Go Garden: Tools Needed

Last night, to celebrate Earth Day and because “it’s time,” Adam wanted to till up the soil in our garden beds. Tilling the soil is important because it makes it easier to work in compost to help enhance the soil and makes seeds or seedlings easier to plant.

Because we have so many garden beds and they are so large, we like to use a rototiller. But, the rototiller was not feeling very festive and, last night, it decided that it didn’t want to work.

Adam was upset. We could use a shovel to till the ground but, the rototiller is a tool that makes our lives so much easier.

Some other garden tools that I found really useful and important to have in our first year of gardening are the following:

Work Gloves: Just like a cook’s best tool, a gardener’s best tool is their hands. However, in the garden your hands might need protection from branches, thorns, etc. You can spend a lot on gloves if you really wanted to, but a good fitting pair of cotton gloves with grips work great and won’t break the bank.

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Kneeler Pad: This will save your knees and quads when gardening. Even as a young, athletic person this was a life saver. You can also find them in cute patterns which always makes things fun!

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Hose with a Spray Nozzle: Watering cans look very “classic gardener,” but the amount of water needed to water a decent sized garden would likely require many trips back and forth from your outdoor tap. Be sure to measure the distance from an outdoor tap to the garden to ensure you purchase a long enough hose. Also look for nozzles with a rain spray option for gentle, thorough amount of moisture.

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Trowel: This one is super important. It will help with planting, weeding, incorporating compost into soil, and more. A trowel is in the garden with me at all times.

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Pruning Sheers: I use mine to harvest produce such as lettuce, so that it will regenerate itself, zucchini’s and peppers. They are also great to have for flower arranging and trimming landscaping.

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There are so many tools out there to help a gardener, but I feel these are the best to invest in first.

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A few other of my favorite tools that I would recommend investing in as you continue to grow your garden are:

Wheelbarrow
Hand Fork/Cultivator
Garden Hoe
Rake (… the one you use for leaves in the fall will work just fine)
A good shovel or spade
Rototiller
Compost bins

… Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen and a hat!

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I learned that one the hard way…

Are there any garden tools that you swear by?

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Go Garden: Starting Seeds

Last night, we started seventeen different seeds.

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Things that we will not be starting indoors are items like root vegetables such as carrots, beets and radishes. We saved some lettuces to sow right into the ground as well.

A good rule of thumb is that seeds should be started indoors about six to seven weeks before the last frost. The last chance of frost in my area is May 11 (…Here’s hoping!). So, I am right on track as it’s about six and half weeks out.

Starting seeds is relatively easy. And, garden companies make it even easier.

We use plastic seed starter flats that you can get at any grocery or home improvement store. Some have soil pellets in the containers when you purchase them. We used these last year and I didn’t have any issues or complaints. They were great. But, this year we added natural and organic seed starter soil to our starter flats.

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Once soil is in each container in the flat, be sure to water the soil thoroughly before planting. Make sure the soil isn’t too packed or becomes too wet.

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Seed companies have really made seeds easy to use. The back of the seed packets have all the basics like when to plant, how deep to plant a seed, if it can grow well in a container or if it needs to be transplanted into the ground and more.

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We planted about three to four seeds in each individual container. Once they germinate, we will thin the weaker plants. Sometimes seeds will not germinate, and having more seeds in each individual container will help ensure you get a healthy plant.

Once complete, put plastic lid on the kit and place it in a warm (65-75 degrees) area of your home away from direct sunlight. You do not want to use light until the seeds have germinated.

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Check your seeds daily. Make sure soil is moist, but not wet. You should see signs of germination in about 7 to 10 days. Then, you should move the seeds to a heated lamp or sunlight.

Two other little tips I have picked up from my second year of planting seed indoors:
– Make a “Cheat Sheet” to show were everything is. Even once the seedlings begin growing, it will be hard to tell what is what for a while.

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– Mark numbers on each side of the starter kit and mark them on your cheat sheet. The kit can get flipped around or backwards. You will want to know if that’s the side with tomatoes or not.

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Next time you see these babies there should be some GREEN!

Note: There are many, many other ways to begin seeds. Some people like to reuse recycled yogurt containers. Others, have natural wooden flats that they use year to year. Some make up their own starter soil with compost, worm casings, etc. Do what works best for you. I believe this is the most approachable start for the “Rookie/Novice Gardener.”

Why Garden Weekend: Impact on the Earth

Note: Okay, I am fully aware it’s not the weekend. I am not even close. It’s Tuesday. In my defense, it’s been a crazy week. I have been in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Indianapolis, Atlanta (Georgia, not Indiana– there is such a thing), West Lafayette, Lexington, and our little town… all in the last seven days. So, while I have been logging all those miles I felt like a great thing to write about for this week’s Why Garden Weekend would be how my food is not.

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver writes, “If every US citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.”

When I read this statement for the first time it kind of blew my mind.

I knew that my food in Indiana, especially in the winter, obviously had to come from some warmer climate. But, I guess I didn’t realize the impact all this traveling has on fossil fuels, pollution and the planet.

We joke that my mom was “green before it was cool.” She was way into recycling. Food was not thrown away. It was eaten and left over’s became lunch. And if it wasn’t, it was composted, thrown in the woods or put down the disposal. Our school lunches never graced a brown bag. Instead, I had a purple, sparkly lunch box full of mix matched, wanna be Tupperware (ie. reused Parmesan cheese or cole slaw containers).

Because of my upbringing, I have always been kind of aware of the impact I make on the globe. I have never been a huge fan of bottled water and often am carrying around a reusable bottle everywhere I go. (At least when I plan correctly… See also: Weekend blog posts posted on Tuesday.) When I finally began doing my own grocery shopping I invested in some reusable bags and love using those. And I still use a reusable lunch box. (This new one is pink.)

It doesn’t seem like much, but it was a good start. And until recently, I knew these were things that I could do to minimize my footprint on the planet.

Then we had a garden and I realized I can do so much more to help the earth in my own backyard.

Our food doesn’t travel thousands of miles to our table or guzzle a ton of fuel. It is just a few steps off our back patio.

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Our food is rarely wasted. It is composted and put back in the earth to make more great food.

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Our food isn’t wrapped in plastic or put into tin cans. It’s processed in reusable Ball canning jars or picked straight off the vine with no need for a cardboard crate.

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Gardening has also made me even more aware of how precious the earth is thanks to being able to see what it can produce. I want to help conserve it. I want to keep it green and beautiful.

I love that gardening has given me this awareness and this power to reduce my impact.

Why Garden Weekend: Health

It’s no secret that vegetables are good for you. And when you have a well maintained garden, you’ll have a ton of vegetables.

Adam took this picture last August... So many veggies!

Adam took this picture last August… So many veggies!

I found that with a bowl of fresh cherry tomatoes on the counter, I am far less likely to even think about wanting to eat chips or candy. I want to eat the food that I grew. And, since you can’t grow a cheeseburger or chocolate bar, I am eating far more vegetables than I ever had since we started gardening.

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But, what might be even more of a secret is how good well maintained, backyard garden vegetables are for you.

Adam and I follow organic practices in our garden. Not because it’s “chic” and not because we are trying to avoid conventionally raised vegetables. We will likely never be certified organic, but that’s okay. We do it because we believe that food should be in its most authentic state, at least in the backyard. Tomatoes don’t need chemically infused fertilizers or pesticides. They need a little attention and some manual labor so that they can grow the way they were intended to. (Not to mention, in a backyard garden, organic practices are cheaper.)

Granted, when growers are producing far more tomatoes than I could even imagine in order to feed the planet, they need a little help in keeping diseases, weeds, and pests at bay. Enter the conventional vegetable.

And man, is there ever a debate about organic versus conventional food. Adam and I don’t even agree on everything.

One thing we do agree on is that if you are feeding your family vegetables, that is great. So few children, and adults, are eating nutrient rich vegetables that are grown with both conventional and organic practices.

Now, is one more nutritious than the other?

The jury is out on that one. There are tons of studies trying to prove organic is better than conventional or that there isn’t a difference, etc.

And, admittedly, I am not smart enough to even begin to try to prove one way or another. (I got my Bachelors in Hospitality for a reason… No science classes were involved.)

One thing I do know is that nutrient values are at their peak right when they are harvested. So, if you are in Indiana it may be better for you to get conventionally grown vegetables from the producer down the road versus organic vegetables from California that will have to travel for a few days.

Another thing Adam and I agree on: Buying local foods. It supports your community, and vitamins and antioxidants are more likely to get to your table.

So, in short, by gardening in my backyard, I know I am getting a vegetable full of the most nutrients possible.

But there are so many other reasons why gardening is good for your health outside of what you put into your mouth.

A big one is the physical activity involved with gardening. Gardening ranges from low intensity exercises, like weeding, to high intensity, like heavy lifting. Because there are so many different types of activity involved with gardening it is considered a full body workout.

Planting is considered a low impact gardening activity.

Planting is considered a low impact gardening activity.

The app “My Fitness Pal,” first of all, considers gardening activity. (It is still yet to recognize Pure Barre…) And second, says that for sixty minutes of general gardening I would burn 268 calories.

But, the amount of nutrients the vegetables produce or the number of calories burned may not even be the biggest health benefit of gardening. There are countless mental health benefits. (For the record: I like these reasons even more than the arguments for good nutrition and physical activity.)

The moving is good for your brain and happiness, but so is being outside. Breathing fresh air and soaking up a little Vitamin D helps you sleep better and feel more positive.

It may sound a little crazy… or “crunchy” or “Zen” (…I guess I’ll take Zen), but I love how working in the garden makes me feel more connected to the earth. Having a garden lets me get my hands dirty. Use all my senses with nature. I get to smell the vibrant herbs, feel the soil, and see the changes in a plant as it grows.

My job has me connected to screens, phones, and the road all day long so not only is working in the garden a major stress reliever, it brings me back to the basic elements. Earth. Air. Water. Warmth from the sun.

It reminds me through it’s simplicity that the world is beautiful.

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Why Garden Weekends: Money

Okay, so… I had full intentions of doing “Why Garden Wednesday’s” all through the month of February to inspire you to start a backyard/balcony/windowsill garden this spring.

But, Wednesday came and went without a blog. I had been on the road for work, we had a major snow storm (again…), and I just wanted to spend sometime with this cute kid.

Sleep dude.

Sleepy dude.

Can you blame me?

Instead, welcome to “Why Garden Weekends!”

Spring is coming, even though it sure doesn’t seem like it in the Midwest, and every weekend in February I will be posting reasons on why YOU should start a garden.

So, without further adieu, Numero Uno, a reason top of mind for everyone: Money.

Last fall, I wrote as I reflected on the summer’s garden that gardening has definitely saved Adam and me a little cash. Thanks to the garden, I do not buy as a much at the grocery store and we are far less likely to go out to eat than we had been in the past. This is because we had so much food of our own to eat!

I have been seeking out garden workshops around Indiana to try to gain more knowledge and skill. At a program last September, put on by Purdue Extension, I picked up a flyer illustrating the benefits of gardening and the numbers listed for dollars saved. It’s impressive!

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Home gardening gives you a 1:25 cost benefit.

This means, if you were to spend $50 on seeds you could produce over $1,200 of food.

Here’s a break down of a few items from our garden explaining what we pay and what we could be paying if we were to purchase them at a store.

Organic, Pasture raised Eggs:

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Store Price: $3.50 per dozen

The chicks were $1 each and its $11 for feed every month. We get around 11 dozen eggs a month from our five hens. So, our eggs are about a $1.00 a dozen.

Organic Tomatoes:

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Store Price: $3.00 per pound

One tomato plant can give you around fifteen pounds of tomatoes. You could buy a tomato plant for about $2.50. We started our tomatoes from seeds and were able to get twenty plants of various varieties about six bucks. So, a pound of our backyard tomatoes were a whopping two cents.

Organic Zucchini:

I thought this was a funny picture from last summer.  Zucc's the size of wine bottles!

I thought this was a funny picture from last summer. Zucc’s the size of wine bottles!

Store Price: $3.00 per Pound

A packet of zucchini seeds is about $2.00. You could get about 10-15 zucchini plants per packet. Zucchini plants are like weeds. They just keep coming! We would get one zucchini from each plant about every day last summer. A typical plant will give you around nine pounds of zucchini each season.

We had six zucchini plants last summer making a pound of our zucchini about four cents.

Organic Cucumbers:

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Store Price: $2.00 per pound

A packet of cucumber seeds is about $1 and could give you thirty plants. We planted four cucumber plants and got about three pounds of cucumbers per week per plant when we were harvesting, making well over thirty pounds of cucumber for the season. Our cucumbers were less than three cents a pound.

Organic carrots:

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Store Price: $3.00 per pound

You have to sow carrot seeds directly into the ground. A packet of seeds is about $2.00 and you could yield at least thirty pounds of carrots from one packet.

We plan to plant many more carrot seeds next year. The taste of a backyard carrot versus a carrot from a bag of baby carrots in the store is amazingly different. It has so much more depth of flavor and at six cents a pound, why not?

When I start to add in our entire garden’s lettuce, broccoli plans, snap peas, strawberries, herbs, peppers, and more the savings really start to add up.

Money savings is one of the big reasons I enjoy sharing our garden stories. There are so many people in America struggling to feed their families, let alone feed their families well. Gardens help make this possible. The knowledge just needs to be shared. There are many groups around the nation such as Farm to School and Extension offices working to inform people the benefits of gardening and teach the skills needed.

Community and Urban Gardens are popping up in cities everywhere. And, SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, participants can purchase seeds or plants from any SNAP retailer or Farmers Market. This is awesome because the participants can use the seeds to grow food that they normally couldn’t purchase… in large quantities, too!

Still not convinced a backyard garden is worth it? Tune is next weekend and we will talk about your health.