Tag Archives: Gardening

Green Gardening

I love my garden. It’s off to a nice start, although I’m a little concerned about the gopher hole that appeared this morning in the middle of the herb garden. Hopefully the neighbor’s cats are on top of that situation. I’d far rather the cats hunt gophers than birds.

We generally keep an organic garden. I’m still working with my husband on some points; he keeps trying to forget that adding compost to the soil should replace any need to fertilize the soil. It’s hard to break the habits you were taught about gardening growing up, I suppose. But this year I’ve managed to keep him from hauling out the fertilizer. He did try.

And that’s something important to remember. While gardening is mostly an environmentally friendly activity, there are things you can do to your garden that will make it less so.

Fertilizers and pesticides pretty much top that list.

I’m fortunate in that my husband better understands the need to avoid pesticides. We get ladybugs for our garden and plant marigolds. We know that some plants and produce will get nibbled by various pests before we can do anything about it.

And when the neighborhood raccoons come and nibble, there’s just not much to be done for it.

The tools you use matter too. I was looking at some of the garden tools suggested on Amazon’s Green section, and wincing to see leaf blowers recommended. Get a rake and broom, people! You don’t need to use power to clean up leaves. Like many businesses, they’re trying, but really just aren’t there yet on their recommendations.

If you can manage it, a drip irrigation system is better than using sprinklers. It’s some extra work, but much less wasteful of water. The expense can be a bit of a pain if your budget is tight, but if you live in an area facing water restrictions what better way to comply and save your garden? Drip irrigation can use half the water of sprinklers.

I’ve always found it interesting that going green often means a combination of spending a little extra and saving a bunch of money, plus a little extra effort. It’s that first bit and that last bit that I think really throws people off wanting to go green. But try it in your garden. It’s worth it.

My Kids Picked a Green Gift for Daddy

I love it when my kids pick something green out to give to someone. We try so hard to avoid an excess of plastic junk, and it’s great to see it rubbing off on my kids.

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. I took the kids shopping to figure out what they wanted to get him. They of course first looked through the toys… we’re talking about kids, after all. But they couldn’t think of anything that Daddy didn’t have already that they thought he would like.

So we went to the garden center.

The kids weren’t too certain, until they came upon the strawberry plants. That did it! They each picked one out for him.

Then we passed some grape vines. Once again, they couldn’t resist.

I just love that the strawberries are in the peat pots so that we don’t have to figure out what to do with the pots once the strawberries are planted. We have too many of those already. I know my daughter is eying them for crafts, but we do not need more.

No, we didn’t wrap them. I rarely wrap birthday gifts for grown up family members. It’s really just not that necessary. They’ll be surprised one way or another. If I must, a gift bag from our reuse stash will do the job.

How to Pick a Composter

A good compost pile is an important factor in an organic garden. It’s your best source for many of the nutrients your garden needs. But figuring out which one is best for your particular situation may not be easy.

For some an indoor model may be best. Others would rather do it outside. Then you have to consider how much volume you’re going to need available, as well as how quickly you want it all to work and how much effort you want to put into composting.

The Cheap Outdoor Solution

My husband and I use one of the cheapest but sometimes labor intensive methods. Our landlords left some cinder blocks behind the shed from a project they had done. Turned out to be enough for us to create a space to put our compost.

This compost pile solution works well for us, but it takes some work. My husband goes out when he has some time to turn the pile. Often he’s amazed at how quickly certain things have broken down. But when things get busy and he doesn’t have the time to deal with it properly, it definitely slows down.

Building with leftover materials obviously has a lot of green appeal. We didn’t have to buy anything. I love having a zero waste solution for handling food scraps and other compostable materials.

The negative, of course, is that critters can come and nibble on anything we don’t bury well enough. That means we have to be careful about the kinds of food scraps we put in. We don’t want to attract too many of the wrong kinds of critters.

Most people, of course, don’t just have the materials lying around to build something like that. You may also want more protection from having critters come into your yard and more freedom as to the types of food waste you can toss into the bin. That’s where buying a composter can make a lot of sense.

Buying an Outdoor Compost Bin

There are a couple of types of outdoor compost bin. The basic ones are rather like what my husband built, but generally with a lid to keep the critters out.

My mother, for example, has had something that at least looks rather like this Soilsaver Compost Bin for many years. Two of them, in fact. They do a good job. They’ve held up for quite a number of years and show no sign of breaking down. The lids go on nicely, although she doesn’t use them much since a lot of what she composts is grass clippings. I’m not 100% certain that this is the brand she has, but it looks just like it.

With this style, you can either just leave the food and yard waste in there and wait for it to decompose, or you can be more active and try to turn the pile. You generally need to just take the bin off the pile and then reload it in a new spot with these. They aren’t that easy to turn with the material in them, and getting it out otherwise is a bit difficult.

Another style is a bin that you can crank a handle or otherwise rotate to turn the pile. They come in a variety of sizes. Some are easier to turn than others, of course, and they naturally are a closed container that will keep the critters out. Couldn’t rotate them otherwise! This Green Tumbleweed Composter is an example of a rotating compost bin. Others will be more like a barrel on its side, rather than standing up, but they work in a similar manner.

With an outdoor composter, you need to think about how much work you want to be doing with it. Do you want to turn the pile regularly? A rotating one is probably much simpler. Want to toss stuff in and mostly leave it, doing a slower compost? A plain compost bin is probably a better buy.

Buying a Worm Tray Compost Bin

If you want your composting to go fast, vermiculture may be for you. The worms do much of the work for you, but they can be a bit picky. You really cannot put in onions or meat scraps if you want your worms to be happy. Then again, you probably don’t want meat scraps in most outdoor composters as they can attract critters.

You can make your own as described in this Worm Farm DIY ebook, or buy one like this Gusanito Worm Farm 3 Tray Garden Compost Bin. The tray system allows the worms to migrate upward as they create your compost.

Buying an Indoor Composter

If you don’t have the space or just want to do things indoors, there are systems to create your compost inside that will not stink the house up. Mostly they use carbon filters to control the odor. They may be plastic or stainless steel.

These are nice if you don’t want to have to run outside all the time to dump your scraps, or if you live in an apartment and are composting for dumping elsewhere. You will want to think about the size you can deal with, both in terms of the space you have to store one and how quickly you think you will fill it.

Indoor composters can have trouble with fruit flies. Banana peels are a common source of fruit fly eggs, and so you may want to avoid placing these in your indoor composter. Your nearest rose bush may appreciate them more.

If you really want to get composting going, look for one that you can use with microbes, often called Bokashi. This composts through fermentation and can work in 10 days. You’ll have to keep buying the microbes, but it’s a quick system if you want to do it all indoors.

The Start of Our Front Yard Garden

front yard garden

It’s spring, and time to get the garden growing. We’re hoping for better results than we had last year, but we’re also doing some things a little different.

Our front yard has always had a section that was just square stepping stone bricks on the dirt. Didn’t look bad or anything, but kind of boring. Our landlord doesn’t care what we do to the yard, so my husband decided, as you can see in the picture, to take up every other one, and use the area as a garden. No weeds to pull yet that way.

The front yard is mostly an herb garden, although there’s one cherry tomato plant in there. We figure the kids play out front enough with friends that they might get a kick out of having little tomatoes to snack on.

There are also some decorative grasses that my husband just felt like putting in, some nasturtiums, and we’ll be growing sunflowers out there too.

Frankly, the garden looks much better than the rest of the yard, which has been completely overcome by weeds. Some ways I don’t mind the weeds that much; in fact there are a few I wouldn’t mind seeing take over more of the yard. There are some really cute purple flowers in there.

But most of the weeds are the usual ugly stuff. Only nice thing about them is that they don’t take much water.

My neighbor, a fellow renter, pointed out that our mutual weed problems probably relate to the yard services each of our landlords use. Weed seeds probably get carried in on the lawnmowers. We have different weeds than our neighbors do, so this wouldn’t surprise me.

I’d say it would be nice if the yard services would do weed control, but they’d probably use poisons, so… never mind. I’d sooner have the weeds. I may yet pull out the spray bottle of vinegar and give that a go.

If my husband does get a good job, I think I will see if he minds having a discussion with the landlord about xeriscaping the front yard. I like the place I’m living in to look nice, but doing the whole front lawn is not an expense I’d really care to deal with, particularly right now. At the same time, if we can get the weeds out of the front lawn that’s fewer weed seeds to spread into the garden.

Next comes the main garden in the back. The focus this year is on planting foods that will help with our food bills. I hope things take off this year so that we can really see the effects.

Time to Get My Garden Growing!

I love this time of year. Time to get out to the garden center and figure out what we are growing this year.

We buy a combination of seeds and already started plants. Seeds are of course cheaper, but it’s nice to have some things growing already. Some plants we just never seem to have any luck with if we start from seed.

Hopefully things will go better this year than last year. For some reason last year’s garden was not terribly productive. Just one of those things, I guess.

We bought some tomato plants, two kinds of lettuce, broccoli and basil already started. The basil is for the herb garden we’ll be planting out front. I suggested to my husband that we get a cherry tomato or other small variety for out there, since basil and tomatoes grow well together. The kids play out front pretty regularly with friends, and a small tomato is something I think they would enjoy being allowed to snack on. My kids like to eat fresh basil too.

We also have lots of seeds. Green beans, sugar snap peas, corn, cucumbers, zucchini and more. We really have to get those into the seed pots.

We let the kids pick out some plants to grow too. My daughter wanted snap dragons. My son picked out nasturtiums. I saved some egg cartons for them to start their seeds in. We’ll see what grows.

The kids are always much involved in the garden. They love it.

As the plants grow, we teach them what they may and may not pick freely. Most things they have to ask for, but some things are grown more for their enjoyment. The trick is teaching them to not overeat the herbs. Somehow they start forgetting to ask on those. Our poor fennel last year hardly made any progress due to hungry children. It attracts butterflies, so we really want it to get big.

This is the time when the compost pile can really pay off. We think my husband got the mix wrong last year (too much compost) and that might be why things didn’t work out then, so this year he’s going to try changing the mix a little. And of course last year’s mix is probably in much better shape this year for growing, as things should have broken down still further.

Our focus is very much on growing things that can reduce our food bills. A good garden can save a lot of money despite the initial investment, and we want that to be the case this year.

My one concern is the potential for water restrictions. I’ll gladly let the lawn go in exchange for a good garden. Frankly, I think the front one in particular should be switched out for some xeriscaping. Done right it would save a lot of water and look really nice. I’ve seen some good examples around the neighborhood.

Now if I could just convince the landlord to do it, and their yard guys to leave it alone! The yard guys are kind of random about removing plants they think don’t belong. We’ve had things we’ve put in stay put for months, then suddenly get pulled. That’s why I don’t want to do it myself. I’m too concerned that the money we put in might be wasted if I don’t catch these guys in time to warn them off. If only they’d pull the weeds in the front lawn with so much enthusiasm!