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A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Indoor Plants This Spring

Green thumb or not, there is one house project you should seriously consider tackling this spring—growing indoor plants.

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Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

At some point or another you have probably toyed with the idea of adding some foliage to your interior. There’s just one problem: you can barely keep a store bought bouquet of flowers alive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise your green thumb this spring. We’ve come up with the fool proof beginner’s guide to growing indoor plants this spring. All it takes is a little sun, water, and willingness to learn!

Reap What You Sow: 3 Health Benefits to Indoor Plants

Adding a few indoor plants to your home goes far beyond sprucing up the design aesthetic of your interior. In fact, there are a number of health benefits to indoor plants that go far beyond looks. We thought we’d name of few:

Less Stress

There is science behind why we feel at peace in the presence of nature. Same goes for why we feel the tranquility of a space laden with plants. Multiple studies have found the presence of potted plants has been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety, and increase feelings of serenity.

Cleaner Air

Plants are hard workers and do the exact opposite of us—absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This not only freshens up the air, but it also cleanses it of harmful toxins. In fact, one study by NASA found houseplants can remove up to 87% of air toxins over a 24 hour time period.

Better Sleep

Yes, it’s true. Plants can help you breathe and sleep better. Actually, the reason plants improve sleep quality is because of their ability to replenish oxygen. If you are struggling from sleep caused by an uncomfortable mattress or racing thoughts, adding some foliage to your bedroom might help assuage the problem.

Are you convinced you should be growing plants yet? Hopefully, the answer is yes. If so, here are five easy specimens to try your hand at growing.

5 Easy Indoor Plants for Beginners

Succulents

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Succulents are one of the most popular, low-maintenance, eye-pleasing plants you can add to your home. With a lot of sunlight and a little bit of water, you are sure to see success growing succulents. But although they are pretty self-sufficient, they still need some attention every now and then. Pot your succulents in well-draining soil and place them in a spot that gets direct sunlight, preferably up to eight hours a day. Water every week or a few days after the soil dries. One popular species to grow is aloe vera. Aloe is just as low-maintenance and also has medicinal benefits you can take advantage of by having it on your home.

Pothos

Pothos is a popular house plant because it is nearly impossible to kill (which is exactly the type of plant beginners want to grow)! This plant prefers low, indirect sunlight which makes it a great option for most anyone to grow. Plant pothos in potting soil and water w every so often when the first two inches of soil become dry.

Peace Lily

 

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Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

 

Peace Lily is a popular indoor plant because of its striking blooms and the fact it thrives in bright, indirect sunlight. This indoor beauty prefers a warm, humid environment so avoid placing it in drafty areas of the house. Due to its powerful toxin filtering ability, peace lily is especially beneficial for improved indoor air quality and sleep.

Spider Plant

Also known as a “ribbon plant” during the Victorian Era, a spider plant is another good option to consider adding to your home. Spider plant thrives in indirect sunlight and only needs moderate amounts of water. Just make sure it’s planted in well-draining potting soil. Like peace lily, spider plant is known for its air-purifying properties so if you are looking keep your home’s atmosphere fresh, give this plant a shot.

Cast Iron Plant

If the name of this plant is any indication of its resilience, all us aspiring gardeners are in luck. The good news is that it’s name isn’t a coincidence. In fact, it received the label “cast iron” because it can survive in the worst conditions, including outdoors in deep shade and poor soil. This is the type of sturdy plant beginners should definitely give a try. Cast iron plant prefers low light, occasional watering and a variety of temperatures. This plant, like the succulent, does well when left alone so it won’t demand too much of your attention. 

All in all, if you are looking for a new hobby to learn this spring, mastering the art of indoor gardening is a great way to both revamp and cleanse your interior while simultaneously improving your health. Go ahead, get planting!

Grow a Kitchen Garden (Even If You Have a Black Thumb)

kitchen garden bed of fresh greens
Photo by Pasha Krise
 

No greens for your smoothie? No problem! Do you have wilting herbs in the fridge? What a waste of money. Try a trendy kitchen garden, it’s easier than people think. There is nothing to it but to do it, the experts say.

“A plan is not necessary. Start small. Grow what you are going to eat in the kitchen,” Susan Brown, Consumer Horticulture Agent for New Hanover County, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, suggests.

By following a few simple steps and making the right choices for your garden, you will be harvesting tender greens in a couple months.

greens garden
Photo by Pasha Krise

1. It’s all about the SOIL!

“A beginner gardener needs to start from the ground up,” Brown says. The soil is the foundation for any plant growth, including; annuals (plants that only grow for one season) and perennials (plants that come back each year.)

Oregon-based Master Gardener, Kristena LaMar recommends skipping mixing a DIY soil combination the first year. “Amending soil is complex,” she says. “Your first year stick to bagged potting soil.”

2. Step away from the hoe; novice gardeners should start with containers or an easy-to-build raised bed.

“It can take years to build the soil so it retains moisture and encourages microbial activity when gardening in the ground,” Brown says.

Brown and LaMar both suggest that beginners use containers or raised beds.

“Use well-draining containers,” LaMar recommends. Without proper aeration and drainage, the plants can get root rot, a soil borne disease or fungus, she says. Drainage is optimal in a simple raised bed built from four pieces of untreated wood.

container herb garden
Photo by Pasha Krise

3. You’ve got the container, you’ve got the soil. All that is missing is the plants!

A gardener can “direct sow” seeds or plant “transplants”, which are already started before they get to their growth destination. Some seeds, like root vegetables, should always be directly sown in their final dirt home. Other plants, such as tomatoes, thrive in a garden once they’ve been nurtured as a seedling and ready to transplant.

“Newbies should wait for healthy transplants,” LaMar suggests. “Adapt to four to five plants at a time.”

She also recommends a simple herb garden and swears by oregano as a great container plant. Oregano is a woody perennial that will overtake the neatest of gardens with its spread. “A lot of people use it in various types of cooking.”

“Grow what you eat,” LaMar stresses.

Also recommended for spring planting are cool weather crops, such as lettuce, kale, swiss chard and spinach. When harvesting leafy greens, pick the outer leaves and the innermost leaves. “Never cut off more than one-third of the foliage,” LaMar warns. “Once you cut it off, that’s the end of the plant.”

Brown maintains that plant choice is a predominately important factor in successful gardening. “Start with easier plants first and get some experience behind you before you try more challenging plants,” she recommends.

4. Timing is everything when it comes to the garden.

Plants are fussy and are subjective to the “Zone” in which they are planted. Brown and LaMar are garden experts on separate coasts and both maintain the importance of zone-based planting advice.

LaMar suggests using the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine your planting zone. Most seed packets and transplants have Zone information on the label, stating when it safe (warm enough) to plant them.

Another great resource for all things gardening, including when to plant, is the local cooperative extension office, Brown recommends.

kitchen garden
Photo by Pasha Krise

5. Keep them alive!

Plants are basic; they need sun, water and food (fertilizer).

“Plant conditions vary based on the type of plant you are planting,” Brown says. Each plant or seed packet will be labelled with its sun needs.

To determine just how much water a plant needs, or if its deficient or being overwatered, LaMar says the “finger test”. “Put your finger in the soil. If it is wet up to the second knuckle, no need to water.” Overwatering is a big mistake, she says. Watering too much will wash away nutrients and rot the roots.

Feed your plants and they’ll feed you. LaMar recommends applying a “regular fertilizer labelled 10-10-10 (equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—yummy plant food!)

6. The final step is the most delicious; harvest and feast!

Heed the picking advice from the master gardeners and don’t cut the entire plant if you want continual grown (as with greens and herbs.) You only have one shot with other plants, like carrots and beets. Once you pull them, their next stop is your stomach.

Remember, Brown says, “Failures in the garden can be learning experiences and each year can bring different challenges but don't give up!”

5 Florals to Incorporate Pantone’s Color of the Year into Your Home

Incorporating plants into your interior design is a great way to add life and beauty to your home. Nothing can breathe life into a room quite like a flowering plant or bouquet of fresh flowers. Botanicals not only add a burst of color, but they also add fragrance. Using trending colors, like Pantone’s Color of the Year is an instant way to upgrade your home. The color that sets the tone in the fashion industry this year is Living Coral, a vibrant yet mellow shade that warms up your surroundings. Consider these five florals to incorporate Pantone’s Color of the Year into your home.

‘Clementine Salmon Rose’ Columbine

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Columbine is a unique coral-colored plant features interesting shaped blooms. This sturdy stemmed flower offers double blooms and would look great on top of a dresser or side table. Place a pot of Columbine in a shady spot that doesn’t get too hot. If you decide to transplant a potted flower outside this spring, make sure you plant it in soil with plenty of drainage. You may also want to mix some compost into the soil. Since it’s a perennial and common native flower, it will flourish year after year.

‘Salmon Pearl’ Tulip

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Add a touch of Living Coral color to a bedroom with a Salmon Pearl colored tulip in a bud vase. Its light pink hue and coral petaled edges give the room a soothing feeling. You could also place them in an entryway or on a sofa table to accent the Living Coral within the room as well.

‘Coral Knock Out’ Rose

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Whether in a vase or potted as a shrub, roses never disappoint. The Coral Knock Out Rose is part of a new line that offers saturated color. Plant this variety outdoors and then bring in cuttings for the kitchen or master bedroom. These roses will add a touch of elegance to any room. The plants can grow up to 4 feet tall and wide outdoors making them an excellent choice if you want to add some Living Coral to your yard. With proper care, these roses will continue to bloom in your garden for years.

‘Toucan Coral’ Canna

Cannas

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If you’re looking for a coral flower that would do well in a bathroom, look no further than this Canna Lily in ‘Toucan Coral’. Known for tolerating heat and humidity, Canna Lilies will stand up to the conditions of any bathroom. This long blooming plant will reach about 2 feet tall when planted indoors. You do need a bathroom that gets sunlight for this plant to thrive. This plant is also a good option for smaller backyards and a great choice for those tighter spaces within your home as well.

‘Belle of Barmera’ Dahlia

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This beautiful flower offers single blooms that would look great on a kitchen counter or dining table. Dahlias in the ‘Belle of Barmera’ shade do well in containers. The flower offers large single blooms that pack a punch of color to any room. We love the stunning look of dahlias with their ragged edges that resemble a mix of carnations and roses.

Pantone’s Color of the Year is an easy one to incorporate into your home and into your landscape. When you’re ready to change your inside decor, all these will spruce up your garden and add curb appeal to your home. You'll find the Living Coral hue in many florals as well as plenty of home décor. Add one or all these five florals to incorporate the Pantone color of the year into your home.

Winter Care for Chickens

The main thing is to keep them happy. Here’s an easily doable checklist to keep your chickens happy and healthy.   

waterer

Chickens needs fresh water every day. When the temperature drops, they require extra water to stay hydrated. Periodically check to make sure the water has not frozen or use an electric heated chicken waterer. If you use electricity, for safety reasons make sure the extension cords are heavy-duty outdoor cords, not light-duty indoor cords. The water should be kept outside as chickens tend to upset the waterers and that makes for wet bedding.

Moisture is a killer to chickens. The coop must be kept dry or the chickens can easily get respiratory diseases. When the bedding gets very soiled, change it. Plain straw tends to get messy and slippery with chicken poop faster than shavings. I use 4 or more inches of cedar or pine shavings with a thick layer of straw on top. I use this combo in their nesting boxes as well. 

chicken coop in snow

Heat lamp in their coop? Only if it’s below freezing. Chickens will clump up on the roosts and in the nesting boxes to keep each other warm. They’re good at that! If a heat lamp is used, make sure that fresh air can circulate through the coop as this discourages diseases. Keep wind from blowing in the coop, but have some circulation going from the south side of the coop, if possible.

Extra food, especially protein, when it’s cold keeps their little furnaces going. Consider cooking up some ground meat or scramble some eggs to give to them. I always offer warm protein when it’s extra cold. Hang a big cabbage outside above the ground to give them something to do and prevent boredom.

chickens enjoying snow

Chickens don’t like to walk about in the snow, so throw down a thick layer of straw for them to encourage them to go outside and take in the fresh air.

My favorite chicken care book: Recipe For Raising Chickens by Minnie Rose Lovgreen was one of the very first books I read on chicken care. I fell in love with the delightful Minnie Rose and chickens directly after reading the words on the cover, “The main thing is to keep them happy.” Minnie Rose was born in 1888 in England and emigrated to Montreal in 1912. She was to board the Titanic, but its sailing time was delayed, so she traded in her ticket for another ship. Talk about fate! She moved to Bainbridge Island, WA in 1920, married Danish born Leo Lovgreen. Leo worked on a dairy farm and together they saved until they could build their own dairy.

Her simple yet effective advice on keeping chickens is not only a charming read, but incredibly informative. The beauty part of this book is that it’s both easy and fun to read and it was written by a woman who kept chickens for decades and spent an infinite amount of hours observing their behavior and needs. Her wise advice on keeping chickens healthy still serves today.

So there you have it — a recipe for keeping your chickens healthy and happy during the winter months!. See you around the chicken coop!

Grow Fresh Greens in Winter

You may already know that I live in the Central Valley of California. It hardly ever gets below freezing here and it has been particularly true this winter. So far it has gotten just to 32 degrees but not below. This is completely the opposite of points farther east and what I've experienced visiting my sister who lives outside Denver on the high plains. It's a blizzard out there and homegrown fresh greens are impossible unless you have a perfect green house set up. Unfortunately perfect green house set-ups are beyond most people but fresh greens are not because you can grow them on your kitchen counter. My favorite kind are sunflower sprouts.

I first had these easy to grow and tasty greens when I visited my daughter in Santa Cruz around Christmas time a couple years ago. We always eat at a vegetarian restaurant in Capitola called Dharma's. It's all vegetarian and they give you huge portions. When I go I always have the green salad and Kitcheree soup. On top of the salad you will find a giant pile of sunflower sprouts. You won't find sunflower sprouts in every supermarket unless you have a specialty store nearby and who needs to buy them anyway? If you grow your own you're assured that they will be sanitary and there's no possibility of salmonella.

What you need:

  • 75% coconut coir and 25% earthworm castings or a mix of potting soil and perlite
  • food grade black oil sunflower seeds (they have to be food grade because garden seed is treated)
  • water
  • leftover cinnamon roll tray with clear lid from the bakery or any container and plastic wrap

Method:

Mix equal parts perlite and potting soil or use the coconut coir and earthworm castings. 

ingredients

Spread about 2 inches deep of this mix in your tray.

mix

Spread a single layer of the seeds on the soil.

seeds

Sprinkle another 1/2" deep of the mix over the seeds. Moisten with water.

water

 

Cover with the tray top or plastic wrap and put in a safe place where the kiddies or the cats who haven't been counter trained can't reach it.

plastic 

Check every day for a week and moisten as necessary. Nature will do her job and in a couple days you'll start to see sprouts.

sprouting

In a week you'll have sprouts to clip off above soil level to put on your salad. If there are any seeds hulls clinging to the sprouts you can wait until they drop off naturally or you can very gingerly pull them off the leaves. Be careful not to break the leaf or pull the sprout out of the ground. If the hull won't budge leave it be.

The sprouts won't grow anymore after you clip them off. Just clean the soil off the roots and you can start all over again with the same soil. Just be aware that the roots will be embedded in to the soil and will take a bit of shaking to separate them.  The sprouts are sweetest when they are fresh. You don't even really need to wash them as you know exactly what went on to them as they grew. Nothing!

sprouts

Food grade sunflower seeds can be found at Sprout People. In case you have a Whole Foods nearby I found a small packet of black oil sunflower seeds in the seeds sprouting section.

Coconut coir can be found at Ace Hardware.

Earthworm castings can be found at Gardens Alive.

Trouble Starting Seeds? Avoid These 6 Super Common Mistakes

As Spring approaches for most of us, it's time to dive into the wonderful world of starting seeds. When you're a beginner gardener, starting seeds can seem like a daunting task. Maybe you've only purchased transplants up to this point in your gardening journey, and are only dipping your toes into starting seeds this season.

While the process isn't hard, there are certainly a lot of mistakes you can make if you're not paying attention. In this piece, I'm going to go over six of the mistakes I feel are most commonly made by beginner gardeners so you can have a healthy, thriving batch of seeds this Spring!

egg carton tray for seed starting
Photo by alikaj2582 via Adobe Stock

You're Not Giving Them Enough Light

In a young seedling's life, light is the number one resource they need. The seed itself will provide them with enough nutrition to grow and hopefully you're giving them enough water. Where most beginners go wrong is providing their delicate seedlings with too little light.

Your seedlings are starving for light in the beginning of their life, and simply placing them on a south-facing window often isn't enough to cut it. It's practically essential to supplement your natural light with an indoor grow light that you set on a timer for 14 hours on, 10 hours off per day. By doing this, you avoid causing legginess in your seedlings, which weakens the seedling overall and likely means it won't do well when transplanted into your garden.

You're Not Watering Correctly

Once you're sure that light isn't an issue, make sure you know how to properly water your seedlings. Before germination, the simplest way to water is with a mister, directly on the top of your seed starting trays. Watering cans tend to be a bit too aggressive of a stream of water, so avoid unless you buy one that has a broken-up water stream.

A more effective strategy, especially once your seedlings have germinated, is to bottom-water. With this method, you're using capillary action to draw water up through the soil to your plants' roots. All you need to do is add water to the bottom of the tray your seedling inserts are in, and let physics do the work!

The Temperature Isn't Right

Seeds aren't dead...they're dormant. And one of the major triggers that starts the germination process is the temperature of your soil. For most seedlings, this means a warmer temperature, because in nature this signals the end of winter and beginning of spring.

Most seeds begin germinating in a temperature range of 45 degrees F to 75 degrees F, though you should look up the specific temperature recommended for the seeds you're starting, or look at the back of the seed packet. If you're starting seeds in a cold area, a seedling heat mat is pretty much crucial. It'll boost the temperature of your soil to an optimal level, causing your seedlings to begin the germination process.

You Planted Too Deep

Seed sowing depth can be confusing and seem a bit arbitrary, but it's quite important for seed starting. some larger seeds like beans or peas have quite a bit of vigor in them and can handle being buried deeper into the soil. They're also larger and need to be planted deeper for full coverage.

Other seeds are quite small and fragile. If planted deeply, they won't have the strength to push their way to the surface to get access to the precious light they need to thrive. 

Still other seeds need access to light as a germination signal. With all of these variations, I can't give you a direct recommendation on seed depth except to say that you should adhere to the back of your seed packets as best as possible.

You're Using Non-Sterilized Equipment

Sterile soil and seed starting trays are vital. This is one of the most common mistakes I see, because gardeners are often excited to start seeds and don't go through the proper protocol to make sure no pests or diseases have made their way into the soil or equipment.

Remember, your seedlings are vulnerable in their young age. It's the same as a newborn...you don't want to give them contaminated food or toys to play with! Buying sterilized seed starting mix instead of making your own is a good call as a beginner. To sterilize trays, wash them free of any debris and they spray them with food-grade hydrogen peroxide.

You Didn't Label Your Trays

My final 'mistake' is more of an organization failure. Assuming you've followed these tips, you should have nice and healthy seedlings. But if you didn't label your trays...you might not remember what you  planted! To avoid this, I recommend writing down the following for every different type of seed you start:

  • Plant 
  • Variety
  • Planting Date

By doing this, you won't need to rely on your memory when your seedlings are grown up and ready to get out into the garden.

I hope these tips help prevent some of the mistakes you make as you venture out into the garden this Spring!

Grow Vegetables in Raised Beds

Raised beds are an easy way to grow vegetables as the soil is loose from being aerated, turned and amended with organic matter which improves its texture and nutrients. The spacing in raised beds makes plants grow closer together which creates more shade and the soil loses less moisture and self-mulches. Raised beds are ready earlier in the spring for planting in colder zones. 

Raised Vegetable Garden Beds
Photo by Elenathewise via Adobe Stock

Kits to make raised beds can be purchased or you can easily make a wood frame to hold the soil, but it needs to be rot resistant because the wood is in constant contact with moist soil. Wood such as cedar and redwood are resistant to termites and decay. Douglas fir or pine can be used but might only last five years. The beds can extend above the ground from several inches to 12 inches. The beds can be any width and arranged in any design but need to be built so the middle of the beds can be easily accessed.

To make your own beds cut the wood lumber the size of the planned bed, drill 3 holes in the corner boards with a #30 bit and insert 4-inch weather proof dry wall screws. Brackets can be placed on the outside to make it sturdier.

Choose an area in your yard that has at least eight hours of sun. Dig the soil where the raised bed will be placed. Move the bed in line with the dug soil and line the bed with chicken wire if you have underground critters. Fill the bed with a combination of soil, compost, peat moss and fertilizer 8-32-16.

desiree's raised beds

If this is your first-time growing plants in a raised bed start with plants or seeds of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes and scallions for a fresh home-grown salad.







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