For those of us interested in living a sustainable and simple lifestyle, gardening is a great way to enjoy the benefits of healthy, fresh food and avoid the impacts of industrial agriculture. Yet, some days it is hard enough just to keep up with the kids, job, and house cleaning. With all we have going on, we can get discouraged with growing food when the effort put in doesn’t pay off at harvest time. In these moments we might question if sustainable and simple are at odds with each other.
Photo by Christina Selby
As an avid gardener for twenty years, I have learned a few tricks to keep the task simple but often it still overwhelms my schedule throughout the growing season. Recently I picked up a few new tricks from experienced gardeners with full lives who keep low-maintenance gardens that still provide ample harvest. Turns out, gardening doesn’t have to be another chore that saps your time without giving much in return. Simplify your garden with these basic gardening tips, and enjoy your garden and the warm season to the fullest.
1) Plant fewer plants but more of them – While biodiversity is good, having too many varieties each with different needs can complicate things quickly when you are working to keep them all happy in your garden. Narrow down what you grow to a handful of crops that you eat the most and have had success growing, and grow lots of those. They will have the same requirements so you can tend to them all at once. Can or store the abundance for winter. Skip specialty items or things like onions and potatoes you can buy in bulk at your local farmers market.
2) Focus on perennials and landscaping – Perennials, those wonderful plants that come back each year with minimal care, allow you to fill your yard with food. Plant fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs, and crops like asparagus and strawberries that will feed you for many years.
3) Skip the starts - Starting from seed is a great way to save money gardening but if your top priority is to save time, this is one activity you can cut out. Buy organically grown starts from your local nursery or school’s seedling sale. Or cut down on the work by planning with a friend which seedlings you will grow and trade. You don’t have to grow them all.
4) Minimize watering – Hand watering a garden can take up a lot of time and energy. Use your resources wisely and invest in drip irrigation with a timer. As long as you keep the system in good repair, the watering will be done for you.
5) Consolidate your garden – If you have let your garden spread out over the years, consider consolidating to one area. With good watering water, soil amendments and rich compost, it is possible to grow more in less space. A small intensive area that is well cared for will provide more abundance than spreading your efforts all over your yard.
6) Test your soil – Soil is the foundation of your garden. Knowing what your soil needs and then adding the appropriate amendments will save you lots of headaches when you spend a lot of time planting and then things don’t grow well.
7) Low or no till – After a couple of years of deep digging, lightly fluffing the top layer to plant seeds is all that should be needed. Build up your soil by adding organic material to the top. Rake in amendments appropriate to you particular soil needs by gently raking it in.
8) Cover up – Mulching is the practice of covering your garden with a layer of organic matter such as straw, wood chips, grass clippings, or leaves. Almost any organic matter can work, as long as what you are using doesn’t come with weed seeds. This is the magic trick every gardener should know and practice. It keeps weeds down and moisture in requiring you to water less frequently.
Christina Selby is a mom, wife, educator, writer, and blogger. She lives on two acres of tumbleweed-ridden land in Santa Fe, NM into which she is constantly trying to breathe life. On her blog, Tumbleweeds and Seeds she shares tips and ideas to help readers live simply and sustainably- freeing up time and resources to follow your dreams and make a difference in the world. Visit her blog Tumbleweed and Seeds.
Spring has (almost) sprung, and that means the bounty of the garden can be yours once again. From a large plot to a container on your terrace, any size garden gives you the joy of fresh flavors. Embrace the rejuvenating power of the garden with our favorite garden products.
Prime gardening season is upon us, so get out there and get to work in style with these out-of-the-ordinary finds
1. Tool Time
Weed, plant and repot with this brightly colored Comfort Grip Soil Scoop. Its serrated edges cut through roots, make it easy to dig holes and help form seed furrows.
Cost: $22, The Earthly Way
2. Light the Way
Cast soft light onto your garden with these cordless solar LED path lights. They charge in full sun, turning on automatically at dusk and off at dawn.
Cost: $35 for two, Gardener's Supply Company
3. Laid Back
Relax out back in this South Beach Adirondack outdoor chaise lounge. Crafted in the U.S. from recycled plastic and backed by a lifetime guarantee, you can rest easy knowing tropical hardwoods in the rainforest are safe.
Cost: $480, Vermont Woods Studios
4. Bee Friendly
Roll out the red carpet for pollinating powerhouses with this Mason Bee Lodge. Mason bees nest in holes, but can’t drill their own, so they’ll love this perforated haven.
Cost: $35, Plow & Hearth
5. Grow Up
Harvest your own salad greens right outside your door with this waist-high vintage bathtub planter, raised on a stand and fashioned from a repurposed porcelain washtub.
Cost: $250, Williams-Sonoma
6. Hear Me Out
This wood iPod amplifier can quickly and easily transform your garden into a serene hideaway. The simple design means it’s durable, plus the device is made by hand in the U.S.
Cost: $95, Koostik
7. Fish Are Friends
Keep fresh wheatgrass—a supernutritious addition to salads, juice or smoothies—at your fingertips with the Aquafarm. This BPA- and phthalate-free countertop ecosystem allows fish to provide nutrients to the plants, plants to filter water for the fish, and you to do little to no upkeep.
Cost: $60, Uncommon Goods
What if you could green up your lawn, create gorgeous healthy plants and never have to buy commercial fertilizers again? Composting provides all of these with the added benefit of helping the earth by cutting down the amount you contribute to landfills.
How to Start a Compost Bin
1. To begin you will need some sort of bin to house your composting materials in. This can be any type of container that will provide proper drainage at the bottom. Make sure to choose a container that is at least 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Most home improvement and hardware stores offer bins specifically for home composting. An alternative is to build your own compost bin out of wood and a few sheets of chicken wire. You can also create a lid made out of the same materials, which would allow rainwater to get in while also keeping any animals from getting into the bin.
For a simple garden project, make your own compost bin at home with wood and chicken wire.
Photo courtesy AllAboutYou
2. Next, you will need to fill the bin halfway with a mixture of dirt and leaves. This is preferably done in the fall or early spring when there is a lot of yard debris to work with. Add water to give the compost moisture and to start the composting process.
3. Now comes the more interesting part. Think of your compost bin as a pot and the inside as a sort of stew. You can add just about any type of organic material to it: fruits, vegetables, plant waste, etc. Once you start noticing the things you can compost from your meals rather than throw away they will begin to add up quick. The egg shells from breakfast, banana peel from lunch, etc.
4. Water your compost bin and turn the soil regularly. Before long you will notice your compost heap start to dwindle in size and provide nutrients to any plants nearby. Be sure not to include anything that may have harmful ingredients, as those will be passed on to the plants as well
Mini Compost Bins
Several retailers offer mini composting bins that are great for your kitchen. They allow you to fill them with the scraps you have throughout the week rather than running them out to the larger compost bin outside constantly. These are nice as some of them have a carbon filter inside to keep them from having an odor while in your kitchen. I find it works well to have three bins under my kitchen sink: one for trash, one for recycling and one for composting. If you haven't composted before you will immediately be surprised at how little goes into the trash when so many things can either be composted or recycled.
Use a mini compost bin such as this brushed stainless-steel pail in your kitchen for easy compost access.
Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma
Using Compost at Home
For the rest of your lawn and garden there are a few different methods that I've found work well in using the compost as a natural organic fertilizer. The first method is to simply spread the compost over your flower beds and lawn. Gently rake it in and follow up with a thorough watering to allow the nutrients to seep in. To reduce the need for watering, try to do this before an expected rainfall and then you won’t need to water—nature will take care of it all on its own. You can also add the compost to the root bulb when planting new plants, shrubs or trees. This provides the plant with extra nourishment as it settles and lays down roots.
The second method is to make a compost tea. For this you will need an old T-shirt or cut-up sheet, some twine or a thick rubber band, and a large bucket. Fill the cloth with compost, close up the ends and secure with the twine or rubber band. You’ll notice your creation sort of resembles a tea bag.
Next, place your “tea bag” in the bucket and fill with water. The water will begin to turn brown as it draws out the ingredients from the tea bag. Allow the mixture to sit for the next 2 to 3 days to ensure it has drawn out all of the necessary nutrients and is nice and thick. Once it is ready you can pour it straight from the bucket or use a watering can to sprinkle it over your flower beds. If you’d like to use it over your entire lawn or large flower beds I recommend using a spray nozzle that you can fill with the tea mixture and attach to your garden hose. These can also be found at most hardware or home improvement stores in the gardening or fertilizer sections.
Lastly, sit back and enjoy your beautiful organic garden. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well composting can enrich your garden. And as an added bonus, take a look at your curbside trash and see how much it has decreased. Our family went from using two garbage cans a week to only half of one can a week. Helping Mother Earth makes composting even more rewarding.
Freelance writer, sales assistant and mother of two, Christy Kenyon hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Christy is an avid gardener and nutrition enthusiast who loves learning about how to improve the health of people, animals and the planet.
Our Sunday mornings begin with swiss chard, cauliflower, and piles of carrots. Once a week, our neighbors harvest veggies from our local community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. It is a worker-share arrangement, so each member works a couple hours each week, or else pays in a larger sum to receive a share of the harvest.
Little River Community Farm was started by members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BC&E), a multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine on 42-acres that will contain 36 units when complete next year. The homes feature a passive house design, are highly energy efficient, and are oriented to make good use of the sun. BC&E has just three unsold units and having an on-site CSA is an alluring benefit for some potential homebuyers.
The farm helps further the sustainability values of the community and promotes a healthy lifestyle. It is boosting the soil quality of the several acres it uses by planting buckwheat, millet, vetch, and pea cover crops that boost nitrogen, retain topsoils, and boost organic matter, thus boosting the fertility of the land for years to come.
"To me, a really important part of being a member of BC&E was there being a farm where we would raise food and work together," says Jeffrey Mabee, a member of BC&E and Little River Community Farm, and an avid gardener. "The CSA has really answered my prayers about that. Having young farmers using the land in such a responsible way feels right. The farm feels like the heart of any intentional community. It has a much greater significance than merely producing food."
When my family made the move from Wisconsin to Maine in August, we arrived with no established garden. The CSA had started harvesting the fall share and we had instant access to high-quality and extremely local veggies. After a big move, it is particularly gratifying to eat local foods and get acquainted with local flavors.
Some community members really appreciate how BCE helps promote a healthy lifestyle. With limited automobile access and clustered homes, it is appealing to walk to visit neighbors. The presence of the CSA promotes culinary exploration and a high content of vegetables in the diet. The weekly harvests help keep us active as we pick and haul the veggies to be distributed.
The support from BC&E has been essential for Little River Community Farm to have a successful first season, including having people trade use of a tractor or tools for a free share in the CSA. "It’s great to work with the community and have the support," explains Amy Adamson, member of BC&E and one of the founders of Little River Community Farm. "Starting a farm without support can be a huge investment of time and money to establish the needed farming infrastructure."
There is a desire by many BC&E members to see the farm become lucrative for its founders. "There are cohousing communities that have grown high-priced vegetables that restaurants are willing to buy, such as mushrooms and mixed lettuces," says Judith Grace, Jeffrey’s wife, and a member of BC&E and Little River Community Farm. "That’s been the way they’ve been able to turn a profit. Maybe this group will decide to do that."
Some of the downsides of a worker-share CSA are luxury problems: figuring out how to use or preserve several bunches of kale in one week, learning to prepare less known crops such as mustard greens, and helping out in cold or rainy weather. This has provoked community members to make jokes about using kohlrabi as a paperweights and weaving baskets from green onions.
This scenario can also create an opportunity. I’ve learned to store, freeze, and pickle a variety of veggies this year and I have a large stockpile for the colder months.
"One of the things I enjoy most is the veggies that we wouldn’t bother or simply haven’t grown for ourselves over the years," says Judith. "It’s opened up new tastes and dishes. Kohlrabi or fennel for instance comes to mind."
The founders of Little River Community Farm have demonstrated that they are driven largely by their principles. "I love the idea of teaching people how to grow food," says Amy. "I think a lot of people don’t understand how inexpensive it is to have their own garden. A lot of people could get much healthier food if they grew their own. They just have to invest their time in it."
Photos by Jeffrey Mabee of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.
Have you wanted to garden, but didn’t know where to start? Whether you would like to plant in pots, raised beds, a garden bed or a combination of these, you will need to take some time to plan your garden. Garden planning is not difficult, but it can be intimidating to some. It will take a little research, time, and patience.
Photo by Melissa LaPesh
To begin planning your garden you will need to decide what you would like to grow. If this is your first garden, it is best to start small. This can be a few pots of your favorite vegetables or a couple raised garden beds. The important thing is not to overwhelm yourself, otherwise you may not have enough time to care for the garden and you will end up viewing it as a chore rather than something enjoyable.
Benefits of Gardening
Tending to your garden can bring you pleasure in a number of ways.
• The aromas can be relaxing
• You will get exercise without knowing it
• Spending time in the sun aids in lifting your spirits and boosts your vitamin D levels
• Watching your garden grow successfully can make you proud
Beside these reasons and many more, the main one is you are growing your own food—food that will feed you and your family. Even if you start small, these are items you do not have to buy at the grocery store. Vegetables grown in your garden have so much more flavor than their grocery store counterparts. They get to ripen on the vine, which is beneficial not only to their flavor but also their nutrients. Some vegetables have to travel 1,500 miles before they are on your grocery shelf, thus, they are harvested prior to full ripening!
Garden Planning Fundamentals
When it comes to garden planning, researching these 4 fundamentals is a good place to start.
• How much sun each vegetable or herb needs
• How much water each needs
• Ph balance soil requirements
• Which plants are good companions for each other
Once you have this information, you can begin planning the layout. It can be as simple as drawing it on paper, or you can go the more sophisticated route and use an online garden planning tool (try the Mother Earth Living Garden Designer). Either way your goal is to place each type of vegetable or herb where they will grow best based on the information you have gathered.
It may take a few tries before you are happy with it. You may have to change the number of vegetables or even cross it off your list in order for your vegetables to flourish. If you find that you have to eliminate one or two from your list, see if it can be grown in a pot.
For instance, my first year I grew 4-5 different herbs. If this is the route you decide to take, you will need to make sure you are planting herbs that require a similar amount of sun and water together. Otherwise, plant them separately. That was the extent of my planning the first year.
The second year, I added a raised bed. I had and idea of what I wanted to grow, so I bought a couple books to help me out. The books I purchased were Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles by Jane Courtier and All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition, The Revolutionary Way to Grow by Mel Bartholomew. In addition to that I did some online research. I went through the books a number of times, because each time I had more knowledge which in turn brought up more questions.
All of this made me want more, but I reigned myself in because I knew that if my garden was successful I’d have a lot more to deal with than just planning. There would be pruning, weeding, and harvesting. All of which I enjoy! I get to spend time outside with my thoughts and delight in the vegetation that surrounds me.
Melissa is an organic gardener, cook, landowner and mother of three. She strives to improve her family’s health by learning about making the right food choices and educating others along the way through her blog, Enlightened Melissa.
Happy January! I would like to talk about National Hot Tea Month before this month comes to an end! Because of my GERD I have had to give up drinking coffee. After replacing my morning beverage of choice with tea, I still have to be careful of caffeine (especially when I drink something that has black tea in it). Herbs in different combinations are appealing, but a single herb in a cup of hot water is often most delicious. If you want to read a good article about making your own tea, read the Mother Earth Living article "Herbal Tea Recipes and Tips" by Tammy Safi.
These are my three favorite booklets with herb tea recipes.
Because I have an herb garden, I’m always looking for ways to use the herbs I've dried, and tea is the perfect way to use them. I found several blends I like in a booklet by Pat Humpheries and Bertha Reppert called Herb Teas for Pleasure. One of my favorite recipes is The Herbs of Shakespeare Tea.
Here are the ingredients for a Shakespearean tea: mint, marjoram, savory and lavender.
The Herbs of Shakespeare Tea
Makes about 24 teabags
• 2 cups mint
• 1/2 cup marjoram
• 1/3 cup whole savory leaves
• 1/4 cup lavender flowers
You can make this one of two ways.
1. Combine all of the whole leaves and flowers in a jar with a lid that seals well. Spoon a teaspoon into your cup or mug and steep for 5 minutes.
2. With an herb mill, shred the leaves and flowers, and mix them together. To store the tea for later use, put the blend into self-sealing teabags and put them in a jar. Don’t forget to label the jar with the name and date of the blend.
Rosemary House Tranquilla Tea
Makes about 19 teabags
I also found a Rosemary House Tranquilla Tea in a booklet called Blending Herbal Teas compiled by Tina Sams of The Essential Herbal Magazine that I liked. Here's the recipe. I usually equate 1/4 cup with 1 part.
• 4 parts peppermint, or 1 cup mint (Spearmint is a bit easier for me to tolerate.)
• 1 part sage, or 1/4 cup sage
• 2 parts rosemary, or 1/2 cup rosemary
You can make the measurements out of whatever you have dried.
Love of Lemon Tea
This Love of Lemon Tea is filled with a lot of citrusy herbs.
Dried lemon verbena is especially perfect for herbal tea. In combination with other lemon herbs—as in this recipe for Love of Lemon Tea—lemon verbena is outstanding, herbally speaking. I found this recipe in the booklet called Beverages with Herb Scents by the Western Reserve Unit of the Herb Society of America. It is described as “a light green in color but never weak, if given plenty of time to steep.”
Makes about 24 teabags
• 1 cup lemon verbena leaves, crushed
• 1 cup lemon balm leaves, crushed
• 1 cup lemon geranium leaves, crushed (I recommend ‘Crispum’ or ‘Rober’s Lemon Rose’.)
• 1 cup lemon thyme leaves, crushed
• 3 tablespoons dried lemon rind curls
• 1 fat tablespoon dried calendula petals
Mix all of the ingredients together and store them in a jar. You could also spoon the blend into self-sealing teabags and place them in a jar for storage. When you make a cup or mug, steep for 4 to 6 minutes.
These herbal teas are ready for a very cold day! All photos by Nancy C. Heraud.
DON'T FORGET to label your jars with the name of the tea blend and the date.
It has been so cold here—it is the perfect time for a good book and a cup of herbal tea! What are you doing to keep warm?
As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or my email at email@example.com and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” If you could also let me know where you live in the U.S. (or elsewhere), it will help me answer your herb question more precisely. And be sure to visit my blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden. Talk to you soon.
It’s only January and I’ve started to feel the itch to garden. It may be too early to start planting, but it's never too early to start planning. Growing your own food is fun and rewarding, but it can also be challenging, especially when you have zero green space like me with my one bedroom apartment. But you can grow a surprising variety of herbs, vegetables and even fruit in containers.
If you need a little inspiration, Pinterest is a great place to start. Here are a few ideas I found for my future apartment garden (and maybe for yours as well).
Apartment Gardening Ideas
1. Pallet Herb Garden from Pink When
I just love how organized this herb garden is using a shipping pallet. Although this project may be above my skill level, it doesn’t look impossible with a free weekend and a few borrowed power tools. Plus it could stand parallel to the wall and out of the way on my small porch.
2. Shoe Organizer Garden from Apartment Therapy
Apartment Therapy had so many good ideas for apartment gardening that it was hard to narrow it down to one. But I found this shoe organizer among the cleverest of ideas—and I happen to already have one on hand. Now I just need to figure out where I could hang it…
3. Spice Rack Garden from A Suburban Gardener
How cool is this for a container garden? A repurposed kitchen spice rack. It’s easy to set up and I can grow a variety of greens. I imagine it won’t be hard to find one of these, and again, it won’t take up much room on my porch.
4. Simple Planter Ladder from Instructables
Last but certainly not least is this simple yet adorable planter ladder. Although this would take up more room on my porch, it is aesthetically pleasing and a great way to keep planters from looking cluttered or blocking each other’s sunlight.
Are you an experienced apartment gardener? I would love to hear from you. Leave your ideas, suggestions and tips in the comment section below.
Victoria Pitcher is Web Editor at Mother Earth Living. Find her on Google+.