Posts filed under ‘In The Garden’

10 Steps to Gardening from Scratch

A Post from the Archives:  Spring has sprung once again, with crocus, winter aconite, hellebores, and leucojum in full bloom.  With this advent of warm weather, I am super busy trying to get all my seeds sown and garden beds prepped for my business.  So it seemed like a timely opportunity to pull this post from the archives that I wrote last March.  There will be a new food post shortly, one with a delicious preparation of parsnips, sweet potatoes, and leeks.  In the meantime, how about you tell me what you’re planting in your garden or what you can’t wait to get at the farmers market now that fresh food (for those of us in the northern hemisphere at least) is coming back into season?   

Four shots of seedlings

One last gardening post and then I swear we’ll be back to food full time, at least for a few months until my garden starts doing very cool things that I’d be remiss in not sharing them with you.   I have been hearing from friends and readers (who really are friends too) alike that they are thinking of starting a garden for the first time this year due to either the economy or a desire to be more involved with their food or both.   Since I’m a horticulturist by trade, I wanted to take the piecemeal advice I give them and compile it into a post so anyone interested in starting a garden for the first time could have a look.   These 10 steps are best applied to a garden being created from scratch.  However, a few of them are good to repeat with an established garden once in awhile.  

It’s only fair to add a bit of a disclaimer here too:  these steps are a tad idealistic and presume you all have plenty of time and resources on your hands.   Reality may not allow you to take all of these steps.  Don’t let that discourage you.  These steps are just what I’d do if I were starting over from scratch.  Use the ones that make sense for you and learn what you can from the others. 


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March 18, 2010 at 7:39 am 25 comments

Flights of {Fancy}

Flights of fancy

May all your flights of fancy take wing today…

Magnolia and Dogwood Diptych

April 20, 2009 at 9:31 pm Leave a comment

Between the Rain Drops

Eternity_Flowering Quince

Ah, the sound of shoes squishing through soggy spring soil….

Well, the rainy days continue here just when the blooms of the magnolias, flowering quince, cherries, forsythia, tulips and anemones are at their peak.  In between showers, I slipped on my slicker and goulashes and went to take a few photos before all the beauty got washed away.  Spring is such a lovely season, but its flowers are awfully fleeting, which no doubt makes them all the sweeter. 

What’s your favorite spring flower?  I think I’m rather partial to magnolias as a whole and to this specific apricot shade of the flowering quince.  But really, when you get down to it, they are all shockingly beautiful in their own unique ways. 


Flowering Quince


Magnolia and azelea

Cherries and Magnolias

pink tulips

Forsythia and cherries

Magnolia and Pierus

April 16, 2009 at 8:58 pm 15 comments

On Seeds & Schedules

Onion seedlings

It’s early March.  Do you know where your seeds are?  Mine have been arriving in spurts as each different supplier gets them shipped to me.  My two favorite sources for seeds are Renee’s Garden Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  I think I should be ashamed to admit to you that I’ve got more than 35 packets of seeds in my storage box and more on the way, but I’m rather addicted to seed starting.  If you’ve ever started your own seeds, you’ve probably gotten hooked too. 

With a small bench in a greenhouse currently at my disposal, getting seeds started is easier than ever.  Three weeks ago I started my ‘Frontier’ onions, and they’ve done a tremendous job popping their long skinny necks up out of the flats.   When I start seeds, I fill my packs or flats with a very loose germination mix and soak it thoroughly with a gentle mist from the hose before sowing the seeds.  By soaking the soil/media first, the seeds don’t get clumped into groups by water droplets from overhead watering, and they start off with a wealth of moisture to get them happy and growing.  

My incubator system

My seeds tend to germinate much more quickly than the seed packet says thanks to a rather homemade system for keeping them in a perfect little pocket of moisture and warmth.  I use one of those flimsy flats that hold pots at the commercial greenhouse and invert it over the tray holding my seeds.  Then I cover the whole thing in clear plastic, sealing in and protecting the little seeds against drying out or getting hit by any chilly drafts.  The need to water them is cut in half, which is hugely helpful considering seeds need fairly constant and even moisture to germinate. If you’re going to give this system a shot, just be sure to use the kind of flats that have big openings in them so that plenty of light can still get through to your seedlings when they start popping up their heads. 
I typically leave this little incubator system in place for about a week after the first signs of germination since the seeds have headroom thanks to the inverted flat keeping the plastic off of them.   After that first week’s growth though, I take the plastic and inverted flat off the seed tray to let the seedlings have the maximum amount of light possible as they get their photosynthetic wheels turning.


March 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm 6 comments

Primer on [Urban] Permaculture

Wyck greenhouse and bees

I’ve just returned from a great little workshop hosted at the fabulous historical Wyck Garden on the topic of applying permaculture principles to the urban landscape.  Led by Phil Forsyth, director of the Philadelphia Orchard Project, participants got a great tutorial on how to put permaculture to use here in our Philadelphia neighborhoods.  Many of those in attendance were already practicing sustainability in their gardens and found the principles overlap quite a bit with permaculture.

Laying cardboard

Sheet Mulching Step 1: Cut back any vegetation, soak the ground, place a single layer of cardboard and/or newspaper on the ground and soak it again.

I bet several of you are scratching your heads, wondering what the heck permaculture means.  I won’t bog you down with a detailed history on what amounts to an interesting marriage between science and philosophy-bordering-on-spirituality.  If you want more on that, you can start your reading here and here.   The short and sweet version is that the term was coined in Australia in the 1970s to describe an official movement to design agriculture practices that were more….well, sustainable and permanent (as in not depleting our earth to the point that it would cease to be productive).  But the practices of permaculture have been around a lot longer than that; they are really the mantras of any indigenous people that has had to live off of the land, particularly in wooded areas.  At the end of the day, permacutlure, like the more mainstream sustainable agriculture philosophy, is all about balancing our consumption and waste in the natural world. 

Spread layer of compost

Sheet Mulching Step 2: Cover soaked cardboard and
newspaper with two inches of compost.

In my limited experience, it’s my understanding that  permaculture has four main principles: care of the earth as a whole, care of people in our neighborhoods, reducing consumption in all areas of our lives, and sharing our surplus with others, including knowledge on such topics as growing food.  Practitioners of permacutlure carry out these principles by employing multifunctional tools (i.e., putting chickens in your garden to eat pests while also fertilizing and giving your eggs), striving to be self-sufficient (i.e., use solar energy and grow your own food), and re-using everything they can (i.e., putting down cardboard and newspaper in the garden to suppress weeds and create a base for composting).

Spreading leaves

Sheet Mulching Step 3: Add a layer of leaves and then add another layer of compost and of leaves (4 layers altogether and about 8 inches deep).  Rake out to be even and wet down if leaves are blowing away.  Wait patiently for six months, and you’ll have a beautiful bed in which to plant.


February 28, 2009 at 7:56 pm 12 comments

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