For the Best Gardeners in the Cardiff Area

   Dec 25

Your Questions About Gardening

Charles asks…

What is the easiest way to raise a sprinkler valve box?

I need to raise my sprinkler valve box because we’re lifting the garden. What is the easiest way to do this and is there something I should know before hand?

GardenersCardiff answers:

There may be an extension collar made for that box. Otherwise stack another box on top. I had this problem when I graded my yard. The water meter box was too low for for my landscaping, so I just stacked a new, bigger box over it. The water company was OK with it, and it sits firmly once the dirt packs around it.

Donald asks…

What has the most nutritional value of anything you can grow in a backyard “Victory” garden?

I hear that Sweet Potato has the most nutrition of anything you can grow in a normal American Backyard. I hear that at the end of World War Two, the Japanese got SICK of pumpkin because it is so easy to grow, they grew it everywhere.

GardenersCardiff answers:

It depends on what you mean by nutritional value. In our society, we’re swamped with cheap calories, but lack nutrients. To get those nutrients into our diet, a mix of fresh vegetables is the answer. Cabbage family is great, especially kale because it can be harvested again and again.

If you’re talking about WWII survival gardening, you need energy dense foods. What we need to get by are starches, protein, and a little fat, in that order of importance. Potatoes and sweet potatoes produce lots of starch, beans provide protein, sunflower and pumpkin seeds provide fat. You really want to add some chickens to the mix also- they harvest protein from bugs and turn it to eggs and meat.

When WWII broke out, almost everyone knew how to provide some basic food for their own families, that made society more resilient in the face of catastrophe. Most modern people couldn’t grow potatoes to save their life- literally.

Pro tip- grow some dog roses. They’re pretty, easy to grow, and the fruits are extremely rich in vitamin C, and they dry out naturally so they are preserved throughout the winter. They make a tasty tea. Dog roses (and multiflora roses, which don’t produce large fruit) are an invasive species in some parts of the US, but you really want one selected for fruit production.

Chris asks…

anyone have recipe 4 made from scratch pasta sauce?

I have been looking for a recipe for pasta sauce[spaghetti sauce] made with all fresh ingredients, starting with cooking down fresh tomatos and using fresh herbs, any have one you’d be willing to share? OK to email

GardenersCardiff answers:


While most of us make spaghetti sauce by opening a can or a jar, preferring convenience to the sweat and tears of homemade, making spaghetti sauce from scratch is not only simple, but also delicious. Here is an easy recipe that will be sure to impress your friends and family, as well as your taste buds.

Step One: Select tomatoes

The freshest tomatoes will come from the garden – but if you do not grow your own, visit a local farm or farmer’s market for the next best thing. Make sure to pick healthy, red specimens with no bruises or soft spots. Roma tomatoes are a good choice, because they have thicker walls and less water within. That means a thicker sauce and less cooking time. It is easiest to make a large batch of sauce and either freeze or jar the leftovers rather than make fresh sauce every time you enjoy spaghetti so pick out twenty or so suitable tomatoes.

Step Two: Prepare the tomatoes

Removing the skins is important. Leaving them in will result in chewy, tough pieces in your sauce. The easiest way to remove tomato skins is to place them, a few at a time, in boiling water for about 30-45 seconds. Remove them with tongs and immediately plunge them into ice water. This process will make the skins come right, off saving you time and more of the tomato than hand peeling.

Next, remove the seeds and water. Not every seed needs to go, as most will cook down but removing the majority will result in a smoother sauce. Cut each tomato in half and then squeeze each one using a clean finger, or a spoon to shake them out. Then drain. Draining results in a thicker sauce and a reduction in cooking time because there is less liquid to boil off. A great tip is to strain the tomatoes and save the liquid for fresh tomato juice or to use in other cooking. Chop the tomatoes and place them in a large pot. Begin to cook them down over low heat.

Step Three: Brown and drain the meat

If you are making a meat sauce, brown the meat (this can be hamburger, sausage, ground chicken or pork) and remove from the heat and drain, saving the oil for step five.

Step Four: Seasoning

Packaged seasoning is easier and more convenient and is a mixture of cornstarch, onion powder, salt and spices, but selecting is always best. The best part about seasoning your own sauce is the freedom you have to choose the spices and ingredients that you want. Making spaghetti sauce from scratch means experimenting with all different kinds of ingredients to discover what mix of tastes you prefer. The following is an example and can be added to, or taken from, as you prefer.

1/4 cup chopped onion

2-3 cloves of garlic (can be minced) Feel free to use more if you prefer

2 tbsp diced or fresh basil (can be dried if fresh is not available)

1 tsp salt (optional)

Up to 1 lb of chopped mushrooms (optional)

1 large green pepper (chopped)

2 tbsp cornstarch (if you prefer a thick sauce) or one small can of tomato paste

2 tbsp oregano

1/4 tbsp thyme

2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

4 bay leaves

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup red wine (optional)

If you choose, ingredients such as sliced black olives, celery and chopped carrots can be added as can chili powder (about 1 tbsp) for an extra kick. Note that if you are a beginner, prudence with the spices is suggested, as less is better until you get the knack for making spaghetti sauce from scratch.

Step Five: Putting things together

Take four tablespoons of the oil from the meat and in a large skillet add onion and garlic and heat. Stir until the onion gets soft and the garlic turns a golden brown.

Add mushrooms, peppers, cornstarch or tomato paste to the pot with the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes to soften the produce. Sprinkle in parmesan cheese and red wine. Add cooked onion and garlic and the spices and stir. Add the browned meat last. There is usually no need to add additional liquid as tomatoes have a great deal of water in them. Once all the sauce ingredients have been added to the pot, bring to a boil, cover and then simmer for approximately one hour or until desired thickness is reached.

You have now successfully made spaghetti sauce from scratch. Enjoy!

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