Planting an Eclectic Organic #Garden

I do not have a “green thumb” and all my organic gardening attempts have been experiments. This is my 3rd year of experimenting with growing veggies, herbs and flowers in a small space and without use of pesticides. If nothing dies, I feel successful.

A couple ideas I have incorporated into my organic garden experience this year began at the end of last season. First, I wrote down a simple list of plants and how well they did. Second, I wrote down what I wanted to plant again the following year. Third, I collected seeds from local farm produce I bought throughout the summer to plant the following summer. And finally, I read, Pinned, and read more about gardening ideas throughout the winter and spring months.

This year, I didn’t plant as much. However, what I did plant will be abundant – bell peppers and herbs. I didn’t plant any flowers last year, but my next door neighbor did. I wanted my front space to look equally as appealing and under the old mulch was an abundance of hard working earthworms. Why let good soil be covered by mulch again?

I planted spinach, cucumber, red bell pepper and cantaloupe with the seeds I collected last summer. The cucumber seeds have sprouted already! And I built a simple vertical herb garden with 2 steel buckets I found at various flea markets last year. (My favorite part of the garden this year.) Also, found a couple used window boxes and ceramic drainage sections to use.

Vertical Herb garden with 2 stainless steel buckets and organic soil.

One failed attempt last year was use of pallets, but I’m reusing them this year as a trellis for the viney plants. Another idea was to plant onions that had already started to sprout in my cupboard. Celery can also be started in water, then transferred to the ground.

It’s my eclectic garden this year. Some new ideas, a few old ideas, but all an experiment in a little space.

What have you tried with success or failed attempts to grow?

#DIY Simple (Organic) Gardens – Joys and Failures

The joys and education of failure from planting gardens, and trying a vertical garden. Not everything goes as planned, but learning how to adapt for a simple garden is education.

It’s pretty late in the growing season to start planting, so I’ll skip the how to’s of starting your garden and share my experiences this year.

Vertical gardening was my experiment. I failed, however of successfully growing anything.
Vertical gardening was my experiment. I failed, however of successfully growing anything.

I really wanted to try vertical gardening using pallets…plants that grow up instead on the ground. I tried a couple different techniques, neither that worked however. The only technique that worked was using a small pallet as a support for a plant that doesn’t actually have a vine – yellow squash!

Gardening with pallets. Strawberries worked well until I put it in a vertical position.
Gardening with pallets. Strawberries worked well until I put it in a vertical position.

Last year I had mostly container veggies and used a great organic soil by Butterfield Farms in Michigan; however, I couldn’t find the same soil this year and had to opt for another brand. That soil that was supposedly “organic” and was a total flop for all my vegetables and flowers alike. It was very sandy and didn’t retain any moisture in the pots (or the pallet). I had to ultimately replant the ones I wanted to save. I call this “garden failure education.” It didn’t work, but I learned from it.

This year I also wanted to try canning, so I wanted to grow a vegetable that I eat frequently and could preserve. I got the jist of freezing, so that is my alternative to canning. I made a list of vegetables I eat often, looked up my garden zone and prepped my garden area about a month prior to planting. Vegetables this year:

  • Roma Tomatoes

  • Yellow Reduced Acid Tomatoes

  • Yellow Squash

  • Zucchini, and

  • Bell Peppers

4 out of 5 plants are doing well and are producing a sizable yield.

Caring for the Garden

I had issues with worms and something else eating the leaves off my peppers and tomato plants last year. This year, I didn’t plant anything that would invite the moth worms back; however, still had problems with that other invisible insert. I asked a couple other of my garden neighbors what they used – Seven, which I thought was safe for animals and humans. It did deter the invisible leaf munchers, but I broke out in a rash every time I used it (a powder). Thankfully, it rained often enough to keep the pests away for awhile.

#DIY: Growing (Organic) Gardens and Canning Month

Putting forth the effort into a garden and reaping the rewards through canning.

Dear Readers –

This month is all about DIY gardening and canning. This is my second year of experimenting with a small garden. Last year, I was able to reap the leftovers of my neighbors’ gardens, but I missed my lesson on canning. However, this year, I’m prepared with canning jars, lids, and two ladies who volunteered to help me!

I hope you are looking forward to simple garden ideas, growing and harvesting your own garden as well as how to preserve your toils of the earth. We’ll also be including a couple other DIY recipes to save you money throughout the year – not just summer – things I have tried and actually work.

So let’s get started….

Simple organic garden Bell peppers were planted at the end of May.

Worm Composting: Preparing the Worm Bin

How do you recycle your food waste? Or do you?

If you’ve been sending your veggie scraps, leftover spaghetti and moldy food to the garbage disposal, there’s another option – a worm bin or worm compost.

Worm bins do not smell (as long as you maintain it properly), can reduce your garbage by as much as 20 percent and the fertilizer produced is purely organic, which is great for indoor and outdoor plants.

You can buy a worm composter on Amazon, your local home improvement store or make one yourself from plastic totes. The retail version usually comes with 3 composting bins, and a bottom collection bin for excess  moisture. The bottom bin has a spigot, so you can use the fertilized water or “worm tea” to water your plants. This organic liquid is much better than those that you buy at home improvement stores because you know there isn’t any other chemicals in it, and your plants know too.

The retail version also contains a “starter kit” complete with fibrous bedding (shredded newsprint), core (shredded coconut husks), pumice stone, and detailed instructions how to initially setup your worm bin along with helpful hints to maintain it. The worms must be purchased separately. I highly suggest you purchase the worms from a reputable and local resource. I live in Ohio, so I bought mine from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm in Michigan. Worms arrive LIVE and within a day or two after you order them, DO NOT allow them to sit outside; otherwise, you might have dead worms! These are NOT earthworms, they are RED WRIGGLERS, a smaller breed that help break down your food scraps. Start small, you do not need 3000 worms if you’re just beginning a worm bin. They will MULTIPLY quickly!

Tips before you order your worms:

  • Setup your worm bin first – follow the steps below or the directions included with the worm bin. You may use the worm bin indoors (I have mine in the kitchen) such as in the basement or an attached garage or outdoors if your climate remains temperate year-round. Worms need a consistent temperature between 50 and about 75 degrees (you don’t want them to freeze or burn or become too dry).
  • Be ready to “feed” the worms upon arrival. Worms need about 1/4 pound of food per day to be effective (but less initially when introduced to a new environment).
  • Make sure you are home when the worms are due to arrive.
  • Although instructions say you can add cereal boxes and paper towel rolls to the worm bin, I discovered this is not a good practice if you have the worm bin indoors. Evidently tiny worms are in the cardboard, and you’ll produce gnats if you add the cardboard to the bin (yuck!).

Preparing the first worm bin for the red wrigglers:

1. Layer 1: Soak layers of newspaper (printed is fine, better to use the black and white print rather than the color inserts for the first bin. Squeeze out excess water and lay this in the bottom of the bin (with the holes).

2. Add a mixture of core (included with your worm bin, it’s coconut husk), pumice stone (also included with your worm bin), and either soil, leaves (from yard, but without chemicals) strips of moist newspaper or eggshells. I used paper from my shredder soaked in water for moisture, and egg shells. Worms need moisture to decompose food through their skin because they have no mouths. Note: If you’re adding another bin, you’ll want to leave the holes accessible so they can move upward to the next layer of food and bedding. So omit the layer of newspaper at the bottom.

The first layer, a mixture of core, pumice stone and shredded paper (moistened). Enough to cover the bottom of the bin.

3. After the bedding is a layer of food. Note: Do not add food until your worms arrive; otherwise, you’ll have bugs flying around! I used some leftover pasta with cabbage and carrots from the frig. It’s best to use food that has been refrigerated or frozen (but defrost first) to reduce infestations of insects that live on the skins of fresh veggies and fruit. Keep the food in a thin layer and put in a different section of the bin.

worm bin composting
Add a layer of food on top of the bedding.

4. Add another layer of moist newsprint, enough to completely cover the inside of the bin. It’s okay for the layers to overlap. Worms do not like light, so they will burrow under the top layer of newspaper. Worms also use the newspaper as food if other food has been decomposed. Hence, worms can survive in this environment for weeks without your food scraps.

Layer soaked newspaper on top of food scraps.
Completely cover the inside of the worm bin with moist newspaper.

Put the lid over the newspaper layer. Now you’re ready to order your worms.

5. Add worms: When your worms arrive, read the instructions for adding them to their new environment. You’ll want to “peel back” the soaked top layer of the newsprint and add the worms here. Cover the worms with the newsprint again and allow them to adapt to their new environment for a couple days undisturbed.

What questions do you have about composting with worms? Ask them below!

Can Potted Plants Really Grow Up? Benefits of Vertical Gardening

Vertical container gardens are perfect to grow in a small space like a balcony or patio. Easy DIY vertical garden ideas that don’t cost a lot to start.

Those topsy turvy planters may have something hanging over those who do not have the space to grow a garden. I long to have my own planted garden in a yard someday. However, until then, I have to settle for a 10 by 4 ft balcony with potted plants.

I’d really like to know how to grow a “salad garden” with green peppers, lettuce, onion, carrots, radish, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs in my limited space. With this idea of a vertical garden, I may be able to grow my garden up – literally.

Benefits of growing a vertical garden

Small is nice (and convenient). When space is limited, vertical container gardening or a small garden bed is just what will work.  You’ll only need pots as deep as the roots will grow since your plants will grow upwards and not outwards. Less is more. You will still need some support poles or a trellis to train the plants to go up. 

Vertical tower pots and containers are perfect for a balcony or patio. Stacking pots or tower pots are commercial containers help you grow plants that don’t have a vine like strawberries, lettuce, carrots, onions, etc. As a bonus, you can add a trellis or other supports in containers or put behind containers to create your vertical garden in a small space like a balcony or patio. You can also hang containers on a wall at different heights to create an visually appealing vertical garden.

Vertical tower pots get your plants to grow up in a small space.

Think outside the clay pot.Be creative about the containers for your vertical garden. Why buy new clay or plastic pots, when you probably have something out in your garage or shed that would work just fine. Extra gutter pieces or cinder blocks taking up some space in the corner? Even an old milk crate would work. Look at the photos below for some inspiration.

Use extra gutter pieces to create a vertical garden. Courtesy of

More fruit in half the space.Since your garden is growing upward and using less soil, you’ll find that the fruits of your labor will reward you much more than traditional gardens. Use a support system behind and/or beside your plants and allow about 6 inches away from a wall or fence so plants can produce fruit on all sides.

Build your own support system for a vertical garden like this one above. Courtesy of Salt Lake Tribune.
Less energy and muscle strain to harvest. Remember your grandmother’s stories of how she had an aching back from bending over while picking tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables from the garden? With a vertical garden, you won’t have to suffer so much although you may have to reach above your head if your plants reach their maximum height. It will be much easier to see and harvest your fruit, herbs and vegetables when they are growing up rather than across the ground. 

You’ll find more information in the book Vertical Gardening,  by Derek Fell available through my AmazonStore.

#Food Prices Increase, Food Manufacturers Turn to Soy

As the Cost of Food Goes Up, Will We See More Consumers Buying Local and Less Meat to Curb Food Spending?

Three times is the charm or the price increase for many foods this year. First read it on one of the newsletters I receive (see stats below), then it was the topic of a NPR radio program the other day and now another story from Business Week about manufacturers turning to soy as “The Other, Other White Meat.” It was a matter of time before the steep increase of fuel and agriculture caught up to the rest of us.

Here’s what I learned this week about the cost of food for 2011

According to the Greenest Dollar and Richard Benson, from Financial Sense, food prices will see a sharp increase…these are all increases from the previous year

Coffee — 45%
Barley — 32%
Pork — 68%
Oranges — 35%
Cotton — 40%
Salmon — 30%

We will be spending more on not only fuel for our cars, but also food including groceries and restaurants. This may induce panic, but you can curb your spending if you shop locally for fresh produce in season, eggs from local farms or roadside stands, grain fed beef and pork only within your locality or look to replace your main meat staple with soy or fish.

Plant a garden in your yard or even grow lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, strawberries and smaller but high yield plants in pots if you don’t have a yard to dig in the dirt. I learned from a friend that lettuce does well in the shade, and I have a lot of shade on my 4th floor patio. You can hang tomato plants in the sun, and rotate them to shade on especially hot days. Start with seedlings indoors on your window sill that gets the most sun, and then move them outside when the weather warms up. Can and freeze your crops or join a CSA and get fresh food all season long.

Food manufacturers are also turning to soy products after learning that’ USDA is now advocating Americans to eat soy,’ according to Bloomberg’s Business Week and the VegetarianStar. As long as the soy is not tainted with preservatives, and all that other junk food companies put in our food, this could be a more healthy alternative than eating beef and pork.

Now, it’s your turn, how are you going to combat the ever increasing prices of food this year?