Sunday, February 7, 2016

How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

Kitchen garden with flowers in front
Sunday, February 7, 2016

When I first started gardening, our home was on the 15th green of a golf course.  Living on a golf course, there are rules we have to follow for meeting the “standards of the community.”  Basically, this means that our veggie garden needed to look pretty.

My husband was concerned that the “landscape police,” as I call them, would come calling if we plowed up the backyard and put in a row garden as our grandparents did. So we knew the old fashioned approach was out!

The solution was to intersperse the veggies in the flower garden and in the flower pots on our patio.  Flowers are good for your crops as they attract pollinators.  So, it is a win-win for beauty and productivity.  I have been reading lately on companion planting that gives different flowers that are particularly good to plant with your veggies.  More on that here Companion planting tips and here Permaculture-companion planting on steroids

We have to be choiceful on what to plant since we don’t have much space and there just isn’t room to grow everything that looks great and I would love to try.  There are so many cool veggies you can grow from around the world.  The choices are just about limitless.  For more tips on choosing what to grow  How to know what to grow

When I first started veggie gardening three years ago, I did as most new gardeners and wanted to try a little bit of everything!  A couple of seasons have taught me what is most productive for our small space and what I will buy from the local farmer’s market.

This year I will plant for the two of us-3 tomato plants (2 small tomatoes and 1 slicer), 1 zucchini, 1 cucumber (for salads and pickles), 1 chard (for salads and steamed greens), a few kale, 1 acorn winter squash, 7 pepper plants (3 sweet peppers for salsa, 1 cayenne for salsa and drying, 1 pimento for salads, 1 poblano/ancho pepper for chile powder), various lettuces, various spinach,  a couple parsley, 3 cilantro, 1 dill, various beets, 3 basil, 10 garlic, and Egyptian walking onions.
Veggies planted behind the daylilies

We grow the lettuce, spinach, chard, volunteer red giant mustard, and parsley year round for fresh salads and steamed greens.  We reseed around 4-5 times a year to keep a steady supply of lettuce and spinach. The lettuce does reseed, but not as frequent as needed to keep us in lettuce year round.  We assist by broadcast seeding with the reseeding done naturally. Everything you need to know about growing lettuce  The red giant mustard reseeds itself as does the parsley.  The Fordhook chard is a perennial so as long as you only take outside leaves, it stays for many years.

I look for varieties that are compact or recommended for pots.  These tend to take up less space or are adapted to pots.  Potted veggies and herbs

I am not growing broccoli or cabbage this year.  They take up a lot of space, take a long time to mature, and are relatively inexpensive to purchase.   Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

Peas were great if you wanted to do the snow peas.  Regular peas require many plants and lots of time shelling for a small quantity of peas.

My bush green beans didn’t do well so I tried pole beans last year.  I grew them in pots with a trellis for them to climb and with petunias so it was ornamental, too.  They did decent.  I had some that did really well.  These were the ones I remembered to cover the seeds with inoculant that improves their productivity before planting.  They all had pretty flowers.

I still have turnips in the freezer from this past year so we did not eat many.  I’ll just pick up a few at the farmer’s market.  Turnips do not take up much space and are easy to grow.  Some are even grown just for their greens.

I grew 6 tomatoes this past year.  5 of the 6 were the bigger slicing or paste tomatoes.  They do not seem to produce nearly as much as the smaller fruiting tomato plants.  I am cutting back to 3 tomatoes, 1 slicer and the smaller tomatoes.  This will be all we need to eat in the summer for salsa, salads and burgers as well as canning for sauce and freezing for salsa.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow

My advice is to think about what you eat frequently, look at the space they require, where you can place them, how long it takes for them to mature.  Lay out a plan and just try it!  Even if you only plant 1 or 2 things, it is fun to watch it grow and nothing tastes as good as fresh off the vine/out of the ground.  Easy kitchen garden  Tips for growing in pots and looking good doing it: Decorative container gardening for edibles 

Make this year the year that you start your own back door, or front door, kitchen garden!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Choosing the healthiest olive oil

Ojai olive tree farm in Cali
Saturday, February 6, 2016

There have been articles and exposes that the olive oil you are purchasing may not be what it says it is.  How do you decide what kind to purchase to minimize the risk that you are getting what the label says?  I would buy an organic olive oil that is extra virgin, cold pressed from an estate.  When food is grown in the USA, you have the highest confidence that it is what it says it is so American grown is a great option!

Extra virgin is oil from the first press of the olive.  Cold pressed means that heat or chemicals have not been used so the oil is as close to the olive as you can get.  Buying an estate olive oil means it is coming directly from a specific olive farm.  With their estate on the label, their reputation is on the line.

There are olive farms in California and Texas in the US.  The olive oil from our US growers are typically estate olive oils.  Many Italian olive oils are a blend of olive oils from many different olive tree farms.

You can buy from a grower you know or have visited. When visiting family in California, we took a tour of a great little family run olive farm Ojai Olive Oil.  American raised and made olive oil   It was the highlight of our vacation.  You can order from them on-line.  

Ojai olive farm-pressing room and tasting room

The next Christmas in Cali, my sister took me on a Jeep wine tour.  Many of the wineries also sold their estate grown olive oils.  Another US state getting into the olive oil business is Texas.  Here is an organic farm I ran across. American grown olive oils are out there!

You can also adopt an olive tree and get the oil from your own adopted tree.  I adopted a tree in Sicily where my grandpa immigrated from.  Nudo started an olive tree adoption program to help small olive farmers keep their farms.  You get to choose which farm you want your tree from and have your oil from that farm delivered to your door.

I have also found estate olive oils at TJ Maxx.  They get in some really fun specialty foods here.

If you just want to go to the supermarket, I buy from Whole Foods.  They check out the companies that they sell in their stores.

Look for the date that the olive oil was pressed and bottled.  You want oil that is within 1 year of bottling.  A fresh oil will have a much stronger, grassy taste, full of nutrients.  Nutrients fade with time.

A fun thing to do with your olive oil is to make herbal oils.  For tips on making your own flavored olive oil  Quick tip-make your own flavored oils   If you decide you want flavored oil, be sure to use dried herbs. 

You can grow your own tree to make your own oil if you live in a temperate area of the states.  Olive trees will also grow in pots that you can take indoors in the winter.  The pot will limit how large they grow.

You have many options on getting fresh, healthy olive oil!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Choosing which tomatoes to grow

Potted volunteer tomato plant
Sunday, January 31, 2016

There are hundreds of tomatoes to choose from.  There are whole catalogues devoted just to America’s favorite home garden vegetable.  There really is nothing like a homegrown tomato, fresh off the vine!  With so many to choose from, how do you decide which is best for your garden?

Some consideration for deciding what to plant-space you have, flavor, how you use tomatoes, and which types grow best and give the biggest yields in your area.  Ask your neighbors or farmers market sellers which types they have found grow the best for them.  For heirloom and open pollinated types you buy from the farmers market, save the seeds from the ones you like and you can grow them in your garden!

I prefer heirloom and open pollinated, organic veggies.  I love the idea of seeds being handed down from generation to generation with loving care, through good times and bad.  Back in the day, every vegetable was precious.  You should save the seeds from your very best tasting, performing plant with the biggest fruits.  It was a sacrifice to take the biggest, juiciest fruit for its seeds.  Seeds were like gold back then.

Today, we save seeds from the best performers in our garden so year after year our veggies are better adapted to our specific garden conditions and tastes.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Chocolate cherry tomatoes

Family lore has it that my great grandfather killed a man in self defense when one of my great uncles stole some seeds the neighbor had ordered.  The neighbor came with a gun and confronted my great grandfather for the theft of his seeds.  The family had to leave the state, worried that the law would come after him.  At least, that is a story I heard told.........

This year I have told myself I am going to stick with 3 tomato plants.  2 for canning and salads and one for slicing tomatoes.  I say that every year and usually end up with at least 5 because I see ones I just can't resist.

You may be surprised with my canning tomato choices.  I can all types of tomatoes.
I plant tomatoes that give lots with great taste and preserve all that we can't eat.   I have recently been growing the darker tomatoes since they are so healthy!  For more on the benefits of darker veggies, The Power of Purple  If you are curious on how the color of tomatoes affect its health benefits, 
Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition or just a ranking on overall health benefits by type, 
Most nutritious heirloom tomatoes  They even have tomatoes today that are bred specifically to increase the healthiness of the tomato!

 I get the best yields from the smaller tomatoes.  
In the past, I used to get loads of tomatoes with Juliet (a hybrid, 1999 All American) and Yellow Pear (a heirloom from pre-1800).  Both are indeterminate, meaning they produce from summer through frost.  The Juliet is a mini Roma, great taste.  The last couple of years, the Juliet and pear tomatoes have not been doing well in our garden.  Small tomatoes Sun Chocolate, Indigo Rose, and Baby Boomer all did well in our garden last season.

The smaller tomatoes are great for drying as well.  I like using my electric dehydrator for "sun dried" tomatoes as it is usually just too humid in the Midwest to dry tomatoes in the sun.  
Large heirloom Italian Red Pear tomato, good for sauce and slicing

For slicers, the heirloom Brandywine, dates back to 1885, is a taste favorite which we have grown many times.  It continues to win taste tests to this day.  I tried a grafted tomato from Territorial Seed Co.  and it did very well.  A graft is an age-old technique of taking a strong root stock and grafting a tasty plant on to it.  Lately, we have been trying different chocolate varieties, an early variety and a winter storage variety.  Cherokee Purple slicer, Glacier for early tomatoes, and Red October as a storage tomato we have good luck with in our garden. 

One large tomato variety that did surprising well this last season was Italian Red Pear.  It is a large
heirloom paste 
tomato traditionally used for canning.  It did great all the way through late fall.  I am definitely growing it again this year.  I saved the seeds from an heirloom tomato I bought at Whole Foods.  Any time you purchase an heirloom veggie, you can always save the seed and grow them in your own garden.
If you are short on space, there are many dwarf and patio varieties that can even be grown in pots!  
  We have had good luck with 
Bush Early Girl (only 54 days ‘till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, while trying heirloom Lizzano and Tumbling Tom.  There are many more options!  
Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots
Yellow Tumbling Tom, a dwarf variety

Just three tomato plants should give us enough for eating, freezing for salsa, and canning that will last us until the next year.  You don't need many plants to get a whole lot of fruits!

For more on growing tomatoes, these blogs can help you get started growing your own tomatoes this season:

Saturday, January 30, 2016

February Garden Planner

February kitchen garden
Saturday, January 30, 2016

You can get a jump on the garden by starting seeds indoors.  It is easy and a budget friendly option that allows you to grow many varieties not available at your neighborhood nursery or big box store.  Besides, it is nice to have green things growing again!

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6 garden)

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)

For a full seed starting calendar, Indoor Seed Starting Calendar
Aerogarden for seed starting

What are the tricks to successful seed starting?  The most surefire I have found with a gadget is the Aerogarden with the seed starting tray.  I have almost 100% germination rate with it.

The key is using sterile seed starting mix, pots and containers.  You can make your own seed starting mix with peat moss or coir (renewable), compost, and vermiculite.  Just be sure to heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.

Place the seeds in the starter mix in the pots and wet thoroughly from the bottom (watering from the top can dislodge seeds).  After fully saturated, they are ready to put in a catch pan.  Make sure any catch pan that you use has been thoroughly washed in a bleach solution so all pathogens are killed.  The one I just bought has a water reservoir in the bottom of it that wicks the moisture up under the seedlings.

I put my seed starts in a plastic tray with a clear plastic lid in a sunny window that I have had for years that you can buy at any big box store.  Keep moist, but not wet, and with the clear cover on until seedling emerges.  Once seedling emerges, remove the clear lid.
Seed tray starter kit

Make sure you label your seedlings as soon as you plant them; you may think you will remember 2 months from now what was where, but likely not.  Now is also a great time to start keeping a journal.  Start tracking what you planted when so you can review next year what worked well to repeat and what didn’t work so well to tweak.

Your seedling’s first leaves are not “true” leaves; think of them as baby teeth.  The second sets of leaves are their true leaves.  They are ready to be hardened off when they have their first set of true leaves.  Seedlings must be hardened and not just thrown outside.  You take them out a little at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to sun and cold, only during the daytime.  I try and plant when there is a warm spell forecasted to minimize the shock.

There are great selections of herbs and veggies at nurseries and big box stores nowadays so you have great options just waiting until spring is officially here and picking up what looks good at your nearby store in a couple of months.  This is also a great back up if your first seed starting adventure goes a little awry...........

Garden planning

Happy garden starting!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Planting seeds outdoors for early spring harvests...........

Earthbox with lettuce on the patio
Sunday, January 24, 2016

You wouldn't think you could sow seeds now, but you can!  Cold season crop seeds can be broadcast in late fall, winter or early spring.
It was down in the teens again this last week.  If the wind dies down enough and the earth isn’t frozen, I plan on putting out some Austrian pea, spinach and cold hardy lettuce seeds in two of my Earthboxes and in the garden bed.  

I plant in pots and my flower bed which is mulched.  Planting in mulched flower beds is a great way to veggie garden.  Mulch adds organic matter, your flowers attract beneficial insects which increase your harvests, mulch moderates the ground temperature, suppresses weeds, retains moisture, and looks good, too!  If putting your veggies in mulched bed, you do have to pull the mulch back when you plant seeds.  Almost all seeds are not strong enough to push the mulch out of the way as they sprout.

For more on gardening in your flower bed, Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds.   
I think I will go with space hybrid for the spinach and for the lettuce-north pole butterhead, rouge d’hiver romaine (pretty red and green), winter density romaine, winterwunder light green loose leaf, and marvel of four seasons butterhead (cranberry tips).  I have a hard time picking just one or two!  Planting a variety also means they will sprout at different times, providing a longer harvest.
I have a nice crop of volunteer lettuce come up in my Earthboxes each spring.  Surprisingly, they were loose leaf varieties-prizeleaf, green and red royal oak leaf, green and red salad bowl, and ashley mix.  Sowing more seed will give more plants sooner.  If they are crowded, I will transplant some into the garden bed when it gets warmer.

For more on starting seeds in your garden, 
Never ending salad from one packet of seeds

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reasons to grow your own veggies and herbs

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I have fond memories of long summer days at my Granny’s. She had a BIG garden. My sister and I were always Granny’s little helpers. Of course, she was also a wonderful cook. 

Every gardener has their own story on how or why they got started gardening:
-Growing your own was how your Mom and Dad did it.
-Wanting the freshest produce that gives your family the most nutrients.
-Little Joey or Angel is a picky eater; if the little one helps plant it and grow it, they will want to eat it.
-Knowing that what you feed your family has no chemicals in it and contains no genetically modified organisms (gmo’s).
-Enjoying the variety of what is in season.
-Keeping Grandma or Grandpa’s favorites alive from seeds that have been passed down for generations.
-Just love watching things grow and digging in the dirt (it is great exercise to boot).
-Ability to snip the freshest herbs to add to your latest culinary masterpiece.
The list goes on........

I migrated from flowers to herbs and most recently to veggies. I love fragrance and ran across a clearance herb book. It listed many herbs that could be grown indoors. I thought that would be a great idea to grow good smelling herbs to freshen the house over the winter. When spring came, I transplanted them outdoors. Start a kitchen herb garden!

I toyed with adding veggies, but wasn’t sure how that would work out, living on a golf course! I decided to try it out, incorporating them into my flower bed. Our concerns were diminished when the golfers began complementing us on our “flowers.” It is amazing how much you can grow in very little space and how great it can look.

There are so many new varieties that come out every year for small spaces.  These are referred to as patio, compact, or dwarf types.  Burpee’s seed packets this year display a terra cotta pot with a check mark in it for those that are good for growing in pots, which will also work great in small spaces.  Veggies for small spaces  and Fruit for small spaces

Intersperse your vegetables and herbs with your flowers.  Not only does it look beautiful, but the flowers attract the pollinators that increase the amount your vegetables produce.  I plant my peppers with petunias in pots that we use on the patio and line the border of my vegetable garden with day lilies and marigolds.

You can grow healthy plants without chemicals, referred to as all natural or organic gardening practices.  Your plants need beneficial insects to pollinate your fruiting plants (like tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers).  Insecticides don’t know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug.  There are organically approved insecticides that can be used, but should only be sprayed cautiously.

Herbs are so easy to grow.  Many of our favorites (oregano, rosemary, thyme, savory, basil, chives) are from the Mediterranean region that has little rainfall and poor soil.  You actually get the most flavor from herbs that are kept on the dry side; it concentrates the oils in the leaves.  You can harvest from them nearly year round as they are also perennials.

I named my gardening blog after the gardens our grandparents and great grandparents started to help support the World War II effort, called “Victory Gardens.”

Whatever is your reason for thinking about growing a garden, right now is a great time to plan what you are going to grow this spring!  How to know what to grow

Monday, January 18, 2016

Natural air fresheners you can make

Monday, January 18, 2015

Most of the air fresheners on the market today contain artificial chemicals, volatile organic compounds.  Anything that is listed as “fragrance” as an ingredient, companies that make them are exempt from sharing exactly what is in that fragrance, even in cosmetics.

Studies have shown that air fresheners can contain acetone (what paint thinner is made of), acetaldehyde, chloromethane, and 1, 4-dioxane along with 20 more different VOC’s.  7 of these are regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws.

If you want to stay away from products that contain VOC’s, there are limited options today, but there are options.  You need to look for air fresheners that contain only essential oils.  Or you can make your own!
A simple diffuser is easy to make.  You need only grape seed oil (half cup), your favorite essential oil (5-10 drops), some wooden skewers, and a small bottle to put it in.  
You can also just add essential oil to your favorite potpourri to refreshen the scent.  Some of my favorites are eucalyptus, rose geranium, clove oil, jasmine, patchouly.
Different scents evoke different emotional responses.  For calming properties-chamomile, juniper, lavender, lemon balm, rose, ylang ylang.  Energizes-eucalyptus, grapefruit, lime, mint.  Memory-sage and rosemary.
If you want to purchase plug in fresheners, Aura Cacia is one the uses essential oils and you can get it on  Or you can purchase a scent ball that lets you add your own scent.  This gives a strong scent, but it needs to be refreshed often.
To get rid of odors in rooms, you can put out bowls of vinegar.  It will stink initially, but will get rid of odors in the room.
To get rid of odors in carpets, baking soda is a natural odor neutralizer.  Just sprinkle on the carpet, sweep in, leave overnight, and vacuum up in the morning.  The baking soda will take all the odors with it.  You can add your favorite essential oil(s) to the baking soda before using on the carpet.
I make up a spray of geranium, eucalyptus and lavender essential oil in water.  I spritz in my drawers, linens, and curtains.  Makes everything smell great!
Another option is to take your favorite essential oils or spices and put them water and heat in a small electric warmer or on the stove in a pot. 
For my car, I bought car scent diffuser.  I use clove oil in the car; it lasts a long time.  The one I have does not plug in-you just add the scent to the diffuser pad, but you have that option as well.
There are many different options to add healthy, natural, safe scent in your home or your automobile.