Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunflower Houses, Part 1



By Trial Garden Manager Lindsay Del Carlo


We were recently inspired by author Sharon Lovejoy and her book Sunflower Houses which features lots of ideas for gardening with children, and decided to grow our own sunflower house. It’s a fun project to do with kids because they can have their own secret hideout and experience the wonder of these towering plants with huge flowers that are visited by birds, bees and butterflies.
(read more about Sharon at: www.sharonlovejoy.com)

Planting the house
First, choose a sunny site with plenty of room to lay out the “house.” We are making ours a rectangle about eight feet on the long sides and five feet front and back. Scrape away a strip about a foot wide for planting along three sides of the perimeter, leaving an entry opening on the front. Prepare the soil in the planting strip, removing any grass, weeds or stones and turning the soil over. Turn in a few inches of compost into the prepared planting strip and be sure to add an all-purpose fertilizer, working it into the soil.


Sunflower House entrance

We chose to use our Van Gogh Sunflowers to create the walls of the our house. This variety has tall, sturdy straight stalks with uniformly big, bright, sunny yellow flowers. The plants are growing almost daily now and it’s fun to watch the “walls” get taller and taller. 


We also planted pumpkins along the walk that leads to the sunflower house. We will follow up soon when the sunflowers are in full bloom and we invite some kids to play in our house.
 
Pumpkins line the pathway to the house




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Growing Great Garlic #2: Harvesting

by Renee Shepherd and Lindsay Del Carlo

Garlic is both easy to grow and takes up so little space that just about every gardener, even those with very limited space, can raise enough to be happily self-sufficient in this important and healthy cooking essential. Check out the especially flavorful garlic varieties we sell; they will be available for ordering in late summer. This is the second installment in documenting the whole process of planting, growing and harvesting garlic. Read the first installment on planting and growing here.

Garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested when the leafy tops are mostly dry and some begin to fall over.  Loosen one of the bulbs with a shovel, and gently pull it out of the ground. If it is fully formed with plump cloves, the other bulbs are ready as well. 

Dig up the rest, shake off any loose excess soil, but don’t try to really clean them up at this point because it will be much easier and less damaging if they dry out first. 

Lay the freshly harvested bulbs out on the garden bed to dry and rest in the sun for about a week. (If it is very hot in your area, put them in light or dappled shade.)

Lay the garlic on top of the garden bed to dry in the sun

After this initial drying the garlic bulbs will be dry and skins will be papery. Now it is easy to dust off excess clinging soil, trim the roots back, and cut off the tops. Next, lay the bulbs out in one layer in a cool, dry area with good air circulation out of the sun to cure for 2-3 more weeks. This period allows the bulbs to toughen up and be ready for storage. 
  
Let garlic dry further in a cool dry place after trimming back roots and tops

For best results, store your well-cured garlic in a cool and dry place (50°- 60° F would be ideal) and don’t stack the heads over 4 inches deep. With good storage conditions, you can expect about 6 to 8 months for softneck garlic varieties and 3 to 4 months for hardneck garlics. 

“Garlic keepers” made of terracotta or ceramic, or net/mesh bags allow some air circulation for garlic bulbs and work well to keep garlic for extended use.

 "Garlic Keepers" and net bags are great for storing garlic in a pantry


Friday, May 16, 2014

Follow the Yurt

by guest author Devona Finney
Renee's Garden Customer Service Manager

Devona has a degree in interior design and studies in green architecture, and uses her creative skills to solve our customer problems efficiently and quickly. We think her alternative homebuilding project is so exciting we wanted to share it with our blog friends:
Devona hard at work
The Yurt inspiration that we like
and will do our best to incorporate along the way
Building a yurt or alternative home structure has always been a dream of mine. I decided to finally take the leap building a 30’ yurt when it no longer made sense to pay high monthly rent.  My boyfriend and I decide to purchase our yurt while on a road trip in Oregon.  The company we decided to go with is called Pacific Yurt and has been around for over 30 years. 
The plan to do most of the work ourselves has given us the opportunity to build exactly what we envision for a home.  I started a blog to document the process involved along the way.  You can take a look here: http://yurtliving.tumblr.com/

So far we have built a 21 pier foundation that will support a 50’ tridecagon deck (13 sided polygon).  We are almost ready to lay down the redwood deck this weekend which will mark a significant milestone in the project. Stay tuned for the yurt raising coming in the next few weeks!
The foundation is complete

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Keeping Bambi Out: Easy on the Eye Fencing Solutions



By Trial Garden Manager Lindsay Del Carlo

  
This article on how we construct our nearly invisible deer fencing has attracted a lot of interest from the general public, so we've decided to share it here for our regular blog readers.

If you garden in an area where deer are uninvited visitors, a good fence barrier is invaluable. It’s really the only thing that works to protect our garden plantings and fruit trees. We have 2 different deer proof fencing solutions using galvanized cable in addition to wood boards. Both are unobtrusive to the eye, practically invisible from a distance and totally effective in eliminating deer browsing. Deer don't attempt to leap over the fence because they cannot judge the height of the cable and will not risk hurting themselves.

The first method is one we used to construct new wood fencing around a freshly landscaped area to protect rose bushes – one of deer's favorite foods. First we placed 8 foot tall, 4x4 inch fence posts sunk into the ground 8 feet apart. Next we put three 1x6 inch fence boards horizontally, spaced 6 inches apart, between each post to create the bottom part of the fence; these fence boards go only to a height of 3 feet, so the fence does not appear as a tall barrier to the eye.

The next step is to string 1/8 inch galvanized cable between and through each upright fence post. Starting from the top fence board, measure 10 inches up and drill a 1/4 inch hole through each 4x4 fence post. Drill a second 1/4 inch hole 10 inches up from the first, and so on. Thread the cable through the holes to stretch from post to post, and secure at each end using 1 inch poultry staples. There should be at least 2 or 3 lines of cable.

1. Drill 1/4" holes through posts             2. 1/8" Galvanized cable          3. Thread cable through holes in posts

   4. Secure ends of cable with 1" poultry staples        5. Finished fence is 7' tall, yet doesn't appear 'closed'                               
The second fencing method was used for an existing 4 foot tall wood fence that just wasn't tall enough to keep the hungry deer from coming in to graze on our fruit trees and landscaping. We wanted to extend the height of the fence without making it visually obtrusive. This made the 4 foot fence into a 7 foot tall fence.

At each corner, for stability, you will need to install a tall 4x4 wooden fence post (7 ft. of the post should be above the ground) to secure the wire. We drilled three 1/2 inch holes every 10 inches (starting from the top) in those end posts, threaded the cable through and secured it with 1 inch poultry staples.

We then mounted 3 foot long, 1/2 inch threaded rods onto the top of the existing posts. Here’s how: First drill a 1/2 inch hole down into the center of the top of the fence post about 6 inches deep. Next screw the threaded rods into the top of the post (the threaded rod can be set with wood glue if it is too loose). Place a 1/2 inch flat washer with a 1/2 inch hex nut to secure the threaded rod onto the post. Then place three 1/2 inch wing nuts onto the threaded rod, each spaced 10 inches apart, starting from the top of the fence. Galvanized cable, 1/8 inch thick, is then strung from rod to rod, held up by the wing nuts.

1. 3' x 1" threaded rod              2. Wing nuts threaded 10" apart           3. Secure ends with 1" poultry staples

Finished fence. From 4' tall to 7' tall (you can build it as high as you like)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Easy Seed Starting Using Recycled Containers

  
By Lindsay del Carlo, Trial Garden Manager



Disposable containers can be used to start seeds.
You don’t need to have a fancy set up to successfully grow your garden seedlings. Many people have that one cabinet or drawer full of plastic containers that have lost their lids, a stack of yogurt cups that have long been forgotten or the clear plastic “clamshell” containers that you’ve kept around, and maybe an empty plastic milk jug or two. Disposable containers can receive new life by using them to start seeds. 

Food and yogurt containers or milk jugs with their bottoms cut off will need to have drainage holes. Use a drill with a ¼ inch bit to put holes in the bottom of the containers every few inches. Clamshell containers of store bought produce often already have holes in them, so this makes them very convenient for sowing seeds. These also have a lid that can be closed to hold in moisture when weather is warm.

Milk jug bottoms make good starting trays; Drill small drainage holes every few inches.
Clamshell containers usually have drainage holes and a lid to hold in moisture.

Containers that are about no more than 3 inches deep are perfect for seed varieties that will be sown close together and then transplanted. I am using these to grow tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil and spring flowers like calendula, bachelor buttons, Agrostemma, and Clarkia. This will insure that I’m able to scoop up all of the roots with minimal damage when transplanting. Small yogurt cups work perfectly as individual containers to sow large seed varieties like pumpkin and squash.

Starting Calendula, Pumpkin, Squash and Pepper seeds in disposable containers

You can start lots of seeds in your own back yard even if you don’t have a greenhouse. There are many varieties that will germinate just fine outside in a protected location that has morning sun, and partial shade for the rest of the day, especially in hot climates. 

Growing seedlings in these conditions is water wise and less stressful for plants. Note: too much shade will cause young stems to stretch out looking for sunlight, and causes seedlings to become very weak.

Many varieties will grow well outside
with morning sun and afternoon shade
I have made a special table just for growing seedlings.  Sections of ½ inch irrigation tubing have been attached with screws to the sides to create hoops on which to place bird netting, row cover, or shade cloth to protect seedlings. 

Note: Long season, heat loving varieties like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants
are NOT suitable to start in light shade outdoors. They need a warm place inside
in a sunny location like a bright window sill or
use a grow light set up to germinate and grow well.


Stay tuned and we will follow up with the next step for these seedlings grown in recycled containers. As soon as they are big enough, I’ll show how to transplant seedlings into larger individual containers or directly into the garden bed once they are ready.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February Recipe: Cauliflower-Brie Soup

A rich tasting and sumptuous soup that will  help make a cook's reputation. Perfect with our new 'Amazing Taste' Cauliflower.

1 large cauliflower (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
3 cups coarsely chopped onion
4 cups chicken stock
3 T unconverted white rice
1 T lemon juice
1 cup low fat milk
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3 T chopped chives
3 oz Brie cheese
Salt and white pepper to taste

Garnish: Reserved cauliflower florets, 1 T olive oil, Parmesan cheese, chopped chives, paprika


Core cauliflower and cut into florets (approx. 6 cups) - reserving a few for garnish. In a large saucepan, heat butter and olive oil and sauté garlic and onion until softened. Add cauliflower, chicken stock, and rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until cauliflower is very tender. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice.

Puree mixture in a food processor or blender, then return mixture to saucepan.  Heat slowly, stir in milk, cayenne, nutmeg, and 2 T of the chives and cook, stirring constantly, until soup is hot. Cut off the outside of the Brie cheese if it is crusty and hard. Cut cheese into small chunks and add to soup, stirring until it slightly melted. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

To serve: While soup is heating, sauté reserved florets in 1 T of olive oil until slightly softened. Roll florets in Parmesan cheese and drop into soup. Sprinkle with reserved chives and paprika before serving.

For more great recipes check out
 Renee's Cookbooks:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NW Flower and Garden Show Lifts the Spirits

by Sue Shecket - webmaster and NW Trial Gardener

The NW Flower and Garden show displays were absolutely wonderful this year and I spent a delightful day absorbing the sights and smells that inspire me to get those seeds started and pull out my pruning shears. The theme was “Art in Bloom” and the designers came through with some very creative and lovely displays – lots of glass (we do have Dale Chilhuly here for inspiration) and ideas for creating “natural” paintings and integrating art into the garden.
Despite the challenges of our Super Bowl victory parade on the first day of the show (which brought almost a million people to the downtown streets and created total gridlock) and an unexpected and very unusual snowstorm on the last day, there were plenty of smiling faces with arms full of purchases strolling the aisles and attending the many excellent workshops.  If you are in the area next year (or just need an excuse to visit) do consider coming for the show.  It’s a great place to get ideas and get pumped up for the next gardening season.
The "Darwin Orchid" is a huge glass work. The artist wanted to "bring to light the beauty that exists within the micro scale of nature" Live plants around it included many insect eaters.


This charming display included some delightful birdhouses inspired by Dale Chilhuly - who makes them for fun when he's not creating fabulous glass works.


The Arboretum Foundation display incorporated lots of glass art into the setting, including the windows filled with glass floats
Water features are still popular - even in rainy Seattle



West Seattle Nursery's team gave me some great ideas for "live" paintings


Their living wall was quite a hit.


 The finger-earth display was amazing -- the twig shapes are actually the artist's fingerprints and the earth is painted flat on the stone but when viewed from the front becomes 3D . 
 
Our friends at Ravenna Garden made our seeds available to show goers. With all that inspiration, let's get them started!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Seed of the Month: Cauliflower 'Amazing Taste'

Order today and get
25% off 'Amazing Taste'

Enter the code SOM14 at checkout
(good thru 2/28/14)


 
Cauliflower 'Amazing Taste' is an outstanding variety that yields dense, 6 to 7 inch, dome-shaped heads with tender, creamy-white curds and superb mild, sweet flavor. 

These top quality hybrid plants grow quickly, producing strong outer wrapper leaves that protect both the quality and color of the developing cauliflowers for harvestable heads extra early in the season. The heads are delicious whether cut up raw in salads, quickly steamed, or tossed with olive oil and roasted to nutty perfection.


Monday, January 27, 2014

January Recipe: Basque Chard, Lamb and Bean Stew

A wonderfully hearty, but not too rich dish that shows off the traditional ingredient combinations of Basque cooking. A great way to use your homegrown herbs and vegetables!

4 T olive oil
2 pounds lean boneless lamb, cut into 1 1/2 in. cubes rolled in 2-3 T seasoned flour
4-5 large cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, finely chopped
6 carrots, sliced 1/2 in. thick
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 cups white beans (soaked overnight in water to cover by 3 in.)
4 cups chicken stock
1 large bay leaf or 2 small
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 T chopped fresh thyme or 1 T dry
1 T chopped fresh oregano or 1 1/2 tsp. dry
2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 large bunch chard (about 1 lb.) cut into 1/2 in. strips, stems chopped fine
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: Grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, olive oil to drizzle


In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat 1 T olive oil until very hot, add 1/2 lamb cubes and brown on all sides and remove. Add another tablespoon of oil and brown remaining meat and reserve.

Add the final two tablespoons of oil to the pot then add garlic and onions and sauté over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add reserved lamb and carrots, celery, drained soaked beans, chicken stock, bay leaf, parsley, thyme, oregano and sage.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for about 1 hour or until the beans and lamb are almost tender. Remove bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix in chard and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Taste again for seasoning. Serve in soup bowls and garnish with cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

For more great garden-inspired recipes, see Renee's cookbooks.


Recipes for Gardeners Who Cook





Monday, January 13, 2014

From Arkansas: School Garden Winter Update from Melinda Smith

Melinda Smith and her colleagues at her Jonesboro, Arkansas elementary school have successfully created the kind of program that is vitally important in the world we are all facing today. In their hands-on “garden classroom” kids learn lessons that incorporate basic science, math, nutrition and the environment. They produce the vegetables and greens used in the “teaching kitchen” where they prepare and cook their produce, learning to make and enjoy healthy meals. Melinda’s challenge is to keep the garden going, move ahead and expand the program.  Read More About the Program

After our busy fall season, we use our garden classroom time in the winter months to be creative with the garden’s bounty both for learning, fun and to do fundraising planning.

(L) Last harvest before frost
(R) Salad making from last lettuce harvest - 6th graders
When the garden is quiet in winter we can cook and craft in the student kitchen with the herbs we harvested from the gardens that the kids have either dried or frozen in ice cubes.

(L) The veggie trug, purchased with Renees Garden customers’ donations, lets us grow
food for our rabbits even in freezing temps.
(R) Our two rabbits, Oreo & Coco live in one of our outdoor classrooms
There’s time now to research new things we want try for the next year, plan for our greenhouse planting for our Spring Sale and plan for our own school garden planting. Since we have unpredictable weather in Arkansas, we do have random and unseasonably warm days when the students and I can do outdoor activities or work in the garden to keep the beds clean.

(L) Greenhouse activity in the winter
(R) Yoga on a cool sunny day
Since our school has an important central theme of environmental consciousness, we look for “upcycling” crafting that we can add to our Spring Sale and for our local farmers market appearances. We received a large collection of wine corks and it was the students’ job to research possibilities and to come up with their own ideas to make items that we could craft and sell to raise money for the garden. From the corks and dried materials from the garden, they designed Christmas ornaments, cork garlands,  cork trivets, earrings, necklaces, key chains, and note pin boards. We also collected discarded CDs and DVDs and made into drink coasters.

(L)Trivets and wall plaque
(CTR) Cork Christmas ornaments
(R) Santa ornaments made from dried okra.
Our most current project is crafting aprons made from old jeans. The students have ownership because they have to find and donate the old jeans. Parents, grandparents, local master gardeners, school staff and fans of our school serve as volunteer seamstresses for the actual apron sewing.

(L) The Apron Project has been a big success.
(R) Aprons from donated jeans made with generous Master Gardener help.
All of these winter activities are both “hands on” learning opportunities for the students and also very helpful towards achieving our goal of our financial sustainability for our Garden to Kitchen educational program and for the care-giving of our school animals throughout the year.

Snow in the garden classroom

LET'S WORK TOGETHER TO HELP: When you donate money Renee's Garden will match up to $500 of the total donations.

Donation checks may be sent to:
Jonesboro Public Schools
2506 Southwest Square
Jonesboro, AR 72401
Attn. Finance Department: For Melinda Smith’s “Little Green Thumbs” Account

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December Recipe: Lindsay's Wicked Good Thai Peanut Sauce

Organic Heirloom Cilantro
Add at the end to any kind of stirfry, steamed veggies or rice or put on chicken or fish – or just about anything! I've also used it as a salad dressing with delicious results.

Warning: this is very addictive stuff!

Ingredients:
3-5 large cloves garlic
large bunch cilantro
1 1/2 oz chopped ginger
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
1 tbsp hot chili oil or use Sriracha sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce (or to taste)
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp rice vinegar
hot water as necessary


Blend all of the ingredients – that’s all there is to do!

For more great garden-inspired recipes, see Renee's cookbooks.

Recipes for Gardeners Who Cook


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sowing Cover Crop Mix


Cover crops are a beneficial and often necessary part of the seasonal garden to both protect and enhance garden soil. Cover cropping solves the problem of leaving garden soil bare during the winter when wind and rain and frost heaving erode top soil and leach out nutrients. The use of cover crops creates garden soil that is fertile with the best structure to grow healthy plants.

Our Cover Crop Mix is a blend of several legumes, grasses, roots, and rapeseed.
Components:  (Left to Right) Austrian Winter Peas, Daikon Radish, Winter Rye, Purple Top Turnip, Rapeseed Mustard, Hairy Vetch

The legumes, Austrian Winter Peas and Hairy Vetch, fix nitrogen from air into their root nodules. Winter Rye Grass has thick roots which hold the soil to prevent erosion and takes up excess nutrients in the soil. Purple Top Turnips and Daikon Radish have long tap roots which loosen dense soil and gather deep nutrients and minerals. Rapeseed takes up large amounts of nutrients that would otherwise be leached by the winter rains.

When these cover crop plants are incorporated back into the soil in the spring, they break down releasing the nutrients and minerals back into the soil and add plenty of organic matter which improves the soil structure.

 

Sowing Your Cover Crop

 

1. Prepare the bed
Prepare your planting bed: Remove all crop residue and break up any large clumps in the garden bed. Rake soil over evenly.








2. Prepare the seeds
Before opening the canister, shake it thoroughly to evenly mix the seeds with the rice hulls. Then open up the can, peel back the aluminum seal and pour some of the mixture into your hand.





3. Sow the seeds
Scatter the seeds carefully, giving them enough space so that they do not germinate in crowded clumps which will only stunt the growth of the plants. The rice hulls are easy to see and a good indicator of how far apart the seed has been sown.



 
4. Rake the bed
After scattering the seed, use a rigid rake to work the seeds down into the soil to a depth of 1/4 inch.








5. Water thoroughly
Water the seeds in thoroughly and evenly with a fine mist sprayer.




6. Success
A big bed of cover crop fully grown out.


Incorporating Your Cover Crop Into The Soil


Method 1: This method works best when the cover crop will be growing for a short time. When 5-6 inches tall, use a garden fork, shovel, weed wacker or rototiller to turn the cover crop into the ground to break down and enrich soil for planting. The breakdown process takes about a month.



Method 2: When cover crop is 1 foot tall, pull out the plants, shake off soil and then compost the plant material to incorporate into the soil later, when it has turned into rich, finished compost. Timing depends on how long your composting process takes. This method works well if it is planted in small areas.








Method 3: When the cover crop reaches 1 to 1 ½ feet tall, weed whack to chop it down. Cover the chopped material with black plastic to hasten decomposition, then turn the nutritious residue into the soil 2 or 3 weeks before sowing your garden crops.









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