Visualize Your Overwhelming Harvest

Bottled tomatoes

Sure, you are just planning your garden or maybe planting seeds now, but you can also visualize and prepare for the results of your gardening. What are you going to do when you are overwhelmed with your harvest?

Most of my recent abundance has come in the form of mint. I have chocolate mint, lemon mint, peppermint, and nice, plain mint. Every year it gets stronger and pushes out the other herbs. Every year I get more mint than the last—more mint of a kind of peppery, chocolaty, lemon flavor. We put mint in salads, in salsa, in meals, in tea. We can’t even come close to eating all of the mint. So, we preserve it. Like my mother, I reach for mint at the first suggestion of stomach upsets, so a lot of our mint becomes tea. Knowing we will use it for tea, we dry our mint. We have enough mint tea for a year or more packed into big, beautiful mason jars.

If you are fortunate, your harvest will be plentiful. Prepare now so that good food does not go to waste.

Eat it
Pick food as it ripens, and eat it as you go.

Prepare: You don’t really need to plan for eating as you go other than choosing your crops carefully. Make sure you like them. The year I planted row after row of arugula, I was very sad. I had a refrigerator full of greens that smelled like stinky feet, and I could not force myself to eat them.

Serve it
Throw a harvest party. Sure, that’s what Thanksgiving is, but most of our food ripens long before Thanksgiving. Throw a party with fresh raspberries in late June, fresh corn in July, and fresh everything in August.

Prepare: Don’t plan your family vacation during the prime two weeks for harvesting fresh food. Block out the best party times now and talk them up with friends and family. Ask now if they want to come stay for the weekend in late summer so they will definitely be available.

Give it away
Where I grew up, the harvest season joke was playing ding-dong-ditch and leaving giant zucchini on neighbors’ doorsteps. No one I knew ever managed to eat all of their zucchini as they picked it, and no one ever visited my mother in the summer without taking away a few vegetables. I think that sharing food is one of the best parts of harvest.

Prepare: Ask your friends and neighbors what they are planting. Plant something different. Anticipate the trade or giveaway. If you don’t know your neighbors, you have relationships to cultivate.

Preserve it
If you garden, chances are you will end up with more of some food than you can handle while fresh. Dry it, freeze it, pickle it, ferment it, bottle it, or turn it into jelly. The best ways to preserve food depend on what you plant and how you eat.

Prepare: Now is the time to learn to preserve food when the only other thing you have to do is watch your seedlings grow. Once you are faced with a bushel of tomatoes, it’s too late to do more than fumble around with a how-to book. If you want to eat from the bountiful harvest of your own garden year round, you need to understand how you want to use it. Do you want to freeze tomato soup that is ready to heat and eat? Do you want to make salsa with your tomatoes, onions, and peppers, ready to pour out of the jar? Do you want homemade ketchup? How about sun-dried tomatoes? Do you want to put whole tomatoes in jars so you can decide later how best to use them? Let your future use of the food determine how you preserve it. Then, start asking around. Can your mother or grandmother teach you to preserve food? Is there a class at the local college or agricultural university extension? Maybe you can even learn from a book if you give yourself enough time. Choose a method, and set out to become competent.

And, visualize your future abundance as you watch your seedlings grow.

Image © Plus69 |

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Square Foot Gardening Gives an Easy Start for Anyone

Urban Square Foot Garden

Are you ready to jump in and plant a garden in your backyard? If you have the space to move beyond an indoor garden or an outside vertical garden, a square foot garden is an ideal way for a beginning gardener to get started on the gardening adventure.

A square foot garden divides a small space into one foot squares with only one type of plant in each square. Larger plants, like tomatoes, are planted just one to a square, while smaller plants, like carrots, are planted with many (16) to a square. The method is very efficient in use of seeds, use of space, and use of water. Because it is so easy to understand and so encouraging, this method works well for gardeners who are intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea of growing their own food.

The space needed can be quite small, but the method is scalable by just repeating the 3′ x 3′ or 4′ x 4′ squares separated by spaces big enough to walk through and to stand while you tend your garden. Your squares can be dug into the ground or planted in a raised bed frame. (The official guidelines put the garden in a frame, but you can adapt the method.) The grid lines between each square foot section can be made with string or something more permanent, like strips from old blinds. You have a lot of choices within the basic guidelines for square foot gardening.

Best of all, you can start today. Draw a 3×3 grid, add dots to represent your crops (1, 4, 9, or 16, depending on plant size), then start building the frame. You can begin in any season.

Square Foot Gardening Resources

  • All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew. This is the square foot gardening bible.
  • Square Foot Gardening Foundation. This foundation, started by the Square Foot Gardening author, aims “to end world hunger by reaching out to families and teaching them how to grow healthy food for their daily meals.”
  • “How to Build a Square Foot Garden,” Frugal Dad. Using the method outlined by Mel Bartholemew, this gardener added a drip irrigation system. Photos and detailed descriptions.
  • My Square Foot Garden. If you are wondering how to garden for your climate, look for planting plans from many different gardeners. The plans are so simple to create and so inspiring to look at.

Image © Claus Mikosch |

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Small Gardens for Bees—and Hummingbirds

Bees on a sunflower

As you are planning your garden, think about not just food for humans but food for all of the creatures that you want to spend time in your garden. Even a small container garden on your porch can include a few flowering plants that will attract bees or even hummingbirds.

Focus on native plants. Local plants will be more attractive to your local bees. Look at this list of California bee-friendly plants by season for suggestions, but be sure to check with local gardeners or garden centers for the plants that will work best in your area.

Plant a variety. Gardens with a diversity of flowers are more attractive to bees. Be sure that your garden flowers throughout the season.

Think beyond flowers. The plants we think of as flowers aren’t the only plants the produce flowers. Many herbs have bee-friendly flowers. Even dandelions produce flowers that some bees like. You can let the bees have the flowers then get rid of the weeds before they go to seed.

Provide a drinking foundation. Bees are small, so you don’t need to provide more than just a jar lid of water for them. If you have a bird bath, they’ll stop by.

Go mulch-less. Mulch keeps moisture in the soil, but some bees nest in the ground. Too much mulch means no access to the soil. You don’t need to go completely mulch-less. Just keep in mind that it’s OK to let some of the soil go naked.

Or, create a bee nest. Find out about the bees in your area. Are they ground-nesting? If so, clear the ground. Are they cavity-nesting or wood-nesting? If so, add a small log or some other piece of wood with 1/4″ wide, 4″ long holes. The Xerces Society has more information on creating bee nests.

And, a bee shelter. Bees will stay in your garden if they can shelter from the weather. Shelter can be as simple as a densely planted area.

While you are creating a garden friendly for tiny creatures, consider planting for hummingbirds as well. There are only a few types of hummingbirds in Canada, but we might as well welcome them. Both bees and hummingbirds look for nectar plants, and wild plants produce more nectar than hybrids. Yet again, choosing native trees, vines, or flowers will work better than exotic species in the long run as you create a bee-friendly and hummingbird-friendly garden.

With the vanishing of the beesevery bee-friendly garden helps.

Image © Anthony Aneese Totah Jr |

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Vertical Garden Inspirations

Vertical Garden

When you don’t have a lot of space for a garden, you can still build up rather than out. Vertical gardens and living walls can be practical and decorative.

You may have noticed that we’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest lately. One of my favorite boards is Edible Gardening. I find the walls of green very intriguing, so I’ve been following the pins back to their sources. I want to share the resources I’ve been finding on vertical gardening.

A Collection of Vertical Gardening Tips
This is a nice introduction, with a few informational resources. The greatest part of this post is the photo of a vegetable wall garden. Look at the wall of green with tomatoes and squash hanging off of it. That is a beautiful vegetable garden.

DIY Project Instructions
Use a pallet to create a quick garden to mount on the wall. Lots of photos.

Raised Bed Kit
This raised bed stacks vertically to give all of the plants plenty of light. This is a kit, but you might be able to use the photo to inspire your own garden.

Indoor Living Walls
These fabric planters are made from recycled plastic bottles. Be sure to look through all of their gallery of vertical garden photos.

Amazing Living Walls
The most amazing vertical gardens are whole walls of buildings, inside and out, created by botanist Patrick Blanc. His own website is difficult to navigate, but this article on his work has several awe inspiring photos.

If you wonder whether you can do it, you can! Start inside or outside; start with a pallet or a pocket; just start. With a living wall, you can create a beautiful environment for your family despise having little space for a garden.

Image © Valeria Sangiovanni |

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Plant an Indoor Kitchen Garden If You Just Can’t Wait!

Indoor kitchen garden potted herbs

I know from Facebook comments on our garden planning post that there are at least a few of you who are really anxious to start gardening. I’m here to tell you that you can start right now. Plant a simple garden in your kitchen to give yourself year-round fresh ingredients for your meals.

A kitchen garden is generally the area of your outdoor garden dedicated to growing herbs and vegetables. Yes, do that, too, but I’m suggesting that you actually start gardening indoors.

You could keep this as simple as a few potted herbs on the window sill or as complicated as taking over a portion of your house with a structured area complete with grow lights. From simple to complex, here are a few ideas where you might start.

Herb Pots on the Window Sills
Scope out window sills to see how much sunny space you actually have. You will need at least five hours of sunlight a day to grow herbs well. Start with just 1-2 pots of the herbs you use or like the most. A lot of fresh food aisles in the grocery stores have herbs for sale in pots, but where is the fun in that? Buy soil-less potting mix or make your own from peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. (Bringing in soil from outdoors could mean bring in creatures you don’t want inside.) Especially with children, growing from seed gives you more of the experience of gardening that is likely to lead you toward a bigger garden.

Fill Your Window with Green
If you want to grow more than just a pot of herbs, you could build your own hydroponic window farm with a few recycled materials and a pump. This is a great way to grow lettuce and other greens.

Make Your Garden a Feature
If you are ready to embrace your gardening, why not make it a feature in your decor. If you move your garden away from the window, you will need grow lights. You can buy shelves with lights built in or get creative with the way you arrange the plants. Put your favorite plant at about nose height in an area you walk by frequently. Imagine yourself rubbing the sage or peppermint leaves for a little aromatic boost during your day. If you have curious toddlers, put the plants high enough that you won’t find them tipped out onto the floor.

Serious Indoor Gardening
Herbs and lettuce are easy, but what about vegetables? You can grow some vegetables indoors. Tomatoes, radishes, and beans can all be grown in pots, but you can also get very serious about your indoor gardening with a deep and wide shelving system complete with lights. These look similar to cafeteria tray holders, and you could build your own system from cafeteria shelving. When you are growing indoors, it’s a challenge to give your vegetables enough room for the roots. If you buy or build shelves, an adjustable system is ideal to accommodate large and small plants.

When your kitchen begins to look like a greenhouse, it might be time to actually build a greenhouse. For now, for the anxious late-winter gardener, survey the kitchenscape to see where you can plant your little patch of green.

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