Monday, June 6, 2011

a quick tip


just a quick tip for today.

don't forget to save your eggshells for use in the garden. crushed eggshells provide a great source of calcium for your plants. tomatoes, in particular, love the extra calcium. the crushed eggshells also provide a deterrent to garden pests such as slugs. a win-win, right?

before using them, you need to bake the eggshells in the oven for about 10 minutes. let cool and then crush them around the base of your plants.

do you use eggshells in your garden? if not, give it a try.

Friday, June 3, 2011

mazimizing my growing space

i constantly find myself marveling at how much useable growing space there is wherever i go. as i walk around my neighborhood i drool over my neighbor’s front lawn, i envision bushels of food harvested from a nearby abandoned lot, and look up at a local restaurant's flat roof and think green! having limited growing space has definitely helped bring out the creative side in me, helping me to think outside of the box to squeeze in as much as i can, however i can. before i give up or tell myself there is just not enough room i stop, look around and begin to marvel at my own space as to how much more we can do. below are a few ways we have managed to squeeze in just a little more.

building living roofs on structures gives a whole new dimension to one’s growing space. last year we built one on top of our rabbit hutch to grow salad greens and herbs. we have designed our new chicken coop with a living roof as well.(pictures soon to come) a big dream is to also build a living roof over our back porch where a bee hive will live.

i recently created a living table where i placed a piece of a milled stump over a planter and stuck succulents and herbs in the open cracks. more growing space but also allows a place for a glass of lemonade.

another way to maximize our growing space has been to grow on the strip between the sidewalk and the street. this area is technically public property, but it is our responsibility as the property owners to care for it. rather than grow just grass, we grow a variety of plants including strawberries, kale, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, gooseberries,currants, herbs, horseradish, swiss chard, rhubarb, ferns, and perennial flowers.

our backyard space has transformed over the years as well. when we first moved in, it was just grass with a cyclone fence around it. we removed the fence and slowly began to add plantings that grew around sandboxes, and play spaces for our girls. now that they are getting a bit older and use the sidewalks, streets, and alleys behind our house for more of their play with friends, we began to really fill things in.

instead of replacing the fence we built a rock wall and planted shrubs and tall growing perennials. The plantings give us privacy, are beautiful and even feed us.

i love window boxes and was thrilled when my grandfather built the ones that hang below our dining room windows. in the early spring i plant them with lettuces. i then grow annuals and herbs for the rest of the season.

you would think with such a little space that there would be an end to it all. but there always seem to be a little more room for something new. hmmmmm, now how to fit in that greenhouse?

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Remember the collard plant from my first tend post that wintered over? Well we're letting it go to seed so we can harvest the seeds. One morning a few weeks ago I was out in the garden with my film camera. The bees (mostly honey bees) were swirling around the collard blooms, the sun was warm and beating down, and it was simply a glorious morning. Can you see the bees?

On another sunny day this past weekend I made a few sunprints from one of the collard stems (pictured above left). For the second sunprint pictured I picked a weed that had an interesting leaf pattern. I believe it is wild carrot, or something of that nature. Making sunprints is another way I like to bring the garden inside. Have you made them before? The process is straightforward and a fun activity for kids to see art and science overlap.

And the sugar snap trellis:

Last week you commented you'd like to see the sugar snap trellis made from last year's okra plants. We literally left the okra stalks in their original row in the ground over the winter. Then this spring planted sugar snaps beneath them. Since the sugar snaps are now four feet tall or so we added stakes for additional support and have simply leaned the plants to the stakes. The sugar snaps attach on their own. You could string the plants to the stakes for a tidier appearance. Ah, I see it's time to pick sugar snaps!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

growing beans

growing dry beans

growing dry beans

i'm pretty sure that beans are now my favorite thing to grow in my garden. last year a fellow community gardener told me about growing dry beans-something that had never occurred to me before. of course, when i opened the seed savers catalog there were pages of heirloom beans just waiting to be planted in my garden! i started off with hutterite soup beans and october beans. they were so easy to grow and took up relatively little space. for each seed packed of about 50 seeds, i harvested about 2 cups of beans. enough for a couple of meals. we eat a lot of beans (mostly black) so i would never try to grow enough to feed us all year, but to incorporate a little variety into our bean diet, and for more special meals, i'm all about the beans.

i saved some seeds from the two varieties i planted last year, and added some new ones: tiger's eye, turkey craw, calypso, and hidatsa shield figure. and of course, i ordered way more than one seed packet each (um, so far i still have a few seed packets that haven't been planted and my garden is full! i'm going to have to replace all the early spring crops with beans, i think). for dry beans, you leave the fruits on the plants until they are completely dried out. completely. you want them to be crispy. once crisped, they are easy to pick and shell, and you just put the beans in the oven on low for about 15-20 minutes to make sure that there are no itty bitty creatures living inside. store in a jar, and save for a delicious meal. we made a delicious soup with our hutterite beans a few months ago, but i'll admit that i haven't had the nerve to cook up our october beans just yet. i guess i've been waiting for a special occasion, but i know we should just eat them! they'll be delicious in a summer bean salad...

last spring i learned about a method of planting called "hexagonal planting" in which seeds are planted in hexagons instead of rows, which allows you to plant seeds closer together and also helps deter weeds. i tried this with a few of my plants last year, but was most successful with the beans- allowing me to plant each packet of 50 seeds in an area about 2'x2'. All you have to do is make a triangle where each side is the distance that the seedlings are intended to from each other once thinned (so, 2" for beans, 4" for carrots, 8" for lettuce, etc.). then plant your seeds at each point on the triangle and shift the triangle around in a circle to make a hexagon. this technique was originated in a john jeavons book, where it goes into much more mathematical detail, and includes how to use this method for companion planting as well.

another tip about growing beans that i'm trying for the first time this year is to coat the seeds in rhizobium powder prior to planting. someone had told me about it last year, but i'd already planted. by this spring, i had completely forgotten, but luckily i came across a reference to it in the backyard homestead a few weeks ago and i snagged a packet. rhizobium is a naturally occurring bacteria that, when applied to bean or pea seeds up to 24 hours prior to planting helps the seeds absorb more nutrients and can make the plants up to 50% more productive! (at least, that's what the package says, does anyone have experience with this?) i'll be interested to see how it turns out.  who knows, i may be swimming in beans come harvest time!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

final garden tour

take a final walk with me around our front yard garden...

the swiss chard is ready to be harvested for our favorite meals

the snap peas are crispy & perfect for the pickin'

the radishes are bright & round

around the corner, the container garden is waiting for its big move south

the strawberries are ripening & so sweet to the taste

soon, this goodness will be transplanted to raised backyard gardens,
bigger pots & flower beds.

little red house with its edible landscaping, small garden plots, cold frame, & compost pile- you will be missed. not for too long, though. we have bigger plans in our home down south.

Friday, May 27, 2011

herb infused water

it seems there are many of us here in this space with a love for herbs and their many uses. i thought i would share yet another way to enjoy some of my favorites.

i have been feeling a bit parched these days and have decided to make an effort to hydrate myself more. especially with this heat spell we are having here (it almost hit 90 degrees yesterday!)
sometimes i crave a little flavor and thought i would make some herb infused water.

i used lemon verbena,

anise hyssop

and peppermint.

i harvested a small bouquet of each herb, stuffed them in their own jar and simply poured filtered water over each one. i let them sit overnight and by morning the water was packed with flavor.
add a little lemon or lime and some ice and voila! an herbal concoction that hits the spot.
there are many more I would like to try including basil, borage (which has a cucumber flavor), and pineapple sage.

drinking eight glasses of water a day just may be a breeze after all.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Garden patterns and experiments

Returning to the garden after being out of town, days of rain, and being too busy with work overwhelms me. There is so much to weed! So today I decided to weave working in the garden into my studio time, and do a little bit throughout the day. This morning I picked strawberries, (harvesting takes time too!) washed them, and froze ones that were a little soft from rain. They will be great for summer smoothies while the firmer ones are perfect for eating right now. Or perhaps I'll make a strawberry shortcake for the long weekend.

This afternoon I freshened up a few vases to spread around the studio while I do my big bi-annual studio cleanse. Bringing the garden inside keeps my spirits lifted while I work.

Then this evening I harvested and pulled all the spinach, some of which had already bolted. It filled a garbage sack full, and since it's way more that we can eat, we'll be sharing with friends. Next we plan to plant okra in the spinach plot and my husband wants to try using the spinach plants as mulch (he's the one who has all the bright garden ideas!). So I spread them along the edges of the plot, leaving space in the middle for the okra seeds. In a nearby area, we are using the dried stalks left in the ground from last year's okra as a natural trellis for the sugar snap peas. It's working pretty well so far, but I think we may space a few wooden stakes for extra support.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

herbal shampoo

herbal shampoo

for one reason or another, my gardening sensibility has always revolved around growing things that are useful.  to me, when speaking of gardening, useful most often means edible.  and this is probably why i have little interest in growing plants that are merely pretty to look at (though, this has been changing a bit in the past few years).  beyond edible, however, there are many other practical uses for plants.  plants can be used for medicinal purposes, in body care products, for dyes, among other uses.  and, as a bonus, many of these plants are also pretty to look at.

when we moved into my house a year and a half ago, i was not so interested in the two rose bushes that were planted in the perennial bed in our backyard.  aside from some childhood memories of my grandfather tending to his rosebushes at their old house in new jersey, i have no attachment to roses.  but then i started to think about what uses those roses would have.  and they survived the summer.  i picked the roses and dried them and have been using the petals as ingredients in bath soaks and batch after batch of herbal shampoo.

as you think of what you'd like to plant in your garden this year, maybe take some time to think of what you'd like to make with your garden at harvest time.  and plant accordingly.

rosemary rose herbal shampoo
{adapted from methow valley herbs}

8 oz boiling water
2 teaspoons of dried rosemary
2 teaspoons of dried rose petals
4 ounces liquid castile soap
3 Tablespoons aloe vera juice
¼ teaspoon of jojoba oil
30 drops of pure rosemary essential oil 

place the rosemary and rose petals in a jar and fill to 8 ounces with boiling water.  cover immediately and let it stand until the jar has cooled.  strain out the herbs, and pour the water into a bottle or whatever container you will be storing your shampoo in.  add the castile soap, aloe vera juice, jojoba oil, and rosemary essential oil.

*note: this shampoo is much more watery than the kind you buy in the store, so it takes some getting used to.  i've found that it works best to give the bottle a gentle shake before each use to make sure it's properly mixed, and then squirt a little bit straight onto my head (i used to pour some shampoo in my hands, lather it, then put it on my hair--this doesn't work so well with this type).

i will say, i've been using this shampoo for almost a year and it works great! i love not having to purchase shampoo every few months, knowing exactly which (very few) ingredients i'm putting on my head, and reducing packaging waste.  not to mention, taking advantage of the usefulness of my garden.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

perennial plant sale & care

last week i went to a perennial plant sale in our neighborhood. this neighbor has tended to her yard for over 30 years & has a bounty of plants to share. to say she is an incredible gardener is an understatement; her yard is in full bloom with a diversity of flowering native plants covering every inch of green space.

i usually purchase my perennial plants from local nurseries and hardware stores. although i have had great success with my plants, the act of purchasing plants from a neighbor is more sustainable and ecologically friendly. her plants mature in the rich soil from her garden beds instead of potting soil with chemical fertilizers. additionally, her wealth of knowledge is invaluable.

our neighbor provided information on each plant, including its fragrance, blooming season, propagating rate, and ideal habitat. once i chose my plants, she dug them up, wrapped them in a recycled plastic shopping bag & sent me home with information for caring for my new plants.

instructions for caring for your freshly dug perennials:
1. pot them up and put them in a sheltered spot.
2. keep the roots damp at all times.
3. when the foliage perks up & new growth starts to show,
the plants are ready to plant in the ground.
4. keep the plants damp until well established.

this is just another way of sharing in the garden & exchanging knowledge. once my plants mature, i plan to share them with friends & family. the community that is built through the simple act of gardening keeps me coming back & even more excited. if you have any mature perennial plants that are crowding your garden, i encourage you to share them with those around you!

Monday, May 23, 2011


it has been raining non-stop here. the herbs love it and have taken off.

a few summers ago i volunteered at an herb garden and learned so much information about these edible plants. some herbs i grow in pots, like rosemary and fruity sage, as they are not hardy in zone four climates. as mentioned earlier, i grow chocolate mint, apple mint, and spearmint in pots to keep them somewhat contained. other herbs i grow in the beds near my front stoop. it's important to have your herbs nearby so you can hop outside and snip a few branches/leaves when you are preparing dinner.

here are some of our favorites(as they look today in the garden) and how we use them:

lemon balm
lemon balm. okay, i can hear you now. lemon balm is such a pain. it is true that lemon balm can spread but this just means that you have to use it. we love lemon balm fresh or dried in teas (hot or cold). i hear that it makes a lovely, lemony pesto when combined with garlic, olive oil and spices. a must try this summer. be creative and try substituting lemon balm whenever a recipe calls for lemon peel.

we cut this herb back probably twice a summer, which keeps it under control. every spring, it's the first herb that greens up and begins to grow. i love how lemon balm smells and even though it can be aggressive in the garden, i like having it in my herb bed.

anise hyssop
anise hyssop.
this herb is so nice on fresh fruit salads. anise hyssop and watermelon are especially wonderful. a sprig of anise hyssop is also great in iced tea! an added bonus is that bees really like anise hyssop and we have four hives in our backyard. we just added anise hyssop to our garden last summer, and i'm happy we did.

i don't think i can imagine a garden without chives. so many uses for this easy-to-grow herb. we love making chive vinegar with the blossoms or adding the blossoms to salads. chives are great in stir fries and wonderful additions to butter or cream cheese.

great for tabouli, chopped into salads, made into pesto. the list goes on and on.

i love that sage is still going strong in november when we want it to flavor our thanksgiving dishes. we also love fried sage leaves (so good!) in risotto.

each summer we try to cut large bunches of oregano to hang from the rafters of our shed so that we can have a large jar of dried oregano for our pantry. a wonderful addition to pasta sauces.

we also grow cilantro (which is very tiny and hard to photograph at this date).

all of these herbs except for parsley (a biennial) and cilantro (an annual) are perennial and are fairly low-maintenance, in my opinion. it's nice to have herbs to use in the kitchen while we are waiting patiently for garden vegetables.

which herbs are your favorites and how do you use them in your kitchen?

Friday, May 20, 2011

the perfect spring lunch

as i was walking the garden yesterday i realized how hungry i was and how much food there was to be eaten right in my own back yard. the chives are blooming and caught my eye. in i went for a pair of scissors for a snipping.

next i headed to the chicken coop to find a few eggs. i thanked our hen

and then grabbed a basket and cut some salad greens.

then off to find some strawberries for dessert.

the perfect spring lunch.

and how satisfying to know that it came from just a few steps away.

soft scrambled eggs with ricotta and chives

4 large eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese (room temperature)
2 slices whole grain bread or whole grain baguette slices, lightly toasted and buttered
whole chives (optional)

whisk eggs, chopped chives, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium bowl until well blended. melt butter in skillet over medium heat. add eggs and stir until eggs are almost cooked but still runny in parts. remove from heat. add ricotta and stir just until incorporated.
arrange toasts or baguette slices on plate. spoon scrambled eggs atop toasts. sprinkle with more salt and pepper. garnish with whole chives.