Sep 12 2011

A 4′ x 4′ garden in front of a Whole Foods Market shows
how little space is needed for food production.

Ok! That DOES it! No more Mr. Nice Guy! I don’t want to hear anyone saying that they don’t have room for a garden.  Between container gardening, those upside down hanging tomato things and this 4′ x 4′ garden in front of a grocery store, it’s time to acknowledge that “where there is a gardening will, there is a way.”

When I went shopping at the local Whole Foods Market, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went to get my shopping cart. There, proudly sitting in between the concrete of the parking lot, was a small garden holding four or so plants, ready to belt out some serious food production.  This was small garden that was mighty in its intent and demeaner, and I delighted in it whenever I saw it.

Ready made corners make a raised bed garden
easy and affordable.

I really enjoyed watching this little garden grow every time I went to Whole Foods. Two heirloom tomatoes, a pepper, squash and a couple other vegetables did their growing thing out there next to the shopping carts, setting a great example, all summer. What a wonderful way to get across the point the Whole Foods vegetables are fresh and sustainable gardening is a priority. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to show city gardens, even though small in space, can be mighty in impact.

Here, you can see that Whole Foods has made a fast and efficient raised bed garden using ready made corner brace sets. Usually they come two to a box. By planning your garden and buying whatever length boards will suit your plan, these corner braces fit on the boards allowing you to get your garden up and running that much faster.

One doesn’t even have to dig in the dirt to fill one of these raised beds.  Just buy the big bags of organic soil, dump them in, rake until level and begin transplanting or sowing seeds. Raised beds take some forethought and labor, but they are not hard to make. That being said, having corners to join the boards securely is a big help, especially if you are working by yourself.

Apartment gardening just takes some creative thinking…
…and educated tenants.

The more I get into growing food, the more extravagant strictly ornamental gardening seems. Food is beautiful, in all of its stages and becomes ornamental in and of itself. Some of the fanciest formal gardens in Europe were actually kitchen gardens for the propagation of food.

On another front, I’m one who loves grass and the carpet beauty of a well kept community lawn, but I like the look even better when I know the grass has been grown naturally. It’s rewarding to grow grass with organic nutrients that won’t destroy wildlife either in the yard or in our run-off waterways. The best of all, though, is to have some of the land, regularly used for a nice cityscape lawn, turned over to the growth of heirloom garden vegetables and herbs.

Nola opens the gate of the Shearman Street Community
Garden to harvest carrots in winter and show us
what’s possible off season in a city garden.

Making raised bed gardens in the city is lots of fun and affords one that country feeling of getting close to the earth. Not only is the experience of sowing and reaping enjoyable, but you’ll create the promise of organic food conveniently located close to home. And “close to home,” doesn’t necessarily mean a single family dwelling. The front yard of a town home or even the entrance way to a large apartment complex can be a haven for city gardeners. So, as we used to say in the 1970s, “Try it! You’ll like it!” Try a small raised bed garden and hold on the for ride!

Ready made corner braces are the secret
to easy raised beds.

The comer sets can vary in price quite a bit. These seem to have the best bang for the buck. Try them and let me know what you think! If you have an interest in trying some of the raised bed corners, hover your mouse over this link: Scenery Solutions Div Vegherb AJ2-18 2-Pack Anchor Joints

Whole Foods Market’s web site is packed with great information and videos on sustainable farming in the city.  Watch this one and get ready to be amazed at the resourcefulness of this San Fransisco family:

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Filed under: Food,Veg Garden — admin @ 5:43 pm Comments (0)
Dec 18 2010

~WHEN to Plant Seeds Where You Live~

The old time practice of planting by the moon
works remarkably well.

6) WHEN to plant seeds

When I started reading books on how to grow a vegetable garden, I found that many authors discounted, or at least, failed to mention the tremendous advantage of planting by the moon. In planting by the moon, plants that produce their edible assets above the ground are planted BEFORE the full moon and plants that produce in the ground are planted AFTER the full moon. I had an Amish friend who ran a green house in the 1980s and I remembered she always planted by the moon cycle, so I was ready to investigate the practice and see for myself.

I tried it and and truly was overwhelmed at the ease of germinating the seeds, especially when also using the controlled conditions of the Park’s Bio-Domes, heat mats and thermostat heat mat regulators. I now am a BIG fan of planting by the moon and wouldn’t considered planting any other way.

Time lapse of some bush beans growing from seeds.
The video was shot over a 24 hour period using a
Canon GL2 video camera, and sped up 3000x.

So, guess what today is?  Today is December 18 and the full moon will be on December 21. That means today is three days before the full moon. From now until the full moon, it is the time for optimal planting of above ground crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, corn, melons and lots more. Afterward, on Wednesday, December 22, will start the days for optimal planting of below ground crops, such as beets, rutabagas, carrots, onions and peanuts. Now, it’s too cold and too long before spring to plant any crops, but that’s how it will work when we go to plant next year. I just want to get you thinking about the moon and its cycles as a dry run for our springtime efforts.

Determining the days for planting by the moon and finding the last frost date in the spring for your gardening zone will determine WHEN you plant to germinate your crops. We’ll work together on figuring out the optimum days when the time comes, and I will let you know what I am doing so you can follow along. But, now that I have you thinking about ordering or shopping for your seeds, equipment and helpful books, you have my permission to relax and enjoy the holidays!

If you have an interest in the moon cycles, this is a
great book that comes out every year and is specific
for each year’s optimum planting dates. Hover your
mouse over the link below to preview:

Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2010: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers

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Filed under: Food,Veg Garden — admin @ 5:32 pm Comments (0)
Dec 17 2010

~HOW to Germinate Seeds with What Equipment~


When we seriously started to grow food, we had
limited funds, so made use of things we had on
hand to make our seed germination nursery.


5) HOW to germinate seeds

Dixie cups, egg cartons and tin cans can all be pressed into service to start a vegetable garden full of life sustaining nutrients. Fancy equipment and the “best of everything horticulture” is not required. Here is the set-up I used in 2008 to produce more food than we could eat that summer and fall. I had an old grow light that I put into a clamp-on shop light shade; used a piece of plywood on saw horses for a surface located near windows and placed the whole stand over an electric plug-in radiator to provide a consistent heat source.  You can see the thermometer I used to monitor the set-up on the table, just one that had been on the back porch for years. The fan provided air as tomatoes need air movement to sway their stems when they are germinating to grow strong.

Under the Dixie Cups, we had metal cookie sheets with sides from the kitchen. Over top of the Dixie Cups, we  covered the seeded Dixies with sheets of Saran Wrap plastic film to hold in moisture and create a small greenhouse. Each Dixie Cup had a Popsicle stick with the plant name and date the seed was planted.

Tomatoes like to be transplanted, in fact I usually transplant them four times by the time they have gone into the garden.  Working with what we had, tomatoes were started in Dixie Cups, transplanted into recycled tin cans, then into cut off gallon water jugs and finally placed into the garden where they lived until the frosts of autumn.

Here are tomato plants in the later stages of growth
before going into the garden, having been transplanted
into cut off water jugs from recycled tin cans. Although
the Dixie Cups in the photo hold other plants, they were
the first stage for the tomato plants as well.

If you are the frugal side of life, watching every penny, then this is the way to go for next spring’s seed germinations. Your money should be spent on seeds, a grow light if you don’t have one, a shop light to hold the grow light, a heat source and a thermometer. The rest of the equipment can be saved between now and then. Save various sizes of tin cans and larger cans or jugs dependable on what you have. A tip for those in hard straights is to take a walk around the neighborhood on recycling day and get what you need out of other peoples’ recycle bins. Buying a box of bathroom size Dixie Cups and the Saran Wrap type plastic wrap will complete what you need to germinate in the spring.

Now, when things get better financially, or if you can afford to invest now, here is the equipment I just LOVE for seed germination. Park’s Seed Company’s Bio-Domes. They are really great. Problem is, the first year I went to buy them, in February, when I needed them, it was way too late to get them.  They had been sold out since before Christmas! Now, Park’s Seed company seems to be ready for the demand, so they should have them, but don’t wait too long to order, so you are high on the wait list should they have any thought of running out.

With a 60 well Bio-Dome, you can start 60 plants at a time. That’s probably enough if this is your first attempt at serious food production.  But, if you are ambitious or experienced and want to try many types of plants, I can share that I own three 60 well Bio-Domes.  That’s because I like to start plants with different optimum germination temperatures, and three 60 well Bio-Domes allows me to have the flexibility to germinate at three different temperatures, all at the same time. So, read about Bio-Domes and see what interests you.

The Park’s 60 well Bio-Dome is a tiny greenhouse complete
with air vents and watering tray. It’s a heavenly nursery for baby
seeds. They will grow up to thank you by feeding you well.

Now, with the Bio-dome, you also will need to get a heat mat and an automatic temperature control or thermostat. You will need a heat mat and thermostat for each Bio-Dome you want to buy. Each 60 well Bio-Dome come with 60 Bio-Sponges that fit in the wells, but I would suggest getting an extra bag of refill sponges for each Bio-Dome. That way, when you move out and transplant your first batch of seedlings, you can start new plants right away by putting refill sponges in the newly-empty wells.

To go take a peek at the 60 well Bio-Dome, click here. To order more 60 well refill Bio-Sponges, click here. For the 20″x20″ heating mat that will hold two 60 well Bio-Domes, click here. Once again, if you want three 60 well Bio-domes like I have, I would get three heating mats, even if three heating mats accommodate six 60 well Bio-Domes, because that way you have the flexibility to move your Bio-Domes around and can put two of them together on a certain temperature mat if you would like. For the thermostat to accurately control the heating mat temperature, click here. Once, again, I would get a separate heating mat and thermostat for each 60 well Bio-Dome purchased.

Here is a video I found showing a gardener setting up an actual Bio-Dome system. As the film is accelerated, the busyness of the action might be nerve-racking, especially when he starts moving all of those wires around with multiple plugs in extension cords. I would suggest using using multi-outlet surge protectors rather than the extension cords. But, the video is well worth watching to get an idea of the ease of setting up the Bio-Domes themselves.

Setting up a 60 well Bio-Dome, heating mat and thermostat
system will make you feel SO GOOD about your seeds, you
will fall in love with them before they have even sprouted.

I haven’t mentioned the fluorescent bulb style grow lights the gardener is shown using in the video, but I use those as well. They are readily available from Lowes or Home Depot. I bought inexpensive fluorescent bulb style shop light banks capable of holding two bulbs and then bought grow light bulbs to place in them. They seem to be readily in stock, but come to think of it, maybe I should go over the lights in a future post to make sure everyone has what they need before the countdown to spring seed germination begins!

Coming tomorrow, Saturday, December 18: WHEN to Plant Seeds

Now, here is another book that you must ORDER RIGHT AWAY! The Park’s famous Success with Seed book written by Karen Park Jennings. It has been out of print and has just recently been REPRINTED. Now you can own one all by yourself. To preview Success with Seed, click here.

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Filed under: Food,Veg Garden — admin @ 5:30 pm Comments (0)
Dec 15 2010

~Planning Food Growing Spaces~

Optimizing time and garden spaces takes many things into account.

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

                                           Rudyard Kipling, “Just So Stories” 1902

I now approach planning gardens with a journalistic mind.  Just as every newspaper article’s first paragraph should answer six things: who, what, when, where, why and how, “The Five Ws and One H,” the planning of growing spaces requires consideration along the same lines. See if you agree with me.

I’ll be switching the order of “The Five Ws and One H” a bit, but here, first make a list that describes you and your vegetable gardens, as you are now thinking about them:

1) WHO is going to be working on the garden and who is going to be counting on eating the food it produces?

Important questions because if you are one person trying to produce food for ten AND trying to hold down a full time job, the garden in addition to a job will be too labor intensive. But, picture the difference if, like Capt John Smith in Jamestown, Virginia, 1607, you establish a “No Work, No Eat” policy. Then, all of a sudden you’ll be able to enlist nine other pairs of hands to sow, transplant, weed, nurture and harvest. BIG difference. So, count who’s in and who’s out right from the get go.

Recycling an old mattress provides a strong bean trellis
from the springs and nice stakes for plant supports if money
for growing aids is a problem. It’s easy with some help.

2) WHERE do you live?

And that’s important in a BIG way and in a SMALL way. To properly assess our germination and growing strategies, we need to know: A) the zone for your part of the country, which you can find by clicking here ; B) the pH, or acid/base balance of the soil where you live and C) the amount of sunlight on the beds where you intend to plant. The pH you might already know, but if you don’t, you can test the pH of your soil by getting helps found here and here. The zone where you live and the pH of the soil will determine what you can easily grow and when you can plant outside, judging by the date of the average last frost date in the spring.

Now, both of these parameters can be modified depending on your willingness to do more work! If you live at a certain zone and the plants you would like to grow thrive at a warmer zone, you can germinate the seeds inside and then transplant when the weather is correctly temperate. And, if the plants you want to grow need a more acid or more alkaline pH than you find where you live, you can still grow them, you will just have to work to amend the soil to accommodate plants needs. We’ll go over the details of what to do next spring, but that gives you an idea of what to expect and how to pick your seeds.

Testing the pH of soil.

The third part of “where,” the amount of sunlight each area of your yard receives everyday, cannot be easily modified. You have to submit to planting shade loving plants in the shade and those requiring full sun in the sun. If you aren’t aware about the light levels in your yard, you will soon notice some spots will be sunny all day long while others will be in shade and others still will be mixed depending on the time of day. Transplanting plants to a light levels they enjoy insures a thriving, food producing dynamo.

You may know the basic light levels of where you want to plant. But, if not and if you love gadgets like I do, try hovering your mouse over the link below to preview a great “soil pH, moisture, temperature and light level tester” that I have just decided to buy and try out myself.

Digital 4 Way Soil and Light Tester for Plants and Lawn – pH, moisture, temperature and light level

So, think about your yard, the gardens already present with non-edible ornamentals that can be transferred over to food producing vegetables and about the lawn with non-edible grass that might better be used to feed your family. Get some graph paper and after pacing out the yard, make a drawing of what stays and what goes within its perimeter. Then start planning the shapes and size of your available planting space.  It can change a hundred times before spring and that’s part of the fun. It’s a good exercise, though, to start getting your thoughts down on paper.

3) WHY do you want to plant your gardens?

And, finally for today, are you planning on just eating fresh, nutritious food everyday or would you like to plant an excess, more than you can eat, in order to can food for the winter of 2011? These concepts are not as pressing as the decisions needed above, but are ideas to think about for the rest of winter. Thoughts of quantity and intent will help us plan what seeds to germinate and where to plant them in the days and weeks to come.

It is also important to define goals to assess limitations and recognize that each step of the process adds MORE WORK. For instance, do you know how to safely can food? Or will that be a new skill required to process your harvest? Not to worry. This is all part of the fun as we sit with hot chocolate and pour over seed catalogs with their glorious photos and compelling ideas to dream of our new found vegetable freedoms. Why, looking ahead, the cold of winter will just fly by!

Coming tomorrow, Thursday, December 16: Selecting What Seeds to Plant

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Filed under: Food,Veg Garden — admin @ 10:20 am Comments (0)
Oct 04 2010

Wampanoag women watch the cooking fire while sharing their culture.

When we visited Plimoth Plantation, I was fascinated by the Wampanoag (Wam-pa-nog) tribe members who were interpreters in the Wampanoag Native American homesite area. These interpreters went beyond being reenactors as they were actually present day Wampanoag tribe members recreating the cultural life of their ancestors. It was very interesting to listen to the two ladies at the cooking fire and also to hear their conversation with each other. They were enjoying life, cutting up and pleasantly giggling with us as they prepared food and answered our questions. We enjoyed meeting them.

The green area shows the original location of the Wampanoag.

A little over 2,000 Wampanoag survive, and many live on the Watuppa Wampanoag Reservation on Martha’s Vineyard. In addition, there is land which is owned separately by families and in common by Wampanoag descendants at both Chapaquddick and Christiantown. Some additional Wampanoag tribal members live in Bermuda. They are descendants of those sold overseas by the Puritans during the aftermath of King Philip’s War in 1675-1676.

This information and the nice map are from a Wikipedia entry that you can find here. If you want a detailed report, there is a very interesting Native American history web site that documents Wampanoag history as one of its listings: go to this link.

In the following video, you can take a tour of the Wampanoag homesite at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. By the way, if you are interested in planting the three sisters of corn, beans and squash in a Wampanoag Garden, directions found here, you can see Wampanoag companion plantings in the video at 7:08 minutes or so.

Tour the Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation.
Spoiler Alert! Wampanoag Garden shown at 7:08 minutes!

This is a good book for children in the primary grades. I especially enjoyed the photographs. If you would like to preview it, hover your mouse over this link: The Wampanoags (True Books, American Indians)

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Filed under: Heart,Heritage — admin @ 1:50 pm Comments (0)
Aug 31 2010

Frugal Gardeners should always grow peppers of all shapes, sizes and fire power.

The last few weeks have been the culmination of working since last fall to produce extra food without lots of extra cost. It is amazing how much food you can grow in a small space and for a small amount of money. We gardened with flowers and ornamental shrubs before we got savvy to all of the food that can be produced. Now, a plant has to justify its existence to be in our garden. And the gardens are just as pretty. In fact they have a beauty that can’t be surpassed. Each plant works everyday to make food for us and each plant becomes a member of the family.

How long we have waited for the harvest,
but we were well rewarded for the wait.

I didn’t grow up around anyone who seriously gardens vegetables, so learning has been a long process, I think because I didn’t have a “feel” for what we were doing.  Each year it has gotten better. I had grown tomatoes off and on through the years, but our first real garden was in 2008. We started seeds inside in March and never looked back. Now, we wouldn’t be without a garden. It’s so much fun and lots of work, but every effort brings BIG returns.

Heritage, organic tomatoes are the real workhorses.
Indeterminate plants seem to produce forever!

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Filed under: Food,Veg Garden — admin @ 12:37 pm Comments (0)
Aug 20 2010

I have to begin the first post of my new blog and web site with a tribute to Jethro Tull, musicians of note from the 1970s when I was in college. With today’s “Auto Tune” music culture using synthesizers and electronic voice manipulation, Jethro Tull stands out as a legendary band of true musicians, actually singing with their own voices and making real music with real musical instruments.

When Songs from the Wood was released in 1977, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  The music was so inspirational to me; the wonders of natural settings was given a soulful tribute. As one reviewer says in the comments beneath the video below,

I was inroduced to Tull by me dad.

Everytime each song you are slapped in the face by the musicianship and dare I say it? the Englishness of it, when he is singing I can almost smell the wet grass of a summers day after a shower.


How I love that image! He says he “can almost smell the wet grass of a summers day after a shower.” Yes! I can daydream on demand whenever I hear Songs from the Wood. If you are not a fan or familiar with the title cut, just click play on the video below, after you learn about Kitty’s choice in music.


Kitty prefers Jethro Tull and has every disk in her collection.

Lead Singer Ian Anderson with Jethro Tull performing Songs from the Wood in 1977.

If you like it as much as I do, then go the the group’s web site by clicking here and enjoy the rest of the albums.

To appreciate what the group Jethro Tull has accomplished by creating real music for five, yes FIVE, decades, this Nova special on Auto Tune voice enhancement will explain how most singers today, including Madonna, Celine Dion and Reba McIntyre are enhanced by Auto Tune.

Andy Hildebrand, an electrical engineer and the Inventor
of Auto Tune, gives a great demonstration on NOVA.

If you want to preview Songs of the Wood disk, just
hover your mouse over the link below:

Songs From the Wood

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Filed under: Beauty,Music — admin @ 5:10 pm Comments (0)

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