Keeping up with the Joneses

1 Thing You Can Do to Make Earth Day Even Better

Make the Earth smile.

Make the Earth smile.

What an interesting concept, Earth Day.

And a wonderful opportunity to make a change.

Being that you are here reading, you are most likely already a gardener.
Good for you!

If you are growing without the use of any pesticides, even better. Bugs don’t know the difference between organic and non, and pesticides don’t discriminate against bugs. Avoiding them all together is best.

Do you plant what will attract those flying bugs that help move pollen from one plant to another? Woohoo! Now you are working with the Earth.

The bees are in there. somewhere.

The bees are in there. Somewhere.

We recently purchased this Heath (like Heather) and the bees are having a field day. It was going to go by the front porch, but now we’re thinking we’ll put it in the veggie garden in a pot instead.

Reduse, reuse, recycle. We bet you have that down pat as well.
So how can you make Earth Day even better?

Treat it like New Year’s Day for the Planet, and make one resolution to do something better this next year. That way, it isn’t just a one day thing.

Here are some ideas you may not have heard:

  • Repurpose newspapers and cardboard as weed suppressors in your garden.
  • Teach how to or help one new person garden.
  • Collect fallen tree branches or trimmed brambles into a pile as a safe haven for wildlife.
  • Eat less meat. This cuts down on the ‘greenhouse gasses’ considered to be a major part of global warming. Plus it is healthier for you and especially for the animals.
    We’re sharing our mostly meatless recipes here.
  • If you can, reclaim some ‘gray water’ for your garden or houseplants. This is the water often wasted when you wash your hands, clothes and/or dishes.
  • Make your own detergents.  Not only is this better for the environment by cutting out a lot of the unnecessary chemicals, it will save you money.
  • Mend something rather than toss it. Iron on a patch, sew it, glue it back together or put a screw in it- but fix it don’t pitch it.

We could go on, and you have heard a lot of these and are hopefully doing a lot already.  So go ahead and do one more, from this list or one you have already thought of.

In general, it is a matter of living on less. We’re there, we understand.Unfortunately, many people have been forced to learn how to do that lately. That is part of why we offer this blog for free, as a way to help.

Do you have a tip that helped you use less or give to the planet better?

We would love to hear it!

 

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Categories: saving money & time, special posts

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How to Grow Bigger Onions

The leftovers.

The leftovers.

A Facebook friend in Gardenaholics Anonymous mentioned that Dixondale Farms in Texas grows great onion and leek plants, and in fact they also sell those same plants to the supplier I had been using.

Not only do they have a better selection, we saved $20 on 6 bunches; that is a big price difference.

The plants arrived healthy and the bunches were quite generous. Also in the box were some pretty interesting planting directions that can help grow bigger onions.

Two trenches.

Two trenches.

Basically, you dig a trench 4″ deep and wide, about 6″ away from where your onions will be planted. To this add 1/2 cup of a fertilizer that is high in phosphorous for every 10 ft. of row.
The middle number on a bag of soil amendment represents phosphorus, so we used this bone meal.

The ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium.

The ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium.

Then you plant your onions 1″ deep and 4″ apart.
Water them in well.

Now I admit we are used to planting this close together, but never this shallow.
It actually felt a little uncomfortable, as if it would do them harm.
And we did cheat just a bit and made double rows, planting in a zig-zag fashion to give them those 4″ of growing space.

Ta da!

Ta da!

But we are basically going to go with what the experts suggest, and see if we get bigger bulbs than in previous years. They were quite adamant about the depth, as any deeper will “inhibit their ability to bulb.”
There is more information in the pamphlet as well, and we’ll look at those instructions as the season progresses.

We put in 100 Copra onions, as these are really wonderful for storing, lasting up to a year.
Fifty Red Zeppelin onions can be stored for 6-8 months, but will most likely be eaten before that.

Another 25 each of Walla Walla and Sterling, all together should keep us in onions for about a year.

In a few months we will start to see the results, and we’ll give you an update.
In the meantime, you can check out their site and even download their planting guides here.

Not only did we save quite a bit of money, there are plenty of onions leftover for my daughter and son-in-law to plant.

Apparently Sprout’s tastes lean towards garlic and onions, and we are more than happy to comply.

Categories: How to Grow, onions & leeks, saving money & time, The Experiments

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Save Money on Gardening – Even at the Last Minute

Patience grows the garlic.

Patience grows the garlic.

Sometimes patience pays, well, maybe it’s actually procrastination.
Call it what you will, there are cases where putting off ordering your seeds, plants, and other gardening supplies can actually save you money.

Some examples:

Johnny’s Select Seeds is currently offering a free shipping discount. Ours came as a post card in the mail yesterday, but if you didn’t receive one, follow this link.

Likewise Burpee’s is offering free shipping, or you can go to their site and get $10 off a $40 purchase. You probably can’t get both though.

Stark Bros. is offering select trees on sale in celebration of Arbor Month. You can find that info here.

This is another one we received by email. If you are concerned about signing up for these and getting too much spam, just set up a separate account for these things.
That’s what we did and it works really well.

So check with your favorite providers of gardening supplies, especially as it gets closer to planting time, and see what bargains you can pick up.

Keep in mind that there are very often end-of-the-season sales as well. You may not find that one specific veggie seed you wanted, but that’s the chance you take.

Also take note that some companies offer discounts and specials all year. The Seeds of the Month Club, one of our favs, is a good way to save all year on seeds plus they often run contests; and Annie Haven at Moo Poo Tea always has free shipping and many times throughout the year offers a free bag with purchase.

Note: None of the suppliers mentioned here compensated us in any way for mentioning and linking their sites. We just want to share the savings with you.

Categories: saving money & time

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5 Reasons to Be Cruel to Your Veggies

The expression ‘Kill them with kindness’ isn’t meant to be taken literally, but when it comes to your veggie plants, it just may be.

Sometimes it is better to do what may seem harmful, for the sake of the plant.

Here’s what and why:

One less strawberry bud here.

One less strawberry bud here.

1. Pinch off their faces.

Before you transplant edibles such as strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, it is better for the plant to pinch off any buds that already exist.

Hard to make yourself do? I hear ya.

It is worth it though because it helps the plants put their energy into establishing better root systems that will in the long run provide you with a healthier and more productive plant.

Similar but a little different is the technique of pinching back plants like basil. By removing the top budding leaves, it encourages the plant to produce more branches and a fuller, bushier plant grows. It also helps hold off bolting, giving you a fresh supply over a longer period.

This technique is much easier on you emotionally. ;-)

2. Drown them.

Over-watering plants really is killing them with kindness, and possibly has caused more plant fatalities than any other habit.
So why do we say ‘drown them’?

Because it is better for a plant to give them less frequent, but more intense, waterings. Not all plants of course, there are some like wasabi that like to be kept moist all the time.

But for most veggies it is better to let them get a wee bit dry than for them to have moisture all the time.

Give them a good soaking.
If they are in containers, give them another good soaking.
Then walk away, leave them alone, until they need you.

Long awaited for parsnips fresh pulled in April.

Long awaited for parsnips fresh pulled in April.

3. Freeze their butts off.

Some plants not only prefer the colder weather, they require it. If peas aren’t planted early enough, as soon as the ground thaws and can be worked, they will not have enough time to produce a good crop. Other crops don’t like the heat as well, greens in particular.

Letting some of your veggies, like parsnips, get hit with a little frost actually is said to improve their flavor.

Whether that is the case with over-wintering parsnips or not I can not prove, but I do know that pulling them out of the garden when nothing else is producing in early spring, is priceless.

4. Decide who lives and who dies.

Thinning plants stinks, but you are sacrificing one seedling to save another. If the plants don’t have enough room to grow, or are fighting over the same nutrients, they will both suffer.

Making seed tapes or buying them is one easy option. This is especially helpful for tiny seeds like carrots.

5. Pack ‘em in.

Just the opposite, if you look into square foot gardening or intensive gardening, you will find that you can plant seeds or transplants closer than is usually recommended.

With both these methods it is important to be sure the plants have sufficient nutrients and room to grow, but they will allow you to get more veggies in a smaller space.

Raising veggies sometimes requires you to make tough decisions, but we bet you’re ready for the challenge.

Categories: common misconceptions, gardening, techniques

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Curry – You Can Grow That!

Getting ready.

Getting ready.

It was about 3 years ago that I brought home a curry plant from the local nursery.
My husband giggled “You can’t grow curry.” he said, “Curry is a combination of herbs and spices.”

Of course it turned out he was right; after all, food is his field. Apparently what I had purchased was a delightfully smelling ornamental plant. Drat.

But telling me “You can’t” do anything only makes it a challenge, and I finally figured out that you really can grow curry.
Well, close enough.

It started out with me trying to grow as many of our own herbs and flavorings as possible.
Some, like mints, are simple. Others, like garlic, take a little more work. Still others, like ginger, take more know-how and time.

As the seasons came and went, there was less and less from the store on our herb shelves and more from the garden.

Still that curry thing bothered me.
Until recently that is, when I actually read the list of ingredients from the back of the bottle, given in order of amount:

Coriander- A No brainer. How often do gardeners complain their cilantro has bolted? Yep, those little seeds are coriander. We got this one!

Turmeric- Okay, it is getting a little harder. Turmeric is a root that takes almost as long to grow as ginger, specifically about 8 months. It is a perennial in zones 9-11, but like ginger it can be grown indoors in colder zones like we have. You can sometimes find it fresh at Asian or India food supply stores and in some markets. I couldn’t find it locally, but was able to order some from Amazon.com. The price wasn’t too bad, and you can replant some of what you harvest so it is a one time purchase.

Mustard- It doesn’t say on the bottle of store bought curry, but most often it is the mustard seed that is used as a spice. All we need to do is let it bolt and harvest the seed. Now we’re talking!!

Cumin- This relative of parsley is a new herb for our garden this year. It is often confused with the biennial caraway, but cumin is actually an annual plant. It can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked, so here it will be going in the ground this weekend. What you harvest are also the seed heads. We will be posting more on all of these as the season progresses, hopefully with lots of pictures!

Fenugreek- Another new one for us. This should be a fun season! Also easy to grow, prep your seeds first by soaking (we recommend Moo Poo Tea, link above right) or scarify. Soaking is much easier. Fenugreek will be great because both the leaves and seeds are edible.

Paprika- Another easy one. Paprika is simply a dried and powdered pepper from the group Capsicum annuum. These can range from sweet to rather hot. I’ll let him decide which ones he want to use, as we are growing quite a variety of peppers this year.

Cayenne- This seemed a little redundant to me, but I guess they are looking for a cayenne specifically. Yeah, we have that covered as well.

Cardamon- This very expensive herb actually can be grown at home. I have read that you can plant the brown type found in the grocery store, but I don’t know if that is true. Instead I found seeds online; after all, I’ve gone this far I can almost taste victory! It looks like another plant that may need some special attention, but that’s okay by me.

Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves- What? No! All 3 of these, the least of the ingredients, are derived from trees; and ones that I highly doubt grow in our area. When I looked up a substitute for nutmeg, it said cinnamon. When I did a search on a substitute for cinnamon, I found cloves.
It began to look like I really couldn’t grow curry after all.

Until my husband read this post on varieties of basil.
“There’s a Cinnamon Basil?” he asked. “You should grow that!”

“Why would you want cinnamon basil? I responded, “That sounds like an odd combination to me.”

“No, they are great together. When I use curry powder, I always add some basil. I love the way they taste together.”

So there you have it my friends, never say “You can’t grow that” to a gardener.
Unless, of course, you want them to prove you wrong.

We will post updates on the plants throughout the season. When we make the curry powder, we will add that recipe to our recently revived foodie blog page here.
Of course, we will also add some recipes that feature curry.
We’re betting this will taste much better than the store bought stuff.

you can grow that

is a collaborative effort on the part of a number of gardeners around the world. Each month they write a post specifically to help and encourage everyone to grow something. Find more posts by clicking on the logo above.

Categories: herbs, preparedness, saving money & time, you can grow that

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1 Really Good Reason to Grow Food This Year

Being prepared.

Being prepared.

If you have been reading here a while, and certainly if you have been growing an edible garden for a few years, you know there are numerous good reasons for people to grow their own food:

1. It tastes better. All of it. Every last veggie tastes better than store bought.

2. You save money. Okay, maybe not at first, but in the long run. Not to mention less Doctor bills, because-

3. It is healthier for you. Fresh produce is higher in nutrients than even organic produce that is older.

4. You are less dependent on others for your food.

5. It is great exercise both physically and mentally.

6. Economic uncertainty.

Now you might be thinking, ‘But GJ, you said ONE reason!’

Of course you are right, and here it is:

California.

Unless you are totally self-sufficient, you are buying something that was grown in California. Maybe it’s nuts, or produce, or an ingredient in something else; but the truth is the vast majority of the food we eat in the US is associated with California farms.

And they are having a horrible year. The extreme drought continues, and here in the northeast we are already seeing the effects.
The price of almonds has skyrocketed, for example; and that is just the beginning.

It gets worse. Even if the drought suddenly lifted, much of this season’s crops are already affected. Not just this season’s either; because so many items end up as ingredients, the prices of other food items will continue to go up even if the drought subsides.

Think about it.
What would you do if suddenly the cost of food tripled?
What if some items you normally enjoy were no longer available?

Now we’re not trying to predict what will happen nor frighten anyone.
For the cost of a few packets of seeds and either some containers or a little part of your yard, you could begin to lay the groundwork, so to speak, for a more secure future food-wise.

Isn’t that one reason alone way more than enough?

Categories: gardening, saving money & time, special posts

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Don’t Put All Your Bees in One Flower Basket

Guest Post by George Brooks Jr.

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly Weed

Contrary to popular hype, we need to broaden our view of pollinators. We are putting almost all our efforts into the Imported European Honeybee demise and not enough emphasis on our native bees. There are upwards of 100 native species of bees. Anyone who has ever been on my Micro Farm comments on how many bees I have, and I do not have any hives.

There is much talk about all the things that are killing bees and how we need to eliminate them. Can’t remember seeing much on how most people in our suburbs are helping to cause the decline of pollinators as much or more than any other factor (my opinion). We have conditioned ourselves to expect our yards to look like a manicured Golf Course. Unfortunately this landscape isn’t capable of supporting much of any life form, it is sterile. Millions upon millions of acres have been turned into these neatly manicured dead zones. The loss of rural areas around population centers has helped accelerate this transition to a monoculture that doesn’t support plant diversity needed to support a healthy pollinator population.

It also causes the decline of many other life forms like birds etc. Our land is full of life, birds, snakes and thousands of pollinators including honeybees. This is with an orchard and large garden on the property. I’m about 75% organic and increasing their use whenever I can. I still use some non organic pesticides and fungicides following Integrated Pest Management & Disease Risk Management practices. These practices help me maintain a healthy environment for life.

But without wild spots in your yard there would be no place for life to exist. If everyone set aside at least one small back corner of their property and let it grow native plants, it would make a difference. I wish everyone could see how alive our land is, there is always something in bloom to support life. Think about it.

Also, will banning the most toxic pesticide group help honeybees? Probably. An even bigger issue is the lack of information and knowledge of the average person. The truth is most anything will kill a bee, synthetic, organic or otherwise can be toxic. The real problem is people do not read the labels other than how much to use. Most every product that is toxic to bees has specific instructions on how to use the product without harming them. Will it prevent all issues? Maybe not but far better than what we are doing now. Education is paramount.

For many years we have practiced the following to promote beneficial wildlife & insects. This is done by providing areas that have a combination of cultivated and native plants. Traditional sterile landscaping provides a monoculture that insect pests thrive in because of the lack of food and cover for wildlife and beneficial insect populations. This creates a higher need for chemical controls.

The practice of Wild Spots is now being promoted on garden shows and in horticulture literature. You can learn more about this practice by doing a web search on “Insectary Gardening for beneficial insects”.

Black Eyed Susan

Black Eyed Susan

A few examples of Insectary gardening on our property:

1. Hay Rake Wild Spot:
A combination of cultivated and wild plants.
Cultivated Bi-color Black Eyed Susan’s, Butterfly Weed, Milkweed, Multi Head Black Eyed Susan, Morning Glory, Arrowhead Aster, Porcelain Berry Vine. All promote pollinators and predatory insects like wasps. The Berry Vine also provides migrating birds with one of the last fruits of the season.

2. Garden Hillside Wild Spot
Primarily Jewelweed and Multi-Flora Rose, which provides a nesting area for Catbirds. This also makes a great feeding area for House Wrens, Hummingbirds and beneficial insects including pollinators.

Spearmint

Spearmint

3. Well & Sickle Bar Mower Wild Spot
Primarily Spearmint and Goldenrod. Spearmint is by far the most popular plant for nectar and pollen eating beneficial insects.

Throughout the property we promote Arrowhead Aster, the last major supply of pollen and nectar at the end of the growing season for pollinators and beneficial insects.

Reprinted with permission from:
George Brooks Jr.
Green Hollow Orchard a Micro-Farm in North Tewksbury, MA USA.
All photos also by George Brooks Jr.

Categories: gardening, techniques

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Sundays in the Garden – with SaveTheWorld Jones

Saving the world one step at a time.

Saving the world one step at a time.

Many of you have heard us mention our youngest daughter, but we never explained why we chose her nickname.

When she was little, she used to pretend our backyard was a continent filled with many countries. When disputes would break out between them, she would negotiate peace. Of course each country had its own language which she made up, and it helped that she could speak them all.

As she grew she always took the best road. She found out which companies had good trade practices, and would purchase from them and not from others. She would buy from the shoe company that gave another pair to the needy. She even planted a garden for the sole purpose of giving the food away.

Flash forward to her freshman year in college, when she is invited to present her work on Conflict Resolution Between Countries at a conference, rubbing elbows with people who at the very least are in a master’s program, many of whom have their doctorate. And it goes on from there.

I could sit here and brag about her GPA, or how many languages she speaks and how many majors she has, but I won’t.

Instead I would like to show you something she sent to family and friends as her birthday approaches:

“For those of you who would have bought me a drink on my 21st, I would *really* appreciate, in lieu of alcohol, a donation to help send young girls in India to get an education.

The Child Brides: Send Them to School instead

Thank you!”

Her concern for these young girls far outweighs any thought for herself. It truly is just that simple.

And that my friends, is how she got her name.

Categories: gardening people, places & things, sundays in the garden

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5 Wonderful Grains for Your Home Garden

Did you ever stop to wonder just how self-sufficient your garden could make you? Sure you can grow great veggies, even a good protein source through dry beans.

But what about grains?

you can grow that

Although technically these are not all grains, we are listing them because they are used that way:

1. Corn

Most often thought of as a vegetable, corn is actually a grain. You can grow field or dry corn the same as you would sweet, but allow it to dry thoroughly on the cob before harvesting the kernels to grind.

Be sure to take preventative measures if you are also growing sweet corn nearby, as their pollen is carried on the wind and there can be cross pollination.
This summer we will be showing you ways to help prevent this; but for the meantime, keep them as far apart as possible preferably with a structure between them.

One of the best varieties for making your own corn meal, according to Baker Creek seed catalog, is Cherokee White Eagle. Just be sure to choose a variety that is meant to use for this purpose, they are less sugary and will dry more easily.

Grind, store and use the way you would store bought cornmeal.

2. Quinoa

Technically a vegetable, quinoa is a relative of spinach that is fast gaining popularity in restaurants as well as home kitchens. Part of the reason, other than the delightful taste, is that quinoa carries a protein not normally found in a vegetable. Especially for vegetarians, this is a wonderful thing.

What you harvest here are the seeds as well, dry, store and use like you would rice. You can also grind the seeds to use like flour.

3. Flax

Often grown for its use as a fiber, the seeds of flax are actually wonderfully nutritious. They are a good source of omega-3′s and high in fiber. The milled seeds can be added to many baked goods.
We are so excited to try our hand at growing flax this year.

4. Amaranth

Often listed under herbs, and even considered sometimes as a flower, Amaranth is a beautiful tall edible whose flower seeds can be used as a grain.
In some varieties you can also eat the leaves as a vegetable, bonus! The most common variety grown for the edible seeds is Love Lies Bleeding.

5. Millet

One definition of grains is that they are grasses that produce small edible seeds. Millet fits this description well. Its seeds can be ground for flours or gruel, but it is often also used as bird seed.

We are going to try one of the most common varieties used in the US, a Proso type; specifically Proso White.

Again, we will have more specifics on this as we actually grow and harvest it.

decorative or edible corn

Dry or Field Corn

Generally speaking these crops grow quite tall, and the harvest you get for the space may not compare to vegetables you plant instead.
But if you have the room and want to be more independent, consider trying a grain crop.

We will let you know how we fare, what was worth it and maybe what was not over the course of the next year.

Hopefully it will all be rave reviews; but the idea of not being dependent on a store for our grains is already a win in our books!

You Can Grow It! is a monthly collaboration by gardeners around the world to promote the wonderful aspects of gardening.
For more posts, please click on the logo above.

Categories: How to Store, other, preparedness

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Sundays in the Garden – with Shawn Whitiak

corkit by bestacork

Shawn isn’t finished with college quite yet, but already he owns his own garden products business and has invented something we thought many of you might find interesting.

Along with his business partner Michelle Mendez, Shawn designed a way to make planters from cork. These lightweight pots are better than plastic because they allow air to get to the soil, and better than traditional clay since cork has natural antibacterial properties.

A local news station featured them, take a look at the video here on Besta Cork.
You can see just how the pots are made by hand, it is really neat.

The planters are also good for the cork trees, as removing their bark is akin to shearing sheep.

If you are looking for a unique gift, Corkit pots can also be purchased with a Sprout pencil. Plant the eraser end, and it degrades releasing seeds. How fun is that!

Note: No compensation was received for writing this post, we just thought we would share something pretty cool.

Categories: gardening people, places & things, sundays in the garden

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Everything here is original (unless otherwise noted) and has legal copyright 2014 by Gardening Jones (tm), and cannot be re-posted or reproduced without permission. Any re-posting of information, photographs, and/or recipes is considered theft and subject to prosecution.

As gardeners, we love to share, so just let us know what your intentions are and we can work together. Please feel free to link any post you see. They say they call that Link Love.

How sweet.

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