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Archive for the ‘Beginner Gardening’ Category

Step outside of the garden with me for a moment, and take a look around. Do you see what I see? In the last ten years there’s been a change. Its become cool to be green and carry reusable shopping bags, while the Prius has become the ultimate post-modern hipster statement of cool.

Environmental impact aside, the recent recession has brought even more of a “make do or do without” mentality to the people.

For me, its been a give and take. I try to follow sustainable practices and develop thrifty habits for both my wallet and my world, (and NOT because of the coolness factor) but there’s certainly a learning curve attached to any changes that I make. I plain English, well, I basically screw up everything I attempt the first time around. Whether it be composting,

What could be more thrifty than turning someone else's hideous fashion trash into my treasure?

gardening, bulk cooking or the Great Upcycled Clothing Debacle of 2010 (check out the disastrous photos along the left throughout this post), conservation on any level takes effort and patience.

Why would I even dredge up the horrible memory of these and other terrible failures and share them with you? Trust me, its certainly not because I like to humiliate myself, but to prove the point that living a simple, frugal, sustainable life takes time. The need to consume and waste is so ingrained in us (read: its not your fault, its a cultural norm) that we’ve never been trained in the skills that our grandparents would think to be second nature. Of course I don’t really know how to sew, I’ve shopped at the mall my whole life. That doesn’t stop me from

trying to learn, though. (Now, back to our regularly scheduled garden programming) Along those same lines, I have no reason to become a master gardener with the A&P down the street, but there are reasons why we should try.

So, you wanna live sustainably?

Paperclips as pins? Not a good idea.

Luckily, you, my dear readers, can not only laugh at, but learn from my disasters. First, pick something and stick with it until you master it. (That’s why I’m a gardener and not a gardener/seamstress, apparently!)

Because this is a garden blog, and because our food system is much more fragile than most people realize, (just how close to the edge are we living?) the first step, in my opinion, to sustainability is to become food independent. Like my upcycle project, there are bound to be failures along the way, but food independence is possible no matter where you live or what your budget is.

Apartment dweller with no natural sun? Check out the Sprout People for what they refer to as the “coolest sprouting seeds on the planet.” You’re probably familiar

Said paperslips do not result in accurate measurements...

with alfalfa sprouts, but what you may not know is that you can make then at home in a jar with little to no sunlight. (You don’t even need one of those fancy schmancy sprouting kits, anything you can rinse and drain will work just fine) They’re also ready to eat in less than a week, and pack a serious punch of nutritional value. One serving of those little alfalfas contain 35% of your daily recommendation of protein, vitamins A, B, C, E and K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron zinc, chlorophyll and as much carotene as carrots. (If that’s not food sustainability, I don’t know what is!) In addition, one pound of alfalfa seeds will run you about eight bucks, as opposed to about three or four for a tiny, store bought plastic container. Even though I have tons of garden space, I still always keep sprouting seeds around – I think they’re one of the most reliable, easy and simple ways to grow your own fresh food around the house.

The moral of this story? Don’t be afraid to try, but don’t over diversify either – traditional societies had a farmer and a tailor, not a farmer-tailor. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn a little bit of everything, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out immediately. Stick to simplicity in the beginning (grow sprouts, knit a scarf) before you move on to the complicated stuff. Most importantly, if you don’t try, you’ll never know. If you mess up, have a laugh! These are skills cultivated by people over thousands of years, yet lost on us. They certainly won’t come immediately – that’s why this post of called sustainable steps and not sustainable NOW!  Have you had any successes or failures at picking up new skills or trades lately? How did you overcome the failures?

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#3) Go on a bug hunt


I have a problem. I noticed that some of my lettuce leaves had holes in them shortly after I planted them, but assumed it was an isolated incident and didn’t worry too much about it. I’ve never been more wrong in my life. Fast forward two weeks and nearly my entire lettuce patch had suffered slug damage – they were everywhere! If you ever see a slug, take care of the problem fast! Because they’re hermaphrodites capable of producing dozens of offspring in one year, one little slug will never remain just one little slug.

In case you’ve suffered plant damage but aren’t sure what did it, the Gardener’s Supply Company has a great “Pest & Disease Detective” that helps you ID garden pests by type of plant, pest or damage.

Going forward, I will apply this philosophy to any and every garden pest, not just slugs. Letting the problem go will not only make it exponentially worse, but as an organic gardener, there is no simple quick pesticide fix for the problem. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to reduce further insect damage:

1)       Watch the watering. Slugs like to come out at night in moist areas. To keep them at bay, water your garden in the morning, so that the moisture will be mostly absorbed by the time the sun sets. If you have a day job or something that prevents you from morning yard work, water the plants as soon as possible while its still light out in the afternoon. After I discovered the magnitude of the slug problem, I actually restricted the amount of water my plants got (much to my chagrin, as I love a nicely watered garden), and noticed a substantial decrease in the insect activity almost immediately. (This begs the question of just how much water is too much — the quick answer is one inch per week, but that’s a post for another day)

Slugs love leafy greens, like these Red Sails!

2)       Bait ‘em with beer. Slugs like the booze almost as much as I do – and the sweet moisture will bring them right into your trap. Set out shallow dishes of stale beer wherever you detect the most activity in the evening, and by morning, your culprits will have drowned in the stuff. (But what a way to go!!!)

3)       Flour. Like I mentioned earlier, slugs LOVE moisture. As a last ditch effort, I sprinkled flour around my affected plants, since I heard that the dryness of the flour is unpleasant on their sluggy tummies. Surprisingly, I noticed that the slug population decreased even further after the flour experiment.

4)       Hand to hand combat. When all else fails, go out in the evening and pick the buggers of yourself. I know it sounds disgusting, and it sort of is, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of your crops. (And because you probably want to make sure that crisp Buttercrunch you’re about to eat doesn’t come with a little extra added protein!) I wear gloves, because I’m definitely skeeved out by the idea of touching them, but I make sure to get the job done. Remember – do NOT dispose of them anywhere near your garden! That means no compost, no flinging them to the side, nothing of the sort! I put them straight away in the garbage.

Whatever method you choose, remember that early detection is key, and will save you a whole lot of loss and heartache down the road. What do you do to keep the bugs at bay in your garden?

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My arugula that has since gone to seed...

Any garden blog or book worth its weight in compost will tell you that the best way to fail at being a gardener is to over-plant. Crops are like potato chips – its impossible to have just one! I find self-imposed space limitations to be the best way to avoid over-planting (although I still somehow manage to do it anyways…) After all, if you don’t till it, you can’t plant it. A salad box is a great way to avoid over-planting, looks beautiful, and is easy to take care of, too!

First, you’ll need to create or buy the box. There’s several ways to go about this: You can find several different styles of large pots from any garden store, or for the do-it-yourself crew, you can create your own. A good-sized box is around 2×2, but you can make it bigger or smaller, depending on your available space and how much time you want to invest. Because salad greens generally have a shallow root system, you can construct the box with a bottom panel; this won’t interfere with the plant growth. (Another great benefit to the box being enclosed on the bottom is that the potential for bugs and disease is greatly reduced) Another idea for a salad box is to use scavenged materials, like an old, rotted out log (my personal favorite – the center will decompose before the bark and outer layers, making a perfect natural pot).

So, now you’ve got a box filled with dirt – time to make it a garden! I try not to buy pre-started plants, but if this is your first time in the dirtbox, you may want to check out the seedling selection at your local nursery. Stick to easy to grow, fast maturing plants, and don’t forget to be mindful of your climate (lettuce generally likes cool weather)! There’s nothing like planting a nice row of crisp greens, only to check on it one day to see that it has wilted and gone to seed. For cool climates, try things like arugula, spinach and a mesclun green mix. For warmer climates, stick to swiss chard and buttercrunch.

TIP – Remember, if you want to save seeds for next year, try to use open-pollinated (heirloom) seeds! Hybrids (which are what you most likely will get from pre-started garden center seedlings) will produce good fruit for the season, but are typically bred to be sterile.

Another crop you may want to try planting in your salad box are radishes. They add beautiful color and flavor to any salad, and are good for stir frys too. (Its just an extra added bonus that they’re one of the easiest and fastest crops out there.) Radishes, on average, take less than a month from seed to maturity, and require little more attention than some dirt and a little watering!

Admittedly, I went a little overboard with my salad box this year and ended up using about three-quarters of one of my raised beds! That arugula is so temptinggggg….What are you going to plant in your salad boxes this year?

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