Sowing the Seeds of the Future: Starting Early, In More Ways Than One…

March 2nd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Dharma’s Sunflower Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are babies everywhere right now? While visiting my sister last week, we stopped in at her local bakery for a quick lunch and the place was just packed with expectant mothers, infants, toddlers and little children. Everywhere I go these days, from the post office to the grocery store, when I look around, I see dozens of tiny faces staring back at me. I don’t know what’s going on in your circle, but almost all of my friends are either raising small children, pregnant or trying to get pregnant and feathering their nests. Of course my sister’s son, Morgan, is just six months old. So when I first began noticing all the little munchkins, I thought I was simply becoming more aware of babies because of my nephew. But from what I am reading, it’s not my imagination, there’s actually something of a baby boom going on…

Dharma in the Family Garden, Photograph © Tim Geiss

So why am I writing about this on The Gardener’s Eden ? Well, even though I am currently childless, I really like kids and I think about their future all the time. As a horticulturalist, I worry about the way we treat our earth today, and what we will leave for our children and the children of tomorrow. For better or worse, we are leading the generations that follow us by our own example. We reap what we sow. What kind of seeds are we planting, if we’re planting them at all ?

Dharma and the Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Do you remember starting seeds for the first time? I do. It felt like a miracle to me then, and it still feels like magic today. One afternoon in mid March, my Kindergarten teacher announced that we would be planting seeds to take home in spring. She had us save our milk cartons every day for a week, to use as starter pots. After our daily graham crackers and milk, we rinsed the red and white containers and dropped them into a large bin. I can still remember the slightly sour smell as I cut the tops off my cartons with round-tipped scissors, and filled them with potting soil. I pushed tiny holes into the dark dirt and carefully settled my little seeds – I was so excited. Although I’d helped my mother and father direct-sow vegetables and flowers in our garden at home, I’d never started plants indoors while snow still sat on the ground outside. Every day, first thing when I entered the classroom, I would rush to the wide windowsill to check on the pots marked with my big letter “M”.  Where are they, where are they ? A week seems like forever when you have lived less than a decade. Knowing this, my teacher wisely chose fast germinating plants for her little green thumbs to grow. Soon, the sunflower and zinnia seedlings began to burst forth, pushing up from the soil…

Dharma’s Sunflower Seedlings, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Do you want to encourage a love of nature and gardening in the next generation? Why not start some seed indoors with a child you know. If the gardener is very young, (like my friend Dharma, pictured here in the garden she planted with her mom and dad), choose something simple and fast germinating, like sunflower, zinnia or marigold seed. Try not to complicate matters too much. Get a bag of seed-starting mix and a few trays of pots, and/or recycle some milk cartons of your own! Remember, the idea here is process, not product. Focus on the miracle of germination, and the beauty of photosynthesis, not blue-ribbon plants. Water the seeds and watch them together; sharing the joys and rewards of effort, diligence, discipline and patience. Need some help explaining how things work? Pick up a copy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Gardening with Children, Sharon Lovejoy’s Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, and/or Patricia Kite’s Gardening Wizardry for Kids. These books are filled with easy and inexpensive project ideas and simple scientific explanations for children. Looking for more ? I’ll be back with other kid-friendly gardening ideas soon – but for now, check out my earlier post on gardening books for children here.

Emerging Carrots, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Article © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Photographs © Tim Geiss. All rights reserved.

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

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Don’t Break My Heart: A Love Story Written in Old Fashioned Flowers…

February 13th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Sweet Peas, from Johnny’s Seeds

One fine day in early spring, a ravishing young lady named Poppy was out tending her flowers when, without warning, a smooth-talking fella named Sweet William appeared at the garden gate. Poppy was immediately smitten, and she leaned toward him as he drew nearer the fence. He was charming and handsome, and as he approached, Poppy detected an old-spicy scent, reminiscent of clove. Oh my – but he was flirtatious – and before Poppy knew what was happening, Cupid’s Dart struck her heart. Both of their cheeks flushed; hers crimson red and his Cupid Pink. Sweet Peas they soon were…

Crimson Poppies, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Sweet William Seed, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid’s Dart, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid Pink Sweet Pea, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Love-in-a-Mist filled the air, and Poppy began to swoon. Before she knew quite what she was doing, she whispered Kiss-me-over-the-Garden-Gate into her lover’s ear. Sweet William was more than willing, and he smiled mischeviously , tossing his Bachelor Buttons to the ground….

Love-in-a-Mist, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Blue Boy, Bachelor Buttons, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

And so Poppy and Sweet William spent many hot summer days, intertwined in the Exotic Love Vine, with the birds and the bees. It was a heady affair, filled with dew-kissing and silky petals. They swore their summer love would never end. Poppy dropped her guard, and soon she confessed to Sweet William that she was dreaming of White Bishop’s Lace and Cathedral Bells…

Exotic Love Vine, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

White Bishop’s Lace, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Cathedral Bells, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

But as some summer love stories go, autumn neared, and Sweet William began to fade away. (Well, OK, it’s also possible that he just wasn’t that into her, and that maybe he did run off with a certain Painted Lady – but I won’t tell if you won’t).

“Oh, my Sweet William, I know you must go”, Poppy sniffed. “But please, please promise to Forget-Me-Not“. And as the bright color faded from her cheeks, Sweet William disappeared. Poppy grew pale, and shadows appeared on the horizon. Poor Poppy – sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we plan, and our Love-Lies-Bleeding on the ground…

Painted Lady, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Forget-Me-Not, from Johnny’s Seeds

Love-Lies-Bleeding, from Johnny’s Seeds

The months of late fall soon arrived, with Poppy all alone in the withering garden. But by the holidays, Poppy realized she wouldn’t be alone for long. Come spring there was a new arrival in the garden, and Poppy found, much to her great joy, that the warmth of her delicate new Baby’s Breath made up for her heartbreak all around…

Baby’s Breath, from Baker Creek Seeds

HAPPY  VALENTINE’S  DAY    XO    MICHAELA

** All names in this story have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent** ***Please spread your seed responsibly***

Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All images here come via the respective links. 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? 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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Companion Planting in the Organic Vegetable Garden

June 2nd, 2009 § 13 comments § permalink

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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