Category Archives: gardening

Twelve great reasons to garden–some may surprise you!

These may look like my personal opinion (actually, they are) but there are dozens of articles and studies available on the Internet to support what I say below. For simplicity, I’ve limited myself to just one reference for each statement. You can Google the topics if you want even more information.

1. Garden soil contains microbes that can make you happy. “Antidepressant microbes in soil cause cytokine levels to rise, which results in the production of higher levels of serotonin. The bacterium was tested both by injection and ingestion on rats and the results were increased cognitive ability, lower stress and better concentration to tasks than a control group. Gardeners inhale the bacteria, have topical contact with it and get it into their bloodstreams when there is a cut or other pathway for infection. The natural effects of the soil bacteria antidepressant can be felt for up to 3 weeks if the experiments with rats are any indication. So get out and play in the dirt and improve your mood and your life.”

cooking Swiss chard

Super pretty superfood… chard.

2. Children who garden eat more vegetables. I’ve seen this happen personally. My son was always involved in our garden and he would graze on things most kids would turn their noses up at.  He now not only loves his veggies (he’s in college)–he has also become a gourmet cook!
“Teach a kid to grow a carrot, and [s]he’ll probably eat more of them, according a new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The study found that kids who are involved in the process of growing their own food are more likely to have healthier diets.”

green veggie garden

Tiptoe through the cabbage…

3. Walking barefoot in a garden will ground your body for good health.
“Your immune system functions optimally when your body has an adequate supply of electrons, which are easily and naturally obtained by barefoot contact with the Earth. Research indicates that electrons from the Earth have antioxidant effects that can protect your body from inflammation and its many well-documented health consequences. For most of our evolutionary history, humans have had continuous contact with the Earth.”

4. Dirt is good for your immune system!
A mounting body of research suggests that exposing infants to germs may offer them greater protection from illnesses such as allergies and asthma later on in life.
“This line of thinking, called the “hygiene hypothesis,” holds that when exposure to parasites, bacteria, and viruses is limited early in life, children face a greater chance of having allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood. In fact, kids with older siblings, who grew up on a farm, or who attended day care early in life seem to show lower rates of allergies.”

5. Sun exposure can actually PROTECT you from skin cancer.
Now, I’m going out on a limb here since so many doctors are still adamant that we need to wear hazmat suits when we leave our homes, but there is growing research supporting my statement. The way I look at it, we are NATIVE to this planet. We get our Vitamin D from sun exposure. We are meant to get some sun exposure. Where we get into trouble is that people have different skin color (pigment). Pigment is natural sun protection. If someone has very light skin, they can handle very little sun exposure before they burn. Burn damages skin cells, and during the repair process some errors can occur. Repeated burns means more margin for error. So IMHO sun exposure itself is not the culprit, it’s repeated prolonged exposure leading to sun burns and skin damage.

“Exposure to sunlight, particularly UVB, is protective against melanoma — or rather, the vitamin D your body produces in response to UVB radiation is protective. As written in The Lancet:ii Paradoxically, outdoor workers have a decreased risk of melanoma compared with indoor workers, suggesting that chronic sunlight exposure can have a protective effect.”

canned tomatoes in my pantry

These canned tomatoes MAY carry me into the next tomato season. Maybe.

6. Gardening is fun and rewarding!
I shouldn’t put up any references for this statement, because I can speak from the heart here. But for the sake of consistency, I will. I remember the first time as a child I planted a radish seed in a little flower pot and saw the little hard brown speck turn into green leaves and then a whole radish. I was fascinated and have never lost that feeling! In a culture where we depend on outside “authorities” such as doctors and dentists, drug manufacturers, lawyers, bankers and investment counselors, realtors, car salesmen, dry cleaners, cosmetic sales persons and even food producers and grocery stores, how rewarding to be self-sustaining, even if it’s just a little bit. For me planting seeds and seedlings in my garden in late spring and within weeks being able to nibble my way around the plants is a feeling I can’t describe. Being able to pick a ripe tomato and eat it, warm from the sun, right there in the garden, is heaven. And I also preserve (can/dry/freeze) my veggies so during the winter I can grab a jar of stewed tomatoes out of the pantry to add to a meal I’m cooking and think, “I grew this!” There’s nothing like it.

7. Gardening IS exercise!
Bending, walking, carrying heavy bags, shoveling, weeding, stretching are all exercise but I don’t seem to really notice it when I’m in the garden. I’m usually so involved with what I’m doing that I barely notice what my body is doing. The bending over can sometimes tire out my back, so I find ways to sit on raised bed edges or even the dirt to avoid having to be bent over all the time. But I certainly can work up a sweat and on big gardening days I forego the treadmill. Here’s a WebMD article that talks about the “right” way to garden exercise. And don’t forget the pure clean oxygenated air you’ll be breathing in your garden (not to mention the happy microbes).


Mixed varieties of home grown tomatoes.

8. Gardening can save you money.
Last winter I was looking at WholeFoods heirloom tomatoes for $5.99 a pound and thinking, “I grew at least 100 lbs of heirlooms last summer—for almost free.” I just couldn’t make myself buy one! I also grew probably 10 pounds of leeks, 3 pounds of shallots and countless other “gourmet” vegetables for next to nothing. Of course my up-front costs of building raised beds and adding soil, soaker hoses and a fence have to be considered, but I didn’t spend that much money and you don’t have to go the same route that I did.


Herbs can grow indoors.

Last summer I made a raised bed out of some pallets that a local lawn service gave me for free. I took them apart and made a box. But if you don’t have the tools or are not handy, there are instructions on the internet for using them “as is.” If you don’t have room to put a raised bed, you can garden plenty of things in pots and planters as long as they get enough sun and water. You can get large used plastic pots for free, or almost free, at garden centers. The ones that sell trees have especially large pots. You can even plant directly into bags of garden soil from the store. I did that before I had my raised beds, and the plants grew just as well! You can see a soil bag garden here, just scroll down to the third photo.

Seeds cost a little money, but you don’t necessary have to buy seeds either. If I get the rare good-tasting tomato at the grocery store, I’ll take some of the seeds out, stick them to a paper towel and dry them for planting later. Same goes for squashes (acorn, butternut, zucchini). I imagine you could do the same with cucumbers, melons—anything that has seeds in it. I save basil and dill seeds from the plants.  I also save the cheap plastic flower packs from flowers I’ve bought and planted over the years and use those to start my seeds. Bonus: This year my neighbor cleaned out her garage and gave me all her planter packs and plastic pots, barely used. I got the change to replace my tattered ones for almost new.

Dirt is pretty much everywhere, and a lot of times free. However, our dirt has heavy clay, so for my garden I brought in bags of garden soil and either amend yearly with Sheep & Peat, or home-composted fruit & vegetable scraps and straw and poop from our chicken coop.

Hand watering or using a drip or soaker system is about the most economical way to go. If you’re allowed to in your state, collecting rain water (I can’t) is even better because not only is it free, but the quality of the water is so much better than tap water which is full of chlorine, fluoride and heavens knows what else.

9. You’ll have truly organic produce.
I buy organic produce as much as I can and then wonder if it’s really organic*. It’s not always available and can be cost prohibitive. So, say I really want brussels sprouts for dinner one night. I look in the grocery store and there’s a pile of fresh, big, healthy, crisp sprouts. They’re not organic, and they’re $1.99 lb. I go over to the organic section and the sprouts are small, wilted, dried out and loaded with aphids and they’re twice the price. My next option is to head to the frozen food aisle and see if they have frozen organic. Those are usually pretty nice. If not, my choice is going to be non-organic or none at all. A great resource that helps me decide is the Environmental Working Groups’ Dirty Dozen Lists. or even this one:

BTW Once I did opt for the wilted organic sprouts and ended up throwing them away—they were so full of aphids and mildew that no matter how many leaves I pulled off, there were still more.

ladybug on dill plant

Ladybugs, my pesticide of choice.

*But even when I buy organic, I sometimes question whether they really, truly are. Vegetables that come from Mexico, South America and other distant places make me question just “who” is deeming them organic and keep an eye on things. What are their standards?

If you grow you own food, you KNOW it’s organic, if that’s the way you’re going it. No pesticides (there are home made non-toxic ways of dealing with garden pests), no chemical fertilizers, no “overspray” from neighboring non-organic farms (hopefully).

10. The nutritional value of home-grown foods blows factory-farmed food out of the water (or farm).
“[I]t is true that fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.”
“A landmark study on the topic by Donald Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century. Davis and his colleagues chalk up this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition.”
“Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly,” reported Davis, “but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.” There have likely been declines in other nutrients, too, he said, such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins B-6 and E, but they were not studied in 1950 and more research is needed to find out how much less we are getting of these key vitamins and minerals.”

As a gardener I tend to rotate my plantings yearly, it’s not only good for the nutritional value but also can prevent diseases from spreading from previous years. But I imagine even if I didn’t, my soil would still be healthier than those on modern “factory” farms because they have much larger concentrations of vegetables being planted year after year in the same beds.

vegetable bowl

From the garden. Well, okay, the eggs are from the chickens.

11. Home-grown produce tastes so much better!
Yes, yes, yes this is absolutely true. Many people living in the USA have no idea of what real food tastes like! Store-bought produce has been picked before it’s ripe so it can be shipped all over the place before it starts to spoil. No fruit or vegetable tastes as good as something that has ripened ON THE PLANT and in the sun. Not to mention that, in the quote in #10 above, the preponderance of agri practices is designed to improve size, growth rate and pest resistance rather than nutrition. And real nutrition tastes better. At least to me. I had a friend actually spit out some of my freshly picked celery because it had “too much flavor.” She preferred the bland grocery store version.

tomato seedling

Brandywine tomato seedlings.

12. You can grow a variety of produce that you can’t find in the store.
Again, grocery chains and farms have to provide produce that will travel and keep well, so they limit their crops to a few varieties that were either hybrid to fit their needs or, sadly, genetically modified. As a home gardener, you are only limited by:

What will grow in your climate. Such as where I live, the growing season is relatively short so I look for plants that mature in as short a time as possible — 50-60 days hopefully. Seed catalogs will have that information for each seed that they sell. Seed catalogs are free and you’re not obligated to buy from them. They are great information resources and I recommend getting at least one. One of my favorites is Park Seeds.  You can get around maturation times if you start your plants indoors very early (I’ve started tomatoes in February and they have fruit on them when they go in the ground), or go to the trouble of making hoop houses, cold frames, warm frames or greenhouses.

chicken Jenny

A gratuitous picture of Jenny.

Disease resistance in the produce you plant. This is a big one for me. After number of days to maturity, I look for the most disease resistant vegetables I can find. You can’t really do this with seeds you harvest from store-bought vegetables, but I’m guessing most of those are already engineered to be hardy  to begin with. But… there’s not much more disappointing than growing tomatoes or zucchini all summer, and just when the fruit looks like it’s starting to ripen the plants fall over dead. The only thing more disappointing is annihilation by hailstorm.

Moisture and how much sun your garden gets. Check seed catalogs there’s a little help here: Many plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, corn need full sun, which is considered to be at least 6-8 or more hours of direct sun every day, depending also on your location and time of day of the sun exposure. But there are plants that “tolerate” or even do well in partial sun. As far as moisture goes, there are plants that can handle a lot of moisture, and others that can tolerate drier conditions. No plants, other than water plants, can survive having “wet feet” all the time — they need some air around their roots as well.

Your personal tastes. If you’ve never seen a seed catalog, such as the Parks one, you may just be amazed at the varieties available for each vegetable. For instance, they have available 116 different seeds & seedlings for tomatoes: heirlooms, cherries, slicing, salad, romas, yellow, green, purple… I usually grow 2-3 different types of tomatoes every summer: one for eating/canning, romas and a cherry. For a long time my favorite was the Park’s Whopper and I may try those again this year. Aside from tomatoes, there may be plants you’ve never seen in a grocery store, never eaten or even heard of! I started growing kohlrabi several years ago. The leaves are great cooked as greens and the bulb is delicious raw in salads, sautéed or even added to soup or stew. Parks has a variety of beets, which I grow mostly for the beet tops: I love them lightly steamed, they’re nutritious, delicious and don’t taste like beets at all (if you don’t like the beet flavor). They will produce new leaves all summer into fall if you don’t overpick them. In the fall I store them to make pickled beets, add them grated to salad or make beet kvass. Parks even now has a “Superfood” section on their web site if you want to get the most nutrition out of your garden.

So I want to see you get out there and GARDEN!

Why are Americans so sick?

This is me, on a rant. We, as a country, have killed our food. And in the process, we are killing ourselves.

urban farming food

This chart is up-side-down!

Since Americans have been following advice given (and sometimes laws made) by the FDA, DOA and the medical and scientific communities such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, etc., there has been a drastic increase in obesity, cancer, autoimmune disease, heart disease and dementia in America, just to name a few. As of 2004 almost half of all Americans suffer from chronic conditions, children as well as adults. Before 1920, heart disease was rare in the US. Now it’s the leading cause (40%) of death. During that time period, the consumption of animal fats and meats declined while the consumption of vegetable oils in the forms of margarine and shortening, and sugar and processed foods rose 60%. (NT pg. 5) Other cultures around the world that have adopted our “western” diet have seen the same decline in their health, while remote people that retain their native traditional diets remain healthy: no chronic diseases, dental decay or mental illness. (NT preface)

urban farming

Rosie wasn’t the only riveter!

I’m not sure just how things went so far south as to how we handle and relate to our most elementary need: sustenance. Some people say it started when we went from hunter/gatherers to farmer/agriculture/manufacturing. Some people blame the WWII and then the women’s liberation movement for creating changes in women’s roles: going from the family food preparer, housekeeper and caregiver to the working women who were in desperate need of conveniences to help them juggle work, home and family. However it happened, I don’t like it.

We’ve given away our power by trusting doctors, government (FDA and DOA), pharmaceutical companies, cereal companies, dog food companies, soda companies, energy drink companies, etc. as they tell us what we should eat, what we should do and what we should take to be healthy. We don’t even question them—we believe they are there to protect us, by law. We have given away our power, period. We don’t research how pharma companies pay for studies to make their products look safe, how they wine and dine medical professionals and have their check books deep into medical schools, how dog food companies and pet pharmas pay for vets’ education, continuing education and more. We don’t realize how many studies are faulty, slanted or flat-out falsified.


These are “cageless” chickens!

How factory farmed food  animals (FFFA) are mistreated, abused and genetically altered to make the biggest profits, given antibiotics to compensate for their compromised immune systems from overcrowded living conditions, fed by-products from other industries because they’re cheap and easy to get and fatten animals up quickly.

We rarely think about how we eat what we eat eats. Read that slowly, it does make sense. Really. All the unnatural foods fed to FFFAs end up in their meat, which we consume. FFFAs have a serious imbalance in Omega 3’s because they’re not eating the pasture grasses for which their bodies were designed. That’s why everyone is gulping down Omega 3 fish oil capsules! But then, where do those capsules come from? If it’s farmed fish, they too are being fed garbage. Soy, corn meal, chicken and pig feces (yes really), canola oil, dyes, arsenic and… antibiotics. With loads of PCB and other chemicals thrown in just for fun.  And really, do any of us want animals of any kind to suffer?

pesticides in farming

Think you can wash pesticides off?

I’m not just talking about animals. Vegetable, nut, fruit, grain and fruit farms are being over-farmed due to zero crop rotation. The soils become deficient in vitamins, minerals, healthy bacteria and nutrients— and so are the crops they produce. To make up for the lack of nutrients in soil, they are being sprayed with chemical fertilizers.  Don’t get me started on Monsanto, but they are genetically modifying seeds (GMOs) so they are “Roundup ready.” You know Roundup, the stuff you spray on weeds and “they won’t come back?” Well, weeds become a problem on farms as well, competing with the food crops for water, space and nutrition. The quickest, cheapest and easiest way to deal with them is to spray with Roundup. The genetically modified plants can withstand the barrage of herbicides while the weeds die. The food plants soak up Roundup like Kool-Aid. Think that stuff can be washed off? Then they sell you more chemicals in a spray bottle to “wash off” the pesticides. Right. So once again we’re eating foods that are nutritionally deficient and loaded with poisonous chemicals. Yum.

food labels

Not just potatoes–click image.

And then there’s the dry and canned convenience foods. Ever read the labels? All the nutrients have been removed by processing, sterilizing and preserving. Any of the “good” bacteria found in raw milk and milk products, pickled foods and preserved foods have been killed off by heat processing and chemical preservatives. That’s why there are so many of those probiotic commercials! Food in boxes comes with labels almost completely written in chemistry. No more MSG? Look again, it’s been renamed to hydrolyzed protein, just one of 50 names to throw us off the trail. Loads of flavor enhancers and lab-created vitamins to make up for dead food, preservatives to keep an infinite shelf-life (but they add expiration dates so we will throw out unused products and buy more).

autoimmune disease cause

Read this enlightening book!

Is it any wonder that people are sicker than ever? More cancer, more autoimmune diseases, more allergies, asthma, GI problems, heart disease, gluten intolerance, mystery illnesses.

I say, let’s take back our power! Here are just a few ways we can step back from the commercial food industry and get back to what’s real, natural and healthy. Don’t feel overwhelmed — take one step at a time. Our bodies have done an amazing job surviving despite what we expose them to, but it’s just a matter of time. Although, if you’re already suffering from any sort of chronic illness, your body is telling you NOW is the time for a change. It IS possible to stop illnesses that have already begun, and recover as well. I’ve seen it myself. If you want to learn more, read Autoimmune Disease, The Cause and The Cure by Annesse Brockley and Kristin Urdiales. Even if you don’t suffer from an autoimmune disease per se, the detailed information in this book will explain a lot of what’s going on in your body and WHY.

Take your power back — Ten easy ways to get started!

1. Read labels. Try to get an idea of what’s in the food you’re buying and what it will do to your body. Many of the chemicals found in personal care products, laundry products, air fresheners and household cleaners are known carcinogens. (AI, pg 196) Environmental Working Group ranks over 15,000 brand-name products and has loads of information on what’s in other things we are exposed to or consume.

2. Buy good quality water filters. Fluoride and chlorine/dioxins are in our water supplies and many products. Don’t forget we are bathing in this same water and absorbing the chemicals through our skin. Fluoride is a by-product of cement, metals and nuclear weapon manufacturing and used as a rat and cockroach poison. It has been proven that fluoride does not strengthen teeth; just the opposite in fact. Chlorine/dioxin is a pesticide linked to various cancers, heart disease, miscarriage and birth defects. (Info from pg. 183, Autoimmune book, see link below.)

3.  Get educated. Read more books like Nourishing Traditions (a cook book but first and foremost a WEALTH of information) and Autoimmune Disease, The Cause and The Cure. Follow Annesse and Kristin on Facebook, they are always updating with new information and responding to people’s questions. Join the Weston Price Foundation and subscribe to the newsletter. Watch some YouTube videos by Dr. Ken Berry and buy his book.

organic vs natural food chart

Natural only means it’s not from another planet.

4. Know where your food is coming from! Again, read labels. Is it organic, certified organic or “natural.” Any GMOs? Are the chickens “cage free” or “free range?” Terminology regarding food can be deliberately misleading. Is the meat pastured and grass finished? Learn the differences and how truthful agriculture really has to be under our lenient and misleading labeling laws. Pay more attention to the way your food is being raised and processed. You’ll be eating what they eat, animal or plant. The ideal solution would be buy from local farmers and see their farming and animal treatment practices in person. There are resources on the internet for finding raw milk, organic produce and pasture-fed animals.

5. Be willing to spend more money on organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed free-range meats, dairy and eggs. You can start gradually. It is SO worth it. And pay attention to grass-fed meats vs. grass-finished. Ranchers will finish cattle and other animals off in feed lots being fed garbage to fatten them up before going to market, which drops the quality of the meats. Don’t be fooled by that, you want pasture-raised, pasture-FINISHED meats.

grow tomatoes indoors

Indoor tomatoes!

6. Start a garden. I realize it’s not possible under all situations, but you can even start small and grow herbs indoors and tomatoes and other patio vegetables in planters on a porch or balcony.  I currently have a potted garden in my second story guest bedroom and it’s doing great!

A lot of neighborhoods have community gardens where for a small fee you get a little plot of land and can spend time tilling the earth, getting close to nature and meeting new friends.

Another way would be to volunteer at a local organic farm and get fresh, healthy food for trade.

7. Question authority. Is there a special interest group (soy growers, corn growers, sugar growers, pork growers “the other white meat”, high profit industries, chemical manufacturers, ad nauseam, their marketing budgets and lobbyists) behind what you’re being told? Honestly, no one is interested in taking care of you and your health other than you and possibly your family and friends. If there’s a profit involved, you can be assured there’s corruption, deceit and greed. No, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I just read a lot.

8. Take up a new hobby such as canning your own foods (or foods from farmers’ markets), culturing vegetables and dairy, cooking more meals from scratch. Get the whole family involved. It’s so easy to make your own salad dressings (and mixes), rice seasonings, sauces and gravies, marinades and rubs, mashed potatoes and more from wholesome and organic herbs, meats and vegetables.

9. Research cooking oil options, butter and animals fats—I guarantee you’ll dump the vegetable oils in a heartbeat.

10. Ditch the cans of soup, stews and chili. If you’re making soup, stew or chili, make some extra and freeze it in freezer-safe canning jars. Stay away from processed foods, avoid all canned food (as in cans, glass jars are better) and opt for frozen foods at the very least. As far as fruits and vegetables go, the frozen ones were frozen at their peak of ripeness and have not been heat processed to death. Check for preservatives!

Why don't we listen to him?

Why don’t we listen to him?

11. Learn the truth about chemically manufactured table salt vs. sea salt, what’s wrong with boxed cereals, crackers, MSG, raw vs. pasteurized milk, margarine vs. butter. I could go on and on. Here’s a paper written by the Nourishing Traditions author Sally Fallon to get you started, Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry. It will shock and disgust you when you read about what we have been unknowingly eating, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Our food has ceased be safe and nutritious as commercial food providers have slowly seduced us into being dependent on them. I’ve learned so much about how we’ve learned to trust industry and government agencies, pharmaceutical and agricultural interests, thinking that they know what’s good for our bodies. We’ve been taught that we should fear handling food prep ourselves because of all the things that can “go wrong” when a layperson tries to grow, preserve and even cook their own food!

Don’t let this nonsense continue! Step up to the plate 🙂 and take the time to feed yourself and your loved ones properly. To quote Sally Fallon, author of the Dirty Secrets article mentioned above:

“To be healthy, we need to prepare our own food, for ourselves and our families. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen, but you do need to spend some time there, preparing food with wisdom and love. If no one in the family has time to prepare food, you need to sit down and rethink how you are spending your time, because this is the only way to get nourishing foods into your kitchen. We can return to good eating practices one mouth at a time, one meal at a time, by preparing own own food and preparing it properly.”

Gardening in Heavy Clay: A Great Solution… or Two!

The weather has been unusually warm this spring, which gave me a chance get a head start in the garden. Over the past 3 weeks I’ve spent an hour or so every day cleaning old leaves out of corners, adding two more raised beds, uncovering the garden path stepping stones that the chickens buried in dirt over the winter, adding bags of garden soil to the new beds and tilling in sheep and peat. Three overgrown lilacs were cut down, the stumps are dug and the plan is to make that spot a sitting area in the garden—a nice place to have coffee in the morning surrounded by lush gardens, birds and bees.

I’ve been gardening in Colorado since 1985 and it has been a struggle. All of the places I’ve lived had heavy clay soil. Our growing season is short: last frost date is in late May and some of our trees’ leaves begin turning color as early as July. The sun in the summer can be blistering, we don’t get much rain and when we do it usually also brings hail. But I’m a gardener through and through and just can’t make myself stop trying.

After struggling with our clay soil for about 10 years, diligently adding amendments and going as far as buying a rototiller to save my back, I finally saw an article in a magazine about raised beds. I’d seen them before but never gave them much thought since they looked expensive. But two years ago I decided to try just one. So now there is a raised bed on one side of the garden. It’s about 8′ x 10′ and about a foot tall. On the other side of the garden I tried gardening in bags of garden soil placed on the ground—sort of mini raised beds that you don’t have to build. Those worked out well too.

The raised bed was built with double stacked 6’x10′ treated wood planks. 4″x4″ posts were nailed in the corners with legs sticking out below. These legs were buried in the ground at different depths in order to make the bed level. Next came filling the bed with bags and bags of garden soil and some sheep and peat.

The soil bag garden was much less formal and permanent. I stabbed a weed puller a few times into the bottom of each bag and flipped it over so the holes were facing down. Holes were cut on the top side to insert plants. For deeper root plants such as tomatoes, I stacked two bags, cutting larger holes between them for drainage.

Both systems solved two problems I was having with gardening in our dense clay: the plants could grow in perfect soil, and drainage was perfect as well. You see, even though I amended and amended our in-ground garden both spring and fall for years, the clay seemed to devour the amendments yet never improved. Plus, I was basically trying to grow a garden in a large clay bowl with no drainage. Water would go through the amended soil and sit at the bottom, pooling in the clay that lay below. With the new raised bed, the water could drain through the nice soil and out of the bottom of the bed.

The following summer I added another large raised bed and two smaller ones and used the previous summer’s soil bags for filling. This year (2012) I added two more small ones and the garden is now complete. Rather than building them from wood again, I found raised bed kits at Walmart that are made from recycled plastic. I stacked two kits together for each bed. They look nice and blend well with wood beds. They probably cost about the same, were much easier to build (no hauling heavy planks home from the store; no cutting). They would also be much easier to relocate, if necessary. We’ll see how they perform this summer. [Update: these only lasted 3-4 years and warped so badly I threw them out.]

I’ve adjusted sprinkler heads to cover the beds, and when the plants get too large to water from above (the big leaves redirect the water in all directions), I have soaker hoses snaking through the beds to take over the job. I’ll update this post with my progress this summer.

I’ve been starting a lot of my plants from seed, sometimes starting tomatoes and peppers in January in order to have vegetables before the first frost. It’s a lot of work sometimes and not always successful. This Christmas I bought myself an LED grow light to see if I can keep vegetables or herbs growing indoors all year round. I’ve experimented with it, and I have to say it blew my mind. In January I planted a variety of vegetables and herbs and the growth was amazing. We were eating greens 4-5 weeks after planting seeds.

Green beans a week later. Growth was strong, healthy and incredibly fast! I was able to start some plants from seed that I’d previously had no success at all. So, I started my next batch of seeds a week ago, this time intended for transplanting to the garden in late May. I’ll do a separate post on what I’ve learned about increasing indoor seed starting success and my super duper booster LED grow light.