Gardening/Farming


And we have our winners! Congrats to tattoo winners: Jim H, Jonquil Alexia, KnowThankYou, and Cindy; and the grand prize winner of the book is Karrita!

UPDATE! I’ve got awesome news! Amanda’s book has been released a full month early and is now available on Amazon. Of course that means we can move up the drawing for a free copy so that the lucky winner can get it in time for Christmas! So rather than wait until December 15th for the drawing, I’ll do it this Sunday, December 2nd at noon! Yep! So jump to the bottom of this review to get the rules for entering and enter before noon Central Time on the 2nd!

Amanda Thomsen (aka Kiss My Aster on Twitter and Facebook) is what I’d call a punk landscaper and garden designer if we’re using the broader meaning of punk. The punk ideology is really about doing it yourself and doing it to your individual aesthetic, mainstreamers and corporatists be damned. And that’s how the music was too, in the beginning, before the record companies saw dollar signs and co-opted everything. But that’s another soap box.

This soap box is all about Amanda’s drive to empower the newbies, the rebels…the rest of us; giving gardeners and home owners the right and the courage to do things their way.

Gardening should be fun yet there are too many books that make it seem not so. Throw in the word landscaping and it’s easy to see how a new home owner or gardener might simply pave over the yard and lease out parking spots.

This is why Amanda was compelled to create her first solo book, Kiss My Aster, and why Storey Publishing felt the time was right for the little guys to have a coach and cheerleader like her.

Amanda has chunked tomes of landscaping advice into a non-linear format similar to the old Choose Your Own Adventure books she grew up with. Turns out this is a perfect form for the way today’s younger readers seek and absorb information. She also keeps all the advice succinct while including games to make it fun and memorable.

Her snarky humor combined with the quirky illustrations encourages readers not to worry about doing it right or being perfect. The landscaping lessons end up being just right for each reader no matter where they start in the book.

There’s very much a fun, Yellow Submarine-type quality to the illustrations that include a talking pink unicorn, Mr. T-shaped topiary, a lava lamp in a worm burrow, and yes, giant mushrooms ;-P

While experienced landscapers and gardeners will find this book humorous with a bona fide ring of truth, garden newbies will also find it inspiring, helpful, to the point, (e.g., no unending paragraphs about the benefits of juniper), and fun.

If you consider yourself independent, different, not like your neighbors, this book is written specifically for you. It’s full of advice and guidance enabling you to do it yourself or with the help of a team. And it will give you the freedom to think outside the boxwood hedge.

Photos are excerpted from Kiss My Aster © by Amanda Thomsen, Illustrations © by Am I Collective/Bernstein & Andriulli, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Interview with Amanda

This past summer I had an opportunity to interview Amanda about a lot of things including her upcoming book. I also followed her on a tour of her new house and very large yard. She pointed out a creek bed where she planned to break a landscaper’s rule by planting an invasive to manage erosion, her plans for disposing of the dated lava rock around the foundation, and her latest thrift store find; a cool 70s outdoor fireplace.

SV: Who did you have in mind when you first came up with the idea for this book?

A: As always, I am my own target audience. The cool thing about this book is I never pitched it to anyone. Someone at Storey said “hey, I think your blog is really cool” years and years ago. “I work for Storey and I’m keeping my eye on you.” We got to be kinda friends, we met in Boston, she wanted to know if I had ideas for a book. Well sure, I had plenty of ideas, crazy ideas for books. And so we met and talked and I liked her so much and she was so young and hip and cool and into gardening and organic farming. She’s like the coolest target audience I could ever think of. If I could amuse her, then I could probably amuse anybody. And that’s how this entire book ended up this way.

SV: So you didn’t think about demographics and target audience…

A: No, what I did think—and this is sort of a dorky thing to say—this book is gonna be something they could put on a table at Urban Outfitters; it’s gonna be that cool. That was my one thing. That it would hit this younger audience.

SV: When I think about this book—the way that it’s structured, the style of illustration—it seems very appropriate for almost any age but especially younger gardeners.

A: Absolutely! I was hoping 20s, X and Y, millennials. I showed this book to my dad—he’s like 65—and he saw the unicorn and was like “who’s this book for? Kids?”

Q: But you’ve got bits of humor in here for everybody, the gnomes, unicorns,…

A: My sense of humor is a range, I love old movies, there are references to Mr. T. They did edit out some of the really young references.

SV: So they did edit your book?

A: Oh yeah, there was a page on watering called “Where your hose at?” and they did change it to “Where’s my hose?” And the page after making a short flagstone path was on making a real mortared stone path and it was called “harder and longer” and they did change that.

SV: How do you feel about those changes?

A: I won so many, there’s so much in here that’s just so flippin’ cheeky that I can’t believe I got away with it. They wanted over-the-top so I wrote over-the-top. Anything they took away (giggles) was probably for my own good. They did let me keep the topiary of Mr. T. (SV: for reals, there is a topiary of Mr. T, I saw it.)

SV: So let’s talk about the illustrations. Why illustration when so many gardening books are based on photography?

A: Well look at it, it’s so awesome. I wanted to do a hundred other things because I couldn’t conceive of spending this much money to get something like this. My original idea was to have the illustrations be like IKEA instructions in 13 languages, I thought that would be really funny and they were like, “we don’t get it”, so it just kinda morphed into this style kind of naturally.

SV: I love the lava lamp in the worm den.

A: The illustrators were just so insane. I’ve never spoken with them, just sent the briefest of notes. They gave the publisher lots of ideas. The illustrators did a really good job of keeping my flava’, you know?

I’m so glad I ended up with these guys, I just love them.

SV: And it sounds like they loved working on this too, I read on their blog.

A: What’s interesting is, there’s this twistiness of the concept and how it’s written but the illustration is fun, it’s not morbid in any way. Every page is fun. Here’s two of my favorite pages: “The Hobo Deck Style” and “The Hobo Garden.” I did have to explain that to the illustrators, they were like, “whaaaat’s a hobo garden?”

SV: The squirrels are great, you’ve got them in several places in the book.

A: When it was originally going to be a graphic novel, it was going to be me and a drunken squirrel fighting about how to do things and he was gonna do things wrong. So I asked for the squirrel to be included in as many things as possible.

SV: This book flows differently than others, it’s not linear. Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for it not being a linear book?

A: I wanted to make something interactive, and I thought about the ones I knew that were interactive, the Choose Your Own Adventure books. And I thought well, planting your yard is an adventure and I just came up with the idea. I thought it was too complicated for me to do, to weave everything together, and then the publisher said, “you just write the stuff, we’ll weave it together.” I wrote the book from beginning to end and they made everything match up.

SV: So someone picks up this book, how do they decide where to start.

A: They can start anywhere. There’s not really a table of contents but there’s this worm burrow at the beginning so if you wanna just do vegetable gardening, there’s a vegetable gardening worm burrow and you can do any of those pages. Or you can start reading from the beginning and at the bottom of every page you can choose where to go next.

SV: Did you have a particular goal with this book or did you just want to write a book?

A: To write more books. I don’t know why, I just want to. And I’m not a particularly driven person but I enjoyed this. The big story behind this book is that the day I found out it was a go was the day I peed on a stick and found out I was pregnant. And from there the race was on. I had a year to write a book and 10 months to have a baby. So it was a very interesting year. I also got a big promotion that year. Writing this book was so fun. I’m not going to say it was effortless. I don’t consider myself a writer, I’m an amusing person to talk to and I can pretty quickly tell you what kind of tree to plant in your back yard. That’s pretty easy to do and I just wrote it down.

SV: What’s your favorite part of the book?

A: I love the games. I’m really proud of the bingo and the cootie catcher. There’s mad-libs, match-em-ups. One of my favorite things that I didn’t do, is the last page, the little garden party. It was all the illustrators’ idea.

SV: Most gardening books I’ve seen are reference tools with the exception of fiction like The Orchid Thief.

A: Yeah, I’m hoping this is somewhere in between. There are personal stories in here and a lot of parts that are conversational.

Contest over. Win a copy of Amanda’s book, Kiss My Aster (and maybe an official tattoo!)

You have 3 ways to win this groovy book!

Remember folks: You must list a separate comment for each of the three to be entered multiple times! I’m noticing folks entering once with 3 things in one email.

  1. Follow Amanda on Twitter and comment below that you did so.
  2. Follow Storey Publishing on Facebook and comment below that you did so.
  3. Answer this question in yet another and separate comment: What would Amanda recommend, asters or mums?

Deadline: December 15th December 2, 2012, noon, Central Standard Time

Eligibility: US residents only, sorry.

On December 2nd 15th, I’ll use the Random Number Generator to choose one winner of the book and then four winners of the tattoos. These are temporary stick’em tattoos, not real ones dude.

Storey Publishing just released the book so they assure me they can send the winner their copy before Christmas if we do the drawing sooner. releases the book in January of 2013 and will send the winner a printed copy at that time So you must include a real email address when you leave your comments so I can contact you if you win. No email and I’ll run the Random Number Generator again and choose someone else.

You may also order the book at Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

Stalk Amanda at these links:

Website: www.kissmyaster.co
Blog: www.finegardening.com/blogs/kiss-my-aster
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/badtothephloem
Twitter: www.twitter.com/kissmyaster
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/Kissmyaster
Good Enough Gardening Podcasts: http://www.goodenoughgardening.com/
Check out her Ryan Gosling gardening meme: http://www.kissmyaster.co/2012/01/hey-girl-garden-series.html

See what else is germinating at Storey Publishing:

http://www.facebook.com/storeypublishing

http://www.storey.com/prebook_detail.php?isbn=9781603429863&cat=PreRelease

Reviewing Troy-Bilt’s Lithium-Ion Cultivator got me to thinking more about the impact of invasive gardening techniques on our friends, the earthworms. So I started digging :-P

Here’s what I found:

  • It depends on who you ask but there between 2700 and 7000 species of earthworms.
  • They were brought to North America by European settlers.
  • They are bad for some forest ecosystems but do a great job amending soil for gardeners.
  • You know  you have good soil if you have lots of earthworms.
  • Large-scale produce farms that do a lot of deep tilling and row cultivation don’t have many earthworms.
  • No-till or low-till farms maintain better conditions for earthworms to populate and fertilize the soil.
  • Earthworms are seasonal; they are most active in damp springs and falls. They tend to burrow deeper in dryer summers and winter.
  • Earthworms will die if they don’t have enough moisture or if the soil temperature isn’t within their range (again, it depends on who you ask and the specific earthworm species but seems to be between 55 and 70F).
  • They can be classified into 3 burrowing types: surface, shallow and deep dwelling.
  • Most can regenerate tail ends that get chopped off by birds but you’re not likely to get two whole earthworms from one. Each species has a different number of segments and their regeneration ability depends on what segment(s) get cut off and their own ability to regenerate.
  • Species commonly referred to as red wigglers are used in vermiculture (kitchen compost bins) and [edited: JMM] usually consist of two common species, one is an Epigeic worm and the other is considered an Epi-Endogeic worm. are NOT soil dwelling worms. Eisenia fetida falls into the Epigeic category (see next section below), is a compost/organic matter dweller, and is not found in soil. If you release them to the soil in your garden and they do not find a healthy compost bin or plenty of organic matter, they will die wild because they are not adapted to soil temperatures or the low levels of organic matter found in soil. The other species you’ll find categorized as a red wiggler is the Lumbricus rubellus, an Epi-Endogeic worm that prefers leaf litter, compost and lots of surface organic matter but also can be found in the top few inches of soil especially if the soil is rich in organic matter. [More info about red wiggler species.]

To avoid harming your earthworm population and to encourage them to thrive, we need to look at the habits of the three burrowing types:

  1. Surface dwellers (Epigeic species) Lives at the surface, usually in forest leaf litter. Small and adapted to variable moisture and temperature. Also found in compost piles because they are unlikely to survive in soil due to the lower organic matter. Red wigglers fall into this category.
  2. Shallow dwellers (Endogeic species) Lives in the top level of soil, usually down to 12 inches. They don’t have permanent burrows like the deeper night crawlers but rather they just burrow as they go in search of organic matter. They leave a trail of castings and slime in their wake. These are the ones you’re most likely to run into when digging or shallow-cultivating soil. They are most active in the spring and fall. Because summers and winters are dryer with more temperature extremes, they move deeper (~18 inches) into the soil to protect themselves. Dryer seasons are an ideal time to cultivate soil or plant shrubs and perennials that require deeper holes.
  3. Deep dwellers (Anecic species) These are the night crawlers, some of which have been known to burrow as deeply as 8 feet.  They maintain permanent burrows that are usually a straight shot down from the soil surface. They pull surface litter into their burrows where they munch in peace. You know  you have night crawlers if you find plugs made of soil and minerals throughout your lawn. The plugs protect the entrance to their burrows. Night crawlers also tend to be more active in spring and fall.

Soil management affects earthworms in several ways:

  • Affects food supply: No-till land will usually provide more food for earthworm populations than land that is cleared and plowed seasonally.
  • Mulch affects moisture and temperature: Leaving plants in an area also acts as a natural mulch that protects earthworms against sudden changes in soil temperature and moisture.
  • Chemicals: Impact of chemicals varies with the chemical. Read the first article linked in the biblio below for more details.

My hope is that with this info gathered in one handy spot, vegan gardeners can judge better how they are affecting earthworms in their gardens. Realize too that not all digging will kill earthworms. Knowing the seasonal dryness and temperature of your areas will help you determine the best methods for care and feeding of your garden buddies. Of course, there are other organisms dwelling in the soil and this post doesn’t begin to scratch the surface on the rest. I’ll try to post follow-ups by spring so we can be better informed before the next garden season.

Information above was gathered from University Extension research at the following links:

And you can read more about how earthworms are affecting forests here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialanimals/earthworms/index.html

Contest is over and we have a winner! See end of article for who won! (Don’t forget to read the giveaway guidelines at the end to win one of these babies for your very own!)

Oh baby, yeah. Power tools! Nothing like an efficient tool to make gardening a little easier, right?

Troy-Bilt rocks a winner, again.

The TBC57 Cordless/Battery-Powered Cultivator is a new item from Troy-Bilt for 2012. The lithium-ion battery enables you to work farther from an electrical source as there are no cords to manage. The 9-inch width and up to 5-inch depth keep the device appropriate for tight spaces, trench edges, squeezing between shrubs, breaking up surface crusts, etc.

S-s-s-s-satisfaction!

Peter summed it up nicely when he said he experienced immense satisfaction after using the cultivator to clear out the 30-foot patch of violets and baby weed trees in the side yard. There’s just something really satisfying about using a power tool to do in 15 minutes what would take an afternoon bending and pulling thousands of weeds by hand. That said, raking up pulled weeds is always a good idea so they don’t set root again, starting the cycle over.

Here’s the side yard before and after comparison, un-raked of course:

Cleaning up your mess.

Remember: Click on photos to enlarge.

Yeah, a rake is good for removing the weeds that the cultivator rips out but you will get some longer bits and vines wrapped around the tines. In our case, we also captured a coat hanger (I know right?). You can pull stuff out of the tines fairly easily but if stuff is really wound tight, you’ll need to remove the tines to do a thorough job. Little springy clips pop right out and allow you to slide the tines off one at a time. Just remember which way you want to put them back on.

And sometimes you’ll get baby weed trees pulled and wrapped up in there if you don’t pull those before cultivating. We really ran this thing through its paces and didn’t prep any areas beforehand.

Set up is very easy.

I did it without gardening gloves and no chips to my manicure. The only perplexing issue were the two overly large cotter pins that were not mentioned in the manual or the quick reference sheet. I also watched Troy-Bilt’s own set up video on YouTube and there’s no mention of what these pins are for. I may just use them as earrings or something.

The way to adjust the tine depth is to adjust the wheel setting. The instructions are pretty easy to understand on that point. No biggie there.

One thing I love about this cultivator: it’s fairly lightweight at the same time as being quite powerful. I was able to manage it myself without use of a male. It made me feel a little more independent.

The only thing I really wished for was a short-person’s adjustment on the handle length. As you can see from the comparison photo of my 5’5″ frame to Peter’s 5’11” frame, the arm/elbow angle is different for squats like me. And because I exercise my mouse hand more than my biceps (I know, my problem), I did have some issues grasping the unit the same way that Peter was able to. Peter thinks it’s because I’m a weeny but I do contend that an adjustment notch on the handle would have helped me. Not a deal breaker, just woulda been nice.

Not your mama’s D batteries.

The lithium-ion battery came partially charged so we popped it in the charger for a full blast. You can easily check the power level by pressing the little red button to see how many green LED lights you get. One full charge is good for 1500 square feet and the charger will fast-charge the battery fully in just two hours (wish I could say the same for my iPhone). You’re not going to use this on a large scale farm but it’s perfect for the typical homeowner.

Check the battery’s charge and insert into the cultivator until it clicks into place.

Remember, before taking apart the tines for serious cleaning, be safe and remove the battery.

What’s so great about Troy-Bilt?

It’s no secret that I love Troy-Bilt products. I also hate to give bad reviews so I do have a tendency to only review products that I’m pretty sure are a good bet. Yes, Troy-Bilt did contact me about reviewing this exact model of cultivator and I did not buy this model myself.

If you check their website, you’ll find they are investing significantly in lithium-ion battery powered tools. In fact, all their lithium-ion tools have interchangeable batteries so really, all you need is one battery and charger. This is great from a budgetary and eco perspective. Couple that with the fact that they generally don’t produce failures. And they take any criticisms to heart, working to improve products all the time. This is why I like them.

Wrap it up.

Tilling and cultivating are two different things. To help alleviate confusion, please read my addendum at the end of this post.

  • Does every homeowner need a tiller? No.
  • Can many homeowners benefit from owning a cultivator? IMHO, yes.

Tips for when to consider cultivating your soil:

  1. You need a more efficient way of dislodging weeds because you have a lot of ground to cover and hand-pulling ain’t gonna cut it.
  2. You have a bad back.
  3. Cleaning up grass overgrowth from trench edging around flower beds.
  4. Cleaning up surface soil between shrubs and closely spaced plants.
  5. Easy way to prepare raised beds by mixing in compost — it’s much easier to maneuver than a tiller.
  6. Your garden soil has developed a hard crusty surface, impacting oxygen and water penetration.

I can’t wait to try this cultivator on the Creeping Charlie in the back yard!

Congratulations to Kelly Reckas!

I’ll be emailing you shortly Kelly to get your shipping address so Troy-Bilt can get your new cultivator to you post haste! You can follow Kelly on Twitter @kellycrochets or her blog.

4 ways to enter to win a TBC57 Troy-Bilt Lithium-Ion Cultivator of your own!

 

  • Deadline: September 23th! At 12:00 (noon) Central Standard Time, I’ll draw a winner using the Random Number Generator.
  • You must be a USA resident for shipping purposes. Troy-Bilt will ship the unit directly to the winner.
  • You may enter one or more of the following ways. Each comment you leave will increase your odds.

Addendums!

The difference between tilling and cultivating.

Even experienced gardeners often use the terms interchangeably. Essentially, it’s a matter of depth and purpose, here are the differences:

Tillers turn soil at huge depths, usually at least 10-12 inches. This can disrupt established ecosystems but it can also be needed to amend soil that is so barren, it lacks any significant value to gardening. Deep tilling is also a great way to clear a spot for a garden while working in cotton burr mulch and compost to amend clay soils. Just remember, deep till good soil sparingly, if at all, because every turn of the blade releases nitrogen that you’ll have to replace with compost and disrupts soil ecosystems. However, heavy clay soil can benefit from amending with mulches and composts. It can take many years to improve poor soil. Alternatives to using a tiller to clear areas of a lawn for gardening include solarizing the section and/or lasagna layering. I’ve used both and they work very well.

Cultivators stay nearer to the surface (up to 5 inches for this Troy-Bilt model) and are more appropriate for surface hoeing quickly and more efficiently than you can accomplish with a manual hoe. They are also great for working in fertilizers in the top couple inches of soil without disrupting deeper eco-systems. AND, they will break up that surface crust that builds up over time and impacts rainwater runoff.

Effects on earthworm populations (for my vegan buds).

According to the University of Illinois Extension Service, there are approximately 2700 different species of earthworms. Having worms in your garden soil generally means you have healthy soil. They prefer to live where there is food, moisture, oxygen and appropriate temperatures. They won’t stick around without these ingredients.

Let’s go over a few key facts about earthworms.

    • Surface soil and litter species – Epigeic species. These species live in or near surface plant litter. They are typically small and are adapted to the highly variable moisture and temperature conditions at the soil surface. The worms found in compost piles are epigeic and are unlikely to survive in the low organic matter environment of soil. (Most commonly found in compost piles and leaf litter.—JMM)
    • Upper soil species – Endogeic species. Some species move and live in the upper soil strata and feed primarily on soil and associated organic matter (geophages). They do not have permanent burrows, and their temporary channels become filled with cast material as they move through the soil, progressively passing it through their intestines. (I expected to see a lot of shallow dwelling worms when we tested the cultivator but in the entire side yard, I only saw one. I don’t know for sure but am wondering if the vibrations from the cultivator sent them deeper into hiding until we were done. I must look into this more.—JMM)
    • Deep-burrowing species – Anecic species. These earthworms, which are typified by the “night crawler,” Lumbricus terrestris, inhabit more or less permanent burrow systems that may extend several meters into the soil. They feed mainly on surface litter that they pull into their burrows. They may leave plugs, organic matter, or cast (excreted soil and mineral particles) blocking the mouth of their burrows. (Don’t cultivate your soil at night, yo.—JMM)
  • Where do they go when it’s really hot? Worms need moist soil and between temperatures 55-70F to survive. Various websites list a variety of temperatures but this seems to be the optimal range. During hot weather, they will seek out more damp locations to survive, often burrowing deeper into the soil.
  • Do they really make more worms if they are cut into pieces? Well, many earthworm species do have the ability to regenerate segments that are cut off but most require at least half of the body to be undamaged in order to accomplish this feat. Different species have differing numbers of segments which affects their ability to regenerate. Manure worms (a.k.a, red wigglers) have about 95 segments whereas nightcrawlers have about 150. Different segments serve different purposes. If a bird snaps off the tail end of a worm, often that worm will just generate a new end and the end the bird took will die if not eaten. (Read more about worm earthworm regeneration.)

So, if you do your research, check the weather, etc., you should be able to determine the optimum time to cultivate your soil without mass genocide.

Vegan gardeners!! I have great news!

There IS a veganic fertilizer now available, it works, and is named Grow Veganic. If you’re impatient to order, go here: www.growveganic.com, otherwise, read my review below.

What is a veganic fertilizer?

Vegan + organic = veganic which also means:

  • No animal meals: no blood/bones/feathers/fish
  • No manure (see below for why this matters)
  • No hormones
  • No GMOs

Does it work?

I received a test bag of Grow Veganic’s Steady 5-1-1- fertilizer, a slow-release, pelleted form on June 6, 2012. Of course, knowing that it would take a while to try it out and therefore review it, I immediately sprinkled a liberal 4 handfuls in a giant pot of some suffering coleus on the front porch. Why were they suffering? Well, I was cheap and planted them in decrepit (overused, nutritionally depleted potting soil from the past two years) adding straight-up coir to top off the pot. It’s a HUGE pot so I didn’t really have the funds to buy enough of the good stuff to fill it. Seeing as it’s also a pot , therefore lacking in earth worms, this meant that it wasn’t going to provide the coleus with much in the way of nutrition. The plants were doomed.

I wish I’d taken a before shot but I did not. I can tell you that the coleus came from clippings I had in a juice glass in the kitchen window. Meaning, they weren’t more than 8 inches tall to start. And they were all wet roots, starving for nutrients.

At about one month in is when I really noticed an explosion of growth. (See the left photo below.) And because Grow Veganic is slow-release, these babies continued to grow to fearful heights the rest of the summer and now, into fall. (See the right photo below.)

Left: plants easily went from cuttings to this big. Right: still expanding with no tip cuttings on my part.

Who creates Grow Veganic?

Sunizona Family Farms is a 20 acres small farm in Southeast Arizona. After launching as a conventional farm, they quickly developed a passion for organic farming. As they say, they then had an “aha” moment realizing they could provide nutrients without animal by-products. They now offer a fully veganic CSA, the first one I’ve heard of. Knowing they couldn’t ship their produce to everyone, they began packaging their own fertilizer so anyone anywhere can grow veggies with a clear conscious. You can order it here.

Why does this matter?

Both organic and conventional fertilizers typically rely on by-products from animal agriculture, usually factory farms (CAFOs). If you’re a vegan, or if you just don’t want to use animal-derived fertilizers, having an animal-free option can be important.

Additionally, a team of researchers at University of Minnesota recently demonstrated that antibiotics commonly administered to animals on CAFOs are absorbed—by way of manure fertilizer—into several vegetables such as green onions, corn, lettuce, cabbage, and potatoes. While they did not test all vegetables grown by home gardeners and farmers, the research results were enough to question the safety of manure used in food crop production. In addition to the ethics of CAFOs, I for one don’t want that in my food.

There are several studies conducted by UofM, here is one of the two I’ve read (both are essentially the same; testing for various antibiotics uptaken into various crops, with varying results depending on the specific antibiotic class.): Kumar, K., Gupta, S. C., Baidoo, S. K., Chander, Y., and Rosen, C. J. 2005. Antibiotic uptake by plants from fertilized soils. J. Environ. Qual. 34:2082–2085 (2005). NOTE: At the time of the research, K. Kumar, S.C. Gupta, Y. Chander, and C.J. Rosen, were with the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, and S.K. Baidoo was from the Department of Animal Science and Southern Research and Outreach Center, University of Minnesota. I have not followed up to see where they are currently.

So, for folks who don’t eat a lot of vegetables, this may not raise a red flag. But to those of us who do or are vegans, … well, it’s something to consider.

You know how some companies, like Apple, tend to over package even the tiniest gizmos? And then you’re left with this package that could withstand a zombie apocalypse? And there’s NO recycle logo anywhere on any of the plastics so you’re basically stuck with keeping it or harboring the guilt of schlepping it off to landfill? I hate that.

Because I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good box (and I’m a bit of a hoarder), I’ve been hanging onto this little plastic lucite box that my magic mouse came in, hoping to find a use for it. But it was difficult. The little lucite box was too shallow to hold pencils or even a goodly amount of paper clips. Anything within it would be seen since the box is clear so it would look messy no matter what. And the lid doesn’t lock in place making it a poor travel container for my briefcase.

Oh what to do?

Well, it took me a while but I finally made a terrarium out of it! Yep! And I kept the white insert that originally held the mouse in place inside the box and it now acts as a plastic mulch on the soil, both functional and lends a clean and modern appearance.

Here are the materials and steps I used. It’s really not difficult, just tedious more than anything else. If you have large fingers, you may want to use some tweezers and a tiny spoon.

Materials:

  • 1 Magic Mouse lucite packaging box with white insert from Apple, remove the mouse yo!
  • 1/2 teaspoon teeny tiny activated charcoal
  • 2-3 tablespoons terrarium soil mix
  • 1 tiny Baby’s Tears plant (Soleirolia soleirolii) or a section of moss (just make sure whatever you use is under 1 inch tall, preferable 3/4 inch) UPDATE: baby’s tears is growing too fast, you should try for something that will stay short.

Steps:

  1. Wash the lucite box and white insert with hot soapy water but be careful not to scratch the box. It will scratch easily, as you can see in my photo.
  2. Dry with a lint-free cloth.
  3. Pre-dampen your soil mix and rinse the charcoal to remove dust (charcoal dust will make this look dingy and dirty and you’ll have to start over, I’ve done this twice now).
  4. Set the lid aside and insert the white liner into the lower portion of the box. You’ll be working with the white liner in place because, trust me, there’s no way to insert it after planting because the soil and charcoal will be in the way. And in order for the lid to fit, the insert must be seated all the way down.
  5. Carefully scatter the charcoal in the hole of the white insert and push some of it under the lip.
  6. Now gently push the damp soil under the lip of the white insert while holding the insert down firmly. As you’re pressing, the insert may want to pop up, that’s why you’re holding it down.
  7. Leave room for the root mass of your plant in the hole of the liner. I almost didn’t have any soil in this area because the plant I used had a lot of roots, even after I trimmed away most of them.
  8. Dampen the root mass/soil attached to the plant and using tweezers or tiny fingers, place it gently in the hole of the white liner.
  9. Trim excess tendrils from the plant so it’s neat and compact. Then wipe the white liner with tissue or Q-tips to remove specs of dirt for an especially Apple-clean appearance.
  10. Replace lid and position in non-direct sun. I keep mine on my desk near a window.

Keep in mind, this is a sealed terrarium so choose a plant that will survive. I’m not sure yet how long the Baby’s Tears will last and I’m positive I’ll have to pop the lid to trim it up as it grows. I like to think that Steve Jobs would approve of this reuse of Apple packaging. And that he’d like the zen-like appearance of a simple single green plant with white plastic mulch. Now if only I could find a tiny critter to put inside but it’s hard to locate micro-miniature snakes, bugs and spiders.

It’s truly unbelievable. The worst damage in the history of this 105-year-old American institution. While there has been hail damage in the past, it only ever amounted to a few panes of glass.

This is totally different.

DONATIONS

They need help folks. Desperately. There are rare plant species, everything from tropicals to succulents. Not to mention the critters, like turtles, who call this place their home. Undoubtedly there will be fundraisers in the near future and below is the first. Also below is a direct link to the donation page at the conservatory:

HISTORY

Designed by Jens Jensen, this stunning 19th-century conservatory is on the National Register of Historic Places. The propagation greenhouses also provide plants for Chicago’s parks. Needless to say, this is a catastrophic disaster.

Garlic mustard is one of the most invasive weeds tormenting our parks and yards, able to take down an entire maple forest. What to do?

Eat it!

A mature garlic mustard plant can be HUGE, several feet tall.

Yes, there are many recipes available if you want to use eat your way through the weeds in your yard. There are a lot that use garlic mustard including pesto, ravioli and soups. Below are links to several sites that have recipes for using garlic mustard:

Just a few mere days ago, Seeds of Change launched their Sowing Millions Project with the intent to outfit home and community gardeners with enough free organic seeds to encourage organic gardening and eating. Luckily I heard about this in time to fill out the form for my own set of 25 seed packs before they ran out.

Also, for those of you who have never ordered from Seeds of Change, their seed packs are resealable zipper bags! AND they’re recyclable!

Here’s what they sent me:

  • Tomato, Thessaloniki
  • Tomato, Oregon Spring Bush
  • Tomato, Gold Currant Cherry
  • Tomato, Red Currant
  • Tomato, Porter Improved
  • Cucumber, Northern Pickling
  • Watermelon, Early Moonbeam
  • Chili, Peruvian Purple
  • Chili, Rio Grande Hot
  • Celery, Red Stalk
  • Amaranth, Greek
  • Lettuce, Formidana
  • Lettuce, Four Seasons
  • Lettuce, Rouge de Grenoblouse
  • Lettuce, Thai Green
  • Radicchio, Early Palla Rossa
  • Radish, Round Black Spanish
  • Catnip, Lemon
  • Balsam
  • Dill, Mammoth
  • Chives, Garlic
  • Calendula, Red Splash
  • Snapdragon, Rocket Mix
  • Balloon Flower
  • Tobacco, Scherazi

After talking with another gardener who also received her order this week, it appears that we got different things. So time to think about swapping a few seeds here and there to expand our selections.

I’m VERY excited about all of these!

I have the following sees for swapping. Leave a comment if you’re interested in trading.

I’m looking to trade for tomato, eggplant, pepper, herb, leafy green or perennial seeds.

  • squash, Delicata Honey Boat, Botanical Interests, 2011
  • squash, Delicata Honey Boat, Botanical Interests, 2009
  • squash, improved green hubbard, Livingstone Seed, 2010
  • thai dill, Baker Creek, 2008
  • hollyhock, country romance mix, Burpee, 2010
  • asparagus, Mary Washington, Baker Creek, 2009
  • tomato, speckled roma paste, Botanical Interests, 2009
  • tomato, Amish Paste, Baker Creek, 2010
  • tomato, Keepsake, Reimer Seeds, 2009
  • tomato, Long Keeper, Reimer Seeds, 2009
  • tomato, Gardener’s Delight, Livingston Seed, 2010
  • tomato, Sub Arctic Plenty, Livingston Seed, 2009 (cherry sized)
  • tomato, Italian Roma, Botanical Interests, 2010
  • tomato, Brandywine, Renee’s Garden, 2009 (5 left)
  • tomato, Green Zebra, Renee’s Garden, 2009 (1 left)
  • oregano, Wild Zaatar, Baker Creek, 2009
  • parsnips, Half Long Guernesey, Baker Creek, 2009
  • broccoli, Botanical Interests, 2010
  • huckleberry, Garden Berry variety, Baker Creek, 2010
  • melon, Orange Flesh Honeydew, Baker Creek, 2008
  • melon, Minnisota Midget, Baker Creek, 2008
  • melon, Tigger, Baker Creek, 2010
  • bee balm, unknown color, from One Seed Chicago 2010

Tis the season for swapping seeds and making more gardening friends. There are three upcoming swaps that I know of and gardeners are already organizing their stashes to prepare:

If you know of any more seed swaps in the Chicagoland area, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

What I’m swapping.

I’ve got no shortage of seeds but a desperate shortage of garden space with sunlight. So I have to be extra choosy this year since I want to try some new things and continue with old dependables. That doesn’t mean I’m sharing seeds that suck. No way. I usually have way too many of a particular seed since my space is small. So here’s my list that I’m planning on bringing. There may be more added later, we’ll see if I get through the three boxes in my living room.

  • Black from Tula tomato, 2011, I accidentally ordered 3 packs of this so I have plenty to swap
  • Half long Guernsey parsnips, Baker Creek, 2009
  • Wild zaatar oregano, Botanical Interests, 2009
  • Broccoli, Botanical Interests, 2010, not enough sun in my yard to get it to broccolize
  • Bee Balm, One Seed Chicago, 2010, pink just ain’t my thing
  • Mary Washington Asparagus, unmarked envelope but I think it’s Baker Creek, 2009
  • Delicata Honey Boat winter squash, Botanical Interests, 2009
  • Summer straightneck squash, Burpee 2009
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash, Baker Creek, 2009, these were awesome last year but hubby is wigged out by the lumpy surface
  • Burpless bush cucumber, Livingston seed, 2010
  • Improved green hubbard, Livingston seed 2010, got too much hubbard and not enough space
  • Golden zucchini, Livingston seed 2010
  • Minnesota midget melon, Baker Creek 2009
  • Honeydew orange flesh, Baker Creek, 2009
  • Tigger melon, Baker Creek, 2010, very pretty striped orange/red melons
  • Garden berry huckleberry, Baker Creek 2010
  • Sub arctic plenty tomato (cherry), Livingston seeds, 2009
  • Gardeners delight tomato, Livingston seeds, 2010
  • Speckled roma paste tomato, , Botanical Interests, 2010
  • Keepsake tomato, Reimer Seeds, 2009, a good storage tomato
  • Long keeper tomato, Reimer Seeds, 2009, a good storage tomato
  • Italian roma tomato, , Botanical Interests, 2010
  • Amish paste tomato, Baker Creek, 2010
  • 5 Brandywine tomato, Renee’s Garden Seeds, 2009
  • 3 Marvel stripe tomato, Renee’s Garden Seeds, 2009, these are awesomely pretty and tasty
  • 1 green zebra tomato, Renee’s Garden Seeds, 2009

Don’t have seeds to swap?

No problem! If you don’t have seeds to swap and you’d still like to participate in The Forest Park Community Garden Swap, they’ve created two options for you:

1st: They’ll have prepared a variety of swap-sized bags of seeds for sale at 50 cents each. Anyone can purchase these at the registration desk to use for swapping. (Swap bags will contain 6 or 20 seeds in accordance with the swap rules.)

2nd: You may also purchase full-sized retail packages and divide them up into swap quantities. Local merchants like Menards and Sid’s Greenhouse are already carrying seeds or you can purchase seeds online from two of the garden’s most-trusted companies:

Botanical Interests® Seeds who will also donate a portion of the sale to support the garden and their public events like the seed swap. Just click on this link or the banner below.

—And buying from Renee’s Garden Seeds also results in a portion of the sale going to support the garden if you enter code FR335A upon checkout. Renee also has some nice mixed packs of seeds where, for example, you can try 3 types of a tomatoes without having to buy 3 separate full-sized packs.

So, show up to the swaps. You never know who you’ll meet and what kind of seeds you’ll walk away with!

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,762 other followers