Birds, Bees & Butterflies in the Garden: A Seminar on Attracting Winged Beauty! Brattleboro Garden Club in Vermont

March 11th, 2011 Comments Off

I’ll be presenting a free gardening seminar with slide show & discussion: “Gardening to Attract Birds, Bees & Butterflies”

Please note that the Brattleboro Garden Club has changed the time of this event to 6 pm. Thank you!

This event is sponsored by the Brattleboro Garden Club and will take place Monday, March 14th at 6pm, Green Mountain Chapel, 480 Western Avenue, Brattleboro, Vermont. The show & talk are open to the public.

For information on my gardening seminars, or to schedule a workshop, please see the “Garden Workshops” page at left. Workshop & Seminar information will be updated regularly as the spring schedule becomes available.

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Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager…

February 16th, 2011 § 1

A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike

Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room

Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows

Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…

I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s

Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.

My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.

Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!

Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.

When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.

I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.

I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.

Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children

Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together

Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate

I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!

Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?

Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager

Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Article and potager photos ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Indoor Eden: Trouble in Paradise… Aphids & Scale Attack the Studio Oasis!

January 5th, 2011 § 10

Pots in the Studio – Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ (About to Bloom) Shares Space with Other Succulents (Mustard pot: Crassula ovata ‘Minimus’, Senecio macroglossus ‘Variegata’. Green pot: Kalanchoe mangini and Crassula ovata)

By now, it should be fairly obvious that I take as much pleasure in my garden during the winter months as I do during the warmer seasons. However on the grey and stormy days, when the temperature drops and the wind kicks up, there is much to be said for houseplants in January! I spend a great many hours in my painting studio at this time of year, and with its cathedral ceiling and bright, indirect light, it makes a perfect winter home for larger pots and taller plants. However this one room is hardly the limit of my indoor gardening. In fact, my entire house becomes something of a winter oasis after the hard frost in mid-October, with plants distributed throughout the studio, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, entry hall and secret garden room. In short, there are green, and multicolored things growing almost everywhere you look! And I love to admire the lush leaves and colorful blossoms against a snowy backdrop…

I Love the Contrast of Rich Green Houseplants Against a Wintery Back-Drop (That Red in the Snowy Background is Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ Beyond the Studio Door) Here, Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ is About to Bloom, and Looks Particularly Luscious… Especially to Aphids!

Right now, my collection of Kalanchoe is about to blossom, and the various cultivars all look delightful -particularly to the aphids attacking them! It seems that sometime over the holidays —while I was too busy to notice the early signs— these nasty little freeloaders hatched and multiplied on one of my beautiful plants! Well, I caught them -and not a moment too soon. I pulled out my neem/soap mix (an OMRI approved insecticidal soap), and set to work spraying all of the foliage on this particular plant —and those sharing the space nearby— until it was thoroughly wet.  Take that you sap suckers! Experienced gardeners usually know what to look for when it comes to aphids, but just in case you are unfamiliar with them, here’s a photo to help you identify the problem…

Aphids on Kalanchoe (After Spraying with Neem) You Can Click the Photo to Enlarge & Get a Better View of Them !

Of course, this unpleasant invasion lead me to investigate my other houseplants. And lo-and-behold, there on the fine foliage of my agave: scale! Ugh! Spritz, spritz, spritz; on again with the neem insecticide. I really dislike scale, and find it difficult to eradicate. If the neem/soap mix doesn’t do it, I will upgrade to horticultural oil. Although one of scale’s natural predators, the ladybug, is active in the warmer parts of my house, this overwintering insect seems to avoid the cool studio. I always carefully check for ladybug larvae (click here for photo) before spraying, because even organic insecticides can kill beneficials like ladybird beetles as well as —outdoors during the growing season— bees, other pollinators and helpful bugs. I will have to keep close watch on this scale situation and repeat application of neem or horticultural oil weekly. Scale can become a real problem indoors unless the gardener is vigilant.

Scale on Agave geminifolia (after spraying with neem) This image may also be clicked to enlarge.

Many of my houseplants move outdoors during the summer months, but some —like the giant Ficus pictured below— are permanent indoor residents. These larger plants require regular maintenance to look their best; including pruning, which is done from a ladder in some cases. It looks like I accidentally damaged a branch while turning this tree last month, so I’ll need to get up there and make a clean cut; removing the unsightly dead foliage…

This Giant, Door-Framing Ficus Gives My Studio a True Conservatory Feel. But it Looks Like I Need to Tend to a Few Branches with My Pruners… Time to Pull out the Ladder!

After my rounds today —feeling the soil for moisture and checking all leaves and stems for pests and disease— I felt that most things were looking pretty healthy. I try to keep my houseplants on the dry-side during the winter months, but it’s important to strike a good balance between sahara and monsoon. The plants living in my studio —mostly succulents and many trees which are not particularly fond of humidity during the winter months— don’t seem to mind the dry, cool air. I keep most of the humid-air-loving tropicals —such as orchids, citrus and the mini-greenhouses: terrariums— upstairs in my bedroom, where I run a humidifier both for myself and my houseplants. I also segregate plants known and listed by the Humane Society as potential threats to my cat and dog (click here for article and links). The studio is closed up unless I am in there (where I can monitor munching), as is the Secret Garden Room.

My Feathery Sago Palm (Cycus revoluta)  —Making a Winter Home in the Painting Studio— Is Looking Healthy and Happy

Although It is the Most Commonly Grown Houseplant, Few Ficus benjamina Manage to Reach This Monstrous Height Before Getting the Old Heave-Ho. I Inherited This Specimen a Year Ago, After It Had Outgrown Its Former Home. The Weeping Fig Arrived by Trailer, and Is Now About 15′ High. The Studio is a Bit Cool for This Plant, But it Seems to Like the Bright, Indirect Light.

This Indoor-Outdoor Pot Contains Plants Recycled from a Smaller Container They Outgrew (Clockwise from top: Kalanhoe pumila, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, and Echeveria cvs)

I May Not Have My Conservatory Yet, But I Can Still Fake It By Creating an Eden Indoors (Cycus revoluta in foreground)

Someday, I hope to have a tiny conservatory all my own. But until then, I can enjoy most tender plants inside my home by finding the right micro-climate to suit their optimal growing conditions and by carefully catering to their needs and desires. For help with houseplants of all kinds, I highly recommend Barbara Pleasant’s The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. I am a fan of this author in general —I adore her book Garden Stone, which I’ve mentioned here several times— and I think this book is particularly useful for indoor gardening. Pleasant thoroughly covers the essentials of growing over 150 common houseplants and —unlike some of the other books on my shelves— it is both well photographed and well written; with carefully organized, richly detailed horticultural information. Dorte Nissen’s The Indoor Plant Bible is another great resource, and with its compact size, tough cover and ringed-binder format, I find that it stays out near the houseplants where it is frequently used for quick reference. Both books are set up encyclopedia/dictionary style; with all plants arranged alphabetically by latin name. Barbara Pleasant’s book is also broken down by plant group (succulents/cacti, flowering/foliage plants). If you are new to houseplants, these two titles would be my top-shelf recommendations for indoor garden reference.

The Indoor Plant Bible and/or The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual are always on hand

It’s quite windy here today —and cold— so I won’t be spending much time outdoors. In meantime, I have my little Indoor Eden to content me and keep my color-loving eyes satisfied. My exotic houseplants bring a little bit of tropical warmth to my wintery world, and help me to more fully appreciate the stark and crystalline beauty of the landscape just outside the glass doors…

A Dusting of Sparkle-Dust on the Stone Terrace Greeting Me This Morning

And Flurries Swirled About In the Outdoor Dining Room

Reminding Me That, Of Course, Winter is Still a Beautiful Season

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Marking Time’s Passage in the Garden: Beautiful & Practical Journals…

December 2nd, 2010 § 3

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success! I keep records for both my vegetable plot and my ornamental gardens

December 2010. It’s hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close, isn’t it? While flipping through my garden journal last week, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different the weather and crops were in 2010, compared to 2009. I just started a new section in my blank book to record observations on my winter vegetable garden (crops grown beneath hoop houses as well as horticultural pursuits indoors), and to make plans for spring 2011 planting.

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success -and it’s also fun! I have a practical garden calendar/record (day-runner type with 3-ring binder and handy pockets for seeds and tags) where I keep dated notes on seed sowing and vegetable/fruit harvests, crop rotation maps, location records/photos, pest notes, fertilizing reminders and so on. But I also have a more traditional free-form journal (pictured above and just below) for thoughts, observations and sketches. This is the time of year when I usually order new inserts for my three-ring binder garden calendar/record and replace my free-form journal if necessary. Sure, I keep notes on my laptop and iPhone too, but I enjoy the process of sketching and writing with pen on paper.  And over time, I have learned the hard way that electronics, mud and water aren’t really the best of companions.

Planning 2011 Seed Order (Botanical Interests 2011 Seed Catalog)

In addition to laying out next year’s vegetable garden —rotating crops helps prevent repeat insect infestations and diseases— I’m also planning what varieties to plant based on past seasons. I have limited space in my potager, and I want to get a head start on orders before companies sell out of the choicest seeds. The Botanical Interests 2011 seed catalog arrived in my mailbox last week, and I have been circling items to order both for holiday gifts and for my own spring garden. My journal is helpful with this planning and ordering process, because I have written down which varieties of vegetables and herbs performed well in my garden, which did not, and which varieties I would like to try based on friends’ success. Every year, some companies discontinue seeds and others offer new varieties. So, as seed catalogs arrive, I scan lists to see where I can find and order my favorites (or, make a note to save my own seed when possible).

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Exterior (refill annually with a separate 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ calendar/journal)

A durable and beautiful garden journal makes a great gift for a new gardener —or any gardener not currently keeping one— particularly if it’s personalized with a few favorite seed packets, photos, notes, web-links, or even a gift certificate to a local garden center or online retailer, like Gardener’s Supply Company. If you —or the gardener you are shopping for— have a large garden, then consider a 3-ring binder type of journal cover and fill it with a calendar/notebook. A beautiful leather journal cover can be re-used from year to year, and makes a great gift. There are literally hundreds of notebooks, calendars and covers to choose from, but when you are shopping for a horticultural journal, keep in mind that for most serious gardeners, an easy-to-clean cover in leather or vinyl is really essential. Replaceable annual-calendar inserts make sense, as do extra plastic pockets. I like the day-timer style garden journals because they are flexible and can be used/filled anyway you like. Mine is the ring-binder type with plastic pockets and zip-lock pouches for seeds, tags, business cards, etc.

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Interior (free form style will fit any kind of notebook within the size constraints. This one has useful pockets for plant tags and seed packets)

This Garden Journal Leather Cover is nearly identical to the one directly above it, but it has a handy metal binder for loose leaf paper, calendar inserts and additional plastic pockets. I prefer this kind of journal for my day-to-day record keeping in the garden, because it keeps everything together. If I need to add more plastic pockets, I just swing by a local office supply store and match the stock to my binder.

Pretty, Simple and Inexpensive: Blossom Journal (Magnetic Closure). I’d choose this type of journal for a more meditative garden-writer or someonealready in possession of a task-oriented horticultural binder.

If the gardener you are shopping for tends more toward free-form record keeping or simple journaling, then a blank book would be a good choice. This type of journal is usually less expensive than zippered, three-ring-binder calendar/journals. A good, heavy cover is still important, although choosing a blank book with a pretty botanical theme seems right. I just ordered two journals (the one just above and below) as gifts. Will I keep one for myself? Hmmmmmmm….

Tree of Life Leather Journal (lined)

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Please note: The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Botanical Interest Seeds, but Michaela is a long-time, happy customer!

Article and Photos (Excepting Linked Product Photos) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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August Abundance: Notes from the Kitchen Garden…

August 12th, 2010 § 3

My Summertime Kitchen

Mid August is always a busy month in the kitchen garden. Abundant cucumbers, summer squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and onions must be harvested and put up —frozen, dried, pickled and/or canned— at the peak of freshness. Late summer chores in the potager include watering —especially during this extended dry spell we are experiencing in New England— weeding, monitoring and managing pests, succession sowing for short-season fall crops, and of course, daily harvests. Some of my stand-out crops this year include cippolini and sweet onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, romanesco broccoli, arugula, cucumbers, and finally —after last season’s meager crop and fears about late blight— gorgeous, fruitful tomatoes. Read more about the highlighted crops by clicking on each to return to a previous blog-post.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to make notes for next year; jotting down harvest dates, this season’s plant successes and failures, troublesome pests and current plant family locations to assist you with next year’s crop rotation. Carrots look stunted or forked? Maybe it’s a good time to raise your beds, giving them more root-room. Lush growth in your garden but little or no produce? It could be time to test your soil pH and fertility. Plants petering out? Sow some quick turn-around crops like lettuce, arugula, beets, peas and beans for a fall harvest. If you live in a cold climate, now may be a good time to begin constructing hoop-houses to protect your crops from frost and extend the growing season (see post on hoop house construction here). If you are making your own compost, be sure to turn it regularly, keeping content balanced with layers of fresh ‘green’ kitchen scraps and pulled garden plants, dry (such as straw and paper) and brown (mature compost).

And busy as we gardeners tend to be in August, I like to slow myself down by pulling out the camera and taking a close look at the beautiful colors, textures and shapes in my late summer potager. Here are some highlights from my morning garden walk and daily harvest…

Romanesco Broccoli in the Potager

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes Ripening in the Garden

The Beautiful Edibles – Nasturtium and Pansies in the Potager

Ripening Butternut Squash Along the Kitchen Garden Fence

Cippolini Onions at Harvest

Yellow Summer Squash and Haricots Verts

Red Hot Chili Peppers in August

Morning Glories Along the Potager Fence

Orange Blossom and Early Girl Tomatoes in August

Basically Beautiful – Orange Blossom and Basil Salad

Garlic Harvest – Hard Neck Music, Continental & Doc’s German Garlic Drying on the Terrace

Haricots Verts, Calendula, Tomatoes, Arugula, Nasturtiums and Alpine Strawberries Bask in the Late Summer Sun

Blanching and Freezing Haricots Verts from the Kitchen Garden

Shiitake Mushrooms Harvested from the Mushroom Garden in my Forest (See Tutorial Post Here)

Ruby Red Chard in the Potager

Summertime Herb Harvest – Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Mint

An Armful of Fresh-Cut Flowers Makes for a Different Kind of Treat in the Jar

Late Summer Abundance in the Potager

Late Summer Chaos in My Kitchen (read about building this homemade kitchen island here)

Gourmet Potatoes, Chard, Cucumbers, and Nasturtiums in the Potager

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Inspiration: The Japanese Tea Garden… Water Bowls Reflect Quiet & Calm

July 24th, 2010 § 1

Image ⓒ Linda Younker from Gardening with Stone by Jan Whitner

Calm, cool and serene; even the tiniest pool of water can create a quiet, contemplative mood in the garden. In summer’s sweltering, mid-day heat, a few stolen moments in a shady oasis can refresh and rejuvenate the spirit. Whether constructed from hypertufa, carved from natural stone, or assembled from man-made materials, small water features can attract wildlife and provide birds, bees and other creatures with a cool drink. However unless the pool is sloped and very shallow —like the one above from Jan Whitner’s inspirational book, Gardening with Stone— be sure to provide an escape route to prevent the drowning of bees and small mammals.

Building a small water feature from stone is a relatively simple project, even if the pool will be recirculating. Helpful tips can be found in the final chapters of Barbara Pleasant’s Garden Stone (see image excerpts below), a beautiful title with many creative ideas for both small and larger stone and water combination projects. The author has included a useful plant list for water bowls, which includes water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), lily (Nymphaea), lotus (Nelumbo), iris, water clover (Marsilea mutica), and more. Foliage and flowers add an extra touch of beauty to miniature water gardens, and they also provide a handy resting spot for dragonflies, honeybees and butterflies…

Image ⓒ Dency Kane from Barbara Pleasant’s Garden Stone

Image ⓒ Dency Kane from Barbara Pleasant’s Garden Stone

In my search for Japanese-inspired water features, I turned up several beautiful books filled with creative hardscaping and layout ideas for even the smallest courtyard. Pocket Gardens by James G. Trulove contains both stylish, urban, modern and classic, traditional design-inspiration for small gardens – including many miniaturized water gardens. And one of my all-time favorite garden books, Haruzo Ohashi’s stunningly beautiful title, The Tea Garden, (currently out of print, but available used) features ritual water bowls on nearly every page…

Image ⓒ Roger Foley from Pocket Gardens by James G. Trulove

Image ⓒ Haruzo Ohashi from The Tea Garden

Image ⓒ  Haruzo Ohashi from The Tea Garden

On days when a dip in the lake or splash-down at the river isn’t possible, a shady garden room provides cool respite. A glistening pool surrounded by ferns and moss calms the eye and soothes the senses. Below, positioned at the corner of my Secret Garden, a reflective water bowl mirrors the sunlit wall…

Secret Garden Reflecting Bowl at Ferncliff ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Many solid bowls and vessels can be filled with water to create a tiny pool. Adding steady movement to the water will require the installation of a pump. Below are some pretty, pre-made water bowls and fountain kits I found online at Amazon…

Stacked Slate (lightweight stone veneer) Fountain at Amazon

Laguna Water Bowl Fountain available via Amazon

Water Fountain available at Amazon

Click here for Gardener’s Supply Company’s Organic Mosquito Control Rings for Still Water Features

**Mosquitoes will breed in rain barrels, bird baths, water bowls, and untreated still pools. Mosquito dunks are a safe, biological control utilizing Bti, a naturally occurring bacterium (Bti targeted usage is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved. See site linked above for more details. For more information on Bti and it’s usage, please click here to read this well-written article with an explanation of Bt strains from Colorado State University**

Image excerpts from reviewed publications and/or products are copyright as noted and linked. Article and all other photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Sweet Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil & Golden Peppers & Cultural Notes and Tips from the Kitchen Garden…

July 22nd, 2010 § 6

Summertime Risotto ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Endless summer. Between the deep green leaves in my kitchen garden, zucchini plants offer up their tender, young fruit and bell peppers glisten in the morning sun. Green and purple basil plants —pinched to form bushy mounds— brush my ankles, scenting the air as I walk along the pathways. Sungold tomatoes drip sweet from their vines and haricots verts fill my harvest baskets.

This certainly is the season of abundance, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is a simple summertime meal of risotto and garden-fresh vegetables. There are many, many wonderful possibilities when it comes to cooking risotto, and I like to use whatever is plentiful and freshest at any given moment. This week, another half dozen zucchini seem to present themselves every day, and the first ripe peppers have just begun to appear – what a delightful combination with a handful of basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan…

Summertime Risotto – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Summertime Risotto

Ingredients: serves 4 moderate dinner servings or 6-8 as a starter. Double recipe to increase portion size or quantity

2          Tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

3          Small zucchini, washed and  diced (4-5 inch freshly picked zucchini for best flavor)

1          Orange or yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

1          Clove fresh garlic, chopped fine

1          Small to medium sweet onion, chopped fine

1 3/4   Cup Arborio Rice

3          Tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine

3 1/2    Cups homemade or high quality vegetable broth, on simmer

1           Tbs unsalted butter

1/2       Cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

1/2       Cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into small bits. Plus a few whole basil tips for garnish

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high heat. Add zucchini and orange pepper, quickly sautéing (about 2-3 minutes) until gold. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Cook for another half a minute or so, stirring constantly. Remove and set aside to a plate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on medium. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Toss in the rice and cook another 2 minutes, coating the grains in oil. Add the vermouth while stirring. Immediately follow with a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is absorbed, add another ladle, stirring steadily. Continue to ladle in stock as the rice absorbs the fluid. After about 20 minutes, taste the risotto. It should have a very creamy, but firm to the bite, consistency. At this point, stir in the butter, reserved zucchini and peppers and their juice. Add the torn basil and grated parmesan and stir gently. Remove from heat. Drizzle with oil and serve hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and a garnish of fresh basil.

Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil and Orange Bell Peppers – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cultural Notes and Tips for Growing Great Zucchini – From the Kitchen Garden

My vegetable garden is growing and producing well this year, but I still keep a watchful eye for signs of trouble. In high-summer, when the weather in New England tends to be quite humid, I apply a homemade, organic fungicide to prevent powdery mildew on cucurbits (this plant family includes zucchini and other squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more). This simple remedy (see recipe below) is mixed fresh in a pail and applied when the air is still, with a hand spray-bottle. Try to water the garden in the morning, focusing the shower at the root zone. I also patrol the garden for squash bugs (they attack all cucurbits, including cucumbers) removing them by hand when I spot them and applying insecticidal soap to plant leaves. Mint, oregano and nasturtiums are good companion plants for deterring squash bugs, though you may wish to contain aggressive mint —and rambunctious cousin oregano— in planters. Keep in mind that zucchini and other squash should be picked daily to promote fruiting and avoid the dread “door-stop zucchini”. Try to harvest small fruits (4-5 inch long zucchini have the best flavor and texture) in the morning.  Squash are heavy feeders, preferring compost-rich soil with a high nitrogen content. I plan ahead by amending the soil in next year’s squash bed (rotate to prevent disease) with ample compost and dried blood. If the soil in your garden needs work, then squash will benefit from supplemental feeding with fish emulsion during the growing season.

Homemade Anti-fungal Baking Soda Solution

3 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs vegetable oil

3 gallons (plus) warm water

In a medium sized kitchen bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and whisk together. Pour the mixture into 3 gallons of warm water. Transfer to spray bottles and use immediately, spraying the undersides as well as the tops of leaves. If any is left over, store in the fridge and warm in sun before using.

Use on cucurbits during warm, humid spells and at first sign of powdery mildew. This remedy is also useful for black spot.

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Chinese Proverb: The Best Fertilizer is The Gardener’s Shadow…

July 18th, 2010 § 2

The Gardener and Her Shadow Delivering Fish Emulsion to Cippolini Onions… Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Morning Chores After the Rain Storm. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

High winds, driving rain, thunder and lighting; a violent band of storms shook me wide awake last night and when I heard hail on the tin roof, I immediately began fretting about the garden. Fortunately, when I headed to the potager this morning to inspect the damage, I discovered but a few minor knock-downs and some torn leaves on the summer squash. A wren house, no longer occupied, fell to the ground, and my weeding baskets were tossed about here and there. Lucky this time, even the morning glories seemed to smile at the new day…

Morning Glories in the Potager ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

We gardeners can not control the weather, but there are some other hazards we can at least try to prevent. Fungal infections, insect infestations, excess competition from weeds; these are a few of the expected garden threats which I can control. I tend my vegetable garden daily, and by doing so, I keep my work load light. If the weather is particularly dry, I may spend most of my time watering the root zone of thirsty plants and potted herbs. And if things are wet and humid, evening hours will be occupied by plucking slugs from my broccoli plants and alpine strawberries. There’s always something to do…

Serenade Garden Disease Control from Gardener’s Supply Company Online

Serenade and Bonide organic disease and insect control products are also available to order online at Amazon.com and in most garden supply stores

Last year, much of the United States was troubled by late blight, causing the loss of tomato and potato crops, particularly in the Northeast. I was fortunate, and the blight missed my garden last summer, but I didn’t want to take any chances this year. There is no cure for late blight, and once infected with the disease, tomato and potato plants are doomed and must be removed from the garden and burned. Prevention is the key, and although there are no guarantees, OMRI approved copper fungicide has proven somewhat successful in keeping late blight at bay. I regularly dust or spray my plants with Serenade or Bonide (copper fungicide) and keep my tomato and potato plants clear of weeds and debris. Burpee also sells organic insecticides and fungicides for online…

Burpee Organic Fungicide/Insecticide

In truth, diagnosing a problem can be difficult without seeing, and learning to identify diseases first hand. Such skill comes to all gardeners eventually, with time, experience and education. Vegetable MD Online, the diagnostics page from Cornell University’s horticulture department, is an excellent, free online resource for all gardeners. Good photography combined with a wealth of great, up-to-the-minute information on plant disease and control makes this site my top choice for diagnostics. If you want to be a successful organic gardener, then learning natural ways to maintain healthy plants is key. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, from Rodale, is my favorite resource for the latest information on disease and organic trouble shooting. Keep in mind that even organic solutions can be harmful to beneficial insects, such as honeybees, when applied to plants indiscriminately. Insecticidal soaps and oils should only be used on targeted problems as they appear.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control

Weeding, pinching and pruning, mulching, dusting, fertilizing and harvesting; yes, my garden is frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow. But unlike Peter Pan, I haven’t quite figured out how to separate from my silhouette. If I could, maybe it would be willing to do half of the work…

The Ever-Present, yet Elusive Shadow ⓒ TGE

Disney’s Peter Pan

Hello Shadow, Won’t You Come Help With the Watering, Weeding and Harvest?

See these gorgeous steel baskets and more wire caddies, plus metal flower buckets and other garden treasures I have found online in The Potting Shed.

Inspiration/Image: Walt Disney’s Peter Pan

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other images are copyright as noted or linked.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!Shop at SpringHillNursery.com to save $25 on a $50 order!

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Organic Manifesto: Maria Rodale’s Unflinching Look at the Perilous State of Farming in America & A Call to Action…

March 16th, 2010 § 4

Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, (available at Barnes & Noble today)

Last year, when a friend of mine insisted that I rent and watch “King Corn”, I put my name on a long waiting list, even though I am not one to get overly excited about documentaries. I’d heard about the film of course, and after watching “Food, Inc.”, I knew that a deeper look at American agriculture -particularly corn production- would be sobering. After watching both films, I began to seriously doubt the integrity of many government-run institutions and policies, which I’d always assumed benefitted American farmers, and protected us as consumers. So when Kristin, my editor at Barnes & Noble, sent me an advance copy of Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, I thought I was already fairly well informed. I was wrong. This book was a real eye-opener, and I hope you will take the time to read my review of the book for Barnes & Noble at their Garden Variety blog linked here.

Both “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn” are must-see films, but as important as these documentaries are, I urge you to read Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto. Better yet, (if you can afford it), order a copy for yourself, and then drop it off as a donation to your local library for others to read. I think it’s that important. Rodale’s new book, with an introduction written by Eric Scholosser, takes a deeper look at some of the issues touched upon in “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn”. This throughly researched exposé bravely explores both the history and the environmental consequences of chemical, (aka “conventional”), farming, and offers realistic, organic alternatives. Do we really need man-made fertilizers and toxic chemicals to grow food, or is this a myth created by the multi-million dollar companies benefitting from this government-supported system? Rodale calls the public to action in her manifesto, urging us to act on the most basic level: demand organic produce.

Have you seen “King Corn” and “Food, Inc.”? Have they changed the way you look at farming in America?

Buy “King Corn” –  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “King Corn” –  from Amazon.com

Buy “Food, Inc.”  -  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “Food, Inc.” –  from Amazon.com

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Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal and may not be used or reproduced without written consent.

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.

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This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.

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For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff


The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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Cozying up by the Fire: Kitchen – Gardening Guide Books to Give or Get…

November 30th, 2009 Comments Off

My favorite place to read: beside a glowing fire…

The photograph above was taken last night from a favorite old chair, where I will be spending my leisure hours reading during the months of January and February. And although a few calendar weeks remain until winter officially begins in the northern hemisphere, I have already started on my seasonal pile of gardening books. Some of the titles in my stack are new, (to be reviewed here later), and some are old favorites, (listed below).

Recently a number of new gardeners have contacted me with questions about the basics of vegetable gardening. New gardeners always have great questions. How do you learn to garden ? What should you plant in your first garden ? How much do I plant and when do I plant it ? While some of us were lucky enough to have vegetable plots of our own as children, (or to grow up on, or around, farms), many gardeners begin when they move into their first home or apartment. To a new gardener, without early gardening experiences, the horticultural world can seem mighty daunting. Phrases like, ‘she was born with a green-thumb’, or ‘he can grow anything‘, or ‘do you have the name of the cultivar in botanical latin?’, only add to the mystery and anxiety surrounding the gardening world. But the truth is, no one is born with a green-thumb, and even the best gardeners can not grow everything, (we all routinely kill things, sometimes by accident – gasp!). And please, never let language intimidate you –  I have met many a ‘gardener’, fluent in botanical latin, without a shred of gardening skill. Just because the parrot can talk, it doesn’t mean he knows what he is saying !

Learning to garden is a basic life pleasure, and it isn’t difficult at all – in fact, anyone can do it. I have been gardening professionally for quite awhile now, and I still can get really frustrated with the often haughty ‘horticultural world’s’ insistence upon academic language and off-putting ‘rules’. This is no way to encourage participation. So, for you new gardeners out there, or those of you just thinking of testing the waters – you know what I say to all that? Forgetaboutit. Seriously. Gardening is an action verb. It’s like Nike says, ‘just do it‘. The most important thing you can do is to approach your little plot of earth with with the desire to have fun and to learn. Everyone has to start somewhere. Most gardeners learn through trial and error, (and a little bit of help from more experienced friends). Remember that all professional gardeners started as novices too, and they often make just as many, (and sometimes bigger), mistakes as amateurs, (making mistakes is part of learning, no matter your level of experience).

Now that we have that out of the way, I will say that there are some very handy resources out there for gardeners; well-written guide books for everyone, from the novice to the advanced horti-maniac. Understanding how plants grow and what they need to thrive is always key to your success. Soil science, (basic natural chemistry), is important; basic entomology, (insect identification), is useful; and of course simple botany, (the study of plants), is helpful. Below I have listed the three books I most recommend to vegetable gardeners. Whether you are just turning your first vegetable plot, or working on your 25th gourmet-potager-plan, these books will help you to develop and improve your gardening skills. Because I teach and coach other gardeners, I am always reviewing the basics and making new discoveries for myself.

So, if you know a new, intermediate or advanced vegetable gardener, and you are looking for a good gardening gift, you might want to consider the three titles listed below. I give each of these books a five-out-of-five star review. So here they are, listed in the order I would assign them if I were your teacher. Now, put the tea pot on the stove, cozy up beside a toasty fire, and dig right in…

Vegetable Gardener's Bible

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions

This is the first vegetable gardening book I would recommend to anyone. Ed’s book a perfect resource for new gardeners. Written in simple, easy to understand language, it includes step-by-step guides to composting, soil testing, amending and building, seed starting, companion planting and harvesting, and more. It is worth it’s weight in gold…

rodales-vegetable-garden-problem-solver

Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver

Fern Bradley’s book is the next title on my list. This is a great book for beginning or advanced vegetable gardeners. The author covers all of the important organic gardening essentials, and digs deeper into entomology and companion planting than many other authors. I consider this an essential title in the organic gardener’s library…

Kitchen Garden Jennifer B

Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook

Once the basics have been mastered, (or for the more comprehensive vegetable gardening home-course), I usually suggest reading this fantastic potager-design book by Jennifer Bartley. Although Jennifer’s book does touch on some basic gardening information, I consider this title more of a design and layout, (also important), resource. It is gorgeous and inspirational.

Happy Reading !

Settling into a cozy chair for a season of gardening dreams. Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Please do not use my words or photographs without contacting me first.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate. Any Amazon purchases made through the links here help to support this site. Thank you !

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Rich, Beautiful, Dreamy Dirt…

November 6th, 2009 § 7

A nice delicious bowl of…. dirt?

Has someone been making mud-pies? Sometimes I think I got into gardening because I never grew up. Yes, I know, that is a silly photo. But I couldn’t help myself. All the cooking blogs and magazines showcase gorgeous, slightly-off center bowls filled with the most mouthwatering food. So I got to thinking – what about the plants? They need to eat too! If plants could read cooking blogs, this photo would really pull them into the recipe – rich, beautiful, dreamy DIRT !

There is nothing more exciting to me than playing in a big, sun-warmed pile of dirt. I just love it. And of all the gardens I work in, it’s the vegetable plots I get really excited about - think of all those mounds and mounds of dirt! So, right now I am having a ball, because fall is when I usually plan and prep new vegetable plots. This is the best time of year to test and supplement garden soil, because it takes awhile for organic materials to decompose and for pH to change, (more on that in just a bit…). If I make adjustments now, the soil chemistry will have plenty of time to correct before next year’s planting season rolls around. So I have been playing with dirt a lot lately. Glee !

Great vegetable gardens always begin with beautiful, fertile earth. And every kitchen gardener wants a productive potager filled with healthy plants and colorful, plump, delicious vegetables. The good news is that building productive soil isn’t magic – it’s simple science. But in order to give plants what they need, a gardener needs to observe soil structure and learn a bit about chemistry…

compost, marigold, spinach

I am going to keep this as simple as possible, because most of us aren’t aiming to turn our backyards into farm-schools – we just want our little plots to produce good food! It really only takes a half an hour, a few supplies, and a little effort to get the basic answers you need about your soil’s fertility and, if need be, how to correct it.

Plants require Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus, (P) and Potassium, (K) in order to steadily grow a strong framework and create vigorous, richly colored leaves. Plants with insufficient nitrogen often look yellowish and unhealthy, and if a garden is low in phosphorus, plants will be stunted and produce poorly, (a purplish cast on tomatoes is a common sign of phosphorus deficiency). Potassium deficiency is harder to detect, but equally problematic. Plants suffering from potassium deficiency are internally weak; unable to control moisture and distribute nutrients, among other things. And perhaps most important of all, in order for a plant to absorb N, P and K, the soil needs to have the correct pH level. Nutrients will not dissolve in water that is too acid or too alkaline, and unless nutrients dissolve in water, plants can not absorb them through their roots. No one wants to starve their garden! How can a garden feed us, unless we feed it ?

A simple and fun way to find out about your garden’s soil chemistry is to buy a home soil-testing kit. This is a great project to do with kids. Basic soil chemistry kits are inexpensive, (almost always under ten dollars for a basic kit, and under 20 for more extensive testing), and can be purchased in most garden centers and mail-order supply stores online. The kit I use most frequently requires a one to five ratio of dirt to water for testing nutrients. So I begin by scooping up a cup of soil from the garden, or if I am working in a large garden and want to do various tests, I will take a cup from several different areas, (marking the sample with a location note)…

Soil Sample for TestingSoil sample scooped from the vegetable garden. Take your sample 4-5 inches below the surface for best results…

I usually test soil pH first, since I only need a small amount of dry soil, (see photo below). This particular soil-testing kit requires that I add soil to the first line of the test-tube. I then add pH reactive powder, (it’s non-toxic and safe for kids to handle), from the color-coded kit, add water to the top line, replace the cap and shake the vial, (ideally distilled water, which you can get in most supermarkets, should be used for all of these tests). This test-tube is set aside while I continue with the rest of my experiments…

Dirt in a vile for pH testing...The first test is for pH…

Next, I take my cup of garden soil and place it in a glass, ceramic or plastic bowl. To the dirt, I add five cups of water and stir thoroughly. This muddy mixture needs to settle for at least ten minutes. So, while I am waiting, I investigate the results of my pH testing…

Dirt in a Bowl plus WaterNext, five cups of water are added to one cup of soil, stirred and left to settle 10 minutes or so…

Below you will see pH test-results from two different vegetable gardens. The color of the water will range from dark green to bright orange, with green indicating alkalinity and orange, acidity. It sometimes helps to put a piece of white paper in back of the tube when comparing the color-results with the pH chart. The first test, (A: directly below), indicates that the pH is just slightly more acidic than neutral. Most plants prefer a pH in this range – but it is always a good idea to know the exact preference of your crops. Soil testing kits usually come with a small pamphlet about this, but if not you can look this information up in a good gardening book, (see recommended book linked below). The third photo, (B), indicates alkaline soil. The soil in this garden will need to be amended in order for plants to properly absorb nutrients…

pH test in progressTest A: Slightly acidic soil

soil testing kit color barTesting chart

Ph test alkalineTest B: Here is an alkaline soil sample, (it actually looked darker greener than it appears in this photo). This soil will need to be amended with organic matter and/or agricultural sulfur this fall in order to bring it closer to the acid-neutral range.

Soil that is too acidic for vegetable gardening can be corrected, (or ‘sweetened’ as farmers sometimes say), with lime. Limestone and wood ash both raise pH. Organic lime can be purchased at most garden/home centers. Be sure to follow instructions and wear a mask when spreading lime on soil. Wood ash is an old-fashioned remedy for poor soil, and it is useful because ash also adds magnesium and potassium. If nutrient testing reveals low potassium, then wood ash is a good, economical supplement for an acidic vegetable garden. However, if the garden soil is alkaline, (as in test B), wood ash should not be added.

If test results reveal alkaline soil, (as in vial B, above), there are two ways to lower the pH. The best long-term solution for improving alkaline soil is to add organic matter. Composted oak leaves, pine needles, peat moss or untreated sawdust are all good supplements. However, it takes time for these additives to work. So, if you are looking for faster results, or your soil is very alkaline, (like test B, above), then adding agricultural grade sulfur makes sense. This supplement can be purchased at garden centers and it is applied in the same manner as lime. Always work additives into the soil with a garden fork after they have been applied, and then cover the bed with a good, thick layer of compost.

For the next three tests, (N,P,K), samples are drawn from the bowl containing the soil-water mix. Take care not to disturb the settled soil when obtaining the samples. There is a bit of organic matter floating in the tubes shown below. A small amount is OK, (it can be tricky to get a clean catch in super organic soil, especially for little hands), but try to keep as much as possible out. Your results won’t be skewed from a bit of floating debris, so no worries if some gets in the tube. Next add the reactive powder to each vial, replacing the color-coded cap to match the test. Be sure your caps are on tight! Then, shake the tubes and wait another 5 to 10 minutes for color-results…

soil test with some depletionsHere are some test results for K, N and P  - The Potash, (orange) content is good. Nitrogen, (purple) is very low, and the Phosphorus is depleted, in fact it’s just about non-existent !

When the color in the tubes has developed, match your results with the chart provided in the testing kit. Low and depleted levels of nutrients can be corrected with organic supplements. Low nitrogen? Good compost will raise the nitrogen in garden soil and fish emulsion or blood meal will also correct low nitrogen. During the growing season, cover crops like alfalfa can also be turned into the soil to raise nitrogen levels. How you improve soil fertility depends upon when you are correcting the situation and how depleted the soil is. In cold climates, adding a rich layer of compost to the soil in fall will often do the trick for correcting fertility in the long term. But if levels are particularly depleted, additional supplements may be needed. The phosphorus test above indicates complete depletion. To improve this situation, rock phosphate is recommended. Like the other supplements mentioned, this can be purchased at any garden center. Always follow instructions on the bag. The orange-capped test above indicates ample potassium. If potassium is low however, it can be improved by adding granite-dust, greensand or wood ashes. But remember, wood ashes will raise pH. Only add wood ashes if your pH test indicates acidic soil. And remember, you can add supplements like greensand and rock phosphate to your compost as well – they are all natural…

compost:hands

In addition to checking soil chemistry, it is important to have a look at soil structure. If a garden has particularly sandy soil, or clay soil with poor drainage, now is a good time to add organic matter to the garden. Compost, leaf-mold, clean straw and other organic matter can be worked in and raked over the garden in the autumn. This healthy mix of ingredients will continue to decompose over the winter months, building a healthy, hearty stew for next year’s plants.

Building a vegetable garden, testing and building soil can be fun and rewarding for kids. This soil testing process is a great way to teach young gardeners about practical science. For less than $20, a real-life skill can be acquired while having a great time. For more information about creating great vegetable gardens, I highly recommend Edward C. Smith’s book, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible , linked below. This book is easy to read and follow, and it makes a great gift for beginning vegetable gardeners, (and even the more experienced, for reference!)…

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Simple Pleasures & Hard Won Treasures

July 30th, 2009 § 2

Salad of sun-ripened ‘Orange Blossom’ tomatoes and basil. The beautiful gunmetal-glaze plate is by artist Aletha Soule.

There is nothing in this world quite like the flavor of a sun-ripened ‘Orange Blossom’ tomato picked fresh from the garden. For my lunch today I enjoyed a salad of home grown tomatoes and basil, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh ground black pepper; one of my favorite simple pleasures. In honor of the first ‘Orange Blossoms’ harvest, I served my salad on one of artist Aletha Soule’s beautiful ceramic plates, decorated with purple and green basil leaves. Isn’t it amazing how such a simple thing can feel so special?

This year, I almost think I should rename my favorite tomatoes ‘Gold Blossom’, for they certainly have been a hard-won treasure. It has been a tough summer for growing tomatoes in New England. Last year at this time, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes. I harvested four different heirloom varieties as well as ‘Early girl’ and ‘Lemon boy’s to beat the band. ‘Sungold cherry’ tomatoes were so abundant I was giving them away to anyone willing to take them off my hands. No such luck this year. My tomatoes went in early this summer, (protected by small hoop houses), and were off to a fantastic start. But a cold, rainy June and soggy July soon followed the removal of my protective hoops. The weather in the northeast hasn’t been good for warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. My vegetable plants were all slow to establish. Then just as the tomatoes began to blossom, and in spite of all my preventative measures, I noticed the tell-tale yellow spots of early blight on my tomato foliage. Fungus is a real problem in the garden this year, and though my tomatoes have so far been spared the dreaded late blight, I am carefully keeping watch. Cherry tomatoes have been appearing on my table for about a month now, but I only began harvesting ‘Orange Blossoms’ (pictured below), last week, (late for me), and so far my yield is significantly lower. Is it human nature to want what is less plentiful? Maybe its just me, but this precious crop seems to taste even sweeter and more delicious this year.

orange blossom tomatoesOrange Blossom Tomatoes

I garden organically, and of course the best way to deal with fungal infections like Alternaria solani, (the cause of early blight), is to prevent them before they start.  I began applying copper fungicide early, (see photo below), and reapplied after every rain. However this year’s weather, (the constant wet with little sunshine), created ideal conditions for early blight. By the first week of July, I began to notice yellowish spots on the lower leaves of my tomato plants. Immediately I pruned out the diseased foliage, and removed it from the garden. I will continue to snip off diseased leaves as spots appear throughout the remainder of the season. I am certain that my methods are helping to contain the spread of early blight and preserving the unripe fruit, even if my storm-battered plants are looking less-than-stellar this year. And though I may have fewer tomatoes, I can not really complain. Due to the cooler temperatures, this is the first year I have a steady supply of snow-peas in late July, as well as abundant arugula and lettuce. I will take the greens thank you, and try to be grateful for what nature provides.

organic fungus controlSerenade and Bonide fungicides for organic gardeners.

For further information on identifying and controlling diseases and pests in the vegetable garden, see the Vegetable MD Online.  This excellent resource is available to all of us courtesy of Cornell University. You will also find the Vegetable MD link on the sidebar to the right ,(beneath garden resources and vegetable gardening headers). Many thanks Cornell !

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Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Companion Planting in the Organic Vegetable Garden

June 2nd, 2009 § 13

chives-thyme-rosemary-savoryChives and thyme in the potager

Companion planting is a very old-world, organic gardening method. Unfortunately, much companion planting knowledge has fallen out of use and favor in modern times due to a focus on efficiency. Of course on large farms efficiency is very important, but in a home garden I prefer to concentrate as much on process as I do on product. Instead of rotor-tilled planting strips, I have raised beds of mounded earth in my potager. My vegetable garden is organized in wide planting groups, not narrow rows. This sort of arrangement is not practical for commercial growers, but in a back yard vegetable garden, it works beautifully. From a design stand-point, I like this method of vegetable gardening because it maximizes my space, and allows me to create whimsical-looking arrangements of flowering and fruiting plants. There are also more practical and scientific benefits to this shared-space arrangement as well. Mixed-vegetable beds with herbs and flowers create many opportunities for synergistic relationships between plants. Utilizing natural plant relationships is one of the oldest organic gardening methods for vegetable growing success.

marigold-close-upCalendula, (marigold)

Herbs and flowers make attractive companions to vegetables, and many decorative potager plants lure beneficial insects. Blooming, fragrant herbs and flowers appeal to insects such as bees, green lacewings, hover flies, and lady bugs, among other helpful creatures. Yarrow is a pretty garden flower, and morning glory vines look beautiful growing up a garden fence. More importantly, and worth noting: these plants attract lady bugs and other insect-carnivores. Wild flowers, such as golden rod, are often mown down or uprooted by gardeners as ‘weeds’, but these flowers attract parasitic wasps, assasin bugs and lady bugs as well. Keeping native wild flowers around is a good idea for the organic gardener, as these plants are natural magnets for beneficial insects. Many insect-helpers eat pollen, and they are attracted to blooming plants during their adult stages. Later their off-spring, in the larval stage, will devour aphids, thrips, white flies, mealybugs, and many more pests. For useful information on how to identify friend from foe, visit sites in the entomology -links section to the right of this post on the blog-roll.

Attractive potager plants make the vegetable garden a beautiful and pleasant place to work and many are flavorful additions to recipes. However not all living things enjoy the presence of pungent herbs and flowers. These plants can also serve to repel insects and to mask the odors of more attractive plants, confusing or distracting pests. Onions, chives and garlic tend to deter aphids, ants and flea beetles. Rosemary may be flavorful to humans, but it is an unattractive, powerful scent to carrot flies and cabbage moths. Calendula, (marigold), is a traditional French potager plant used ward-off aphids, white flies and potato beetles. French marigold is also a deterent to nematodes and tomato hornworm. Basil and borage are also unappealing to tomato hornworm, and basil in particular makes a great edging plant for tomatoes. Surrounding tomatoes with basil may fool insect pests by masking the attractive odor of the tomatoes. Sage deters carrot fly and it also is unappealing to cabbage moth, as is thyme, hyssop and artemesia.

Companion planting also utilizes the harmonious and beneficial relationships between the plants themselves. Some crops, when grown near one another, may grow and yield better, and also protect one another from insect pests. Native Americans developed companion planting schemes based on such experiences; growing pole beans with corn for support, and surrounding corn with squash to deter raccoons, (apparently they dislike climbing over the leafy plants). Clearly it is important to plant taller or larger-growing crops, (like corn, pole beans and pumpkins for example), in beds where they can spread out and up without blocking sun, or smothering smaller crops near-by.

Most gardeners love to grow tomatoes. Herbs like parsley, basil, mint and chives are all good companions for tomatoes.  Flowers, such as nasturtium, marigold, and bee-balm also make good neighbors for tomatoes of all kinds. Lettuce grows well at the foot of tomato plants, and cucumbers, celery and chili peppers are happy near-by, (with proper spacing of course). Keep in mind that tomatoes, eggplant, bell pepper and potatoes should not be grown directly next to one another, as they all attract Colorado potato beetle. When planting these plants, mix them up with other plant groups, like herbs and lettuce. Another planting combination to avoid is tomatoes and corn, as they both attract a pest known by two names: corn ear worm/tomato fruit worm. Try planting tomatoes and corn at opposite corners of the garden to deter these pests.

Pole beans are also popular potager plants, and in general they will do best planted away from members of the cabbage family, (broccoli, cauliflower, cress, kale, mizuna, arugula, radish, turnip, brussel sprouts). However most bush-beans are not so picky. All beans do well mingled with rosemary and celery, but should not be next-door-neighbors with fennel, basil and onion.

Cucumbers, another back-yard favorite, are a rewarding, fast-producing crop. They grow well near bush beans, eggplant, cabbages, peas, tomatoes lettuce and all herbs except sage.  It is wise to avoid planting cucumbers near potatoes, and also provide separation between this plant and squash, pumpkin and melon, as they are all host to the stem and fruit boring pickle worm.

Summer squash and zucchini are also popular garden crops, and they make great companions for onions, radishes, and corn and celery.  But as mentioned above, this plant is best grown away from cucumber and potatoes, to deter pests.

Head lettuce grows well beside most vegetable plants, and it does particularly well in mid-summer near taller plants, as they give the lettuce a bit of shade. Pole beans or peas provide an excellent opportunity to test this synergistic relationship. Because lettuce is a fast growing crop, benefitting from cool conditions, it can be sown at the feet of many vegetables through out the growing season.

These planting suggestions are best viewed as guides, not hard and fast rules. There are many, many more plant relationships to explore.  Research companion planting online, and in some of the books mentioned on this site in the ‘Bookstore / Library’ (page left), under the ‘vegetable garden’,(last section). Try keeping a journal of your garden to note your experiences with companion planting, and to help you plan your garden next year. Remember that synergistic plant relationships can help reduce the need for insecticidal soaps and other pesticides. Above all, keep in mind that vegetable gardening is good for you in many ways. Experimenting with the beauty and benefits of herbs and flowers can only help you to enjoy companion planting as part of your overall garden experience.

flower-baskets-in-potagerNewly planted flower baskets in this year’s potager will attract beneficial insects

herbs-in-the-gardenThyme, rosemary, savory and chives at the vegetable garden entry

Article copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

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