I moved to a farm!

18 Dec

Hello again, it’s been awhile! Well that’s because I moved to an even smaller house and had an even smaller garden in the front yard, then after a couple years, moved to my farm! Woo HOO!

I’ll still be writing about growing plants, and the material here will still be here for awhile, but if you would like to stay updated, or connect again, you should be heading over to my new farm website and following me on social media. The cabin you see in the previous post, well that has been moved, painted, and is now the apothecary. My, has a lot changed!

4 Cures for Cabin Fever

9 Mar

cabin in snow

This morning I woke up to another inch of snow that had fallen over night.  The temperatures this week have again fallen below zero.  I am tired of hearing complaints of the winter and the cold, I like the snow, but at the same time I also find myself longing for the sunny warmer weather like those complainers around me.  The seed catalogs aren’t taking me away like they usually do, dreaming of planting and tending my veggie garden.  It’s almost time to start seeds so I have that to look forward to.  I want to dream about the warmer months and feel as if I am really there.  I must have a bad case of cabin fever. In my search for a cure, I found out that the following 4 things helped.  Before you read on, I must let you know, I make no claim that they will help you.  I am not a doctor, I am an Urban Farmscaper.

1:         Read about gardening .  Hot off the press, pick up a copy of Niki Jabbour’s latest book, “Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden”.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Niki Jabbour, author of the best-selling “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener”, has collected 73 plans from gardeners including Barbara Pleasant, Amy Stewart, Renee’s Garden, Joe Lamp’l, and yours truly.  I am excited to be a contributor to this amazing book on food gardens with so many wonderful gardening experts!  Each plan is illustrated and includes a small story about the design and a plant list, followed by a profile of each contributor.  Besides an Urban Farmscape, there are gardens that supply your favorite cocktail ingredients, one for your balcony, one that encourages pollinators, one that grows 24 kinds of chili peppers and more.  There are several ideas that you will be able to incorporate into your Urban Farmscape.  Seriously, order this book from Amazon for some edible food garden inspiration,
Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden  or if you like, you can purchase it from me in person.

While waiting for the book to arrive, you could…..

2:         Watch gardening shows, especially my favorite “Growing a Greener World” with host Joe Lamp’l on your local PBS channel. In its fourth season, this program will take you away from your winter slump into the garden growing fresh veggies with Joe then to the kitchen to learn how to prepare and cook your fresh harvest with Chef Nathan.   Each episode includes bits on food preservation and DIY projects too.  Don’t have a television?  You can also watch it online at http://www.growingagreenerworld.com/

Here is a link to one of my favorites “Greenhouse Bus”.  Now this is inspirational!  Anyone I know at CMU up for a project?


In between episodes of “Growing a Greener World”, and while waiting for your copy of “Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden” you can enjoy this third thing….

3:         Attend one of the upcoming garden shows in your area.  You will feel like you have stepped out of winter and into summer when you explore landscapes and attend gardening seminars. This upcoming weekend will be two good ones in the Great Lakes Region:

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show   http://www.chicagoflower.com/

The Lansing Home and Garden Show  http://showspan.com/LHG/

After you visit a garden show,  in between episodes of “Growing a Greener World”, and while waiting for your copy of “Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden” here’s a fourth….

4.       Look at photos of plants wherever you can find them, on the internet or from your photo collection. Science has proven that even looking at photographs of plants and nature will provide some therapeutic benefits.  I’m sure this will help alleviate any symptoms of “cabin fever” right?  I don’t think that I need science to prove it to you, so here are a few photographs from My Urban Farmscape to get you started and on your way through these final days of winter.


Tomatoes at My Urban Farmscape

Mache in spring

Mache under small hoophouse at My Urban Farmscape


Seedlings under grow lights at My Urban Farmscape


My Urban Farmscape tunnel of beets

Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit' photo courtesy AAS

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’
photo courtesy AAS



My Urban Farmscape Sunflowers

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5 Feb

bee and lavender

Whether you are an urban farmscaper, a gardener, a small farmer, or maybe a garden gazer, you will have had encounters with many insects, including bees. I came to know the bees by way of playing in the plants. While busy harvesting, I would ever so gently swish them aside to retrieve my prize without worries of being stung. They were more interested in the flowers anyway and I needed the bees there to get their pollination work done to improve the fruit set on my plants.

Lots of Bees in the Garden = More Food on my Plate

If you haven’t already heard about the decline in our pollinator population then you must be from another planet. That is not what I am writing about, but I need to give a little background. This is a worldwide problem and includes honey bees as well as native pollinators such as bumble bees, mason bees, wasps, flies, butterflies and beetles. There are many more pollinator and beneficial insects than harmful insects. Home gardeners have been conditioned over many years that bugs are bad and that our gardens should be insect free. Chemicals have been created to kill harmful insects, but these chemicals are causing problems for all insects, mainly neonicotinoids.

Gardeners have also been encouraged to plant plants which attract beneficial insects to the garden, but then when purchased from some garden centers, the plants have been found to have been treated with neonicotinoids by the growers. This could be something as simple as a treated seed up to a spray or drench used as a foliar spray. For a downloadable report visit the Xerces Society, http://www.xerces.org/neonicotinoids-and-bees/ I want to attract bees to my garden, but not to poison them. I would recommend starting your own plants from seeds. Don’t know how to start seeds? Learn how from many of the other posts on this blog. Recent research has also discovered that there is a plant virus that is linked to increased bee deaths http://nyti.ms/1aHQqIj

Bee on

Last year I was a bee apprentice where I learned about beekeeping with other women. The year was spent learning about the honey bee, Apis mellifera, a social bee, which we are most familiar with because they produce yummy honey. If you haven’t heard by now, one in every three mouthfuls of food is contributed to the pollination efforts primarily of the honey bee. If bees are gone, so are almonds, apples, blueberries, asparagus, cherries, avocados and broccoli just to name a few. Oh, and honey. How could I forget that? I encountered and dealt with mites, a different problem affecting these bees, using chemical free methods. The more I learned the more I thought I should become a bee keeper. This is what I thought I should do because I needed to have more bees in my garden to make sure the flowers were pollinated.

Fewer Bees in the Garden = Less Food on my Plate

Pollinator insects are in trouble. What can I do to help? This question kept me up some nights. How many bee hives should I have? What else do I need to learn about bees to help them? Should I become an entomologist and research bees? Then it dawned on me. I was already doing what should be done. I am an urban farmscaper, and I grow plants. I have been planting plants to attract pollinators, providing them with nectar and pollen; in return, they pollinate my plants. But the most important thing I do is that I grow my plants in a sustainable, earth friendly way, providing the pollinators that visit my garden with “clean chemical free” plants. This is something that is simple and that anyone can do. If everyone would think, Beescaping; providing pollinators with chemical free plants to forage upon, then as urban farmscapers, we can start to make a difference. There are many plants that are loved by bees and other pollinating insects. If you have ever been running through a chemical free lawn that included clover and stepped on a bee, you will recall that plant first. When selecting seeds, think about plants that flower during every season so there is plenty of nectar throughout the year.

My Favorite Plants for Beescaping

  • Mints, any and all, this is a bee’s favorite plant to forage upon. This includes all plants in this family, basil, peppermint, agastache, oregano, lavender, sages etc.
  • Borage. Not only will bees visit, but you can harvest the flowers and use in your salad. Visually stunning and adds a slight cucumber flavor.
  • Thyme. Thymol is a natural insecticide used to treat honey bees encountering mite problems, so why not add it to your garden and let the bees bring it to the hive naturally.
  • Cosmos, a wonderful annual ranging in colors from white, to light pink, to a deep pink. It also makes a great cut flower. Select an heirloom variety to collect seeds after the seed heads dry on the plant.
  • Culvers Root, Veronicastrum virginicum is a plant native to Michigan and found throughout the Eastern United States. I have never seen so many bees on these spikes of white flowers. The buzzing was so loud, I could hear them from a distance more than 20 feet away. It’s somewhat attractive in the garden as a filler type plant, growing about 4 feet tall. Long early, midsummer bloomer.
  • Cup Plant, Silphium perfolatum is another plant native to Michigan and found throughout the Eastern United States. This plant is huge, over 6 feet, so make sure you give it room in the back of your garden border maybe? The yellow flowers are always covered with bees. Water is collected where the leaves meet the stem creating small “cups”. Prolific seed producer, just warning you. Plants to share with friends the following year.
  • Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia spp. was host to bees and monarch butterflies this past summer. In fact, now that I think of it, this is the only plant I saw the monarchs on. They are also in decline, so planting this large (another 6 footer when conditions are right) bright orange annual will bring color and food all summer to late fall.

Early spring Crocus

Early spring Crocus

My Urban Farmscape Dog

31 Dec

Sidney as a pup

Sidney as a pup

This past year I lost my groove and I still haven’t found it.  I’m not calling Stella either.  I don’t think that I will ever find the same one since there has been so many changes in my life.  I am a Taurus, sure I’m slow to change, but I embrace change as I get bored with the same routine, but I am slower than others to do it.  My life and my routine started to change when my dog died in May, which is why I haven’t written much.  You see, my dog had me trained.  She wasn’t just a dog, and I have had many dogs throughout my life that have come and gone, but she was part of my family, she was a real farm dog before she became My Urban Farmscape dog, but most of all, she was my dog soul mate.

About ten or so years ago, I had a small organic farm.  I decided to get an Australian Shepherd because I wanted a dog that was smart and trainable.  I didn’t have sheep or goats, nothing for her to herd, but she did like to herd the horses that grazed in the pasture.  She always needed a job, even if it was just following me around.  She was always at my feet, ready for her next command.  I enrolled us in obedience training, and when I say “us” I guess that meant me, because she needed me to learn how to communicate with her, since it already seemed like she knew my every thought or move.  I could look into her eyes, and her into mine, as if we could see into each other’s souls and know what we needed to do.  My family and I would get a kick out of how she would follow me, even if it was from the chair in the living room to the couch.  Where ever I went, she would follow.  I would give her commands and she would obey.  Then I got lazy.

Sidney was her name, after the main character in the TV show Alias which my family watched every week.  Not because of Sydney Australia.  Australian Shepherds are also called North American Shepherds because this is where I believe they are originally from.  She was a “Black-Tri” which meant she was black, brown, and white.  She didn’t have perfect markings, which would have been a full white collar and a wide white stripe down her head to her nose, so she was a show dog reject.  I wasn’t looking for a show dog; I wanted a smart farm dog, so she was perfect.  Her coat was so thick, which was unusual for an Aussie.  I met her father when I was visiting the breeder when Sidney was a pup.  She called him Zoolander, beautiful dog with thick black hair, but dumb as a doornail.  My pup didn’t end up very dumb, but her hair was so long, thick and soft.  You couldn’t help but run your fingers throughout it, petting her non-stop.  This is when I started to get lazier.  My husband and I began to allow her to sleep on our bed after my 14 year old lab died.  I would pet her as I fell asleep, and she would move down and sleep across my legs.  Sometimes she would sleep between us stretched out looking like a hot dog in a bun, feet up in the air.  My kids always wanted Sidney to sleep with them, but she had to be with me.

Sidney at the farm

With all of the petting and touching of her, she started to lick us, maybe it was her way of petting us back.  Her tongue was soft and warm, I didn’t mind a bit. She would even use her tongue as a weapon, and when playing throw a few “lick punches” in at your face.  How she did this I will never know, and when she was playing or was excited to see me when I got home, I would get on the floor and allowing her to pin me down with her front paws and give me a few “lick punches” in the face.  The kids would tease her and tell her they were going to put her in her crate, and Sidney would run after them to give them a “lick punch”.   It was one of the funniest things.  She would poke the backs of my calves as I walked, herding me to wherever I was going.  Just the slightest cold wet nose on the left then the right, back to the left then right.    She never nipped at me or any kid.  I would work with her as we did in obedience class, but what I didn’t realize was that Sidney started to become the boss of the house and we all became lazier with bossing her around.  This became evident after my husband and I became empty nesters. My husband and I would take turns on the weekend getting up with the dogs to feed them and let them out.   Yes we had another dog, but Sidney was the boss of that dog in more ways than one, but that is another story in itself. Funny thing, the dogs would wake us up so early, and then go back to bed, while we were up and wide awake.  I am not a morning person, it was a bit difficult, but Sundays was my day to get up with the dogs.  I found these early mornings perfect for writing, so got into the groove of writing every Sunday.  So, Sidney had us trained to do what she wanted when she wanted at this point, and this is how our routine went.

Sidney’s most favorite thing in the world was swimming.  I think she would choose this over me.  At our farm there were two ponds, one of them she swam in at least twice a day.  It was one of her activities during the morning walk around the property, then during the evening walk around the property.  As she got older and we moved over the years to our Urban Farmscape, we would take her on trips to the lake or the river.  We could camp on our property in Northern Michigan, and the dogs would determine our activities.  When Sidney saw water she would go crazy with this shrieking bark and if on a leash would take over and pull me to the water so she could swim.  I was very annoyed with her lack of obeying me.  If her hair was long (I would typically shave her in the summer), it would float up to the top of the water and she looked like this giant hairy jelly fish.  She drank the water while she swam and swam.  Once while at Empire Beach, I had to make her leave the water and sit in the car with her where she couldn’t see the water because she seemed a bit hypothermic, shaking and shaking until she warmed up.  I couldn’t take her in the kayak because she would jump out.  She would swim away from me and not come back so I would have to keep her on a leash.  I think if allowed, she would have swam until she drowned, lapping up the water all the way across Lake Michigan, heading toward Wisconsin.  But this is not how she died.

Sidney loved to swim most of all

Sidney loved to swim most of all

As a horticulturist, spring gets very busy for me.  Sidney wasn’t feeling well, and I was traveling a lot, so my husband was taking her to the vet’s a lot.  I came home from one of my trips and there was no running or pinning me down to give me lick punches.   I opened the gate and she slowing made her way across the yard, putting her nose down and leaning her head into the side of my leg.  I knew then that it was more serious than I had thought.  Another vet visit later and lab results sent her to the MSU Veterinary Clinic. We hoped that she had the Lepto virus which would have been treatable.  Every day we would visit her in animal I.C.U. Each day I would take her outside and sit with her as she watched the people walking around the campus.  She was too weak to do anything. I reminisced about my days as a student attending classes across the street at the Plant & Soil Sciences Building and looking across the street at this building never imagining I would be here with a sick pet. One day we sat on the lawn under an umbrella for an hour while it rained.  Anything the get her outside and feel better.  She didn’t have Lepto, just failing organs, so I brought her home.  Family members visited her in the I.C.U. or at home to say their goodbyes.  Every morning, I would wake up early to take her fragile body outside.  I spent four days outside from sun up to sun down.  The weather was beautiful.  Our house was sold and we were moving, so I had to do some extra yard work.  I had plants in store containers laying around for weeks that I finally planted into larger patio containers.  I would take breaks and lay in the lawn with her, stroking her thick black hair, smelling the subtle earthy smell that only she had on the top of her head.  She couldn’t lick, but she would look at me, into my soul, but not to say goodbye, just look at me and smile.  I felt her love.

This container was planted with woody plants and perennials

This container was planted with woody plants and perennials

My husband and I were outside with her when she died.  Spring turned to summer and my work and gardening was in full swing.   I told myself that I wasn’t going to write another blog post until I wrote one in honor of Sidney.  This I started many, many times, and found it too painful or too hard, like I had to write some great literary piece, then I felt a dishonor to her if I went back on the promise I made to myself and didn’t write my next post about her, so I became frozen.  A few months later we moved.  After the first frost of autumn, I dismantled the planters that were planted with small woody plants, perennials and herbs, and planted them into the ground at my new Urban Farmscape.  I watched the snow fall creating little white mounds over the plants and raised beds I had built.  Just this week I got an e-mail from a friend who asked if I stopped writing my blog and told me how she missed it.  I told her my dog died.  Then I realized that writing my blog had anything to do with my dog.  I was disappointed in myself that I let so much time pass without writing.  Sidney didn’t make me write, but what she did was force me into a routine.  A ten year routine, a groove I might add.

I am grateful for this time of year to turn inward and reflect, to appreciate what Sidney gave me in my life; after all, she was my first farm dog and a huge part of my family.  Winter is a time for me to rest a bit, to rediscover myself and find my natural groove again so I can create my new routine in 2014. As for the weekends, they are for sleeping in.  I appreciate you for reading my blog, and I am excited to share with you future journeys at My “New” Urban Farmscape as I plant my whole front and side yard with vegetables, exploring ideas and sharing knowledge, including a closer look at the flowers that attract bees and beneficial insects while gardening organically and sustainably in small spaces.

I will forever feel and miss her, my dog soul mate, Sidney.

My Urban Farmscape dog, Sidney

My Urban Farmscape dog, Sidney

The Stranger’s Garden

21 Apr

The Gardener didn’t pay any attention as the Stranger exited the front door of the neighboring home.  New to town, it was the only neighbor the Gardener hadn’t met.  Other than the occasional person that mowed the long turf, rarely was there anyone outside. The postage stamp lots in the historic neighborhood were filled with mature trees and shrubbery, creating more privacy between the yards.  The birds chirped and the squirrels were scurrying about.  With dirt stained hands, the Gardener steadied the handle and forced the spade deep into the soil with the thickly-soled leather boot.  There were ancient roots intertwined tightly throughout which would surely suffocate anything new planted there.  The Gardener moved into the grey 1940’s two-story home five months ago,  but this was the first time the weather cooperated along with time allowing the Gardener to get out and remove the old overgrown landscape.  A month prior the overgrown mass was sprayed with herbicide, creating less curb appeal to the front of the house.

 Before Front Side

“Excuse me.  Hello?  Hello!”

The Gardener’s brain tuned into the faint voice of the Stranger who was walking toward the edge of the grassy property line.  The Stranger was short with gray hair, polyester pants, an over sweater, and corrective shoes.  The Gardener’s dog began to bark at the Stranger whose voice could hardly be heard.

“Quiet!  Shhh!  It’s okay.  Sit.” The black dog obeyed sitting quietly while watching the Stranger step cautiously across the lawn toward the Gardener.

“Hi, I thought I should introduce myself to you since I am the one that sold you the house.”

“Hello!  What a pleasure to meet you.  I love the house.  It has been so well taken care of.”

The Stranger pointed at the browning leafy landscape with an arthritic finger and bulging eyes.  “Oh my!  Did this all die or was it done intentionally?”

“Um. It was intentional.”  Oh my God!  How am I going to explain this?  What a horrible landscape the front yard had.  So overgrown and ugly.  I had to kill it all.

Somewhat distracted, the Stranger pointed again with the same arthritic finger toward an arbor further back in the front yard.  “What is that purple flower on that vine over there?  It’s so big and beautiful!  I have never seen anything like it.” 

“It’s a Purple Hyacinth Bean.  It’s really starting to show off right now with the cooler nights coming on.  There’s nothing out there blooming like this right now.  It’s not an edible bean though.  Well, I guess you could eat it, but it is grown more for ornamental purposes.  Would you like to take a closer look?” Why am I so polite?  The last thing I need to do is walk closer to that side of the house where I cut down the tree.  Too many people keep asking me why I cut down that tree.  I don’t’ need to tell this person that I couldn’t stand the sight of it and how the flowers smelled like moth balls.  The tree was probably planted ten years or more ago.  Maybe this Stranger planted it and in a day I tore it down.

With arms crossed and a stern look, the Stranger boasted, “First tell me what you are going to do in the front.  What is your big plan? ”

“Well, I am removing the groundcover, along with the few overgrown shrubs, and then I can plant a few boxwood at the front of the porch entrance, and a redbud tree, you know, with the small purple flowers that bloom along the stem in the spring, oh, um, and I think some annuals surrounding the bottom of the tree, like impatiens, oh! I found some impatiens tags in the planter box and thought to myself that must have been something that you used to plant there in the planter, which is cracking, so I was taking out a few bricks to repair it before it fell down, but then decided that since I have it almost all tore down, I won’t put it back up, so I will plant some flowering shrubs in its place under the window, and then a few annuals for color again here.” What is my plan?  Gee whiz, I don’t know my plan other than having to kill everything so I can have a clean slate, then I can figure it out, I just need to stop rambling on and on to this person.  Wait a minute, I know!  “Since this is the front yard, I am going to create a more formal landscape!  That is what I am doing.” The Gardener spoke out loudly as if to present the grandest landscape plan of them all.

“Ah. I see.  I am not a gardener; my sister is the master gardener.” The Stranger stood with arms folded and a nodding head. “I had the dirt replaced twice in this garden because there was something wrong with it.  I won’t tell you who brought me the first dirt.  I had to have it all taken out.  Nothing would grow.  I would water and water, but nothing would grow.  So what about over there, the purple what?”

“Purple Hyacinth Bean.  You plant it from seed, and it grows into this beautiful large vine that produces this beautiful flower in September right before the frost comes.”  I can’t believe I am about to say it, but again I feel compelled to walk the stranger over to the plant.

They both walk to the side of the yard to a culinary garden.

September Garden

“Oh my!  Look at these tomato plants!  They are so big!  Oh!  Peppers?  Are those peppers?”


“Well this is interesting, different, but interesting.  Oh and look here, squash?  Very nice, very nice.”

“The leaves are a little too purple on this bean plant, and I am not getting any flowers on the pineapple sage, so I am thinking that they are lacking something nutritionally.”

“Oh I see.  Like what?  What are they lacking?”

“I haven’t tested the soil, but with these symptoms I am thinking Phosphorus.”

“Ahh, add bone meal.” The Stranger slowly nodded and had somewhat of a smile.  What?  Not everyone knows that bone meal is a source of phosphorus.  I thought this stranger wasn’t much of a gardener?   

The smile left the Stranger’s face.  “What happened to the tree that was here?  In the space behind the purple bean?” 

Oh gee, the dreaded question.  The Gardener looks at the ground, unable to make eye contact with the Stranger.  “I had to cut it down.” There wasn’t anything wrong with the tree, but, it shaded almost all of the space. “This is the only area in the yard that can get any sun, and since I grow a lot of vegetables and herbs, I had to cut down the tree to create this sunlit patch.”

Nothing else was said.  The heavy silence was awkward.  The Stranger gazed over the space, as if looking for something else that wasn’t there, and then quickly changed the subject.

“Did you take out all of the carpet?”

“Yep.  We finished the wood floors.  They are beautiful.”

“I remember my mother always polishing the floors.”  The Stranger’s voice quieted.

“Would you like to come in and see them?  The house is a little messy, but you are more than welcome to come in.”  Again, why did I invite this stranger into MY house.  Especially since it is not as clean as it was when I moved in. 

“I don’t want to impose.  I pick up my cousin every Sunday for church,” pointing to the neighboring house, “I’ll stop by again.  In the mean time, I will be watching what you do out here in the front.”  As the Stranger began to walk back to the property line the Gardener noticed the gray Ford Taurus parked in the street in front of the neighboring house.  I’ve seen that car before, driving slowly past the house.  That’s who it is.  Gray house, gray car.

“I’ll keep watching.  I’m curious to see what you do.” The Stranger called out while waving.

Haunted by the visit, the Gardener continued to remove the rooted mass and decaying plant material.  What will I do here?  How could I have gone and killed everything that someone else had tried for so many years to grow?  This is my house now, but why don’t I feel like this garden is mine?  Formal landscape?  What am I thinking?  I am not formal.

With bare hands buried deep into the cool musty soil, the final steps are taken to remove all green life from the front landscape.  I know now, I need to create an inviting landscape, one that welcomes any stranger to this home, filled with colorful flowers and native plants that should be growing in this garden for bees, butterflies and insects, and using methods that benefit the creatures living in the soil.  The earth will never be owned by me, or anyone else.  It is shared by us all, for a moment in our time.  I will just tend the soil for now, garden how I feel is best, until I am gone and the next gardener comes to do what they want to do. 

bee and lavender

10 things to do before planting your garden

7 Apr



  1. Make your garden plan. Whether you have an existing garden or want to design a new one, you need to get it down on paper. Try the 30 day free trial from GrowVeg by clicking on the GrowVeg box to the right.  You could also check out this previous post http://wp.me/p1GoP9-3n
  2. Clean out debris. Remove any leftover winter debris. A light simple raking may be all that is needed. If a lot of leaves have collected in areas over the winter, remove them and place in your compost pile.  Pull any early weeds.
  3. Repair damaged beds. This will be the third growing season at My Urban Farmscape. The beds pulling away, so I am going to drive in a few screws and make sure the corners of my beds are tight so the soil doesn’t fall out.
  4. Lift and loosen soil. The best way to do this is with a broadfork. This tool allows you to use the weight of your body to drive the tines deep in the soil, then by stepping back and pulling on the handles you “lift and loosen” the soil. This method allows for optimum aeration and avoids compacting the lower soil substrate. You can also use a shovel, digging, lifting and turning.
  5. Create your walking paths. It’s important to create areas where you will be walking. You work hard to create ideal planting beds, so the last thing you want to do is walk on them. I use straw on my walking paths. It’s affordable and I typically use some for mulching throughout the season. You could use mulch, patio stones, whatever you prefer.
  6. Start seeds. I have started eggplant, peppers, and artichoke as well as a few tomatoes. If starting seeds is not your thing, make a list of the transplants that you will need to buy. Shop early to get the varieties you want.  Check this previous post to help keep planting times straight http://wp.me/p1GoP9-5K
  7. Build a cold frame. You can use a cold frame to get a jump on the season. Cool season crops that can be planted in a cold frame include spinach, mache, arugula, and mustard greens. You could also start root crops such as radishes, beets and carrots. If you don’t want to build one, you can purchase one at your garden center or online.  Go here to learn how to build something simple  http://wp.me/p1GoP9-bL
  8. Inventory garden tools. Make sure you have everything you need to make the job easier. Sharpen pruners and harvesting knives, clean tools if that wasn’t done in the fall.  Check your hoses and watering cans as well as your rain barrel for any leaks and repair as needed.
  9. Make trellises. Determine how many plants will need to be trellised and build those. Look for items that can be upcycled to something new. Handles from broken shovels will make a great starting point for a variety of vertical type trellises. Use bamboo to create tomato towers, or use twigs and small branches to create unique trellises for climbing vegetables.  Trellises and cages should be placed when plants are planted.
  10. Test your soil. Now is the time to have the fertility of your soil tested. If you have a state or county extension, contact them to find out the procedure. Your soil may only need some compost for a little added nitrogen. Make sure you amend your soil if needed using organic approved fertilizers. Look for the USDA Organic seal or check the OMRI website.  Refer to this post for more info http://wp.me/p1GoP9-60

It’s almost time to plant!  Are you ready?

I Think I’ll Try Artichoke

24 Mar

Each year I like to grow something new.  Even if I haven’t eaten it before, I find that if I grow it, and eat it fresh picked, I usually find myself falling in love with a new food.  This year I am going to grow artichoke for the first time.  What prompted this was a photograph I saw in a magazine of this beautiful vertically growing flower in a garden filled with brightly colored flowers.  Kind of a contemporary cottage garden feel, but these tall vertical plants didn’t have a bright flower on top; they had tall sturdy stems with more of a ball shaped flower.  I looked closer and saw that it was an artichoke.  It looked amazing in the garden, so even if I don’t eat it, the texture and visual appeal that it adds to the garden is worth learning how to grow this new plant.


Globe Artichoke, Cynara scolymus L, is a member of the Sunflower Family.  Low in fat and higher than most vegetables in protein, this flower is a delicious treat.  I have tried it steamed and was taught to peel off the petals of the immature flower and scrape the fleshy portion along my bottom teeth, eating only this part and discarding the rest of the tough “skin”.  I was told that if I dipped it in mayo, it was even better.  This was new to me, tasted good, but I haven’t tried it since.  As far as world production, Artichokes are grown primarily in Italy, Spain, and Argentina.  So probably because it is not a very common vegetable at my local farmers market, artichokes fell off of my edible radar.

artichoke seed

artichoke seeds

Artichoke is a perennial to zone 7, but can be grown as an annual in cooler zones if you choose the right variety.  Artichokes bloom during their second year when grown as a perennial.  Eliot Coleman writes in his book The New Organic Grower that you can trick your plants by starting the seeds and growing them in warm conditions for 6 weeks, then placing them in cooler conditions for up to 6 weeks.  The plant will then think that it is a two year old plant.  I don’t have 12 weeks!   Johnny’s Selected Seeds suggests vernalizing  seedlings by planting them outside with nighttime temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 6-8 days while also providing protection from frost. I am growing Imperial Star, which Johnny’s says is easiest to grow from seed. These should bloom in about 85 days.  I’ll try that since my frost free date is in about 7 weeks.  I am behind!  They will just mature later in the season if I can get them outside at the beginning of May.  The urgency I am feeling run through my veins is increasing each day!

Check your seed starting plan.  Next week is going to be a big one, but for now, get your artichoke seeds planted!


17 Mar

Not a whole lot of changes since I first posted this last year. Time to get busy and sow those seeds!

My Urban Farmscape

Pepper, Capsicum annuum, belongs to the Solanaceae family, also known as the Nightshade family. Peppers originate from the warmer regions of the Americas and are used in kitchens all over the world. You may prefer the fresh cool crisp of a sweet bell pepper, or the spicy flavor of a hot pepper. Whichever it is, peppers are easy to grow in the garden, in containers and make a great addition to your Urban Farmscape. There are even some varieties used primarily for ornamental purposes.

If you like to start seeds indoors, now is the time. Plant seeds about 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep in a shallow container of a sterile seed starting media. Once the seeds are planted and watered it is important to keep moist at all times during germination. This can be achieved by using a plastic dome or with plastic wrap. I keep a spray bottle of…

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March Mornings

10 Mar

chickadeeChick-a-dee dee dee.  Chick-a-dee dee dee.”  This is the sound I hear on the day I can sleep in. Outside my window, a repeating call. The mornings are lighter, and the noises are different…..My mind wanders as I fall in and out of consciousness…are these the sounds of migrating birds?  Or maybe a mating call of a familiar bird that has changed its tune for the season….. I’m not a morning person, and it was nice to wake up early enough to listen to nature. “Whooo, who-who.   Whoooo, who-who.”  A dove sings it’s softly spoken song. Daylight savings time has started. I don’t understand why we do this. Someone please help me. I don’t know what the real time is. Just when I have no problem waking up in the morning, we have to move our clocks forward an hour. Now I will struggle again to wake up and rush to work on time. Why can’t we live by the sun? Like the plants and animals. They seem to do just fine without looking at the clock. What tells them to start growing or traveling to and fro? So my friend tells me “the good news is that our evenings will be lighter later.” It still doesn’t help with the struggles of waking up an hour earlier. Can I just lie in bed a little longer? The ground is frozen anyway. I attempt to pull the blanket up around my neck to get a few more minutes in, but the dog has positioned herself like a rock on the blanket at my feet preventing me from doing so……….Longer days ahead mean more time to work in the garden after I get home from my day job. I have attended enough garden education, garden shows, done enough garden reading and planning, it’s time to get outside and get my hands dirty. Oh geez, there’s still a foot of snow in some places, and if I see any soil, it is frozen solid. I would need a pick to break it apart. I need to make sure my low tunnels are ready so I can sow spinach and arugula seeds, and transplant the onions I sowed a few weeks ago…….I didn’t plant anything in the fall, maybe this year I will……. Once the snow melts and I can work the soil, in go the peas. I think that I will give the peas a little jump by planting them in a low tunnel to get them started…… Hmmm. Is my garden plan done? Maybe I should get out of bed and make sure. I need to look at my seed sowing calendar. When am I starting peppers? Is it this week? I think there is one more garden show coming up………..I think it’s raining.  Almost spring, try to stay calm.

My Growing World in a Changing Climate

24 Feb

As a gardener, I feel that I have a closer connection to nature. Not in the way where I know everything about it, but in a more intimate way like a relationship that develops over time. For example, when I am in the garden from day to day, I can detect the little changes with the unfolding of leaves, predict when certain insects will arrive to pollinate flowers, or know that the dry warm days of late summer will ensure a sweeter tomato fruit. I am subconsciously on the lookout for diseases knowing when they will be a threat due to certain weather conditions, and hear the plants as they quietly whisper their watering needs. With the crazy weather we experienced last year, I often wonder if this will be a continuation. Is this what climate change is all about? Or are we just experiencing weather extremes? I can feel the change in weather, the ache in my bones before a winter storm or drop in the barometric pressure, or the hot and heavy moisture in the air before a summer thunderstorm. Most people can. I cannot however, feel a changing climate.

This is what I know…..

I know that the U.S.D.A. Hardiness Zones have shifted. I used to garden in U.S.D.A. Zone 5. The name of my organic farm I had ten years ago was called Zone 5 Gardens and Nursery. That farm is now right smack dab in the middle of U.S.D.A. zone 6. I read in the news and hear other gardeners talking about the changing climate and how the polar ice cap is melting at an alarming rate. Scientists say that since the industrial revolution, increased Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane are the major reasons why we are experiencing global warming and climate change. I hear that our planet is warming. I hear complaints of how our summers are hotter. The Great Lakes has been dropping. I have heard that this is a cyclical pattern, and they will come back up.

This is what I learned…..

This past week I attended a conference where one of the days was spent on the presentation and discussions of climate change, mostly in the Great Lakes Region. Research scientists, educators and farmers presented and attended. The time of year where the warming is  occurring is the winter, not like the summers that I heard. This time of year is producing less snow in the snow regions. Over the past 100 years, the temperature at night has increased 2 degrees Fahrenheit. From 1980 to today the increase was 1 degree F. Much of the information presented showed historical charts and graphs. It was obvious how the majority of the changes as they relate to climate issues began to excel about this same time. There has been a dramatic drop in the Grand Traverse Bay, a bay in Lake Michigan, in the past thirty years due to warmer winters, lack of snow, and the bay not freezing, which when frozen holds moisture in, reducing evaporation. Spring is coming earlier, and our growing season is longer. We can expect our climate to continue to change, including increased temperatures ranging from 4F to 8F. In the United States, 2012 was the worst draught in 88 years. When asked, “Is this due to climate change?” The Geologist replied to the audience, “No, it was more of a weather extreme, but know that as our climate changes; we can expect to see more weather extremes.”

This is what I can do…..

Maybe I can’t feel climate change, I can’t stop it, I can only do my best to slow it down during my short time on earth. The difference from 4F to 8F can be determined by choosing how I live my lifestyle. It’s hard to change from what I am used to, and to be realistic. I have reduced my carbon footprint as low as it can go in my living situation. I ride my bike, have a fuel efficient car, so I have reduced my fuel usage. Or have I? What about the food I eat? Do you realize that eating locally not only helps to improve your local economy, but it helps to offset the use of fuel and can help reduce the rate in which climate change is occurring? Think about it. What did it take for that head of lettuce or bag of apples to come from the west coast of the U.S.? How much gas does it take for the truck or the plane? What about fuel usage of large agriculture companies compared to your local farmer? Did you know that according to the 2008 US GHG Inventory Reports the highest percentage of farm energy (29%) goes toward fertilizers? That doesn’t mean compost. I don’t plan on boycotting my farmers and insist they stop using their tractors, but I will commit to working harder to make sure I buy local produce and shop local farmers markets. I think I do a pretty good job, but I know I can do better. The biggest thing I can do is to grow my food at My Urban Farmscape, and continue to share my experiences with others that want to learn to grow more with less… less space, less fertilizer, and less water. Will I give up coffee? Nope, but I do drink less than I used to. This is what I CAN DO. What can you do? Do you have ideas to share?

Links to learn more…..

Cornell University http://blogs.cornell.edu/climatechange/
Climate Change General http://www.climatechange.org
Carbon Footprint Calculator http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx
Plant Hardiness Zone Map http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/
National Farm to School http://www.farmtoschool.org
Local Harvest http://www.localharvest.org


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