Now that the weather in southwestern Pennsylvania has finally turned the corner and is more like spring, gardening has been on the forefront of my mind. Today I hope to inspire you with some herbal thoughts about community gardens while the weather here (and in other places around the country) warms up. Read on for more garden inspiration.
Benefits of Community Gardens
Community gardens do so much good. They are sponsored by public entities and private organizations. If you are an apartment or condo dweller, or have a house in the city, community gardens give you your own space to garden in. If you have a parent or another loved one that needs help gardening, you could share a plot with them to enhance their lives and give the both of you good food to eat. You see, I think gardening is good for your body, mind and soul, and if it means gardening in a smaller space, a community garden plot may be just the right size for you.
I am going to introduce you to three of my favorite community gardens I have visited in my herbal travels. And if you are even more interested in community gardening, the American Community Garden Association website will help you find a community garden in your area. Just submit your zip code and/or location. This is a great starting point.
The Cascade P-Patch Community Garden - Downtown Seattle
When I was out west several years ago, I got to see the Cascade P-Patch Community Garden in downtown Seattle. The P-Patch association is a group of community gardens all over the Seattle area. There are various sizes and prices for plots. The Cascade Community Gardens is a very popular community garden and you may have to be on a waiting list to get in.
A colorful sign welcomes you to the beautiful Cascade P-Patch Community Garden located in downtown Seattle.
It was in September and the gardens were lush and full of veggies, herbs and flowers.
September brings an abundant harvest to the garden.
I am always impressed by the size of the herbs in these gardens and this particular rosemary is no exception. It was very happy to be surrounded by the concrete of the sidewalks. I need to put some pavers around mine in my herb garden this season. The reflective heat of the concrete is what helps the rosemary to flourish.
A happy rosemary plant is surrounded by concrete.
Pine Street Community Gardens - Vancouver, British Columbia
Another region that has a great growing climate is the Vancouver area in British Columbia. To find a community garden in the area, the City of Vancouver's website lists all of the community gardens in the Vancouver area.
A couple of years ago, The Herbal Husband and I went up to Vancouver. While we were there, we visited a couple of community gardens in the area. One was called the Pine Street Community Gardens and is located along the abandoned railroad tracks on west 6th Street between Fir and Burrard. It is only a couple of blocks in length, but it has made a positive impact on the community. It also has an urban orchard as part of the garden. They were having colder than normal May weather when we were there in 2011.
Poppies decorated this gardener’s plot in the Pine Street Community Garden.
A big blooming rosemary makes a fragrant addition.
A small herb garden in a bigger plot.
An espaliered fruit tree.
It is so important to mix your vegetables, fruit and herbs to get the best use of your space and planting time. Jim Long came up with a lovely plan for a kitchen garden in five years called "Step by Step Your Garden Grows: Design an Easy Kitchen Garden." You could use just part of his design for your community garden space.
Cypress Community Garden - Vancouver, British Columbia
We visited a second community garden while in Vancouver called the Cypress Community Garden. It is located in the Kitsilano neighborhood and is easily accessible from the bicycle routes or the buses so you don’t necessarily have to have a car to garden in the community garden setting. It had a good mix of ornamental gardens with seating and traditional raised beds for vegetable gardening space.
This beautiful garden is a peaceful sanctuary for quiet reflection.
Organized raised beds are perfect for growing vegetables and herbs.
What a glorious hedge of rosemary!
All Photos By Nancy Heraud
I know I don’t have to say much more about the benefits of community gardens. As long as you are able to do the work in the garden, it will be a wonderful benefit to both you and your neighborhood. There are lots of good ideas for starting a community garden in your area on the American Community Garden Association website. I hope I have inspired you to start your own community garden, or at the very least you can't wait to start gardening on the plot you are waiting for or already have (share your experience with Mother Earth Living).
As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here with a comment or my e-mail at email@example.com and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.
You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden.
"It will never rain roses: When we want to have more roses we must plant more trees." —George Eliot
Spring is just beginning to bloom, which means it's the perfect time to start the garden. As we relish the feel of the earth in our hands and the breeze on our cheeks after a long winter indoors, we can take joy in the fact that the plants we sow now will yield food to sustain our families all season. Give yourself a little extra reason to treasure your time in the garden by perusing the gardening articles from our March/April 2013 issue. In this issue, we teach you how to have your earliest spring garden, give you tips on reducing your gardening resources, show you an unexpected source of nutrition, tell you which first-aid essentials you should store at home to ease gardening woes, and much more!
Spring Gardening Tips
Grow Salad Greens Now:
Enjoy homegrown flavors in just a few short weeks by starting this simple salad garden now.
Zero-Waste Gardening: Save money and help the environment by reducing the resources that go into your garden.
The Health Benefits of Dandelions: Harvest nutritious, delicious dandelion greens for a slew of health and culinary benefits.
15 Uses for Mint: Discover 15 handy household uses for easy-growing mint.
5 Antioxidant-Rich Fruits that Grow Anywhere: These homegrown fruits offer superior flavor and nutrition.
The Gardener's Natural First-Aid Kit: Keep these healing essentials on hand for blisters, sunburns, or bumps and scrapes.
Air plants are a perfect low-maintenance option for the gardener who wants to add a unique flair to their home or garden.
What are Air Plants?
The Tillandsia genus includes more than 500 species and is part of the Bromeliad family. The most common name, Tillandsia, are also referred to as epiphytes, meaning they grow with no soil while attached to other host plants, thus the common moniker ‘air plants.’ (It is important to note that epiphytes are not parasitic plants and depend on the host for support only.)
Photo By Ciera Holzenthal/Flickr
Because they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves via trichomes (scales suited for suction), air plants require no soil. (In fact, do not ever plant them in soil!) Roots act merely as anchors to allow for adhering to trees, rocks, posts, fences and other objects, and can actually be removed if desired.
These unique and interesting specimens reproduce by seeds or offsets referred to as “pups,” with a single plant having as many as a dozen “pups” to assure reproduction. “Pups” can be removed for planting elsewhere or retained on the mother plant to promote clustering.
Tillandsia will only flower once, though “pupping” will assure that flowers continue to grow as mother plants are replaced by the “pups.”
How to Care for Air Plants
While air plants grow in air, they still require water. Watering them properly is one of the most important components of keeping air plants healthy and vibrant. Misting them 2 to 4 times per week may suffice, though proper watering is recommended, saturating until run-off appears.
However, it is important to allow them to dry out completely before watering more, as they will rot if left wet for long periods. As the trichomes close once they’ve received enough moisture, it becomes fairly easy to get an understanding of just how much water is enough.
For proper growth, Tillandsia requires as bright a light as possible without burning. Indirect light, such as from south-, east- or west-facing windows (within 8 to 10 feet), or fluorescent tube or other grow lighting in a room with good circulation, is ideal. It may also be necessary to move air plants (especially from season to season) to find the area most suited for proper sun exposure.
Outdoors, air plants do well in partial-sun locations like under trees and shrubs, patios or shade cloths. Avoid placing air plants in direct sun for more than 45 minutes.
Tillandsia do not necessarily require fertilization, though if one chooses to the results are generally favorable. As with any plant it is important not to over-fertilize or use one that is not suited for air plants.
Diluted, water-soluble, acidic fertilizers are optimal and should be applied no more than once per month. Ammonium or nitrate nitrogen (low relative to the phosphorus, at least half of the potassium), phosphorus (use all you want), and potassium (again use in large amounts) will do the trick nicely. Avoid those fertilizers with copper, boron or zinc.
From near freezing to scorching heat, air plants are generally tolerant of varying degrees of temperature. They do best in higher humidity and anywhere from 50 to 90 degrees (70 to 85 degrees is optimal) allowing for a 10- to 15-degree drop in nighttime temps. While a light frost may result in minor leaf damage, frost for extended amounts of time will kill Tillandsia.
Photo By Narisa/Flickr
Mounting Air Plants
One of the coolest attributes of air plants is that they can be grown on practically any solid surface that doesn’t retain water, indoors or out.
They can be glued (only if waterproof), tied, stapled, or wired (no copper, as it kills air plants) to stone and rocks, seashells, ceramic tile, pottery, wood (only if not pressure treated), cork, glass, in terrariums—the sky, for the most part, is the limit. The plant just has to be watered, receive ample light, and (for younger plants) mounted in a place that will allow it to grow.
Keeping Tillandsia can be an enjoyable and fascinating pursuit, truly unique to other types of planting and growing. Their pre-bloom, vibrantly colored leaves, “disembodied” nature, and ability to be utilized in myriad ways makes them a winner.
Mackenzie Kupfer has been a lover of all things green since the age of six when she began gardening with her Nana. She is currently an online publisher for the tomato cage supplier, Avant Garden Decor. In her free time, Mackenzie enjoys attending garden shows, hiking, and collecting ceramic tea sets.
This spring become more self-reliant and reduce your exposure to chemicals by planting herbs in pots, building raised garden beds, creating a worm composting bin and making your own fence paint.
Planting Herbs in Pots
Herbs can be grown in a large outdoor pot, as long as the pot has good drainage, is at least 14 inches in diameter and 9 inches deep, and is filled with fertile soil. Purchase small plants and position them according to size (about 4 inches apart). Plant and lightly water. Sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano, chervil, summer savory and lovage are readily available and can be used as single seasonings or in combination with one another. (I recommend using these herbs to create an Herbes De Provence season mix.)
Building Raised Garden Beds
While raised beds are not a new idea, they are still beneficial and very easy to build. Raised beds have been used for more than 2,000 years, ever since the Greeks first noticed plants sprouting in landslide areas where soil was loose and moisture penetrated easily. With this in mind, they started making their own raised beds. As it turns out, adding aerated, turned and amended soil with organic matter to raised beds loosens soil, which improves its texture and nutrient value. Spacing plants close together also creates shade and keeps the moisture in the soil by self-mulching, which helps produce growth.
Constructing a raised bed is simple, as you can make a frame with any solid material that holds soil. Just keep in mind that if you use wood it must be rot-resistant because the frame will be in constant contact with moist soil. Cedar and redwood are two types of wood that are resistant to decay; Douglas fir and pine can be used but may only last five years. Raised beds can extend above the ground from several inches to 12 inches, and the beds can be made to fit any size as long as the middle can be easily accessed for weeding and harvesting. Cut the wood to the size of your planned bed, drill three holes with a #30 bit at the corner boards and insert 4-inch weather-proof drywall screws. For more stability, attach brackets to the inside corners.
When deciding where to place the raised beds, remember that most plants need at least eight hours of sun each day. Turn the soil where the raised bed will be permanently placed. If there are critters underground that may nibble on your vegetables, line the bed with chicken wire. Fill the bed with a combination of soil, compost, peat moss and fertilizer 8–32–16. But the fun part is deciding what seeds to plant. A beginning gardener may want to start with a simple salad bed that consists of lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes and scallions.
Worm Composting Bin
Vermiculture, or red wiggler worm composting, is a way to recycle your kitchen scraps, tea and coffee grounds, and turn it into nutritious soil and fertilizer for your plants. Coffee grounds are an excellent addition as they add nitrogen, an element that bacteria needs in order to turn organic matter into compost.
To get started you need a container, soil, bedding and worms. You can use a dark plastic container or purchase one specifically for worm composting. Worms like dark, moist environments—just make sure the environment isn't too wet. Worms can be kept in temperatures of 40 to 80 degrees, but prefer temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees. After three to six months you should see a lot of castings (dark soil) that can be used as fertilizer in your garden beds. Although worms can be purchased online, it is better to buy worms locally so that they are already acclimated to your environment.
DIY Fence Paint
Family dogs are sometimes a nuisance when you have a garden. But this problem can be easily remedied by installing a simple picket-type fence. Build your own with recycled wood or install one with panels purchased from a home and garden store. Seal the wood with a paint that protects it from the elements and also adds a fun color to your yard. There are many eco-friendly paints on the market, but they may cost more than the conventional kind. Instead, make your own paint.
The oldest painted surfaces on earth were colored with a form of milk paint. In colonial America, itinerant painters roamed the countryside carrying pigments. To make paint, these pigments were mixed with farmer's or householder’s milk and lime. To make your own milk paint all you need is whole milk, vinegar, borax and a pigment. More information can be found at Milk Paint.
Plan now for the ultimate reward of herbs, vegetables and a yard that will give you a sense of pleasure and sustainability.
Desiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. Visit her blog Beyond A Garden.
Gardening is an activity that has spanned countless generations. From the first peoples, who observed that discarded seeds became spring shoots for their nourishment, to those of us who delight in gardening wherever we can cultivate—rooftops, planters or backyards—we find a way to experience the joy of gardening.
Photo By Diana Taliun/Fotolia
My paternal grandmother, whom we called ‘Dee’, was an incredible organic gardener. She had green thumbs and read the farmers almanac faithfully. Truth be told, I think she had some of her own magic incantations she must have mumbled and sung as she planted her garden each year. I remember being awed by this prodigious realm of climbing beans, tomatoes sprawling everywhere, flowers of every color, tall stalks of corn, winding shoots of cucumbers and crook-neck squash, crowning onions and so much more filling tiered spaces in the backyard of her home in Concord, North Carolina. Steamy summers with air so thick you could swim in it, full of all manner of flying creatures—in this southern jungle, Dee cultivated extraordinary fruits and vegetables that became delectable squash casseroles, apple pies, stewed tomatoes and pickled relishes that I dare say I still crave.
Today more than 12 million Americans enjoy growing gardens using only all-natural fertilizers and insect and weed control and our numbers continue to grow. Organic gardening is good for us and all the creatures that make their living in our backyards.
As we approach the growing season, the question is what to plant? As I am a novice, I have gathered some helpful hints that might assist you and me in making innovative and tasty choices for our fruit and vegetable gardens.
Planning Your Garden
According to Organic Lifestyle magazine there are three basics to getting the most from choosing where to plant your garden: sun, water and access. Plants need at least six hours of sun per day with many types needing more. Observe the areas you are thinking of planting and work out which spots receive the most sun and where your shade is. Make sure you have easy access to water and navigation of your plots. Our household placed our garden along a fence in the backyard, taking advantage of full sun for our tomatoes, peppers and eggplants and shade from a nearby tree for growing mixed salad greens all summer!
Another great tip from Organic Lifestyle is to take stock of what vegetables you and your family enjoy and try planting some of your favorites. Some relatively easy-to-grow vegetables are tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. I encourage involving your children in the family garden. Kids may not be much help with weeding as they might pull the sprouts. However, your child will delight in planting a few rows of seeds, marking it and helping with the watering. Come harvest time, her joy will be yours to treasure.
The Dirt on Soil
Soil is full of beneficial living organisms. Did you know that one handful of soil can hold 6 billion lifeforms?Amending the soil by adding compost to enrich and condition the soil in your garden feeds these friendly organisms. Adding compost speeds up the natural process of soil building by recycling nutrients from the organic matter back to the earth that then supplies the plants with the food they need to grow strong. In fact, organic soils have been found to produce fruits and vegetables containing as much as 40 percent higher levels of antioxidants, which are believed to reduce the risk of heart disease and many cancers.
Those tiny powerhouses become the food we will harvest. At America’s Best Organics, we offer organic seed packets that you can add to any of our gift collections at checkout from our friends at Botanical Interests, a local family-owned and -operated seed company in our Colorado community. Not only do their seeds mature into delicious foods, their beautifully illustrated seed packets are packed with helpful information on successfully cultivating your seeds. They also offer heirloom and unique seed varieties that you will not find anywhere else.
Try your hand at gardening. Be it in a pot on your porch or raised beds in the backyard, start simple. This amazing journey from seed to table is sure to become a part of your healthy lifestyle practice for years to come. Sow your seeds with love and enjoy the journey to harvest time!
Seleyn DeYarus is a long-time advocate of the positive impact of healthy lifestyles on people and the environment. Based in Boulder, Colorado, she is majority owner and CEO of Best Organics, Inc., an organic and sustainable brands promotion company and provider of America's Best Organics gourmet gift basket collections. Learn more about Seleyn and find your next best gift at AmericasBestOrganics.com.
Be a local hero! One of best, most compassionate ways to practice zero-waste gardening is to donate your garden’s excess vegetables, fruits or herbs to local food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, senior centers or other community organizations that distribute food. Consider planting extra this spring so you’ll have even more to share with your neighbors in need.
Zero-waste gardening is always working towards eliminating or reducing landfill garbage and toxins, which includes not wasting precious food and all of the earth’s resources that it took to grow it. You put so much hard work and care into your zero-waste garden, why not donate your abundance of spring greens, onions, zucchini or tomatoes? Remember that one out of six Americans needs food assistance.
It’s easy to locate the food pantry near you. Conduct an online search by typing in “food bank,” “food pantry” or “food distribution” and the name of your city and state. Also go to Ample Harvest and FeedingAmerica.org.
For more zero-waste articles by the Letitia L. Star, see Zero-Waste Gardening and How to Create a Zero-Waste Kitchen.
Letitia L. Star is a healthy living writer who specializes in writing about gardening, healthy eating and green living. To date, she has written over 1,100 published articles including many cover stories for Mother Earth Living, Mother Earth News (Women’s Health and Herb Healing special editions), Natural Home & Garden, The Herb Companion and GRIT. She also frequently writes effective marketing articles promoting natural foods, herbs, remedies and products.
Have you ever cut into a shiny yellow lemon and had the slippery seeds pop out? Do you just toss them in the garbage or compost with the rinds? Think before you toss! If you like large houseplants and have a green thumb, plant the seeds from your favorite citrus fruits the next time you make lemonade or prepare a mixed fresh fruit salad. You’ll have a beautiful houseplant that grows tall in no time and will eventually produce fruit.
Dr. Curtis Smith, New Mexico State University’s extension horticulture specialist, estimates that a lemon tree grown from seed will produce fruit in about 15 years. That may seem like a long time, but while your tree is producing fruit, you’ll have a gorgeous, interesting plant to grace your home and satisfy your horticultural interests. Most citrus tree leaves are very fragrant and make attractive additions to fresh teas, potpourris, sachets and steams for room fragrance or toiletry uses. Simmer fresh citrus leaves, a cinnamon stick and your favorite spice, such as star anise, to scent your whole house. If you have a greenhouse or a Florida room, citrus trees are a wonderful long-term resident that will give you years of easy-care growth and eye appeal. If not, they look beautiful in any room of the house with enough light, warmth and space for them to grow well.
Grapefruit seedlings have a more sprawling growth habit than other citrus seeds.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas
Growing Citrus Trees
What kinds of citrus trees can you grow from seed? Well, you can plant seeds from any citrus fruits you buy at the grocery store. I have planted seeds from lemons, oranges, tangelos, grapefruit, tangerines and limes. I have a beautiful large orange tree seedling, a grapefruit tree seedling, a lime tree seedling and several lemon tree seedlings. The lemon and lime seedlings look similar, with pointy oval leaves, but the orange and grapefruit seedlings have rounder leaves. The grapefruit seedling has a slightly different growth habit than the others. It has three sections: one that grows straight up, and two that grow almost horizontally. All the leaves are fragrant when rubbed between your fingers or picked and crushed.
Planting Citrus Seeds
Citrus seeds are easy to plant. Clean off any fruit residue to avoid fungus or mold growth or attracting fruit flies, and plant them in a 5-inch diameter houseplant pot filled with rich moist potting soil. If you aren’t good at paying attention to the soil moisture of your houseplants, put your newly planted citrus in plastic bags so they don’t dry out. They need consistent moisture to germinate and start growing well, but not waterlogged or soggy soil. If you let the soil dry out too much when the seeds are trying to germinate, they may become stunted or die all together. The seeds need reasonable warmth as well. Room temperature is fine, but soil temperatures lower than 60 degrees will interfere with germination.
Citrus seedlings produce attractive houseplants at any size.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas
Caring for Citrus Seedlings
Once the seeds have sprouted, they need consistent light to grow well. A sunny windowsill or a place under grow lights helps them to grow a strong stem and healthy leaves. Fertilize the newly sprouted seedlings with weak manure or compost tea or houseplant fertilizer once when they first sprout, and then once every couple of weeks. Weekly watering keeps them growing well. If they dry out and the leaves start to curl, they may or may not recover with a good soaking in the sink. Letting them dry out multiple times will weaken and eventually kill the plants.
Caring for Citrus Trees
The first year, citrus seedlings will grow enough to need to be transplanted to a 10- or 12-inch diameter pot. Check the bottom of the pot to see if roots are growing out of drainage holes. If so, it’s time to transplant it to a larger pot. Keep your citrus seedlings healthy and growing strong with consistent water and as much light as you can provide, plus occasional fertilizing. As the seedlings get bigger, they will sprout spiky thorns on their branches, so be careful when watering and transplanting. Occasional pruning of the top central stalks keep the seedlings from growing lanky.
I put my fragrant tree outside on the patio under an arbor in the spring when the temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees through the night, and they grow outdoors all summer long. They come back indoors in the fall before freezing weather sets in, and need grow lights so they don’t have too much of a change in their light conditions. My orange tree grew to 6 feet on the patio last summer and almost didn’t fit in the house when it was time to bring it back inside. My trees are about 4 years old now and I am waiting for the day they start to set buds for flowers, although I know it will be a long time before that happens.
With a little care and attention to their few needs, you can grow citrus trees to grace your home, clean your indoor air, use for culinary and craft purposes and—eventually—provide some homegrown fruit.
Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and a gardener with an interest in herbs and natural living. She has studied horticulture and enjoys writing about gardening, natural living, and herbal and home remedies. Her favorite herbs are cilantro, garlic and rue.