Sunday, August 27, 2017

Florida Native Gardening: A Brief Introduction

One of the best things about living in Florida is the abundance of plants and wildlife. One of the reasons for this is our amazing climate. We rarely get frost in the Central and Southern parts of Florida, and almost never get snow. Even in droughts, we have more rain than a lot of other states. We also have diversity in our climate. We have beach, scrub, wetland, and forested areas all at our fingertips. Florida really is one of those rare places where, with lots of love and perseverance, you can grow anything. That being said, you don't get the perfect garden all by chance. You do still have to put a good bit of work into it. Some plants do better in pots, some plants work better in shade, you have to devote some of your time and effort in to figuring out just how you're going to put your garden together, and how much work you can afford to put into it.

What Comes Natural

One of the first rules with gardening, is that you have an easier time of it when you work with nature and not against it. This means that the easiest garden you can design is one that makes use of mostly native plants. Florida native plants have been tested, by time and nature, and have proven to be highly able to survive in the environment. This means that our native plant species are typically more drought tolerant, pest tolerant, and more hardy.

Florida has a host of little climates that all work best with different plants. Find out which one you're located in. Figure out what kind of soil you have, how long the growing season is, how hot it gets, how cold it gets, how much rain do you get, and at what time of year it tends to rain the most.

From there, figure out your personal space. Where on your property are you planning on setting aside the space to garden? Do you want to plan a raised bed? Or are you just going to plant in the ground? Do you want to plant in the shade, or full sun? What works best for me is to do a combination of planting in the ground and planting in containers/raised beds. That might not work for you. Do a little soul searching and figure out just where you want to build your garden.

Once you have a place for your garden, then you can begin to figure out which plants will fit best.

Find Beauty in Unexpected Places

Most people would be surprised at how many beautiful plants are native to their area. People I encounter are constantly surprised at how beautiful some of the plants I find are. And most of these plants are “weeds” and are typically not allowed to grow to their full, beautiful, potential before they are yanked out of the ground. Purslane is a common weed here in Central Florida. Not only is it really easy to grow, it has beautiful flowers, and its a super-nutritious edible!

However, many species are endangered so don't just go around grabbing up every wild plant you see. There are some great tools online to help you find the right plant for your Florida garden. Check out the Florida NativePlant Society for a great database that is arranged by county. You can even find some awesome plant nurseries that specialize in Florida Natives and Florida-Friendly plants. 

Plants Need Friends Too

Companion planting is a great way to help your garden succeed. It does mean that you're going to have to do a little more research, but it's well worth it! Plants work together in their environment. Some plants enrich the soil. Some plants ward off pests. Some plants provide shade or height that other plants can take advantage of. Either way, companion planting is the way to go.

Other plants aren't the only friends your garden might enjoy. Beneficial insects can help your garden remain free of pests. Butterflies and birds can help make your garden more beautiful. You might want to help the declining bee population in your area. Certain other animals may help keep your home free of unwanted pests as well. Whatever the reason, you may want to figure out which plants attract beneficial insects and animals to your garden.

If you decide that gardening is the hobby for you, or you want to start your own little farm, there are so many resources out there to find. A good basic gardening introduction can be found at Jen Reviews. I encourage everyone to try their hand at growing at least one plant. Who knows, you may even get hooked?

I hope these tips prove to be helpful. Feel free to ask questions or comment below! I also enjoy seeing pictures of your amazing gardens!


Florida-Friendly Landscaping:
Florida Native Gardening: Your Florida Backyard:
Florida Native Plant Society:
Florida Native Plants Nursery:
How to Start a Garden: Jen Reviews:
Plant Real Florida:

Saturday, August 12, 2017


     You might have heard about one of the latest food crazes, Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah). This little superfood is loaded down with nutrients. It's one of the few plant foods that is considered a complete protein, actually containing all 9 essential amino acids. It's also super high in antioxidants, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin E. Quinoa is also a great source for fiber.

     Quinoa comes from South America, where it was grown as a major food source for thousands of years. It's used in the same way we use grains, but it's technically a relative of spinach and chard. The part we eat is the seed, cooked like rice. However the leaves are also edible. The seeds are coated in saponins, which are bitter compounds that could make you slightly ill if consumed too heavily. This is why you should rinse your quinoa before cooking it. Most commercial quinoas are already rinsed, but I prefer to play it safe and rinse them again.

     Due to it's amazing amount of nutrients, quinoa has been used to help a number of health problems. Quinoa has shown major promise as an antiviral, anticancer, and antidepressant. It's a well-known anti-inflammatory. Quinoa helps to lower cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, and help with weight loss. Since it's not a grain, quinoa is gluten free. Quinoa helps to prevent cardiac disease, prevent kidney stones, and improve liver function.

     With all these amazing health benefits, who wouldn't want to at least give it a try in their diets? You can cook quinoa the same way you cook rice, and you can use it in place of rice in any recipe. I have used quinoa in salads, to stuff vegetables (like bell peppers and tomatoes), in place of oatmeal in cookies, etc. But I thought you might be interested in a few recipes so here are some that should give you a good start on using quinoa in your kitchen.

Quinoa Burgers
(Gluten Free/Vegan)

2 tbsp Ground Flax Seeds (or Chia Seeds)
6 tbsp Water
1 tbsp Olive Oil
½ cup Diced Onion
1 cup Shredded Zucchini
1 cup Grated Sweet Potato
½ cup Diced Mushroom
2 Minced Garlic Cloves
1 cup Finely Chopped Watercress (or any leafy green)
2 cups Cooked Quinoa
1 tsp Gluten Free Soy Sauce
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Black Pepper
3 tbsp Gluten Free Flour

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Mix the ground flax seeds and water in a small bowl. Set aside to thicken. This will take at least 5 minutes. While your mixture is thickening, heat 1 ½ teaspoon of olive oil on medium heat. Add onion, zucchini, sweet potato, mushroom, and garlic. Sautèe
for around 7-8 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add in remaining ingredients, and the flax seed mixture. Use remaining olive oil to lightly grease a baking sheet. Shape mixture into ¼ cup patties with damp hands. Pack them tightly so they stay together. Place them on a baking sheet, leaving space between each one. Bake for 15 minutes. Flip the patties. Bake an additional 5-10 minutes, or until golden and firm. Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve!

Quinoa Encrusted Eggplant Parmesean
(Gluten Free/Vegetarian)

3 Eggplants
4 cups Cooked Quinoa
½ tsp each: Oregano, Basil, and Thyme
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper
1 12oz bottle Gluten Free Beer of your choice
1 cup All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour
6 cups Marinara Sauce
½ lb Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
½ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine cooked quinoa, oregano, basil, thyme, and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and set aside. Slice eggplant into ¼ inch thick rounds. Season with salt and pepper. Working in batches, coat the eggplant in flour, dip in your beer, then dredge in your quinoa mixture, pressing firmly to coat. Place in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn over the eggplant and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Top with marinara and cheeses. Cover and bake 15-20 minutes longer. Remove the cover and return to the oven until cheese is lightly golden.

Southwest Tomato and Quinoa Soup
(Gluten Free/Vegan)

About 4 ½ lbs Tomatoes, halved
8 Cloves Garlic
2 cups Corn
3 Jalepeños, halved and seeded (more for more spice)
2 cups Cooked Quinoa
4 cups Cooked Black Beans (or 2 15oz cans)
8 cups Vegetable Broth
2 medium Onions, diced
2 cups Fresh Cilantro, chopped
4 tsp Ground Cumin

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the tomatoes and garlic on a lightly greased baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes. Spread the quinoa on a separate, greased, baking sheet. Roast for the last 15 minutes of the tomato roasting time. Put the tomatoes and garlic in a food processor, or blender, and process until smooth. Meanwhile, in a large stock pot, sautèe the onions, corn, and diced jalepeños about 10 min. Add broth and tomato mixture. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring back to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.

     In any of these recipes, feel free to substitute, play with different dressings or seasonings. Add curry to the Quinoa Burgers to give them a different flavor. For those of us who may eat meat, use chicken instead of eggplant for your Parmesan (just cook it a bit longer so that the chicken is well done). There are also a few other quinoa recipes on previous posts, such as this one from July. Have fun, play around, and let me know what you think below!


Quinoa: 27 Science-Backed Health Benefits: Well-Being Secrets:

Quinoa: Health Benefits: Medical News Today:


Greetings from the Bat Lady!

     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...