tools

Fashion in the Garden

If you don’t have a garden bag, now’s the time to get yourself one.  And by all means, make it cute.  Functional, but cute.  Pretty, sleek, stylin’…  Whatever floats your boat—but do make sure it’s one you’ll want to carry out to the garden.  We’ve got business to attend!

garden bag

Now garden tool bags come in all shapes and sizes these days as do their price tags.  You can keep it simple and small, but keep in mind what you’ll be using it for and plan accordingly.  Me?  I TRAVEL to get to my garden which means I’d better have everything I need else I’m trekking back and forth up the hill to the garden shed.  Which isn’t all bad.  It’s good exercise!  Though with my New Year’s resolutions I now get plenty of exercise and am proud to say my jeans are snug no more. 

Okay, that’s a lie.  They’re not slipping off my body by any stretch of the imagination, but I digress—we’re talking gardening here, not gymnastics.  And you need to be prepared.  For a quick rundown of things you might want to include, take a look below.

The short list:

hand shovel and trowel

gloves you’ll wear, but may wish to store

pruning shears

seed packets

spray bottle for organic pesticide mixture, ie. old coffee, compost tea…

bags of fertilizer, ie. your worm poop, eggshells, Epsom salts…

pen/paper for listing things to do, reminders and the like

water bottle 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.

Check, Check & Check!

With spring upon us—well, some of us, anyway—it’s time to finalize your garden plans.  Getting a head-start on the growing season will ensure you have a bountiful harvest. After my fall tomato experience, I’m certain spring is going to be even better and have already started my tomato sprouts. (Positive thinking will get you everywhere!)

sprouting tomatoes 2015

By being positive and prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for YOUR first day of planting, when all threat of frost has passed.  While this day varies from region to region based, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities. 

But why wait?  Do like I did and get those seeds started now!  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! Seriously, composting is easy and productive. Why just look at these gorgeous potatoes my compost served up for me.

compost potatoes

Love a generous compost pile, in and out of the garden.

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.

corn gluten

Also, consider ordering a bag of corn gluten now so you’ll have it on hand come season. Once your seedlings have sprouted and are on their way, you’ll want to sprinkle corn gluten on the soil around them to help keep the weeds at bay. Those tiny golden granules are amazing.

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!

 

Woo-hoo–spring is practically here!

Already?  Great beets alive, pull your heads out of the sand and get busy!  There are seeds to buy, ground to prep, compost to turn—

Oops—did we forget to start the compost pile?  Can’t find it under all the snow?  Well, leave it be then, there are plenty of other things to keep us busy.  Like gather the tools, plan for location, check the water supply…  Now where did that sprinkler go? 

So many things to think about could scare a gal clear out of the garden, but hold on to your tool belt, because we’re going to make this easy!  As pie.  (Because we all have time to bake pie, right?)

No, we don’t, but we DO have time for a garden.  Whether you prefer flowers or vegetables, it all works the same.  First we peruse the glorious pages of our seed and bulb catalogs, indulging in visions of beautifully lined walkways and patios bursting with bloom.  Remember:  edible landscape is all the rage now.  Next we imagine the luxury of plucking fresh produce from our very own garden, our very own salad buffet just outside our front door, organic and healthy, host to a fiesta of ladybugs and bees.

Perfect.  These babies love to mix and mingle with the butterflies and dragonflies hovering nearby.  Are you with me?  Can you feel the excitement, the powerful rejuvenation after a long and cold winter?  It’s true.  Springtime is the season of renewal. From the soft grass underfoot to the blossoms at our fingertips and the vegetables in our basket, spring is when we take heart in nature and plan for another harmonious year ahead. 

A wonderful outlook to be sure, so don’t ruin it with angst or reluctance.  And to keep your restless mind from wandering, here’s your short list for things to do:

1 – Figure out where you want (have space) to plant your flowers/vegetables.

2 – If this space is overgrown, cut everything back.  “Hey, a little room here?  We need room here!”

3 – Not enough seed catalogues?  Break out the search engines type the keywords of your heart’s desire!

4 – Educate yourself on companion planting, ie. who likes who, who can’t be in the same row as who.  (You know what I’m talking about.  Sometimes plants can be so difficult.)

5 – Sharpen your tools.  Or find them.  Whichever works best.  I suggest 3 to start:  weeder, cultivator and hoe – if you’re serious about this, that is. Otherwise, ditch the hoe. It’s a back-breaker.  Check my Prize Picks section for some of my favorites!

6 – Dirt check.  Not all dirt is created equally so a soil test would be a good start.  Give you an idea of how much work this garden thing will really entail.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Newspapers, pine bark, old dead leaves…  They’re all members of the organic mulch building blocks association and the make for the perfect weed prevention/fertilizer.

8 – Don’t forget to locate your hose.  Plants won’t grow if you don’t water them.  Genius!

9 – Buy a wind chime.  Some birds need scaring and you need relaxing.  Makes for nice ambiance, too.  We do want to visit our garden, don’t we?  Daily visits are one of the secrets to successful gardening.  (Just ask Jax from my novel, Jennifer’s Garden —  the man knows his business!)

10- Dream.  Wistfully daydream and contemplate about the wonder your garden will become.

Once spring ever gets here, that is.

Nifty Kitchen Companions for Gardener Extraordinaires

Let’s face it, after the garden chores are done the kitchen chores begin.  It’s a fact of life, right?  I mean, we grew all this food for a reason; to eat it!  But does that mean it has to be difficult?  Time consuming or wasteful?  Not at all–not if you have the right tools.  (According to my husband, every problem in my household stems from lack of the proper tool.)

But he has a point.  We live in a day and age where innovation has gone extreme–attractive and useful–but extreme.  There’s almost nothing that can’t be automated or made easier and I’ve reached the point where I’ve stopped fighting it.  While a greenie-pioneer-woman at heart, I’m no fool.  My life is busy and complicated and if I plan to accomplish half the things I set out to do, I’ll never realize success without a little help from technological advancements.  From refrigerators to freezers, air-tight containers to sure-seal pressure canners, my garden bounty has benefited from the use of gadgets.  My compost pile suffers, but my bounty spoils not!

And some of these tools are downright cute.  Just look at this watermelon slicer/seeder.  Is it the most adorable knife you ever saw or what?  My kids think so.  And it’s one of the few knives long enough to slice the length of our homegrown watermelons.  Then of course there are the herbs to be cut.  We bought a mezzaluna herb knife for ease and safety of chopping, but the darn thing is sharp.  I’m afraid to let my kids anywhere near it!  (Which doesn’t bode well for sharing kitchen duty and thus must not be tolerated.)

How about using your coffee grinder instead? This one from Krups can reduce your fresh herbs and dried spices to a silky fine texture in no time, suitable for any gourmet soup or sauce. 

But these are just a few!  Whether it’s your harvest time now or something you have to look forward, check out this month’s Prize Picks section for more gardener must-haves in the kitchen.