Garden Pics and Chit Chat

It’s been awhile since I shared any gardening posts. I thought I’d share some pics of mine and a little chit-chat today.


In this garden bed I’m growing Swiss Chard and two types of Kohlrabi.  Swiss chard is great chopped up and cooked with a little olive oil and some garlic. I like to cut the kohlrabi into slices and sprinkle a little salt on it.  If you haven’t tried either, check your farmer’s markets/stores as they might be in season soon, if they aren’t already.


This garden bed is a bit of a mess. My broccoli is pretty much done for the season. The brussel sprouts were bigger than I thought and kind of took over. I’ll probably move some soon. And the heat is really getting to my pea pods before they can fully take off.


I had a giant oregano plant in this one that I just recently took out. I couldn’t believe how much it had grown over the winter! So this garden bed is slow coming together. I’ve got some onions, celery, peppers and green beans growing. The green beans are just starting to take off. I can’t get over how much they grow in between their daily waterings.


In this garden bed I have some lettuce that has somehow survived the heat. The giant swiss chard plant in the middle survived our mild winter. I was shocked to see it still alive when I went to till everything this spring. I have some carrots starting to push through the soil. Eventually this bed will be mostly carrots. They store very well in the fall/winter months.


This is my tomato bed. They are slow taking off this year–or at least that’s how I feel when I see some of my neighbor’s plants. They’ll grow pretty fast over the next month or two, though.


This one has cucumbers and spinach. The spinach is a New Zealand Spinach that is more heat tolerant so I can still grow some in the hotter months. It does have a different taste than I’m used to, though. I planted more carrots behind the spinach that are just starting to pop through.


I always pick up a patio tomato plant for the kids. Container gardening is a great way to save on produce if you are limited in gardening space. Just be sure to ask for specific varieties that grow well in containers. You might be able to find some on clearance now, or very soon, at places like Home Depot or Lowe’s, etc.


These are my herb and lettuce bowls. The heat killed a lot of my lettuce plants but there are still a couple that are hanging in there. Herb bowls are a great way to save money, too. Fresh herbs tend to cost $1-$2 for those tiny packs in the stores. You should be able to find a few herb plants on discount at Home Depot or Lowe’s now, or soon, so you can create your own bowl, too. You can always dry herbs or chop them up and freeze them in ice cube trays with a little water. Then when you need some, you can just throw them right into your recipes.

I’m hoping that those of you with limited space will take advantage of container gardening. You can grow things like tomatoes, peppers, herbs, lettuce, etc for a nice salad garden right on your back steps/deck. I even have things like a stevia plant and mint for added sweeteners to things like tea.  Just be careful if you pick up a chocolate mint plant as it may make you constantly hungry for chocolate. :)

This last year has been an unusual weather year for most places. So keep an eye on what’s in season as you may find that everything is popping up sooner than normal.

How are your gardens coming along?

How to Make a Lettuce Salad Bowl

Last year was the first year that I tried to grow lettuce in my garden. I was amazed at how fairly simple it was. I loved being able to go out and cut-off some lettuce leaves and make my own fresh salad. I was even lucky enough to have planted some under a cucumber trellis which shaded them enough to extend their season.

I had seen a lettuce salad bowl for sale at one of the nurseries and the idea of being able to grow lettuce in such a small space intrigued me. I was very excited to think that even people without a large gardening area could grow their own salad, too.

While I’ll show you a few pictures of how to make one, I am definitely more of a visual person and wanted to find a video of the steps, as well. As you all may know by now, I’m personally not one to make videos but I did a little digging online and found this great video on How to Make a Lettuce Salad Bowl.

The first thing that you need to do is to find a great bowl that has a hole for drainage such as this one:

I was lucky enough to find a bunch of them for $2.50 on clearance at Menards at the beginning of the year. Otherwise, I’ve seen them range from $5-$10. You can use anything that allows drainage but be very careful not to choose a bowl that will leak anything toxic into your plants.

The next thing that several nurseries recommended was to put in some rocks and/or a piece of screen for drainage. It can help keep your dirt from escaping through that hole but still allow water to seep out:

And of course, you’ll need to add dirt for the plants to grow in. I recommend finding an Organic Potting Soil. I was able to find a giant bag for around $10 that allowed me to make about 5-6 of these. (I made a few as gifts!) But you can find smaller and less expensive bags of potting soil:

Now you’ll have to decide–are you going to grow these from seeds or buy transplants? If you choose seeds, make sure you are choosing seeds for salad mixes and not for lettuce heads, which take up more room. I actually made salad bowls with transplants and seeds so that I could have them growing at various rates throughout the season. You may want to talk with your local nursery about how long your lettuce season is in your area.


The picture above is the one I planted a few weeks ago with seeds. I cannot recommend enough that you plant your seeds in some kind of rows that you’ll remember. The reason for this is that even though you may have this on your deck or patio, grass or weeds and other foreign things can blow into your bowl and start growing. I’d hate for you to eat something you shouldn’t!


Above is a picture of one of them I made with transplants. I found a deal on them for $.99 for six transplants each. I bought a few varieties and made several salad bowls with them.

This is just one way that you can grow your own produce at home, even if you have limited space available. Most apartments/townhouses/condos etc. will have areas on a deck or even the front steps that will allow enough sunlight to grow one of these.

There are several other things that you can grow in containers and I’ll touch more on them soon! These can also a fun activity to do with kids. Not only will they enjoy watching them grow but they may want to eat more salad if they grow their own, especially if you let them pick off their own salad leaves!

In the end, these don’t end up costing too much to make if you look for deals on the supplies. The great part is that the bowls are reusable so you can continue to use them next year, too! You might find that making one of these might help you save a little money on your grocery budget, especially considering salad mixes are now costing about $3-4, or more, a tub. I hope that you have fun growing your own lettuce if you try this.

Garden Planner Tool

For those of you beginning to make plans for your garden this year, you may want to checkout the Garden Planner Tool on Gardeners.com. I use this tool every year to make a “map” of my entire garden. This is my rough draft for this year:

I’m still making sure it’s the route I want to go and that all the plants will be “happy” by each other. (You have to be careful that something tall doesn’t shade something that needs sun, etc.) I created this by making each garden bed according to its size using their tool and then saving the image of each and pasting it into a Word document in landscape view. It gave me the capability to create my entire garden on one page. I can now laminate it and use it when it comes time to plant or when I need to refer back to where I planted everything later. It’s also going to come in handy when I plan next year’s garden as I can see where I had this year’s plants so I can try to rotate them, if I want.

What I love about the tool is that not only does it plug in the plant you want in each square foot, but it also tells you how many you should plant for that particular item. For example, you can place 16 carrots in one square foot but only 4 beans in another. It’s a super easy way to not only build your garden plan, but to also quickly plant the right amount later.

If you are considering gardening but not sure where to start, I highly recommend reading All New Square Foot Gardening Book. It’s full of all the info you’ll need to get started on a Square Foot Garden, should you choose to go that route. I personally love this way of gardening as it’s less weeding and I can plant a lot in a small space.

My kids each have their own garden bed and they love picking out what they are going to grow each year. It’s a great way to help your kids become interested in eating more vegetables as they may be more apt to eat what they’ve personally grown. I’ve also found that it’s a great way to teach kids not to waste food. Each year when they choose how much they’ll put on their plates, I remind them of all the hard work it took to grow them and that they’ll have to eat what they take.

Keep in mind that even if you have limited space at your residence, you can still plant a mini-garden by using containers to grow things such as lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, etc. Several garden centers carry plants that are specifically designed to grow well in containers. Just ask one of the workers to help you find some. I’ll be posting a container garden series here real soon.

Hoping that you have fun building your gardens!

Recycle/Reuse: Seed Starters from Common Items

Yesterday I shared with you a way that you can make a little garden kit out of juice boxes and a salad container. There are several ways you can start seeds in everyday items. I’ll share a few that I found but overall, just do a Google Images search on “seed starters” and you’ll see several more ideas.

Eggshells

If you are careful when you crack your egg shells, you can start seeds off right inside the shell and then put them into your garden, eggshell and all, after they sprout. I did mine in eggshell halves as I’m going to put them in a “salad bowl” (more to come on that!) as soon as they sprout but you might want to try just breaking off the tops so you can add even more dirt. Just don’t forget to punch a hole in the bottom for drainage. You could carefully use a needle or even a toothpick to do that. You can check out these instructions for eggshell seed starters that will turn into this:


Photo Credit: Instructables

Paper Towel/Toilet Paper Rolls

Several gardening magazines and articles mention how you can use toilet paper rolls to start off seeds. They say they will breakdown in your soil so you should be able to plant them whole, as well. I started saving paper towel rolls, instead, as you can get a minimum of three per roll from them. I labeled my seeds at the very top so if I wanted to, I could just rip off that little area before planting them. You just cut the bottoms into four sections and fold them in to make a small little shaped pot. Make sure they are tucked in good or they’ll pop open when you fill them with dirt. I stood ours up in clean mushroom containers so they could drain and wouldn’t tip over. (see picture at top) I put a small yogurt container in the middle to help keep them balanced, too.

Newspaper

You can keep newspaper and roll them around a bottle to create little seed starters, like they do in this video. I don’t believe this works with the colored ads so you’ll want to just use the regular part of your newspaper to make them.

Everyday Items

As long as an item won’t emit toxic chemicals into your plants, you can practically use anything to start seeds in, as long as there’s a drainage for it. I’ve even seen some plant flowers in things such as old rainboots.

Seeds packets are actually fairly inexpensive. If you look for sales, you can even get the Organic vegetables and flowers for under $1 a packet. Check your local garden stores for Organic Potting Mix and you are all set to start your own little garden. If you have limited space, consider container gardening. You can grow quite a bit in just small containers. There are even varieties of tomatoes and green peppers that are specifically for container gardening. Grow some onions, too, and you’ll have all the fixings for some homemade salsa!

I’m hoping that you’ll try to get a little garden going this year. It can be a fun activity to do with the kids and you might even find it to be a very calming hobby. More to come on gardening ideas later this week!

Mark Your Calenders: Home Depot Herb Container Garden Workshop

Throughout this week, I’m going to be mentioning several gardening ideas for starting seeds. I thought you might also be interested in Home Depot’s “Do-It-Herself” Workshop on May 3, 2012 from 6:30 – 8PM for Herb Container Gardening.

These are the things that they have listed for the class:

• Identify herbs to best meet your needs
• Select the appropriate soil for the herbs
• Choose the best containers
• Plant an herb container garden
• Learn to provide care and maintenance

This might be a great way to learn how to make an herb container garden so you can save money on fresh herbs. (Or even dried herbs if you take time to dry your own!) Herbs are a great way to naturally season your foods.

Garden Chit-Chat

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any gardening pics or chit-chat so I thought I’d share a little bit today. This has been a very interesting year of gardening for me. I basically tripled the size of my garden from last year, adding in different veggies that I wanted to try to grow. I added some kohlrabi, potatoes, peas, cucumbers, watermelon and squash.

My peas did well, but when we were on vacation, we were hit with some higher temps and I lost the last part of the crop. Lesson learned: Peas don’t like heat! I haven’t quite figured out the variety of cucumbers that we grew. It seems like no matter what size I pick them, they just don’t taste right–yet I can’t find my seed packet to research it online. A learning lesson here: always keep a gardening journal of what you plant so you can make notes later! The watermelon and squash are doing well. I knew they’d take up a lot of space but I still wasn’t prepared for just how much! I think I’ll keep them in a totally separate area next year and just let them grow freely. I think I’ll also put the potatoes elsewhere and try to squeeze in just one more 3×3 garden bed in that area instead. I also have an interesting concept of how I’ll grow beans and peas next year. I’ll share it with you if it works!!

I’m sharing all these things because here’s what I’ve found about gardening—it’s a continual learning process. Especially during strange weather years, like this one for us, between the rain/flooding and excessive heat wave. But at the same time, it’s a lot of fun for me. I often find it’s almost a source of calm for me as I can just get lost in what I’m doing and not stress about all I think I should be doing! I’m hoping that several of you that haven’t tried gardening gave it a try this year. And if not, it’s still not too late! There are several veggies that grow well in the late fall that you can still get started now–or soon. Just check to see what grows well in your zone for fall. If you didn’t get in a garden, you may want to consider checking out any local farmer’s markets to enjoy some fresh locally-grown food!

Here are a few pics from our garden/yard/harvest:

The larger varieties of tomatoes are still green and just ready to flip to red any day now.

This is just one picking of cherry/grape tomatoes. Such a savings for me as a container of these are usually around $3 in the store. If you enjoy tomatoes and have limited space, I highly recommend getting a container/patio tomato plant. You should get quite a harvest and savings just from one plant.

My friend introduced me to kohlrabi a few years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. This is the first year I’ve grown them. Very easy to grow. When ripe, I just slice off their skins, add a little salt and they make a nice little snack or crunchy addition to a salad.

A watermelon in my backyard? I never thought I’d be able to grow them but so far, so good! The kids just thought this was the best when they saw it finally growing on the vine.

This beauty is what I believe to be the wild birds way of thanking me for feeding them. They dropped some seeds by my bird feeder. I let them grow as I knew the kids would get a kick out the plant. I’m guessing the seeds aren’t edible. But I’m hoping to grow some that are next year.

Hoping you are enjoying a fun year of gardening, too! I’d love to hear how your garden is growing, any things you’ve learned or any other stories you’d like to share about gardening.

Garden Chit-Chat

I’ve been wanting to get up some postings on gardening but I wanted to wait until mine was complete so I could show you some pics. Things are going a little slow so I figured I’d just show you a finished product later in the month.

But here’s what we had last year–a fairly small garden-It’s a 4′ x 8′ bed. There’s also a few strawberries to the left that got cut off the picture.:

And this is how far I’ve come this year: (the kids are actually waving to you in this one!) :) This is my main garden with all sorts of good stuff. Each of the kids has their own 3’x3′ Grow Bed. And then there’s the 3’x3′ “Salad Garden” where I’m growing spinach, lettuce and cucumbers.

We have quite a few potatoes growing in our three potato bags: (My kids just LOVE these! I paid a little more so they could have the colorful ones and it really added some nice color to the garden area!) Organic Gardening has a great article on how to grow potatoes–so many options!

The strawberries are starting to ripen. They are teasing us by looking red but not fully ripe yet:

And lastly, the tomato and pepper bed:

I still have to “pretty-up” the area. I think we are going to mulch in the area in-between the beds as it’s hard to mow throughout that area and it will help keep grass from flying in. Overall, we are growing: Garlic, Oregano, Turnips, Spinach, Chard, Swiss Chard, 4 varieties of lettuce, Squash, Kohlrabi, Beans, Peas, Carrots, Watermelon Radishes, Beets, Regular Radishes, Brussel Sprouts, Leeks, Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, Onions and Potatoes. (Whew!)  My son is still wanting a watermelon plant so we’ll see what happens.

And let me tell you, I wouldn’t have a clue where most of these were planted if I didn’t have it all mapped out. Having a plan is such an important part of gardening. Over time you learn what grows well by each other and what not to plant close by–if nothing else because the plant gets tall and shades your other plants too much! I was able to create my garden map through the Free Garden Planner App on Gardeners.com.

I thought it was a fantastic idea from my reader Karen for each of the kids to have their own garden plot. I cannot even begin to express how much pride they have in that little space of land that is truly just theirs. Both of them help me water everything on the days that it needs it, being careful not to flood anything.And since I went with raised beds, there really isn’t a lot of time wasted with weeds. This year, we actually had so much rain that I had to replant quite a few of my seeds. They were flooded to the surface or didn’t grow at all. Right now is a fun time watching everything starting to really take off.

So I wanted to share with you a few ways to garden so you might decide to give it a try. The first thing that every veteran gardener gave me for advice was—start off small. Pick a few plants that are easy to grow and that you know you’ll use. My first year, I grew tomatoes and peppers. That’s all. Each year, I added a few more to the equation until this last year I felt confident that I could handle more.

If you are gardening with kids, strawberries are an easy one to grow, along with tomatoes, radishes and my kids got a kick out of picking beans last year. Whatever you pick, be sure it grows well in whatever Zone you live in. I always thought that if I didn’t get things planted in the spring, it was too late. But there are several summer and even fall plants that do well, even in a colder state. So it’s not too late to start!! Once you decide what you are going to grow, you need to decide which method you are going to use.

Now, our soil is extreme clay soil. I can take a shovel and dig up pretty much any spot in the yard and find a clay chunk and hand it to my kids to mold into something. I tried working new soil, compost and all that in but I still didn’t do too well and battled so many weeds. So I decided that raised bed gardening was best for me. Another method is container gardening. This is great if you have limited space or even if you live in an apartment that has a deck. I loved growing patio tomatoes when I had my apartment.

The most frugal way to garden is probably just digging up a spot and planting–that is, if your soil is OK and not terribly clay. You may fight weeds more with this method but it’s the cheapest. Seeds are fairly inexpensive and there are a lot you can plant without having to start indoors first. I usually buy transplants for my tomatoes and peppers as I haven’t had luck with seeds for them and they usually only run about $1 each.

Raised bed gardening is great if you have poor soil. You’ll need to pay your start off costs of the raised bed itself (whether you choose to build it or buy a snap-together kind) and you’ll need your soil elements. If you are going to go this route, I highly recommend the book All New Square Foot Gardening. It’s a great resource on how to plant a lot in a small area. This is the guide that I refer back to a lot.

Whatever method you choose, I hope you’ll take a chance and try to get a few veggies planted this year. It is a little bit of an investment of money and your time but having your own fresh produce to pick from in your backyard is fabulous! –and I actually find that gardening is a great stress reliever for me, too.

More to come soon!