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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Contributor: Sarah Moyar

Name: Sarah Moyar
Age: 29
Residence: Texas

Occupation: I'm a stay at home mother of two and the sole proprietor of an independent design company, Jedidiah's Novelties.

Interests: They're known to change on a dime! I hyper focus to a point of research many never care to obtain.

What brings you to backyard farming? I love the idea of sustainable living. I want to not only be a conscientious consumer, but also be as self sufficient as possible. I also strive to slow the pace of modern living and provide an outlet for myself and my family - bringing purpose and adventure, as well as retrieving lost education.

What do you like to write about? Armed with a background in health education, inherit farming lineage, and my mother's expert horticulture advice - I will be contributing urban gardening tips, recipes and whatever else inspires me. But beware - I am known to bake a pie or try my hand at any number of age-old pursuits!

What are you really good at?
Talking. I talk ALL the time.

What was your Mother right about?

Many things, but the thing that pops out immediately is health and nutrition.

What is one thing you'll never understand?


Something on my mind lately is...

What next?

Guiltiest pleasure?


What makes you laugh?


What is something that no one knows about you?

Let's not rock that boat.

My life would be simpler if...

I had a maid and cook. ;)

What surprises you about adult life?

It's way better than childhood.

Simplest pleasure?

Swimming, and sunny days in the 60's.

What are you most proud of?

Finishing my college degree with my oldest daughter.

What's the quality you like least in others?

Fake and unoriginal.

What is your favorite motto?

"This too shall pass."

Friday, May 30, 2008

Reader Question- A Thief In The Night

It has been so fun this year to watch my little tomato plant grow. We didn't have a garden growing up and I love homegrown tomatoes. So I have anxiously waited for my little tomato plant to produce for me. About six weeks ago my first little tomato appeared, followed by a couple others. My husband had planted pie pumpkins and a couple of weeks ago we were excited to see the beautiful orange blossoms open up. Imagine our sadness when one morning all of the orange blossoms were gone. We thought perhaps our daughter or one of her friends had picked the blossoms. Oh well, we still had the tomatoes. Imagine my surprise today when I went out and my biggest tomato was gone. It happened overnight while my daughter and my dogs were all tucked away in their beds. Was it birds? Bunnies? What can I do to prevent this from happening to my other little tomatoes? Thanks for your help!

Thanks again!
Kristi, Texas

P.S. I am also curious because the lower leaves on my tomato plants are all dry and kind of "hole-y" I know we are watering plenty (perhaps too much even?), do you think that is caused by some type of bug or is my plant diseased?

Dear Kristi,

Mere speculation on my part, but I assume the thief is a rodent. I would assume a squirrel or a bunny. Remember naughty Peter Rabbit? In this part of Texas we have squirrels that "forage" everything from almost ripe tomatoes to whole hibiscus buds. There are a few ways to handle your situation.

  • An organic fertilizer, Blood meal, (found at feed stores or nurseries) sprinkled around the base of your plants acts as a repellent for rodents. However, it must be reapplied after rain, or excessive watering.
  • Rodents can also be repelled by cayenne pepper. Or mixing a spray solution of 1oz Tabasco sauce to 1 gallon water. You can spray this on your plants, and it should effectively keep rodents away.
  • If all else fails and you can't beat them, you may just have to invite them over to dine. Offer a feeder, on the opposite side of your yard, filled with corn and sunflower seeds. In theory this keeps them content and out of your garden. It's only theory, but worth a try. Squirrels are loners and territorial so it should not attract more.

I harvest my larger garden variety tomatoes before they ripen on the vine. I have learned to pick them a little early (when the slightest shade of orange starts to appear) and let them finish ripening in the window sills. They are still tasty and I actually get to "taste" them. The birds are also very attracted to bright red tomatoes ripening on the vine. So I recommend an early harvest. I have also found that I am able to harvest so many more cherry tomatoes than I am larger variety tomatoes. I pluck the sweet 100s right when they turn orange. I bring them in and they turn deep red in my window sill. The little ones seem much easier to protect. I hope this is helpful. You've put so much work into your tomatoes I hope the next ripe ones are enjoyed by you and yours. If not... Annie get your gun. :)

P.S. The bottom leaves of your tomato plants will get yellow and holey. You should hopefully have fresh healthy growth at the top with lots of new blooms. If you haven't already put a tomato cage on your plant, do so. Because it should grow up and out!


Wednesday, May 28, 2008


This year I planted some asparagus, I'm extremely excited about it, especially as I see the shoots sprouting out of the ground.

Asparagus grows wild in Idaho, or at least it used to. It was a family tradition when my husband was growing up to go out on the highway and find wild asparagus and bring it home to eat. A friend was telling me that they had the same tradition. Her dad wanted to be able to remember where the best asparagus patches were, so he made some special stakes to mark where it was, he placed them next to each patch, but where it was also visible from the road. Then each year, the asparagus hunt was very easy, they just looked for the stakes they had placed in the ground.

If you want to plant asparagus you won't be purchasing seeds or even bulbs, you will be purchasing roots. I opened the bag and was quite surprised to find 6 jumbled root masses, not knowing what to do with them, I had to do some research on asparagus. Luckily I did, because I would not have known that you don't even get to harvest your first year. You don't harvest any spears during your plants' first year in your garden to allow the roots to grow stronger and more productive. The second year you get to pick a few that grow about the size of your index finger, only harvesting for about a week or two. The third year, pick finger-size spears for two to four weeks in the spring. In the following years, harvest to your hearts desire, take all the finger-size spears you want, quit harvesting when the spears that come up are thin and spindly.

White asparagus is very popular in Germany. I have never tried it, but it is said to be more tender, milder, and nuttier than the green version. To grow white asparagus, you simply mound soil on top of it as it grows. It must be done almost daily to prevent it from being exposed to sunlight.

Is asparagus worth the wait? I guess I will just have to wait and see.

Top image from best room in the house

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hens gone wild

After tilling the garden spot, our freshly turned soil was discovered by our happy hens, boy did they go wild!Not only did they peck out pests in my garden, they fertilized while they did.

Even the pullets (female chickens under a year old) got to join in on the fun.
As this is their first time out of the confines and safety of the garage, they were equally as excited as the hens.
Even with danger lurking overhead.

Unfortunately, now that I have planted seeds and little seedlings, it is back to the coop for these ladies until my plants are a little more substantial.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

What do you do with spent layers?

Layer: a hen raised to produce eggs.

After 2-3 years, laying hens outlive their usefulness. Their egg production drops dramatically, sometimes they start eating their own eggs. They just don’t carry their weight any more. I don’t like dressing out chickens myself. Fortunately I live close to a Mennonite family that will dress them out for stewing hens. In an urban setting if you don’t like dressing them out yourself and you can’t find someone to do it for you, what will you do with your spent chickens? This is something that one should think about before investing in the time and money involved in getting chickens.

~Dale Maurice Johnson

Thursday, May 22, 2008

So Happy Together – A Look at Companion Planting

From the 1894 book “Laughable Lyrics: A Fourth Book of Nonsense Poems, Songs, Botany, Music, etc.,” by Edward Lear. Image is in the public domain, courtesy of www.zorger.com.

Artists and authors have long ascribed human characteristics to plants. Flowers have faces. Roots are feet, stems can branch out like arms. Limbs and trunks belong to trees and people alike.

Thanks to Walt Disney and other illustrators of the same ilk, we’ve all seen an image of a plant with a perfectly human personality. Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland, in particular, presented giggling pansies, regal roses and hoity-toity irises.

So maybe it is with this whimsical mindset that I strolled through my yard the other day and saw not just peas next to a growing sunflower, but a budding relationship.

Look closely (click on photos to enlarge) and maybe you too will notice what tickled me a bit. The pea plant is starting to wrap its tendrils (fingers, anyone?) around the stem of the sunflower. Surrounded as I am by little children all day, I couldn’t help but liken this sight to a wobbly youngster grabbing for support.

The whole reason I happened to see this was because I was about to yank the sunflower right out; its seed, a castoff from some bird's meal last fall, hadn't yet sprouted when I planted the peas.

Now I’ll definitely leave the flower right were it is, thank you very much. Both plants will grow. The sunflower will give the peas a piggy-back ride up to the sunny sky as it becomes a trellis.

All this brings to mind the concept of companion planting. This is the practice of grouping certain plants to increase each other’s effectiveness. Ah yes, garden synergy. It can be as easy and casual as planting flowers near your vegetables to lure pollinating insects, or as ambitious as combining plants based on which specific soil nutrients each uses or imparts.

Think of it as being a host and thoughtfully making a seating chart for a fancy dinner. Let’s see. Alyssa was so quiet last time. I’ll put her next to Susan, who’s such a good conversationalist. Hmm, Brock’s a big guy and will definitely need the end spot. Uh-oh. Election year. We’ll hear nothing but politics if Poppy and Violet are too close.

This pea-sunflower pairing of mine was a happy accident, but I want to purposely foster more garden affection. Check out this site


for great information as you also keep planting. I especially like its descriptions of plants as “friend, foe, ally, etc.” to one another. Such interpersonal terms!

As you’ll see, companion planting takes many forms. Some plants produce substances that ward off certain pests; these plants become protectors when grouped with more susceptible plants. Marigolds, for instance, repel tomato-hungry worms.

Companion planting also involves the creation of hospitable habitats, as in shading lettuce beneath squash in the heat of the summer.

Sadly, but really not a surprise, there’s such a thing as strange garden bedfellows, too. Personalities clash among humans, they can clash among plants.

All in all, companion planting is about creating harmony. It’s a natural way to complement plants’ strengths or compensate for vulnerabilities by making them work for each other as you encourage diversity in your backyard farm.

Give companion planting a try and share your success stories with us!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

As food prices rise, more grow their own

Article from MSNBC

NEW YORK - High prices at the pump and the produce aisle have sent home gardeners into their yards with a mission: Grow-it-yourself dining. Sales of vegetable seeds, tomato transplants and fruit trees are soaring as enterprising planters grow their own food.

W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the nation’s largest seed company, has sold twice as many seeds this year as it did last year, with half the increase from new customers, the company’s president, George Ball, estimates.

“When we saw the gas prices go up, we said, ’Oh boy,”’ Ball said.

Interest in growing fruits and vegetables picks up during economic downturns, people in the industry say. Seed companies say a dime spent on seeds yields about $1 worth of produce. Bad economic times can also mean more time to garden — people who cancel their summer vacations are around to water their tomatoes. The housing crunch also works in favor of vegetable gardens: If you can’t sell your home, you can replant it.

“Over the past year or two when my boyfriend and I went shopping and started seeing how little we got out of the grocery store for how much, we figured we might as well give it a shot trying or our own veggies and take some of the weight off our pockets,” said Janet Bedell, who works at a lawn and garden center in Venice, Fla.

That kind of thinking is leading to a big year for companies that sell to fruit and vegetable gardeners. Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving heirloom vegetables, ran out of potatoes this year and mailed 10,000 tomato and pepper transplants to customers in early May, double its usual amount. The organization, based near Decorah, Iowa, sold 34,000 packets of seed in the first third of this year, more than it did all last year.

Stark Brothers Nurseries and Orchards Co., a fruit-tree nursery based in Louisiana, Mo., has been so busy that “we’ve had our phones completely staffed and staffed overtime for the past two months,” said Lita Eatock, marketing manager.

“A lot of wholesalers are really sold out of things,” said Michael McConkey, owner of Edible Landscaping, a fruit-tree nursery and Web site based in Afton, Va. “I was attempting to get some apple rootstock to graft onto some apples and I really had to work to find some.”

The learning curve for home gardeners can be steep. Janet Bedell in Florida said her first fights were with bugs and fungus; now she’s working on keeping birds and squirrels away.

While some vegetables, like salad greens, are nearly effortless, others, like celery, present a challenge. New gardeners often don’t what it takes for a plant to survive, said Ryan Schmitt, greenhouse manager at The Flower Bin in Longmont, Colo. “It’s not a sculpture. Most people get the water thing, but sun and food, they often forget.”

New vegetable gardeners are packing classes from Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth, Maine to Love Apple Farm in Ben Lomond, Calif.

“If I think of a name of a class, I’ll give it and people will come,” said Cynthia Sandberg, owner of Love Apple Farm. “People will drive three hours for these classes. It’s not because of me, it’s because they want to learn.”

Burpee’s eight-person horticulturist hotline at the company’s Warminster, Penn. headquarters has been overwhelmed with calls from gardeners trying to learn the basics of soil acidity and seed starting. Absolute beginners visiting nurseries occasionally ask questions like, “Oh, tomatoes are a plant?” said Schmitt at the Flower Bin. “That’s usually followed by, ’Oh, I can grow that?”’

“It’s a teaching moment,” Schmitt said. “I can fill them with the right information.”

GRDN, a shop in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, is getting a lot of questions about which edible plants can be grown on a fire escape, said staffer Cindy Birkhead. “There’s lots of interest in herbs, blueberry bushes, tomato plants, any transplants or shrubs that bear edible fruit.”

People too busy to plant their own gardens are hiring specialists like Colin McCrate, owner of two-year-old Seattle Urban Farm Co., whose business has doubled since last year. Urban Farm’s projects range from building and planting one or two raised beds to ripping out a customer’s front lawn, installing drip irrigation and planting a crop. Most of his gardens cost $1,000 to $2,000; two customers this year have told him they’re putting their stimulus checks into their gardens.

McCrate said he’s been working 16-hour days; the company’s staff has grown from two last year to six. “We can almost not keep up with the demand there is for services now,” he said.

The last few years of vegetable garden sales were “a yawner,” said Mike Skillin, owner of Skillins Greenhouses. “People might plant a few things here and there, but they’re much more interested in patio planting. ...This year, people are taking these big patio planters they have and they’re planting vegetables in them.”

Eva Burmeister, a professional violinist who lives in New York City, began planting vegetables at her family’s home on Long Island after returning from seven years in Germany. “I was shocked at food prices in the city, including the farmer’s market,” she said. “A few things that are quite popular in Europe are difficult to find here.” She’s starting tomatoes, eggplants and peppers indoors under grow lights and plans to transplant them around Memorial Day.

Onions, shallots and leeks have been especially strong sellers. Wholesale sales rose one-quarter this year at Dixondale Farms, a family-owned farm in Carrizo Springs, Texas that ships onion and leek transplants to individual customers and sells wholesale to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Lowe’s Cos. and Home Depot Inc., said Bruce Fraiser, the company’s president.

But Fraiser repeats the old farming joke that the way to make a small fortune farming is to start off with a large one.

“We’ll get it while we can,” he said. “The next hailstorm might be around the corner.”

Do you find this to be true? Is this your first year gardening, or are you finding yourself planting more and investing more time in your garden?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Dirt Doctor

I recently checked out Herbs for Texas by Howard Garrett. It's a fabulous book. It's full of wonderful herb info, but I was pleasantly surprised by Garret's very simple break down of "going green" into a Basic Organic Program for homeowners.

Howard Garrett aka The Dirt Doctor gives a very informative and persuasive argument for eliminating toxic poisons in our landscapes and gardens. He provides ample resources including a radio talk show, an organic forum, numerous books , as well as a weekly column in the Dallas Morning News.

"Organic" is such a buzz word these days, it makes you wonder how many people are trying to be "green" and don't even know what it means. Garret very simply states, "The Basic Organic Program is about making good decisions." When making decisions about your garden ask these questions:

  1. Will this product help or hurt the earthworms?

  2. Will it stimulate life and health?

When we use synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals we deplete the soil of helpful organisms and hummus. The soil in turn becomes less productive, and more prone to insects and disease. In contrast, every time organic fertilizers are applied the soil grows better and better, healthier and healthier - forever. Healthy soil produces healthy plants, and healthy plants resist disease and don't attract insect pests.

Up until I read this book I added miracle grow to just about anything. But I am a changed woman! Unable to see the error in his ways, my husband happens to be the "ortho-max diazinon" king. (Not really but he loves his synthetic fertilizers and pesticides because of the instant results.) Eeek! but I think this book will make a convert out of him.

I can't re-write his book (even though it would be my pleasure) but here are some fantastic highlights:

  • Before WWII manure was the primary fertilizer and sulfur, tobacco, and good bugs were the primary pest controls.

  • With more money spent today on pesticides than ever before, about one-third of all food crops are still lost to pest insects. That's the same percentage as before the pesticides became available.

  • For his recipes of organic concoctions and compost follow these links.

Read Garrett's work, and you will be so fully educated on the organic way it will feel like common sense.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How do I love thee, let me count the ways...

I absolutely adore my chickens. Honestly, one of the best feelings in the world is when I open up my back door and three fat hens coming running toward me. I know they are only hoping I'm bringing them something to eat but still, the way they run is so cute that I just don't care! And I no longer complain that my children turn their noses up at bread crusts - my hens think they're best thing ever. But before you start dismissing me as some weird chicken lady, know that I only got chickens about 9 months ago and before that knew absolutely nothing about them and could count on one hand how many times I'd seen one in person.

But I guess it shouldn't surprise me too much. I am a bird lady. My husband has made me aware that every time we see birds I try to talk to them. I'm actually pretty good at it too, at least in my mind. I've thought of taking up bird watching but then you only get to watch and not talk. I just like to talk to the birds running around my car at the grocery store or hopping around my backyard in the evening.
Last fall on a particularly bad day, I went out back and put a blanket down and watched my hens peck around in the grass and chase after bugs. I felt so happy - like all was well with the world. I think all animals have this calming affect but in particular I love watching my birds. If you haven't had the chance to see a beautiful hen in her element, you are really missing out. A chubby little hen with her shiny feathers - so soft to the touch - waddling around and softly clucking as she nibbles on the grass is a sight to see. It'll lower your blood pressure but more than that it'll make you smile and remember the simple pleasures of grass and sky and soft afternoons with a cool breeze.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Contributor: Dale Maurice Johnson

Name: Dale Maurice Johnson
Age: 51 years young
Residence: Antietam Glen, Keedysville, MD
Occupation:Farm Management Specialist, University of Maryland
Interests: Backyard farming
What brings you to backyard farming? We need more backyard farms in America. It is good for society, good for the economy, good for the environment, good for families, and good for personal health.
What are you really good at? Nothing, I am more of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none (a good trait for backyard farming.)
What was your Mother right about? Everything.
What is one thing you'll never understand? All the food additives in typical processed food.
Something on my mind lately is ... How will the world function when we run out of oil in the next 50 years?
Guiltiest pleasure? Home made ice cream on a hot summers day.
What makes you laugh? I can find a laugh in most things. For example, I split a gut when my uncles showed up to my fathers funeral dressed in hot dog vendor outfits.
My life would be simpler if... I could spend all my time on my backyard farm.
What surprises you about adult life? I'm 51, nothing anymore.
Simplest pleasure? Awakening to my cackling hens who are laying me breakfast.
What are you most proud of? My backyard farm.
What's the quality you like least in others? Plasma screen materialism of our modern society.
What's the quality you like most in others? The motivation to turn off the plasma screen.
What is your favorite motto? The grass is always greener on my side of the fence!
Someone should invent... A lawnmower I can't break!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Last Day to Submit your Egg Recipes!

Get out those recipe boxes, call your mother and get that amazing egg recipe she always makes, or if you are like me, and your husband is the better cook, get him on the computer typing out that recipe.

Today is the last day to submit those recipes to:


Click here for details on the Egg Recipe Contest.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

She who could not be named...

Olive Oyl

Well, thanks everyone for submitting name ideas - I got 24 suggestions total. The names ranged from clever to beautiful to downright funny. It has been a REALLY hard choice to make. Even now I am having a hard time making my decision final. In the end the other front runners were:

Cordon Bleu
Atilla the Hen
& Malificent

I ended up going with Olive Oyl because this chick is getting more and more high strung - she's a hard one to catch! And since having the baby my kids have been watching a little more, OK a lot more TV than normal - including a lot of old Popeye episodes. And you just gotta love that fickle Olive Oyl! I'm also gonna be keeping those other names in my vault since they are all so cute & I know I will be getting more chickens in the future!

Thanks again!


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Soil 101 - Part 1: Temperature

When winter is finally over and we've had a few of those sunny warmer days our minds often turn to our garden. We just can't wait to get things into the ground and growing! Not sure if mother nature is going to send another late frost or if it's quite warm enough we hem and haw about planting.

Many seeds and plants have guides that often say something about checking soil temperature, and it's probably the most accurate way to tell if your little plot of land is ready. Now, I know what you're thinking - "Check my soil temperature? Like I'd ever do that!" But in reality it's actually pretty easy! There are soil thermometers sold at garden centers for pretty cheap but I've found that using a simple candy thermometer also works great! You can pick up one of these for a few dollars at the grocery store. Insert the thermometer all the way into your soil & leave it for a few minutes. Check the soil at around midday for the most accurate reading, and continue checking it for a few days in a row and then average the readings. (Remember that the soil in potted plants, like trash-can potatoes, is going to fluctuate in temperature more than the soil on the ground will.)

-Plants that germinate in the coolest soils (down to 40 degrees) include arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuce, pak choi, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radishes and spinach.
-When soil temperature goes over 50 degrees, plant Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard and turnips.
-After the temperature gets to 60 degrees, warm-season and many cool-season vegetables can be sown, including beans, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, leeks, lettuce, many of the Asian greens, onions, parsnips,
peas, radicchio, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.
-Wait until soil warms to 70 degrees or more to plant tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn and melons.*
These temperatures are the lowest that seeds will begin to germinate in but keep in mind that it is only if the temperature continues to rise. To a certain degree, a little warmth is only going to help in your seed success. If your soil temperature is hitting right at 40 degrees it's probably best to let it warm a little more. In those first few warm days of spring it may be wise to spend a little more time planning before planting to ensure a plentiful harvest.


Soil 101 - Part 2: Ph Levels - coming soon!

*planting guide taken
from "Soil temperature and veggies: How to check before planting" By KYM POKORNY - The Oregonian 3/07

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reader's Question: Getting started

Hi everyone,
I have been reading you blog for a little while now and I am very interested in growing my families produce and using as much as we can from our own garden... But I have a few questions.
We live in an apartment/duplex in a suburb with a small gated front yard, I have a raised bed planter that is 12 x 2 feet and we have a grassy yard with other room and a bed with ivy and shrubs (provided by apt). I know I have room to do something more productive with.
Is is too late to start seeds this year, I live in southern CA? Also, how much cost is involved is 'starting from scratch'? Also, would it be possible to have like 2 chickens in my front yard, in a coop of course...
Would any of this be possible, I am a full time working mom, my kids are little (2 & newborn) Do my plans sound a little too over the top for how much time I am able to spend taking care of everything? I could do 30 mins. in the morning and I have the weekends off. Please let me know, I am anxious to get started. Thanks and sorry to ramble... I guess I am unsure where to start.

Dear Kayla,

How wonderful that you want to grow produce for your family! Such motivation is the main ingredient to growing a garden. It's entirely possible, with the space and time commitments that you described, to raise some great food. Plus, it's not too late in the season to start from scratch.

When starting a garden the biggest outlay of time will be in preparing a plot or two. You mentioned having a 12 x 2 raised bed. If it gets at least six hours of sunlight each day, then it's a great place to grow your veggies.

Evaluate what soil is already there. You know how a bag of potting soil looks dark and rich, and flows through your fingers? You want your garden soil to be as much like that as possible, and this is accomplished by digging in organic material like compost.

I've been able to find cubic-foot size bags of composted manure (don't worry, it's well aged!) for $1. Start by spreading a 3-inch layer of compost over your area, then digging into the soil about 6 inches.

Set aside a weekend to prepare your garden bed. A shovel should suffice, or maybe your landlord might know of a source for your to borrow a small tiller. Or consider using containers instead. The cost of purchasing soil to fill containers might offset your time investment in preparing the bed. Do what's best for you.

You can plant your garden that same weekend, or use your available half hour over the next several mornings to plant seeds or seedlings. After the garden is planted, 30 minutes daily should be just right for weeding, watering and -- hooray! -- harvesting.

I found a calendar for Southern California planting:


Based on this, cucumbers, beans and summer and winter squashes would be great for you to plant from seed. Check out dollar stores to find seeds; you can often get several packets this way for a buck. All of these plants are great for a beginner.

At this time in the season I'd recommend planting pepper and tomatoes as seedlings. There's a small nursery in my neighborhood that sells seedlings starting about 40 cents each (I love this place!). Look for a locally owned greenhouse in your area, and maybe you also could be so lucky.

My biggest advice to you as you start your gardening adventure, Kayla, is to start small! You'll get so much more satisfaction if you raise just one healthy, beautiful tomato plant than if a big garden plot goes to weed. You're raising children, too, and that counts for a lot.

Best of luck!


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Guerrilla Gardening

I've recently picked up You Grow Girl from the library. It's a very handy, low-fuss guide to gardening, written and photographed by Gayla Trail. Trail seems to have equal parts passion and know-how. This book is perfect for the city gardener. She'll walk you through the basics and answer most novice gardening questions. She also gets into some trouble-shooting, and dives deeper into organic gardening for the more motivated gardeners. This book WILL grace my bookshelves.

I particularly enjoyed her "guerrilla" growing chapters. "Who says you need a garden to be a gardener? Cities and suburbs are packed with fallow land, empty lots, sidewalk cracks, and wasted space ready for planting guerrilla-style." She is an advocate for a "green revolution" and says all you need are seeds, shovel, compost, and some water.

This philosophy instantly conjured up memories from my trip to St. Lucia. The open land in St. Lucia is public land, so any citizen can pick a sunny hill on the side of the road and plant their garden. My husband and I were hiking through the rain forest there and came upon local St. Lucian's gardening, and gathering indigenous "public" bananas. It was a cultural eye-opener and I loved it. What I loved even more was when this barefoot man, carrying a bucket and bananas on his head, walking through the rain forest received a call (and answered)

HIS CELL PHONE! You have got to love the millennium???

For American community garden links look here: http://www.communitygarden.org/
For an elementary school garden link look here: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/kinder/sgardens.html

Do your part and litter some seeds about.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Community Supported Agriculture

I have fond memories of growing up on a farm in Idaho. I loved playing and working outdoors. Even now, when I work in the garden and watch my seedlings sprout I can feel my blood pressure drop. I live in the city now, but my heart always turns back to my peaceful, childhood memories of the farm. Whether you grew up on a farm or not I think many people want to participate in the romantic lifestyle of farming. Community Supported Agriculture programs provide us "city folk" with a way to do this.

Community supported agriculture allows individuals of a community to pledge support or buy shares of a local farm. After becoming a shareholder you will have rights to receive a portion of the output from that farm. Most of the participating farms use organic, ecological or biodynamic farming methods. As a shareholder you participate in the benefits of a bumper crop or the disadvantages of a bad growing season. The output usually consists of produce, flowers fruits, milk, eggs and they are usually distributed on a weekly or monthly basis throughout the growing season.

These programs provide many benefits to the farmers. Their own personal risk from bad weather or crop disease is reduced because the risk is spread across all of the shareholders. The farmer also receives his working capital in the beginning which is rare for farmers. They also generally get better prices for their crops and there is less waste.

As shareholders, our benefits include: fresh, organic produce weekly, satisfaction from supporting your local farm, and the peace of mind that comes from helping our environment by buying locally and reducing our carbon footprint.

The following website will give you a good list of local CSA's that you can support http://www.localharvest.org/csa/. I would encourage you to look into it. Let's help our local farmers and turn our hearts to a simpler healthier way of living.

~Michael Johnson

Saturday, May 3, 2008

From Scratch.

The greatest things start with the smallest steps.

It is never too early to start planning your backyard farm. One of the most important things is finding out what exactly you want to grow. If you truly want to have a "kitchen garden", you need to be ready to use what you grow.

A good place to start is to look in your kitchen cabinet or refrigerator & see what you can replace with a homemade version. Our family made a goal this year to replace one item a month with an alternative made entirely from scratch. It has actually been easier than we imagined it would be & we are so far exceeding our goal & adding multiple homemade items to our kitchen every month. We started with salad dressings. We looked at the different types we most frequently ate & either found a recipe for it online or made one up! We then bottled them in leftover cooking wine bottles we had saved. We then moved on to breads, ketchup, frozen pizzas, ice cream, tomato sauces, corn tortillas & cereal! !

The one thing that everything we made had in common was that they were all way more delicious & much healthier than the store bought alternatives. The main rule of thumb when we make something is that we have to use all fresh, whole ingredients. No canned soups or mixes. The main advantage this has is eliminating the additives & preservatives found in pre-packaged foods. This has been quite liberating for our family. The boundaries have been broken as to what can be done in our home with food. Starting every thing from scratch allows you to explore combinations of flavors & to get to know ingredients in their true form. Your imagination is sparked by the smells & textures & your palette becomes accustomed to the challenge. You are freed from the limits of preservative laden & additive heavy seasoning & sauce packets

Once you get comfortable cooking from scratch you will begin to get an idea where to start with your backyard farm or garden. What ingredients do you use most that would be better replaced by a homegrown version? Curious about something you've seen in a seed catalog? Test it out by buying that ingredient from your local market & testing out a few recipes with it. It is always fun to add a new fruit or vegetable to your menu. Remember not to overwhelm yourself. It may even be best for you to start with a simple herb garden or even some trash can potatoes! The funnest part for us is removing an item from our grocery list! Our pantry is filled with less boxes each month but our dinner table has more variety than ever! Don't forget that backyard farming doesn't have to stay within your own backyard. Branch out in your community & find out what local farms are growing or even plan to swap with a neighbor!

Whatever your motivation is for the homegrown/homemade revolution, the benefits far outweigh the extra effort it takes. We started from necessity due to my severe son's MSG allergy & have been rewarded not only with his good health, but in his diverse palette & love for creativity in the kitchen. It has become a family habit that we grow to love more &more as we reach greater strides in our little kitchen. Once you take the first step & get started, your eyes will be opened to a whole new world of eating & a brand new appetite for diversity in the kitchen!

~meghan s.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Congrats Megan!

Our wonderfully talented contributor Megan has just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Megan has brought great articles such as: Terrarium Gardens, My backyard Chickens, Trash Can Potatoes, and is hosting our very first contest here on Backyard Farming. Megan will be temporarily taking a break from the blogging world, but don't worry, we have some amazing articles lined up. We wish you the best of luck with your new little one.

~Backyard Farming Contributors

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Send us your recipes!

Well, we're two weeks into our egg recipe contest and wanted to remind you to get those recipes in! Remember to email them to backyardfarmingblog@gmail.com by May 15th. We also going to relax the rules a little bit - meaning you don't have to send in a picture if you don't want to. We would love to get a photo of the recipe but if you don't have time to make your recipe and take a picture, we understand! So, no excuses now - send 'em in!

I also thought I'd go ahead and share the recipe for Knorpp Family German Pancakes. I got this recipe from my amazing mother-in-law Sandra. I love it because it can knock out a whole week's worth of eggs in one pop plus they are a real crowd pleaser.

12 eggs(yup, that's right - a while dozen!)
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbs. sugar

Melt 1/4 cube butter in two 9 x 13 pans. (I melt it in the microwave and then brush it into the pans.) Mix all of the ingredients and divide evenly amongst the two pans. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. I like to add some blackberry preserves and real maple syrup. You may not think you need this many but my little family finishes off both pans! These are nice because unlike traditional pancakes you can make them easily and serve them immediately to the whole crowd without having to wait to turn pancakes or cook more. And if we do have any leftovers my chickens go nuts over them!