cucumber-ade is a favorite with kids too.

#5: Heavenly Sorbet. You will find no need to buy ice cream ever again once you create your own cucumber sorbet! Cucumbers are the perfect base for a beautiful sorbet. First, peel and deseed 4-5 of those extra cucumbers from your garden. Throw them into a food processor with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 cup of sugar. Add the mixture to an ice cream machine for 15 minutes. Once in an airtight container, place sorbet into a freezer for 2 hours, mixing every 30 minutes. This can be served immediately or stored. What is incredible about this recipe is that you can add absolutely whatever your heart desires. Just add any other flavor you’d like into the food processor and blend it in with your cucumbers, sugar and lemon juice. Try strawberries or mint leaves for a tasty twist.

#6 Give your extra produce to neighbors with the Giving Garden App. We know we said 5, but we have one extra for you! If you live in Davis or Sacramento, try giving fresh produce to those in your local area through our app, Giving Garden, which is now available on the App Store and Google Play (in beta for the Davis and Sacramento market). Giving Garden helps you connect with gardeners and local-food enthusiast in your community, share ideas, knowledge and produce. You can share photos, get gardening advice and chat with members of your community who can assist you with your gardening and local-food questions. We’re currently available in beta in the Sacramento and Davis area and are looking to expand nationally to allow growers across the country to connect with like-minded people. Along with using Giving Garden, donating extra produce to your local food pantry is an excellent way to reduce food waste in addition to lending a helping hand.

No longer will you tremble in your boots when your garden produces enough cucumbers to feed a small village. You are now equipped with the knowledge to conquer cucumber waste and make cucumbers an integral part of your home and community.

Blueberry Season is Approaching! Benefits of These Tiny Superfruits and How Your Body can Reap the Benefits Without Breaking the Bank

Blueberries are one of the most nutrient rich foods in the world; they boost our immune system and can improve our overall health if consumed regularly. Not only are blueberries a convenient snack food and a tasty addition to many meals but they also contribute to our longevity in these three major ways:

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Meet Cid Barcellos: Gardening for a Greater Good

Grace Garden of the Davis United Methodist Church, located at the heart of Davis, California, is a sustainable garden with a cause. Grace Garden’s goal is to, “grow community which nourishes the body and spirit,” and donate nearly all of their harvest to help feed the hungry. And behind their big mission is a gardener and community leader with a big heart to match. Her name is Cid Barcellos.

From the ground up Cid has transformed the church’s empty lot space into a sustainable garden over the years. Harvesting for Davis Community Meals and finding therapy through the garden, in 2015 Cid was able to harvest 1,700 lbs of produce from the garden to spread throughout Davis. With the help of her many volunteers and their ga(u)rden cat, Gracie, Cid continues to spread not only her harvest, but shares her knowledge as a master gardener throughout the community.

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Give Your Soil A Healthy Boost With Used Green Tea Leaves and Coffee Grounds

Often times after our routine dose of morning tea or coffee, we throw out the loose leaves or used grounds of coffee thinking they’ve served their only use. However, the leftover remains from your warm cup of joe or tea can serve some extra good in your garden.

You can save the leaves or grounds and put them into your soil for added texture and soil health. These grounds and fresh leaves will act as a fertilizer and help improve the overall plant’s growth, health and vigor.
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