Hood Honey Rocks Cleveland’s Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood

12 hours 5 min ago

Ronnie “Trey” Williams used to be a baseball coach and president of his local baseball league. Trey began Hood Honey to help bring attention to his friend Sam Booze’s organization “Leaders of Our Future America.” Trey asked another friend Alex, a former player in the baseball league, to help him after seeing Alex’s posts on Instagram. Trey and Sam had a discussion about the things they excelled at. Trey is very good at gardening and coaching, and Sam had the financial muscle to support the project. In the neighborhood where they grew up, Trey and Sam started an organization to create and support future American leaders, starting with an urban farm.

A primary educational focus at Hood Honey is, of course, the honeybees. Bees, their life cycles and honey production bring interest, attention and practical learning to young people in this community. Trey feels the knowledge that’s gained here with the bees builds with the additional experiences involved in gardening. The honey business gives rise to financial literacy, and the layers of learning and wisdom continue to develop from there. The farm exemplifies their mission of black economic development in the Mt Pleasant region.

“Lots” of Opportunities

The Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Trey’s childhood sits right in the middle of Cleveland and has quite a history. In the late 1800s, in lieu of cash, many African American workers were paid with lots on these streets where they built homes for their families. Now, decades later, the neighborhood needs work. Many houses have been demolished leaving bare, empty lots.

In 2021 Trey and Sam privately funded the initial beehive project. They received grant funding from St. Luke’s Foundation, in Cleveland, and put their focus on a few different neighborhoods. That grant was just a start.

The land where Hood Honey resides was once Trey’s grandmother’s property. Trey wants to expand this “campus” to a square mile of these vacant lots, adding chickens, goats and whatever is compatible in this deeply urban neighborhood, with a goal toward food sufficiency and education. There are convenience stores in the area, but no full-service grocery store, so food sufficiency is an issue.

Learning in the Hood

Field trips to Hood Honey prove to be an eye-opening learning experience. Groups of students come in from different schools and organizations to explore and learn. The kids are treated to classes where they learn all about bees and their life cycles and how they produce honey. They also get a tour of the garden.

One of the goals of Hood Honey is to make the garden a true “day care connection” where students can come and be safe and comfortable after school. Here they’ll learn all about gardening and growing their own food, working with the bees and honey production, but perhaps most importantly, they will be learning leadership skills.

Hood Honey’s excess garden produce goes primarily to neighbors. While being resourceful with what’s available in this area, such as donations of wood chips, cut grass from city parks and donations of chairs, garden tools and time, Trey is encouraging folks in the neighborhood to become familiar with the city’s farmers’ markets.

Community Outreach

Trey is hoping the garden will become a CSA site. In the meantime, younger kids plant lettuce and sunflowers, while older kids get involved in beekeeping. They also get the experience of doing a bit of weeding, mulching and watering. Trey and Alex do much of the work along with volunteers, and are hoping for more support as time goes on. The STEM Kids daycare supports the effort with volunteers and students, while Hood honey provides two garden leaders. Trey mentions that there are fifty other areas in the city where similar community garden projects are in some stage of operation.

The important multi-layered work that Trey, Sam, Alex and others are doing here will contribute to the knowledge and motivation of the community, in particular, the kids who whose leadership skills are being honed by this generous, hardworking team of gardener/beekeepers. Gardening Know How’s sponsorship program is happy to support Hood Honey and its goals. Donations to this incredible project are always welcome.

Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help. Click here to learn more about our sponsorship program.

Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Garden for Everyone page today.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

What Radish Is This?

Sun, 2022-12-04 08:00

I enjoy growing radishes. They’re easy, they’re quick to grow, and there are many radish varieties to choose from. Of course, I like choosing the unusual radish varieties like black radishes, daikon and watermelon radish. But recently this choice was made for me.

One Weird Radish

I have no idea where it came from. I wasn’t even certain what type of weird looking root vegetable it was at first. It was big. It was ugly. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I immediately thought aliens had landed, choosing my garden to grow some kind of strange body snatcher type pod for cloning us. Okay, a bit over the top I know, but this was one odd growing root.

I looked around for more but found none. Just this one grotesquely large root crop growing out of place among my flowering plants. Clearly, it was related to the radish family. Although the monstrous looking root was bizarre, the foliage was definitely reminiscent of radish leaves. But I didn’t plant any radishes in this part of the garden. So how did it get there? Apparently, the volunteer plant had found its way into this garden bed of its own accord.

Upon further investigation, however (researching Google for similar oddities and turning to plant experts for help), I discovered that it was, indeed, just your average radish – possibly white or yellow. It had become hideously overgrown is all, as I hadn’t noticed it before. Growing near the outer edge of a huge hosta plant and within the understory of the sunflowers and zinnias next to that, this little radish plant was basically hidden from sight… until it wasn’t. Somehow a little radish seed made its way into this garden bed unbeknownst to me. Perhaps, a neighbor was planting a crop and a few stragglers got left behind. Did the wind carry it? Was someone playing a trick on me? Who knows, but it’s certainly a mystery.

Strange looking as it was, the large bulbous root sticking up from the ground kinda grew on me. In a way it was sort of interesting. I’m known for digging anything weird, so I decided to leave it as is. Let’s just see what it does. It’s much too large to eat. At the time of this writing, nearly six months later, the overgrown radish plant is still there. Its unusual looking root has gone soft, yet it continues to put out leaves. Quite mysteriously, though, is the fact that there is now a lovely kale plant growing next to it. Just what in the world is going on here in this little patch of dirt?

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Categories: Organic Gardening

An Unexpected Freeze

Sat, 2022-12-03 08:00

Early spring is a tough time for gardeners. We’re eager to get started outside, but we have to wait for the last frost. Of course, we can only guess when it will be, so sometimes a frost harms early plants. These are a few of the methods I’ve used successfully to protect plants from freezing, and some I might try in the future.

Moving Plants Inside

I grow a lot of plants in containers to fill and beautify an otherwise large, plain concrete patio. These pots contain herbs and annuals, both types of plants that don’t grow in my Michigan climate and can’t handle a freeze or frost.

The simplest thing to do is bring them indoors. When a frost or freeze is expected overnight in spring, I just carry these containers into the garage for the night. Because I have cats who like to nibble, the plants have to stay there instead of in the house. The garage is just warm enough to keep the warm weather plants safe overnight.

Applying Mulch

We always keep a few bags of mulch on hand in the yard. We do a full mulch reapplication on beds every few years and keep some leftovers to patch bare spots in between.

That mulch comes in handy when the weather takes a downturn in the spring. For plants that are borderline hardy in the lower temperatures, I pile up some mulch and leave it there until the cold snap passes. I can collect the mulch and use it again later if needed.

Creatively Covering Vulnerable Plants

One of the most common ways to protect plants from freezing is covering them with something. Most of my plants are perennials or annuals I can bring indoors in containers.

In the past, though, I used to grow vegetables, some of which were very vulnerable to those later spring freezes. One year, I put in young tomato plants. It should have been safe, the last frost date long past. And yet, this being Michigan, temperatures dropped for a couple days.

I didn’t want to lose my tomatoes, and I didn’t have any garden plastic or burlap. I had to get creative and at the last minute threw a couple of fleece blankets over the plants. It worked perfectly.

Using Cloches

One day, I hope to have a bigger garden, and the time to grow more vegetables and cutting flowers. I have in mind the perfect way to protect those future vulnerable plants. I have seen innovative gardeners share their homemade, found, and recycled cloches to protect new growth, seedlings, and young plants during spring freezes:

  • An upside down plastic bucket
  • Water bottles with the bottom cut off, fitted over seedlings
  • Two-liter plastic bottles for larger new plants
  • Movable cold frames

While I dream of my future garden, I’ll continue to care for the plants I have now, protecting them from cold even as I’m eager to plant as soon as the snow melts.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

December Gardening In Michigan

Fri, 2022-12-02 08:00

Where I live in southeast Michigan, my garden is firmly situated in zone 6. This means only evergreens thrive in winter. Everything else either dies or goes dormant. Gardening in December is a quiet time here, but I still find a few things to do.

Terrarium Gardens

I try to keep my terrarium gardens going all year, but they get the most attention in winter. This year I picked out some pretty African violets, a peperomia, a snake plant, and a spider plant to freshen up my largest terrarium.

Over the years, I have found that it’s nearly impossible to keep a terrarium in good health indefinitely. However, some maintenance and care can keep it going longer. Throughout winter, I focus on these things:

  • Finding the right amount of light. Terrarium plants are tropical. They prefer indirect light. Finding the balance between too much and not enough is key.
  • Finding the moisture balance. This is another tricky balance. I have to watch the terrarium and crack it open a little to air it out or to add more water. Excessive moisture can rot plants.
  • Removing failed plants. Fungus can take hold quickly in a terrarium, so I keep an eye on it and remove dying plants quickly.
  • My houseplants also get some extra care in December—trimming back, fertilizing, misting—but most of my focus goes to the terrarium.
Moving Snow

Whether or not we get a lot of December snow here depends on the year. Sometimes it starts early, and other years it waits for the New Year. If there is snow in December, shoveling is a regular chore.

I shovel the driveway, rather than blow the snow because I enjoy the exercise. I also use that snow to protect perennials. As long as it’s not salty from the road, snow acts like a blanket for my peonies, bleeding heart, hostas, and more.

Enjoying Winter Veggies

Every year, I enjoy the fruits of the labors of my local farmers. As a member of a local CSA, community supported agriculture, I get fresh vegetables from the end of May through mid-December.

At this late time in the season, I see cold weather produce and storage vegetables. The farmers use plastic coverings to prolong the life of lettuces, radishes, and greens. They also give us winter squashes and pumpkins, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, and other roots.

My favorites in December are the squashes. There’s nothing like a warm, hearty dinner of butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and black futsu squashes in December. I like to save the seeds too, for roasting.

While caring for winter plants and baking and roasting in the kitchen, I also use December’s down time to plan for next year. This is the best time to dream of what comes next.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

How To Protect Container Plants In Winter

Thu, 2022-12-01 08:00

Each fall, a small town in Northern Ohio hosts a woolly bear festival to honor these rust and black colored caterpillars of the Isabella Tiger moth. Legend says the amount of black found on each end of the caterpillar is an indicator of the severity of the upcoming winter.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar Winter Prediction

Although science has de-mythed the folklore, it seems to me that these simple bugs can predict long term winter weather patterns as well as any college-educated meteorologist. After all, if humans could predict the future, life would be much simpler.

Case in point, if I knew the exact date of the last spring frost, I would never need to rush outside at dusk to throw protective coverings over newly transplanted seedlings. I would simply wait for frost-free weather to plant my frost-tender veggie plants.

Nonetheless, I always take notice of woolly bear caterpillars in the fall. If their prediction matches that of weather forecasters, I know to be wary. Winters in Ohio can sometimes bring a lot of snow and subzero temperatures.

How to Protect Container Plants in Winter

The vast majority of perennials I plant in the yard are winter hardy in my growing zone. Thus, the plants which receive the most damage from a severely cold winter are my container fig trees. Their size precludes me from bringing them inside the house for the winter. Besides, these deciduous fruit-bearers require 100 chill hours in order to properly break dormancy and produce figs.

For me, this means storing my container figs in my enclosed, but unheated front porch. Many gardeners find an attached garage also works well for winter storage of non-hardy species of container plants.

Cold Tolerance of Brown Turkey Fig Tree

If you’re wondering about fig tree cold-tolerance minimum temperatures, it’s around 15 degrees F. (- 9.4 C.). Most winters, the temperature inside my front porch stays a toasty 35 to 40 degrees F. (1.7-4.4 C.).

I know this because I now use a wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer. These inexpensive gadgets consist of a remote sensor which I place in the front porch. The base station sits well within my view on the fireplace mantle.

The read out is large enough that I don’t need my glasses to see it. (A plus for us older gardeners.) No matter if I’m watching the forecast on the nightly news or just happen to be walking past the fireplace, a quick glance is all that is needed for me to know my container figs are safe from cold damage.

Preventing Cold Damage in Fig Trees

Prior to purchasing this type of thermometer, my container figs would occasionally suffer bud or twig dieback when the outside ambient temperature dropped into the single digits. This would put the temperature in the front porch into the sub-freezing zone.

The amount of damage depended upon how cold the front porch got and how long the cold lasted. Now, whenever the thermometer readout indicates the temperature inside the front porch is dropping toward the freezing point, I know to crack open the front porch door which leads into the house.

This lets enough warm air trickle into the enclosed porch to maintain the temperature above the freezing point. Luckily, most winters we only receive a night or two of severely cold weather and the hit on my heating bill is very minimal.

Yet, I can remember one winter which was absolutely brutal. This was before I used the indoor/outdoor thermometer to warn me. Subsequently, my container figs took a hit. And thinking back to the previous fall, neither humans nor woolly bears had seen that cold snap coming.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Can’t Get Enough Rosemary And Lavender

Wed, 2022-11-30 08:00

There simply is no substitute for fresh herbs in cooking and baking. The dried, purchased ones are too old to hold much flavor and aroma. So, whenever I start a garden, I make sure to include every herb I can. I preserve my own herbs for use in the cold season and use them fresh during the growing season. I make my own pesto, chamomile tea, and lavender sachets for sleep. Two of my top favorite must have herbs are lavender and rosemary.

Ways to Use Lavender

At this writing, I currently have the stems from my lavender bushes drying on a rack. After they dry a bit, I rub them off the stems, bag them, and freeze them. I don’t throw away the stems but put them in the bath to release their scent. I use the flowers in a sachet to help me sleep, and also in cooking and baking. Lavender in lemon muffins is something everyone must try.

As a constantly sleep deprived, insomniac, I can’t live without my fresh lavender in the garden. The plant is very cold hardy, which makes it perfect here, and it blooms prolifically in summer. It will even give me a second bloom if I deadhead. As an added bonus, lavender in cooking adds a unique flavor to meats and stews. I make my own Herbes de Provence which includes lavender, basil, mint, fennel seed, thyme, rosemary, and a few other herbs— all of which I grow. I have several varieties of lavender, each of which has a slightly different scent and flavor.

Paired with my lavender quite frequently, is rosemary. Among the many rosemary uses is its pest repelling ability, and the lavender works well too. When I am in the garden, I rub either herb on my exposed bits to keep flies and other peskies away. It works very well, and I don’t have to resort to a chemical formula to stay comfortable. I have several of each plant because they are stoic, easy to grow, and I love the scent and color they bring to the garden. I have even tried growing rosemary as a topiary in a container, with quite lovely results. The ones in the garden I let grow naturally with arching, swinging branches.

A few of the other fun things I have done by combining these herbs are scenting soap and making an oil. The soap is refreshingly fresh smelling, while the oil is used as an air freshener, in the wash, on my hair, and I have even made candles with it. The combination is intoxicating, bright, and lively. One of the more important uses of the oil is for improving memory. Apparently, rosemary has been used for centuries to enhance cognition and retention. I am getting old, so why not?

More Herbal Uses

Bread is getting really pricy these days, so I have been making my own. I have 10 million zucchinis to use, so I made lavender, lemon, zucchini loaves. These are perfect when I host a brunch and freeze beautifully without sacrificing the flavor. Since I love sourdough, I put my starter to use and made rosemary sourdough. The possibilities with these herbs are nearly endless due to their aromatherapy properties and culinary uses.

I have grown both of these herbs for decades and used them mercilessly. I can’t really imagine not having these gorgeous, delightfully scented plants in my garden. They don’t ask much from me and they really bring in the pollinators when they are blooming. We call it bee T.V. and love watching the busy bees zip in and out for some nectar.

It’s lunchtime, so I am going to cut some rosemary sourdough and make a sandwich, then get out into the yard. There is something so satisfying about growing your own food and medicine. I will work in the garden with a smug smile of satisfaction.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Saving Up For Dream Houseplants

Tue, 2022-11-29 08:00

I love that the millennial generation restored the houseplant to its rightful place. They reminded us all with their obsessive trend, that having green, living plants in the home is a real delight. An unforeseen consequence of that trend is a rise in interest in exotic, rare, and wildly expensive specimens. These are the ones I dream about.

Pink Princess Philodendron

This would be the pride of my collection if I was willing to spend $1,000 USD or more, maybe even only for a cutting. I have loved pink foliage ever since I got my first little pink polka dot plant for a terrarium. Until I saw it in the garden center, I didn’t know plants could be truly pink.

Now, having seen this rare and beautiful philodendron on social media, I dream about owning it one day. Unlike some pink variants that turned out to be scams, this is the real deal.

Pink Princess is a cultivar of the Columbia native Philodendron erubescens. It has the heart-shaped leaves characteristic of a philodendron with pink variegation. The pink isn’t just pinkish; it is truly bubble gum pink. The variegation isn’t subtle. Some leaves are nearly half pink. I love this plant and would be thrilled to have it in my house one day.

Billietiae Variegata Philodendron

This is another striking philodendron cultivar that puts my basic houseplant philodendron to shame. Billietiae has large, elongated, heart-shaped leaves that hang like beautiful pendants from the stem of this houseplant. The original has leaves of glossy green and is expensive enough.

The variegated form is dark green to lemon yellow with gorgeous striping and spotted patterns. This type of philodendron can sell on Etsy for over $2,000 USD depending on the size.

Peru Monstera

Like philodendrons, monstera took the rare houseplant world by storm with many unique and costly cultivars. Monsteras have long been popular houseplants, as have philodendron. The easy to find varieties are inexpensive, attractive, and easy to grow indoors.

One cultivar I have spotted online that I would love to own one day is known as Peru. This is a “Swiss cheese” plant. The leaves are full of holes. Peru is not unique in this respect, but compared to other holey plants, the holes dominate its delicate leaves that look like they are ready to fall apart. This is not a plant for a household with grabbing toddlers or nibbling pets. For a few hundred dollars you can get a cutting and for thousands you can have a larger plant.

Shenzhen Nongke Orchid

While some philodendrons and monstera are within reach, this special orchid is truly a dream. Specimens of this completely human-made orchid are extremely rare and sell at auction for literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I love orchids and enjoy the patience and care it takes to be rewarded with their delicate, beautiful blooms. As an orchid fan, the Shenzhen Nongke is the pinnacle. The flowers are delicate and perfectly shaped with a pale green hue and deep reddish purple interior.

Created by scientists at a university in China, this orchid took years to come to fruition through careful genetic engineering. Don’t even try to find one because you won’t. Only a few lucky people even had the opportunity to buy one.

There are only a couple things working against me ever getting any of these rare beauties. The less important one is the cost. I wouldn’t mind saving and splurging on one. The real issue is three cats with a taste for fresh leaves. Whether I will ever own a rare houseplant remains to be seen, but I can keep dreaming about them.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Seasonal Light And Houseplants

Mon, 2022-11-28 08:00

Since I don’t live on the equator, or anywhere near it unfortunately, sunlight in my yard shifts seasonally. It’s less this aspect of seasonal light that makes a difference in the garden, and more the changing of the trees and the impact on house plants that matter.

Winter Light/Summer Light

My house has just a sliver of garden on the south side that sees the most dramatic changes in seasonal light. My office window faces south, so I definitely notice more light pouring through it in winter as compared to summer.

For the big swaths of garden I have to the west, east, and even north of the house, the changes are less dramatic. However, because I have a lot of big trees, winter is definitely sunnier.

Unfortunately, all that sun that gets through the bare branches doesn’t do much for my garden. It does reflect off snow and create a brilliant wonderland. In summer, the garden is a pretty patchwork of sunny spots and tree shade.

Houseplants in the Changing the Light

The light that comes in through the windows season by season is more of a consideration for me as the caretaker of houseplants than as a gardener. I don’t like to move them around too much, but we do change positions due to the light a couple times per year.

The garage is on the north side of our house, which means we don’t have many lowlight windows anyway. The southside windows are minimal but important. In my office, my very old friend the philodendron likes to sit on my desk next to the south window much of the year.

I have found, after many years of trial and error, that it prefers to move over to the westside window for winter. The southern light in winter becomes a little intense and has caused some leaf burning.

In the living room I keep a terrarium against one wall that gets brilliant early light from east-facing windows. That’s about all these low-light plants can handle. When winter arrives and the light lessens, I move it a little closer to the window. They go back again for summer.

The most sun-loving plant I ever grew was a jade plant. I had to gift it unfortunately when we got a cat that adores chewing leaves. Before that, I would move the cheerful little succulent around to the sunniest windows. It loved being on my desk in winter, taking in the light, and I loved how it cheered me up in the coldest, snowiest months.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Where Have All The Seeds Gone?

Sun, 2022-11-27 08:00

When I was a kid, my grandparents grew foods that you couldn’t find in the produce aisle. I’m not sure why, but they are certainly coming back. Especially at farmers’ markets, you can find many of these old fashioned foods that are now fashionable. However, 94% of our world’s seed varieties have been lost due to monopoly seed production. Big seed companies only want to produce certain seeds, so it is up to us to source and save any heirloom varieties.

Unusual Vegetables

My grandpa always grew at least one Early Girl tomato, so I always have one too. This is a shorter season tomato but it produces early, as the name would indicate. He also grew many produce varieties that you cannot now find. Even the companies with heirloom seeds, rarely have the types of lost produce he would grow. It is a pity that commercial seed production only focuses on their proprietary varieties.

One of the odder foods he always grew was kohlrabi. I had never seen it in the supermarket. To me, it was just one of those magical things grandpa could grow. I loved the crisp texture and zippy flavor of this alien looking vegetable. My garden is never complete without some kohlrabi growing.

He was also a big potato man. He had varieties that I had never seen, and some I haven’t seen since. He always had a variety of wax potatoes, but also fingerlings and russet varieties. I got inspired this year and punched holes in my many cat litter buckets. They house the 6 potato varieties that I started. I almost got some of everything, so I would have a nice balance of early, young, and mature spuds.

Allium is another family staple. To me, you just have to have spring onions, leeks, a few kinds of bulb onion, shallots, and garlic. There are also both hard and soft neck garlic, as well as some elephant garlic. These will often overwinter; they can be dug up on nicer days and used fresh or cured for storage. These recipe necessities will take me through the season and into the harvest of the next crop.

Did I mention herbs? We are a canning family, which means you must have dill. But as an ex chef, I also need a plethora of other seasonings. Thyme, oregano, chives, cilantro, basil, rosemary, lavender, and more are all abundant in my vegetable garden. Indoors, there are ginger and lemon grass plants. I use every one of these seasonings lavishly.

Unusual Seeds

In the early 1900s, seed companies offered hundreds of seed varieties. Today, that has dwindled exponentially. We are no longer offered the wide range of produce our grandparents grew. This lost produce is often not even in our national seed bank. Heirloom seeds are crucial to keeping food diversity and traits alive. Online groups and specialized seed companies are key to experiencing some of the produce varieties our ancestors enjoyed.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Following In My Parents’ Gardening Footprints

Sat, 2022-11-26 08:00

Growing up, my parents grew a traditional Italian garden. From rows of staked tomatoes to plots of basil, it contained everything my mother needed to make homemade tomato sauce. And without fail, every Sunday morning my mother would stand in the kitchen and start a pot of what we simply called “sauce.”

I was an adult before I ever heard the word “marinara.” But that’s technically the type of sauce my mother would make. She’d start by sautéing onions and peppers in a small amount of olive oil in the bottom of our “sauce” pot. The aroma filled the air. To this day, whenever I smell onions and peppers frying in a pan, it takes me back to those Sunday mornings of my childhood.

Next, my mother would add four quarts of canned tomatoes and dried herbs – all of which had come from the previous summer’s garden. All day long, these ingredients would cook down until the sauce was rich and thick. The robust flavor of homemade tomato sauce is one of my favorites and I would often “sneak” a small bowl when my mother wasn’t looking.

No Pasta For Me

Being of Italian descent, most people are surprised to find that I’m not a big fan of pasta. Instead, I would dip thick, crusty slices of fresh Italian bread into that bowl of stolen sauce and savor the essence of its homemade goodness.

Thinking back, it’s hard to imagine that my thievery went unnoticed. I’m quite sure the telltale signs of a sauce-coated bowl and spoon sitting in the sink ratted me out. Yet, my mother never said a word. I think she understood my passion for the sauce and not the pasta.

Today, I rarely make pasta for my family. Thus, I have not carried on the Sunday ritual of sauce making. But I still find myself growing the very same vegetables my parents grew in their garden. Rows of staked paste tomatoes overlook a sea of bell peppers and squares of white, yellow and purple onions. The basil grows in a sheltered location next to the house.

Not surprisingly, each year I fill my freezer with bags of frozen peppers just like my parents did. My pantry contains jars of dried herbs, onions and canned tomatoes. And while a few jars of those tomatoes are reserved for holidays and special occasions when pasta graces my table, most are used for chili, soups and casseroles.

A More Modern Garden

Overall, I cook quite differently than my parents and my garden reflects this. In addition to the traditional Italian veggies my parents grew, my garden includes beets, bok choy and kale. You wouldn’t have found these vegetables growing in my parent’s garden, nor would you have seen butternut squash, pumpkins or corn.

Yet every spring, when I plan my garden, one thought consumes my mind. I can’t help but question if I have enough tomato plants started. After all, tomatoes are the main ingredient in homemade sauce and old family traditions are hard to ignore.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Almost Too Easy

Fri, 2022-11-25 08:00

Let’s be honest. Purchasing live plants is one of the most expensive aspects of gardening. Whenever we desire multitudes of the same plant, most gardeners find it budget-friendly to propagate their own. My favorite way to expand my plant collection is by rooting plants in water.

Often called stem-cutting propagation, I find rooting plants in water to be one of the fastest and easiest methods of plant propagation. Let’s say I want the same color of begonia in several coordinated planters. I could purchase a pack of begonia seeds and spend months coddling seedlings.

Another option would be to purchase one begonia plant. Then wait a year or more for it to expand to the point where its tubers can be divided into several new plants. Luckily, begonias are one of the plants that root in water. I can purchase one plant, snip off several stems and end up with a multitude of begonia plants in just a few weeks.

Plants That Root in Water

Many types of houseplants, frost-tender perennial flowers, and herbs can be propagated by rooting plants in water. Some of my favorites include:

How to Propagate from Cuttings

I start by cutting 4-6 inch (10-15 cm.) stems from the mother plant. For plants like basil, I find the perfect time to do this is when the plant starts to get a bit leggy. I also use stem-cutting propagation in the fall as a means to easily overwinter frost-tender flowers like geraniums.

When rooting plants in water, I usually take more stem cuttings than I need. Not all the cuttings will send out roots and occasionally some will rot in the water. I’m also not fussy where I make the initial cut. I find it easier to trim the stem once it’s removed from the mother plant.

The next step is to trim each cutting right below the lowest set of leaves. The roots will emerge from the leaf nodes and any excess stem below that point encourages rotting. Before propagating plants in water, I also remove all the leaves that would be submerged.

Then I simply place the cut stems in a glass of water and set it on my kitchen window sill. I prefer using a clear plastic, disposable cup when propagating plants in water. This way, I can monitor the water level and see the progress of root development.

In addition to being easy, this is one of the few methods of plant propagation that isn’t time-sensitive. Stem cuttings can be taken almost anytime during the year and many plants that root in water will happily exist that way until I have the time to transfer them to soil.

I do wait until the plants have developed a decent root system before potting in soil. I like to see multiple roots about 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) long. I use a quality potting soil blend and carefully separate the stems if the roots have become tangled in the cup. After the cuttings are planted in their individual pots, I water thoroughly and keep the soil slightly moist until the new plants are established.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Getting Older Together

Thu, 2022-11-24 20:00

Family and health are more important than stuff and wealth. I firmly believe that, which is how I found myself in a totally alien location with gardening conditions unlike any I have ever faced. But, no matter. The blessing is that I can see my family much more often and we are there for all of life’s milestones, both good and bad. I’ll happily deal with this desert, heat soaked, arid region if it means I get some quality family time.

Family First

I moved to the other side of the state to be with my family. My folks are nearby, as are my brother-in-law and sister. I had lived on the opposite side of the state for most of my life, but as we are all aging, it seemed prudent to move closer to one another. It has been an adjustment to be sure. Just getting used to the weather has been a challenge, and don’t get me started on the weird growing conditions.

Without fail, things will start to fall apart as we age. This process has been happening in my family, which caused a lot of worry when we lived far away. Now I can worry still, but I am much closer and can keep abreast of any troublesome changes. That gives me some peace of mind. Plus, I can hang out with my twin more. When she moved here first, I missed her terribly. We are that classic twin thing, two peas in a pod. Double trouble. Better halves of each other. It is a wonderful relationship and one for which I am grateful.

Garden Thankfulness

Speaking of gratefulness, it seems we don’t take time out on a daily basis to consider our blessings. During the harum-scarum of daily life there is little time for contemplation, and yet it is truly important to recognize the bounties we receive. These are always reflected in the garden. The wonderful fruits and vegetables, astounding flowers, and lively greenery that brighten our days, are emblematic of the gratefulness we should feel for the gifts from our creator.

So, I am grateful for every aspect of life. Even the sad or bad things. Without those, how would we recognize the wondrousness of life. The yin and yang of good and bad go hand in hand as part of our experience of existence. And topping my list is family. All those that are here and near, as well as those that are farther away.

Today, as I write this, we are to expect thunder and lightning storms. Sounds a bit chaotic and wouldn’t be terribly fun to stand out in, but there is always a silver lining. Such weather is an emphatic excuse to avoid mowing the lawn. It is an invitation to bake chocolate chip cookies and eat far too many of them. It is a declaration of a day of lethargy. It is an affirmation to do what I like. Talk about grateful!

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Too Much To Be Thankful For

Wed, 2022-11-23 08:00

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, close enough that I’m already thinking about the menu. My family generally has the ubiquitous turkey for dinner, albeit usually just a turkey breast along with ham and all the trimmings which vary slightly year by year.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

At the end of our feast, despite the fact that the menu seems to be shrinking each year, we end up like most Americans with leftovers. When our family gatherings were larger prior to the passing of grandparents, etc. leftovers would get farmed out, but these days we end up eating our holiday repast for days past the actual holiday.

To the best of my ability, the leftovers get turned into other clever meals or frozen but even so, there is always something to discard. My dad said his family always gave the scraps to the dogs and/or chickens. (I assume the chickens didn’t get any turkey though…) But in my household we had to find another solution.

So where do the Thanksgiving scraps go in my home? Most of them go in the freezer and the turkey carcass and ham bone get boiled down into stock, but what about the rest?

If I’ve planned things correctly, and it’s taken me years to get here, we won’t have anything to throw away. But anything that does need to be discarded goes in the compost bin.

Composting Leftovers

I live in the city so we subscribe to the municipal compost service which just happens to end until spring at the very end of November. This means that unusable scraps go in the compost bin. Unfortunately, this means that Christmas holiday scraps need to be dealt with in another manner.

I think the best way to resolve the issue of leftovers at Christmastime is to invite more people over. Better yet, I will hope someone invites me to dinner so they have to deal with the leftovers. Actually, this year, we are volunteering at our local food bank and yes, even they have leftovers.

I don’t live under a rock. I realize that this “problem” of what to do with leftovers is a luxury not everyone has. What a problem, eh? Too much to be thankful for.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Carrots In Cubes

Tue, 2022-11-22 08:00

I am so used to being a vegetarian that I forget how extraordinary it is that no meat or poultry has passed my lips for 20 years. Both in San Francisco and in France, my shopping largely involves hitting the farmer’s markets or the produce aisles in grocery stores.

But this is hardly my family’s history and tradition. I spent my childhood in central Alaska, where the winters were long, the trees short and the vegetables few and costly.

E&E Meats

In my hometown, there was one general store that carried a range of products from woolen shirts to magazines to bear traps to food products. But don’t go thinking leafy greens. The food products had to be trucked up the unpaved Alaska highway and were of the durable sort: most of them came in cans and cost a lot.

My parents found and signed on with E&E Meats, a company that organized freezer trucks to carry frozen foods to people living in central Alaska. My mom would order in spring and by the time fall arrived a few months later, the big E&E Meats truck would be pulling up our road and unloading our order.

Carrots in Cubes

As is indicated by the name, the main product sold by E&E Meats was meat, and frozen meat constituted the largest part of my family’s deliveries. My mother was a devotee of Adele Davis, a popular food writer at the time who espoused the virtues of meat at every meal. Most people in town would also hunt moose and bear to supplement their meat supply.

As we got older, my sister and I were charged with moving the contents of the E&E boxes into the giant freezer in the garage. The family favorites were T-bone steaks and Polish sausage, while mom balanced the budget with large orders of liver which was featured at breakfast pretty much year round as “liver steak.”

What of vegetables? There were packets of frozen peas and cubed carrots, so I like to think of carrots and snap peas as the crops in my garden reflecting my family history and tradition. In all fairness, I should add that for special occasions, my mom would invest a large sum in a head of iceberg lettuce from the Piggly Wiggly market in Fairbanks. She would section it into quarters and serve one to each of us at Christmas and Easter.

My Vegetable Garden

I feel incredibly lucky to have been exposed to California cooking when I was still young. California brought regular vegetables into my life. Cubed carrots gave way to whole carrots and frozen peas to snap peas, and I learned to love “exotics” like artichokes and avocados and rainbow chard. Thanks to California veggies, when I moved to France and gave up meat altogether, it didn’t feel like such a stretch.

So if carrots and peas and lettuce are a part of my family history and tradition, they are well-reflected in my own personal vegetable garden. I grow lettuce year round in San Francisco, (not exactly iceberg but large and leafy), as well as peas of all different kinds. My carrots have never done particularly well, and tend to grow in odd shapes like little gnomes, but in soups they work perfectly.

It is sad that my parents’ choices were so limited and I know my mom felt she did the best she could for her family. Sometimes when I make a big salad straight from the garden, I wish she was still around to try a different way of life.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Is Planting Celery An Act Of Insanity?

Mon, 2022-11-21 08:00

When it comes to vegetable gardening, sometimes I question my sanity. I claim to grow my own veggies because they taste better and are less expensive than store-bought. Yet more years than not, I find myself failing when it comes to growing celery in the garden. Why do I keep trying, when I know my chances of success are so low?

Is Planting Celery a Crazy Idea?

I suppose all gardeners have nemesis veggie plants. You know, the types that don’t seem to thrive no matter what we do. It could be the plants aren’t well-suited to the climate, or the environment in the garden doesn’t meet their needs. Yet, I don’t feel this is the case when I grow celery at home.

I really think this fickle crop just likes to mess with me. Why? Because growing celery in the garden is what I like to call a feast or famine crop. Either I end up with more celery than I can possibly use or I have none. And I have yet to figure out why.

Starting Celery Seedlings Indoors

I do know growing celery from seed is more challenging than other garden veggies, like tomatoes or peppers. For one thing, celery seed requires sunlight to germinate. The seeds must be sown on top of the starting mix and kept moist. It’s also not uncommon for celery to take up to 18 days to germinate.

In addition, celery was originally a marsh plant with easy access to water. It doesn’t produce strong roots which hold up well to transplanting. Thus, it’s best to start celery seedlings in individual pots or cells.

I also know that outdoor weather conditions have a lot to do with my success or failure when I grow celery at home. Celery is easily stressed during dry weather. When this happens, the stalks become pithy and hollow. Excessive heat can also prevent the plant from developing wide stems.

Why I Grow Celery at Home

Even though I know celery has special growing requirements, I’m not always sure why this crop fails. It’s one of those mysteries which makes me wonder why I keep planting celery? After all, it’s neither expensive to purchase in the grocery, nor is homegrown celery better-tasting.

In fact, in order to produce the mild flavor found in store-bought celery, homegrown must be blanched. This can be done by piling dirt or grass clippings around the base of the plant or wrapping it to prevent light from reaching the stalks. Without blanching, my celery in the garden is a bit strong to eat fresh.

Additionally, celery doesn’t not have a long shelf life, nor is it easily preserved. There is no huge economical advantage to planting celery in the summer as it doesn’t provide me with celery throughout the winter.

So, I guess the real reason I grow celery in the garden year after year is that I enjoy the challenge. Unlike many of the other veggies I grow, I’m never really assured of a positive outcome when planting celery. And with more failures than successes under my belt, harvesting tender stalks of richly-flavored celery is always a special treat.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Sounds Of Silence

Sun, 2022-11-20 08:00

It’s not often that we focus on the sounds in the garden. As a writer, I am generally busy describing visuals about plants, with perhaps a mention of fragrance or odor. Sight, smell, but what about sound? Life recently offered me a lesson about the magic of sound in a garden that I do not believe I will ever forget.

Sounds of the City

During the 18 first months of the pandemic, I didn’t leave California. Travel was scary and, in many cases, forbidden. I invested time in my garden, delighting in the colors of new leaves and flowers, the taste of homegrown vegetables and fruits. At night could hear the song of the Pacific Ocean, but during the day it was blotted out by the sounds of the city.

Even at night, even in my quiet neighborhood, you could hear the sound of cars doing “donuts” in the intersections. And our part of the City was also haunted by the unwelcome and eerie howl of the Golden Gate Bridge, an unpleasant noise caused by the wind passing at a specific angle through the recently installed new west sidewalk Bridge railing. Yes, the city is working on a fix, but it was present most nights for the last six months.

Sounds of the Country

I was finally able to return to my little house in the French Pyrenees early this summer as pandemic traveling restrictions were lifted. It had been closed for 18 months, so the return was a moment of mixed emotions, enormous joy and towering apprehension. Both turned out to be totally justified. The house suffered from being closed up for so long, and we knew that hours of work lay ahead.

When I woke up the next morning, I started to make a list of the tasks that lay ahead. It was very early dawn and I decided to walk out into the garden to a spot where I could look across the valley to see the sunrise. The silence was stunning, no noise, no cars, no people. I could hear the river down in the valley and then, suddenly, from all sides, the birds started calling. In that moment, I was surrounded by birdsong and the beauty and power of the moment moved me to tears.

Sounds of the Garden

I will always remember those months on the mountain as a time where sound moved to the top of the list of pleasures. Birdsong was one part. Though the great symphony stopped after sunrise, baby birds still called to their parents for food and the woodpeckers tapped the oaks much of the day.

Then there was the song of the trees. All of my trees seemed to have doubled in size during the months I was gone and the lush foliage made glorious music in the evening breeze. Cutting weeds, I would sometimes hear the rustle of small animals and snakes hurrying away and bats zipped by, hunting for bugs in the twilight. The croak of frogs, the whir of dragonflies, the whinny of the wild horses on the mountain.

How could I have forgotten all these sounds of the garden, the music of nature that we lose in a big city? But I had, and rediscovering them was the greatest joy of the summer.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Cutting Back The Trees

Sat, 2022-11-19 08:00

I love trees more than any other plants. That’s why I planted about 250 trees on my land in France. When I returned to France after being locked out so long by COVID-19, I found myself living in a forest!

The best advice I’ve received in a long time came from my French friend and gardening mentor Maixan. It involved cutting back the trees.

250 Vigorous Trees

There is a difference having 250 seedlings in a yard and having 250 vigorous trees. When I first walked onto the property again after France opened the door to vaccinated Americans, I loved the shade, the overhang of branches, the birdsong everywhere.

Summer was a joy, since the Pays Basque tends to get too hot for my taste, and having ample shade seemed a blessing. When I wanted sun, there were plenty of spots between trees where I could tan.

Winter Sun

But as summer faded into fall and fall edged toward winter, I became aware of a natural phenomenon that I hadn’t really paid attention to before. The journey of the sun across the sky changes as the year cycles through its months.

Of course, I knew this in theory, but now I saw it in practice. Those big pines I installed on the rim of my property to shield it from curious eyes had grown fast. While the sun topped them in summer, the winter sun’s trajectory was lower. One day I did a wash and realized that there was nowhere to hang it! Those tall trees effectively blocked the winter sun all afternoon long.

Cutting Back the Trees

My friend Maixan urged me to think about cutting back the trees. I was adamant that I loved the forest. But she told me that pruning trees was an important part of tree care, that trees grew better and stronger with moderate and appropriate pruning. She reminded me that other trees inside the property required sun to thrive.

I admitted that I was afraid to cut back the trees, especially the conifers. She told me to prune moderately, keeping the shape of the tree intact, to prune in such a way that nobody could tell I had pruned.

This was the best advice I received about gardening this year and I remain grateful for it. After consideration, I decided to give it a try. I very gently pruned the tops of those evergreens, cutting back here, trimming there, allowing in the sunlight again. Other trees and shrubs on the land now get rays too, not all day but at some point, and I have enough sunny spots to dry my clothes! And nobody has noticed that I gave the trees a haircut.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Passive Gardening Through Winter

Fri, 2022-11-18 08:00

When I first began my growing journey, I was determined to create the best garden possible. Though my small backyard limited the number of plants I was able to grow, it was filled with both flowers and vegetables each summer. It wouldn’t be until much later in my gardening career that I would come to realize how much space had gone wasted during the cooler months of the year.

Gardening in Kentucky

As a gardener in Kentucky, I quickly became accustomed to the rapid change of seasons. Dependably hot, summer was a time to plant heat loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, and squash. When cooler temperatures had finally arrived in the fall, I was relieved to have finally found time to rest. Beyond the removal of dead plant matter and bed preparation for the next summer season, chores were minimal. I had never imagined that I would one day come to view fall as yet another exciting time to plan and plant a seasonal garden.

Hardy Annuals

Soon after I began to grow flowers, I would learn that continuing to tend the garden into fall and winter would open my growing space to a whole new set of plants – hardy annuals. Hardy annual flowers are those able to withstand exposure to periods of cold. Though cold hardiness can vary depending upon the species, many can survive frosts and even freezing winter temperatures. As a cut flower grower, I began to experiment with cold hardiness by planting these annuals in the fall. After sowing, the seeds would germinate quickly and overwinter in the beds as small seedlings. The arrival of spring the following season then marked a time of renewed growth, when the plants would burst into life and bloom very early.

The process did, however, require quite a bit of trial and error. While some hardy annual seedlings were able to remain in my zone 6 garden without any damage, others needed protection from the cold in order to survive. Among the most helpful techniques employed in my garden was the use of frost blankets and low tunnels. As both tools are used by growers as a means of season extension, they are invaluable in their ability to protect plants from bitter cold, wind, and/or snow. Frost blankets and low tunnels are also quite versatile, allowing for quick and easy removal, depending upon predicted changes in the weather.

Gardening in Winter

Though there is quite a bit of a learning curve, gardening through winter can be a fun and rewarding task. On cold days, time spent in a warm, unheated hoop house can be a very welcome change of pace, especially when surrounded by lush green growth. During winter, plant growth slows and may even cease completely. This is also true for many common garden weeds, which will not need to be pulled until spring. Chores, like fertilization and irrigation, also come to a halt during winter. As the weather warms, each of these tasks will resume. In my own yard, I usually begin routine maintenance in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in spring.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Finding Joy In The End Of The Gardening Season

Thu, 2022-11-17 08:00

As with all gardeners I’m sure, I feel a little sad when my perennials stop blooming, my last hardy annuals give up after a hard frost, and the cleanup is done. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of being out in the cold, so I embrace the time spent indoors and start thinking about next year.

When It’s Time to Call it Quits

Living in Michigan means having definite growing and dormant seasons. The edge of each season might vary by year, but it’s always there. This fall, the temperatures have been unseasonably warm and dry. Well into September I’m watering and deadheading. Nothing has given up yet.

One of the most important signs for me that the growing season is over is when my tender annuals give up. They let me know it’s time. They flop over and languish, and I cut them back and finish up the rest of the gardening chores for the end of the year.

This includes trimming back hostas, daylilies, and some other perennials. I clean up the trimmings and get the leaves out of the beds. I rake the leaves from the beds, so the lawn service doesn’t get too aggressive with the leaf blower and distribute my mulch all over the grass. I let him handle most of the leaves though because it’s a big job. One year we picked up around 75 yard waste bags full of leaves, while also mulching much of them.

Why Winter Isn’t So Bad

I’ll be very clear about my favorite and least favorite seasons: summer and winter, respectively. I don’t like the cold, but I love being outside. This is a perfect storm for disliking winter. Bundling up to be outside just doesn’t cut it. I am very sensitive to low temperatures. It’s not just the cold, of course. There is also the fact that gardening has to end for the year.

Part of me envies gardeners in warmer climates, but on the other hand, it seems like a lot of year-round work. There’s something to be said for changing seasons and using winter to rest and recover. Staying inside, drinking hot tea, and reading or watching TV is restorative. It prepares me for the active spring and summer to come. I can certainly find the joy in a cozy winter winding down and spending more time inside.

Another positive about winter is that it gives me time to plan for next year. If I had to work in the garden all year long, when would I dream and find inspiration? Winter is for flipping through gardening books and diving down a rabbit hole online looking for unusual plants and seeds.

What Now?

While I don’t do anything about extending the growing season outdoors, I don’t stop growing plants. During summer I tend to let my beloved terrariums go a little wild. I consider it their off season.

During winter, I have a few mini gardens to tend. They get all my attention. This year, I am trying to transition a philodendron I’ve had in a pot for years into a terrarium. Hopefully it does well, but I have all winter to keep an eye on it.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

A Necessary Evil

Wed, 2022-11-16 08:00

I’m a gardener but not much of a pruner. Don’t get me wrong. I do prune some, when it’s necessary, but other than that I tend to let things run their course in the garden. 

To Prune or Not to Prune

Not to sound like a total pruning grouch or anything, but I just don’t believe there’s any point to it for most plants – I stress the word most here. Many plants actually benefit from pruning. That being said, there are also benefits to letting plants grow. Take a look around at plants growing in their natural settings. Do they get pruned often, if at all? Likely not. And yet, they’re still healthy, growing and blooming as nature intends, not as we want them to. For me, this is how plants in the garden should be (within reason, of course).

As I said before, I prune garden plants when it’s necessary. Not for sport or just to have something to do. I have nothing against removing wayward branches from shrubs or trees when allowing them to grow means I’ll have to duck underneath just to take a stroll in the garden. I see nothing wrong with cutting or trimming something to maintain shape or height provided it’s nothing extreme. I tend to leave my perennials alone, with just a little deadheading now and then. Most don’t require it anyway. I’d rather let the spent flowers and seedheads remain for birds and other wildlife to forage on. This is one of the biggest benefits to letting plants grow.

When I do prune in my garden, it usually takes place in spring, although occasional trimming here and there may happen at any time. Cutting plants can stimulate new growth, and at the wrong time if you’re not careful. I wouldn’t want to cut back something in fall, for example, only to have it grow new leaves that die off in a cold snap. Still, even in spring you need to be cautious. Cold snaps happen. I’m not a big fan of pruning multiple plants at once either. I’ve seen many people do this. It goes without saying that without cleaning your pruning tools, the spread of potential plant diseases is inevitable. And if not pruned correctly, or if you over-prune, you’re only causing more damage. There’s just so many rules to follow and too many things that can go wrong. That’s why I’m a natural kind of girl living in my natural garden world. Just let them be.

Yes, it’s wild and carefree. And yes, it looks a bit untamed at times, but leaving the garden to nature makes it a more sustainable environment. The birds and local wildlife have plenty of food and shelter, the beneficial insects too. All of which take care of any pests lurking about. Besides some trimming, pruning in my garden is a necessary evil that only occurs when it’s absolutely required. Otherwise, I’m happy to let my beautifully chaotic garden grow as nature intended.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

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