Garden skinny – my personal scoop on gardening

Make Earth Day Your Own

Earth Day began back in April of 1979 coinciding with the birth of the environmental movement. Poor air and water quality were fundamental to the movement, along with protecting endangered species, a push that drew support from all sides of the political spectrum in an effort to save the earth we inhabit. We’ve come a long way since those first days but we’re not there yet. While many of us yearn for a gas and oil free lifestyle, our technology is not quite there. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make real differences in our every day lives.

Most of us recycle our plastics and glass, newspaper and cardboard. Many of us conserve water with every flush, every faucet turn, but how about moving our conservation efforts into the kitchen, the backyard? Eating is a must for life, but sometimes we prepare too much. We seal the leftovers, eat what we can, but why not compost? What goes in, must come out, right? :) As I tell the kids, there’s nothing easier than growing our own dirt. Kitchen scraps, fall leaves, grass cuttings–it all works! And the things our compost pile can grow–squash, beans and sweet potato (as seen below). It’s so EASY!

compost progress

It’s a real way to make a real difference. A good beginning. As with any new endeavor, start small, allow those new lifestyle actions to grow into habits. How about saving the gas it takes a truck to haul your fresh veggies around town, across the country, and grow your own? It’s a lot easier than you think. I mean, if my compost pile can do it, you can do it. And instead of depositing that old newspaper into the recycle bin, use it as “mulch” around your plants in the garden. Does a wonderful job of retaining moisture and breaks down into the soil without any harmful effects.

newspaper mulch in Tami's garden

Don’t read the newspaper? Me, neither. I’m an ereader, now. But old leaves, pine tree needles and/or hay will work just as well.

cistern heaven!Speaking of moisture and conservation, try harvesting the rain to reuse at your leisure! A simple gutter “redirect” will siphon the rain off the rooftop and into your awaiting barrel. Add a spigot and you’re in business!

It’s not hard. None of its hard. But it does require effort. Thought. Intent. And that’s what the annual Earth Day celebration means to me. It’s a reminder to us all that we are the custodians of the planet. If we each did our part, we could live in harmony with nature. Animals, too, but that’s another post for another day. :)

Here’s to wishing you joy and good health on this Earth Day, and hope you reap abundance from this beautiful earth.

Quality Time in the Garden

You’ve made your beds, planted your seeds, nurtured your seedlings through the perils of sprouthood and now you spend your time watering and feeding.  (My Arctic Amigos might be a bit behind on this schedule but think of what you have to look forward!!) You meticulously weed, prune and pinch and stand watch—for bugs and spots, all things that go bump in the night—all the normal stuff a gardener does throughout the growing season.

Ashley's beautiful garden

And what a fine gardener you’ve become!  You’re diligent, vigilant and looking forward to harvest.  But as you linger among the layers of leaves and sprays of bloom, your mind wanders, your longing builds, your connection to nature grows deeper.  Where you didn’t expect it, you’ve grown quite attached to your garden, lovingly caring for it as you would a child.  Why, if you could, you’d spend hours out here—days—toiling about the promise of produce.

Strolling down a row of squash, you notice a bright red ladybug busily traveling the expanse of the broad green leaves.  Bending near to watch her work, you get that tingly thrill of discovery.  Sure in the grand scheme of things, it’s a common bug doing a common job, but to you she’s incredible—beautiful!—and you revel in the miracle of nature (and she’s eating those bugs before they can do any more damage!)

ladybug in action!

Now if only there was a bench nearby.  You glance from one end of your garden to the other.  Boy, would that be handy right about now.  You could sit, relax and enjoy the wonders unfolding before you.  A pretty bench, one with an intricately carved iron frame supporting slatted teak strips. Better yet, one that rocks to and fro, gently keeping pace with the breeze. 

How about a shade topper?  Midday is a gorgeous time to be outside, but the sun can be strong. 

Yes, I think we’re onto something here.  A bench, a little shade…  Maybe some chimes, too.  Nothing lifts the spirits like music and the soft tinkle of chimes would be a welcome addition. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time in your garden, why not create a pleasant ambiance?

Invite some birds along by incorporating a lovely bath, perhaps a feeder, too.  Unless of course you have squirrels and then nix the feeder—those varmints can be downright pesky!  But a bath would be lovely and attract all kinds of wildlife, like dragonflies (to eat any mosquitoes that happen to breed in the standing water) as well as fanciful beneficials like butterflies and bees.   

bees are swarming the broccoli

Which are important workers in the garden.  Did you know your plants need pollinators?  Without them, plants like cucumbers, melon and squash will not flourish.  You see, these plants have both male and female flowers and are dependent upon pollinators for fertilization (to come hither and do their business!) so by all means, encourage them with an enticing bath of water.

While you’re at it, plant flowers around the border.  Not only will they add a splash of color and cheer, if chosen correctly, they could repel all sorts of unwanted insects, bugs and flies and instead attract more butterflies and bees with a sweeping array of choice nectar.

rosemary lemonade

Consider creating some natural pathways of mulch, too.  This will encourage visitors to explore and digest all there is to see. Remember: gardening is a joy and should be treated as an indulgence, not a chore.  By adding benches, chimes and flowers, you’re nurturing this pleasure as you should.  Besides, that bench will come in handy when the neighbors stop by—and they will.  They heard you had a garden!

And trust me—you’ll be grateful for those pathways (they keep visitors on the right track and OFF your finely sifted beds of dirt).  Not everyone knows the ins and outs of a garden like you do.  But they’re eager to learn to which you’ll reply, by all means, have a seat and sit spell.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing and there’s so much news to share about the garden! 

Rosemary lemonade, anyone? (recipe can be found here)

Bloggers in Bloom!

Taking part this year in the Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where you’ll find ten days of gardening tips, recipes and giveaways! Decided the more the merrier and why not? Gardening is merry and fun. :)

authors in bloom

Better yet, creating scrumptuous dishes with our produce makes it all the better. For new gardeners, herbs are a great way to begin the adventure and lend themselves to all types of recipes. A simple way to use herbs are by making pastes and freezing them. Not only will you lock in the flavor, but you’ll make it easy to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all year round.

For a simple basil paste, I use about 4 cups of basil (or 4 oz. stemmed) and approx. 1/4 cup olive oil. Place the leaves in a food processor and drizzle with olive oil. I pulse to begin and then hit a steady high if need be. Transfer paste to freezer-safe bags, flatten to remove all air and place in freeze. That’s it! Fresh herb paste ready to use when you’re ready.

basil paste

Variations include oregano and parsley. Use other herbs that don’t keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers.

chop rosemary add to butter

You can also use the freezer method for herb butter. Rosemary butter with a hint of lemon is one of my favorites. Cilantro, too! For full recipe and details, check my previous post: Where Garden Meets Kitchen. For those who want to forgo the paste and make a delicious pesto, use about 2 cups basil (1 large bunch), 3 med. cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese (freshly grated) and about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or less, depending on how thick you like your pesto. The key is to chop the ingredients using a mezzaluna knife (shown above) and not to use a food processor. If you must process, do. Your pesto will still taste delightful, but don’t tell your Italian grandmother. She would NOT be happy. You see, chopping vs. processing allows the flavors to blend into a true emulsion or paste, allowing flavors to retain their individuality.

For my giveaway, I’m offering up a spring mix of goodies including a basil dipping set for that basil you’re growing, a ceramic garlic storage, garden-themed notepad and scented gift soap. Once you try your hand at herbs, growing garlic should be next on your list. It’s easy, minimally fussy and makes a great companion in the garden for roses and your other vegetables. And when you need an organic pesticide? Garlic will be your new best friend!

authors in bloom giveaway

To enter my giveaway, you can leave a comment, subscribe to my blog by entering your email in the upper right corner, follow BloominThyme on Twitter and like our Facebook page. Four chances to win! Remember: to be eligible for the grand prize, you must leave a comment with your email contact info. For my garden giveaway, use the rafflecopter giveaway box below and good luck!

Congratulations to Shadow on winning the prize! And a BIG thanks to all who hopped with us. :) See you next year!

Think “OUTside” the Garden

With so many things to do in the garden, it’s a wonder you can plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or month—but you should try.  The payoff will be well worth it.  From fastidious pruning for an increase in yield, to prepping for vegetable storage when your harvest comes in, you’ll want to be ready for the abundance of joy you’re going to reap!

What should you be thinking about when it comes to crafting this marvelous plan?  Why, your kids for one!  Are they weeding?  Digging?  Bug dispatching?  Wonderful!  Reward them with some “down-time” in the garden, as in “no chores.”  You do want them to come back, don’t you?

teacher's gift

We’ve all heard about creating the classic corn husk dolls, but have you considered using those same husks to make mini baskets?  Basket weaving is an excellent exercise for little fingers to practice dexterity—beats the DS hands down—as well as producing a keepsake for their bedroom, or a share for school.

Growing berries?  Perfect!  How about mixing them with a dash of organic sugar and make your own preserves?  They make great teacher gifts.  Speaking of teachers, how about teaching your children the value of seed saving?  When all these vegetables reach maturity, they’ll be chock-full of seeds.   How about collecting them and storing them in your very own seed packets?  (You can find simple how-to templates in the Kid Buzz section here on the website) More

Get Composting!

Composting is one of the easiest aspects of gardening. It requires little maintenance and produces amazing results. You remember my compost chickpeas, don’t you?

compost chickpeas

Well, they’re aren’t the only thing that’s been growing in the compost pile. I’ve grown, potatoes, squash (that’s a little squash there to the right), tomatoes, beans…the list goes on. And trust me, I do very little when it comes to composting, other than faithfully dumping my kitchen scraps and fall leaves.

Compost is the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

inky compost

Basically, a compost pile consists of plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like.  Formed into a pile and turned occasionally, nature takes its course and the materials break down.  We add compost to our garden soil because it provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants. More

Trying My Hand at Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are one of my favorite beans. I love them in hummus, fresh on my salad, mixed with Indian curry spices… In my opinion, there’s nothing not to love about these beans. Which brings me to my latest venture. As I always say, “Grow what you’ll eat.” I eat chickpeas. I should grow chickpeas. My compost pile seems to have no problem growing them! (That’s them, to the left. They look sort of like ferns.)

 compost chickpeas

Shoot. If my compost pile can do it, I can do it, right?

First up, I amended my soil with the very same compost. Seems a no-brainer. Next, I set out a drip hose (chickpeas like low water and NOT on their leaves) and planted my organic beans along its line. Once they sprouted, I scattered some corn gluten (excellent weed preventer) and voila – chickpea sprouts! NOTE: Wait until you have sprouts before scattering your corn gluten. Otherwise, you guessed it. Like unwanted weeds, your chickpeas won’t sprout, either.

chickpeas

Aren’t they adorable? Chickpeas don’t require a lot of fertilizer, especially nitrogen. As with other legumes, they fix nitrogen into the soil, so choose a fertilizer that is low to nil on the nitrogen. I like a bit of seaweed emulsion and bone meal.

Each plant will yield several pods, each containing about 2 peas. Not a lot, which is why I planted so many! Seeing as how these are doing so well, I’m already planning another row of them. After all, I have 23 beds in my backyard garden. Why not fill them with the stuff I love?

Enjoying Okra

I’m planting okra this week and I’m doubling–no, tripling!–my beds this year. Why? Because I discovered just how easy it is to grow, freeze and fry these babies up for a delicious side dish to our dinner meal. While fried okra might not be the healthiest version of this veggie, it is one of the tastier versions not to mention my son’s favorite. Hint to parents: when you grow your child’s favorite vegetable, you will be amazed by how eager they are to take part in the planting, feeding and harvesting duties of said vegetable. As a woman in charge of a 4000 sq. ft. garden, I’ll take all the assistance I can get!

okra small and large

Now back to the business of growing. Okra are one of the easier veggies to manage. All you need is warm weather, a general fertilizer and water. They thrive on their own without a lot of maintenance on your part and will continually produce for an extended harvest. One thing to note about okra is size. Size does matter. Big okra are tough and un-delightful to eat. Small okra are tender and very delightful to eat, say about 2 – 3 inches in length. For those of you who are scrunching your noses right now because you can’t understand how anyone would eat the slimy pods, try them “fresh from the stem.” Freshly picked okra are not slimy, but rather crisp and delicate in flavor. More

Hello Spring!

With spring upon us (well, some of us :)), it’s time to finalize your garden plans.  By being prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for your first day of planting.   While this day varies from region to region based on frost dates, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities. 

But why wait?  You can start many of your seeds indoors and get a jump-start on the season!  Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds.  Grow what you’ll eat—not what’s easy.  I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine because no one wanted to harvest it. The “excitement” factor was missing. The “ah-ha” moment, if you will. Rule number one: Gardening should be fun!

2 – Design layout.  If building container beds, get your lumber now.  I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.  Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now will help speed the process later.  “Oh, honey…  About that little favor I mentioned! “

3 – Sharpen your tools.  Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them.  You get my drift. The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it.  Mine is indispensable because it weeds (its primary function), digs, buries and levels.  You gotta love a multi-tasker.  Other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle. 

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows.  Not me.  I’m a busy gal with a bad back – ”till as you go” is more my speed!

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you?  It’s too easy not to—just toss, pile, and turn.  Easy as 1-2-3!

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting.  Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close.  Besides keeping the harmony, it provides a natural pesticide helping ease your workload.  The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds and keeping track.  Bear in mind your crop rotation as well—unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine!  For serious techies, try this nifty program for planning your garden.  Really cool.

6 – Check your water supply.  Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads.  And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before spring fever hits and they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers.  Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark…  All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me.  Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn. 

8 – Prepare soil.  Remove weeds and add compost.  100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need.  Also, till your beds ahead of time.  This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil.  If your worms have been busy, be sure to harvest their castings ahead of time, giving the “worm poop” plenty of time to dry before use.  Word to the wise:  after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch).  Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene.  In my house, that’s call for mutiny.

9 – Soil test.  If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot.  You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit.  They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise.  Then, depending on what you’re planting, you might want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. 

10 – Dream.  Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

Sharing Seeds

One of my favorite aspects about gardening is sharing…sharing tips, tricks, harvest and of course, seeds–the magic beginning to that next great crop. As a self-sustaining gardener, saving seeds is the name of the game. No more trips to the seed store, we grow our own, harvest our own and start the process anew—all on our own. Wonderful, isn’t it?

But from time to time you come across a fellow gardener doing something awesome and you find you find yourself filled with green. Not the jealous kind or green, or the envious kind. (Well, a little, maybe. I mean, after all, one gander at their growth and you want it for your own!) I’m mostly talking the curious green-thumb kind of green.

“Hey, what’s that you’re growing? How did you do it?” More

Easy Grow Wheatgrass

I’ve been wanting to grow wheatgrass but wasn’t sure where to start. With a pretty busy schedule and no idea what the process involved, I was a little hesitant to take on a new project. But after reading a few articles on the amazing healing powers of wheatgrass juice, I must admit, I was intrigued. As a fan of holistic healing solutions, this juice seemed too good to be true. Story after story extolled the benefits of drinking the stuff and I knew I had to try it. I’m curious that way. :)

I was completely sold when a few locals began growing wheatgrass. I thought: here’s my chance to get a personal tutorial and tutorial I received. This video was made by a local fellow working with World Wellness. It explains everything, shows everything, as well as offering a handout which I’ve included below for your convenience. I’ve also added a few personal notes for further clarification.

I purchased my seeds from GotSprouts and soaked them as directed. Sunflowers float, wheatgrass sink. More