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Create A Butterfly Garden Today!

Kids love butterflies. And who can blame them?  Talk about excitement, there’s nothing sweeter than watching the fluttering wings of a butterfly in action, knowing they’re making one of the most important contributions in nature. these kids had a ball! Kids get it. So why not help them create their very own butterfly garden?

Which plants will attract butterflies?

Glad you asked.  Bright colors will attract the butterfly as well as sweet delicious nectar.  It also makes it easy for them to find you! Best colors?  The brightest, of course!  Be sure to include bright red, yellow and orange, pinks and purples, too.

Nectar plants are a “must-have” in your butterfly garden, but you can also include non-nectar plants like milkweed and daisies.  Butterflies enjoy them, and it gives them a place to lay their eggs.  Another hint for success?

Keep your flowers close together if possible.  It helps focus the attention of both children and butterflies. In this Montessori garden, we chose the butterfly bush (for obvious reasons), orange and pink pentas, pink and purple petunias, orange-yellow crossandra, sunset gold lantanas and various shades of ixora.

Other good choices would be zinnas, marigold, coneflower, lilac, impatients and asters.  Really hard to go wrong, just check what grows best in your area.

And make sure the kids are hands-on. As you can see, they are amazing when it comes to the garden and quite capable when it comes to the business of transplanting.

With one simple instruction on how-to dig a hole slightly larger than your flower container, they can gently pull the plant free, supporting the stem with one hand and the root ball with the other, then place it into the awaiting hole. Encourage them to lightly pack the dirt back in around it and water thoroughly.

In no time your garden will be filled with bright and lively color, and do you know what?  Butterflies will find you by the end of the day.  Now listen, don’t let this shady photo fool you.  In Florida, fast-moving weather changes are one of those things in life you can count on. Bearing in mind that most butterfly garden flowers prefer full sun, we never worry about a little cloud cover.  We welcome the shade! Especially considering our type of heat.

And speaking of heat, include some stones near your garden to capture and retain the sun’s heat–butterflies like soaking in the rays.  They also like splashing in puddles, so create a small “pond” nearby for them to drink up.  After all, you don’t want them leaving this beautiful enclave for a water trip, do you?

No way!  We don’t want them flitting anywhere but here.  Now what are YOU waiting for?  Get busy and send out the invites!  You’ll have butterflies fluttering around your yard in no time.

Microgreens and Greenhouse Production

I live in a rural area. I’m out in the fields or anything (thought that would be nice!), but I do live on six acres and have access to a small downtown within five minutes. Let’s call it semi-rural. One of the benefits of where I am is that several of my neighbors have livestock–cows, goats, horses, chickens… You get the picture.

Well, some of them also have greenhouses which I find fabulous. Actually, I’m quite envious but accept the fact that it’s not in my cards. While I want to be a farm girl, I’m really not. Maybe when the kids move on and I need something to do, but right now, my plate is pretty full and farms require work. Fun work, but time committed nonetheless. Plus, my husband knows that if I’m having problems maintaining said greenhouse, I’m going to slide my gaze his way.

Not gonna happen. Speaking of plate, full–his is overflowing!  **sigh**

Which is why it’s nice to have neighbors. Mine provides me with wonderful eggs and possibly greens–if I weren’t growing a bounty of lettuce on my own. However her set up is so cool, I asked if I could share. This is her greenhouse full of lettuce in varying stages of growth.

I learned that the fan perched in the upper corner is crucial for air circulation. Without it, fungus can become a problem. And while this photo appears dark, it was QUITE bright inside, despite overcast skies outside. So bright, I had to don my sunglasses!

But the view was amazing. Look at all those gorgeous greens! Now I’m sure you’re thinking, Wow, that’s a lot of lettuce. Who’s gonna eat it all?

How about the entire community? Every weekend, she lugs this produce straight to our Farmer’s Market. Did I mention she’s a pseudo commercial grower?

This woman doesn’t mess around. Those are hydroponic tubes you see and not cheap to construct and maintain, unless of course, you think of how much can be produced. She begins with seed cubes that range 1-3 cents per cube, depending on how many you buy at a time. One tray = $1.50 – $3.00 Now imagine the lettuce heads you can grow!

When they grow a couple of inches, she transfers them to the tubes by breaking the cubes into individual sections.

She can also stop right here and sell–or better yet, consume–the greens at this stage–as microgreens. You might have heard of this new phenomena raging at restaurants across the country, but basically these seedlings are POTENT with nutrients. More so than if you wait until the lettuce forms those full and fluffy heads of green were used to seeing. (See above)

And, you don’t have to wait months before harvesting! We’re talking days, depending upon the type of seed your using. Wheatgrass is a good example of the powerful nutritional value of sprouts.

Very healthy, and easy to grow. I know cancer patients who swear by it, as well as many fitness buffs. The second tray is sunflower sprouts. Delicious and fresh-tasting!

So next time you’re in the garden, consider growing and consuming microgreens instead of waiting for a full head of salad–they pack a powerful health punch. And you don’t need a fancy greenhouse to grow them. Simply scatter your seeds over a tray of dirt, or in a bed of dirt, cover with a light dusting of soil or perlite and you’re off to the races. Some of the most commonly grown plants for use as microgreens: amaranth, arugula, beets, basil, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, cilantro, cress, fennel, kale, mustard, parsley and radish.

And by all means, enjoy. That’s what gardening is all about!

What Happened to My Brassicas?

I’m a bit disappointed as I write this post. My coveted Brussels sprouts and cabbage have not blossomed as I’d hoped. As I’d worked so hard to ensure.

I don’t know what happened. I watered, fertilized and weeded. Consistently. Carefully. Lovingly. I even applied snail bait for those horrid beasts that attack from underground. Could also be nematodes, though I’m not sure how to rid my garden of those creatures. I’ve tilled, rotated, solarized…

But alas, it has been to no avail. This cabbage was planted months ago. Months!

It’s not like I’ve never had success before. I have. Just look at these beauties. Gorgeous! I’ve grown both red… More

Aruba Green Education Symposium

I just returned from a week in Aruba, visiting with the elementary-aged students and talking organic gardening. What a great group of kids–smart, well-mannered and VERY engaged in the topic. And if that wasn’t enough to make it a GREAT trip, the scenery was fantastic! Considering that my gardening in Central Florida during the summer slows to a near standstill, my trip to Aruba was a wonderful way to continue my passion for gardening. I was invited to speak as part of the Green Education Symposium, an educational outreach from the National Library of Aruba.

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It was my first visit to the island and I was thoroughly impressed. From the gorgeous scenery to the warm and generous people, Aruba is an amazing mix of tropical breezes, turquoise waters and desert inlands.

Aruba mangroves

White sandy beaches were littered with cactus and Divi trees, mangrove lagoons were a sanctuary for birds and fish, and the colorful buildings of downtown Oranjestad offered an abundance of visual pleasure.

Aruba beach cactus

Scheduled to be the first Green Island–totally self-sustaining via renewable energy sources–Aruba is all about organic gardening and sustainable gardening practices (one of my favorite topics!). And where is the best place to begin such an aggressive overhaul for a community-at-large? The children, of course! Some of my favorite gardeners…

Aruba school visit 2

Teaching the youngest among us the value of sustainable living ensures a long and prosperous future for the people and the climate of Aruba. A worthy goal to be sure, one we can all learn from.

Healthy Gardening = Healthy Planet

Healthy Living = Healthy Humans

Win-win! And kids know that vegetables taste better if you grow them yourself. For more information on Aruba’s quest for green, visit their website: Aruba Environment.

These Dollars I DON’T Need

These are dollar weeds. Also known as hydrocotyle, or pennywort, they’re an incessant nuisance. They grow ferociously in moist, well-watered areas. Like my garden.

dollars everywhere

Basically, they’re lily-pad like leaves attached to vines that grow deep in the soil sprouting leaves every six inches. I spray them with garden safe weed-killer but it only succeeds in killing off the leaves I hit. The vines beneath the surface simply detour, or sprout new leaves. The only way to rid your garden of them is to pull them. UGH. No fun.

tractoring dollar

Or call tractor-man. He’s always helpful when it comes to churning up roots and dirt. More

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!

 

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

Updates

Remember the horrible squash washout?  The one where someone–Mother Nature, mystery visitor or something–washed the end of my squash row to nothing?

Well, I solved the mystery.  I didn’t tell you, but it happened again. Twice.  The first time I thought it may have been the rain, but the second? More

What the Heck Happenend?

Yesterday morning I strolled out to the garden, ready for a day of transplanting tomatoes and peppers.  You may recall I started my seed trays a month or so back and now felt ready to settle the little darlings into their new home.  The kids had their cousins over for a sleepover and I’d enlisted their help. Gardening is BIG fun for those kids without their own garden at home (though I was pleased to learn their public school has a garden).  As we strolled down the rows, tomato trays in hand, we stopped short.  There, in the middle of my perfectly lined walkway was a pile of mud.  Looking further, we noticed the entire end of squash were washed out.  I mean, seriously washed out.

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Hair and Bumps?

This can’t be good.  I understand nature isn’t always pretty, the dark side always lurking just out of sight, hidden from the light of day…  But really.  This is too much.  Hair and bumps on my carrots?  Dare I say, warts?

It’s what they look like.  At least that was my first impression when my son hauled the harvest in.  They were a huge mess of warts and hair and reminded me of some gnarly old man in a horror movie (or book!).  It was not what I had in mind when preparing our salads for dinner.  I was envisioning gorgeous fat smooth orange beauties.  Sure, a little hair never hurt.  Can always strip it clean from the length of them (ouch).  But these fellas?

No siree bob was I touching them!  ICK.  And scrutinizing them further, wondered if a brave attempt would even be worth the trouble.  Once the bumps and hair were skinned from them, there would hardly be anything left to speak of.  Nah.  These are compost food.  The pile out back has been hunkering for a little beta carotene and here’s its chance to swallow them whole. And make fresh dirt.  Mother Nature is a beautiful creature, isn’t she? 

For those of you wondering what on earth happened to these golden babies, it’s probably due to a couple of things.  Water for one.  I’ve been having the hardest time with my sprinklers this season and more bound and determined than ever to install that soaker hose system I’ve been thinking about.  You see, if you water too much, your carrots can crack and split.  if you water too little, they can develop small feeder roots that shoot from the main root in search of water.  Helpful little buggers, aren’t they?  Bumps are probably hair that actually had a chance to grow a bit. 🙂

Too much fertilizer can cause the same hairy problem and I have a hunch that this may be part of our problem as well.  I say “our” because speaking of helpful, my kids tend to water and feed without restraint.  They don’t understand there’s a happy medium to be found.  They hear fertilize and they fertilize.  Vacation didn’t help, either.  We may have left our bounty in the soil longer than necessary.

Huh.  It’s a process.  Or learning curve–something which I tend to slide down the front side of more often than I care to admit!  So here we sit with no gorgeous carrots for my salad.  And it’s dinner time. *sigh*