Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No-Weed Vegetable Gardens

Garlic from my garden drying on the screens.
N is for "no-weed" vegetable gardens. How can you create a vegetable garden that you don't have to weed? 
When I was taking my Virginia Master Gardener course, I learned about a woman named Ruth Stout. 
Ruth was a character to be sure. She claimed to have known Carrie Nation in prohibition-era Kansas, to have smashed up saloons, and more. She espoused a system of gardening that relied on very thick layers of organic mulch to nourish the soil and prevent weeds.


No-Weed Gardening Using the Ruth Stout Method

Using the Ruth Stout method of no-weed gardening, at least eight inches of thick, organic mulch such as compost, leaves or other garden debris are placed on top of your vegetable garden beds. The thick layer keeps moisture near the plant's roots, prevents weeds from sprouting, and nourishes the soil as it decays. Ruth loved to use hay bales, with thick hay spread over the surface of her garden as the mulch. She also recommend any organic matter that rots - leaves, hay or spoiled hay/straw, even garbage.  Every year, you just layer more organic matter onto the soil. It nourishes the plants as it decomposes, so you need very little fertilizer. It also retains moisture, so you don't have to water.

Spoiled hay is hay that has become moldy. It is no longer useful for animal fodder, and thus is available very inexpensively. In fact, you may be able to buy it cheaply or even get it free.
Ruth claimed that if the mulch is thick enough, weeds can't push through the hay or mulch cover.  I'm not sure about that. The weeds here seem to be super weeds! But she claimed that her garden was weed-free, well nourished, and healthy.  

You can learn more about the Ruth Stout gardening method in this interview with her on Mother Earth News. 

Do you think Ruth Stout's method works? Have you tried it in your garden? Let me know if it works using the comment box below!
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Review of the New Blooming Secrets Website

An example of a seed collection from Blooming Secrets. Beautiful!


Please note: This is a sponsored post, which means that the company paid me to review their site and write a review for my readers. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own, however.


I was asked to take a look at a new website called Blooming Secrets. The site looks really neat and I had fun exploring all the options.

It's a simple concept. Gardeners fill out a free profile, and each month, the company curates personalized gardening products into one email to you. It reminds me of the new shopping sites that do something similar after you fill out a clothing profile; they email you with possible styles you might like, and links where to buy them. This company does something similar, but with gardening products.

The product selections appeared comprehensive, with seed collections grouped around colors, gardening accessories, bulks, tools and more. The company also provides an informative blog and promises articles sent to you as part of your monthly communications from them.

I signed up in exactly 10 seconds using my Facebook account. After I clicked "Accept", the website created a customized page for me, which included links to a summer flowering vine seed collection, a tomato assortment 6-pack, an herb plant assortment 6-pack, and an herb assortment of seeds.
I'm in love with these colors!
Photos provided by Blooming Secrets

I'm not exactly clear on how the company chose these products. For example, how did they know I live in a home and not in an apartment, where space would be at a premium and flowering vines nothing more than a dream? The herb plant assortment and the herb seeds also seemed like overkill. How many herbs can one gardener each? But the products appear to be interesting, well packaged, and clearly described - a plus for someone like me who tends to be time-starved, and with limited access to local stores carrying comparable products.

All in all, I'm intrigued by Blooming Secrets and looking forward to their first emails to me. I am actively shopping for garden accessories now, statues and decorative accents, and if they have anything reasonably priced and suited to my tastes, count me in! The color-coordinated packages of annual seeds are also tempting. The pictures accompanying this post are from Blooming Secrets, and show some of the packages. I really love the hot, tropical colors, and might just buy the package to plant in my large containers for the back deck.

You can take a look at Blooming Secrets yourself at www.bloomingsecrets.com

This post contains sponsored links from Blooming Secrets.





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Mushrooms: Grow Your Own


Mushrooms fascinate me. I can walk through the woods here at Seven Oaks in the morning and see a few tiny caps peeking up from the forest floor. By late afternoon, they've exploded into full toadstool beauty, and later that evening, they're gone. Or the next day, they're nothing but a puddle of black ooze on the forest floor.  I've seen fairy rings of mushrooms on the lawn and all sorts of interesting mushrooms.

The local wildlife and naturalist groups host classes to identify edible mushrooms, but I'm too chicken to try it. My husband's Italian grandparents loved nothing better than picking wild mushrooms and had all sorts of ways they claimed helped you tell the poisonous ones from the safe ones. His grandpa lived well into his eighties, and did not die from mushroom poisoning, so I guess their ways worked. I do not plan to try them anytime soon.

However, growing mushrooms? That's another story.


Growing Mushrooms at Home

You may have seen gardening catalogs selling mushroom growing kits. These kits are around $20 - $30 each and contain the log or soil mixture, inoculated with edible mushroom spores or spawn, and the instructions you need to grow them.

You can grow shiitake mushrooms, portabella mushrooms, buttom mushrooms and all sorts of mushrooms right at home. The best part? Don't worry about your light requirements. They need dark, cool, moist and humid conditions. A basement where temperatures remain between 55 and 65 degrees F is perfect.
Some types of mushrooms need an introductory shot of warmth, and a heating pad can be used, according to the kit directions, to raise the temperatures near the soil. Keep the soil moist and monitor your mushroom 
like projections called the mycelium will emerge. These are the "roots" of your mushrooms. You can harvest the mushrooms daily for up to six months, but avoid digging into the growing medium. If you disturb their root system, they may stop production.

Here's a link to a mushroom growing kit on Amazon. If you click the link and buy from Amazon, I get a small percent, but it does NOT affect your price. Thanks!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lettuce and Leeks



Lettuce and leeks are two of my favorite vegetables, and happily I can write about them today in honor of the letter "L" in the A to Z blogging challenge! The lettuce above grew in my garden last year from a 20 cent package of mixed lettuce seeds. There were at least five types of lettuce in the package. I think my favorite is the red-leafed variety, at the upper right. It had a mild taste, and mixed with the bitter greens and Romaine lettuce I also grew, made a beautiful, pleasing salad.


Growing Lettuce

Lettuce can be grown as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Lettuce prefers cool weather; hot weather makes it set seeds or "bolt", sending up a thick, central stem to produce seeds. Once lettuce bolts, it's bitter - no two ways about it. It prefers cool weather and fares well in the early spring and late fall.

Lettuce needs full sunlight but can tolerate partial shade. Make sure the soil is rich and well drained; add plenty of compost. Rake a small line in the soil and sprinkle the seeds, then lightly cover them with soil. Don't plant lettuce seeds too deeply or they won't sprout. Keep them well-watered. In about a week, you should see the first leaves appear as the seeds sprout. Keep watering it, and thin in about another two weeks to give the plants room to grow. To harvest, use scissors and snip off the leaves for your salad. Once the lettuce bolts or goes to seed, pull it out and compost it.

Slugs and snails love lettuce too. If you see nibbled edges or find slugs on your lettuce, a simple organic solution is diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth looks like a fine gray powder and is sold at garden centers in cans and bags. It's really the fossilized remains of ancient algae.  It's harmless to humans and pets, as well as to birds and most wildlife, but the tiny crystals in the earth cut into slugs and snails, killing them. Sprinkle it around your lettuce patch to keep slugs at bay.  You can always use an old-fashioned beer tray or trap for slugs, but why waste good beer...?

Leeks

I love leeks, but I don't like the price tag at the grocery store! I used to buy them at the farmer's market in Huntington, Long Island when I lived nearby, and always managed to pick up delicious tender bunches of leeks for about $2 each fall. Many fall recipes call for this tender onion-flavored vegetable, and whether they're added to soups, stews or other dishes, they are delicious and a delicacy for the autumn palate.

This is my first year trying to grow leeks. I've already been told by several well-meaning gardening friends that I'm very far behind in the process, since I haven't even planted my seeds yet, but c'est la vie - that's life. 

Leeks can be started from seeds indoors several weeks before you plan to grow them outside, or you can buy starter plants at this time of year from the garden center. The Cooperative Extension office says that leeks can be grown in full sun or partial shade, with rich, well drained soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8.  They need a lot of moisture for even growth, so my soaker hose is going to come in handy for the leek bed! Soaker hoses distribute an even amount of moisture through tiny holes along the soft, pliable hose. It drips water right at the soil line rather than spray it about, the way sprinklers do. It can help conserve water, an important quality for a garden like mine watered from a well.

Leeks grow to be one to two feet tall. The root and lower stem are eaten. To blanch them, soil is mounded against the stem, which whitens it.  They need a long growing period, and tolerate a light frost, so the spring planting is usually harvest around Halloween or so.

Neat fact of the day:  The ancient Egyptians grew leeks over 4,000 years ago.  I wonder if they were an every day food or a delicacy, too?

Here's to the vegetable garden, the letter L, and lettuce and leeks!

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Bluebirds Found the New House

A few weeks ago, we spent over two hours digging a hole, cementing a post into place, and nailing up a new bluebird house. Our bluebird house in the backyard always has a family of bluebirds, and it's so much fun to watch them from the kitchen window. The new bluebird house is in the garden bed on the front lawn, and I can see it easily from my office windows - a treat for someone who once had on office with windows looking smack onto a brick wall. In Manhattan, if your office even has windows, you're considered blessed!

Yesterday, I was able to photograph our new tenant. Isn't he beautiful? No matter how many times I see bluebirds here in Virginia, they make me smile. Their lush, liquid song, their sweet and friendly antics....they are truly a delightful part of living in the countryside.


By the way, did you know I have a free e-book on this blog called Attracting Birds to the Garden? Check out the tab at the top called Free Gardening Books. You can download the PDF book at no charge, and without giving away your first born or your email address. Enjoy!



Here's the garden where we placed the pole...behind the blooming tree. You can see the male bluebird even in this photo perched on the pole.






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