Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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2/19/2014

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.

Homemade Compost 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.

Kitchen Compost Bin
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.


Christy KenyonFreelance 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.



2/14/2014

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.

Tiling Land

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.

Planting Seeds

"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.

Harvesting Produce

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. 



2/4/2014

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.

Raised Bed Garden
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.

Ÿ• The aromas can be relaxing

Ÿ• You will get exercise without knowing it

ŸŸ• Spending time in the sun aids in lifting your spirits and boosts your vitamin D levels

ŸŸ• Watching your garden grow successfully can make you proud

ŸBeside 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.

Ÿ• How much sun each vegetable or herb needs

Ÿ• How much water each needs

Ÿ• Ph balance soil requirements

Ÿ• 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 LaPeshMelissa 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.



1/28/2014

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.

Herb Tea Cookbooks
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.

Shakespearean 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

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.

Packaging Herb Teas
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?


Nancy HeraudAs always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or my email at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.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.



1/21/2014

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

Pallet Herb Garden

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

Shoe Organizer Garden

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

Spice Rack Garden

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

Simple Ladder Planter

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 .



12/13/2013

It’s that time of year—the time when we get absolutely stumped about what gifts to choose for our family and friends. If you happen to know a gardener who dwells in an apartment and gardens in containers or other small spaces, you’re probably especially stumped on what to give. “Traditional” gardening items probably just won’t work. But there are a few great gift ideas that will make an apartment gardener happy.

Windosill Garden
Photo By Fotolia/monropic

5 Gifts for Gardeners

1. Windowsill Greenhouse
$4.00 - $15.00 each

This is a fantastic gift for seed starters that don’t have the space, or the need, for the larger seed starting trays. Most sets come with a drip tray, seed plug inserts, soil pellets and a clear plastic dome lid. With proper care and indoor use, they can be used for several seasons, making them a gift that really keeps on giving.

2. Coir Bricks
$3.00 - $8.00 each

Never lug giant bags of potting soil up several flights of stairs again! Coir bricks are the ultimate container gardening planting medium. Made from coconut shell fiber, coir is lightweight and compact, making it easy to store until use. Reconstitute the fiber with warm water, and it will expand to five times its packaged volume! That’s more than enough “soil” for a couple of windowsill greenhouses or a few pots. Another bonus? It’s a renewable resource, so it’s easy on the environment.

3. Reusable Grow Bags
$6.00 - $10.00 each

One of the big challenges to gardening in an apartment is where to store bulky pots and containers in the off season. Sure, you can leave them out on your patio or balcony, but they’ll wear out faster if left out in the elements over the winter. Grow bags solve that problem—made from sturdy landscape fabric, they last for many seasons and can be emptied and folded up for storage in a closet or drawer at the end of the year. And the price point is right—at a fraction of the price of traditional containers, you can get enough for an entire garden!

Pruning Shears
Photo By Fotolia/Africa Studio

4. Pruning Shears
$10.00 - $25.00 each

There aren’t a lot of hand tools that container gardeners really need—most of the time, hands are the best tool of all for small-scare gardening tasks. But if there is one tool that the apartment gardener needs, it’s a pair of pruning shears. They’re great for things like pruning tomato plants, snipping bamboo poles in half for trellising, cutting twine, etc. They’re a real work horse in the apartment garden, and would be a gift any gardener would be excited to receive.

5. Mushroom Growing Kit
$20.00 - $40.00 each

If you know an apartment gardener that’s gotten bored of growing the same old things, try a more novel approach and give a mushroom growing kit. They come with everything you need to grow a few batches of mushrooms right indoors, and they’re small enough to fit under the kitchen sink. You can find kits for many different types of mushrooms, including portabella, shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

So don’t delay! There’s still time to pick up the perfect gift for the apartment gardener in your life. Everything mentioned above can be found on Amazon, but most local garden centers of quality should carry them as well. Happy gifting!


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



8/22/2013

Sometimes, despite our best efforts and intentions, Mother Nature seems to hold a grudge against our gardens. We can begin to feel like Goldilocks, waiting for the “just-right” conditions in which to thrive. Here are some tips on how to thwart the weather and encourage a healthy garden in spite of the elements.

storm
Storms bring standing water that can drown an unprepared garden.

Water

TOO LITTLE: In arid climates, water is precious. In drought conditions, there might be caps on how much water you’re allowed to use in your yard. To reduce water waste, water at night when it’s cool and the sun won’t evaporate it away. Also place your more delicate plants in a shady spot where you’ll see them every day; you’ll notice when they begin to wilt. For your planters, try using coco liners to better retain moisture in the soil.

But if you want to make your yard more amenable to dry spells, try embracing your climate by using native plants, particularly in desert areas like Arizona. One good option is xeriscaping: the practice of gardening using as little water as possible with strategic irrigation. Hardy plants like cacti and creosote do well in dry areas, require little to no irrigation, and can be quite beautiful.

TOO MUCH: Sitting water with nowhere to drain is death to almost any ground-living plant because roots rot when over-saturated. If your yard is in danger of flooding, dig strategic ditches surrounding your garden to give the water somewhere to go. If you have an incline in your yard, try not to plant too much at its base as it will be harder to manage the overflow.

Some gardeners don’t mind going out in the rain. I, myself, like water about as much as the next cat, so I’ve bought some pole-standing tents to put over my walkway and beds seasonally. They protect me and my plants from heavy rains.

cacti
Native plants aren't always restrictive. Flowering cacti can bring color to a desert garden.

Sun

TOO LITTLE: Particularly in Northern areas, the problem of too little sun may arise. This is fairly easily avoided as there are a multitude of plants, from lilacs to ferns, that really thrive without a ton of direct sunlight. Unfortunately, for some that need more light, your options are limited. Aside from standing with a sun-lamp and extension cord a couple hours a day, you can tactically place your plants in the sunniest parts of your yard, usually away from trees.

TOO MUCH: On the other hand, you might find your plants are getting too much sun. For one thing, those tent-like coverings I mentioned are good for protection from the sun as well as the rain. I prefer using natural cover like trees and taller bushes to shade more delicate specimens because it’s economical and natural-looking. For yourself, be sure you always wear sun-block and a hat to prevent over-exposure!

Heat

TOO LITTLE: Winter will be a low point in your garden if you live in a cold climate. But the harm of coldsnaps in fall can be mitigated in a couple of ways. Insulating roots with a thick layer of mulch is a popular approach. To protect what’s above-ground, make mini-greenhouses by covering plants with lightweight fabrics to retain the heat of the day. Also, try focusing your efforts on vegetables like chard and collards, or plants like hostas and azaleas, that tolerate cold well when you know a particularly frosty season is predicted.

TOO MUCH: Related to the sun issue, heat can kill off some plants very quickly. Even out of direct sunlight, the stifling heat of the summer in places like the marshy Southwest can oppress your plants. Your best bet is staying on top of your watering schedule. Your hose water will usually come from your water tanks protected under your home, so it should be cool. You might choose to garden as early in the morning as you can stand in order to avoid the heat. Your hydration is more important than that of your plants, so be mindful about drinking plenty of water.

wind storm
Wind is not a force to be trifled with. Even small storms can blow your garden away!

Too Much Wind

For many homes, wind can produce minimal nuisance. For those that are on hill-tops, though, the wind can pose serious problems by uprooting shallow plants and flattening tall ones. In extreme cases, you might experience Aeolian erosion in which the wind literally carries away your soil. To prevent wind damage, be aware of which winds are prevailing in your area and garden on the opposite side of the house. A westerly gale can’t meddle with your garden if it’s tucked on the eastern side of your home. You can also create your own windbreaks out of landscaping rocks, bushes and retaining walls to shield you and your plants.

So you see, the weather can put a damper on your gardening plans, but you can fight back! That indomitable spirit will serve you well in life, especially in your garden.


Mackenzie KupferMackenzie 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. 



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