31 October, 2009

Someone Is Being A Little Optimistic!!

Or, 'we were blowed around pretty hard this week!'

We have palm fronds galore around the Garden.  Three dumpsters have some fronds in each and there are these stacked on the compost pile.  If we wanted to wait for five or more years, we might be able to get these things to break down (less if we chopped 'em up), but I have to admit, I'm not that much of an optimist!  These would be quite a lot of work to deal with.

On the other hand, some high school students showed a little more initiative and some artistic potential as well by putting this 'bouquet' together near the over-full dumpsters.

Yeah, we got really blown this week - but the air is now cleaner and its a bright sparkly day in Paradise! 


Who Really Built The Learning Garden

I have been a part of the Learning Garden for just over seven years, almost every month it has been in existence.  I was not here at the beginning, but I have a credible amount of service in this Garden which makes me uniquely qualified having viewed the Garden's growth from almost the very beginning.. 

Over those years, a volunteer or two have come along and worked very hard on a facet here or a facet there of the Garden - and at some point have reported to me and others that they 'built The Learning Garden."

What makes it all the more astonishing and poignant is that the one person who could really say that, hasn't.

Operating mostly off site, in her home office a few blocks away, the real person who "built The Learning Garden" is Julie Mann, one of our founders and still serving on our Board of Directors as our Treasurer.

Julie has written grants, sought funding, mediated disputes, cajoled reluctant participants to fulfill their promises and countless other tasks (like hawking pesto in the above photo) that remain largely thankless, day in and day out. Year in and year out.  For longer than I have been here. 

So when you hear someone say how important they are to The Learning Garden, they aren't.  The only one who can claim that title doesn't say it.  This little post doesn't acknowledge Julie enough, doesn't do her justice.  But really there is nothing we could do to really express our gratitude for all of her work and efforts to truly "build The Learning Garden."  And any post that exculpated all the work Julie has done, would go way too long for this writer who is due at 'work' soon.  

Thank you and Happy Birthday, Julie!


Bermuda Grass Root

You think you have persistence and determination?  Most gardeners do, but most gardeners feel a bit overwhelmed soon enough after fighting with Bermuda grass.  Here is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to get a handle on!  A Bermuda grass root has pierced this little bit of wood with apparent ease.   The roots not only can grow through wood, they have been reported as deep as four feet!  Along the length of the root, there are frequent nodes, each node capable of producing a whole new plant!  If you find a Bermuda grass root, you must pull on it gently, trying to find the ultimate end in order to leave no pieces behind that would respout the problem all over again.

Such persistence makes even hardened organic gardeners think, "Herbicide, just one time, maybe?"  But herbicide is the same seductress as heroin, fundamentally not changing the situation, setting one up to have to use herbicide again, while damaging the ecology of the planet (and your garden) and paying money to the people who would do that most harm of all to the planet and those of us who live here.


Every Monday Matters (And So Does Thursday!)

Every Monday Matters volunteers showed up (on a Thursday!) and worked very hard in the Garden.  These hardworking volunteers are clowning around with an unplanted bulb of garlic.

Such volunteers bless and uplift our project and many others through their light hearted humor and joyful hard work.  The work they did in The Learning Garden this morning would have take the Gardenmaster about a week to have finished.  Gosh!  


24 October, 2009

The Garden in October, Part II

Lettuce from seed looks beautiful in the late winter sun!  A romaine lettuce like this is easy to grow and will look good no matter where you plant it!  

Direct sowing of seeds gets far too much mystical billing. It’s easy. The hard part, in our busy world, is staying disciplined enough to keep them watered. Remember, the seed wants desperately to grow, that is its only “job.” If you provide enough water for the seed to break its seed coat, you will see a little pair of leaves soon above the soil. These are called cotyledons and, if there are two of them, you have what is commonly referred to as a 'dicot.' There is only one other kind of flowering plant we would be concerned with in a vegetable garden and that has only a single seed leaf and is called a 'monocot.' Monocots are all the grasses, which includes grains like corn, wheat, rice and barley.

Take note of all the little cotyledons of the plants you grow and soon you will be able to tell them from the weeds. This is somewhat important. If you can rid yourself of weeds before they get really big, you have a much easier job of it; if you rid yourself of all the wrong plants because you mistook the lettuce for dandelions, you'll be a very disappointed and frustrated gardener!

Composting is one of the more essential parts of gardening. Gardening is a life cycle and composting is that part of the cycle that returns nutrients and fertility to the soil. In our culture, we don't like the smell or the thought of decomposition, yet a knowing gardener loves the smell of rich compost; that smell, incidentally is from actinomycetes, a fungus that is in the same group of organisms as penicillin.

Somehow, fall always reminds me of composting probably because I grew up in those colder climes where fall signals the oncoming winter and so marked the end of the growing season. And that leads to thoughts of composting. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

You can get absolutely nuts trying to build a scientific compost pile, but let me offer that I don't do all that. Decomposition happens. Just leave some veggies in your fridge too long and tell me they did not decompose. And you didn't have even think about carbon to nitrogen rations (c:n). You do want to understand the process – especially if you don't have the space to leave something sit for 9 months, which is what I used to do – and get usable compost in less time that it takes to grow a decent cabbage.

Remember you have 'browns' and 'greens,' names that are somewhat misleading. 'Browns' refers to carbon material which is usually brown. This is dried leaves or woody pieces. 'Greens' are those materials full of nitrogen – usually represented by grass clippings, but all of your table scraps are nitrogen sources too and they, though a different color, are classed as 'greens.' While we can specify the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio, achieving it is always a meandering attempt to meet an approximate target. And you never have composting materials in the right amounts to achieve an ideal c:n ratio. So, add as much of the green and the brown as you have. Mix well and water – keep moist. Make a pile that is at least three feet by three feet by three feet. Keep moist. Turn the parts that are inside, outside and the parts that are outside, inside. Keep moist. Not soggy, but moist. In about 9 weeks of warm weather, you'll be able to use fresh compost. Sift out the big honking pieces and return them to the pile (they will help get the pile off to a better start) and build it again.

Honestly? I usually dig a trench about one foot across and two feet deep and as long as it needs to be to handle what I have to compost. I pick a part of the garden I won't use for a few months and I add the compostable materials, covering with soil as I go. I add to the trench every day I need more room for materials. Eventually I'll simply plant right into that soil. No big deal and it works without a lot of reading.

You can find the composting technique that thrills you. The important part is that none of that rich material gets thrown into a land fill! That is unconscionable! All of the plant wastes from the kitchen and table are wonderful food for the garden and they are free!

However, for apartment dwellers, condo owners and others with no easy access to land, vermicomposting is the answer you are looking for! And you didn't even know you had the question! It's easy, the result can be used on plants in pots and your garbage need never grace the entrance of a landfill ever again!
You will need
10 gallon bin or 1 20 gallon bin
1 lb or so of worms
Cardboard or newsprint
Kitchen waste
OSH sells two storage bins that work very well for vermicomposting.  The smaller bin is a 10 gallon container by Rubbermaid called Roughneck Storage Bin #2214-08. It’s dimensions are 9” x  21” x 15” , comes with a lid and is available in various colors.  This size works well for a family of two.

A worm bin can be made of wood, but plastic seems to work better longer because it won't rot. Your bin must be tightly covered – worms cannot live in light and you don't want them to escape! Punch or drill holes around the top third of the vertical walls to allow air to circulate – punching them with a nail is best because any larger of a hole will be an escape hatch for the explorers in your worm population. You should do the same thing with the lid. Oxygen in the bin will allow the breakdown of materials to proceed aerobically, which means it won't stink and your worms won't suffocate.

Wet a sheet of cardboard or a section of newsprint – soak thoroughly and wring out to where it is as moist of a well wrung sponge. Worms will use this as bedding, and eventually you'll need to replace it
as time goes by.

Red wigglers will reprocess kitchen waste such as: vegetables, fruits, eggshells, teabags, paper coffee filters, shredded paper towels, and coffee grounds. They particularly like pumpkin, watermelon and cantaloupe. Avoid citrus fruits because they are too acidic for them. If you pamper your worms by cutting food scraps into small pieces, the worms can finish them off that much faster, I am not, however in the business of making life wonderful for a bunch of worms – I throw it in whole and they take care of it sooner or later. Burying the food scraps into the bedding will help you avoid fruit flies and not adding meat or fish to the bin will help prevent cats and dogs from investigating the bin.

Feed the worms your scraps as you have them available -ideally, no less than twice a wee – however, I have gone on vacation for a week and fed my worms nothing in that time and did not come back to a hell hole of a worm bin. Don't stay up nights worrying about them. These worms prefer a pH of something close to 7 and the temperature needs to be between 50 and 84 F. Don't let the bin dry out.

Harvesting the vermicompost can be done several ways, but the way that is easiest and therefore my choice is called 'side-harvesting.' Feed the worms on only one side of the bin for a few weeks which will cause the worms to migrate to that side. You can then begin to harvest the worm compost from that unoccupied side of the bin where you will eventually, once you've finished harvesting (over a few weeks), begin to add fresh bedding on that side causing them to migrate to the new bedding and allowing you to harvest from the second side.

You can make a it lot more complicated than this, but really, you have better things to worry about, yes?


21 October, 2009

Fresh Mulch Daily!

Well, not daily, but we did have fresh compost/mulch delivered today (21 October) and expect another load next Wednesday!

We get this from the city of Los Angeles. Though it smells as though it ought to have manure in it, that's just the smell of decomposition - this is nothing more than Los Angeles green can waste, sorted to remove trash and non-compostable items, ground up to a finer texture and set to compost for an interval of time (depending on temperature etc the amount of time can vary considerably). The compost is turned at least once in this process and may be sifted again as well.

When it arrives here, the pieces are still somewhat discernible - you can tell the bits that were leaves although it can be hard to identify species of tree a given leaf is from. I like chunks like this - it will take longer to break down and the way I use this stuff is to spread it on top of my soil as a mulch, to feed the soil biota; because it is chunkier, it will take longer to break down. So this is perfect stuff for me. I like to see it go on 4" deep or more, depending on the plant.

In my experimental plots, I've not used any fertilizer in about six years and we are still getting super yields. We have mulched and mulched - this compost and wood chips have been used by the barrow full and the soil is as lovely as any garden could hope for. We are moving this experience out into the rest of the Garden and getting beyond the cycle of fertilizer leading to low fertility necessitating more fertilizer ad nauseum. Our fertility stays in our Garden (rather than being washed away) because it is a natural biological process and not something added as a powder or a liquid. Our fertility is in the bodies of the critters of the soil and doesn't become run off that pollutes our waterways or ground water.

I was thinking this morning how wonderful this life is when I can make a phone call and 48 hours later, a big truck pulls up and dumps 30 cubic yards of compost for my garden for free and they'll do it again next week! Truly this is a precious resource from the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation. One reason The Learning Garden continues to get such quantities of this stuff is because we give it away to other sites(i.e. local residents, schools, shelters and half-way houses with gardens) that don't have a storage area like our little alley. You can pick up this material from us, or from one of several yards around the LA area for free - as much as you want as often as you can!

I am very grateful to Pete Robinson and the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation and this compost project! Without this material, The Learning Garden wouldn't be half of what it is today.


10 October, 2009

Sheet Mulching

Cardboarding Pasadena Backyard © 2008 Orchid Black

At times it is necessary to eliminate plants from a large area - in Los Angeles, this is most often grass - and sheet mulching is the way to do it. Here is a lovely post about ridding a Bermuda grass lawn - one of the most persistent weeds a garden can have. Without chemicals and without a lot of heavy sweating, any lawn can be history.

This technique not only doesn't use chemicals and hard labor, it also leaves the soil in much better condition than it was as a lawn. It seems to me to be a win/win/win situation. It does require patience, but, while patience may be a virtue to the general population, in gardeners it is essential!


03 October, 2009

An Edible Gardening Bibliography

The cover of William Woys Weaver's seminal work on heirloom vegetables displays the promise of some delicious reading to come. The book delivers. However, it is out of print as of this writing and, even as a used book, is no mean investment. It IS a good book!

Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally, Kourick, Robert © 1986, Metamorphic Press, Santa Rosa, CA Probably the bible for this kind of garden. I own a first printing and a quick check shows that Amazon has it new for $33.46 (Permanent Publications; March 30, 2005), so it’s still a winner, after all these years.

Designing the New Kitchen Garden, Bartley, Jennifer © 2006, Timber Press, Portland, OR Lots of wonderful ideas and source material for a good many daydreams. And the source of some important lessons in creating a garden that can sustain more than just your spirit. By the way, you’ll know you’re a real gardener when you begin to receive the Timber Press catalog – they have a comprehensive list of gardening books that will help you get into the details of any aspect of gardening that you can imagine!

Edible Flowers, From Garden to Palate, Barash, Cathy Wilkinson, © 1995 Fulcrum Publishing, This is the only really comprehensive book on growing edible flowers – it’s a fascinating cuisine we have largely lost through neglect. Have an adventure and a nasturtium for dinner!

Heirloom Vegetables
, Stickland, Sue, © 1998 Fireside Books, A wonderful introduction to heirloom vegetables and how and why to grow them! A fabulous read for all prospective vegetable gardeners. And now that the Weaver book is no longer easily available, this is the runner up.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History, Weaver, William Woys © 2003, BookSales Inc, Originally published in 1997, it is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish. The book sells for almost $300 used on Amazon! It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book allows this to be one of the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Good luck in finding it! If I had known it was going to command this much money, I would have kept closer contact with my copy!

Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition
, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing All of the recent editions have their merit, but each successive edition has more plants and updates the scientific undergirding of gardening, so I encourage you to invest in the most recent edition you can afford (used copies are usually easy to find, either locally or at Amazon.com, I have a few for sale!). This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially those on the east coast and England where most books about gardening originate.

The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques, Creasy, Rosalind, © 1982, Sierra Club Books – This is where edible landscaping began! Still a good book!

The Grape Grower, Rombough, Lon © 2002, Chelea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT. Of several books on the subject of growing grapes, this is the most thorough, the best written and covers the most material. And they all cost about the same money. You’ll come to think of it as your very favorite, if you get into growing grapes for table or for wine. Chelsea Green is another publishing house you’ll want to investigate – especially if you get into sustainable living. Truly a pioneer publishing house with many wonderful titles to entice you into curl up with a good book.

The Home Orchard, Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, © 2007, Another great book from UC’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources – search out their website and you’ll find a wealth of free information there as well as publications like this one to purchase. This book is about the most thorough book on home orchards you will ever find - it is no only comprehensive, but comprehendible and easy to follow. There is no aspect of home orchards that is not covered in this volume.

The Kitchen Garden, Thompson, Sylvia © 1995, Bantam Books, Sylvia is from our area (she has written for the LA Times) so she knows a bit of gardening here. This is a great book that I refer to frequently.

The Old-Fashioned Fruit Gardener, Gardner, Jo Ann, © 1989 Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia A wonderful resource to learn how folks used to use small fruits of their garden complete with growing instructions and recipes.

Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Reich, Lee © 2004, Timber Press, Portland, OR If you are not familiar with Timber Press, check out their website, they are one of the best publishing houses in the field of horticulture today and their catalog will make your eyes twirl. We can’t grow all of these fruits, but this book is an eye opener for what can be grown vs. what IS grown. Each plant’s fruit is described with directions for cultivation and a list of desirable cultivars. This is the ‘expanded sequel’ to the book that drove me nuts trying to find a way to grow currants in Los Angeles (an as yet unfulfilled dream).

This list has been promised for far too long - please forgive my tardiness.


02 October, 2009

The Garden in October, Part I

Seedlings in terra cotta pots getting ready to be transplanted into slightly larger containers. On the left, broccoli and cabbages have two seed leaves while the two pots on the right must be onions or leeks because they only have one seed leaf each.

In all the books from back east and England, you'll find fall as a season of 'going to rest,' 'putting the garden to bed' and other allusions to 'sleep' and restoration. It is not true for us! We are in our other Spring and this Spring is really closer to the Spring that other parts of the world experience. This is our shot at carrots, peas, and other cool season plants. We either have all our space filled with plants, or we've just got a part planted with big plans (dreams) for the rest. So the Winter garden is in full swing. Later this month, if I have grown any green manure cover crops I will cut them down, leaving the plant material in place and cover with a thick layer of mulch. I would like to allow this to “mellow” (meaning I want this material to begin breaking down into nutrients the plants can use) for about 2 weeks before placing the next crop in.

I tried to plant one chard plant because I only need one to provide me with enough chard for all my needs, but there are so many colors to choose from, I feel a need to grow at least three: yellow, red and I love the orange. But these plants provide continuous chard obviating the need for succession planting, but almost everything else benefits by being sowed at intervals throughout the season, a process called 'succession sowing' or 'succession planting.'

A person plants a garden to get to eat the very freshest of food – you don't pick your veggies and put them in the fridge to age before you eat them – well, at least, that isn't the intent. So, to the degree we can, only plant enough of what you can eat in a reasonable amount of time. For me, being a single person, I have found that an eighteen inch row for most things is the perfect size to grow enough to supply fresh carrots, beets, parsnips, cutting lettuces, for any given time. A typical planting schedule for me might look like this:

Week 1 – carrots (maybe Yaya)
Week 2 – beets (Golden)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown)
Week 4 – carrots (Mokum)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano)
Week 7 - lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson)
Week 8 – carrots (Yaya)
Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 10 – spinach (Space)
Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 12 – beets (Golden)

Quickly you see that, though I do eat parsnips and turnips, I don't eat nearly as many of them as I do carrots or beets. Your situation might be different in that you could care less at all about ANY parsnips, but spinach is near and dear to your heart so you would have spinach in the rotation much more than I do – you can, of course, plant three different things per week – carrots, beets and spinach in week one; turnips, lettuce and parsnips in week two; carrots, beets and parsnips in week three. Or spinach planted in one row every week all cool season long. Tailor the program to your needs! You might also find that you need longer rows – I wouldn't imagine that an 18” row would suffice for a family of four! Play around with the scheduling and the row legnth and the mix of plants you grow until you find what your family needs. At which point, their needs will change, but you'll have a lot more data with which to figure out the new schedule.

In our smaller gardens there is no room for the proverbial 50' row of carrots, so succession planting of a given vegetable is one of the staple strategies for stocking your larder. Another good point about putting in many smaller plantings of crops is the ability to harvest these vegetables at a smaller size, which is just the ticket for a garden in pots. Don’t get suckered into the “bigger is better” routine. A huge cauliflower might serve as a great subject in a “look what I grew” contest photo, but the cauliflower you pick at half the size will be the one your tastebuds will reverently remember.

A mark of the very good gardener is one who has his/her succession sowing down to such a science that allows them to place fresh vegetables on the table without lag time or a concentration of over-abundance and the attendant wild fluctuations leaving you with nothing from the garden for intervening weeks. Learning how to do this well has been the work of a lifetime for many and, as for me, I’m still finding it a moving target. But at least I know what I’m shooting for!

More later in the month.


01 October, 2009

The Garden In September, Part II

These ARE the 'dog days' of summer. Baseball season is winding down and the playoffs loom just ahead. Fall seeds need to be ordered soon and planted. It's time to deal with the end of the summer produce and look into the cooler months ahead. This is my faithful friend, Casey, also known as 'the Gardenmascot,' a proud Scottish Terrier who is in his waning days as well. Sorry this post got put up so late - it's been a jam-packed month.

I've had a great crop of peppers this year – which, I find a tad disturbing, because this year was lousy for eggplants this year due to a lack of consistent heat, and if it didn't get hot enough for one, I'd think it'd not be hot enough for the other. But I have a lot of peppers. We pickled about 5 pints of the Sweet Banana peppers so far this year, but the jalapeƱos, I'm letting stay on the vine until they turn red so I can dry them until they are crispy to grind them into powder for a teentsy little zip in some recipes over the coming months.

One thing to remember when working with hot peppers: either wear rubber gloves or make very sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you touch your face – especially your eyes – the juice in hot peppers are just about one of the most painful solutions you can get into your eyes. Or other sensitive flesh parts of your body.

Measurements of heat in peppers are in Scoville Heat Units (SHU's), which is predicated on the amount of capsaicin in the pepper. Here is a chart comparing the different peppers and their varying amounts of capsaicin. If you know the SHU of a pepper, you can avoid blasting the top of your head off. But, remember, right after the note on keeping capsaicin out of your eyes, if you dry peppers, the heat increases by a factor of ten! That's an increase worth remembering!

Pepper Type Heat rating (in Scoville heat units)
Pure Capsaicin 16,000,000
Naga Jolokia 800,000 ~ 1,041,000
Dorset Naga 800,000 ~ 900,000
Red Savina Habanero 350,000 ~ 575,000
Habanero 200,000-300,000
Red Amazon 75,000
Pequin 75,000
Chiltecepin 70,000-75,000
Tabasco 30,00-50,000
Cayenne 35,000
Arbol 25,000
Japone 25,000
Smoked Jalepeno (Chipotle) 10,000
Serrano 7,000-25,000
Puya 5,000
Guajillo 5,000
Jalepeno 3,500-4,500
Poblano 2,500-3,000
Pasilla 2,500
TAM Mild Jalepeno-1 1,000-1,500
Anaheim 1,000-1,400
New Mexican 1,000
Ancho 1,000
Bell & Pimento 0

I'm afraid my Kansan heritage precludes eating most of these. Anything above Jalapeno would not be found in my kitchen! And yet, I've dried Jalapenos. That's just a little scary - the only use I have for the final dried Jalapeno powder will be to add a pinch to my famous Hot Chocolate That Kills, served at the Learning Garden for Dios de los Muertas and again at Valentines Day. Other than that, I'll keep it tightly capped and show the container to some things I'm cooking just to make them THINK about being warmer. :-)

About half-way into the month, it usually becomes cool enough to sow arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas and turnips. My leek and fennel seedlings ought to be ready to transplant out, as should broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, endive, kohlrabi.

As September wanes, probably the most productive time in the Southern California potager begins. If you are eating from your garden, now begins the time you can really feast for awhile, the last of summer – peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, sweet corn, basil – is still out there to eat and the first root crops or lettuce will be big enough to munch a bite or two. I enjoy eating BLT sandwiches and for a brief moment in spring and another brief moment at this time. I make my own bread, so the tomato and lettuce come from my garden and the only parts I buy are the bacon and the mayo. It's almost a mystical experience for me, especially when the bread is still warm from the oven. Finish it off with a dessert of figs heated on the grill or in a broiler, drizzle honey on them and a dollop of some fairly stout Greek yogurt on them. Oh is that to die for! Not some store-bought fig shipped in from far away, but a fig that got ripe on a tree in the back yard or from a local farmer's tree that you found for sale in a farmers' market.

Fava beans, lentils and peas are in season now, too. All of these grow best in our cooler winters. Fava beans were the only bean in the Old World before the Americas were discovered; all the other beans are American in origin (as are tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes among others – one wonders how in the world the Italians and French survived long enough to arrive at a culinary tradition!). Fava bean plants, as well as lentils and peas, make a marvelous addition to any soil building program and favas, when combined with artichoke hearts, make a Mediterranean stew so delicious that my taste buds flutter just to remember.

To have sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) flowers for Christmas, they must be in the ground by the first weekend of September. Please note that 'sweet peas' refer to a flower, while peas (Pisum sativum) are a food plant. The sweet pea flower (which I think has the most divine aroma!), is strictly an ornamental as the seeds are poisonous. Not smart to confuse the two – gives a whole new scenario to the “no TV for you until you eat your peas!” line.

If you don't start your own seeds, find broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard and onion plants in a good nursery. Don't scrimp on your plants – if they have been cared for with indifference (like one might find at a big box store with minimum wage employees who may even hate working in a nursery) you might not get the quality plants that will produce the best (or the most) food. You are going to invest considerable time in growing these plants before they will be your dinner. Buying a cheap plant might be 'penny wise and pound foolish.' If you have to hoard some pennies, skip a couple cups of coffee rather than buy cheap plants.

I think it's better to start your plants from seed, instructions are easily available, if you can, find the seminal seed starting book, The New Seed Starters' Handbook by Nancy Bubel. That was the book that started me on the road to starting almost all my plants from seed and is still the best book on the subject. I see if sells for about $14.00 on Amazon; I got my second copy (the first went a-wandering) from a close out bin in Borders for $3.00.

Starting from seed, as you saw if you went to any of the web sites from last month, offers you the most diversity in what you have available to plant and you control over when you plant as well – which is a delightful way of keeping your garden looking its best. Mind you, this takes patience and time – but the rewards are equal to those investments. Isn't that the way of everything, though?

This is an exciting time to be gardening. Grab your imagination and look at where you planting. Think about the eventual size of what you are planting – it's OK to make mistakes – that's how we learn! When I'm teaching a class, the truth of it is, I have probably killed more plants than anyone else in the room and yet, they are the ones saying “I have a black thumb.” That's probably not true at all. The big difference is when I kill a plant, I usually know why it died and sometimes it isn't my fault. And when it IS my fault, it's usually because I wasn't paying attention. Death by inattention isn't a 'black thumb' issue unless you do things like forget to turn your car off; or forget to go to work in the morning. Death by inattention is reformable – it's a changing of your patterns.

Be good to yourself and it'll change.