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Sundays in the South

Diggin' In — Why Community Gardens Are a Great Idea for Beginners

AmyWe moved back to the Pacific Northwest almost two years ago. For the first year, I was in complete denial about our permanency in this state, mainly because I was hoping we’d move back to Oklahoma. But as they say, “We make our plans and God laughs.

So here we are and, at least until the unforeseen future, this is where we’ll be. Settling in and planting roots in relationships and in the garden have become a priority. However, the “micro-lot” that our rental sits on doesn’t lend itself to much gardening, so we put our names on a waiting list at the local community garden and waited.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that vegetable gardening is a whole new hobby for me. I’ve always grown my favorite floral perennials, but never really dabbled into the vegetable side until this spring. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long to be notified that not only were we now the new adoptive gardeners to a single plot, but we were lucky enough to garner two!

As is my personality, I jumped with both rain boots on and never looked back. And I’m so glad I did. Being a part of a local community garden has so many benefits and I’d like to share the few that have made an impression on me thus far:

Freebies: During our March volunteer cleanup day, many of the experienced gardeners brought with them tray after tray full of early spring sprouts, such as lettuces, kales, and Swiss chard starts to share with those who joined in the melee of yanking up invasive weeds, mint, and other wild growing plants that had found their way into the garden. Freebies help save money, especially for a newbie like myself who didn’t have a clue I could plant lettuce that early in the spring.

Walking Encyclopedias:  For me, that’s exactly what experienced gardeners are. They can tell when to plant peas, how far apart to plant your bok choy, and give you the recipe for a homemade organic fertilizer that will make your plants look like they’re on steroids. I love those walking encyclopedias. Almost every evening I head to the garden there’s another gardener who’s more experienced and knowledgeable than I am who is eager to answer questions and point out tips and tricks to keep my little garden plots happy and healthy.

Making new friends: I will be the first to admit that when it comes to making new friends, in most settings I’m a bit gun-shy. But for some reason, when I’m in the garden and I see another gardener it’s like we’re long lost buddies from high-school and we can sit and chat about our little veggies like a couple of first time mommy’s comparing notes on which formula is best.

Giving back: I love to volunteer, I love feeding people, and I hate the thought of anyone going hungry, so it absolutely makes sense for me to garden and share with those in need. Our community does a fantastic job in allocating specific portions of the garden for vegetables to be grown specifically for the local food bank. I've been told that last year the goal was 1,000 pounds of vegetables and that they almost made it, having come up short by 150 pounds, which isn’t bad at all in my eyes! That’s a whole lotta tomatoes and zucchini! This year, I think our board members must have upped the ante to 1,200 pounds, which is quite a hefty goal considering our community garden is less than an acre.

Mind, body, and soul therapy: There is nothing I love more than to head to the garden late in the evening around 9 p.m. That may seem late to some, but up here in the PNW it doesn’t get dark until almost 10, but the garden tends to get quiet around 8:30 and that’s when I love to go do most of my gardening. There’s a peace and stillness that falls over the garden during that time that brings me so much joy. I’m sure my blood pressure drops and any stresses from the day simply melt away when I slowly make my way through each of the beds, pulling up weeds, watering the plants, and taking in the beauty that surrounds me. Gardening is definitely very therapeutic for the mind, body, and soul!

The Bounty: Finally, I can’t forget the bounty of what we are growing. For now, while I’m still learning, I’ve kept both of our beds filled with easy-to-grow plants, such as kale, Swiss chard, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, bok choy, and of course, zucchini. Every day, I ride my bike down to the garden with my 5-gallon bucket hooked to the handle bars. Inside you'll find my mud-stained garden gloves and favorite garden sheers waiting to be put to use. And after a few hours in the garden I return home with the evening's dinner and lunch for the next day.

I must admit, I truly have been bitten by the gardening bug. The abundance of blessings far outweighs any mulch-spreading, bark-laying, weed-pulling community chores I need to pitch in and do. And while I am a newbie and this is my first garden and, knock on wood, so far I haven’t experienced any issues great or small, I’m already eager to make a wish-list of vegetables I’d like to try next year!

Community Garden

 

The Calm Before the Storm

AmyThe vegetable gardening bug has definitely bit me.

Up until this point in my life, I focused mainly on perennials and houseplants because veggie gardening terrified me. All of those neat little rows, companion planting, decisions to be made on which fertilizer to use and when…it seemed all so overwhelming.

However, with my desire to eat healthier and to learn a new hobby, all I can say is "WAHOO!" I am so glad I jumped in with both mud boots on!

As I navigate this newfound hobby, I’m finding there are certain times that I especially enjoy being in the garden. One is in the late evening. Now I know my chances of becoming a mosquito’s next meal are higher at that time, but, honestly, having the garden to myself and enjoying nature’s song as performed by crickets, birds, and buzzing bugs brings me great joy!

Late evening is second only to my absolute favorite time in the garden, which is right before a storm.

Stormy skies 1

There’s a different type of silence in the garden, as even nature seems to quiet. There’s a coolness in the air, the storm clouds are slowly rolling in, and a few raindrops fall and splat, watering the earth and warning me that my time is running short.

If I’m lucky, there’s a good half hour before the heavens open up, so I soak up each and every second. Earth between my fingers and the earthy smell of plant and dirt wafting on the breeze.

Stormy skies 2

Suddenly I don’t mind weeding out little invaders.

This is my favorite time in the garden.

Please join me at www.sundaysinthesouth.blogspot.com and share your favorite time!

Blessings and best wishes,
Amy

Growing Up and Moving Out

AmyNo, I'm not talking about my children, although they are hedging their way to the door way too quickly for my taste, but that's an entirely different story!

I'm talking about my little seedlings. They've been sitting under grow lights for weeks now, and I did my best to keep them watered, warm with just the right temps from the grow mats, but now it's time to take them outside.

As a newbie veggie gardener, I try to read as much as I can get my hands on, talk to as many experienced gardeners as I can, and then let nature do the rest. (While I keep my fingers crossed, naturally!)

But now, as we head into warmer temps, it's time to move them from their protected little world under the grow lamps to face the harsh realities of hardening off outside. But before you think me a heartless gardener, wait! Check out their new digs.

Mini greenhouse

I bought this mini greenhouse from my local housewares store for about $20 plus tax, Trust me, this little greenhouse is well worth the money I spent on it. Especially since right now here in Oklahoma our temps are all over the place. One minute they're in the 80s during the day and then a storm front blows in with 50-mph winds and temps quickly drop to the 40s and that's all in one day! Yep! That's Oklahoma weather for ya!

As you can see, they're happy little veggies, all thriving and branching out, and soon it will be time to move them into bigger pots as I wait for the ground temps to reach above 50 degrees.

Now let me tell ya, I'm not a bettin' woman by any means, but ... something in my gut is tellin' me that although our days are unusually warm lately with temps hovering right around 80, I get this feeling that good old Mother Nature has one more cold front in store for us. So I'll be keeping my veggies in pots until I'm fully convinced we're having an early summer and not a late frost!

In the meantime, now that my first seedlings have been moved outdoors into the greenhouse, I've started my next batch of seeds. These are the ones like carrots and radishes that don't have as long of maturity dates as their counterparts like the zucchini's and beans.

Seedlings

Now I will say that being a brand-new veggie gardener, this whole timing thing is rather overwhelming. "When do I plant the tomatoes, what about the sunflowers; is it too early for the carrots and what about those marigolds, and did I actually leave enough space in the garden to plant all of these things?"

I tell ya, it's confusing trying to figure out who's on first and what's on second as Abbott and Costello used to say. So for me, it's slow progress. But I will say it's all been worth it so far!

Just to see the seeds sprout, watch their initial leaves turn into sets of two and three and then branch out to a degree that you need to transplant them into bigger pots. And as I recently found out, nothing is more relaxing when you're sicker than a dog with a month-long chest cold, than spending time transplanting your seedlings into larger pots while watching gardening shows on YouTube.

YouTube gardening

So while it's slow progress at the moment, my gut tells me that any minute, when Mother Nature stops throwing her temper tantrums with our weather, my veggies are going to explode!

Here's to warm weather and great gardening days to you and yours!

Amy

And don't forget to follow me at Sundays in the South.

Seeds of Joy

AmySee this sweet face?

Goat Kitty 

At first glance you might mistake our Little Miss Tessa as a cat. If you thought so, then I must tell you, you are wrong. She's not a cat at all, in fact she's public enemy No. 1 when it comes to my houseplants!

Don't believe me? Just take a look at what she did to my orchid. Shock! Horror!

Damage by the goat

Let's just say I was not a happy girl when I found out. I did my best to keep that little pygmy goat out of my houesplants, but nothing I did kept her out of the orchids and African violets. Nothing worked until I brought home some wheatgrass from the market to add to my morning juice. Can you say, goat-kitty lottery?! Literally Tessa went cat loony.

But here's the thing, now she was attacking my wheatgrass, so I had to keep it under a garden cloche but when I did that, she'd rub her face all over the glass. Seriously? What type of animal is she? Finally, I figured, "Hey, if she likes the wheatgrass maybe she'll stay out of the house plants."

By golly it worked like a charm!

Dinner Time 

So I took the wheatgrass out of the plastic container plopped it into a planter, added some dirt and a bit of water and voila! Tessa's very own garden. And talk about a happy cat, she noshed on that wheatgrass like a lion on a gazelle.

At this point we're thinking she's not quite normal. Somewhere in that little cat body of hers, she most definitely has goat DNA.

After about three weeks of buying wheatgrass for said goat-kitty, which can add up rather quickly, I figured why not buy some seeds and reseed as we go.

Now to be honest, I wasn't quite sure the seeds would germinate in our kitchen with very limited sunlight. Nor did I think they'd hold up against Tessa walking all over them (she has a weird knack of climbing into the planter and sitting on top while noshing on the grass that sticks out around her – yeah ... I know, she's weird!) But so far, so good. The seeds are surviving her abuse and sprouting rather quickly.

Catnip heaven 

I have to say that as a new gardener this brought me a jolt of joy when I first spied the seedlings sprouting.

Funny how life can be that way sometimes. You have an idea, you put it into motion, hope and pray it works, and then when you have that first glimpse that you're making progress, WHAM! Pure joy!

That's me with this wheatgrass. Because it would seem (fingers crossed here ...) that Tessa loves having her very own "garden" enough to keep those fangs of hers off my orchids and violets, which makes me very, very happy!

So while this gardening success is small in the scheme of things, to me, it's huge because it's a win-win. The goat-kitty gets her daily dose of plant material, and my houseplants don't shake in fear every time she steps into the room!

Therefore there is peace and harmony once again in our suburban garden.

Peace and harmony

Until next week,
Blessings & Best Wishes,
Amy

2000 New Friends

AmyThey're here!

Now before I introduce you, let's back up a few weeks to when I decided to jump on the homesteading bandwagon. Keep in mind that I'm basically starting from scratch out here in suburbia so I'm reading everything I can get my hands on, and the one thing that kept popping up over and over was composting.

So with a few tips from gardening books, tons of YouTube videos, and talking to some experienced gardeners, I figured if I was gonna do this right and help amend this Oklahoma red dirt that's harder than a brick, I'd need a little help. OK, change that to a lot of help!

Enter my new best friends. Approximately 2,000 new best friends ... The Red Wiggler Worms!

In my research Red Wigglers are some of the best for composting. Frankly they seem a bit like slithering little vampires. I mean, they don't like the light, they're blood ... I mean, veggie thirsty critters with voracious appetites, and the weirdly cool thing about them is that what they excrete is pure gold for us gardeners. Sounds gross I know, but when you live with two teenage sons, nothing grosses you out, least of all worm poo.

Now I'm all for organic, no pesticides and adding back into the garden as possible the all natural way. And since I'm not the squeamish sort and thought those little critters were rather cool considering all they'd be doing to help this gal out in her new garden, I knew I needed to invite these critters over to our worm shanty (read: converted Rubbermaid into worm bin).

About the same time, I started saving all of my food scraps. No meat. No grease. No crusty week old Cheetos the dog wouldn't eat, just plain old fruit and veggie scraps. Oh! And those little fruit labels, those went in the trash, worms don't like those. But all the yummy food that worms like to eat, got tossed into the worm bin.

To set up my worm bin, I took an old clear shallow plastic bin (24-by-15-by-15) threw it into a big black yard waste trash big (because worms don't like light – think veggie vampires), layered it with damp torn newspaper shreds, about a half gallon of organic soil and then started adding food scraps to the bin.

Worm bin set up 

Now I've read that worms like when food starts to rot. Something to do with bacteria and all that jazz. So I started the bin about a week before the worms actually arrived in order to get the decomposition rolling. I made sure everything was slightly damp, not soaking wet and then popped the lid on, put it in the garage to percolate a bit.

With the compost cooking, I needed worms.

I hit all the local nurseries first but who knew no one carried worms in the winter. What? Worms go on vacation? They diet in the winter? I don't get it! Not a single worm to be had. That's ridiculous. Now I'm sure there's a good reason why it seems like the worms all went on vacation but I haven't a clue. I had garbage and I needed worms pronto.

Not to be deterred I hit the 'net and within minutes found Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  

Here's the cool thing. Apparently there are sales on worms in the winter. Yep! Love that! So I placed my order and a few days later, shipped Priority Mail, my veggie vampires (Red Wiggler Worms) showed up in a peat-packed breathable bag.

Priority Mail 

I followed the directions just as Uncle Jim suggested and got the worms transferred to their new home with nary a problem. And so far, it would seem that everyone is happy!

Very easy!

I want to encourage everyone to start a worm bin. There are tons of videos out there on how to put together a bin made out of plastic containers, buckets, filing cabinets (yes, filing cabinets) and wood. Whatever you want it to look like, however big you want to make it, it's all up to you.

The point is, if you want compost that is pure heaven's nectar for your veggies and flowers, get a bin, save your scraps and order your own set of vampires! Your plants will love you! And frankly these little critters are so cool to watch.

Until next time,
Happy Gardening,
Amy
www.SundaysInTheSouth.blogspot.com

New Beginnings for a New Gardener

AmyHope and joy fill my heart as I ponder what is in store for the New Year.

As a wife and mother, there are so many hopes and dreams that I pray for my family as we begin this new year, things like happiness, good health, success and safety, just to name a few.

And as a novice gardener I’m excited about all the things I want to accomplish outside. There’s the raised garden bed I want to build and fill with my family’s favorite veggies, like carrots, green beans and kale. I also want to try my hand at sweet potatoes and growing them from slips I start here in the kitchen.

Then there’s the potting bench I want to build out of an old double-seated swing that used to grace the front porch of our first home.

Thorn-less blackberries and raspberries will be added to the garden in hopes that our family will be enjoying them atop a big bowl of homemade ice cream after a day spent in the sweltering Oklahoma heat.

Now I realize it may be a bit nostalgic to think that I can grow veggies and a few fruits for my family to enjoy just as my grandparents did for us grandkids. And the nostalgia I feel when I remember running up and down the rows in my grandparents' garden chasing “horny toads” and breaking out in a rash because I’d eaten myself sick by plucking cucumbers and tomatoes right off the vine, well ... frankly I want that for my children, too!

I want to slow life down a little, enjoy what's been given to us in our own small suburban backyard, step away from the hectic pace of "go, go, go" and simply live life a little better, centered more on our home, family and what we can achieve together right here. I want to bring back the simple pleasures, hard work and precious time with loved ones in such a way that I simply cannot wait to get the beds built and seedlings in the ground and see what springs to life.

And yet I must remember that with new beginnings come a new set of challenges, some seen and some unforeseen. Gardening, especially for a beginner like myself, is bound to have a huge learning curve. So, while I have grand plans, I think it’s best for me to start small, like say, with a few of my family’s favorite vegetables instead of tearing up the entire backyard and planting 20 different types of rare and ornamental vegetables. My motto this year is: Start small and learn big.

Oh! And a couple of other things: Enlist the help of a few good strong fellas like my dear hubby and teenage sons for the heavy lifting. Secondly, take advantage of all the wonderful folks who share their immense knowledge and experience through the Capper's Farmer magazine and blogging community. Knowing when you need help and where to go to get that help is HUGE when starting any project, big or little.

So I invite you to follow me this season as I head back to a simpler, quieter life and test out the results on my unsuspecting family here on my little piece of suburban heaven, or at my Sundays in the South blog.

garden