I broke a shovel today! I don’t know whether to be angry or somewhat proud of myself for exerting that much force.
I’ve been doing battle with some horrible holly bushes next to our house for the past year. Actually, scratch that, since we moved here. The people who lived in this house before us made some very interesting gardening choices. And by interesting, I mean ridiculous. Like planting a fig tree six feet from the house (it touches the house and has to be pruned every single year), a giant crape myrtle 5 feet from the house (same problem), filling a bed with pebbles WITHOUT lining it with weed blocking fabric first (weed city), and most insanely of all, planting approximately a dozen holly bushes around the house, pretty much right on top of each other.
A well manicured holly is fine, and the berries are great for the birds in wintertime, but seriously these people must have been blissfully ignorant of the plant tags when they planted everything. Like didn’t care about plant spacing AT ALL. I could go on and on about the weirdness around here, but I’ll save you the headache. Let’s just leave it at I’ve been re-designing and correcting their poor choices since Jonah and I got married and I moved in.
This spring (because pregnancy hormones are real), I finally had it with the hollies and decided that I needed to renovate the garden bed next to our garage door since it’s pretty visible from the street. After hacking them to the ground as an attempt to kill them earlier this year, yesterday I started the undertaking of removing the root balls to really put the nail in the coffin.
HOLY COW. Talk about physical labor! The first root ball was maybe 30ish pounds and took me about an hour to get out. The second one ended up being 60 pounds (easily), and even with the help of an awesome new tool I tried – a mattock – I still broke our shovel.
Mattock – part axe, part digger, part awesome.
Needless to say, I was seriously channeling my inner Rosie the Riveter (and I will also be taking some ibuprofen soon):
Massive holly root balls – gnarly!
The new plan for that bed will be a purple butterfly bush in the center (I had one pop up in our backyard that I’m going to transplant), some coral-hued mums in a semi-circle in front of the butterfly bush, and some pansies (also corals/reds) and dusty millers in front of that. I hope to get that done tomorrow and will post pictures once it’s done!
Little butterfly bush I’m going to transplant (on the right)
In my quest to visit a bunch of our local farmer’s markets, I took a trip to the BIG Raleigh Farmer’s Market (AKA the State Farmer’s Market).
Talk about huge, this is THE market to go to if you need ANYTHING. They have it all! In addition to the typical fruits and veggies, they have dedicated buildings for dry goods, refrigerated items, crafts, pottery and garden/home furnishings, a coffee shop and even a restaurant!
My good friend Melody (also the design genius who helped create the logo and color scheme for this website) and I took a trip to this market with the kids back in July. Here are a few pictures from our outing to give you an idea of what the market has to offer!
General thoughts and impressions of this market:
HUGE selection. You can truly replace you weekly grocery shopping with going to this market. They’ve got it all – meats, dairy, dry goods, produce, soaps, etc.
I noticed this market seems to have less of a focus on organic products. I didn’t see any signage advertising organic.
BUSY. Take my advice and go on a weekday during peak season (summer). Saturdays are extremely busy. I assume it’s a little better on weekends in the fall/winter.
Since it’s open every day, it’s convenient to drop by and get what I need anytime I need it. It’s true more vendors come to the market on Saturdays, there’s still a great selection any day of the week you go!
Can be overwhelming, since there’s a huge selection. Come with a list of what you need (but be prepared for a few impulse purchases, too!)
I love this market! While it’s a bit of a drive from my house, it’s definitely worth it to get specialty items, like handmade soaps and dry goods!
This year, since I’m not growing as much food as I normally would in our garden, I’ve been trying out different farmer’s markets in the area. Can I just say, I love farmer’s markets?! Let me count the ways!
Supporting local growers and producers keeps resources here and promotes the local economy.
By supporting local, I can also avoid shipping costs and reduce my carbon footprint.
Avoiding excess packaging is better for the earth. I can bring my own bag to the market and buy loose veggies and fruits instead of items wrapped in plastic wrap. Less trash is a win in my book!
I can choose to support organic and sustainable farmers who are committed to preserving the land and local ecosystems. Plus I don’t have to worry about anything sprayed on my food.
I can meet the people who grow my food and hear their stories, get great ideas for recipes, get gardening tips, and learn about other community resources (places that do U-pick, local artisans, etc).
I get to try varieties I can’t find in the grocery store.
This week, I checked out a small farmer’s market that was new to me – the South Durham (or SoDu) Farmer’s Market. I must be living under a rock, because I just found out about this market and it’s just up the road from us!
This market is a hidden gem! I love that it’s a small market, parking is easy peasey, and it still has everything I could possible need – baked goods, seafood, handmade soaps, ciders, cheeses, meats, and produce. They even have a homemade pasta vendor! It’s held in a parking lot that also contains a DMV license plate office, which I ironically had to visit just a few weeks ago. Let’s just say, I’d much rather be shopping than waiting in line at the DMV.
Is it just me or do you ever feel intimidated by farmer’s markets? I frequently get flustered and overwhelmed by all the variety and abundance around me and often just end up purchasing whatever catches my eye. Usually, that means I come home with whatever vegetables or fruits are front and center in the displays.
What I really enjoyed about this farmer’s market was that many of the vendors had chalkboards out front with a list of their offerings. That gave me a better idea of what was for sale and lessened the pressure/feeling guilted into buying something just because I approached a booth. This week, I challenged myself to get something other than fruits and vegetables, so here’s what I got. I was super pleased!
Lions Mane Mushroom (picture from https://ramblecreekfarm.com/store/product/lions-mane-mushroom-fresh)
I know what you’re thinking… that mushroom looks alien. That’s what I thought, too! At the suggestion of their super friendly employee, Fran, I tried these because she said they taste like crab meat. Jonah is a huge crab cake fan but hates mushrooms, so I did the ol’ switcheroo to see if he could tell the difference. Guess what? He couldn’t! I used this recipe from Aubrey’s Kitchen and they turned out great! Also, I had a lovely conversation with Fran about her time living in Washington state and found out that we have a mutual love of Mt. Ranier National Park.
I love the mission of this local goat dairy. They really treat their animals well. They have a punchcard program for $10 of free cheese once you get 10 punches (one punch for every $10 spent). For this dairy lover, that’s a pretty great deal. Plus, I give them extra points for creativity in naming their cheeses!
Ummm, I didn’t get pictures of these because Jonah, the kids, and I demolished them! We really enjoy this great, local bakery. This time, we got two cinnamon rolls, a morning bun, and a bear claw. YUM! Here’s a drool-worthy picture of them from their website.
Cinnamon Rolls from Ninth Street Bakery
I really enjoyed my visit to the SoDu Farmer’s Market and plan to go back soon to get some seafood, eggs, and meat! Do you have a recommendation of other farmer’s markets I should try? Drop it below in the comments so I can visit and report back.
SoDu Farmer’s Market is located at Greenwood Commons Shopping Center: 5410 NC-55, Durham, NC 27713. Open 8am-12pm every Saturday, year round.
There comes a point in every gardener’s life when he or she is faced with one of life’s toughest questions: “Is that a weed or something I planted and forgot about?”
If you’re like me, that question comes up more times than you care to admit.
Spring is a tough season for plant identification because there are a lot of tiny plants growing and you usually only have a few seed leaves to base your ID on. But today, we’re going to attempt to sort out what’s a weed and what’s a seed.
The Importance of Weedling vs. Seedling Identification
I’ve heard it said that a weed is just a plant out of place. Before you bust out the Round-Up on what you think might be a weed, think about what role that weed might be performing for you in your home landscape.
Weeds can be beautiful, functional, and do many of the things that purposely sown plants do. For instance, they can attract pollinators with their blooms, mine nutrients trapped in deeper levels of the soil (tap roots of dandelions), and sometimes even be eaten!
Henbit – A beautiful, flowering weed! (Source: Wikipedia)
Weeds only become problematic when they are invasive, out-compete the things we intend to grow, or have a noxious or negative attribute (poisonous, attract pests, ugly).
Giant Hogweed – phototoxic (its sap prevents skin from being able to protect itself from sunlight, resulting in scarring and skin inflammation). Ironically, a member of the same family of plants as Carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace (Source: NY Times)
If a plant’s negative attributes outweigh the positive, I’m all for getting rid of it! In fact, if a plant is harmful to children or pets or can be easily confused with an edible plant, it’s best to get it out of there as early as possible so the weed doesn’t bear seed and breed a whole new generation of weeds. That’s where weedling vs. seedling identification comes in.
Questions to Ask
Here are a few things you can ask as you’re trying to determine if something is a weedling or seedling:
LOCATION: Do you remember or have a record (planting diagram) of planting something in this space? Is it coming up in a uniform pattern (i.e. you spaced them 2 inches apart, etc) or is it random? Unless you scattered your seeds or a heavy rain washed the seeds away, random patterns usually indicate a weed.
TIMING: When did you plant your seeds? How long is the germination period for those seeds? Germination typically takes a few days to a few weeks for things we intentionally plant. If it’s outside of that window, it could be a weed.
SPREAD: How contained is this plant? Does it seem to be spreading? Choking out other plants? Those are usually signs that a plant is a weed.
IDENTIFIABLE PLANT PARTS: Are there any true leaves on the plant? Is it flowering? Producing seeds? The larger a plant grows, the easier it is to identify.
Resources for Weedling vs. Seedling IDs
These days, it’s pretty easy to hop online and figure out what’s a weed and what’s a seed.
My go-to resource is our State Extension’s website. One of the best pages I’ve found in their plethora of weed-related content is this one on turf weeds, since a lot of the weeds I encounter are probably blowing in from our lawn or other lawns in our neighborhood. Just like intentional plantings, weeds vary by location, so if you’re outside of North Carolina, check your own state’s extension website for what’s endemic to your area.
There are also plant ID apps available. A friend just recommended LeafSnap to me, but I haven’t given it a good test run yet. I’ll report back in a future post once I’ve had time to review it.
Your neighbors who garden are also a great resource, since they’re likely dealing with the same things you are. Everyone has that one neighbor who loves to complain about their crabgrass!
Another resource, though less convenient and accessible, are reference gardening books from your local library.
Let’s look at some weedling and seedling pictures from my garden to get a feel for what’s what!
Have you been able to identify weeds and seeds in your garden this year? What are some of your favorite tips/tricks/apps for weedling vs. seedling IDs? I’d love to hear what has worked best for you – share in the comments below!
Sunday: 2021 Goal Check-In
Next Wednesday: Garden Update – The Bolt & The Beautiful
Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener after He is resurrected.
… and that’s just scratching the surface.
Heck, you can even buy a green-letter Bible that highlights all of the instances of God’s care and concern for creation. I’m not making this up! I’m intrigued by this (and might have to get myself a copy sometime!).
(this is an Amazon Affiliate link)
So why so much garden imagery in the Bible?
That’s a good question. In searching around I found a few different ideas:
Gardens and agriculture were kind of a big deal in Ancient Near-Eastern Culture.
It wasn’t just the Israelites who were into their gardens. Sumerians (ancient Mesopotamians) believed in a creation story (Enki & Ninhursag) that focused on a garden. Plus, both cultures were positioned in the Fertile Crescent, an area known for the birth of agriculture / the cradle of civilization. Ancient hearers and readers would have understood a garden metaphor pretty well because they lived it (tilling the land) everyday.
Gardens were kind of a big deal in mythologies of other cultures worldwide.
Check out this interesting video from Crash Course Mythology to see how pervasive they are (Crash Course’s other video are great, too, by the way):
Tending a garden is a great metaphor for creating order out of chaos.
We see this in the story of the Garden of Eden. Everything is pretty soupy and primordial, and then becomes more ordered as God creates.
Gardens are a great metaphor for spiritual growth and growing the Kingdom of God.
Everyone can understand gardens as a symbol, because everyone has probably experienced a garden in some way.
As it turns out, there are many possible explanations as to why gardens are mentioned so frequently in the Bible. Some of these explanations have a lot of research and backing, and some are speculative. The truth is, we just don’t know 100% why God reveals His word to us in garden form!
Or maybe, just maybe, God likes to garden.
I think that’s the explanation that I’m going with. I’m just sayin’!
Wednesday: Weedling vs. Seedling – How to Tell the Difference
Herb spirals are a fun and easy way to fit your favorite herbs into a small planting area. I learned about this technique from a book on Permaculture called Gaia’s Garden. Check it out from your local library or get your own copy using my Amazon Affiliate link below:
The idea behind a herb spiral is that circular patterns in nature are innately space-conserving. You can minimize how much pathway vs. planting area you’ll need by organizing your herbs into a spiral pattern and also utilizing vertical space. Here are a few examples of what they can look like:
So you want to make one? Great! Here are the steps to build your very own herb spiral:
1. Pick Your Planting Location
Your herb spiral should be as close to your home as possible. In Permaculture, this is called Zone 0 or Zone 1. You can think of zones as a bulls-eye mapped over your property, where Zone 0 is your home and larger number Zones radiate out from that center point). The closer your herbs are to where you’ll be preparing food, the more likely you are to actually use them!
2. Add Some Rocks or Pavers in a Spiral Pattern
Add football to fist sized rocks or pavers, creating a spiral pattern from the base upwards. Essentially you’re delineating the planting area for each layer. If you’ve got leftover pavers, bricks or something similar, that will work fine, too. The goal is to make it ~3ft tall and 5ft wide. In the Northern Hemisphere, build it clockwise, with the opening on the North side.
3. Fill with Soil/Compost
Pile up some good garden soil/compost into the open gaps between your pavers/stones. You can save some money by making this a hugelkultur bed (using sticks and twigs at the base, then filling in with soil – the twigs will eventually break down into compost).
4. Plant Some Herbs (and Other Garden Goodies)!
You’ve created a garden structure that has microclimates! Lay out your herbs on the spiral, taking advantage of each herb’s preferred growing conditions. You don’t have to limit it to just herbs, either. Here are some general ideas of where to put things based on whether they like more or less sun and drier or wetter conditions:
Plant on North (cool) / East (morning sun) Side near Bottom (wetter)
Mint (in a sunken container so it doesn’t escape into the rest of the spiral)
Plant in the Middle (East or West side)
Plant Middle, East side
Plant on South (hot) / West Side (afternoon sun) near bottom (wetter)
Plant on South (hot) / West Side (afternoon sun) near top (drier)
Plant on North (cool) / East (morning sun) Side near Top (drier)
Dill (likes the heat, but gets pretty tall so you don’t want it to block sunlight for other herbs)
Here’s an example of a layout that could work for most gardens in the Northern Hemisphere:
Water your herb spiral or install irrigation tubing for automatic watering.
Here are a few additional resources explaining how to construct the spiral and where to place your favorite herbs and plants:
If you don’t already have a permanent solution for your herbs, I hope you’ll give this a try! Do you have a herb spiral in your garden? What do you like/dislike about it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!
Sunday: Why so much garden imagery in the Bible?
Next Wednesday: Weedling vs. Seedling – How to Tell the Difference
I’m officially a cilantro convert. I know some people hate the taste of cilantro (which is actually a heritable genetic trait, believe it or not!), so if that’s you, just skip on over to #4…but for those of you who love a little something fresh in your salsa, read on.
I failed with growing cilantro for several years until a neighbor told me that she talked to a farmer who said the trick here in NC is to plant it IN THE FALL, not the spring, since it doesn’t love the heat. Fall planting DEFINITELY worked this year, and I’m so pleased! I’ve used our fall-planted cilantro more times than I can count this winter – in salsas, Mexican dishes, vegetarian dishes, and Thai/Asian dishes. Plus, if you let it go to seed, you can actually use the seeds as a spice (it’s ground coriander!).
Number 4 – Oregano (Perennial)
It’s a perennial and it goes in so many dishes! If you haven’t used fresh oregano in a dish, you haven’t lived. The dried stuff is good, but fresh is just so different and delicious. It comes back year after year and makes a great ground cover, too.
Number 3 – Basil (Annual)
There’s nothing like basil in the summertime! It’s a great companion plant to most garden vegetables and can even deter some insect pests. There are a ton of varieties to choose from (Thai, Cinnamon, Lemon, Lime, Purple, Holy, African Blue…), though I usually just go with the standard Genovese. We use fresh basil on homemade pizzas and Italian dishes, and I love to make my own pesto (I leave out the pine nuts) and freeze it to use throughout the year. Pollinators (especially bees) love this stuff when it’s flowering. After flowering, save the seeds for next year’s planting (or let it self-sow)!
Number 2 – Chives (Perennial)
Ya’ll. I don’t ever buy green onions anymore. Chives can substitute for almost any onion-y ingredient in recipes. Chives are harvestable most of the year here in NC, so I always have a fresh supply. My clump of chives gets larger every year, so I get to share transplants with neighbors and friends. They’re a great deterrent for animals that like to browse (read: eat all your garden goods), so they make a great border plant. Plus, they have beautiful purple blooms in the spring! Want some from my garden? Please let me know!
Number 1 – Parsley (Biennial)
Parsley goes in EVERYTHING. Do a quick inventory of your favorite recipes, and tell me, how many of them add parsley as the finishing touch? It’s like ALL of them, right?! Having a little stand of parsley has saved me so many grocery trips. Plus, I can make tabbouleh anytime I want! Parsley is a biennial (focuses on foliage growth in year 1, then flowering/seed production in year 2), so start a few transplants (or seeds) in 2 consecutive years and then you can just let it grow on its own. You’ll always have some available!
Dill – I love that you can eat multiple parts of the plant – the foliage and the seeds! I use the seeds for pickling my cucumbers. Also has beautiful yellow flowers in the summer that pollinators love.
Peppermint & Spearmint – Mojitos. Homemade mint ice cream. Need I say more? Grow it in a container though, so it doesn’t spread around your garden like wildfire!
Thyme – my small stand of thyme has gotten overrun with other plants, so I need to re-plant this, but I LOVE some fresh thyme! Perfect for my favorite roast chicken recipe!
What are your favorite herbs to grow at home? Let me know in the comments!
Have you heard of Square Foot Gardening before? No, it’s not about people who have really angular feet gardening. But for a minute, let’s just imagine someone with cartoonish, block-like feet attempting to garden – the mental picture is hilarious!
What is Square Foot Gardening?
Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is all about maxing out what you can grow in a square foot (12” x 12”) planting area. Most SFGs are no more than 4 ft wide (to allow for easy reaching into the bed without stepping into the planting area) and can be any length. If you don’t have a copy already, I highly recommend purchasing the creator, Mel Bartholmew’s, book. I use it as a reference every single growing season. This book never collects dust at my house.
(This is an Amazon Affiliate link. If you choose to purchase using this link, I’ll get the world’s tiniest commission ever).
SFG: AN Answer to Inefficiency
SFG eliminates gardening inefficiencies that are carryovers from traditional row farming. Here are some of the issues with traditional row gardening/farming that SFG solves:
Eliminates wasted space (i.e. huge aisles and footpaths in farming or traditional row growing methods)
Reduces weed competition by growing densely and shading out weeds
Conserves water by utilizing a smaller planting area
Reduces seed waste (no thinning seedlings)
Spaces out harvests through succession planting and planting reasonable numbers of plants
Starts with healthy soil – a soil recipe so light, airy, and nutrient-dense that plants have a healthy start from day 1
The late, great Mel Bartholomew invented this method of gardening in 1976, and with it, revolutionized home gardening. With the common-sense ideas listed above, can you guess what Mel’s background was prior to developing SFG? If you guessed engineer, you’re a winner! Mel was a civil engineer, specializing in eliminating inefficiencies in construction and manufacturing prior to his foray into gardening.
5 second T.O. (Time Out): Isn’t it amazing how our God-given gifts and talents can be utilized in such different and cool ways? I find that fascinating. Anyway, I digress.
Back on topic now.
Here’s what I love about SFG:
It’s accessible. The small size of square foot gardens (as small as 3×3 or 4×4 ft), makes it an approachable start for beginning gardeners.
It’s easy and efficient. Less weeding (plants in SFG grow so closely together that they effectively shade out most weeds), few tools needed, less hauling hoses around a gigantic garden, no digging, no fooling with trying to improve your native soil.
It’s tidy and compact. You can fit a SFG just about anywhere. If you only have a tiny bit of land, you can still probably fit a 4×4 ft bed. Heck, you can even make SFG raised bed tables that can go on a deck or patio.
It’s adaptable. Building the beds can be a pain if you’re not confident with tools, but I’ve learned that you really don’t have to make a border if you don’t want to or it’s not in your budget. You could make a 4×4 ft patch of soil with no border (just watch out for erosion) or you could make a border out of large tree branches (hello pruning upcycling!), bricks, pavers, large rocks, cinder blocks, or whatever other random things you have lying around. You can also make the SFG any size you want, for any types of plants you want to grow. You can do all vegetables, all herbs, all flowers, all perennials, or a combination of any of those. The world is your oyster!
It doesn’t require a ton of maintenance. Unlike row gardening, you don’t have to till the soil every year. You just top up the beds with a little bit of compost in the fall, and you’re good to go in the spring!
So how do you make a square foot garden?
Step 1: Decide on whereyou want your SFG to go.
Consider what areas of your property get the most light during the day (best for most vegetables) and how far you’ll have to haul water. Don’t forget to think about things that might cast a shadow on your planting area or cause a microclimate where things get too hot or cold (buildings, trees, fences).
Step 2: Determine the size of your SFG.
Start small! For your first year, I recommend going with one 4×4 ft bed or 4×8 ft bed if you’re feeling ambitious.
This was our first SFG bed, back in 2017. We made 2- 4×4 beds and put them side-by-side to make it 4×8. I ultimately didn’t like having a bed that long and 4 ft across was too wide for me. I’m glad we only made one bed that year so I could easily make changes to the layout.
You can supplement with container gardening (pots) if you think you need more space, but it’s best to start small when you’re building any sort of garden structure. It gives you a growing season or two to decide if you like the orientation, make changes, and decide how you might like to expand (or if you even need to expand).
If you’re short like me, having one of the sides be 3 ft instead of 4 is helpful – it can be hard to reach all the way across a 4 ft bed without stepping in it if you’re small (and stepping in a SFG is a big no-no!).
An example of how you might lay out your SFG beds. This was back in 2019 when we added 2- 3×4 ft beds to our SFG setup.
Step 3: Choose your material.
You’ve got some options here:
Sloping edges on a mound of soil can work as an SFG! You’ll need to stay on top of weeding, but it can work. Check out Charles Dowding’s method.
If you’re using lumber, untreated or heat-treated pine is fine and cheap! Thicker stock is better (1 in is great). Some sites will say you need to use cedar, but it can get cost-prohibitive. We initially got 1/2in cedar boards and they warped and fell apart at the joints within 3 years, probably due to the thinness of the wood and the way we fastened the edges together. Thick pine should last you at least 5 years. Cedar has longevity (some claim 20 years), but think about the reality of whether you’ll even be living in the same place then. Thick cedar boards can also be difficult to source – the Home Depot and Lowes near us don’t carry them.
A note about wood/logs/natural edging for SFG beds: they attract roly polies, slugs, and other detrivore pests that make their living decomposing things for us. They’re just trying to do their job, but here’s your warning that using this material could introduce some pests to your garden that you weren’t counting on.
Bricks, pavers, and cinder blocks have the best longevity, but can be expensive and require some heavy-duty labor at the outset to move everything to the site and get things level.
Pre-made SFG kits are available, but they’re mostly a rip-off.
Materials to avoid: rubber tires, railroad ties, chemically treated lumber, some types of cinder blocks that contain fly ash. Basically, avoid anything that could possibly leach harmful chemicals or heavy metals into the soil.
Step 4: Lay down plain cardboard to kill grass and weeds and assemble your bed edges.
Step 5: Add soil.
You want ⅓ certified organic compost (bulk or bagged), ⅓ perlite or vermiculite, and ⅓ peat moss or coconut coir. Don’t use your native garden soil for this.
Optional: Mark your beds so you have a square foot grid. You can use nails to hold some twine in place or create your own grid from rocks, bamboo canes, or anything that makes a straight line.
Step 6: Plant your seeds or transplants using the guide below.
Here’s a list of the most common vegetables and their spacing in SFG method. If you’re planting something that isn’t listed here, use the “thin to” instructions on your seed packet as a guide and follow the simple calculation I outlined in All About Seeds Part 1: Deciphering Seed Packets.
Have you used the SFG method? What’s your experience been like? What thoughts or recommendations do you have for beginners trying out SFG? Share your wisdom in the comments below!
Sunday: Palm-Waving Groupies
Next Wednesday: Update and Pictures from Our Jubilee Garden