Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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6/29/2015

Gardening doesn’t always mix with pet ownership. You can spend several hours painstakingly planting bulbs, only to have your dog playfully trample through them the next day. Or maybe it’s hard to keep indoor plants healthy because your cat likes to bat at and munch on the leaves, especially when you’re not looking.

The tips below can be helpful in maintaining plants indoors or out, without making your furry companions feel frustratingly limited.

puppy outside
Photo by LibreShot.com.

Keep an Eye on Your Pet

Before allowing your pet to play outside, make sure to set boundaries so he/she knows the location of your planting areas. You can also reinforce the idea with a vocal command that warns the animal not to get too close.

You also have a responsibility to keep a close eye on your pet to make sure your plants stay intact. If you catch your pet destroying an area where you’ve planted something, keep in mind that it’s not typically out of malice. Your animal is probably just bored. If you notice the telltale signs of boredom, squash them by encouraging your pet to play somewhere else, or schedule in more human-pet playtime.

Deter Cats from Potted Plants

Potted plants with lightweight leaves that dangle in the air are extremely fun toys for felines. Luckily, you can naturally keep pets away by using natural ingredients like lemon juice and white vinegar.

Be aware that the latter ingredient isn’t good for plant leaves, so you’ll only need to treat the base of the pot. However, a mix of lemon juice and water is safe for the leaves. Neither of these solutions are pleasant for cats, plus they’re easy and cheap to make at home. Mix them in spray bottles, so it’s easier to have control over the application process.

Create a Visual Barrier

Sometimes it’s not necessary to build a high fence to keep your pet from entering your garden. A visual indicator of boundary is enough in many cases. A low picket fence might do the trick, and you can paint it in a cheerful color that coordinates with the hues of blooming flowers.

Use Fertilizer Carefully

Although fertilizer works wonders for keeping plants healthy, it can also be harmful to a dog’s digestive tract. Be sure to follow packaging instructions about how much to use, and how long to let it sit before letting your dog near it. Also, watch your canine for any sign of stomach upset. Contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect any issues.

Keep Pets Contained in an Outdoor Space

Pets may feel compelled to play in the garden if they feel they’re missing out on the action. Make a compromise by allowing your animal to have free rein of a certain outdoor area, such as a porch or deck.

A baby gate can be a useful tool for keeping them in the area without making them feel smothered, because they can see out of the barrier’s natural openings. In the case of a dog, be sure to give the pet several chew toys and other healthy diversions, so it won’t feel tempted to gnaw on your patio furnishings or decking instead.

Hopefully these tips will prove that it’s possible to have beautiful plants and be a pet owner, too. Although striking that balance may take some work, your efforts will pay off when you’re able to enjoy your pet and the visual splendor of lush leaves and brilliant blooms all year long.

Do you have any other tricks for keeping your pet out of your shrubs or houseplants? Tell us about them in the comments section below!


Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.



6/23/2015

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get a jump start on your garden. Maybe you have a big pile of small seedling containers for just such a job tucked away somewhere in your basement. But if you don’t, or if you’ve finally run out, this is an easy way to save yourself a trip to the store and to cut down on your consumption of new plastics.

If you’re a soda drinker, start saving your plastic one and two liter bottles. If you’re not, ask your friends to save them. Try to collect darker plastic if you can, as sunlight filtering through clear plastic can discourage root growth. Remove the label from your bottle. Then, using a knife you don’t care much about, stab a hole into the side of the bottle, about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. Jam the knife point into the hole and cut all the way around the bottle, so you have two halves.

Set aside the top half. You’ll want it later, but not for a few weeks.

The bottom half of the bottle will serve as your seedling container. Before planting, you’ll need to add drainage holes. If you have a drill with a spade bit, that’s fabulous. Drill three holes into the bulges on the bottom. If you don’t, you can simply hammer a nail through the plastic a few times or very, very carefully jab a few holes with the point of your knife.

seed starting pot
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.

Next, smooth the jagged plastic edges with a lighter. Slicing through plastic with a kitchen knife doesn’t make for clean work, but just a second of contact with a flame is all it takes to melt that roughness into something more easily handled. Give a quick blast of fire to the top edge and all the holes.

smooth rough edges
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.

Now you’re ready for dirt. Fill the container almost to the top with potting soil. Give it a few taps against a hard surface to knock the soil down into all those crannies. Make a divot in the middle of the soil and plant your seeds. Set your container in a warm, damp place and wait for your seeds to sprout!

Once your seedlings are ready for transplant, carefully use a pair of scissors to make a single cut straight down from the top. Firmly grab one side of the cut with your hands and pull the plastic away, as far as you can, without disturbing the roots.

transplant
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.

Turn the container upside down, cup the dirt around the seedling with one hand and gently squeeze the container with the other—your seedling and its root ball should fall away into your cupped hand. Transplant your seedling wherever you like and put your used container in the recycling—it was going to wind up there anyway before you gave it this second life!

If you’ve set your seedling outside when the nights are still chilly, it’s time to figure out where you put that top half you set aside a few weeks ago. Once you’ve found it, slide it gently over your seedling, oriented just as it was when it was a bottle. Nestle the edges of the cut bottom opening into the dirt to stabilize it. Congratulations, you’ve just made a perfect, breathable, mini greenhouse!


Liz BaesslerLiz Baessler is a New England-based freelance writer who loves to travel, cook, and watch things grow. You can follow her gardening adventures or hire her to write for you.



6/18/2015

What springs to mind when you think of the word “orchard?” Probably acres and acres of fruit trees and crisp, fall days of climbing ladders into tall trees to harvest. Well, sure—that’s one way that fruit trees exist. But what if I told you that you could walk right to your own backyard and grab a nice, juicy apple right off of a tree that’s no taller than you are? And it’s any variety you can imagine—from hard to find to heirloom—not just the handful of dwarf varieties available at most nurseries. Would you tell me that it’s not possible?

orchard

The good news is that it is possible—with the right technique and care. It requires aggressive pruning when the tree is young, and in the opposite season we’ve all been taught to do it in. I first became aware of this method after I read the book Grow A Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph. I highly recommend giving it a read, but I’d like to introduce you to the method here in order to show you what’s possible.

Choosing Trees for Your Mini Orchard

The first step in planning any orchard is to select the type of fruit, or fruits, you’d like to grow, as well as the specific variety. When gardening in small spaces, most people tend to gravitate toward the dwarf or mini-dwarf varietals, or even columnar trees. But you don’t need to limit yourself in this way. You can choose any heirloom or old-time variety that strikes your fancy, and you can keep it small. Since you’re going to train your tree to a small stature by pruning, you can choose any one that you like, provided it’s suited to your area and growing conditions.

You do, however, want to pay attention to rootstock. Most nursery stock is grafted—which means a fruiting trunk is attached to a particular rootstock. This allows a tree to have characteristics that are the best of both worlds—the desired fruit, but also a hearty, healthy rootstock to ensure the tree has the best foundation possible. The different characteristics of rootstock are varied and can be nuanced, but don’t drive yourself crazy for six months researching all the different types. Any good nursery catalog or nursery worker can give you the rundown on the basic differences, but what you really need to know is simple: Is this rootstock suited to my soil and growing conditions (for example, drought-tolerant in areas where water is at a premium)? Also, be sure that you order a bare-root tree from the nursery in late spring. A very young bare-root tree is going to cope with the aggressive pruning much more effectively than an older, planted tree would.

Selecting a Site

Once you’ve chosen your trees, it’s time to choose the location for them. The considerations here are fairly standard and not drastically different from other types of gardening.

• Does the site get full sun, of at least six hours each day?
• Is there ready access to water?
• Is the site accessible?
• If you have to trek to the edge of your property to get at the trees, do you have the discipline to check on them if you have to walk out of your way to do so?

I personally like my edible garden areas to be close to the kitchen. It makes it easier to cook with and eat everything. As they say—out of sight, out of mind.

Planting Your Fruit Trees

When you’re ready to plant, spacing your site is the next consideration. Ralph outlines several useful configurations in her book, and what you select will depend on your site—are you looking for more of a hedgerow, or do you have a squared off area to work with? The main point with spacing trees that are to be kept small is that you don’t need 30 feet—or even 10—in between each tree. You can get away with 2-1/2 to 3 feet, trunk to trunk, if you’re so inclined, because you’re pruning for small size, and can prune all of the trees in tandem—almost as if they were one tree.

The First Prune

The first cut is always the hardest. You’re essentially going to behead the tree. This can be difficult if you’re dealing with a bare-root whip that’s already 4 to 5 feet tall. You’re probably going to cringe at reducing it to a 2-foot stump, but you must. You want to make a “heading cut” of the main trunk down to about 2 feet, or knee height. You’ll do this right above branches if there are any, or branch/leaf buds if there aren’t any formed yet. The tree will grow back, I promise. This cut forms a scaffold (the main branches that make up the tree) at a low height, meaning that the vertical growing potential of the tree is limited—which is just want is needed in a small space.

Contrary to everything you’ve ever been told about pruning, you’re not going to make this cut in the dead of winter when the tree is dormant. You’re going to make it in the late spring, right after it’s planted. Thereafter, you’re going to prune out unwanted branches in the summer season, because that’s when you can train the tree to restrict its growth. And yes, you’re going to make those cuts even if there’s fruit on the tree. The remaining fruit will be better for it as well, because the tree will direct all of its energy into the fruits still on the tree.

Mini Orchard: First Year Care

After your tree is planted and beheaded, and you’ve got the main branches pruned, care is pretty straightforward. Make sure you have a good mulch on the tree (though not right up to the trunk; give it an inch of two of space) to ensure good water retention. You shouldn’t need to routinely water the trees, unless you’re in adversely dry conditions. And you really shouldn’t need to fertilize it, unless you’re trying to correct sub-optimal soil conditions. And that’s it. The beauty of the small tree is that you could see an edible crop of fruit within the third year, which is relatively fast.

So if you never thought you’d have room for a few fruit trees, take a walk around your yard and think again. If you can commit 15 minutes a few times every summer to pruning some branches (without getting on a ladder!), you can have all of the fresh fruit you could want—plus, you can grow varieties you can’t get in the supermarket.


Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.



6/16/2015

Before you get started, brush up on good seed starting habits. You’ll want to mix your potting soil with sand for the best drainage. Seeds need to stay moist as they germinate and grow. You can even make your own potting soil to save money and control ingredients. Adding aquarium gravel on top of the soil, before you sow the seeds, will also help with drainage and protect against seed-killing fungi. For seeds started indoors, transfer sprouted seedlings to their own pot to reach maturity before moving them to your garden.

Try growing these seven easy flower and vegetable varieties from seed.

silene
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

1. Silene

For a burst of color in your garden, try Silene, a flower also known as “sweet William catchfly.”

Silene is one of the easiest perennials to grow from seed, making it a great choice for beginning gardeners. It should be started indoors about 2 months before the last frost.

Plant silene seeds in flats using high-quality potting soil and provide regular water. Sometime between 2 weeks and 1 month you can expect to see your seedlings burst forth from the soil.

marigold
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

2. Marigold

Marigolds have a long blooming period that lasts from spring well into fall.

These annuals can be started indoors or outdoors. If you start them outside, wait until the soil is warm. If you want to begin inside, plant your marigold seeds 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost. Water marigolds at the bottom of the plant and avoid fertilizing them.

Marigolds are quick to grow. The first blooms should reveal themselves just a few weeks after planting.

cosmos
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

3. Cosmos

Since cosmos don’t do well as transplants, you’re unlikely to see them offered at your local nursery. That’s why they make a great plant to start from seed.

Wait until temperatures are warm enough to plant the cosmos seeds directly into your garden. In only 5-10 days you’ll see the first buds above the soil. Soon you’ll have pretty flowers that will bloom until the first fall frost.

zucchini blossoms
Photo from Home Guides by SFGate.

4. Zucchini

This popular summer food is one of the most bountiful vegetables. You don’t even need to plant that many seeds since you can expect one vine to produce 16 or more flowers. Zucchini seeds can be started either inside or out. If you start them inside, plant the seeds about 2 weeks before the last frost.

It will take about 4-8 days for these annuals to sprout. Harvesting begins after 2 months.

beets sprouting
Photo by Susan Berry, courtesy GRIT.

5. Beets

Beets are a hardy annual and easy to plant from seed since they can survive cold temperatures and even light frost. You can plant the seeds directly in your garden in the spring or fall. Soak the seeds for a day before planting. Then keep them moist in the ground and your seedlings will sprout within 3-5 days. Full harvest occurs about 2 months later.

radishes
Photo courtesy Laughing Duck Gardens.

6. Radishes

This annual vegetable has a fast harvest, approximately 20-30 days after planting. It can also be grown and harvested throughout the year. Just be sure to time your planting for 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost or the first fall frost.

Radish seeds should be started outside. Within a week you’ll be able to see the first seedlings.

lettuce
Photo courtesy Farmer's Almanac.

7. Lettuce

Often overlooked as a less flavorful and not-so-glamorous vegetable, lettuce can actually be quite tasty and nutritious. This is the best reason to grow it from seed—once you’ve had lettuce fresh from the garden, you won’t want to buy it from the grocery store again.

Lettuce seeds can be sown indoors or out, depending on when you want to harvest them. For the earliest harvest, plant seeds inside about a month before the last spring frost. Once it’s warm enough to work in the garden, lettuce seeds can be transplanted in the garden. They should sprout above the soil in 1-2 weeks.

Lettuce is an annual, but there are so many varieties to choose from that you’ll have fun trying a different kind every year. For all my veggies, I like to get non-GMO, organic seeds.


Ali LawrenceAli Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties. Find her on Twitter @DIYfolks.




5/13/2015

Is springtime finally here? It seems to be—the first, tiny lime-green leaves are appearing on the trees and the tulips and daffodils have started to spring forth in all their glory. Gardeners everywhere are just itching to get their hands in some dirt.

The first step is to take stock of what’s at hand—paw through the seed stash, uncover the compost pile and assess how many containers are available for the menagerie of plants that will very shortly need homes.

If, like me, your garden plans are always more ambitious than the existing infrastructure, you’re probably scrambling for some more pots and planters right about now. But no reason to despair—you can certainly fill in your kit without a lot of effort, or breaking the bank.

DIY Kitchen Garden Containers
Photo via Pinterest

Metal Cans

Metal food cans are probably one of my favorite DIY garden containers. I like the slightly larger, 29 ounce size. The ones I usually have on hand are from pureed pumpkin—we eat a lot of pumpkin at our house! If you have them sitting on a saucer of some kind, use a screw driver or an awl to punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage. If they won’t sit on a saucer, you’ll want to put in a layer of pea gravel or other drainage material so your plants don’t get wet feet. You can leave the metal plain if you like the look, or you can easily dress it up by spray painting it a bright color. You can also very easily turn metal cans into hanging planters by punching a hole near the top rim on either side and threading a piece of twine or wire through it—very versatile!

Fabric Grow Bags

No, you don’t need to be a seamstress to pull these off. You can make a simple flat grow bag by making a trough of out some landscape fabric or burlap. Even a heavy canvas would work for these. Simply take a length of fabric and lay it flat in the space where you’d like your planter to stay (as they’re a bit awkward to move after being filled with soil). Fill the length of the fabric with potting soil right down the center—leaving a few inches at the short ends, and only so much that the fabric can be pulled up to meet on the top in the center, essentially making a tube of dirt. Using twine, loosely lace the fabric together in a zig-zag pattern, from side to side. Use an awl or screwdriver to poke holes in the fabric if needed. Don’t pull the lacing tightly—you want to see gaps of dirt, as these are where the plants will go. Once the lacing is complete, tuck the short ends under the bag, and plant your seedlings in the gaps.

Shopping Bag Planter
Photo via Pinterest

Reusable Shopping Bags

A lot of people have more reusable shopping bags than they know what to do with, and they are a great stand-in for off-the-shelf grow bags. Just fill a bag with potting soil and that’s it! These are particularly good for growing potatoes as you can just reach into the soil to harvest without having to dig up the entire plant.

Flour & Sugar Bags

At our house, we buy flour and sugar in bulk—25 pounds bags—because we bake all the time, and it’s more affordable. The paper bags that flour and sugar come in are a very heavy-weight paper, and are perfect for a single-season grow bag. Even the smaller 5 pound bags can be used in the same way. At the end of the growing season, the entire set up can be tossed into the compost bin without too much trouble. It’s a great solution for something that would otherwise be thrown away.

Repurposed Kitchenware

And it’s just not just bags, take a walk around the house too. Most of us have a lot of glassware and kitchen stuff just sitting around—why not plant something in it? I collect milk glass, so that’s my glassware of choice—African violets in compote dishes are lovely. But it can be anything you love and have on hand—tea cups, vintage baking pans (long-length loaf pans make great windowsill planters), jadeite, your collection of Pyrex measuring cups, wooden tea boxes—the sky is the limit. If it will hold some soil, it’s fair game in my house. And why not give new life to our collectibles and family heirlooms by giving them a utilitarian, yet beautiful job to do?

So, take a quick walk around the house and gather supplies. In an afternoon you’ll have an entirely new set of DIY garden containers for anything you’d like to grow. They'll reflect your personal style and tastes, and you won’t break the bank doing it!


Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.



5/4/2015

Making the jump from a small garden to a small farm, perhaps to help cut down on grocery bills or to fulfill a dream, is not really that big of a jump. All it requires is a little bit of planning and investment which might seem overwhelming in the beginning, but in the long run will pay off. Who knows, you just might end up loving your small farm so much that you consider making it even bigger.

If you’ve been considering that jump or are already in the process of expanding your garden, here are five items that you should consider investing in.

handcart
Photo courtesy Photobucket

Handcarts

You probably have one of their single-wheeled cousins lying around your house, but if you’re planning on upscaling your garden, those won’t do. Handcarts with two or more wheels are a lot more durable and can be easily maneuvered over uneven surfaces; you’ll be having plenty of those as you make your garden bigger. Whether it’s moving topsoil, plants, tools, fertilizer or basically moving anything from here to there, the handcart is lightweight and good enough to shift moderately sized loads that you can’t carry in your hands.

compost bin
Photo courtesy Whitby

Green Waste Composter

Transforming your garden will probably produce a lot of organic waste that you’ll throw into the garbage. Furthermore, if you’re planning on adding animals to your small farm, then you’ll have more than a few handfuls of poop to manage as well. Here’s where composting comes in quite handy.

It’s the best way to utilize natural waste instead of letting it go to waste at a landfill or incinerator. You’ll be recycling all those fallen leaves, cut vegetables and animal waste to make fresh nutrient healthy humus for your soil. Of course you can make a homemade composter, but if that’s not enough—which it most likely won’t be—then just get an affordable one made out of perforated polyethylene sheets, or the tumbling types that allow for larger volumes.

Pick-up Truck
Photo courtesy EquipSellsIt.com

Load Pullers

Whether it’s small garden or a small farm, or even if it’s for regular family use, pick-up trucks are amongst America’s hottest cars. They’re the best choice of vehicle for pulling and moving wood, animals, sacks of feed and fertilizers, plants and a number of other basic gardening and farming essentials. Pick-up trucks are arguably the most versatile and useful long-term investment—provided that you don’t already have one. Considering that you’re farm won’t be too big, neither will your workloads, so you don’t even need something that’s too heavy duty.

The Ford F series has a number of variations that are affordable and have good load capacities. If you plan on having more animals than vegetables on your small farm, you may want to consider a livestock trailer.

DeWalt saw
Photo courtesy Northern Tool

Electric Tools

You probably already have a number of these around for common repairs and other household and gardening chores. Well, you could consider getting a new set, but simply investing in a few useful tools, such a circular saw and a drill, would make even more sense. Whether it’s cutting wood for the barn or new fences to building your own composter and attaching doors and railings, there are so many projects that make both of these tools must-have items for any farm.

sprinklers
Photo by Hydro-Power Sprinklers

Sprinklers

Large farming areas are designed keeping irrigation in mind. For the small garden space, a kettle or a jug works fine. But for something in between those areas a small home garden and large-scale industrial farm, you will definitely want to consider implementing a more effective way of watering—something mechanical instead of walking all over the place with a hose. Sprinklers do just that. You can instantly water a large area by connecting a sprinkler system to your water supply. The best part is that they can be modified to spread natural, liquid pesticides as well to keep your plants healthy and pest-free.



4/28/2015

If there’s an activity that seems as far removed from the tech world as possible, it’s gardening. There are few more relaxing things to do in the modern world than to unplug from the tech grid and spend a few hours tending to the garden. But in the 21st century, it’s a smart idea to modernize our approach to horticulture. Fortunately, there is a wide range of apps available on your smartphone and tablet devices that can help you get the best out of your cultivated garden. Here are five of the best ones.

Potted Plants
Image via Flickr by Seán A. O'Hara

iScape

This visualization tool is the first step to making the beautiful idea you have stored in your head a beautiful reality. Simply take a picture of whatever space you want to develop and start working on it. The iScape app includes a database of plants and features to transpose over your image, so you can decide exactly what you want to do with your garden.

TO BUY: Users of previous versions of the app reported problems with bugs, but these teething problems have been removed and iScape is now a handy app. The app is available for $9.99 on the App Store and Google Play.

IScape 

Veronica’s Garden Tracker

One difficulty that gardeners often experience is keeping track of what they have planted, where it was planted, and when. Veronica’s Garden Tracker eliminates this by allowing you to store the data in a nifty little app.

TO BUY: You can make notes on the different conditions required for your plants, or on the pests you are battling, ensuring your garden runs smoothly. The app costs $0.99 to download and is only available at the App Store.

Veronicas Garden Tracker

Fruit Garden App

This is a simple app, but a useful one. Whether you’re growing fruit commercially or just for your own enjoyment, this eBook-style app is packed with information about the different species of fruiting plants and trees and their individual requirements.

TO BUY: Downloading this app for $1.49 at the App Store could be the difference between a bumper crop and some sorry-looking fruits when harvest time rolls around.

Fruit Garden App 

iGarden USA – Gardening Helper

This useful app turns your smartphone device into a pocket-sized gardening assistant. It contains extensive advice and information on the best conditions and care required for plants in your climate region. The app’s intuitive user interface makes all this information accessible with just a few taps on the touch-screen.

TO BUY: For $4.99 at the App Store, this app is a little expensive, but its information could prove invaluable.

IGarden USA 

GardenMinder

As graduates with business degrees at Villanova University know, profit margins in the agriculture business can be fragile. If you are an experienced commercial grower or just a beginner in the trade, the GardenMinder app can help you maximise your profits.

TO BUY: Featuring comprehensive how-tos and informative guides, GardenMinder walks you through the whole process, from preparing the soil to planting, cultivation and harvesting. The app is free to download from the App Store.

GardenMinder 

These apps will help you create your ideal garden. With various features and tips, you’ll be well on your way to growing plentiful crops and plants. Are you a keen gardener or simply an enthusiastic amateur? Which app is your favorite? Get in touch and let us know.


Miles YoungMiles Young is a freelance writer, designer and outdoorsman. He’s worked as a roof contractor and part-time engine mechanic. He spends his free time fishing and tinkering in his garage. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.



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