how to

Spring Checklist

Being prepared for spring planting season is job one in my household. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Kids are job one. Hubby a close second and the garden a very near third. (Good greens, some days it feels like everyone wants a piece of you, doesn’t it?) Anyhoo, you’ll want to be certain that you’re ready for YOUR first day of planting. You know, when all threat of frost has passed? Depending upon where you live, that day will vary by date but not in enthusiasm.  “Let the outdoor festivities begin!”

Now, in order to prepare for that glorious day, you’ll want to make a thorough run-through on your checklist.

1 – Order seeds.  If you haven’t already! And remember: 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! Seriously, composting is easy and productive. Why just look at these gorgeous potatoes my compost served up for me.

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! 

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.  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. Consider ordering a bag of corn gluten. Sprinkled around your young plants, these granules are amazing at keeping the weeds away.

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!

Garlic Trouble

Garlic is a pretty sturdy plant, resistant to most bugs and varmints due to its wonderfully pungent smell. Aphids flee, animals skee-daddle but weeds? They flock to the source.

garlic overtaken by weeds

It’s a problem for a garlic because unlike the squash family, their leaves are wholly inadequate when it comes to shading the ground for weed prevention (think Three Sisters). In fact, if you’re not careful, weeds will completely overrun your garlic and you’ll be stuck with nothing but roots to show for your efforts. And six months is a long time to put forth effort only to come up empty. Ugh. It’s happened to me, but not this year. I spotted this awful mess and cleaned it up, right quick!

Garlic weed-free

Aren’t they gorgeous, now? My garlic is happy and weed-free. Until next week, that is. Unfortunately, garlic is a bit high maintenance when it comes to weeding. Not water and not fertilizer, but definitely high maintenance on the weeding. Oh, well. Everything can’t be easy in the garden. And garlic are worth the effort. For full details on how-to grow, check here.

Sweet Peas A Bloomin’

My sweet peas are blooming and are oh-so-gorgeous, not to mention tasty. Tall and bushy, each plant produces so many pods, I should be serving them with every meal!

sweet peas ready for picking

Unfortunately for my family members, these beauties never make it to the house. These are my garden snacks. Freshly-plucked from the vine, sweet peas are delicious. I’d plant three beds of them, if I thought I could eat them all!

And sweet peas are easy to grow. They need little water, low nutrients–especially when planted in a base of my organic compost–and are cold tolerant. However, there is one problem when growing these plants. They grow high and heavy.

IMG_3248

Poor babies. Despite three rows of twine run between stakes, they’re still slumping over, bending their healthy vines perilously close to the breaking point. Luckily for me, I have more twine and can solve this problem easily. I simply ran another twine from the top of each stake, end-to-end, at a height of about four feet. Whew!

sweet peas with solid high support

It might not look beautiful, but this setup works. For added support, I placed bamboo stakes along the twine, weaving them between the levels of twine to keep my support sturdy and steady. It works!

It’s Not Too Late

Just because January 1st has come and gone, that’s no reason you can’t make a New Year’s resolution to start that compost pile you’ve always wanted. There’s nothing to it, other than a trip outside. Really. No turning, twisting, flipping over raking–unless you want to. And it doesn’t stink, despite what you’ve heard. This is where Mother Nature is your friend. You’re very best friend.

backyard compost pile

All that’s required is desire and effort you’re already making. Raking leaves? Dump them onto the compost pile out back. Tossing out leftover food? Toss it onto the compost pile. Want to recycle those paper towels, napkins, and newspapers? Place them on the compost pile instead of the recycle bin. All of these items work perfectly and produce excellent, non-toxic organic results.

compost cross-section

And the dirt you’ll reap from your efforts is superior to anything else for your garden soil. And it’s free! Of course, if you don’t have a backyard, you can always buy one of those handy-dandy contraptions to hold your compost.

black gold compost

They do work and with excellent results. For your kitchen, you can make a cute compost bin to hold your kitchen leftovers until you’re ready to make the trek outside, complete with carbon filter hidden in the lid to absorb the smell. Unlike your outdoor compost pile, your indoor compost bin WILL stink. Bad.

kitchen scraps get covered

My kids painted this one at one of those clay-glaze places, although we’ve since changed over to a simple stainless steel version. Less breakable (hint, hint). So what are you waiting for? Start resolving and get composting!

Your garden will thank you.

Have You Planted Potatoes, Yet?

I have and they’re going gangbusters. Just look at those gorgeous girls!

potato beds in early January

Yes, those are vacant spots in my row. Apparently, some of the gals haven’t sprouted, yet. Seems they’re taking their sweet time to emerge from the soil. Could be the weather. Could be my watering schedule. Could simply be a matter of nature. Not everyone grows at the same rate, you know.

There’s also the possibility of “theft by animal.” A few mornings, I awoke to find deep tracks through my garden. Wild hogs, armadillos, raccoons… I’m not sure who has been visiting me, only that somebody has.

Ugh. Living with nature is a beautiful thing, up to a point. But I will turn my positive attitude cap around and look on the bright side: I can always refill my bed with new potato sprouts. Besides, wild animals have to eat too, right?

mulch potato plants

Of course they do. I simply wish they’d chomp elsewhere. Now, back to my potatoes. I’ve planted them in a nice organic mix of compost from my backyard pile (shown below) and composted cow manure and have mulched them well. Mulch provides the moisture retention potatoes need, as well as encourages them in their upward growth habit. For complete details on how-to grow potatoes, check my How-To section.

Compost gold

 

I have one bed of red potatoes and one bed of white. Different size, different flavor–variety is the spice of life! And in about 2-3 months, I’ll be reaping my first gems from the ground. Can’t wait!

Christmas in the Garden

Gardeners are nature lovers at heart, and probably healthy, too. But interior designers with a creative flair that rivals Martha Stewart? Oh, wait. She’s a gardener AND an interior designer whiz. Huh. Bad analogy. But you see where I’m going with this–who says gardeners can’t transform their love of gardening into gorgeous home décor?

No one. No one on this blog, anyway. I mean, is this wreath the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

carrot wreath

I think so. And immediately my mind starts improvising–why not radishes? Garlic? Except for the small fact that my garlic won’t be mature until May-June, I think it would make an excellent wreath adornment. Don’t you? For complete how-to instructions for this carrot gem, head on over to HGTV. Those folks are incredible! I’m sure you’ll find a ton of things to create for your home.

But if you’re not into the DIY, how about an old classic?

rosemary-christmas-tree

Rosemary plants make for great Christmas décor and they smell good. Love it!

Looking for a few gifts for those gardeners in your life? Personally, I’d enjoy receiving this crafty invention. Got herbs? Water?

Flavor infuser wtaer bottle

Let the hydration begin!

I mean, whoever thought up the idea for a “flavor infuser water bottle” has my vote for Gift of the Year. Fabulous! Find it and more at Uncommon Goods. While you’re there, check out the Garden in a Can set–definitely fun for the beginner gardeners in your life. When it comes to young gardeners, Show Me The Green! makes a great gift for the elementary readers poking about the veggie plants.

Venetta, Dianne- Show Me the Green! (RGB)

Not only fun, but this fiction book set in and around an organic garden is informative and can inspire even the most urban among us to head outside and get digging. Book #2 centers on a school garden and is set for release spring 2016. Check out the website for full details.

Have any favorites of your own? Do share and Merry Christmas!

 

My Very First…

Red peppers. I’ve never been able to grow them in my garden. Not sure why, but for some reason, my green peppers tend to rot on the vine before they make it to “red” status. Green peppers are easy to grow and easy to freeze and save. But red?

my first red pepper

This is my first ever. And I’m thrilled! I wish I could tell you my secret, but I don’t have one. On a different note, my tomatoes are thriving and I know exactly why–dust for worms, weave for support and–ta da!–tons of tomatoes. More

Have You Exercised Your Soil Lately?

Soil is key to healthy plants.  Duh. But with spring upon us, it’s an important concept to keep in mind. Healthy soil = healthy plants. What makes a healthy soil? Fertilizer? Water? While these two ingredients certainly help, to have truly healthy soil, you need to aerate. Aerate basically means to turn your soil, or add “air” into the compacted ground by redistributing the soil, making for better decomposition. However, one must take caution when aerating established garden soil, because you don’t want to disturb the microorganisms and/or beneficials (good creatures) living beneath the surface. Think worms. You want these little guys to remain happy in your garden and poking them with the sharp blade of a tiller or spade will not make them happy.

gorgeous-worms

How do you aerate your soil in a compassionate manner? Depends on the current condition of your soil. If you’re preparing an area for the first time, your best bet is to go full speed ahead using a push tiller.

rent the tiller

Your goal is to turn up the soil, introduce air, loosening the dirt several inches deep. You can also use a spade for this process. Stab the blade in, dig up the soil, turn it over–stab, dig, turn–over and over. It’s a tedious process but provides great exercise. Hah.

stab shovel both sides

For established gardens, avoid the push tiller and opt for a spade or a hand tool. For example, between planting seasons — I have two here in Central Florida, fall and spring — I turn and till as I work through established beds using a hand fork or shovel, whichever is handy. As I do so, I’ll add compost to increase beneficial organisms into the soil which in turn aids decomposition, aka, more organic compost! Additionally, throughout a single growing season, I’ll poke around my plants with a hand tiller/fork to ensure they’re not becoming compacted by say, heavy rains and the like. We do tend to get torrential downpours.

my beds are formed

Aerating soil not only facilitates the decomposition process of healthy soil, it also ensures light, fluffy beds for your plants. And remember, plants prefer light fluffy beds of dirt because it enables their roots to grow and spread freely. It also allows them to soak up those nutrients you’re “folding” or “tilling” into the soil in the form of organic fertilizer.

loosen and till as you go

Caveat to aeration? You’re turning up weed seeds embedded deep in your soil. Not good, because you’re basically replanting them, encouraging/enabling them to sprout. Ugh. But as every gardener knows, weeds are part of the deal. Some of us are meticulous when it comes to weed removal in and around their plants. Others (like me) have accepted that a few weeds around the garden don’t hurt that bad. They merely look bad. Which brings to mind an old saying along the lines…an immaculate house means a dull life. Loosely translated: I have other more exciting things to do than weed!

Now that you have that spring in your step, head outside! The sun is shining, the temps are warming (or will be soon), and there’s no place you’d rather be than outdoors.

I Can Taste Victory

And it’s glorious! After battling worms and bugs and flying creatures, at last I can see the red through the vines–the tomato vines!

line of tomatoes

Okay, so they’re not red, yet, but I can visualize them just the same. Fabulous red tomatoes–gobs of them–will soon be dangling from my beautiful, leaf intact, tomato plants. Yes, as many of you know, I’ve had my share of hornworms and bug invaders, blossom-end rot and general leaf wilt but today? I am on the road to tomato bounty victory. And it feels good.

What’s my secret? Why, many, thank you for asking, the most important of which I daresay is dust. Dipel dust, to stop the caterpillars and worms before they get a chance to grow fat and hungry.

dusted tomato

Prior to that flash of brilliance were the screen I used to cover my babies when they were young and tender. The Florida sun is hot and brutal in September.

tomatoes under cover

I gave them their usual dose of eggshells and Epsom salts, and paid daily visits–except when traveling–where I plucked and pinched (leaves mind you, not worms) and generally admired the gorgeous girls. You remember pinching, yes? That little sucker, there, between the branches.

don't forget to pinch your tomatoes

I made sure to mulch well and check my water source often. Although I use water from a well source, the misters sometimes clog and it’s crucial to catch this issue early. And how will my tomatoes reward me?

With gobs of decadent plump red tomatoes. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: I’m staring down 35°F weather over the next two days. Tomatoes do not like 35°F temperatures. Not even a little bit. Ugh. I’m going to cover them and keep you posted.

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.  More