backyard garden

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. 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?

Vacations and Gardens

They sometimes don’t mix.  Unless you plan accordingly, vacations can wreak havoc on a garden.  Shoot, even when you do plan accordingly they can shower your garden with weeds and bugs, slugs and grubs.  The mere thought of leaving my garden for a week at a time gives me the heebie-jeebies. But hey, I’ve got to live, don’t I? 

Yes.  More than live for my garden, I’ve got to traipse across the wilderness, scour new horizons in search of greener grass and bluer skies and drag my kids alongside me.  My heart soars at the sheer whisper of exotic destinations and far off places. 

Until they introduced those intrusive body scanners, anyway.  Ick.  Unfortunately, body scanners and groping TSA agents are not the only things capable of making one mutter, “ick.”  No.  Vacations away from your fabulous and fertile garden can make you turn away in horror, too.  Just look at what happened to Julie’s gorgeous greens. 

She wasn’t gone for long.  It all happened so fast… 

It’s enough to make a girl want to up and quit this whole garden experiment, toss the newfound joy aside like an uncomfortable pair of heels.  They’re scuffed.  It will take effort to refurbish them to their original shine.  Is it worth it?

Chin up, ladies–of course it’s worth it!  You’re a gardener now.  You must understand that Mother Nature likes to toy with a gal, test her fortitude and make sure she’s worth those glorious tomatoes she’s perfected over the centuries. After all, once she’s entrusted you with her precious commodities of fruits and vegetables, she’ll expect you to perform in turn. 

And perform you will.  As Julie has proved with these lovely near ripe tomatoes.

Just look at these budding beauties.  Kinda makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?

P.S.  Remember:  Mother Nature does this all day long, all by herself.  You’re included in the growing process at her whim.  If she wants your garden to grow, it will.  If not, oh well.  One only has to consider my compost pile tomatoes to be sure this woman knows how to garden. (Yep.  This plant is growing completely unaided in my compost pile.)

Then look at my corn.  Granted this shot includes only a few stalks flattened by wind–but trust me–there were more.  My husband claims I need to plant more rows, shorter rows, insisting a denser planting formation will protect the interior stalks leaving only the outer corn susceptible to annihilation.  (Apparently men from Ohio know a little something about growing corn.)  Fine. I’ll take it under my cap and consider it.

 

Next season.  For now, I suggest you take this as a warning–in case you had any doubts about the ferocity of Mother Nature’s temper.  Not sure what I did to deserve this, but don’t think I didn’t fight back and right those stalks at once!

I can be impossible, too. 🙂

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?

So far so good

Mandie survived her first week!  Okay, not a major feat at this point but it is encouraging.  Cold temps, good rain, it’s been easy.  See?  I told you there was nothing to it.  Literally. 

Though she did install this nice trellis.  When her conch peas shoot from the ground, they’re going to need something to grab  a hold of and this is an easy, portable and reusable way to go.

Unfortunately, there’s not much excitement in an empty garden box.  But it’s only the first week.  Most plants don’t sprout until at 7 – 10 days.  So what do you do for a little pick me up thrill? 

Buy sprouts!  Mandie picked up a few tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and transplanted them this weekend.  If nothing else, it does wonders for the overall appeal.  Now, when she looks out her back window, there’s life out there!

Watering them in, she will maintain moisture by checking her soil with a dip of her finger.  For a busy woman like her, she needs to make her time count.  Watering deeply once a week as opposed to a spray every day will satisfy her plants needs and accommodate her schedule. 

Then there’s the cold.  We’re forecast for another spell of near freezing temps which is enough to send shivers of fear right up the stems of her tomatoes.  Broccoli likes it cold and with most of her other kids still beneath the surface — and protected — she’ll only have to concern herself with the few  in danger above ground and cover them the night before. 

Covering your plants is simple.  Using frost blankets made specifically for the garden or creating your own plant “castle” of your own, the goal is to keep them insulated from the cold, keep the frost off the plant.  Otherwise, you’ll be headed back to the seed and feed, pronto.  The peppers she bought will hold.  These boys like it warm and won’t do well in these conditions.

Last freeze I lost a bundle of potatoes due to the persistent cold temps.  My efforts worked for a few days, but hours spent near twenty degrees killed my gals, but good.   However, didn’t your mother teach you there is always a silver lining?  

She was RIGHT!  Tilling the same bed this weekend to prepare for a new crop of onions, I discovered potato babies in the soil!  Combined with the carrots I pulled it makes for great motivation.  Nothing like giving her a taste of things to come to keep her working, right?  And while nothing is growing wild and crazy today, she knows this is what she has to look forward.  Fresh from the garden produce!

Stay tuned!