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
Climate Change General
Carbon Footprint Calculator
Plant Hardiness Zone Map
National Farm to School
Local Harvest


Dreaming and Planning…

27 Jan


Yes!  It’s the last week of January.   I sit turned backward on the couch, resting my chin on my crossed arms ,  looking out the window at My Urban Farmscape, dreaming and planning as the sun shines on my face and warms me deep within my soul.  I can almost feel the warm spring air and see the bright green leaves unfolding.  I have all of my seeds ordered, and now I need to plan how many of what veggie goes where.  This year, I am going to focus on how extreme my vertical gardening can go.

I am no expert.  I love growing plants, eating, and playing outdoors.  I like to experiment with gardening, and have successes and failures (clary sage comes to mind).  So I am going to need some help.  I am reading Vertical Gardening by Derek Fell.  Click on this link to see more information Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space

What I really enjoy about this book is how Derek illustrates and explains how to build trellis and support structures.  He also covers all the basics for gardening, so I would consider this book good for beginning gardeners as well as masters.  There is a chapter on fruits where he includes information on how to espalier berries and fruit trees.  I want to do this with some apple trees this summer.

I did learn these past two years how to successfully grow tomatoes closer together.  I staggered them in a zig zag pattern about 18″ apart.  If you do this, make sure you are selecting intermediate growing varieties and be prepared to make sure you do a lot of pruning.  So that along with some better staking and trellising will give me a bigger harvest.  Oh!  The grafted tomatoes, I can’t wait.  I have learned that you can actually train these to have 2 leaders, thus, producing twice as many fruits than a plant with one leader.  A leader is the main branch in the center of the plant that serves as the, well, leader.  More about this when I am actually growing them in the summer….ah..the summer.  I am looking forward to it.

When you prepare your food, do you make note of what ingredients came from the garden?  What did you grow?  What did you buy from the local farmers market, or local farmer?  Try this and see what you come up with.  You should have something from your garden or local farmer in every meal.  This exercise can help you to determine what to grow and how much, or maybe what you don’t have space for, can’t grow, and should buy locally if possible.  Today I had eggs and blueberry muffins.  Eggs, milk and blueberries, all came from my local farmers.  Today’s dinner, chili!  Beans from Michigan farmers, and tomatoes, of course, from our garden, along with garlic and the chili peppers that I grind into powder.  Which reminds me, I need to grind more today.  So…..with that said, I’m off to the kitchen to cook.  Then, this afternoon, more reading and garden planning.  Not sure how to start planning your garden?  Read my previous post “Online Garden Planning Tools” at , or create an account and design your garden at this link or click on the Grow Veg picture on the right side of my blog.  Happy Dreaming!

New Favorites for 2013

6 Jan
Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'photo courtesy AAS

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’
photo courtesy AAS

Not only do I love getting the new garden catalogs for the year, I love to learn about the new varieties that are available.  Even though I have my favorites that I will forever plant year after year at My Urban Farmscape, I can’t wait for the season to begin so I can try something new.  I have already started my seed sowing calendar and have realized that it’s almost time to start the majority of my veggie, herb and flower seeds.  It’s this time of year when my family learns to deal with my obsession and continuous conversations with them (and sometimes, well mostly, with myself) about what gardening or plant related thoughts are in my head.

Really, just this morning I blurted out, “I need to get those seeds planted in the next few weeks if they are going to bloom this year.”

My husband’s eyes glazed over as he asked, “What are you talking about?”

“This Echinacea ‘Cheyene Spirit’  is absolutely beautiful, and I need to find a place grow a big patch of it, just a few feet, maybe five along the fence, and it should bloom the first year when planted from seed, but I have to get it sowed by the middle of this month.  Oh my!  Look at all the colors, red, pink, yellow, orange, purple and white which will grow really good in that hot sunny spot next to the house.  Oh!  The bees and butterflies will LOVE them, I can see that late summer cut flower bouquet now..…..”  I realized he wasn’t listening, but continued to talk out loud to myself.  “It’s also one of the 2013 All-American Selection winners!”

Tomato 'Jasper'photo courtesy AAS

Tomato ‘Jasper’
photo courtesy AAS

My excitement continued with another 2013 AAS winner that was bred by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  A bright red cherry tomato ‘Jasper’, an F1 hybrid which is also certified organic.  Nice!  An intermediate growing cherry tomato needing to be staked which should produce fruit 90 days from sowing seeds.  Johnny’s and AAS described the flavor having a “sweet, rich taste”.  I think that I need to try this one.  I’m sure I can fit it in somewhere.

Now thinking about tomatoes reminded me about the grafted tomato plants available from Burpee.  I called out to my husband, “Can you believe they are grafting tomatoes like they graft fruit trees?!”  No response.  I have found this to be very interesting, reading about it for the past few years and decided this is the year to buy a few plants.  Simply put, an heirloom variety is the plant on the top, so you get the delicious heirloom flavor, but the roots are from a hybrid that will provide increased disease resistance.  Wow!  The original pink Brandywine will be my first choice.  You can purchase these directly from or possibly your local garden retailer.

Burpee's 'Bumper Crop' grafted tomatophoto courtesy Burpee

Burpee’s ‘Bumper Crop’ grafted tomato
photo courtesy Burpee

I came across a new heirloom pickling cucumber ‘Miniature White’ from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Not only is the flesh a creamy white, but the skin is also a creamy white.  That should look nice against the green foliage.  I thought that this may make an interesting addition to the garden as they say it is a high producer and grows good in a container.  I was even more excited when I read about it seldom growing more than 3 feet!  A true bonus for any Urban Farmscape.  I became distracted wondering what color container I should plant it in and decided to go outside and rummage around the garage.  I could always paint it if I didn’t have the right color.  Orange?  Maybe purple.  That would really stand out.  Not too many purple things in the garden.  I don’t know.  I decided to go in and ask my husband what color he thought would look good.  I don’t know if he’ll respond, but I know that at least he’ll smile.

Growing Sprouts

23 Dec

Sprouts close

Have you ever eaten sprouts?  Maybe you had some tiny seedlings added to your sandwich or topped on a salad at a restaurant and wondered to yourself, what is this?  You can purchase them in the fresh produce section at most grocery stores.  They may seem inexpensive at the time, but compared to growing them yourself you may think again.  A tablespoon of seeds will produce 1 1/2 cups or more of sprouts.  Alfalfa is the most commonly used and grown seed for sprouts for their fresh mild taste, but did you know that you can sprout many types of seeds which can provide spicy additions such as mustards or an additional crunch that would come from mung beans?  This indoor growing project is easy enough for children and gives the whole family an affordable, quick, fresh, and nutritionally beneficial addition to  meals during the winter months.

Each seed has its own requirements, but they follow these few simple steps and you will have sprouts in 3-5 days at temperatures averaging around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  Experiment with different types of seeds.  Make sure you are using seeds specifically for sprouting from a reputable seed supplier.  They should be certified organic and tested negative for E-coli and salmonella. 

I use a quart Mason jar.  You can also use special containers for sprouting.  See  links at the end of this post.

Sprout Supplies

Here I measured 1 tablespoon of alfalfa seeds into a quart Mason jar, covered it with a screened lid (you can use cheese cloth) and filled it half full with lukewarm water.  Allow to sit overnight.

Sprouts in water

The next day drain off the water.  Fill the jar back up.  Drain again and then swish the seeds around the jar.  Lay tilted with the lid in a bowl to catch any draining water.  Cover with a towel and keep in the dark.  Do this about 2-3 times per day for the next few days until the sprouts have grown and you can see the little cotyledon leaves.  At that time you can expose them to light which will allow the leaves to green up a bit. 


After a final rinse, I allow them to dry a bit on a paper towel and then place in a loosely sealed storage baggy or container and keep in the veggie part of my fridge.  They stay good for a week or more.  Use on sandwiches, salads, wraps, or anything you desire to add freshness to this winter!

Click on the links for sprouts, books and supplies.  Remember to click your browser button to return back to My Urban Farmscape!

Sprouts: The Miracle Food: The Complete Guide to Sprouting

 The Complete Guide to Growing and Using Sprouts: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply, Including Easy-to-make Recipes (Back-To-Basics) (Back to Basics Growing)

The Sprout House Dozen Organic Sprouting Seeds Mixes Sampler Small Quantities of Each Seed Mix Holly’s, Mix the Two, Rainbow Bean Mix, Wisdom Blend, 2 Wheats Together, Salad Mix, Veggie Queen Mix, Dill Salad Mix, Hi Power Protein Mix, Bean Salad Mix, Fennel Salad Mix, Lentils Together – contains these and more: alfalfa, radish, clover, broccoli, mung, green pea, fenugreek, garbanzo, adzuki, hard wheat, fennel

The Sprout House Organic Sprouting Seeds Alfalfa 1 pound

 The Sprout House Veggie Queen Salad Mix Organic Sprouting Seeds – Red Clover, Red Cabbage, Red Lentil, French Lentil, Daikon Radish, Fenugreek

Organic Sprouting Seeds Mung Bean 1 Pound the Sprout House

Victorio VKP1014 4-Tray Kitchen Seed Sprouter

Sprouting Strainer Lid


In the beginning….there was an inspirational video.

9 Dec

Today it is snowing…snowing a lot, snowing so much that instead of gardening I will read about gardening…..fiction, non-fiction, poetry, holding a book, tablet, reading online, a paper magazine or catalog, it doesn’t matter.   Last year when it was snowing, I watched this video posted by Roger Doiron, Founder and Director of  Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI).  It inspired me so much that a couple weeks later, My Urban Farmscape was born, and I joined this revolution that Roger speaks of.    Have I done what I intended to do since my first post on January 1, 2012?  Maybe not as much as I would have liked to, but it’s a good start.  Thank you Roger for the inspiration.

To read my first post, click here  

To start the video…you know what to do.  When you’re done, share it with your friends.

My Favorite Urban Farmscaper Gifts

25 Nov

Seriously, haven’t you heard enough about cyber Monday and all the deals that could be out there?  Well, I have…except for the deals I find for my gardening friends! The holiday season is upon us and  honestly, I won’t tolerate another gift that is marketed to gardeners that really has no useful purpose.  Like a Chia Pet for example.  I love plants, and love growing them, but have no desire to have a terra cotta bust of Homer Simpson with chia hair!    So, with that, here are some of my favorites with the links to these awesome gardening products on Amazon  as well as suggested gifts for gardeners.  When you click on a picture it will take you straight to the product.  Don’t forget to come back to My Urban Farmscape!

Happy shopping!  Remember, click on the pic to  send you to Amazon, or a link  like the one here for all of the Cyber Monday Deals.    Shop Amazon – Cyber Monday Deals Week

My Favorite Urban Farmscaper Gifts!

The Ultimate Urban Farmscaper’s Gift!  Why not have it all in this compact space.  A raised bed with an optional greenhouse to extend your gardening season.  A great idea for a senior or  Farmscaper who has everything…except this!







I love  this Jewel Coldframe that I mentioned in an earlier post and use at My Urban Farmscape to extend the season.  When you aren’t using it in the garden, it can be broken down for easy storage.

This Earth Box below is great for those of you with little space and with little time tending to garden chores.  Maybe you didn’t find the time, or forgot to water last year?  A perfect gift for the busy Urban Farmscaper.

Some of my favorite pruners to use in the garden for harvesting as well as in the kitchen for cutting fresh herbs.

For indoor growing and seed starting, supplemental lights are a must have.  For quality and compact sizes, here are two of my favorites.

For the garden photographer the right kind of lens or camera can really help to capture the tiny life living in the garden.

Books for Urban Farmscapers that love to grow food in small spaces, and even for those growing in not so small spaces.

Books for preserving and cooking food you grow or buy at the farmers markets.  Great gifts for someone that is trying to eat local and seasonally.

Magazine subscriptions that are full of useful information about gardening, cooking and homesteading.  I keep every issue of mine for reference.

Garden fun and games for farmscapers of all ages and for the future farmscapers.

Indoor Urban Farmscaping  for someone who may have limited indoor growing space.

Make sure you click the pic to go to Amazon! 

Happy Holidays!

Patti and the My Urban Farmscapers Team

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