Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Little Green Thumbs - Vegetable Gardening with Kids

If your kids are like mine, they are attracted to the vegetable garden like bees to coneflowers. And if you have a shovel in your hand, they come running with pleas of, "Can I help? I want to help!"

Involving your kids in vegetable gardening is a great way to teach them about nature, biology, healthy eating, how to care for another living thing, and so much more. One of the first lessons you might want to teach them, though, is about 'baby plants' and how they won't be happy if they are pulled out of the soil too early! I learned this after my little one and her girlfriend pulled out all of my carrot seedlings one year.

There are a few things you can do to ensure everyone has fun, and learns a little something, in the vegetable garden this year.

Small is good!
A large space can overwhelm little kids, so designate a small space in the garden for their own. You'd be surprised how much you can grow in a 4 foot by 4 foot space, or in a container. And get the kids their own little gardening tools; mini shovels, gloves and watering cans are easier for their small hands.

Plant what they like, and what they don't.
Does your little one like cherry tomatoes? Plant those! Not only will you not have to buy them, but your kids will be more interested in growing something they are familiar with. At my house, cherry tomatoes don't even make it to the kitchen. They are eaten right off the plant while the kids are outside playing, and I don't have to make an afternoon snack!

Kids that participate in the growing of food are more apt to try things they may never have enjoyed in the past, so plant even those veggies that you think they don't like. Soon you may see them want to eat a wider variety of veggies because they planted them, cared for them, and harvested them.

Step away from the Miracle Gro!
Make a commitment to resist synthetic chemicals and keep your garden organic. Use lots of compost to provide your plants with the minerals they need, and you won't have to worry about what your little green thumbs touch or eat while in the garden.

Make memories.
One of my strongest memories of growing up was my mom's huge vegetable garden. Sure, it was a lot of work, but there was magic in that space too. I'm sure it's a big reason why I'm so
obsessed interested in horticulture.
Take lots of pictures of your kids in the garden throughout the season, not only for future smiles, but so your kids can see how the plants grow from week to week. When you have monster zucchini plants in July, they may have forgotten how tiny those seedlings were in May.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Just a Reminder

It's going to be 95 degrees today in Chicagoland. We can start celebrating summer early, right?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shopping for Vegetables as Easy As Borrowing A Cup of Sugar

Where Does Your Garden Grow? is an exciting and innovative project by Todd Jones of Elmhurst, IL that aims to connect urban food gardeners with those who with those who want to eat it! An internet-based application would map urban gardeners and the produce they grow. Talk about being able to get your food ultra-fresh, and ultra-local.

They've started a campaign to raise funds for their project. If you donate, you snag a cool gift like the ones pictured below. To learn more about the project via Todd's video, click here:

photo credit

photo credit

Thursday, May 24, 2012

GardenWorks Update - Helping Needy Families Grow Their Own Food

Copy of a post from the GardenWorks blog.

One Done, Three to Go

Wait, one done, three to go? Didn't we say we were installing gardens for five needy families? That was our original goal, but we are having no success reaching one of our garden recipients, and it's too late in the season to add another. I hope we hear from our last family in the next few days!

We've been hard at work planning and installing our gardens. We've completed one for a family in Lombard already, and by the end of the week, another Lombard family and two in Glendale Heights will be on their way to growing their own food. I've really enjoyed meeting these families, who have been so excited and thankful to receive the gardens. I'll have another update after I've had some time to reflect on the project and what it has meant to us as a family, and get my thoughts together on future plants. I also hope to share some pictures of the garden builds once they are all complete.

Special thanks to a wonderful donation of HUGE tomato and pepper starts from
one of my former horticulture classmates, Donna Hisson. Extra plants will be
donated to the food pantry.

Joe and our little guy building a raised bed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Beach Glass

Beach glass from Harbert, MI. Found, then lost, then found again. What does this have to do with gardening? Nothing at all.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Scenes From the Beach

Our family joined two others at a friend's lake house this past weekend in Harbert, Michigan. We could not have been luckier with the weather - 85 degrees and sunny each day. Lake Michigan, as always, was freezing, but the kids, and some of the braver adults, jumped in. For a few seconds, anyway.

Nature abounds along the lake; and I had some time to snap a few photos.

The Harbert, MI coastline

I didn't know our native columbine (aqualegia canadensis)
could grow in sun and sand.
Dune grass lines steep steps

A yellow swallowtail butterfly takes minerals from the sand
Native milweed provides an egg-laying site and
food source for Monarch butterflies.

Hubby took this picture of bird nests built right in the sand dunes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bridge Communities Garden Walk Tickets on Sale Now!

I've been working feverishly - planting, watering, weeding, and pruning - so that you can leisurely stroll through my garden, and five others in Glen Ellyn, on the Bridge Communities 2012 Garden Walk on June 16. Enjoy a preview of the 2012 Garden Walk.

Tickets are on sale now, and cost just $25 per adult until June 14. After that, the price is $30. The proceeds from the walk benefit Bridge Communities, a non-profit organization that advocates for the homeless in our area. You can watch a video here to learn more about what Bridge does for homeless families in our area.

How about some cocktails, hors d'ouvers, and entertainment by the Michael Brazan Jazz Band the night before the Garden Walk? Tickets for the Glen Ellyn Garden Party benefit are available for $100 and include one Garden Walk admission. I'll be there and would love to see you! Ticket information for the Garden Walk and Garden Party.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How to Pinch Back Monarda (Bee Balm)

Have you ever heard the gardening term pinching back and wondered exactly what it meant? Basically, it means that you can give certain plants a "haircut" to promote a bushier plant with more flowers. Some plants that bloom in July or after benefit from pinching back May, especially Monarda (Bee Balm).

Monarda didyma 'Raspberry Wine'

Shortening Monarda to about half it's height now will promote lateral branching, making the plant fuller, and doubling it's flowers. The flowers will be a little smaller, but you'll get more of them. It also prevents tall plants from flopping by promoting stronger stems, and is a useful technique for mums, phlox, and sedum.

Monarda fistulosa (native bee balm) before "pinching back"...

Because cutting back delays blooming by about two weeks, it is a good idea to cut back only the front half of the stems of the plant. This will give you shorter but stronger stems in front, support to the taller stems in back, and a longer blooming period for the whole plant.

...and after.

 So, how do you pinch back? I've found that you can't often just use your fingers to shorten the plant, as the name of the technique implies, and usually have to use hand pruners. Cut the plant back by about half. I will then usually tuck the cut peices around the plant for a natural mulch. Easy enough, right?

Try this simple trick on your Monarda now for more blooms this summer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Terra Nova Plant Trials

Last week, when heading to my front porch for the mail, I noticed a cardboard box from Terra Nova Nurseries labeled "PERISHABLES." I knew then that I had been selected to receive their Garden Writers Sample Plants of new introductions to try in my garden and share on my blog. I excitedly ripped open the box and was thrilled at what was inside.

Echinacea 'Mama Mia'

Echinacea 'Quills and Thrills'

Echinacea 'Secret Lust'

Heucherella 'Solar Power'

Heucherella 'Redstone Falls'

Tiarella 'Sunset Ridge'

I'll keep you updated on how these plants are doing in my garden. What new plants are you trying this year?

All images credit to Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What's Blooming Today - May 9, 2012

Baptisia australis


Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'

Weigela 'Dark Horse'

Allium schoenoprasum

Geranium maculatum

Salvia 'May Night'

Geranium sanguineum

Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia

Salvia 'May Night'
So photogenic I had to include it twice.

Monday, May 7, 2012

10 Surprising Things You Can Compost

Photo credit
Fruit and vegetable scraps, newspaper, coffee grounds - most people know these items make for some good compost. But there may be some things you are throwing away that would be better off in the bin.

1. Paper egg cartons: Most people know that throwing egg shells in the garden helps increase calcium in the soil, particularly good for tomatoes. But the paper egg carton can also be composted. Rip it up, and toss it in!

2. Some household cleaning wipes - Method brand furniture cleaning wipes, for example, can be composted. Just check the label before throwing in anything that may have synthetic chemicals on it.

3. Some paper plates - Chinet paper plates can be thrown right in. I scrape any leftover food into the trash before composting.

4. Dryer lint - Lint mostly contains fabric fibers, which can be composted!

5. The stuff in your vacuum cleaner - This usually contains mostly hair, crumbs, dust, some soil, and pet hair, all things that can be thrown in the compost bin.

6. Toilet paper and paper towel rolls - Cardboard provides carbon, a necessary element for good compost.

7. Corks - They are made from trees, so throw them in!

8. Some dryer sheets - Seventh Generation sheets are compostable. Again, just check the label.

9. Paper bags - More carbon for healthy compost! Rip it up into small bits for quicker decomposition.

10. Nail clippings - Yes, these can go in too, as long as there is no nailpolish on them. I can't say I've taken my composting habits this far, but you certainly can!

A compelling reason to compost

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Favorites on the 5th - Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns

I've been invited by Carol of the Oh What a Beautiful Garden - Chicagoland blog to share a recent post useful to zone 5 gardeners that I've enjoyed. I read a bunch of awesome blogs, so this was tough! But overall, my favorite, most informative post of late is:

Prettier than bluegrass.
Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns by food activist Michael Pollan.

It was published in the New York Times Magazine in 1989, which just shows how ahead of the game Pollan (always) is. He gives a good history of why Americans feel the need to have lawns, how maintaining a lawn is working against nature, and how the land could be better utilized. Makes me more determined than ever to further reduce my own front lawn.

Anyway, check out the post, then go visit Carol at her lovely blog!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Lowly Ditch Lily

You know this plant; it's everywhere. In backyard gardens and along roadsides. It's Hemerocallis fulva, also known as Orange Lily, Ditch Lily, Outhouse Lily (I'd love to know the backstory on that nickname), and less offensive - Tawny Daylily.

My mom was an incredible vegetable gardener, and grew some perennials too, but I remember my next door neighbor (hi, Glenn!) having a huge bed of Ditch Lilies that grew through the chain link fence that seperated our yards. I used to take ownership of any of the flowers that bloomed on my side of the fence. They were so captivating and exotic looking compared to the dandelion and clover flowers I routinely collected from the lawn. I wonder if most people have a memory of this ubiquitous plant.

Last week a fellow plant geek friend of mine told me she was looking for a few of these to transplant into her yard. I was kind of surprised that someone with extensive plant knowledge choose this plant over other, more unique ones. But she shared that she had memories of growing orange lilies when her three grown boys were just babies, and that triggered my own memories of the plant - hot, sunny summer afternoons spent daydreaming and making bouquets for my mom. And I immediately understood. I brought her about 15 of the plants from my own back garden. And in doing so, perpetuated a pass-along practice that has been going on in our country since as early as 1793.

Many think Hemerocallis fulva is native, but it was actually brought here from Europe, and from China before that. It does not reseed, so according to this very interesting article, "it's widespread distribution is the handiwork of gardeners." So, the next time you see these lilies growing in an unusual place, you'll know that someone intentionally planted them there!

What are your experiences with Hemerocallis fulva?