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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Project: Terrarium Gardens

Originally posted 4/19/08

This time of year inspires all of us to want to get our hands in the dirt and get something growing. You can't even go to the grocery store anymore without passing pots, soil, & plants for sale. But for those who have little time, a tiny yard, or no yard at all - a terrarium might be the perfect fit. The kids love them and they look totally chic on your coffee table. Terrariums require little care but bring the green indoors and add a little sunshine to any space. I love looking at my terrariums imagining they are little worlds of happiness and wonder. And adding a pretty rock or garden troll increases their charm.

1. For starters you'll need a container. I had so much fun looking through some of the glass containers I had already and perusing the local thrift store for more. The containers can be tiny or large - just choose something that fits your style and your space. Mason jars, fish bowls, & potpourri containers work perfectly.2. Next you 'll need some plants. Depending on the container you choose - ground covers, succulents, and many types of moss will work and each brings a different feeling to your little world. But remember that all of the plants you put in must require the same conditions for moisture and light since they will all be sharing a small space. 3. It's time to plant! We found this great video from eHow that leads you step by step through the process of planting. Check it out:

I started with a dry climate since the succulents were so darn pretty but those instructions will work for any plant. Once I finished that I went on to make three others. They are all pictured below except my favorite which is the first image in this post. Happy planting!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Garden Video Journal #1

We were inspired by Dales Broiler videos and we decided to do a video journal of our garden. We thought it would be fun to share our success and failures with all of you throughout the year. We live on a .11 acre lot but I think a lot of you will be surprised at how much food we get out of our little garden. This year we will attempt to grow the following plants:

Leafy Vegetables

Spinach, Arugula, Forellenschuss Lettuce, Green Oakleaf Lettuce, Sunset Lettuce

Root Vegetables

Golden Beets, St. Valery Carrots, Russet Potatoes


Waltham Butternut Squash, Black Beauty Zucchini, Anna Swartz Hubbard Squash, Summer Crookneck Squash


Beam's Yellow Pear, Gold Meadow Tomato, Cherokee Purple Tomato, Mexico Midgets, Red Brandywine, Sudduths Brandywine

Other Vegetables

Orange Bell Peppers, Double Yield Cucumber, Sweet Peas


Strawberries, Blackberries, Golden Raspberries, Charantais Melon


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Heirlooms 101

This is a repost from the winter of last year but we just love heirlooms around here and thought a good amount of you might have missed it!

When my friend Meghan suggested we have a whole section dedicated to heirlooms on this blog I thought she might be placing a little too much emphasis on them. To me, an heirloom was a pretty tomato - a vegetable grown by mega-serious gardeners who wanted to impress their neighbors with rare produce. How wrong I was! After a lot of reading I am a changed (and educated) woman. I can now say that in the future I may not plant anything BUT heirlooms. Want to know why? Well first let's define what an heirloom vegetable is...

Heirlooms are:
1. Old - Usually associated with plants dating from the 1920's and older. It's hard to date them but some American heirlooms varieties are believed to be Pre-Columbian (meaning before Columbus came to America). Many heirloom seeds may have been carried by your ancestors across the ocean to America hundreds of years ago! There were reasons people held onto these seeds...

2. Open-pollinating - meaning if you gather seeds from your plants you'll get the same plant next year. You might not know this but if you tried to gather seeds from your garden center tomato plants and grow them the next year you wouldn't get the same plant from it. These plants are not able to reproduce and are often sterile. (Unless of course it's an heirloom) Over hundreds of years these seeds were gathered from the best plants of the harvest and continue to produce that same quality. Think of the savings!

3. High quality - The best of the heirlooms really are wonderful. They have it all. They taste wonderful, look beautiful, and are easy to grow. The vegetables and fruits you buy in the grocery store were not bred for flavor or quality - but for uniformity and ease of transporting. Which means that many pale in comparison when it comes to taste. Many people say that once you taste an heirloom vegetable you'll realize you have been eating the cardboard version of this veggie all your life. How exciting to taste flavors that mother nature intended you to have - unadulterated pleasure! At least as much as food can give you - which is a lot to a foodie like me!
Heirlooms were cultivated for many years to produce strong, disease fighting, climate hardy plants. In fact, some heirlooms were very locale specific - sometimes as much as a small valley with very specific weather patterns. The plants you purchase from the garden supply may tolerate your climate but they aren't complex creatures ready to thrive in your climate - but your heirlooms just may be.

Diversity and variety are good not only for our taste buds but also for our gardens. Another vital reason to maintain heirlooms is to keep their genetic traits for future use. When old varieties of food crops are not maintained, the gene pool grows smaller and smaller. This may lead to increased disease and pest problems. You may have pest or disease problems in your garden but with many different varieties the likelihood of all of your plants being affected is very low.

While this is just the tip of the iceberg(lettuce?) when it comes to heirlooms and their distinction, I hope you feel as inspired as I do to try out these treasured plants. So, this year when planning for your garden why not try some heirlooms? You may feel you are connecting to the past and sharing a heritage with your forebears in the planting of these wonderful vegetables and fruits. (There are also heirloom status livestock - animals that are better suited for the free range instead of the factory.) You can order heirloom seeds from several different companies including the Seed Savers Exchange. This company has a free seed catalog - order one even if you're not ready to plant heirlooms - just to acquaint yourself with these treasured plants!

More seed links:
Victory Heirloom Seeds
Amishland Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom Vegetable Gardener's Source


A lot of my information came from
this wonderful site and this amazing book
Images from Mike Donk & Scott Bauer

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Growing your own garden not only helps individuals and families to be healthier but also mother earth. When we grow more of our own food we are significantly reducing the toll that huge monoculture farms take on our planet and often aiding in keeping diverse fruit and vegetable strains around. Every day we practice sustainable gardening in our local spaces we are celebrating the gift of this beautiful world we live in. So, next time you enjoy some of your tasty crops - remember the importance of these backyard farms!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Megan's Container Herb Garden - Sprouts!

Ok, so I must spend a combined total of at least 20 minutes a day just staring at my little sprouts. There is always so much satisfaction in watching things grow - even though they are barely an inch tall. In the photo above you can see some oregano - I didn't plant 20 seeds in that little pot- oregano just grows that way. And below here you can see my Basil. My mouth is already watering!My seedlings are still in the small kit I started them in but in a couple weeks I will need to transplant them to larger temporary containers. We're going to use large plastic cups with holes punched in the bottom. That way it'll be easy to transplant them to the garden as well as to let my kids sell the extras to friends and neighbors. I've seen and heard from friends who say their seedlings are getting big! How are yours doing?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Seed Reads

One of backyard farming’s greatest joys, I think, is being able to share. Hey, I’d like to share the work! I’ll settle, though, for sharing the harvest and sharing the passion.

I love literature for how it plants the seeds of ideas. Here, then, are some of my favorite gardening story books for sharing with the children in my life. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too. (Book cover images are courtesy of www.amazon.com.)

How Groundhog’s Garden Grew

By Lynne Cherry

Elementary ages. The author writes in her dedication, “In loving memory of my father, who taught me to grown my own.” So sets the tone of this delightful story about a squirrel who teaches a groundhog how to grow his own garden instead of mooching food from his neighbors. This book is highly educational about the growing process, complete with meticulously detailed illustrations of seeds, plants and insects.

Busy in the Garden

Poems by George Shannon

Pictures by Sam Williams

All ages – although children who can understand puns will enjoy it the most. These poems are a hoot! This one, called “Blue Ribbon,” demonstrates:

To grow the size

that wins a prize,

it’s always wise

to fertilize.

Ten Seeds

By Ruth Brown

For the very young. With sparse words and vivid illustrations, this book takes a mathematical look at the journey of a packet of sunflower seeds from planting to harvest, and all the surprising hazards in between.

A Garden Alphabet

By Isabel Wilner

Pictures by Ashley Wolff

Preschool and up. A dog and a frog are hard at work in their garden while sneaky rabbits lurk on nearly every page. The verse is crisp and fun. “Ff is for frog, a gardener’s friend. For unwelcome insects, his tongue snaps The End.”

We Love the Dirt

By Tony Johnston and Alexa Brandenberg

Early readers. Although not a gardening story, per se, this book cleverly describes all the relationships different objects and people have to the dirt, reinforcing its very important role on the farm.

Planting a Rainbow

By Lois Ehlert

Preschool and up. This book showcases Ehlert’s signature style in bold, solid color collage cut-outs, and is a great way for children to learn to identify different plants. Similar books by the same author are Eating the Alphabet and Growing Vegetable Soup. We cooked the soup recipe in the latter book, and it was tasty.

The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Older grades to adult -- although quite suitable and engaging to read aloud to younger children.

I absolutely love this book. I like to pull it off the bookshelf when I am just so sick of winter, I think it will never end. Mary Lennox is a cold, hardened orphan transplanted from India to England. Watching her transform as she finds and cultivates a secret garden is a tonic indeed. Consider this passage: “Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Broilers at 4 Weeks

This past week I was reminded why I advise urban or suburban farmers against broilers – chicken s#@&! Lots of chicken s#@&! The feed conversion ratio is about 3-4 pounds of feed to one pound of meat. Where does the rest of that feed go? They metabolize a little feed in the Krebs cycle but they are very lethargic so most of the feed just ends up as s#@&! By the time I get my broilers out on pasture I have a lot of chicken s#@&! to shovel out of my chicken coop. It is wet and it stinks! Layers lay eggs and are very active so they metabolize much more efficiently producing less s#@&!

A couple of layers escaped our chicken run and have been roaming the yard for a few days. I discovered their cache when I climbed on the hay stack to get a bale of hay for the horses.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Munchies

So this must be who is eating my basil...

We found this enormous snail in our driveway a few days ago. He certainly solves the mystery of why my seedlings keep getting mowed to the ground and why my basil has seen better days. The kids thought he was wonderful. We took him for show and tell, and he was a big hit. But at the end of the day I LIKE MY BASIL BETTER! He was shown mercy and released a day later in the schoolyard, but his compadres will not be so lucky.

Attempting to grow organic, I researched my options (asked my mom) and chose to use diatomaceous earth . It is a microscopic one-celled organism and successfully kills slugs, and insects by dehydration. It's much cheaper than other organic and non-organic options. So far I have seen a major improvement! I sprinkled it around the plants that have been under slug and snail "siege", and only a few days later they are standing up straight and have no new damage.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Question from a Reader-Turkeys

My family is considering getting backyard turkeys this year and Dale’s article on turkeys was largely the inspiration for this. I had a couple questions though that I had hoped he might be able to help me with.

Tricia, I have personal experience with turkeys but I am not an expert. I will answer the following questions but I would certainly defer if you found better information.

We have several backyard chickens as well and we only live on 1 acre. I know that chicken diseases can be very harmful to turkeys – if we keep them housed separately and assure that they don’t roam the same parts of the land, will they be ok to share the yard?

We have never had a problem with putting our chickens and turkeys together. We have actually put the poults in a sectioned off area of the chicken coop. If you house them separately and let them roam in a differ area of the yard, I don’t see a problem. I think if there is any problem, it will manifest itself when the poults are young and you haven’t got much invested in them.

2. I keep reading mixed reviews on the friendliness of turkeys. I have three children, will they be ok to work with the turkeys or are the birds too aggressive for kids?

We get the large white hybrid turkeys. They are very friendly. They often approach us and sometime strut but they have never pecked. Heirloom turkeys which are more natural may be more aggressive. I don’t know. We are going to get heirloom turkeys for the first time this year so I will find out.

3. In your article, you mentioned getting large white birds. My personal preference is not white – but I thought you might have some wisdom on why you suggested white as opposed to any of the darker colors.

We get the large white turkey because they grow the biggest and that is what we have wanted in the past. They are also more economical feed converters, but that doesn’t matter quite so much because when we feed out turkeys out to such heavy weights, they are not economical anyhow. The last ten pound to get them up to 40+ pounds takes a lot of feed.

4. How long did you keep your birds before slaughter to get those astronomical weights that you reported?

I think we feed them about 16 -20 weeks. That is a long time.

5. Our plan is to keep the birds in an 8 x 10 metal shed and let them roam our fenced yard during the days. Firstly, will this shed be suitable for 4 birds and secondly, will they fly away or up into our trees if we let them free roam the yard during the day?

The shed is big enough. White hybrids will not fly. I think heirloom turkeys will. You can always wing them – cut the feathers off the trailing edge of one wing with a pair of scissors. As I mentioned one of my articles, you will cut the feathers off the left wing if you are a republican off the right wing if you are a democrat. We are going with heirloom turkeys this year because I am interested in them, they are more colorful and I have heard that they have more interesting taste. I expect it to be more of a wild or gamey taste. We will deep fat fry them. So of course we don’t expect to raise very big turkeys this year. The only reason to dress out a 40+ pound white hybrid is to impress your company which they will. But they are not economical (Over $2.00 a pound to grow) and they are not particularly young and tender. I fix that by drizzling drippings over the meat after I have carved it. That really fixes dry or tough poultry meat. Beware of foxes and raccoons. I will soon have an article up on Backyard Farming about our turkey disaster. Two years ago a fox got three of our four turkeys. I think you will find turkeys fun and fascinating! If you have any other questions, email me and I will blunder my way through them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Omlets Anyone?

If you are in the market for some backyard chickens, here is an option for a pre-made coup. It is sleek, sophisticated, and has everything you need to start raising a small flock.

Here is what I liked about it. First, like I said, it has it all, a roost, run, and a hen house. It also includes some free extras like a waterer, feeder, shade provider and 10 egg cartons. It has a great modern look and modern colors, there is no way those pesky neighbors would complain about the look of this baby. It seems like it would be easy to clean and collect the eggs. It has a skirt around the bottom to keep predators out.

The Facts:
  • You can order the omlet with or without chickens.
  • They deliver anywhere in US.
  • It houses up to 4 medium sized chickens/6 bantams (bantams are a very small breed chicken)
  • $495 without chickens, $20 more get 2 chickens with it, additional chickens $10

My economist husband wouldn't go for it, he had a spread sheet charting how many eggs we needed to produce to pay for our recycled coop!

But for ease, looks, and space, for some this product may be worth the cost.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Megan's Container Herb Garden - Sowing the Seeds

I have to be honest - this year I thought we were going to have to forgo the garden altogether because I've got a baby coming in two weeks and then we are moving in mid-June. I have been so bummed because we found ourselves in EXACTLY the same situation last year - this last year has been crazy! But I just couldn't stand it...the buds coming out on the trees, the state of the economy, my nesting instinct - they were all screaming to get my hands in the dirt and sow something! So, I decided I'd try a container garden with the hope that I can take it along to wherever we end up.

This isn't my first time trying a container garden - but hopefully it will be my most successful attempt. I have tried to grow things in pots before but always found that I was over or under watering, burning my plants, or just forgetting about them. Having your plants in the real ground affords a little more complacency than a pot. But I'm determined to make it work this year - with all of you as my witnesses!

Every spring I pour over my seed catalog and dream of what I will plant and even though I knew we weren't going to have a garden - this year was no different. So a few days ago when I decided to try growing my little garden in pots I knew I needed to resist the urge to have an elaborate array of heirlooms and instead keep it simple. We went with an Italian herb garden with Basil, Rosemary, Oregano & Sage. I bought one of those seed starting kits at the store to keep it simple and sowed every single one. I promised my 7 year old he could sell the extra ready to plant herbs in the parking lot of the local grocery store.

So we no have 72 little pellets of peat holding our herb seeds - 12 of each type. Since I decided slightly last minute to do this, I did not put together one of the ingenious seed starting shelves and instead am opting for a southern facing window with a bench placed in front of it.

My kids are ecstatic and I feel much more at peace. And if all goes according to plan, midsummer we should be up to our elbows in homemade tasty pesto! I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Michael and I have started preparing our garden plot, in doing so, we turned some of the soil and added some compost. To our surprise we had a small crop of carrots that didn't get harvested last year.

They may be small and stubby, but they are still delicious!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


It's pruning time, especially here in Utah with the warmer air and as trees, shrubs and flowers are all preparing to bloom. We are learning a lot in my arboriculture class about good pruning techniques and the more I learn and practice the more I realize it's pretty much common sense with a little bit of an eye for art/ balance and some basic technique. I will just share a bit of the things I've learned that you can use in your own yard or helping out a neighbor who needs some help.

1. For everything you prune, the first thing you need to do is to set a "goal" for the tree.
Where do you want it to grow? What do you want it to look like today when you are done? Next year? How much fruit/ cleanup do you want from it? etc.

2. Assess potential problems: Are there power lines above the tree that it could grow into soon? Is the tree touching any power lines currently? (If so get professional help, some trees that hold lots of water are great electrical conductors and could give you a nice shock!) Is it headed towards a fence/ house/ roof/ too close to a sidewalk, etc.? Are there crossing limbs/ branches?

3. These factors will determine what you do with your pruning, so once you have assessed the situation.... go for it! Start making some cuts... but remember some important things..
4. Trees don't heal... they seal. You will often see the results of poor pruning when a tree struggles to seal off an improper cut. The desire is a perfect circle exposure. The more oval shaped the cut, the more surface area, and therefore the more energy required to seal the wound. So when you make your cuts, angle your loppers, saw, etc. so that the blades are perpendicular to the stem or branch. If you see a donut shape overcoming your cut in the next year or two... nicely done! You have made a quality cut.

5. Keep your cuts close to a lateral. There is what is called a bark branch ridge on every new branch. Your cuts need to be just outside of the ridge and as close as possible. A tree is full of starches (energy) to keep the tree growing. When you make a cut, all of the energy that was being sent to the cut branch now can be used elsewhere! If you leave a long stub, the starch will continue to shoot down the stub and it will be wasted. If the cut is close to the lateral branch, it will thrive and receive the extra energy you want it to gain.
6. Step back after 5-10 cuttings. It's really easy to get excited and make lots of cuts, but if you don't step back and see the big picture, you may be stuck with a gaping hole or unbalanced tree. So be patient and take a few steps back and look at the tree from all angles. If you are unsure about a cut, have someone watch the tree and shake what you will be cutting. They can tell you what it will do to the overall appearance of the tree.

7. Keep moving. Don't get stuck in one spot. Keep moving around and taking cuts from all sides of the tree and it will quickly thin out.

8. If you need it to grow a certain direction, cut just above a bud facing the direction you would like it to grow. The burst of energy will force the bud to shoot.

9. If it's too tall, use the rule of 3rds. Although many of us were fans of the flat top back in the 90's, it's not a good look for a tree. Pull back 1/3 of the taller limbs 1/3 of the way. Another 1/3 pull back 2/3 and the last 1/3 you can remove.

10. Every tree is a bit different. You have a different goal for each tree and they will each respond according to your actions. Keep fruit trees, for example, open in the middle, they like to branch out with an open center.

Tree care is a long term, low intensity process. Be patient and be smart about your pruning. Quality pruning will give you a well balanced and quality tree or shrub, and maybe you'll enjoy it now, maybe next year!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rites of Spring

Several events signal Spring is here. Crocuses, the first flower of Spring dot our landscape. Our Spring crops are planted. Our broilers have arrived. Each year we grow 40-50 broilers for our Sunday dinners. We roast them or rotisserie them, but first we have to raise them. It is exciting to get the call from the Extension office to come and pick them up. We raise them as a 4-H project for our children. We brood them in a box with wood shavings for bedding. We then move them into the chicken coop for a couple of weeks and then out to the pasture pens. We feed them out to heavy weights; 7-10 pound carcass weight. We have a big family to feed. We hope that 45 survive. Broilers are not very hardy. I don’t suggest broilers for small back yard farms. They are not worth the effort to grow just a few. Stick with layers which are easier to keep and a lot more economical. (See my other articles on chickens.)

Crocuses, the first flower of spring.

The spring crops are planted. The compost pile in the middle of the garden is for summer crops.

The broiler chicks are here!