Tag Archives: Gardening

Why everyone should be planting leafy greens now

If you have ever once thought about giving edible gardening a try, greens — lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, cabbage, broccoli, etc — are what you should plant.  And you should plant them now.  Here is why:

1.  Greens are some of, if not THE, healthiest thing you could ever eat.  They are chock full of anti-cancer phytonutrients and fiber.  And they’re versatile and easy to work into recipes.  Tossed in a salad, sauteed with a tasty sauce, cooked into soups and stews, scrambled with eggs, chopped up and mixed into a casserole — I’m hard pressed thinking of a recipe in which greens would NOT work!

2.  They don’t need a whole lot of sun.  Fruiting vegetables need a full day of sun, but when you’re just eating the foliage, you can get by with less.  If your only spot for a container garden is in complete shade, such as behind a wall or building, you might be SOL.  But if you get even dappled shade (like, through trees), or 3-4 hours of sun, you can probably grow greens.  They won’t be so prolific and bushy as they would with full sun.  However, they will probably not bolt as quickly, lasting longer into the season.

3.  Greens are very frost-resistant.  I kid you not, I had kale and broccoli growing over the winter that was snowmageddon.  It was covered in snow for like two months straight.  And it did not die.  I think the snow might actually insulate plants and protect them.  You can plant most greens in the late summer, keep them going over the winter, and harvest them in the spring.  I know that chard will also keep through the winter, and friends have had the same experience with spinach.  As long as you don’t pick the leaves when temps are below freezing, you should be good to go.
Disclaimer:  I have apparently moved from zone 7b to 7a.  I don’t know if that half a zone will make a difference.  And I can’t speak for north of zone 7.  But south of zone 7 — y’all definitely have no excuse not to garden year-round 🙂

4.  Greens are a gift that keeps on giving.  The chard and arugula I planted this year kept coming back even after I cut it.  Arugula does not last through hot weather, but the chard is still going!  After I chop off the broccoli heads, I can usually get at least one more small cluster of broccoli to come back.  Kale will keep going, but it’s hard to get a second harvest in before it bolts from the heat.  Anyone have any experience with spinach or other greens?

5.  You can even plant greens in the middle of winter.  I’ve never tried this myself.  But this winter I am excited to attempt starting seeds outdoors with a mini greenhouse as seen here.  If it works in Canada, it should work in Maryland, right?

6.  In the middle of winter, you don’t have to worry about pests.  You can neglect them pretty well during the winter.  But just before frost sets in, and after the last frost date, do keep a watchful eye on your greens because as some of the few plants remaining, the bugs will be all over that shit. I’ve had luck with a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth, as well as some of these organic pest remedies from Fine Gardening.  Sometimes all it takes is a blast of water from the hose.

There are many reasons to grow your own food.  First of all, it is fun.  Secondly, while its unlikely you will grow and preserve enough to feed your entire family year-round without several acres at your disposal and full-time work, food no doubt tastes better when it is imbued with the satisfaction derived from producing it yourself.  Some vegetables, tomatoes and corn, for instance, actually DO taste 100% better when freshly picked from your back yard.  And finally, we can go a long way to protecting our earth, promoting sustainability, independence and self-sufficiency by using all available space for something PRODUCTIVE.  Grass serves no purpose.  Why not grow something nourishing?  Even if you just have space for one pot of herbs — give it a try. Grow something.

-R

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August garden update

I was about to declare my container gardening experiment a failure when I impulsively picked up some red reflective mulch on clearance at a garden center nearby in a last-ditch effort to save it.  Perhaps it’s just coincidence — it is possible my plants just needed until August to store up the energy to produce fruit– but whatever it was, it seems to have done the trick.


(makes it kind of hard to mow the grass around it though…)

I actually have a few tomatoes!  Most are still green but I’ve picked one so far which unfortunately had blossom end rot.  Another is pink and about to be ready to pick.

I have SIX eggplants!

 

My cayenne plant is going crazy!  I pick a bunch of peppers every week.

My poblano plant has not been quite as prolific as the cayenne.  Even in years past with lots of sun my experience has been that they love to grow tall and bushy but not produce a whole lot of peppers.  Is there a secret to poblano pepper plants?  I’d love to have enough for chile relleno!

I even got some fall veggie plants into the ground.

Three weeks ago I started searching for fall seedlings because I had plans the following two weekends and didn’t want to wait too long. But everyone at every nursery I went to looked at me as though I was crazy for wanting to start so early, and implied that they would not have any in stock for MONTHS.  However, when I returned just 2 weekends later, not only had they already restocked but had SOLD OUT of the most popular plants like kale.  WTF.  So much for trying to get a head start.

I have seriously been to 5 separate nurseries multiple times and have not been able to find kale seedlings.  I suppose it is just as well because I don’t really have the space to grow enough kale for my voracious appetite and can stick to things that I use less frequently and cost more at the market.

Or that grow vertically — like Brussels sprouts!

I am super excited to give growing my very favorite vegetable a try.  I got these grow bags on end of summer clearance for just a few bucks.

I also picked up some broccoli and radicchio.

I’ve never grown Brussels sprouts or radicchio before.    No idea how difficult they may be.  It would be SO AWESOME though to get six stalks of Brussels sprouts this year — they are so expensive at the grocery store compared to the $1.99 I paid for a pack of seedlings!  Not sure what I will do with 6 heads of radicchio, however…

It’s hard to believe the summer is coming to a close and September will be here on Saturday.  Summer is usually my favorite season and I’m usually sad to see it go, but I think I’m looking forward to fall this year.  I mean, it’s been pretty hot in my house.  And now that, for the first time in four years, fall does not mean back to school for Mr R and me, I am looking forward to all the fun weekends we can have.

And of course…Brussels sprouts!

-R

It’s strawberry season!

That’s right — a little early this year, so get thee to your nearest strawberry patch!

I am usually not expecting strawberry season to be in full swing until later in May/early June, but the news that berries are approaching their peak this week means it’s time to cancel all plans and make room for strawberries.  I went by myself on my day off and picked as many as I could carry in my two arms!

Luckily it could not have been a more beautiful day.

I plan to make strawberry jam, as I do every year, but strawberry shortcake is always good too!

Then, as though I still haven’t had enough of strawberries…I went and picked myself up one of those strawberry grow bags for my backyard.

I was so intrigued by the idea of growing strawberries in containers as seen here at Garden Therapy.  I just had to try.  I thought it would be impossible to grow strawberries in my little yard with an even littler patch of full sunlight.  But this might be POSSIBLE.

I picked up 5 plants before I knew how many holes my bag would have…need to go get some more!  They were 10 for $10 at my nursery!

I chose an everbearing variety that should produce gradually all summer long and possibly even into the fall.  June bearing is more common, however, and necessary if your goal is to grow lots of strawberries at once to use in recipes.  They produce in one prolific burst this time of year.

Strawberries are perennials, for a few years at least, and will overwinter.  My dad, who taught me everything I know about vegetable gardening, always instructed me to pull the blossoms off the first year.  This obviously prevents berry formation the first year, and requires delayed satisfaction.  Hard, I know.  But if you’re growing in a garden bed and ultimately want lots of berries, it is better to do this as it promotes the growth and health of the foliage.

For container gardening, there is obviously no point to this, so I think I will forgo this little piece of advice this year.

I am not totally convinced I get adequate sunlight in my backyard now that the trees have fully leafed out.  So we’ll see how well these do.  If strawberries don’t work out, these bags can be used for growing all kinds of things in small spaces, so I’ll just have to learn and adapt.  Such is gardening.  Such is life.

-R

Terrariums!

Happy earth day!  It’s a rainy day here where I live, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting my hands dirty with nature :).

Apparently, according to all the home/garden/design blogs I follow, terrariums are the latest new trend.  I’ve been eyeing some wardian cases for some time now, as I have a sunny windowsill in my home that has been crying out for some plants!  When I got one for my birthday, I knew I had the perfect rainy day activity.

Well, a rainy day has finally presented itself after a long dry spell, so here we are.  It was super easy to do and provides so much beauty.  It would be a great activity for kids, too.  Plants are also important for improving your home’s indoor air quality.

Terrariums are a good way to start if you’re new to this whole growing thing — they thrive on neglect and once you’ve set them up, require just a few sprays here and there to keep them happy.

 

The nursery I went to actually had a whole terrarium section, with tons of plants and supplies all sold together.  I followed the instructions on the package I bought, which pretty much was the same as those in the link above:

-Find a suitable bowl/dish/vase/case to plant your terrarium.  In addition to the case I received as a gift, I used an old vase I had leftover from my wedding years ago.

-Choose the plants you want, some taller, some lower, some green, some colorful…i.e. kind of like the container gardening adage, “thrillers, spillers and fillers.”

-Create your terrarium by adding the following layers:

1.  gravel/stone, for drainage
2.  horticultural charcoal, to absorb smells
3.  sand or moss, to prevent soil from seeping down to the bottom
4.  potting soil (if planting succulents, be sure to choose cactus potting soil)
5.  Stick your plants in the soil, creating kind of a mound in the center or back for more height.
6.  More soil around plants as necessary
7.  Decorative elements such as moss, stone, etc

Spray with a water bottle to keep moist.

It’s that easy!

-R

Brick spiral garden

In this age of Pinterest there seems to be no end of DIY advice for re-purposing all the old junk you have lying around.  But uh, I don’t know about you, but it’s rare that I actually have all these things — old picture frames, vintage wine crates, pallets, etc, who HAS all that stuff?

But then, on occasion, I come across a project with materials I actually do happen to have.  It is like a lightbulb goes off and I think, HEY, I can MAKE that!!!  And it gets filed away on one of my pinboards, only to be forgotten until I stumble across the object and think, “oh yeah, I should make that project some day…”

Well here is a project that finally came into fruition, thanks to the beautiful spring weather and my eagerness to get into the garden.  I got the idea from this website when I came across it on Pinterest:  tutorial:  spiral herb garden. 

My house came with an enormous stack of ancient bricks in the backyard.  With summer approaching, I’ve been wanting to plant some edibles in my yard, but not until I test the soil and make sure there are no heavy metals lurking underground.  So I had been planning to stick to container gardening for this year, and here was a perfect way to get started.

I chose a sunny spot that was filled with weeds and daylilies like this:

Though the existence of the daylilies seem to indicate full sun, it is hard to tell now before the trees fully leaf out.  So I decided to stick with veggies that (supposedly, I’ve never tried…) can thrive in lower light — swiss chard, arugula, and cilantro.  As the spring and summer progress, I’ll reassess and adapt as necessary.

I cleared and leveled out the ground:

And as the tutorial explained, lay down some cardboard as a foundation and got started laying out my spiral!

It took a couple days to set it all up, with the help of Mr. R.  Finally I filled it with some straw and then a large bag of potting soil.

I started with some seed, but with the extremely hot, dry weather we’ve been having, and considering I am not home 24/7 to keep the soil moist, I didn’t have much luck.  So I picked up some seedlings nearby; hopefully this way I’ll be able to really drench the soil enough to last all day.

 

Gardening is always a little touch and go, especially as strange as the weather has been this spring.  And I’m new to this whole container gardening thing.  So we’ll see how this works out — hopefully I’ll have some fresh greens soon!

The next object I want to re-purpose into a container garden is what I think is an old wash basin, cemented into the ground next to my brick spiral.  I already had Mr. R drill some drainage holes, but, even in this warm weather, I think I’ll wait till beyond the average last frost date in May just to be safe.

-R

The sacred and the mundane

There is so much comfort in the familiar — in the same sights and smells that come back each season and provide a sense of renewal and yet fond reminiscence — a reminder that time is, in many ways, cyclical, not linear.
For me, here on the east coast of the US, this is what the spring means to me — thawing soil, lily of the valley, fresh-cut grass, new mulch, and yes, even the pleasantly unpleasant smell of those awful, invasive bradford pears that give the appearance of a fresh snowfall in March.  In the summer?  Fresh basil and Old Bay, tomato vines and charcoal grills.  In fall the familiar is harder to pinpoint — rotting leaves, crisper air, the hay bales at the pumpkin patch.  In winter it is the omnipresent smell of wood burning fireplaces, Christmas trees, clean, damp air.

And yet, in chatting with a friend who works for the travel industry, it occurred to me that some things I cherish the most are cherished precisely because they are exotic.  Perhaps one of my very favorite flowers is one that you’d never see here at all.  It is just something that reminds me of happy, youthful, relaxed and incredibly memorable trips I’ve taken to warmer climes.  So it got me thinking — what are some sensory experiences that take you back to somewhere NOT familiar — a place that is special to you even if you’ve only been once or twice, because of the fond memories it holds?

I have been fortunate in my life to have had work trips and educational experiences that have taken me to some of my favorite places on earth — but this is not just about checking foreign countries off your bucket list.  It is also about discovering the exceptional in the mundane.  Some of the items on my list are not really that exotic — I just think of them that way given the context in which I experience them.
So while I could go on and on about my favorite native Maryland flowers, foods and experiences, here are some things I love because they remind me of elsewhere in space and time:

Bougainvillea
The aforementioned favorite flower.  Quite simply:  you know you are in paradise once you see the bougainvillea growing.  On my patio of the house in South Africa I lived in for a semester.  Lining the retaining walls of southern France where I spent a summer in college.  Growing nearly wild and uncontained in Costa Rica and Vietnam.  It’s copious fuchsia flowers are hard to miss.  They seem to be always in bloom, like the perpetual summer that is the tropics, a place where you never have to worry about packing away your flip flops.

Photo from wikimedia commons

Garlic+Ginger
These two aromatics, when combined, will forever remind me of the cold 10 days I spent in China.  You’d be hard pressed to find a menu item that did not include the two.  It is on every person’s breath.

Cafe au lait
I was never a coffee drinker before I spent a summer in a French immersion program in Aix-en-Provence.  But France will change you like that.

Rosé wine
I’m not talking about any of that sweet zinfandel crap.  I mean the dry, Provençale rosé the southern French drink all summer long.  You can buy it here, imported, but some how it’s not quite the same.  When I cracked open a bottle I brought back myself, I was immediately transported back to Provence.  I haven’t found one here in the US that brings that same sensation.

Wild Blueberries
One of my (guilty?) pleasures is buying specifically the wild frozen blueberries to add to my morning oatmeal.  Because they remind me of the amazing week I spent in Acadia National Park, where you can grab blueberries by the handful on the side of the road in August.  I had never seen anything like it.


Sweet tea
I prefer my iced tea unsweetened, but when in Rome (AKA the south)…you do as the southerners do, and drink sweet tea, in spite of the inevitable sugar overload.

Champagne
One of the more disturbing trends I have noticed encroaching into weddings throughout the US is the serious lack of sparkling wine flowing all night.  Champagne may not be everyone’s usual drink of choice, but it is what you imbibe when you are celebrating something.  When you drink it, it reminds you of those happy, celebratory times.  But it goes beyond that:  weddings, new year’s eve, life transitions:  champagne is what we drink when we want to mark the optimism of a new beginning.  It signifies not only joy, but shared hope and anticipation.  Life will not always be easy and fun, but it’s important to take time to stop and celebrate on those occasions, when, if only for a moment, everything you see on the horizon is going to be perfect.  Life needs more champagne, not less.


Fondant
Everyone says that this icing tastes terrible, that it is just for decoration.  But I love it, probably for the same reason I love champagne.  I did not have it on my own wedding cake, a decision I have come to regret.

Pomp & Circumstance
Because I needed an audio cue to add to this list.  Graduation season is upon us and I count myself among those who will be enduring another long-ass graduation ceremony this year (LOL, sorry honey!).  But no matter who it is, even I, an avowed graduation-hater, gets a little choked up when this song starts playing.  Partly because it brings back fond memories of my days in high school band.  But in all seriousness, completing a degree is a significant achievement, no matter how long it takes or what number it is, and I’d venture to say that hearing this song allows us all to relive that unique combination of relief and accomplishment we once felt about that onerous final paper being done and done once again.

Cannoli
I know, I am probably one of 100 million people who would list this as well, but any time I am in a little Italy, whether NYC, Baltimore…I must get myself some cannoli.

What are some things you love precisely because of the rarity with which you experience them?  Nutella?  The smell of Jasmine?  UNsweetened iced tea?  Leave a comment!

Garden magic

This yard looks like it has been neglected for a long time, but there are so many amazing surprises that pop up now that spring has sprung early here in the midatlantic.  I’m discovering new things every day!

The dogwood in my front yard has PINK blossoms!  So cool!  Nevermind that it’s March 31 and the dogwoods are blooming…

Here is a flower still unfurling…

 

Good news:  the lily of the valley is starting to bloom!  Can’t wait to take in its intoxicating fragrance…

Bad news:  there is a LOT of this poisonous plant — more than I want in my front yard — and it’s going to be a pain to remove!

It looks like these azaleas might have white blossoms?

Beautiful iris!

I have no idea what this is.  Any clue?

I’m not sure what this one is either…though there’s my last blooming daffodil in the background!

A line of hostas has popped up along the shed!

Wisteria.  So lovely.

And finally, the last of my forsythia still in bloom.

I HEART spring!

-R