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 (a family of 2) 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)
Artichokes
Broccoli
Cabbage
Celery
Endive 
Escarole
Kale
Mache

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)
Chamomile
Chives
Eggplant
Lavender
Leeks
Lovage
Parsley
Peppers
Rosemary
Tomatoes
Thyme

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...........

For different garden ideas, here are some to choose from:  Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden, Small space French kitchen garden, Start a kitchen herb garden!
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 amazon.com.  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.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Easy kitchen garden

Potted veggies with flowers in foreground, herb and veggie garden in flower bed in background
Saturday, January 16, 2016

You can start a garden at any time in spring, summer or fall.  
You may be wondering how to get started..........  

Step 1-I think the best way is to make a list of what you like to eat, then see which of your favorites are best to start in your garden in which season.  There is no time like the present to get moving on your gardening dreams.  For an overview of plants by season, Planning for a four season garden  If you want to start with the easiest plants to grow, do what I did and start a kitchen herb garden.  Herbs thrive under neglect.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

The biggest mistake beginners make is starting too big.  For your first garden, herbs and 5-7  of your favorite veggies are plenty to get your feet wet.  How do you decide what to grow?

Step 2-Now that you have your list, take a look at your garden, patio, deck, porch, front yard to see how much space you have that gets 6 hours of sun a day.  There are so many dwarf varieties of every kind of vegetable to grow in pots or small spaces that you should not be put off thinking you don’t have enough space!  Plus growing compact varieties significantly lessens the work by using less space that you have to care for.  A real win-win.

Step 3-Buy your supplies for your garden bed or pot.  Pots are easy-just buy some organic potting soil and the decorative pot.  Most potting soils come with fertilizer already mixed in.   You do not want to use garden soil as it is too dense for pots.  Make sure you buy the right size pot for the vegetable you are growing.  For the size of pot needed by veggie type, check out this blog  Decorative container gardening for edibles
Potted veggies and fruit trees with flowers on patio

If you are going to plant in your garden bed, your mulched flower bed is a great choice to add veggies, too!  If planting in your flower bed or garden, the best thing to do is a soil test (you can buy a kit or take it to your local co-op extension office).  If this just seems too much trouble, buy an organic balanced fertilizer and compost.  Pull back your existing mulch, apply a 2” thick layer of compost, top with the fertilizer (following the label’s directions) and you are ready to plant. 

For more on preparing your garden bed for planting, Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds for a deep dive or for a quick overview Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed

Step 4-Buy your plants.  I prefer to buy plants that are raised without chemicals so I look for an organic nursery to see if they have what I want.  Your local farmers market usually has plants for sell, too, in the spring and early summer.  My next stop is my local nursery or big box hardware store.  Choose the plants that are green and look sturdy.  If they already have blooms, be sure to remove them.  You want all the energy of your plants going into good roots initially.

Step 5-Plant!  Water each plant well before planting.  The best time to plant is before a rain or cloudy days.  Gives the plants a little time to get their roots jump started.

For potted veggie or herbs, fill the pot with organic potting soil, water to get the potting soil settled, plant the veggie, and water again.  You can top with mulch to keep lengthen the time between waterings.  I also plant flowers in my pots to add color and attract beneficial insects.

I like to put a handful of worm castings into each hole with the new plant.  Worm castings have lots of beneficial microbes in them that helps the plants absorb nutrients from the soil.

Step 6-Monitor and water.  Keep an eye on your plants.  They may look sad the first week if it is really hot when they first go into the ground.  Consistent water is the key for success.  Like a lawn or flowers, the best time to water is in the mornings.  When you water your flowers, water your veggies and herbs.  Remember, the biggest cause of plant death is overwatering.  If the soil is moist a couple of inches down, your plants are fine.  I usually don't start watering in our Zone 6/7 garden until sometime in later June.   You may need to start watering pots sooner.

One watch out on watering, many summer crops are susceptible to leaf fungus, like cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes.  Be sure to water at the base of the plant and not the leaves.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mediterranean diet garden

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be great for your health.  It is also fun and easy to grow!  It is heavy in vegetables, nuts, and fruits.  All things you can grow in your own back yard or patio.  That is a triple win-the freshest produce is the highest in nutrition, growing your own is cost effective, and it tastes great.

You may think that you can’t grow what they can grow in the Mediterranean region, but Zone 6 is at the same latitude as France and Italy.  Their temperatures are more moderate than ours so some things we can’t grow without bringing indoors for the winter, but this is exception.  We can grow almost everything right here in our own backyard kitchen gardens.

Potted orange and fig trees
Mediterranean garden plants

Fruits, vegetables, and nuts
Artichokes
Asparagus
Beets and turnips

Broccoli raab
Carrots
Celery
Cucumber
Dates (needs to winter indoors or heated greenhouse)
Eggplant
Beans-chickpeas, fava beans, green, navy beans
Fennel
Figs
Grapes and grape leaves
Oranges, Lemons & Limes (need to winter indoors or heated greenhouse)
Lettuce, radicchio, spinach and other greens
Melons
Mushrooms
Nectarines
Nuts-almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts
Okra
Olives (needs to winter indoors or heated greenhouse)
Onions, shallots & leeks
Peaches
Peas
Peppers-sweet and spicy
Potatoes
Radishes
Tomatoes
Zucchini and other squashes

Potted pimento pepper

Herbs
Basil
Bay
Chervil
Chives
Cilantro
Dill
Garlic
Marjoram & Oregano
Mint
Parsley
Rosemary 
Saffron (stamen from a crocus flower)
Sage
Tarragon
Thyme

Dates, olives, pistachios, and citrus are the only things on this lengthy list that cannot be grown outdoors in our zone.

The key to Mediterranean eating is eating lots of vegetables, to plan around what produce is in season, the liberal use of fresh herbs, cooking with olive oil, and very little red meat.


So what could a compact Mediterranean garden include if you only have a small space?
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
2 tomatoes-1 Roma type for sauces and 1 slicer type for salads
2 sweet pepper plants
1 zucchini
1 eggplant
8 red onions
8 garlic plants
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed

If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the spicy peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed.  Traditional bush beans would be lentils, Romano, Capitano, Cannellini, fava; pole beans-Roma, Helda, Supermarconi.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant.



If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or annual artichokes.

If you are interested in growing an heirloom Sicilian garden, Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden

Saturday, January 9, 2016

9 tips for a healthy, low-tox lifestyle


Saturday, January 9, 2015

 Want to reduce the load of toxins in and on your body?  Here are 8 ways to do it.
  1. Eat organic, whole foods, heavy in vegetables.  Only those foods labelled as organic do not contain pesticides and herbicides.  Natural is not a regulated term.  Find local farmers that do not use chemicals and buy from them; be sure to visit their farm and ask the right questions.  Grow your own-seeds are fairly inexpensive, especially if you get several friends to buy packets and split it between you. You can save seeds from one year to the next if you purchase heirlooms or open pollinated varieties. 
    2.  Eliminate processed foods, refined sugar and carbs.  Sugar is toxic to the body and cancer loves it.  Carbs cause spikes in blood sugar.  Read labels.
    3.  Keep alcohol to a minimum and eliminate smoking.  Alcohol stresses the liver which is what purifies the blood.  You want your liver working in top form.  Dr. Gerson felt that a healthy liver is what heals the body and removes cancer.
    4.  Limit meds and supplements.  Talk to a naturopathic or holistic practitioner or doctor.  Get a test done that shows what you are actually deficient in so you know what you should be supplementing.  Many times just a change in diet can eliminate the need for meds.  We had a NutrEval test done that tells you the vitamins and minerals your body really needs, or doesn’t.
    5.  Don’t forget the exercise routine and keep a healthy weight.  Many studies have shown walking at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes does wonders.  There are also 10 minute workouts you can do in your living room that have shown to be very beneficial as well.  And there are free apps for it!
    6.  Use body products and household products that have all natural ingredients in them.  That nice fragrance may actually be a VOC if it is chemically based.  I heard once that you do not want to put anything on your body that you would not eat.  Your skin is the biggest organ of the body and absorbs right into your blood stream what you put on it.  I think this is a great way to think of it.
    7.  Take your shoes off when you come home.  Keeps the chemicals from the garage, pesticides and herbicides from the grass, and whatever else you have walked on that day, out of the house.
    8.  Use a water filter to keep the chemicals out of the water you drink.  If you use a water softener, you are washing in and drinking a low level salt solution.  Dr. Gerson found that salt causes migraines in some people and is not healthy for your cells.  If you can’t give up your water softener, you can use potassium chloride in place of salt.  This can cause issues with your softener system so consult your dealer before making the switch.  There are also filters like Aquasana's Rhino that can be used in place of a water softener.
    9.  Many recommend supporting your liver with an 80% standardized concentration of milk thistle supplement for a period of time.  Consult a medical professional before using.
You may not be able to do 100% of all of the above, but every bit you do will reduce the toxin load on your body.  It is amazing how different you feel and look when you follow a low toxin lifestyle and diet!

If you have children, their little bodies are much more sensitive to all these chemicals, give them a safe and healthy start in life.

Here is a link to her article for more details:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

January Garden Planner


Sunday, January 3, 2015

January is the time of dreaming and planning for your spring garden.  All the seed companies begin sending out their catalogs for seeds and plants this month.   It is an exciting time for browsing the magazines and making the garden plan for the upcoming year!

Grow what you love!
If you have ever wanted to plant an Italian or French kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space, you may be surprised.  You can grow the staples of an Italian kitchen garden in as little as 6’ x 6’ space. 

To entice the little ones, an Italian garden can also be called a "Pizza or Spaghetti Garden"!  Pizza garden for the kids

It is common for Italians and French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!

If you have only a 6’ x 6’ space, a kitchen garden could include the following:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
2 tomatoes-1 small fruiting and 1 slicer type 
2 sweet pepper plants
1 zucchini (look for “bush” types as they are more compact)
1 eggplant
8 red bunching onions
8 garlic plants
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed

If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the zucchini, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed.  Traditional bush beans would be lentils, Romano, Capitano, Cannellini, fava; pole beans-Roma, Helda, Supermarconi.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant, and less food per space in the garden.

If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or annual artichokes.

For more on what to grow in a French garden, Small space French kitchen garden.  For an Italian Sicilian garden, Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden  Steps on putting in a garden bed, Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

Traditional compost pile
Friday, January 1, 2016

Composting makes what veteran gardeners call “black gold.”  Compost is alive with microscopic critters that help plant roots take in nutrients while also providing them.

You hear over and over again that the key to healthy, productive plants is great soil.  If you are using pots, you can replace your potting soil each year to keep your soil in prime condition.  Another option is to mix your old soil 50/50 with either your homemade compost or store bought compost.  

You can increase organic matter in your garden beds by adding a thick layer of compost 1/2 inch to 3 inches thick in the early spring.  This is also the best time to fertilize.  Apply your fertilizer first, then add the layer of compost.  This insures the maximum absorption of nutrients without getting washed off.  Top the whole thing off with mulch. 

Mulch is organic matter, too.  It will break down and enrich the soil year after year, increasing the depth of dark, rich soil over time.

A side dressing of compost monthly during the growing season keeps plants with the food they need to be their most productive.

You may be thinking, I can’t do compost because I don’t have space in my yard.  Well, this is not the case!  There are a couple of ways those of us with small yards or no yard can create our own compost.  

Naturemill composter
kept in a kitchen cabinet
Naturemill composter in action
Naturemill (http://www.naturemill.com) has an electric composter that you can keep in your house, in your garage, or outside and uses $0.50 of electricity a month.  I have had one for a couple of years and I love it!  Makes me feel good not throwing all our food scraps in the trash or down the disposal.  And it gives me compost year round for my flowers and veggies.  It gives you 1.5 gallons of compost in a couple of weeks. 





Purchased vermicomposter
Homemade vermicomposter
Another small space option is vermiposting or vermicomposting.  This is composting with worms.  It is not complicated.  A simplistic overview-you shred up newspapers, dampen them, put them in a plastic container with holes in the bottom, then add worms, with more shredded paper on top and cover with a lid.  You add produce to feed them.  Many recommend adding the produce in a corner of the bin.  As it is eaten down, add more scraps in another corner.  Worm populations double every 2-3 months.  After all the bedding is turned into brown castings, you screen out the worms, use the worm castings in your garden, and start the process all over again.  Red wrigglers are the recommended type of worm to use.  They cannot get below freezing.  Here is a blog to learn more: http://vermicomposting.com   They also sell everything you need to start your own worm farm.
Traditional compost pile system
 If you have space, you can either get a tumbler that you throw your scraps in and crank daily or do a “pile.”  For the pile approach, you have to layer your compost to get it to heat up to temp for decomposing.  You need a layer of brown material then a layer of green material in equal amounts.  Browns are dried leaves, hay, straw, wood shavings, grains, crackers, corn chips, bread.  Greens are the rest-manure, food scraps, fresh grass clippings, fresh plant trimmings, coffee grinds, meat, fish bones, cheese, eggs.  For good nitrogen, if you don’t have manure or coffee grinds, add another organic nitrogen source like blood meal.  A pile needs to be moist so after you have it created, water it well.  
Tumbler type compost pile

Be careful of adding in any diseased material or weed seeds.  If your pile gets hot enough, it will destroy the disease/seed.  If not, you will get a nice crop of weeds.  Your pile will need to be at least 3 feet by 3 feet to get to the 130-150 degrees necessary to sterilize the compost.
Now the question is, do you turn the traditional pile or let it lay.  You can do either.  Turning the pile, gets more oxygen to hasten the decomposition.  You get compost faster this way, but it is not required.

Permaculture sheet mulching
Some suggest digging a farrow in the fall where you will plant next year, adding your green and brown, and covering back up with dirt.  This is called trench composting.  Permaculture's sheet mulching is very similar, but is placed on top of the ground like the traditional lasagna compost pile, but only about a foot thick.  You’ll have built in, finished compost by spring.  Permaculture would say this is a great strategy as all the microbes, worms, and soil structure that are grown over the winter will stay in place where they are needed for your vegetables.  This is also how the American Indian taught the Pilgrims; placing a rotten fish or eel in the hole of the “three sisters” they grew-maize (corn), beans, and squash.  The rotten fish provides nitrogen and microbial activity.
Trench composting

If you purchase manure or mulch, know the source.  Cattle manure fed hay treated with a systemic herbicide will kill your vegetable plants.  Same for trees made into mulch.  Some of these systemic herbicides in use today stay active for years.

For tips on solving common composting problems, Troubleshooting your compost pile

Winter can be a challenging time to get your compost pile going.  Don't wait to start your own composting.  You can start today!  Just layer greens and browns in a 5 gallon bucket in the garage with some compost starter.  Shake it up daily and you'll have compost going in no time.