The Kids Are Back in Action!

And boy have they been busy!  They have to be–with all the rain we’ve had in the last week (did you hear about Florida’s wet weather on the news?). 

Of course, they had a little motivation.  Take a look at these strawberries!  Large, plump and juicy.  “I’ll weed!  I’ll weed!”

So they weeded and mulched and ran and jumped–the latter two WITHOUT proper authorization, mind you. But it was hard to contain their excitement. 

I mean, it’s been over a week since we were last in the garden!  Who can stand to be away that long?  Not me.  Not these kids.

And they really did a great job.  If this scallion section isn’t proof positive, I don’t know what is!  Here’s the before.

Enter magic weeding hands and voila–weeds almost completely gone!

We also discovered this lovely cauliflower…but lavender

Who planted that?  Don’t remember.  Hybrid broccoli?  Snuck into the seed tray at the garden center?  Doesn’t matter.  We’ll keep it.  Next to that, we pinched tomatoes.

Checked on our cucumbers and they’re ready to climb the fence behind them.  Corn is progressing well, and so are our beans.  In general, all is well. 

Time for our sweet reward. Ready, set–everyone grab a berry!  Okay.  We didn’t really set them loose.  They lined up and then we set them loose.  In an orderly fashion.  After all, even though it doesn’t look like it, we are still in school!

Solutions for Compost Problems

Ashley is fast becoming a backyard gardener-extraordinnaire.  Not only is she gardening, but she’s composting, too.  Just look at this fancy compost bin!

Nice, isn’t it?  It’s fabulous.  However, composting 101 requires more than mere kitchen scraps.  Remember your ratio: 30:1 — Carbon:Nitrogen — Browns:Greens 

Your “browns” are things like dead leaves, hay, pine needles, wood shavings, etc.  Your “greens” are things like food leftovers, grass clippings, freshly discarded plants, etc. 

Translated, this means you must include more than leftovers in your pile.  Now I do “fudge” this number somewhat as composting is not an exact science at my house, but if you simply place your food items in the bin and leave it be, you can expect a host of flies to invade your bin (those light specks in the photo), much like they do your outside garbage.  Very bad.  Stinky.  Not a likely scenario for long-term composting behavior.

Now for the good news!  Ashley has placed her bin outside beneath the oak trees which gives her an unlimited supply of dead leaves (browns!).  All she has to do is to instruct her boys to cover each kitchen deposit with a few hand-fulls of leaves.  Voila!  Problem solved!

Perfect.  Speaking of problems solved, Julie is finding all sorts of ways to be creative and recycle, thus eliminating the need for things like disposing of unused toys.  Rather than carting this old baby pool to the garbage dump, she plans to turn it into a herb garden!  Clever, isn’t she?

Then, her husband surprised her with an unexpected contribution!  What a nice guy. (I’m sure it had nothing to do with any guilt over watching his wife rake and dig, till and toil all by herself.)  It was simply a gesture from the center of his heart. 

“What’s that?  Ego, you say?  Not wanting to be outdone by Ashley’s husband?” 

Oh, c’mon.  You’re being too cynical.  I mean, he bought her dirt, too!  I love husbands.  They’re simply indispensable.

And they will receive their just reward.  Why, look at all these potato plants bursting forth in Ashley’s garden! 

They’ll certainly make for some delicious potato salad, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, potato au gratin… 

Yum.  Not only helpful, husbands are smart, too!

Edible Hedges

We’re eating hedges, now?

Please, we’re getting creative with our garden location and thinking outside the box—the planter box!  Why limit ourselves to traditional methods of gardening when there are so many other ways (and places) we can garden?

Gardening is simply too exciting.  Take rosemary, for instance.  I love rosemary and not just because it thrives without much attention—always a plus for me—but because the mere touch releases a heady rise of fragrance into the air.  It stops me in my tracks.  It reminds me of the simple pleasures in life.  And in this fast-paced world we live, it’s something we could all be reminded of more often.

My rosemary is located just outside my patio door, one herb of many in my kitchen garden (unlike my vegetable garden, this one is located close to the house for easy access when cooking).  What began as a small plant, no more than 12in. tall (a Christmas gift I received a few years back), it now consumes the entire corner of my herb garden!

I’ve cut it back several times and used the clippings for rosemary lemonade, gift tag attachments, cooking additive, aromatic sachets and the like, but a trip to California changed the way I look at rosemary.  California will do that to you, won’t it?

In the dry desert climate and undoubtedly fertile soil, this plant lines the sidewalks, flanks entryways and generally grows like a weed, albeit a fragrant one.  But then it hit me—why not at my house?  If I can grow the plant in my herb garden, I can grow it elsewhere, right? What a beautiful concept…practical, productive, this plant can serve as both décor and edible delicacy. I do love a multi-tasker.

Then I got to thinking, if my rosemary can have dual functionality, what other plants can do the same? How about a lavender lined walkway, bordered in front by a sumptuous row of assorted lettuce varieties? Colorful, delectable, munchable.

Shoot, while we’re at it, why not move the whole garden up to the house? I have to change out those pretty flowers each season, anyway.  Why not replace them with edible foliage? A lovely strawberry edged path? And if it gets too cold, I’ll transition them into containers.  They do look so lovely in brightly painted ceramics.

Why, with this new attitude twist, I feel like I have an entirely new garden adventure ahead of me!

Office Gardens?

With the kids out of school this week for spring break, my mind was free to roam outside the school grounds. Look out–garden coordinator on the loose!

Yes, well, (while all that may be true) I’m talking about getting out of the school grounds and into the office. Grounds, as in, office garden!

I recently read an article in Organic Gardening Magazine on this very subject. What a great idea! Who’s in?

Why not, is my first question. Would make for a great office break (or excuse for one :)) Gather a few co-workers together, rally support for the cause, approach the boss and you’re in business–the business of gardening.

It’s worth a try!

Gardening Slow But Sure

Or something like that.  Julie’s garden is progressing a smigden more slowly than she anticipated, but remember, she is a busy mom with two kids which means extra time is a scarce commodity in her life.  But where she lacks in time she makes up for in enthusiasm.  Just look at her go!  (She’s amazing, isn’t she?)  And don’t ask where her husband and children are–she’s a “can do” woman with a “can do” spirit.  She can take care of business herself.  Work, sports games, honey-do chores…  They all just get in the way of new garden ventures.  And someone needed to take the picture.

So she managed this step on her own (and you can too!).  Not only will she reap the benefits of healthy produce, she’ll reap the benefits of healthy exercise. 

The space has been dug!  Isn’t it beautiful?  What a lovely start.  (Remember:  lots of encouragement.  We don’t want to lose her when she’s made it this far!) 

She’s decided on an in ground garden as opposed to the raised planter bed being used for Ashley.   Now that she’s done the hard work, she can relax and engage in seed selection, though I have an idea she knows exactly what she wants to grow.  Had plenty of time to think about it during all that digging.

Can’t wait to check back next week and see how far she’s come!  Meanwhile, Ashley has sprouts!

Wow.  What an exciting time.  Almost as exciting as giving birth.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration.  It’s not even close in the “work” department and not nearly as painful.  Trust me.  This gardening thing is a breeze.  And so rewarding.  Look at all those sweet succulent lettuce sprouts!  Aren’t they adorable?

One note to gardeners living on lakes, streams or ponds.  Watch your step.  While photographing these little lovelies, a snake slithered underfoot–I jumped–it fled and all returned to normal.  Save for my beating heart and my daughter’s following drill,  “What happened?”

“Almost stepped on a snake.”

“Snake!  What?  Where is it?  Is it still there!?”

“I assure you, that black racer is nowhere near me at the moment,” I mumbled.

Are you sure?” 

It is my job as her mother to reassure her, so I gave her the usual line we give under these circumstances, “He’s more afraid of me than I (you) am of him.  Don’t worry.  He’s long gone.”  In fact, with two bositerous boys living on this property, I’m surprised he had the guts to show himself at all!

“Are you sure?”

Finished with my photos, I decided it was easier to “end session” at this point.  “Yes, baby doll.  I’m sure.  Now let’s get going, we have places to go, people to see!”

I neglected to tell her there could be more, it could have been a water moccasin–but then again, it could have been a lot of things.  But remember, gardening is an adventure!  We run into all kinds of wildlife when working in nature.

New Feature!

We have begun a new monthly series here at BloominThyme called Prize Picks. It’s our selection of favorites, from tools to baskets, aprons to planters.

Many of these products will be ones we use and know from experience are the greatest while others will be just too perfect NOT to mention.

We begin with the indispensable tools every gardener needs (and no more!) for their personal adventure into gardening. From our experience, we’ve learned these three work for most jobs. Enjoy the new spotlight and let us know what you think!

Reminder: Don’t forget about our Facebook custom seed packet and holder giveaway! Makes for a great gardening lure for kids, too. Check it out on Facebook!

The Last Hurrah before Spring Break!

The kids are antsy and itchy and not because of anything in the garden, oh no–it’s almost spring break!  Try corralling that kind of distraction for an afternoon of weeding and you’ll get dips and dives in enthusiasm–until they spot the strawberries.

“Can I have one!  Can I have one!” 

Zeroing in on the plants in question, I do the quick math in my head:  5 strawberries, 10 kids…  And this is just the first group out for the day!

“Please, can we pick them?”

What could I say?  This is the day they’ve waited for, the one I promised would come and fill them with more excitement than they could contain.  Glancing between kids and berries I had no choice.  “Yes”–hands flew outward–“but not before I get a picture!”

Talk about the difficulty of delayed gratification–you’d a thought we were on a ten-hour bus ride with no stops for bathroom breaks the way these kids were bouncing, bobbing, bursting for release.  But the berries were worth it.  :) 

Upon our return, these cucumbers will be great fun.  They’ll climb right up this fence–ours for the grabbing!  (Someone sense a pickling lesson in our future?)

The kindergarteners joined us this week for the honor of planting the ever popular watermelon seed, dropping several into each hole.  They have no idea how much space one watermelon plant needs, let alone five in each hole.  But they had fun and each had a turn (THE most important factor in gardening with the wee ones).

While weeding, we noticed this little guy–another near catastrophe in the making.  Poor thing had no idea what was going on, what, with all these little hands darting in his direction! 

And speaking of things flying at high speeds I leave you with this note of caution:  when gardening during Science Olympiad week, keep your eyes peeled.  While supervising the garden activity, I was surprised by a splash on my ankle.  Turning, I spotted the group of middle school boys–laughing.  Never a good sign.  Apparently, their project was some sort of water balloon launch and I was in range. 

Eyeballing the little pumpkins, I thought, it’s all fun and games until the garden coordinator gets wet!  (Though I had to admit, they’re distance and precision were pretty good.) 

To his credit, the young man came over and apologized to which I promptly accepted.  He’s just lucky it was my leg and not my lens.

p.s.  The upper elementary kids surprised me with this wonderful shamrock filled with limericks about their *fabulous* garden coordinator, yours truly.  Each and every rhyme is a true creative gem–I wish I could post them ALL here for your reading pleasure–you’d love them.  I will cherish it and the salt and pepper snail shakers (my favorite kind of snails–the pretend kind!). 

Thanks kids and have a GREAT spring break!

Potatoes for St. Patty’s Day

I don’t know about you, but when I think about potatoes, I think Irish.  Not because the potato is from Ireland, it’s not.  It’s origin is South America.  Wasn’t until the 1780’s the Irish even accepted the crop for widespread consumption. Most believed the ugly tubers to be poisonous, or evil.  Suspicious in the least. 

But once they had a belly full, the Irish knew a good thing when they tasted it!  Made it a downright major staple in their diet.  And that’s when the trouble hit. 

About a 100 years later, a blanket of blight killed off fields of potatoes during the great Irish Potato Famine.  But the Irish are a hearty breed (knew there was something about those Irish I liked!–besides their merry outlook, that is) and they survived, proving stronger and better than ever.  And they still love their potatoes.

As do I.  Potatoes are easy grow.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this fellow bursting free from the compost pile.  A real beauty and I had nothing to do with bringing him into this world.  Gotta love an easygoing plant.

Kids love potatoes, too.  They like to plant them, harvest them and they love to eat them–so long as they’re dished out in the proper form.  At our house, we make healthy potato chips and fries which seems to satisfy most days, though mashed and boiled work, too.  My son helped me plant this row.  (Don’t ask me how those two “rogue” plants ended up outside the perimeter of my organized potato row–that’s one of the mysteries when planting with kids.)  Plants end up in the strangest of places, don’t they?

Those wires you see are my protection plan in the case of frost.  Planting potatoes in January is tricky business and can place your babies in jeopardy.  This way, if the temperature dips, I can easily place a lightweight blanket over top of these wire “frames” (9 gauge wire from hardware store) and prevent the frost from killing them off.   Works like a charm

If you have limited outdoor space, you’re in luck (luck of the Irish!).  This garden center has designed the most ingenious method for growing potatoes–perfect for you city bound folk.  Meet the potato box!  Potatoes have an upward growth habit and if you continually mound them with dirt, you’ll increase your bounty, tenfold.

Me, I’ll stick with my in ground garden.  I like to meander through the rows and admire Mother Nature in action.  Besides, I don’t think my husband would look to kindly upon enormous amounts of black dirt anywhere near the patio.  Sure he likes his pressure washer, he just doesn’t enjoy “avoidable” mess.  Hmph.  Does he not see the joy in crafting another super-duper garden project? 

Note on planting:  be sure to “stagger” your planting dates, planting a batch today, next batch in 10 days, next batch a week or so later…   In the foreground of this picture is my latest section which has yet to sprout.  The ones in mid-field are mid-size and those in the back are a foot high and have already been “mounded” with more dirt.  The stakes provide a “visual” marker for me to distinguish the sections by “date planted.”   I’m a visual kind of gal, and besides, it does wonders to help coordinate with my Excel program.  (My version of a garden journal.)

Remember, planting ALL your potatoes at the same time will practically guarantee the dreaded whine, “Potatoes for dinner?  Again?”

As Master Chef in our household, I’ve banned the response.  In fact, there will be no complaints about dinner–until you’ve tasted it.  Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll discuss withdrawing it from the menu.

Meet Ashley

Meet Ashley.  When she heard her friend Julie was taking part in our new garden venture, why don’t you know she went straight to her husband and suggested they build a planter box?  I use the term “they” quite loosely here, though she did help.  And–she prepared nice snacks for him and the boys, smiled pleasantly as she held the boards so he could nail them in place and assisted where possible.  (This is all excellent wife behavior and it works–most of the time, anyway.)

Would you look at this amazing piece of engineering perfection?  It’s a veritable masterpiece!  Compliments help, too.  :)

Note to building crew:  lining your planter is a fine idea, but keep in mind your plants’ drainage needs.  Soggy roots are like soggy fruits–not delightful.  Be sure your planter is capable of draining.  Then, add a load of fresh dirt and you’re on your way!

For her first garden, Ashley chose a few of her family’s favorites; another wise move.  Growing vegetables that are easy and fun but no one cares to eat is a losing proposition.  Trust me.  Watching your fruit wither on the vine–literally–is a sad day, indeed.  (Kinda gross, too.)  For starters, we have beans, squash, melon, carrots and potatoes. 

How is she fitting all those veggies in there?  I’m glad you asked.  Organization 101.

Prior to planting, it’s a good idea to lay those colorful packets out across the dirt.  This way, you can eyeball their placement, keeping in mind their friends and foes.  Plants have their favorite companions, you know, and they’ll simply wilt and whine when planted too far apart. 

If you must squish a few “squabblers” together, so be it.  One thing I’ve learned is that Mother Nature appreciates enthusiasm.  She’ll give you a pass without fuss the first time you break her rules.  She won’t punish you with rotten diseases or nasty infestations to ruin your moment, but next season?  You’d better get another box.  Oh, honey…!

Once you’ve decided where everyone will be residing, dig according to your seeds’ needs.  Rule of thumb:  tiny seeds prefer shallow surface planting while larger ones go deeper.  And potato tubers?  We dug them a special section situating them lower than all their neighbors.  Important, because as they grow, you’ll want to continually mound them with dirt.  This forces greater potato production and we do want to produce, don’t we?  Yes, we do. 

Speaking of produce, Ashley’s gone crazy excited and decided to try her hand at composting, too!  Leftovers no longer go in the garbage–they go in the sink!  (Until we find a more attractive alternative.)  Then, her handy-dandy-super-helpful young sons will transport this bin to the outdoor compost pile.  Neat system, isn’t it?

Boys love composting, because it can lead to great worm hunting.  And any boy worth his sea salt knows:  if you plan on catching the big one, you’d better have some worms on hand.  Could there be any more fun than finding them on your own?  I think not.

Finally, spray a little water over your planter to get your new seeds settled in and then it’s off to the picnic.  In no time Ashley will witness an explosion of sprouts across her planter followed by leaves and veggies and harvest and–

Whew!  I’m excited just thinking about it!

For those of you wondering how Julie’s garden is coming along, well, you know, life, spring break…  Well, life just plain happens.  In the real world, our best intentions can easily be sidetracked by a few rows–but not to worry–she’ll be digging into her yard in no time!  Tanned from the beach, to boot. 

While we’re on the subject of gals in the garden, check out BloominThyme’s new garden series at Galtime.com in the Living section.  Join us, won’t you?

Custom Seed Packet & Holder Giveaway!

Attention savvy gardeners!  Visit us on Facebook and hit “like” for your chance to earn one of these adorable seed packet holders. 

Your choice of design, as well as a set of 15 custom seed saving packets, compliments of BloominThyme — http://www.facebook.com/bloominthyme

Don’t save seeds?  No problem.  Use these containers to hold paper napkins or plastic utensils on the picnic table, or perhaps envelopes on your desk.  How about the perfect unique gift for that gardener friend?  Or win one for the kids!  These holders are a great way to get the youngsters excited about gardening. 

Already “like” us?  Thanks!  You’ll be automatically entered to win.  When we reach 75 likes, one random winner will be drawn.  At a 100, a second will be chosen.  So enter early and increase your chances of winning.

Then, stay-tuned for more giveaways as well as gardening made easy — BloominThyme…your “cliff” notes to gardening!