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Organic Gardens

Natural Fertilizers for Organic Gardens

When planting an organic garden, keep in mind for them to be truly organic, you must use natural fertilizers. We all have several household food items that can fit into that category. These are a few of my favorites.

from your yard to your table

organic gardens

Coffee and Coffee Grounds

Can’t finish that last cup of coffee. Store it in an empty 2 liter soft drink bottle until it’s 1/3 full, finish the container off with water, then use the liquid to spray on your garden plants. Coffee contains, magnesium, potassium and nitrogen, which is good for your plants. Spray them every 8-10 days for best results.

Rose food can be made from coffee grounds. You will need to dry the coffee grounds before sprinkling the grounds around the base of your azaleas, roses, or blueberries or any other acid-loving plants. Just be careful not to overdo it with the grounds, 2 or 3 times a year is about right.

Fish Water

When cleaning your fish tank, save the water to go on your garden. The fish by-products are full of nitrogen and other nutrients that plants thrive on.

Eggshell Top dressing

Save all your egg shells for a week. Wash thoroughly then let them dry for a day or two. Use your food processor or blender to grind them to a fine powder. Sprinkle the powder around the base of the plants or add a teaspoon to the hole before you plant your plants. Eggs shells are made up almost entirely of calcium carbonate, the main ingredient in agricultural lime.

Milk

Mix milk with water in a 1 to 4 ratio, will give your plants nitrogen building protein. You can feed this mixture to your plants once every week or so. Great way to use that old milk that may become out of date in a day or two.

As you can see when looking for a natural fertilizer for your organic gardens, you may not have to look any farther than your kitchen.

Health Benefits of Growing Fresh Produce

Having good health benefits isn’t the only reason people choose to grow their own organic fruits and vegetables.  Saving money and having access to produce without chemicals are other good reasons. There also happen to be quite a few health benefits to choosing fresh produce, especially when you grow it yourself. Here are some health benefits to keep in mind.

Growing What You Eat in Your Own Vegetable Garden

It is Loaded With Nutrients

Fresh produce, including fruits, vegetables, and herbs, have tons of nutrients. Many of these are considered superfoods, which have a higher amount of vitamins and minerals. Some good superfoods are blueberries, kale, spinach, and strawberries. All fruits and veggies have a lot of nutrients you want for better health benefits, which are in higher amounts with fresh produce. Food items tend to loose its’ freshness and vitamins as it begins to age. This includes vitamins C and A, vitamin D, folate, potassium, fiber, and lots of it’s antioxidants.

You Can Prepare Well Balanced Meals

Thanks to the nutritious fresh produce and the convenience of having them at home, you can also use them to prepare healthier, more balanced meals. This is an excellent health benefit as your family might be struggling with malnutrition without even realizing it. Sure, you might be eating enough food, but not the right foods. Having fruits and vegetables right in your own backyard encourages you to prepare more of these balanced meals for the good of your family’s health.

Gardening Itself is Good Exercise

Even the growing of fresh produce in your backyard is going to be good for your health. It helps you burn calories, be more active, and can even get your kids involved. Plus don’t forget that when you are outside more often by planting your veggies and herbs, you are going to get more vitamin D from the sunlight. This helps to prevent vitamin D deficiency, which is common for many people, especially women. Try to get everyone in the family involved in growing your own food and you will all benefit from it.

You Won’t Have Nasty Chemicals

Growing your own produce means you have full control of what is added to it. You can avoid harsh fertilizers in the soil and use pest control methods that are completely natural without chemicals in them. This is the same thing you get from buying organic produce, but when you grow it on your own, you have the convenience factor and save money at the same time. Less chemicals is always a good thing when you start feeding your family more fruits and veggies. For better health benefits, organic is best. You can only be sure your food is organic, if you grow it yourself.

Salad Fixings You Can Grow Indoors

Not Just Lettuce: Other Salad Fixings You Can Grow Indoors

Growing your lettuce for a salad, in shallow bowls or similar planting containers is a lot of fun and a great way to get more healthy greens into your diet. While most of us are perfectly happy with a side of salad greens with dinner most nights, it’s nice to have a little variety in our salads. Of course adding other home-grown plants to your salads adds to the overall nutritional value as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at various other “salad fixings” that you can grow indoors or on your patio. They make great additions to your salads, but also come in handy in the kitchen in a multitude of other recipes.

Herbs  

Using a shoe storage bag is an excellent way to grow herbs for your salad.

You can spent a small fortune on fresh herbs at the grocery store. Why not grow your own instead. You can keep them in small pots or even old tea or coffee pots. Actual little planters are preferable since they have drainage holes, but use what you’ve got and just think of how pretty these little pots of herbs will look all lined up in your kitchen window.

Popular herbs to grow and use in your salads include:

  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Chives
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

and more. Like lettuce you can either grow them from seed, or pick up small plant seedling at your local garden center.

Sprouts

Sprouts also make a great addition to your salad. They provide a little crunch and a lot of extra nutrients. But like herbs, they can be pricey if you pick them up at the store each week. Instead, order some seeds online, then sprout your own in a shallow container lined with moist paper towel. Sprouting is surprisingly quick and easy. The biggest secret is that you have to keep the seeds moist and warm.

Common things to sprout include alfalfa, lentil, mung, rye, soy, and wheat. Start with the sprouts you like to eat, then expand your growing horizon from there.

Tomatoes And Peppers

Tomatoes and peppers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking about growing plants indoors, but there are small varieties that do surprisingly well in a sunny window. Of course growing them outside on a patio or balcony in larger containers is also an option.

In either case look for varieties that don’t grow very large and provide a nice little harvest. You should be able to find varieties of tomatoes (mostly cherry tomatoes) and various peppers from hot to sweet that you can grow in a small space then add to your salad.

Not only do they add a nice burst of flavor and visual appeal to your salad, they also make surprisingly beautiful houseplants. And isn’t it more satisfying to grow a plant that also provides you with food?

Onion and Garlic

If you’re feeling a little adventurous, try growing your own onion and garlic alongside your lettuce bowl. While regular onions don’t lend themselves to indoor growing you can plant green onion and garlic bulbs and grow both of those in fairly small containers on your counter. Use the green onion, and you can even use the green stalks of the garlic plants in a similar way. It has a mellow bit of garlic flavor that’s not quite as strong as the garlic bulbs that will be growing all along in the soil.

Ready to give it a try? Head to your local garden center and see what they have to offer to you.

Edible Plants for Your Landscapes

Great Edible Plants for Your Landscapes

There are hundreds of edible plants that would look perfectly lovely in a landscape, but some of them work better than others. Many plants won’t look very good later in the season, for example.

Some of them quickly turn dark and lose their leaves. You want plants that taste great, but keep their appearance long enough to be a practical part of your landscape. It’s no good to build plants that lose their looks in late summer into your landscape design.

Here’s a look at some of the best choices for edible plants for landscape design. We’ll mostly be including plants that require minimal care and look attractive, while providing something very edible:

[1] ‘Golden Streaks’ is a variety of mustard that has heavily serrated leaves in a beautiful golden citron color. It has a very mild taste, slightly sweet. This is a striking plant that has a wonderful flavor.

www.growingwhatyoueat.com

[2] ‘Hansel Hybrid’ eggplant is a stunning plant. It has a two-foot-tall plant that produces huge clusters of fingerling eggplants in a delightful deep purple hue.

[3] ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ basil is a one to two foot basil plant with absolutely gorgeous variegated leaves. The leaves are a rich green with a fringe of white. It tastes like Greek basil, but the appearance is wonderful in a landscape!

[4] ‘Purple Peacock’ broccoli is a hybrid cross between broccoli and two different types of kale. It has a purple stem and loose, purple head.

[5] ‘Violetta Hybrid’ pak choi is an amazing variety of this Chinese green. It has lovely purple leaves that are packed with more nutrients than many other types of greens!

[6] ‘Red Popper’ is a type of miniature bell pepper. The fruits are only about one to two inches in diameter and are very sweet and delicious. You’ll love the way these bright red peppers look against the rich, green foliage!

[7] ‘Sweet Lace’ grapes are a small, patio-sized variety of grape. They have very pretty leaves and produce pretty white grapes in September. These can be grown in containers, and they can also be trellised easily. They make a beautiful accent to a fence or wall.

[8] ‘Red Veined’ sorrel is a variety of this classic wild green. It has light green leaves with a truly spectacular series of red veins all throughout. The taste is very sharp, so it’s best in salads with mild greens. This one is particularly striking in appearance.

[9] ‘Purple Mizuna’ is a fabulous type of greens. They have a very tangy flavor, and grow very quickly. Mizuna greens are already quite attractive, but this purple variety is particularly nice.

[10] ‘Mittistone’ is a summer-crisp lettuce of the loose-leaf variety. The leaves are green with red speckles. It is a sweet, crisp lettuce variety that tastes as amazing as it looks. It matures quickly, and the plants look just as beautiful in your yard as it does in a salad bowl.

While you may not have heard or tried some of these plants, it wouldn’t hurt to give a few of them a try.  I used three of these plants in my walkway edge garden, when I was living in a condo community that had rules about outside plants.   None of my neighbors guessed they were walking within inches of my vegetable garden.

The Pros and Cons of Vegetable and Herb Gardening

The Pros and Cons of Vegetable and Herb Gardening

growing winter vegetables

Herb Gardening

Vegetable and Herb gardening are two completely different types of gardening.

Herb gardening is a relaxing type of gardening. If you’re looking for a very simple type of gardening that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, herb gardening is probably a great choice. Most herbs are very hardy, and they don’t require a lot of ongoing maintenance.

If you choose mainly perennial herbs, you will have herbs that come back year after year with very little additional work. As long as you keep them watered and weeded, they should keep growing relatively well without a lot of additional work.

Herb gardening is great for children and elderly individuals, as well as busy people who don’t have a lot of time to care for picky plants. It may not be right for someone who prefers a challenge, or for people who prefer a more in-depth type of gardening.

Pros:

  • Doesn’t require a lot of time.
  • Relatively simple to do.
  • Doesn’t require a lot of physical exertion.
  • Plants are generally hardy and easy to care for.

Cons:

  • Can be a bit boring for people who like a challenge.
  • Might not be good for people who prefer more complex forms of gardening.

Vegetable Gardening

Vegetable gardening requires a lot more work than herb gardening. In fact, vegetable gardening can be one of the most time-consuming types of gardening. Many vegetables require watering and fertilizing at regular intervals, and may require a lot of different types of maintenance.

You may have to pinch suckers, prune growth, or even manually fertilize some plants with a paint brush! Some vegetables are hardier and less picky than others. You can find some types of vegetables that don’t require a lot of work at all.

So you can still find vegetable gardening a fun and relaxing hobby if you’re careful to choose varieties that don’t require constant attention. Some people may especially enjoy vegetable gardening because they love the satisfaction of growing some of their own food.

It can be very rewarding to have a hand in raising something you eat, especially if you can feed your entire family with it. Some people may really like organic vegetable gardening, because they like knowing that the food they’re growing is safer for their family than store bought produce.

They may also enjoy the fact that they’re taking care of the environment by not using harmful chemicals. Vegetable gardening is great for people who have a relatively decent amount of time to care for their garden, and who are physically able to do so.

Vegetable gardening can be back-breaking work, so it’s important to be sure you can physically handle this type of work. It may not be very good for people who aren’t in good physical condition, or people who don’t have much time to care for their plants.

Pros:

  • Satisfying, because you grow your own food.
  • Peace of mind knowing where your food is coming from.
  • Challenging for people who really enjoy that.
  • Plants are attractive as well as useful.

Cons:

  • Might be too difficult for people who aren’t in good physical condition.
  • Can require a lot of special care for the best results.
  • Generally quite time-consuming.

Deciding which type of gardening to try should depend on your abilities and what goal you want to achieve in your gardening adventure. Now that you have several pros and cons on vegetable and herb gardening, that decision should be easier.

Five Tips For The Vegetable Gardener

Most vegetable gardeners are always looking for tips to make their gardening easier, cheaper or better. Here are a five tips that I have found to be very useful in my gardening adventure.

[1] Newspapers, Cardboard and Paper Towels

All kinds of paper goods [except the glossy inserts] can be used in your garden. Cardboard is excellent to put in walkways to keep weeds from growing or as the first layer for your raised beds, as a foundation for your soil, leaves or compost.

Newspapers can be used to protect your seedling, giving them head start on growing strong.

If you have a compost bin, with worms, you can add newspapers and paper towels to the mixture. Worms love easy to process paper products.

[2] Earth Worms:

There is no need to buy earth worms for your garden, just lift a few rocks after a rain storm and you should find plenty. Adding them to your soil or compost mixture is one of the best things you can do for your garden. They will eat through your kitchen waste, including newspapers and paper towels, giving you a rich garden additive, that will grow bigger and better vegetables, flowers.

[3] Saw Dust:

Do you know someone who likes to build things? Chances are they will have sawdust to give away. Make arrangements for them to keep it in a 5 gallon bucket [that you provide] and call you when they are ready for you to pick it up. Mix it will your soil in the fall and by spring it will have become part of your soil. This is an especially good tip, if your soil is high in clay. The sawdust will loosen the clay and make it easier for the plant’s root system to grow.

[4] Kitchen Tools:

If you are gardening in a raised bed, before you go out and buy special hand tools for it, look around your kitchen and see what you can use. I prepared, planted and harvested my first raised bed, using only the tools I found in my kitchen. I found a sturdy long handled slotted spoon, 2 wooden spoons, an egg holder [used to getting boiled eggs out of hot water] that I put to great use in my garden. No expense or cost for any of them, they were just laying unused in my gadget drawer.

[5] Kitchen Waste:

tips for the vegetable gardener

Keep a covered container near your sink to put your kitchen waste. Once a week or sooner, I try to take my worms a treat of kitchen waste. Some times I have to do a little chopping for them but most times, all I do is add them to my compost bed, cover with a layer of dirt and walk away. I know that when I get ready to use that soil mixture in the spring, I will be richly rewarded.

To find more tips, continue reading or join the family by signing up for tips, ideas and thoughts on how to make your gardening experience a joy instead of a heart ache.

Nine Tasty Vegetables for Home Gardens

It’s sometimes recommended that you don’t try to grow vegetables that are readily available at your local supermarket. If a particular vegetable is inexpensive, you might want to skip growing it and just purchase it but I say until you have tasted fresh home grown vegetables, you do not know what you have been missing.

www.growingwhatyoueat.com

  • Tomatoes – Although technically a fruit, its savory nature leads to this little beauty being considered a vegetable by most people. Tomatoes found in stores are usually picked nearly green and then ripened artificially.  This is done to ensure they are tough enough to survive shipping without being smashed, and so they last longer on the shelves. Since tomato quality can be really poor in stores, this is a very good choice. Tomatoes are the most popular choice for vegetable gardeners, because they have the most noticeable difference over store bought.
  • Lettuce – Although iceberg lettuce doesn’t vary that much from store to home, leaf lettuces and other fancy lettuces can taste much sweeter and crisper if grown at home. Plus, exotic lettuces can often be very expensive.
  • Peas – Peas can be very hard to find fresh. Canned peas are often mushy, and although frozen peas are certainly better than canned, they still pale in comparison to fresh peas. Tiny baby peas are sweet, delicate, and delicious, making them well worth the effort.
  • Carrots – Store bought carrots are often woody, tough, and bitter. Even organic carrots often carry a strong bitterness caused by being kept at temperatures that are too cool for too long. Fresh carrots are generally very sweet and delicious.
  • Radishes – Radishes are cheap and easy to find in stores, but most store bought radishes are already turning pithy. If you’ve ever bitten into a radish that was dry and spongy inside, you’ll understand how bad pithy radishes are. Fresh radishes are delightful. To me, it is the queen of all vegetables in the garden.  Did you know the green tops of radishes can be eaten, also?
  • Greens – Although most greens are readily available in stores, they’re often yellowing and wilted by the time you buy them. By growing them yourself, you can be sure you have fresh greens when you want them.
  • Growing What You Eat in Your Own Vegetable Garden
  • Asparagus – Fresh asparagus is often ridiculously expensive, and canned asparagus is mushy and horrible! The only way to get affordable asparagus that isn’t mushy and bland is to grow it yourself.
  • Peppers – Peppers in stores are often shriveled and pathetic. Plus, peppers that aren’t standard green peppers can often be very expensive. My local store has sold red peppers for as much as $2.99 each, which is crazy! Grow your own and save money.
  • Cucumbers – Store bought cucumbers are often bitter and dry. If you’ve ever had a dried out, semi-hollow cucumber, you’ll understand the importance of growing your own!
  • Corn – Sweet corn is a delight to eat when it’s freshly picked. Corn is extremely sensitive to being off the stalk. Once it’s been off the stalk for 6 hours, it starts to deteriorate rapidly. You’ve never had corn until you’ve eaten it cooked fresh.

All of these vegetables are outstanding when grown in the home garden, not only in taste but in their food value, too.  As 40-50% of their vitamins haven’t been lost during the shipping and processing of them.  

Go play in the dirt people, it’s good for you!

Growing Indoor Winter Vegetables

Growing Indoor Winter Vegetables can be fun and keep your family supplied with fresh vegetables all winter long.

growing winter vegetables
Depending upon where you live when winter rolls around, you can forget about getting local fresh vegetables in your diet. You can purchase vegetables which are shipped from across the country, but there’s nothing quite like having that fresh from the garden taste in the dead of winter. Some food enthusiasts may be able to extend the taste of summer by growing indoor winter vegetables. Does this interest you?

One method of growing indoor winter vegetables is to set up a hydroponics garden. This type of gardening uses specific nutrient compounds to grow vegetables, but does not use soil. It can easily be done indoors, but depending upon the vegetables you’d like to grow it can take up a good amount of space.

Hydroponics gardens can be made at home for as cheaply as $50-$80 for a small garden, but they can cost considerably more and require regular attention to ensure that everything is working properly. You can find plenty of instructions for hydroponic gardening either online, at the library or by purchasing books. You’ll also need a system of grow lights to provide the plants with all of the light they need.

You can also create large container gardens to enable you to grow fresh vegetables during the winter months. Large pots set near a window which gets between six to eight hours of natural sunlight during the day work best. This enables the plants to get real sunlight rather than having to depend upon a grow light system. If you live in an area which doesn’t get the recommended amount of light, grow lights are a viable alternative.

Grow small plants such as herbs or salad greens in a window sill such as in the above photo, if the window gets plenty of direct sunlight during the day. These plants can be grown and, as they become mature, snipped off for use in the various dishes you prepare for your family. Look at local home improvement or gardening centers for kits which are designed for use indoors. The end of the season is a great time to shop for them, too, as they will likely be marked down dramatically.

Hanging pots are another option for growing indoor winter vegetables. You’ll want to be sure the pot is hanging on a joist so it doesn’t fall from the ceiling. The pot will also have to be hung low enough to get the direct sunlight the plants need.

Which plants are best suited to growing indoors? That really depends upon the time and effort you want to expend. Some people have been able to grow peppers, salad greens, cherry tomatoes and various herbs. You may be able to grow other plants indoors as well, but remember – whatever plants you grow, you will have to pollinate them yourself since there won’t be flies, butterflies and bees to do it for you.

Once you’ve become an old pro at growing indoor winter vegetables, you’ll have the knowledge you need to start your seedlings for your spring garden, too. Growing your own vegetables in the colder months isn’t difficult, but it does take quite a bit of patience. Given the time and conditions they need, you could be enjoying the fruits of your labor long before spring arrives.

Easy Guide to Composting

Easy Guide to Composting

Using kitchen scraps and yard waste is a frugal way to make your own composting material.  By doing so, you are also keeping your yard, garden and flowers healthy in a natural way.  To help you get started in making your own composting, here are some easy tips:

 As with most things, it should start with the planning.  Think about how much compost you will need and how much raw material you have access to.  Knowing this, will help in deciding how large your composting bin should be.

Composting

Earth Worms: The hardest worker in the garden

A worm box can be of any size as long as it has a lid, water proof sides and bottom and you have a supply of paper of all kinds, [newspaper, computer paper or magazines] and dirt.  You can purchase a ready-made worm composting system, or you can make your own by poking holes, at the top, for air flow and at the bottom for drainage, in a see through, plastic container then set it on some type of drainage tray.  Once you have your worms, box, paper and dirt, the rest is all up to the worms.  Make a layer of dirt about 4 inches deep, introduce your worms, then wet the paper and tare it into 2-3 inch strips and place it in the box.  Place the lid on the box and let the boys go to work.  Never let your worm bin get below 55 degrees or the process will stop and your worms might die.

For those with larger outdoor areas, compost bins can be built outdoors for little money and effort. You can also compost without a bin and simply make a pile in a sheltered corner of your yard.

An outdoor bin can be built for little or no money using what you have on hand. Wooden pallets that you can find at any retail store make great composting bins. Most large retail store will give you these for just hauling them away.  You will need 4-6 of the pallets to make your bin.  They can be wired or nailed together to make a usable open top composting bin.

Composting

Wooden Pallet Composting Bin

 Except for dairy products, fish and meat, you can put most kitchen scraps into your composting bin, including egg shells, tea leaves, and coffee grounds. Any organic matter from your yard can be added, such as hay, straw, cut grass, leaves, mulch, wood chips, and small pruning from your shrubs. You can also add a layer of shredded newspapers from time to time but without worms, it will take longer to decompose that the household waste.

Chicken droppings can be added to your mixture, chicken manure makes the compost rich and full of nutrients, but do not add waste from other pets, such as dogs or cats.

Turn your compost once a month or so, stirring to aerate it and get the top layer down into the middle.  If your composting bin is in a location where rain water can reach it you should not have a need to water it.  If it is not, water it about once a month with a garden hose or better yet, collect rain water and us it, instead.


Raising Chickens: A Sustainable Idea

Raising Chickens: A Sustainable Idea

More and more people in cities, suburbs, and in the country are raising chickens. They’re relatively easy to keep and the daily fresh eggs are quite a treat. It’s becoming so common that you can probably find chicken feed at your local home store. This is of course a bigger project than composting but it’s not as huge of an undertaking as you might think.

raising chickens

Step [1]: Your Chickens and the Law

The first step is to see if you can legally keep chickens in your area. Check city and neighborhood laws and ordinances. If you live in an HOA community there may be rules that say you can’t keep animals/livestock on your property. Some cities limit the number of chickens you can keep. It’s best to know before you buy the chickens.

Step [2]: Choose Your Breed

Before you build a chicken coup or plan their area, decide what type of chickens you want to keep. Consider looking for breeds that lay a lot of eggs so you can get more bang for your cluck. Hybrid chickens tend to lay more eggs and they’re generally easier to raise, which is great for beginners. Also look for birds that are gentler in personality so you don’t have to worry about being chased out of the hen house.

Step [3]: Build or Buy Your Chicken Coop

A chicken coop serves several purposes. It keeps your chickens warm when the weather turns. It protects them from predators. It also gives them a happy place to lay their eggs. Make sure the coop is well ventilated. You’ll need nesting boxes, roosting poles, a place for food and water, and bedding material.

Step [4]: Feed Your Chicks

You can buy chicken feed at your local hardware or farm supply store. It’s a well-rounded material that provides your chickens with the nutrition they need. You might also give them some scratch and some kitchen scraps. Make sure they have fresh water and create a system to keep the water flowing. You can buy automatically waters your chickens.

Step [4]: Room to Roam

Create a fenced-in area where your chickens can roam and stretch their legs. Keep in mind that the area where they’re able to roam will get scratched up pretty quickly. If you can rotate where you let them roam, you can prevent completely destroying your yard. This also helps prevent boredom. Yep, chickens get bored. Sometimes when they get bored they will begin to peck on each other and this can cause real damage to the flock.  By having more room to roam, chickens become a natural pest control machine, they eat small bugs that harm other plants and you.

Raising chickens is an adventure. Talk to other chicken owners to learn more about the best breeds and how they’ve managed their flock. And then enjoy the daily fresh eggs you get and the fun of raising chickens.