Dahlia ‘Dalaya Yogi’ Delightful in My Garden

 

Picture of a dahlia

Dahlia ‘Dalaya Yogi’ I planted in my back garden

Dahlia ‘Dalaya Yogi’

A Dahlia hybrid / A perennial / Annual in some zones

Grows to 16 inches / Grows in full sun and part shade

The pink is irresistible / Delightful in my back garden

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Garden Geek’s Geeky Garden Basics

geeky garden basics series

Today I am launching a series of posts called Garden Geek’s Geeky Garden Basics (As I’ve Discovered Them to be Thus Far). This series aims to discuss a few of the basics of gardening from a beginner’s perspective. Consider it to be peer-to-peer learning for beginners. If you have a differing opinion on how something should be done, or expert knowledge to add, I welcome comments and gentle corrections.

Day One: Love Thy Soil

If you love your plants then you need to learn to love your soil. Your soil is an amazing micro-ecosystem teeming with life. It is incredibly complex and delicate.

Amend Thy Soil

Collage depicting soil being amended

I amended this soil with a mix of organic store-bought compost and homemade compost that was still alive with worms and bugs and microscopic goodies

If you love your soil you will always seek to improve it. I’m still learning how to garden, so I am experimenting with different methods of improving my soil. I’ve experimented with double digging (a lot of work), slightly raised beds, and simple tilling and mulching methods. I am becoming more interested in the no-till method of improving soil as it appears to be better for our land in the long run.

My soil has a slight clay consistency. Adding organic matter helps to make my soil easier to work with. It also makes it a much more welcoming environment for my plants. As for my soils pH and nutrient balance, I have home-tested it, but was not confident with the results. I tried to save money on a cheaper testing kit and the results were ambiguous, to say the least. I recommend spending the extra money on a good quality testing kit, or better still sending a sample to a lab. As a renter I’ve opted not to go the lab-testing route, as my husband and I do not plan on being here for more than a few years. Thus I generally seek to amend my soil according to the needs of the plants I’m dealing with. When in doubt, I just add a layer of compost- which leads me to the next point.

Love thy Compost

Whatever your soil tests results are, soil can always use more organic matter in the form of compost. So that is what I have been focusing on adding to my garden.

I buy compost and avidly make it myself. See here for a post about the compost debate, which includes a great TedTalk.

At the moment my compost methods include a rotating bin for food scraps and shredded newspaper. I also have a pile of compost behind my bin that is nearly ready to use in the garden (I have actually been sneaking some into my soil already). That pile you see in the picture below was once over 3 cubic feet in size and has been reduced due to a friendly donation of a huge amount of grass clippings. The pile heated up to about 160º F- which is nearly a composter’s heaven.

picture of compost set up

My current compost set up includes a rotating bin and several different piles

 

Love thy Earthworms

When I first took a shovel to the soil, and uncovered some earth in my backyard, I was horrified. Beneath the soil was a teeming layer of red worms, pill bugs and a billion unknown and unseen creepy crawlies. I think I may have even squealed! I said a quick prayer: “God, please help me to no longer be frightened of worms”. Luckily, He has answered my prayers- worms are awesome!

The amazing thing is those worms, and those other creepy crawlies, are building my soil for me. They are tilling, and amending and fertilizing, while all I have to do is sit back and watch. Of course, I would have to wait a longtime if I only relied on bugs to amend my soil. But that is not the point. The point is this: learn to love your soil and learn to love the bugs in it- they are doing good for your soil!

To learn more about earthworms see this informative article.

Keep Thy Soil Organic

If you love your soil, you’ll be more likely to think twice before you add any chemicals to it. When you do make additions to your soil try to choose organic. It is ultimately up to you to decide how dedicated you want to be with organic practices in your garden. I think organic gardening is wonderful and well worth it. The imperfections, the challenges and the weeding enrich my garden experience (for the most part).

Build your soil. Prepare your soil. Have it tested. Amend your soil. Love your soil. Compost, compost, compost! Think of your soil as a living, breathing microscopic world!

And if I haven’t convinced you yet, then here’s a little video about how amazing soil is:

Sprouts & Seedlings & Companion Planting

Seed Starting Update

A while ago, I showed you my sweet basil seedlings that I had started from seed.

Today they are flourishing!

 

sweet basil seedlings growing

Sweet Basil seedlings flourishing over a two-week span

 

In this post, I wanted to demonstrate the ease of seed starting. I sowed some heirloom purple opal basil and some plain ol’ chives, side-by-side. That previous post only addressed the purple opal basil, but I did sow some chives right next to that basil.

seed starting basil chives

Purple Opal Basil and Chives started side-by-side

Companion Seed-Starting

I am interested to see how these two plants do, started side-by-side. Companion planting is fascinating but also confusing (here is a decent guide to companion planting). I love the idea of creating plant communities that support one-another. I was unable to find information on whether you should plant basil and chives together, but I do know that both are compatible with tomatoes. So perhaps they are compatible with one another. Considering my lack of experience, this will be quite the experiment.

Has any one had experience with starting different seeds together? What about companion planting in general? Leave a comment if you have some advice.

Happy Gardening!

First Harvest

In a previous post I showed you my “Super Ninja Arugula”.

arugula

Super Ninja Arugula

 

Well, I have begun to harvest that arugula. 

arugula

 

Imperfect Produce

If you take a good look at the photo above you will see a little slug damage. That is the beauty of organic gardening- the imperfection. At the grocery store we expect perfect produce. No holes, perfect color, shiny plastic fruits and veggies. I am totally guilty of having that expectation. Yet we all know that the perfect produce found in our supermarkets is mostly a result of a combination of herbicides and pesticides. These chemicals keep away pests, ones just like my slugs, in order to give us this perfect produce.

I’m aware that I am probably preaching to the converted. I just think it’s worth reiterating- organic gardening has shown me that my expectations of food are all wrong. Turns out, my arugula tastes amazing! It has this peppery surge that is missing in most store-bought arugula.

Let Us Eat Arugula

So what to do with all this arugula? I have been harvesting it as it grows. I take as much as I need each time a recipe calls for it.  And, of course, we have been eating an awful lot of arugula salads lately. I’ve also put it in my sandwiches and burgers. Check this bad boy out:

 

fish burger arugula

 

Of course, the slug-damage went largely un-noticed whilst we enjoyed these burgers!

Happy Gardening!

 

 

Glorious Blackberries

More Berries

It seems I can’t resist the call of sweet berries in the summertime!

I spied a blackberry plant on sale at my local grocery store. I just couldn’t resist. Reasonable price. Nice looking young thang.

And here it is, my very own Triple Crown thornless blackberry baby.

blackberryplant

 

FYI

The Triple Crown Blackberry Plant:

  • Grows medium sized, sweet fruit through the summer
  • Is thornless- we can all agree- that is a plus
  • Likes full sun
  • Is happy in USDA Zones 5-9
  • Will probably require some trellising and support

 

Trellising? Oh Dear!

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have this bad habit of going to the nursery/grocery store/pharmacy/anywhere and purchasing plants. Just because I think they are pretty and beautiful and perhaps they will be yummy on my plate.

And then I get home. And I begin to research. And then I have to go back out and purchase soil amendments (my compost is still a-cooking). And then I get home. Amend the soil. Plant the stupid beautiful plant. Water the stupid beautiful plant. Fall in love with the stupid beautiful plant. Find out I have to buy a trellis for the stupid beautiful plant. And out I go again. All this with a toddler. She is mostly alongside digging or watering and being my gardening version of a wingman. She is awesome.

misstoddler gardening.png

Miss Toddler being my garden wingman

What Not to Do

My blackberry plant is finally in the ground- with some magical, acidifying organic… grey looking…. stuff… the lady at the nursery gave me for… free… Now that I’ve actually written that sentence- I’m a little worried. What on earth did I amend my soil with? The lady at the nursery was very helpful and she did say it was organic, but really that was a rookie mistake not knowing what I was amending my soil with.

Perhaps I’ll create a new category- “things not to do when you are learning how to ‘culture hortus’. Or however the Latin goes.”

What to do

  1. First, give your blackberry plant a nice talking to. Tell him/her (this variety is considered to be self-fertile) not to grow too fast or too crazy.
  2. Dig a hole about 1 foot by 1 foot and remove the plant from its pot gently.
  3. Put the plant in the hole.
  4. This step is important– add a soil amendment. When you do, it is preferable that you know what that soil amendment is– peat-based potting mix was recommended on my instructions.
  5. Water it well and keep that baby moist until shoots appear. After that, water 1-2 times per week.
  6. Fertilize with acid fertilizer- again know what your putting in your soil (I am totally addressing myself here).

You can choose to build a trellis to start training your blackberries and supporting them as they grow. I am currently working on one myself. Here is a video I recommend watching. Short, informative and to-the-point, and you’ve gotta love the guy:

Has anyone had experience growing blackberries? Feel free to leave your advice.

Happy Gardening!

Our Gardens Are Little Pieces of Our Earth

In honor of Earth Day, which has just begun for you Aussie folks, and which is tomorrow for those of us in the US:

Gardening For Our Earth- Not Against it

Image

A little piece of Earth

Your garden can be your place to start small in making an environmental difference. (Starting gardening on a small-scale in your garden is a whole other story). When the world seems too big to ‘save’, when we throw our hands in the air and say ‘how can one little me make a difference?”, sometimes the best place to start is simply in your own backyard. A garden is a manageable slice of the world to make a difference in.

I am not dismissing the many other vital large-scale environmental causes. We can, and should, contribute to these things- that is one of the things that Earth Day is all about. What I am saying is sometimes it helps to start right here in our own backyards.

Why?

  • It helps us see that we can affect change- When I began to compost, I very quickly saw the beginnings of a closed system style of gardening. It felt so good to make all of my food waste, paper products and garden waste work for me. Each time I added this “trash” to the compost pile I imagined the dump that they might otherwise be rotting underground in. I began to understand that ‘little me’ could do things to affect change.

 

  • It can create a micro-ecosystem- where wildlife and domestic life can co-exist. That same compost supports a budding ecosystem of microorganisms, worms, fungi and creepy crawlies. If you are purposeful, you can also use garden waste to create mini habitats for various animals. Check this article out for inspiration and direction.

 

  • We become more in tune with our consumption- Pushing the whole climate change debate aside, we are still massive consumers of a huge amount of crap. Reducing consumption, reusing and repurposing, growing our own food- all of these things are what gardening should be all about. Gardening in a responsible way allows us to reduce the amount of crap we consume. That is certainly my hope and goal.

 

  • We can begin to appreciate this beautiful earth- Once you’ve seen your arugula seeds turn into super ninja plants you can’t help but marvel at the incredible design of creation.
arugula garden bed

My “Super Ninja Arugula”- prospering despite a slug assault- helps me appreciate the forces of nature

 

What can you do? 

  • I’ve endeavored to use only organic products in my garden
  • I’m weeding by hand instead of using herbicides
  • Compost, compost, compost! Did I mention I love compost?
  • I’ve started to grow my own vegetables- the more I eat from my own garden, the better for the Earth
  • I’ve stopped killing every critter I see!

You, my fellow gardener, can do one of these things, all of these things, or your own thing. When things feel too big and too complicated for you to make an environmental difference, just step outside. Add some compost to your plants, pick some berries, feed some birds, let some wildflowers bloom. Allow your garden to inspire you. And then, when you’ve done all that- if you feel the call, you can move on to the bigger things.

Here is how you can take action, in big ways and little ways, this Earth Day.

Blueberry Rescue

Allow me to introduce to you my rescued blueberry plant

blueberry garden bush

A blueberry baby I saved from Grocery Outlet

 

I found him at my local Grocery Outlet- on sale and looking kind of pitiful. I thought I would take him home and give him the chance he deserved. And he has already started to grow beautifully. I have even seen a few blossoms!

I have been adding an acidic soil amendment- blueberries do like their soil acidic (we are talking around a 4-5 pH). I have planted him next to a cluster of perennials and am hoping that the plants will all get along- despite their differing opinions on ideal soil pH.

Has anyone had any success with blueberry plants? Any tips or advice that has worked for you?