Tag Archives: Gardening

Happy Earth Day! Beginners Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing

It’s Earth Day, a few weeks into Spring in the Northern hemisphere, and no time like the present to get your garden going — even if (and perhaps especially if) you’re a total gardening novice.

Fear not. Even if you’ve never grown so much as a pansy, the following steps will get you and your garden up and running.

Select your site. Ideally your plot will get 6-8 hours of full sun per day. If such a site is not available, be sure to buy crops specifically intended to grow in the shade. If you don’t have adequate flat space, explore other outdoor space like patios, pass-throughs, or decks. You can still get a lot of usable space by planting in large boxes and having plants climb up trellises, which many love to do. Your space needn’t be too large. A 10×10 foot plot can support a few rows of different crops. Often gardeners get overly ambitious and plant more than they can reasonably maintain. If your site is traveled by munching animals, such as deer, you will want to construct some kind of fence around it.

Prepare the soil. Use a pitchfork to loosen the ground, preferably down to about 8 inches. Clear the surface with a heavy-duty rake. Break up dirt clods and pull weeds. These can be added to a compost, if you’ve chosen to compost. If you wish, you can buy packaged soil for a nice even top layer that will have some nutrients in it, especially if you suspect your soil is poor. (You can always take a sample into your local garden-supply store for an opinion.) Either way, some sort of packaged fertilizer should be added as well. A general mix for new plantings is usually good, but the folks at the garden center may have more specific advice based on your soil and what you’d like to grow, as well as how much organic matter you want to add. Always water thoroughly before adding fertilizer. (And have kids wash hands after handling.)

If possible, plan some paths in your garden. They will make it easy to water, weed, and harvest without stepping on plants. Some people cover the paths with tanbark or other material (available at garden-supply stores) to mark them and to discourage plants from taking root there. Make sure you have a good path for your hose and a water source.

Plant the seeds or seedlings. For most people, this part is especially fun. Follow the packet instructions for seed spacing and conditions. You may want to lay a line of string as a guide, or create a furrow. Some stores carry seed tapes, which you just lay down in a straight row. Tapes are great for tiny hard-to-handle seeds like carrots, which can be difficult, even for adults. Large, easy-to-plant and -grow seeds include nasturtium and pea. If you’re planting bedding plants, be sure to give each lots of room to spread out and grow. Try to anticipate the heights of your plants to get the tallest ones into the back. And don’t forget to grow something that you’d like to see or eat!

Fertilize. If you didn’t add fertilizer to the bed while preparing the soil, you’ll want to add a little bit while planting. There are fertilizers on the market that are designed specifically for new growth. Your local garden center is the best bet to point you toward a good fertilizer for your garden and conditions. Many people fertilize plants again at about six weeks into the growing process.

If you are gardening in containers, get the biggest containers you have space and money for. Check for adequate drainage holes. If you don’t have good drainage, you can add netting or pieces of broken pottery to the bottom of the pot. You may also want to add perlite, which will aerate the soil while helping it retain moisture. Fertilize as you would in a garden plot.

Water your plants or seeds. New transplants and freshly planted seeds like lots of water. The best kind of watering is done gently and deeply, so that the water soaks through to the growing roots of the plants. Once your plants are established, you will probably need to water every other day or so when the weather is sunny. (Plants in containers usually need water more often than plants in the ground.) If a plant droops during the day, or the soil feels dry more than a couple of inches down, it needs water. It’s best not to water in bright sunshine because the sun can evaporate the water or even cause burned spots on the plants.

Keep up the good work. Continue watering and caring for plants as needed. This can include pulling out obvious weeds and cutting back any growth that has died or become unattractive.

Be sure to harvest what you’ve grown. Sometimes I’ve been so proud of my work and/or not sure when to harvest that I’ve let plants go past the point when they’re edible or useful and all the way to seed. Take a chance and cut and enjoy what you’ve done. More will usually grow back!

Get comfortable. There are lots of items available to make gardening more comfortable. I suggest knee pads, if you’re going to be doing a lot of kneeling, a sun hat to protect your skin, and old shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or gardening clogs made specifically to get wet and dirty. (A pair of gardening clogs lasts for years. They’re also very comfortable and you can leave them outside.) Most people like gardening gloves and there are a range of them on the market. I find them irresistible to buy at gardening and hardware stores, with their cute patterns, but I almost always end up taking them off and getting my hands really dirty — the better to feel the plants, the dirt, and what I’m doing.

Have fun entering one of the oldest and most rewarding hobbies around!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Photo Friday: World’s Favorite Tulip

As many readers know, I am an inveterate, unabashed, unapologetic lover of tulips! The most recent burst of rain and wind pretty much took the last petals of our tulips, but they were glorious again this year. A full report is coming. For now, there are these, Darwin Hybrids that really are called World’s Favorite.  Bright, large, dramatically colored — they did not disappoint. Neither did the great blue sky I found them under one recent day.

I hope you’re enjoying Spring in its full flower!

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Signs of Spring
Photo Friday: Gather ye Rosebuds
First of Spring: Larkspur, CA

Happy Equinox and Supermoon!

Ready for a change of season? The March Equinox will occur on Sunday, March 20th this year, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere. The exact time is 23:21 (or 11:21 p.m.) at Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is 4:21 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, 7:21 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time).

Equinox” means “equal night” in Latin and, twice a year (in March and September), the sun shines directly on the equator, and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world.

In addition, the full moon that heralds the Equinox on the night of March 19th will appear especially large and bright, due to its closer-than-usual relation to Earth. This supermoon, or perigee moon, is due to rise in the east and be the biggest in almost 20 years. If you are blessed with clear skies tonight, you will probably want to have a look.

The Farmers Almanac calls the March full moon the Full Worm Moon and notes:  “As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins.”

Northern Native American tribes knew this moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter. They also used Full Crust Moon because the snow cover became crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night.

The Dakota Sioux named it the especially poetic Moon When Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is a Colonial American variation. More than one other culture calls it the Windy Moon. In Medieval England it was known as the Chaste Moon.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. This site lists full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Enjoy the new season and the supermoon!

Photos: NASA (Moon), Susan Sachs Lipman

Huffington Post: Rise, Fall & Rise of New York City’s School Gardens

Every now and again, you stumble upon what is simply a great story. Daniel Bowman Simon’s Rise and Fall of School Gardens in New York’s Past Can Guide Us Into the Future traces New York City’s early community gardens, such as the 1902 Children’s School Farm in DeWitt Clinton Park on 54th St. and 12th Ave. in Manhattan, which was planted as much for the civic virtues and love of nature it would instill in its young gardeners as it was for its vegetables and flowers.

A couple of years after its inception, there would be a whole School Farm movement, with an astonishing 80 plots in New York. In 1931, there were 302 school gardens, which accounted for 65 acres.

Over time, the gardens vanished. In most cases, their land was redeveloped. Simon notes that we need to take heed and not let that happen again. He cites some wonderful trends regarding the current uptick in school gardens – namely First Lady Michelle Obama‘s White House Garden and other programs that I’ve written about here, the new school garden at P.S. 29 in Brooklyn that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and celebrity chef Rachael Ray helped promote, and the work of the Children & Nature Movement.

Do yourself a favor and read the article. The graphics are wonderful. And the story turns out to be the writer’s testimony in the recent public hearing held by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, which very recently completed a set of community garden rules designed to strengthen protection for gardens.

White House Photo: Samantha Appleton

From Treehugger: Frugal Green Living Posters

Canning, victory gardening, carpooling, conserving resources, living frugally — There are a lot of parallels between a whole swath of trends and activities today and those from the 1940s. In both periods, outside forces (war, the economy, the environment) have caused a lot of us to take stock and change some of our homefront habits. In the process, many of us discovered or rediscovered some relatively lost arts on the way to using less.

The always-relevant Treehugger has offered a terrific blog post, Frugal Green Living: Posters for the Movement, which features a collection of 1940s posters that, while making statements urging people to reconsider wasteful habits, are also themselves wonderful examples of message-oriented graphic design at its mid-century zenith.

I love these for their bold graphics and nostalgic style and marvel that they are fairly relevant today – except for the last one, of course. Though Treehugger makes the point that cooking fat is now collected for biodiesel fuel, rather than to make explosives. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.

Posters: Minneapolis Public Library

Top 10 Vegetables for Home Gardeners

Tomatoes top the National Gardening Association‘s list of the Top 10 most popular vegetables grown by home gardeners. A whopping 86% of gardeners said they planned to grow tomatoes, when surveyed.

Here are the Top Ten and the percentages of people who said they planned to grow them:

1. Tomatoes (86%)
2. Cucumbers (47%)
3. Sweet peppers (46%)
4. Beans (39%)
5. Carrots (34%)
6. Summer squash (32%)
7. Onions (32%)
8. Hot peppers (31%)
9. Lettuce (28%)
10. Peas (24%)

On the bottom of the list? The lowly Rutabaga only had 1% of gardeners’ support.

Looking for other Gardening lists? See these for ideas about:

Top 10 Heirloom Vegetables to Try

Top 10 Vegetables for the Urban Garden

10 Shade-Loving Vegetables

Once you’ve been inspired to plant, you may want to check out my earlier post, How to Get Growing if You’re a Total Beginner. Tomato season may be winding down (though hope remains for my Oregon Spring cherry tomatoes and a relatively warm fall), so the Gardening Association suggests planting fragrant fall annuals such as snapdragon, stock (below), and sweet alyssum.

Photos: Jean-noël Lafargue (top), Susan Sachs Lipman

Poster: University of N. Texas Libraries

How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds

I love nasturtiums and this summer I had a real cascade of them tumbling over the deck boxes in their bright colors and peppery scents. I went to weed them the other day and noticed that many had gone to seed and still many others had dropped their seeds on the deck. I gathered the seeds excitedly, figuring that since they were intact and recognizable as the nasturtium seeds I’d planted before, I should be able to save these for planting in the future.

I since found a couple of wonderful resources about seed saving.

Mr. Brown Thumb has a lot of great information about collecting nasturtium seeds, complete with a video. He says that larger seeds are best, and that it doesn’t matter if the seeds are brown or green. This is good news because I found plenty of both.

About.com has a lot of great information about seed saving in general, including which other seeds are good candidates for saving:

Methods and Timing for Saving Seeds

Always choose the best quality plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables from which to save seeds. Look for disease resistance, vigor, great flavor and productivity. Next year’s plants will only be as good as this year’s seed. Harvest seeds either:

  • When the seed pods have dried on the plant (flowers, beans, broccoli, lettuce…)Keep an eye on the pods as they start to brown. Most seed pods will open and disperse on their own. You can catch seed by placing small bags over the seed heads when they look ready to pop or by pulling the plant just before completely dry and storing upside down in a paper bag.

Storing Saved Seed

  • Make sure the seed is completely dry, or it will rot or mold in storage
  • Remove as much of the chaff as possible
  • Store in a paper envelope, labeled with the variety and year
  • Place the envelopes into an air tight container, such as a canning jar
  • Store in a cool, dark, dry place
  • Stored seed is best used the following year

What Seeds Can Be Saved?

Open Pollinated or heirloom, self-pollinated plants are the only varieties that will grow true from seed, meaning the seedlings will be exactly like the parents. These are the seeds worth saving.

Self-pollinated plants are the easiest to save and include: Beans, Chicory, Endive, Lettuce, Peas, Tomatoes. You can also save many heirloom flower seeds such as: cleome, foxgloves, hollyhock, nasturtium, sweet pea, and zinnia.

I dried my seeds on this old bulb storage crate from the Netherlands. It’s come in handy for all kinds of drying projects.

I stored my seeds according to the above guidelines. I’ll plant them next year and will let you know how they do.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman