Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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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.

basket of garden vegetables
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.

Seeds Matter

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.

America's Best Organics box 

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 DeYarusSeleyn 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 


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 Tree
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. 

Lemon Tree
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 CardenasHeidi 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?

broccoli head
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.

Kathleen at Sundance
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.?”

ski slopes
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 GasperiniKathleen 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. 

mint in garden
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 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.  


culinary garden

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Earlier this year, my wife and I redid our bathroom. As I was removing the old 1920s-era window from its frame, I really hoped that I could find a use for it instead of shipping it off to the town dump like I had with some of our other construction refuse. After looking around the net, I stumbled upon the perfect idea: a cold frame.

cold frame
Old windows make great cold frames. Photo By Paul Gardener

A cold frame is nothing but a wooden box with no bottom and a transparent roof, typically glass. These are slightly taller in the back than they are in the front, and traditionally placed facing south in order to gain the maximum amount of sun exposure each day. Cold frames allow you to get your seeds started outside earlier each year by protecting your frail seedlings from cold weather, excess water and wind. By using a cold frame, you could extend your growing season for a month or two, depending on your area. Getting your plants an early start could help you avoid the problem of too many tomatoes at once coming out of the garden at the end of the planting season.

Some of the best plants for cold frames are lettuces, parsley, spinach, radishes, turnips and other root vegetables. Once you've got your seeds started in your cold frame in the early spring, you can either leave them there or move them into your garden with the rest of the plants you planted that year. If you elect to remove them, make sure to fill your cold frame back up, as cold frames can still produce great quality vegetables and salad greens well into December and January!

One thing to watch out for with your cold frames is heat. If you let the temperature inside the frame get too warm (above 60 degrees), you could do damage to the plants that you're trying to protect.  If you're going to be gone all day and are unsure about the temperature inside your cold frame, you should play it safe and vent the frame. 

Cold frames are simple and inexpensive to make, and can easily extend your growing season with little work to do on your part. Once this spring rolls around, I'll have mine ready to go and planted with yummy stuff for the dinner table. 

Jeff started the website 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.  


Living in a brick loft in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, two blocks over from Skid Row, the largest homeless shelter in the country, may not seem the ideal place to start one’s journey toward becoming an urban farmer, but dreams can begin anywhere.

The idea started when my 97-year-old grandmother, who comes from the seasonal foothills of the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York, had sent me a copy of Capper’s magazine. It was completely different than what I usually had to read for work—fashion, action sports, and lifestyle magazines—and I was intrigued. After browsing through her Capper’s which was filled with her colorful commentary on Post-its, I started to wonder about the possibility of raising a chicken on the fire escape stoop outside my window. After all, I did have a couple of geraniums out there and a row of herbs.

lemons, kale and strawberries
Lemons, kale and a Valentine's Day strawberry! Photo By Kathleen Gasperini.

However, it was apparent that a chicken on a fire escape stoop wouldn’t be “free range,” and anyways, I had two cats—but my second idea, which was still a long-shot, became embedded in my bones. Maybe, I thought, I could grow, like, kale or something, and become an “urban farmer.”

Fast forward three years and three moves into three different lofts, all within the same five-block radius, and I found myself in a penthouse with a small roof patio. Here, I thought, I could grow my roof garden and be a real urban farmer. Maybe even have three tomato plants and kale.

By this time, rooftop gardens were sprouting up on top of some of the refurbished old buildings in the area, cared for by local organic restaurants, or citizens dedicated to greening LA’s rooftops. After deciding that chickens on the fire escape landing wouldn’t work and trying to grow a tomato plant indoors (which grew and grew but never produced), I too, had joined forces with other rooftop garden neighbors and helped with one such plot where we grew tomatoes and flowers and even had a huge compost tumbler on the roof.

One sunny LA day, while dumping some coffee grinds into our tumbler up top, my friend Minh Son and I felt a huge jolt. We looked at each other and knew that we were in for it. Rooftops are not the spot to be for an LA earthquake since most do not have railings, among other reasons.

Within five seconds of the jolt, and just before we got the cover tightly back on the composter, the building started rolling like a double-masted schooner on the high seas, heaving up and down on what felt like huge, rippling waves. Keeping our balance was a chore, and unfortunately, I looked up across the city and noticed the tallest buildings in downtown swaying even more, which added to my growing sense of vertigo. This was not a good situation. We might get flipped over the side, drowned in the sea of asphalt eight stories below.

We gradually made our way to the fire exit on the roof and ran down flight after flight after flight of stairs and popped out into the street along with everyone else in our building. Only I was carrying a crushed tomato and Minh Son was carrying a spade. Suddenly she freaked out, “The cover’s not on the composter!” A quick-witted fireman at the building stopped her before she darted back up to the roof. Minh Son is a rooftop farming genius, but had lost a bit of perspective in the mayhem.

Meanwhile, I’d spent a pretty penny on my new penthouse roof patch, bought a tiny lemon tree and a wine barrel for its home, hauled bags of soil up my narrow spiral staircase, and dragged a bookcase rack from a previous tenant out to the patio to hold an assortment of plants, one of which was kale. Unfortunately, about a month into living in this loft, I quickly realized that at 10 stories high, winds were a problem, there were rarely any birds other than cool soaring city hawks, and the sun scorched the cement, radiating unbearable heat and causing a hardship for my potted garden and the hardy kale. In the end, my total crop yield was one lemon.

So, I moved again. This time, to the beach. With my little lemon tree in a barrel.

Even though it’s still considered Los Angeles, Venice Beach has its own vibe, and best of all, its own community garden! I applied and waited for months until there was an opening. Once a plot came available, I couldn’t wait to start my little patch of a raised garden bed and of course, planted kale.

Perhaps it was the result of my pent-up years of trying to be an urban farmer in a loft coupled with visiting the farmer’s market each Friday and paying some $2.50 for a bunch of kale that was at the root of the cause of why I ended up planting so much kale in my little plot of urban-farm-landia. Curly kale, Dinosaur kale, Siberian kale…it all grew to such abundance that kale ended up in at least one meal a day for weeks, not to mention numerous smoothies.

Kale, beets, strawberries, mint and lemons from my urban garden. Photo By Kathleen Gasperini.

I had so much kale that I started bringing it into work—in a trash bag. I got everyone hooked on kale. We’d have kale chips for our weekly conference meeting snack. Clearly, the nickname “Miss Kale” was not too much of a stretch.

However, I’m happy to say, thanks to my grandmother’s Capper’s, and since then, my Mother Earth News subscription, and now Mother Earth Living, I feel confident that I’ve become an urban farmer. My little lemon tree survived and I’ve gotten her a little brother—a dwarf avocado tree. I even grow strawberries.

Kathleen GasperiniKathleen 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.

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