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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever noticed that when it comes to urban farming, there’s not much advice on what to do when you travel for work and must leave the garden plot behind?
Urban farming, by its very nature, means one usually lives in an urban environment—which includes many people who travel for work. But what do you do when work asks for another trip to “get that story” or “present at that conference” and your broccoli harvest is just about to be what you dreamed of being?
Photo By Kathleen Gasperini
Last month, I had to ditch my plot at the cusp of harvesting my first batch of broccoli that I have ever grown. I had to present for work our study on “Sustainability and the State of Youth Culture” at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City, and had to cover the highlights of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Of course, these are both awesome gigs, and I was honored. But I also had my budding broccoli heads in my head. It had taken me a good 45 days to get to this point (my harvesting clock), and I was actually contemplating an excuse to stick around.
Of course, I went to Utah, presented to an appreciative audience at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show, and at Sundance was fortunate to get into several amazing movies, many of which reminded me of the spirit of DIY (Do It Yourself) which we urban farmers can identify with. I was re-inspired.
In addition, I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Robert Redford’s restaurant in Park City called Zoom!, which features locally grown produce and recycled glasses from the Sundance wine collection. And, at the Music Café down the street, checked out the performance of “The Head and The Heart,” which is an Americana band that reflects a time when the pace of life was slower, farming was essential and music was inspired from that sort of lifestyle.
Photo By Kathleen Gasperini
On my final day in Utah, while snowboarding at The Canyons, I was riding up on the last high-speed quad lift ride of the day in their new Orange Bubble chair with heated seats and was reflecting on what an amazing trip it’d been, when it crossed my mind, “But how is my broccoli doing back in L.A.?”
Photo By Kathleen Gasperini
Had I neglected my urban farming plot? Was the broccoli sprouting, consumed by bugs, dead before I’d had a chance to see what my first crop would end up being? When I left, the largest broccoli head was the size of my fist.
After landing at LAX from SLC and changing into my farm jeans, I practically ran to my plot in the community garden. There, low and behold, was the biggest head of broccoli I had ever seen! It was bigger than my head. Five times the size of my hand. Perhaps on the verge of being past its prime, but to me, it was awesome. Oh, how proud I was, an urban farmer, back from my work trip and just in time for a massive harvest!
I have since chopped up the broccoli head and created an array of broccoli dishes that are delish! By measure of the local farmer market’s cost for such a head (or four), I figure I saved at least $15. I’ve been making broccoli and miso soup with carrots; broccoli and chick pea salad with a lemon and extra virgin olive oil dressing topped with pine nuts; and broccoli with butternut squash. The list goes on.
But while I made it back from my work trip just in time, I wonder what other urban farmers do to keep their plots or patio gardens well attended when they travel? Neighbors coming to water help, but there’s nothing like the farmer tending the farm, no matter what the size of the raised garden bed in a community plot, or patio potted plants, or a broccoli head. Thoughts?
Kathleen Gasperini is internationally acclaimed as an industry leader when it comes to global youth culture marketing, research and branding strategies. She is the co-founder of Label Networks, the leader in global youth intelligence and branding for clients ranging from Apple Computer to Adidas Originals. Formerly Kathleen worked among leading youth culture magazines, as the Senior Editor of Powder and Snowboarder magazines, and the editor of Women's Sports & Fitness. She was the technical writer for the IMAX movie “Extreme,” and is the co-founder of the non-profit youth-focused foundation, Boarding for Breast Cancer, for which she received a Humanitarian Award from Snow Sports Industries of America.
Last year, my wife and I moved into our first new house, and we were so excited that we could finally plant a garden. We didn’t know where to start, but one thing we were really interested in growing was herbs. While we usually use dried herbs when we cook, we try and use the fresh ones when possible. They just taste so much better!
We weren’t sure where to start, because we live in an area that's cold for quite a bit of the year. We were looking for something easy, and something that wouldn’t take up our entire yard if we planted it. We also wanted to make sure that we had something that we would actually eat. There's not much sense in planting lots of tarragon in your garden if you only eat it a few times a year.
Photo By tchara/Fotolia
We ended up planting a few of our favorites in the summer season, and it was so nice to have them. Here's what we started with:
• Mint: This is one of our favorites as we can put it in our lemonades, tea and some pasta dishes that we make in the summer. Mint is fairly easy to grow, too, as it needs morning sun and afternoon shade. Be careful though, as mint can quickly get out of hand.
• Cilantro: We frequently use cilantro in our rice and beans, and the stuff grows well in our area of the country as well. This year, our cilantro got a bit out of hand, and we had way more than we knew what to do with by the end of the season. If this happens to you, you can cut up your cilantro and stuff it into an ice cube tray with a bit of water. Freeze it and you'll have cilantro cubes, which you can toss into the recipe when it calls for cilantro. The water will melt off, and you'll have fresh cilantro in the winter.
• Parsley: I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with this at the end of the year, but we found quite a few ways to use it. One of our favorites was a parsley pesto that we made. It was shockingly tasty and very easy to make with all of our leftovers from the season. It's even friendly if you'd like to home can it as well.
• Basil: Another favorite, we will most likely be planting more of this next year. We use this on pizza frequently, and it goes in many other dishes we make as well. Another herb that grows relatively easy, basil was difficult for us to mess up.
After our successes last year we are planning on planting more herbs in the garden, and considering getting a planter for the porch to fill as well. Herbs seem to cost so much in the grocery store and are so cheap and fun to produce at home.
Jeff started the website sustainablelifeblog.com in 2009 to talk about sustainability and chronicle his journey to a more sustainable life. He currently resides in Wyoming with his wife and dog.