2017-05-24 12:00:08

New Year Gardening Resolutions

For us, part of what makes gardening fun is the element of change that seems to go hand in hand with every season. This keeps me interested and challenged- two things that I require in my hobbies.

Every New Year’s Eve, millions of resolutions are made by millions of optimistic people, and I am certainly one of them. Along with personal resolutions, (exercise more, do the dishes BEFORE I can no longer see the sink), I also make gardening resolutions. Here are a few that have served me well in the past, and the two that I’ve made this year

I resolve to not buy plants until I have space available to put them in the ground.

I love plants and the promise they hold. I am also a very busy woman, and am not often able to make the time to carry out the grand plans that hang out in my head for my garden. Easily swayed by an interesting new plant, I tend to buy first and plan later, but I detest wasting money, and it breaks my heart seeing a plant die only because it’s grown too big for the little pot it’s in. I must admit that this resolution gets repeated every year, though I have gotten much better. Step 1., create beds. Step 2., buy plants.

I resolve to remember to pull my weeds after they flower.

Yes, you read that right. In my yard, weed is a subjective description. Unless the plant in question is stealing water or nutrients from something that I planted that I want to have those resources, 9 times out of 10 I will let the plant hang out and grow until it flowers. So many weeds have an interesting flower, and are beneficial to pollinators, they seem worthy to me of some space to grow. Unfortunately for me, I often allow their quiet charm to complete their seed cycle, and then I regret my generosity. They are only welcome in small doses. When I forget to pull the plant or pick off the flower when it starts to fade, I create a ton more work for myself, and that’s silly.

I resolve to test my soil every year.

This couldn’t be easier. Every county in the United States has an Extension Agency, and every extension agency provides boxes for you to fill with the soil you want tested, and instructions on how to do it. If you get a jump on things, it’s even often free if you send in your samples in the fall, after then it’s still only $4 or $5. Knowing what you’re working with, and how to amend your soil with the correct ingredients for what you want to plant in invaluable as a gardener.

I resolve that every non-food plant I plant will have a benefit to something other than me.

What I mean by this is to focus on pollinator plants, with an emphasis on natives, so that when I am looking at the beautiful foliage or blossoms, I likely will also be looking at native bees, honeybees, butterflies, and caterpillars. This is also a very easy one, as it’s very easy to find crossover plants that are both useful and pretty.

I resolve to compost as much as possible.

I’m already composting a LOT. All of my food scraps and garden waste gets composted, as well as close to a literal ton of chicken manure from my hen house. But I can do more. Paper towels, tissues, cotton balls, q-tips… there are many things I use every day that are biodegradable, therefore perfect for my compost bins. Why send them to the landfill when they can breakdown into amazing soil that makes my plants happy?

I resolve to continue to learn new things and to teach what I know.

There are opportunities for learning all over the place. Check the community section of your local paper, call your local Extension Agency for a list of upcoming classes, check with local gardening groups to see if they have any speakers scheduled. This year I’ve joined the NC Extension Master Gardener program, which is one class a week for four months and a lot of great information. I hope to be able to turn this knowledge into healthier gardens for myself, and the ability to better help Sow True Seed customers with their questions.

2017-05-19 17:33:46

The importance of Food Education

The social media is full of articles about how bad supermarket food is - especially processed food - and about how much food is wasted. It makes very disturbing reading, although I'm sure that this sort of thing is nothing new; it's just that we hear more about it these days. I read an article yesterday that said that Denmark has reduced the amount of food it wastes by 25% in 5 years.

I don't know whether this is true or just another unverifiable made-up statistic, but I hope it is. One of the reasons given for being able to achieve this creditable result is that most Danes still understand how to make "proper" food, and can cook from raw ingredients. Allegedly, a high proportion of them (even young people) bake bread at home. Even more miraculously, they understand what makes a sensible portion of food!

3. The second point above begs the question "Why do they want / need to eat Ready Meals?" Some people will say they don't have enough time to prepare real food, but I don't accept this. The reason they don't have time is often that they are too busy playing games, chatting to each other on their phones or on the social media, or watching the TV! In my view, a good parent educates their child that good food is more important than all those things. Furthermore, shopping for, preparing, cooking and eating food together is extremely good for social and family bonding.

4. The social benefits of eating together are well known and have persisted for centuries - until now. My feeling is that many families seldom sit down to eat a meal together, except perhaps for special occasions (and those are normally hosted in a restaurant). Now, is this the cause of some of our bad eating habits, or is it a result of them? Consider also: is the reduction in the number of "traditional" families (I mean one man, one woman and their children) a cause or an effect of our changed eating-habits?

5. Another thing I feel very strongly about is the fact that in the UK being a chef (other than one with a Michelin star), or waiter / waitress, barista, "server" or whatever, is considered low-status - almost too demeaning to constitute a proper job. All too often our restaurants are staffed with ill-trained, demotivated, surly staff with little interest in the food and drink they are serving. Many of them appear to be students doing part-time or holiday jobs, aiming to get into something "better" as soon as possible. This is in stark contrast to many of our European neighbours. How many restaurants in the UK have a trained Maitre d'Hôtel these days, or a Sommelier? How many waiters can even describe Soup of the Day in sensible terms or know its ingredients???

6. Isn't it ironic that information about cooking and recipes has never been more accessible, thanks to the internet? Despite the fact that in our house we have loads of cookbooks, covering most of the different cuisines of the world, the internet is the first place I go when I'm looking for a recipe - even a recipe that I know we have in one of our books - because it is often easier to find it. Nonetheless we still buy cookbooks. They are often a source of general inspiration, rather than specific recipes to be followed. This is part of the deal, surely? To cook good / nice food, you have to enjoy doing it, don't you? For me, browsing a good cookbook definitely counts as part of Food Education!

7. Talking of ironies, isn't it strange that in a nation descending at an alarming pace into obesity, millions of people are obsessed with a TV programme about baking cakes? I have nothing against cakes per se (in moderation), but if only, instead of the Great British Bake-Off we could get people to be as enthusiastic about cooking and eating healthy, well-balanced meals for their families! We went a little way in that direction with Jamie Oliver, but I think even he fell victim to the lure of money. The pressure to keep producing yet another cookbook every few months (to keep the revenue flowing) must be very strong.

8. Now of course poor knowledge of cooking is often a cause of excessive food waste. If a finished dish is not good, it will be thrown away, not eaten. If it is served in too great a quantity, some of it will be wasted, for sure. If the cook doesn't understand the ingredients and how to prepare and cook them, they will end up in the bin. Despite this, the shops (often supermarkets) have a role to play here too. They sometimes sell food in inappropriate units, for instance huge bags of something instead of just one or two items. It must be depressing to be shopping for just one person! It happens less frequently than before, but some supermarkets still have special But One, Get One Free offers or pricing structures which persuade shoppers to buy more than they need, simply in pursuit of "turnover".

9. We also have a problem with image. I mean the spurious idea that all food has to look perfect. This is especially true in the case of vegetables. We have been conditioned (by the supermarkets) into expecting every single fruit or vegetable to be unblemished, uniform in size, and regularly shaped. Naturally this results in a high proportion of wastage, usually at the expense of the producer. As a gardener, I know full well how difficult it is to produce this sort of veg! We need to do away with this ridiculous prejudice and return to the more important considerations of nutritional value and above all, flavour.

10. (I'm going to finish at Point No. 10, though I could go on a lot longer!) My final point today seems obvious. Why do food vendors here not do more to persuade their potential customers to buy their wares by offering free samples for tasting? You sometimes see this at a Farmer's Market, and occasionally a supermarket will offer samples of a new product they want to push, but it is relatively rare. On our trips to France though, we have noticed that it is much more common there. Some vendors are very generous with their samples. A vendor confident of the quality of their product knows this will attract people who might baulk at paying a fair bit of money for something they might not enjoy. If the potential customer can try it for free, the battle for their custom is half won already!


2017-05-19 17:30:06

Adding Beauty to Your Garden with Flowers

A common complaint about vegetable gardens is that they’re not very attractive. I couldn’t disagree more! You can have a garden that produces a lot of food and is also a beautiful part of your home landscape.

The simplest thing you can do to elevate your garden from a place where you grow food to a garden that draws in and wows visitors and passersby on the street is to add flowers.


When you’re planting your garden beds with vegetables, make sure you reserve some room at the ends of the beds to plant some flowers. If you have a large garden, you don’t have to do this in every bed, but just make sure leave room in areas scattered around the garden so you have a nice distribution of color throughout.

Using the ends of beds is easy because it won’t disrupt the planting of your vegetables. I often fill a whole bed with onions, or garlic, or spinach, but leave just enough room for a few flowers.

In the areas you’ve reserved for flowers, plant some of your favorite annuals. I like annuals because once they get going, they tend to bloom for most of the season. They’re also the perfect companion to vegetables since they have a very similar lifespan. They die back in fall and early winter with the cold weather and can be cleared out of your garden at the same time you’re cleaning out the vegetable plants.

An added benefit of planting flowers among your vegetables is their blooms will attract beneficial insects and pollinators, which are an important part of a balanced organic garden.

If you start your own vegetable seedlings at home, think about ordering some flower seeds and starting them alongside the vegetables. Or, make a visit to a local nursery in spring and buy a flat of colorful annual flowers.

This season, focus on creating a more colorful and beautiful vegetable garden. Reserve some space at the end of some of your garden beds and tuck some flowers in amongst the vegetables. And don’t be afraid to mix and match flowers; the color combinations will add an extra layer of beauty and interest to your vegetable garden!

Creating a garden that feeds your body and your soul is one of the things we focus on in the Flavorful Life Garden Club.

From community challenges, to the instructional videos in our learning library, to sharing photos and inspiration in our private Facebook group, we support each other every day of the gardening season.


2017-05-19 17:27:45

When to Start Planting in Your Spring Garden

Timing is everything in the garden, especially if you live in a region that has a short gardening season like mine in Wisconsin. Planting vegetables at the wrong time can mean the difference between them flourishing and providing you with a delicious bounty and their complete and utter failure.

The good news is that you have a lot of control over the things that contribute to a vegetable’s success in your garden. And one of the most important factors is timing.


Vegetables Won’t Grow to Full Size

I love growing onions! I plant between 300-500 every year and store them in my basement so we can eat them all winter. But, they can be a little picky about how they’re grown, especially if they’re not planted at the right time.

Onions are day length sensitive. This means that when the number of hours of daylight gets above a certain point the onion starts making a bulb. When onions start bulbing up depends on where you live and what variety you’re growing. In northern climates, they start forming their bulbs around the summer solstice in June.

Vegetables Will Bolt

Have you heard of the term bolting? If you’ve planted lettuce, cilantro, spinach, or other spring greens you may have noticed that they eventually send up a flower stalk from the middle of the plant. This is called bolting. It’s a natural process that signals the plant is getting ready to flower and produce seeds for reproduction.

Unfortunately, bolting causes the plants to become bitter tasting and much less appealing for throwing in our fresh salads. Bolting is caused by increasing day length and temperature, which is something that happens naturally as we move towards summer.

Vegetables Might Die

One year as I was rushing to go on a weekend canoe and camping trip for Memorial Day Weekend I decided to plant my pepper seedlings into my community garden plot so I wouldn’t have to get a neighbor to water my seedlings.

When I came back at the end of the weekend my pepper plants looked terrible. It took me a few moments to realize we had gotten a late frost while I was away. Most of the peppers ended up dying, and I had to scramble around to get extra plants from friends and purchase some from the farmers market.

I learned an important lesson that year – don’t rush the season.

The vegetables we talked about in the first two sections of this post are all frost tolerant which means they can easily survive when temperatures hover at or below 32 degrees F. Peppers fall into another category of plants, vegetables that are not frost tolerant. This means that if your garden gets a cold snap (temps around 32 degrees F), or frost, the plants will get damaged (at best) and possibly end up dead.



2016-12-15 22:38:44

Forget the lawnmower – just let your grass grow

One of the best ways to encourage wildflowers in your garden is to leave a patch of lawn to its own devices during spring and summer.

The chances are that at least some wildflowers will appear if you leave the lawnmower alone. What comes up in your no-mow patch depends very much on what you start with. If, like me, your lawn is old, rather weedy, and probably hasn’t encountered weedkillers or fertilisers for years, a bit more conscious neglect could transform it into a thriving mini-meadow.

This is because the average lawn is usually home to what many would describe as weeds. Shift your perspective slightly and, like a botanical version of the ugly duckling story, many of these so-called weeds will grow into lovely wildflowers.

Left alone, a modest expectation from your turf would be pretty little plants such as daisies, speedwell, self-heal, buttercups and clovers. But oxeye daisies, cowslips and even orchids might appear too. Just as in wildflower meadows across Britain, each with their own regional character and identity, your soil type will determine which flowers will grow.


2016-12-15 22:38:05

Millennials aren't too impatient to garden - we just don't have the space

ecently this blog published a post by Tom Smart bewailing young people’s preference for smart phones over tulip bulbs, blaming millennials’ lack of patience as the root cause for their lack of interest in horticulture. I’ve also come across this argument in the RHS magazine, The Garden.

As a millennial myself, I think this is rubbish. How can young people be accused of lacking patience when we’ll have to wait decades, if ever, until we manage to afford a house and garden? And therein lies the crux of the matter.

Gardening requires land - preferably land you own. What young people really lack is not patience, but gardens. In a survey of 500 14-24 year olds, 75% said that they enjoyed growing plants, but many added that they didn’t have the space.

Most rented flats and houses have no gardens to speak of and landlords tend to be unimpressed if you do start to dig up their lawns. Last year Sue Biggs, director general of the RHS said: “There is a crisis in our front gardens and one of the major strands in it is the growth in rental properties”. She heralds container gardening as a solution for renters, but they tend to be filled with bedding plants which are expensive to replenish seasonally, and often pots of plants left in front of properties get pinched.

2016-12-15 22:37:14

I'm harnessing the power of gardening to help autistic people

If someone had said to me ten years ago that autism and the therapeutic benefits of gardening will become your life, I wouldn’t have believed them. Yes, I enjoyed growing some of my own food in my back yard in Brighton, but it wasn’t until my son Arthur’s autism diagnosis a few years back that everything changed. Now I believe so strongly in the power of gardening to help those on the spectrum having seen its positive impact on my son, I’ve set up a social enterpriseto do just this.

Although it’s still very early days, things are starting to take shape on my smallholding in Ceredigion, West Wales. The training garden is ready for the resilient gardener course I’ve just launched; all profits from which will help fund our work with people affected by autism. It will also be used as a therapeutic space as it’s packed full of scented plants, natural sounds and wildlife galore to help provide all important emotional regulation as well as sensory interest.