Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gardening For Dummies

Don't worry, I don't actually think that anyone is a dummy for not knowing the finer points of gardening. I did a LOT of reading and research and guess what? The first year, I had a lot of things that totally flopped and had crap yields. (I nearly killed off a flowering plant that I was told is basically indestructible if that makes you feel any better!)

I had a request to go over the basics, what to plant and when to plant it. Basically....a Dummy Guide for Portland, OR area Gardeners. This obviously can't be managed in a single post, so I will get started here!

First things first: Cold Weather vs. Warm Weather plants. What's the difference? Cold weather plants do MUCH better in the cooler months. They tend to go to seed during the summer months. Broccoli is a fine example of this, if it goes to seed, it will flower into these very pretty yellow flowers and sprout up or "bolt" and will not give you the head or crown of broccoli that you are used to seeing in the grocery store. Warm weather plants, I'm sure you can guess...are plants that do better in the warmer weather. That is when they grow to their fullest potential. Corn is a great example of this. If it is too cold and rainy, then you will get a garbage crop of corn and it can even mold and rot while still on the plant. 

Examples of Cold Weather Plants:
Beets
Broccoli
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Chard
Kale
Leeks
Lettuce
Onions
Parsley
Peas
Radish
Spinach
Turnips

Examples of Warm Weather Plants:
Bush Beans
Chile's
Corn
Cucumber
Eggplant
Melons
Potatoes
Squash
Sweet Peppers
Tomatoes

Colder Weather Plants can be planted as early as March. (I have already begun planting some of my cool weather plants. Right now I have Kale, broccoli, lettuce and spinach in the ground already and I will put some seeds in the ground over the next week for my peas and cauliflower.) These are the plants that I know for a fact will survive if we get a freak hard freeze over the next two weeks. By the middle of April I will begin planting my warmer weather plants. My corn, cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkins will go into the ground, and by the start of May I will move my Tomatoes from inside into the garden. I direct sow (put the seeds directly into the ground) for peas, corn, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins, however my tomatoes I start indoors and take outside in the start of May.

There are also plants that grow very well together, this method is called "Companion Planting". I will do a whole other post about that, this is just the introduction to the method of planting. An example of this method is to plant pumpkins with your Corn. As the corn grows taller it allows space for the pumpkins to vine through, and the pumpkins prevent pests (like racoons) from climbing the stalks to steal your corn. Another example would be planting Carrots in rows next to Tomato plants. The carrots do well with the cooler weather, so the shade from the Tomatoes allows you to grow your carrots all summer long, and the tomatoes benefit from the carrots as well.

Now...lets talk SEEDS!

I am a firm believer that science is a great thing.....just not where food is involved. Give me non-genetically modified seeds any day of the week! (As a matter of fact, I refuse to grow anything that is GMO.) This is one of the main reasons why I chose to spend the little bit extra and buy organic seeds and organic starts. This year I got seeds from a new supplier that is geared for the Pacific Northwest Climate. The two companies that I used were Uprising Organics and Territorial Seed. The link for Uprising Organics is here. You can also find the link to Territorial Seed Company here. I also have friends and family that live in the Southern States, so for them, I have another great option for seeds. Southern Exposure Seed Company. I have used seeds from them and had tremendous success from there! You can find the link to Southern Exposure Seeds here. Now...you are probably wondering where I get starts from? Well, I do it two ways. I order from my daughters school plant sale (they have an organic nursery that they do a fundraiser through.) The other way is from my local farmers market. Yes, you read that right. Farmer's Markets will have starts before they have a lot of food available. My farmers market has a VERY strict non-GMO policy, so contact your local farmers markets and ask what their policy is about GMO's. (Most of them are very anti-GMO....with good reason...but that's a whole opinion page in and of itself.)

The other question I have been getting a LOT is about soil. What soil should you use? How you can prepare hard earth for a garden? How do you re-feed your soil so that it can feed your plants? 

If you are in the Beaverton/Hillsboro area of Oregon, then the company that I highly recommend and the soil that I recommend most is this. They have a wonderful soil that has given me excellent results. If you need to add nutrients to your current soil, then I have two methods that I use. The first method is to mix in compost. I use the garden blend that is certified organic, you can get a description of it here. The second thing that I do (now don't be grossed out) is I use seasoned horse manure. I put it on top of the soil and use it to surround my Kale and other plants that need that extra "boost". I get mine from the stable where my daughter takes riding lessons. Most places will give it to you for free, so just call around and you will find someone. I will give this warning. DO NOT use fresh manure or you will burn your garden and kill all of the plants. It must be "seasoned" for several months and turned within that time. When it is seasoned it will be a brown color and be very crumbly instead of greenish and firm. Yes, I realize I just gave you a description of how horse crap should look...but it will help your garden as it helped mine, so you'll just have to get over the gross factor. =) As for the hard clay that you likely have in your yard (as that is what most yards are made of up here!) you will need a rototiller to till the ground, add in the same soil that I recommended and till it together to mix it well. Also adding both the compost to the yard and tilling that in, as well as tilling in some horse manure and it does great. (the only down side is trying to keep the weeds out of it as you don't have the option of a weed barrier like I do!)

I hope that this helps at least a little! It's really not as daunting of a hobby as it seems at first! I promise! =)
As always, if you have any questions, comment below and I will happily answer them! Happy Planting!

My front yard garden at the start of May.

Tomato Plants just before they got transplanted. I learned that this was too many to fit in that space...and it killed off my Basil as a result! We live and learn, right?

Last year was the first year that I added herbs and Kale, they are both coming back, however, this time it will just be one Kale plant as last year it got over 3 feet high and quite literally fell over!

This shows my lettuce right next to the flag. This is about as big as it gets before it "bolts" and goes to seed. Believe me when I say, don't eat it...it is incredibly bitter tasting once it bolts!




What's bugging you?

I got my seeds in the mail this last week along with my Praying Mantis egg! Did you know that just one full grown Praying Mantis can keep many of the pesky bugs out of your garden? No harsh chemicals needed, just another very cool insect (which also doesn't eat your garden, just the bugs!) There are plenty of organic methods to keeping pests away from your crops. How do you plan to keep them at bay? If you need suggestions,  just let me know!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring has Sprung!

I could just sing seeing all this beautiful sunshine here in the NW! I really do live in a beautiful part of the US. With spring in the air, I am now starting to plan out my garden, and while I am doing that, I figured I should ask.

What questions do you have about organic gardening?

Companion planting?

 Square Foot Gardening?

 Please, fire away and that way I can do a blog post designated to each one!

For those out there who think "I don't have any space, I couldn't grow anything." to you I say...I thought so too once upon a time. You can grow almost ANYTHING in a container if you are limited on space, you just need sunshine for several hours a day to do it!

If you think "It would take too much work to prep the ground and I don't have the tools." I have solutions for that too!

My backyard is beautiful, and I love it....however it has two lovely and HUGE Oak trees that shade my entire back yard. No joke...So I don't get to garden in the backyard. I converted my front yard into a garden. The problem was...in an attempt to kill the grass, poison was used on the ground (no, not by me...). I have zero desire to plant my plants in that dirt. So, you are probably thinking, how on earth did she turn her front yard into a garden then?

Answer?

Raised garden beds. I slapped down a few double layers of weed barrier, put the raised beds on top of it and then filled it with a special organic garden blend of soil that I get from a company called "Best Buy Bark" and it is located in Hillsboro, OR. Fantastic results! Each year I enrich the soil with organic compost from the same company and have gotten amazing results. But I don't just use the raised Garden beds. I also use containers. I have tiny containers and I have HUGE barrel like containers, I do what fits in my area and grow accordingly.

This years garden will include: Asparagus, Sugar Snap Peas (a favorite!), Green Beans, Carrots, Tomatoes (Many types), Zucchini, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Spinach, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Corn and several types of Peppers, along with Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries and a new addition of Elderberries!

You're probably thinking I have a HUGE front yard....I don't...I truly and honestly don't. I just make the best use of the space that I have by companion planting and square foot gardening!

Spring is in the air and I can't wait to get gardening! I'm ordering my seeds today! So tell me...what will be in your garden?
My Garden Mid-Spring 2013

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Beef Stir Fry

Want a quick and super easy meal? Look no further! This is such a super easy meal and it comes together in a flash! (Ok, so maybe not a flash, but it's certainly in the 30 minutes or less category!)

Here is what I did for this particular batch.
1 lb stew meat (or strip steak that you have sliced)
Veggies (as many as you want!) For this batch I used broccoli, shredded carrots and snap peas.
Almonds (again, as many as you want) 
Sauce...recipe to follow!

Ok, so here is what I did. I put a little bit of oil into my electric skillet which was set between 325 and 350 degrees F and I browned all of the meat. I then added the frozen veggies and almonds. If using fresh, add a about 1/4 cup of water so that the steam can help cook them. Put the lid on for 5-10 minutes until the veggies are cooked, but not soft. Now is the time to add the sauce to finish cooking (that way the flavor infuses into everything)

Sauce:
1 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp sugar (you can also substitute honey as a sweetener)
3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
3 Tbsp Water
1 Tbsp Corn Starch
1/3 cup apple juice, chicken broth or beef broth (your choice depending on what type of stir fry you are doing!)

Mix everything together and make sure there are no lumps then slowly incorporate into the stir fry. Cook for another 5-10 minutes with the lid on until the sauce is reduced a bit. Turn off the heat and serve over rice!
Looks good, huh? I must say, it tasted good too! :)