Monday, March 25, 2013

The Recycled Garden

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or so we are told. Many traditional gardeners scoff at the idea of using everyday trash for container gardening, but it doesn't look so bad once you have flowers growing in it.

Source: Shelterness
Take old tires. They can sit in a landfill for hundreds of years or be turned into an awesome planter. They can be painted to add color to the green scenery and if they have a rim inside, they can be cut to look like a flower too. Canisters from 3 feet in height to coffee cans make fantastic containers for plants and herbs. Those can be painted as well, and smaller cans can be attached to walls for a great vertical display. Plastic bottles are versatile in the garden too. They can be hung upside down, right side up or even on their sides for a neat planter. Clear soda bottles are also excellent covers for protecting small seedlings by acting as mini greenhouses.
Remember our tutorial on using buckets for container gardening? Buckets are a very easy way to spruce up the garden and add some color. Don't forget about rain gutters; those make fantastic planters for herbs and lettuces, and take up little space. Combining rain gutters and buckets to make watering systems are also getting popular because they save time and space for small backyards or patios.

The versatility of recycling and reusing in the garden is amazing. Have a garden? Have an old broken piano? Perfect! Plant inside of the piano. Tell me that isn't a conversation piece.

Our succulent garden is a perfect example of recycling in the garden. Most of our succulents are planted in plastic containers that soup or other food came in. We have some planted in cement planters we made ourselves. They sit on top of a red vintage serving cart, 1990s VHS rack and a Mid Century linoleum top table. They are against the garage wall and help add color to an otherwise bland wall without too much effort. We've also added some art with the very clever saying of "lettuce turnip the beet"! We have plans to add a pallet herb garden as well.

Our Anaheim neighbors decided not to have a lawn, so instead they created an herb garden using rocks and stones. They added citrus fruit trees to the mix and have a perfect garden blend for cooking right outside their back door.

Some of the benches along Center Street in Downtown Anaheim were being removed and heading for the city dump. It’s a good things our neighbors were there to save the beautiful planks of wood. They hauled them to their house with the help of a friend and put together gardening boxes that now sit in their backyard. The best part about saving the wood isn’t the low cost of putting together gardening boxes, but the history the wood tells. Who knows the stories of each person that sat on the benches at one time? The marks of age on the wood really do tell the city’s story in this case and get to be part of the future with each seedling.
What unconventional containers do you use for gardening?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's Spring! Let's plant.

First things first, we need somewhere to plant in. The definition of soil isn't too specific. That's the great thing about soil, it can contain just about whatever you want. Almost.

Many gardeners that swear by square foot gardening use Mel's mix: 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost. This mix is incredibly nutrient rich and allows for very intensive planting. Depending on what you want to do, 3 part soil can also include sand, perlite, garden soil, mulch and any number of fertilizers. Since we don't swear by anything other than trial and error, we've made adjustments to our mix in our garden almost every planting season. How do we measure our success? The success of the plants, by the amount of worms in the soil, and giving it the good ol' squeeze and poke test.

We started out with native dirt. Ours is mostly clay and sand, which technically make up loam, but devoid of nutrients as much of the fill dirt is in a developed area, we needed to add amendments. Early on we added organic potting soil, various composts and mulch mixes and had decent results. More recently we've added rabbit manure, compost and a bit more native dirt to round out the tilth, or consistency.

We do let our soil rest a week or two between removing the last harvest and sowing the new seeds. I'm convinced this helps the soil replenish some of the lost nutrients and because we still water it every day, it keeps the moisture in the soil and worms happy. Jeremy says it gives the natural (and beneficial) bacteria in the soil time to multiply after we get done tearing up their home too. Crop rotation can have many benefits in the garden, but it will  not restore nutrients to the soil unless you grow plants called nitrogen fixers. What crop rotation does do is reduce the risk of using up specific nutrients from repeated planting. Essentially don't plant the same plants in the same place. This is a method used to help eliminate pests as well. We've dismissed the practive of crop rotation due to space constraints, sun limitations and because we turn our soil and add amendments every season before we plant. For someone with more space and less time, crop rotation may be a good idea.

Before you start growing, it is always a good idea to test what type of soil you have. There are several ways of doing this in addition to sending a sample to a lab for examination. We recommend the Soil Squeeze and Poke Test or the Ribbon Test for 2 reasons: both require you to get your hands in the dirt and are easy to do.

The Soil Squeeze and Poke Test: Take a handful of moist soil and squeeze it. Open your hand and immediately poke it with one finger. The soil should crumble for a great consistency. Not there yet? Don't worry, it takes time! If it falls apart as soon as your hand opens your soil is too sandy. If it sticks together and you have a finger indentation, you have clay soil. With both of these deficiencies, adding amendments such as compost and other organic matter like peat moss or coconut coir will improve the soil and nutrient levels. Dependng on your preference, vermiculite, perlite or ground pumice are also options for improving sandy soil and clay soil into more desirable loam when added with compost and organic matter.

The Ribbon Test: Grab a handful of moist soil and squeeze it out of your hand using your thumb and forefinger. If it falls off as it leaves your hand, the soil is too sandy. If it hangs from your hand after an inch, it has too much clay. Any place between that and you have a loam mixture which is what you want.
While these two tests are good for identifyiing the soil type you have, they will do nothing to show nutrient content or pH, both of which are just as important.  Soil tests sold at nurseries and gardening stores are what you will need for more in depth results. There are also laboratories that test soil samples and are able to give you a report on the quality and nutrient content.

Most plants like a slightly acidic soil pH because it assists with the absorption of nutrients. We have found that the more variety amendments you can add, the better the soil will be able to maintain a healthy pH. Keeping a good balance of materials in your compost is also key because what you put into your compost will invariably end up in the soil if you use it.

Very few plants prefer an alkaline environment. Here in California not only do we have to combat the natural alkaline soil, but our water is usually filled with calcium, magnesium and chlorine, and often flouride as well. Calcium and magnesium are both required nutrient elements for plants, but in smaller amounts. Chlorine and flouride are basically poisons so imagine how your plants might feel if they have to combat that as well as alkaline soil. An easy way to avoid giving your plants too much of these chemicals is to set out the water the day before and let them evaporate out of the water. I want to mention again that gardening centers and nurseries should have soil testing kits so you can check your soil yourself and make adjustments. We have never actually tested our soil, but we follow the rule of keeping plenty of variety in our amendments which has worked for us so far.

Pay attention to your zone. In Southern California sometimes we are zone 10, sometimes 9B. While the 14 zone maps are useful, they don't take into account micro-climates due to topography which can have a big impact on temperatures. Sunset offers even more in depth 24 zone information on their website, but even the map is still a generalization of your climate. Check your own yard for hot and cold areas that you can use for different plants.

We don't have a go-to seed company, or specific plant varieties that we grow. We might have a conversation about what we'd like to grow and then purchase seeds at our local farm supply store or order them online. We do buy organic seeds when we can, and of course ones that grow well in our area. Be mindful of what seeds grow well in your area by choosing plants by season and noting the type of soil they grow well in. Keep a log of your garden so you know what works and what doesn't. Always be sure to experiment as well. Sometimes a plant may just need to be moved to a different part of your yard for less or more sunlight. The bottom line when choosing seeds is grow what you want to eat.

Download our garden planner to keep track of your soil, seeds, planting schedule and garden layout!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Caring for Gardening Tools

There is a reason that any quality gardening book has a section on gardeing tools. Tools help get gardening work done more efficiently and if taken care of, more safely. It is important to take care of any tools used, but gardening tools get used in special situations that normal hand and power tools generally avoid. Tools in the garden are regularly used in wet situations, in abrasive soils and outside in the sun and rain. All of these things can wreak havoc on a tool if not taken care of. While plastic is used more and more with small hand tools, those looking for more durability still rely on wood and metal, and there is no replacement for metal when it comes to cutting blades.

The most important thing to remember is to keep blades sharp, be it the pruning shears in your back pocket or the shovel head hanging in the tool shed. A sharp blade works better and is actually safer because it doesn't require extra force to accomplish the cut which may lead to injury. Before using a blade, check it for damage or dullness. Running a file over the cutting edge a few times can make a big difference in how pruning shears will cut. Feel free to sharpen during use too if it seems you are having to use more effort than you'd like.

Preventing rust can go a long way when protecting the edge of a blade and can be accomplished wth washing it and letting it dry before putting it away. Removing soil, plant material and moisture from a blade can make it last longer and wiping it with a thin layer of a tool oil or WD-40 between uses will also protect it from rust while in storage.

Special consideration should be taken when using blades to prune suspected or confirmed diseased plants in order to avoid spreading anything to healthy branches or plants. The best solution is a bleach and water mixture which may bary depending on what you are dealing with alcohol wipes or Lysol disinfecting spray are also good options, though a little less effective than bleach. Disinfecting the blades between every cut may be required when working on a diseased plant.

Remember, be careful and respect your tools and they will serve you for a long time to come.

Friday, March 15, 2013

1955 Ortho Gardening Dress

I found this wonderful Ortho Gardening Book from 1955 that offers advice on plants, fertilizing and tools. Let’s be honest, the best thing in the booklet is the “Chrysanthemum yellow, figure flattering wrap around” gardening dress. The selling point: “it has dozens of uses for the active gardener, the modern homemaker, and those who entertain outdoors.” It must be true because the Ortho dress was designed by American designer Claire McCardell, who dismissed French fashion to create the American women's look.
Not only do I love the color, but the front “kangaroo pocket” is amazing! A gardener can hold seeds and hand tools in there, a homemaker can store cookies and spatulas and the outdoor entertainer can keep her company’s drinks fresh with paper umbrellas and cocktail napkins! Sadly, the offer of the $6.95 Ortho dress ended December 31st 1956.

While we can’t wear one of these versatile dresses, at least we can look at the great gardening photos!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grow Grub, Not Grubs

We found a problem in our garden this summer: the white grub. They are disgusting. Don't worry, I won't post any photos of the hundred or so we sifted out of one of our raised bed gardens but if you must see what they look like, Google it. They are beetle larvae, and I'm starting to think it was those really cool green Japanese beetles I kept seeing flying around the yard. My dad told stories of how as a kid he'd wrap fishing line around them and then had his very own living kite. Something with such a nice memory can't be that bad, right?

Here's the thing, while these grubs can do wonders for your compost by breaking down organic matter into beautiful nutrient rich soil, the growing grubs in your garden eat roots. Plants need roots for water, nutrients and to grow tasty food. So how do you get rid of these gross pests? I've read that adding Nematodes, or round worms, to a garden is a good solution for grubs and fleas. But wait, now I'm adding a potential parasite to my garden? No thank you. If you are lucky enough to have chickens, letting them forage in a garden plot before planting can help clean out the grubs as well, but for the rest of us, aside from using pesticides, it seems that sifting your soil and hand picking them out is the way to go if you have an organic garden. Luckily the only other pests we have had are a few snails that chew on our leafy veggies and our outdoor cat that likes to take a stroll through the garden from time to time.

A good strong spray of water to the plants helps keep them looking clean and pest free from above the ground so make sure to hand water once in a while even if you have an automated watering system. It also helps to water in the morning to prevent evaporation and ensure the soil doesn't stay too moist after dark, because snails will see that as an invitation.

Growing good grub is nice, but we can't do it alone. Let's not forget about the beneficial bugs that help our gardens. Bees are great for pollination, ladybugs will eat up aphids and other insects, and butterflies are nice to look at but also help with pollination (just watch out for hungry caterpillars). Though I'm not a huge fan of having wasps around the house, I know my peppers wouldn't have been as successful last summer if it weren't for their help with pollination and them hunting other pests. One or two isn't a pest problem, but if there were more I'd be scared of being stung just when watering the garden.

Since keeping bees is not allowed in Anaheim, we've been considering making some changes to the backyard to become a certified butterfly garden. The North American Butterfly Association requires 3 native caterpillar food plants, 3 butterfly nectar sources and no use of pesticides. You even get a garden sign to put up once you've completed the certification process. The National Wildlife Federation offers a certification for a wildlife habitat that requires food, water, cover and a place to raise young. In case you are wondering, they offer a sign for your garden too. We also let some of our broccoli go to seed this Spring and the bees have loved it. The yellow flowers add some color to the garden and provide a playground for our pollinating friends.

Our favorite underground helper is worms. Earthworms are pretty awesome. Since they eat organic matter like leaves, they break those down and in turn provide nutrients to the soil. Did you know that when earthworms travel underground they create tunnels that help aerate the ground and assist in drainage? I didn't either - thank you Wikipedia! The reason we love our earthworms is because they are a tell that our soil is good. After cleaning our boxes we took a shovel and turned the soil. The result was moving - literally. The worms moving around let us know that they wanted to be there. We had great moisture content, nutrients and a good pH level.

For more help with garden pests, consult your local Cooperative Extension which will be equipped to answer questions about specific problems in your area. Due to budget cuts, they also rely more and more on the community to recognize and report new invasive pests, so help yourself and fellow gardeners by keeping a lookout for new problems.

For California residents, here is a list of resource sites: Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), Center for Invasive Species Research (CISR), and overall agriculture research from UC Davis. It is possible that your state has similar websites which offer free information.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Natural Products Expo West

This weekend I attended the Natural Products Expo West at the Anaheim Convention Center which just happens to be the largest natural product expo. There are exhibitors with natural food, organic products, supplements, health and beauty, and even pets. I only attended Saturday but have already decided next year, I must attend all 4 days to get the most out of the expo. I walked maybe a quarter of the expo floor and was exhausted!

The reason I wanted to attend the expo was that I’ve been thinking more about how vintage and natural living are very parallel. About 2 years ago I decided to make some changes so that we were living a cleaner and more natural life. I did this in baby steps, starting in the bathroom. I bought shampoo and conditioner without sulfates and limited chemicals and made sure that the products we used on our skin were paraben free. I switched to a salt based deodorant that worked for a while and am currently sampling other natural solutions.  Most recently I started washing my face using the oil method which basically combines castor and sunflower oil to clean up. At first I did it because I thought it was going to be cheaper, but I think it costs about the same as using traditional face wash. The difference? My face isn’t dry at all, but it isn’t oily either.

In the kitchen, making small changes was easier than I thought. Growing up we’d always used margarine, so we switched to real butter. Instead of baking with oil, we use apple sauce. We don’t use any fake sweeteners, only granulated sugar, maple syrup and honey. Sometimes we eat gluten free, not because we have any allergies, but it isn’t a nutrient our bodies need. Jeremy has been learning about complete proteins which we’ve been trying to apply to how we eat. For example, rice and beans can complete each other’s amino acid deficiencies, making sure our bodies can get the most out of them.

With change usually come the funny looks, or the comments that something must not taste or work as well as the common products. When you think about the past, natural products used to be the common product. Each generation back had fewer products to choose from, and those products had less man-made ingredients in them. As you work back in time, there is always less. It wasn’t until after World War II that pesticides were greatly used in agriculture, so many foods were the equivalent of modern organic by default. GMOs weren’t engineered until the 1970's so food may have had natural mutations, but they weren’t created by man in a lab. Cleaning products weren’t filled with chemicals that are hard to pronounce. Grandma used baking soda and white vinegar to keep the house clean and they worked just fine.

The Natural Products Expo was huge and a little overwhelming for a first timer like me. My favorite exhibit was the NEXT Pavilion, where the newest products were being featured. Many of these exhibitors are just getting started with a handful of products but had plenty to share about their creations. I’ve picked my favorite natural products that can help anyone ease into a more natural lifestyle.
One of the first foods I tried was organic black bean rotini from Tolerant Foods. The rotini is not only delicious and of pasta consistency, it is gluten free, non-GMO and has many other health benefits. They also offer a red lentil rotini, but I preferred the black bean.
If you are a fan of artichoke, but aren’t quite sure how to cook or season them, Monterey Farms from Salinas, CA has just the product for you. They sell pre-packaged artichoke hearts that come in four different seasonings and are ready to eat. My favorite is the herbal seasoning.
I love discovering new side dishes so I loved trying Soofoo’s organic super food sides. They come in a pouch, are prepared like rice and come in original, curry, garlic and herb, and my favorite Moroccan medley.
After some of my tastings I was glad to find Limonitz for a refreshing drink. Limonitz is a sparkling lemonade with a hint of mint and is tasty. They suggest mixing it with some spirits for a more natural adult beverage. I haven’t tried it, but I think it sounds great for summer time.
Another bubbly drink I sampled was SpindriftSeltzer with tangerine juice at just 10 calories. The seltzers are not sweetened so they add just a hint of fruit taste to the seltzer water. They also make juice sodas which I’m a fan of.
While at the expo I tried some sweets as well! Among Friends sells pre-packaged baking mixes full of goodness. All are named after friends and they even have some gluten free products. Suzie Q’s, or the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie mix was delicious, but when I tried Trish the Dish I was sold. Trish the Dish is a fruit crisp mix where all you have to do is add the fruit. At the expo they added frozen peaches and raspberries, making for a delicious dessert.

I am not a gluten free eater, however 123 GlutenFree might just change that. I am apprehensive with what kind of taste and texture I’m going to get with gluten free products, but these products are great all around. The pound cake was to die for and the pumpkin pan bars were amazing. If there was one product that was memorable it is the 123 Gluten Free samples. They were just delicious and I look forward to trying more.

Roasted granola. Yep, roasted just like coffee. SanFranola Granola is one of the darkest granolas I’ve seen. That’s probably because it is sweetened with molasses and roasted. It isn’t too sweet, and has just the right amount of crunch. You can get it in a bag or single serving boxes.

After working out I always try to have a protein shake to help my body recover. Pro Yo had the great idea of making a soy and gluten free protein frozen yogurt to change it up a bit. There are 20 grams of protein and 160 calories per tube and the great part is they taste good. I sampled all four flavors: vanilla bean, blueberry pomegranate, Dutch chocolate and banana vanilla. All were delicious but banana vanilla came out ahead. It is difficult to find a great tasting protein supplement without a bad after taste, but I wouldn’t mind having this treat after a workout at the gym. The staff at this booth was one of the exhibitors that was most excited about their product and spoke about how they use it daily.

I’ll admit that I’m a fan of 'baby sauce', or ketchup as most of you know it as. In fact I’ve been meaning to can my own ketchup but haven’t gotten around to it, and might not have to. Sosu, which means sauce in Japanese, was created by sauce maker Lisa Murphy and is delicious. Srirachup is a spicy ketchup that puts sriracha into the mix. I’m not a huge fan of spicy foods, but it was tasty and I immediately thought it would be a great sauce to cook vegetables in. The Thai infused ketchup, or Thaichup was delicious. It is a bit on the sweeter side and perfect for dipping fries. Did I mention they used locally grow tomatoes from Northern California?

A big thank you to the Natural Product Expo West for a wonderful experience and the press gifting station and all of the companies that contributed.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Victory Gardens: Then & Now

Let me start out by saying this is about HISTORY, not politics. And about gardening of course!

Victory Gardens, as they were called beginning with World War I, were a means to supplement government rations during war time. The government encouraged everyone to plant their own food in the name of patriotism to ensure there was enough food to send the boys fighting. Some were planted at people’s homes and others as community gardens created in public parks. No matter where they were planted they had the same effect; food was being grown by the people, for the people.
During the Second World War, Victory Gardens were just as popular. In fact, the USDA reports that 15 million families planted Victory Gardens in 1942 alone, with numbers rising to 20 million gardens in 1943. Victory Gardens were producing 40 percent of the vegetable growth in the United States! There was plenty of propaganda encouraging Victory Gardens including government posters, how-to pamphlets and advertising in home magazines. The Victory Garden Foundation has samples of several 1940s pamphlets used by Victory Gardeners that can still be used for gardening today.

World War II Victory Garden in Anaheim grown by the Boege Family on Lemon St. 1945
Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Library
Here in Southern California, many Disney artists were sent to fight in the war as well. Those left behind joined the war effort by contributing with propaganda comics and cartoons. Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie were Victory Gardeners in a 10 page comic book written by Carl Barks in 1943. Donald Duck was also featured on a garden sign shooing pests from his Victory Garden which was sold at neighborhood shops throughout the country. Mickey Mouse appeared on the Green Thumb Contest entry forms in 1944 for the Victory Garden National Institute.
BBC Land Girls
Not only was gardening a way to supplement a community’s food source but was seen as a way for women to help with the war effort. The Women’s Land Army operated from 1917 to 1921 during World War I and sent educated city girls to farms, helping with agricultural needs. The gals working the farms were known as Farmerettes. Slogans like “Farm Work is War Work”, “Harvest War Crops” and “For a Healthy, Happy Job” encouraged city girls to the country to help the war effort. Between 1943 and 1947 ladies took up pitchforks and shovels once again during WWII. The BBC came out with a TV series in 2009 called Land Girls depicting the Land Army in the United Kingdom during WWII. Smithsonian Magazine described Farmerette’s California experiences during WWII that same year.

The Victory Garden of Tomorrow posters by artist Joe Wirtheim
It is no surprise with the rise in prices of goods that Victory Gardens are cropping up across the country to supplement meals. These days growing your own food has less to do with being a patriot and more with practicality and cost. Growing at home is becoming known as urban farming, vacant lots are being turned over for community gardens and co-ops and serious gardeners take part in food exchanges to trade excess harvest.

Just like in the 1940s, the movement is growing nationwide with some parallels. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden at the White House is the first extensive vegetable garden to be planted since Eleanor Roosevelt’s WWII Victory Garden. The First Lady even has a book out last year called “American Grown” which tells the story of the garden and need for healthy food across the nation.
For those who may want to visit original war era Victory Gardens, you are in luck. The Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts and Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis, Minnesota are the two remaining Victory Gardens from the war era in the US that are still growing. The Smithsonian is even getting in on the action by recreating a Victory Garden by following pamphlets from the 1940s. They are using heirloom varieties that date back to the 1940s and their exhibit will change with the seasons.
US Department of Agriculture 1942

US Department of Agriculture Library
Let’s not forget about the canning and preservation of food. During WWII canning was encouraged so that commercially preserved food could be sent to soldiers on the fronts. These days preserving our own food allows for the luxury of eating out of season foods when we want it, and avoiding artificial preservatives. When food is canned at home not only does it lack those pesky chemicals, it has all the goodness you choose to put in it.
Victory gardens have been grown before and are being grown again. For some, growing their own food might be a protest against food recalls and the lack of GMO labeling. For others they might just like getting their hands in the dirt and enjoying the fruits of their labor. No matter the reason, no matter the size, an edible garden can be very fruitful in the end.

We will be posting tips & resources for growing your own Victory Garden, so be sure to check back throughout the month.

Pest Control in the Garden

Friday, March 1, 2013

52 Lists: All Time Top 5 Favorite Albums

I’m going to share more than just my top 5 favorite albums, but this week’s topic really strikes a chord. Pun intended. One of my favorite books movies is High Fidelity which is about music and of course love. Who doesn’t love a mixed tape? I know I did in the 90s and still do today, even if the music today is technically on CD or ethereally digital.

That’s right folks, I am still a CD buyer. In this day and age where you can log on and buy a song or album in seconds, I prefer to find a store that still sells compact disks. If my car had a tape deck, I might go so far as to listen to cassettes too.
I’ve always loved music, even though I’m not too great at any instrument or singing. I get that from my grandparents who to this day always have music playing in their house or car. My parents on the other hand thought that buying music was a waste of money mainly because it’s free on the radio. I’m happy to say that I married a fellow music lover, who can play instruments, sing harmony and also enjoys buying physical albums of music.
In fact we knew we were in a “serious” relationship when we felt committed enough to combine our music collections. Even though we have very similar taste in music we were very surprised to find that we had minimal overlap in albums making for a large CD collection.
I started making a list of my favorite albums and decided that favoring an entire album was a lot to commit to. Sometimes an entire album just isn’t that great, but has an awesome song that I just can’t live without. Instead I made a mixed tape. Hope you like it.