Check out “The 20-30 Something Garden Guide” by Dee Nash

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I am excited to tell you about this new book by Dee Nash, The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff. During a phone conversation Dee told me a few months back that she is concerned that younger people are losing the opportunity to glean the gardening knowledge from elder generations. That concern was the inspiration for her new book. I am honored to be included in the chapter about community gardening because of my experience as manager at Sunfield Community Garden.

I was happy to help Dee because I see people my age and younger struggle as new homeowners and new community members. When it comes to gardening and other home-making skills, young people often don’t even know what questions to ask before embarking on an oft-bumpy voyage of discovery. Having a book like Dee’s goes a long way to empower people who are just starting out. The book’s introduction is particularly personal, encouraging and compelling.

A few years ago I taught a basic organic vegetable gardening class with my friend at her home garden. I was very surprised and delighted to see that all of the class attendees were 20 and 30 somethings. Many of them were new mothers and teachers who wanted to learn to garden while exposing children to the sources of our food. Clearly there is demand for this kind of knowledge and Dee’s book fills that niche.

I was also excited to see that she interviewed gardeners from Sunshine Community Garden where I used to have a plot about 10 years ago- still one of my favorite places. I try to get over to Sunshine during the first Saturday in March every year for their annual plant sale. They carry plants that are hard to find elsewhere and I always bump into old friends!

I learned to garden at a young age from my parents who both had vegetable gardens and lovely yards. Terms like ‘annual’ and ‘compost’ were a part of my childhood. Dee does a great job with defining gardening terms for new gardeners in her book’s glossary. Many garden books skip this important section for beginners.

Dee advises gardeners to start small with container gardening, which is a great idea. As with community gardening, starting small in a container is a good way to find out if you like gardening to begin with before you invest tons of time and money in gardening stuff. I just gave the same advice to a self-proclaimed “brown thumb” friend recently. As Dee puts it, “No one is born with a brown thumb”. Gardening teaches us that trying something new is important, and passing time doing something you enjoy is more important than achieving a final goal.

If you are new to gardening and live in Central Texas, I offer consultation services to help. Visit www.redwheelbarrowplants.com or call 512-217-6955 to learn more and set up an appointment.

Be sure to follow Dee’s blogs, The 20-30 Something Garden Guide and Red Dirt Ramblings.

As part of the book launch cyber-party I am having a giveaway. Leave a comment on what your biggest gardening challenge was and how you overcame it. If you comment you will be entered to win one of two fabulous prizes:

PRIZE 1- Garden Girl USA gardening shorts
Garden Girl USA’s Gardening Shorts are cool, comfortable and loaded with practical features including Garden Girl’s signature Wonderfit side stretch panels, generous fit for easy movement and multiple deep reinforced pockets. Garden Girl apparel is designed by women for women. The result is smart design: for example the leg length of GG shorts can be adjusted shorter or longer via smart fold-up-or-down cuffs with a button tab. Available for suggested retail price of $69.99 at www.gardengirlusa.com and select retailers.

Gardening Shorts_GardenGirlUSA

PRIZE 2-Fiskars PowerGear 18” Loppers,  They are worth $26.99.  Dee says, “I like them because they are great for getting in close when you’re trimming roses and other thorny problems”.
PowerGear-Lopper-18_product_main
One note, the contest is only open to U.S. residents.

To celebrate Dee’s book we are having a cyber-party with other bloggers that Dee knows, so take a gander at their blogs too. They are really cool. They are all having prize giveaways as well.

Shawna Coronado website — gift certificate to High Country Gardens for a Summer Dreams Garden.

Whitney Curtis at the Curtis Casa — David Austin Rose, ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ and Authentic Haven Brand Moo Poo Tea.

Robin Haglund at Garden Mentors — Buckaroo Worm Castings, a hula planter and Empire Soil Builder, from Sanctuary Soil.

Rachel Hough at The Domestic Artiste —Fiskars Tools, two sets of loppers, one is the PowerGear Lopper 32” and the other Power-Lever 28”.

Niki Jabbour at Niki Jabbour, The Year Round Veggie Gardener.

Carmen Johnston at Carmen Johnston Gardens — Garden Girl pants with knee pads and a David Austin rose, ‘The Alnwick Rose’ catalog link for ordering bare root roses.

Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens —DeWit Tool kit and Botanical Interests Organic Heirloom Seed Bank Collection. 

Pam Penick at Digging — Three small Bee Preservers, www.glassgardensnw.com.

Jenny Peterson and J. Peterson Garden Design — SeedKeepers Deluxe seedkeeperand Burlap Girdle.

Genevieve Schmidt at North Coast Gardening — Annie’s Annuals gift certificate and Keira Watering Cans.

Marie Wreath at the (Not Always) Lazy W Ranch — Longfield Gardens tulips & daffs 

Hugelkulture 1

I added a new word to my vocab recently- Hugelkulture. My husband, Eric, and I spent about 5 minutes riffing on that term yesterday-  saying it first in a German accent at a very loud volume, of course, and then traveling around the world of accents and mispronouncing it in hilarious voices. It was a classic Dieter household chucklefest.  I recommend you do the same.

I first heard about Hugelkulture from this article in Edible Austin Magazine. Basically you use wood logs as a base material for building raised beds. Then you layer smaller branches and twigs on top of the logs, followed by a layer of foodscraps or manure. The food scraps and manure provide a nitrogen source for microbes to use when they start eating the wood to break it down into new soil. Then the whole pile gets covered with topsoil, and you can plant right into it. It’s like a compost pile with a garden planted on top of it. The Hugelkulture method is transforming my thinking about my own yard.

Overgrown with bamboo, plagued by two aging Arizona Ash trees that are falling apart, located on a slope, my backyard is a landscaper’s nightmare. As a landscaper myself, I felt overwhelmed by the options and potential cost of getting the yard of my dreams.  Eric and I don’t have a ton of money and we have other household projects that take precedence in terms of finances. We have lots of wood and sticks from the bamboo and ash trees, and I need a way to level out slopes. Hugelkuture can solve all of these problems!

In addition to those issues we also inherited  a deck built by the former homeowner -my friend Ruth- to accommodate an above-ground pool which no longer resides in my yard. Ruth has the pool at her new house.  Built into the side of a hill, the deck had a 6 foot drop off where the pool used to be. It was an accident waiting to happen. Our cats loved to sit on the edge of the deck, and sometimes they would get a little over-zealous in their sunbeam rolling and fall right off the edge. Cats always land on their feet and were only momentarily phased after each fall. A friend who has had a few too many at one of our house parties may not be so agile. After a possum died underneath the deck and infested our cats with fleas and filled our house with stink, it was time for the deck to go.

We tore out the deck a few weeks ago. I added some shredded cedar mulch to the flat area to create a seating area where we will put our firebowl. But that left me with this weird spot where the ground sloped down to a retaining wall next to where the pool used to be. It is about 30 inches deep at the deepest point. I decided to try a hugelkulture bed here using logs from tree limbs that fell during storms. These logs are too big for us to burn in our fire bowl. I will spend some time collecting food scraps from friends and businesses this week. Then I will cover the layers using compost from my giant landscaper’s compost pile that is about 6 years old and has lots of topsoil mixed in. Here is a pic of the wood layer in the hugelkulture bed so far.

Beginning of Hugelkulture bed with logs and branches in lowest part of the bed next to the retaining wall.

Beginning of Hugelkulture bed with logs and branches in lowest part of the bed next to the retaining wall.

My cedar mulch fire bowl seating area with hugelkulture bed next to it.

My cedar mulch fire bowl seating area with hugelkulture bed next to it.

Finally, this spring I will plant some medium sized shrubs and perennials in there to keep our guests from falling over the edge. This is right near our kitchen door so I will probably focus on edibles like herbs and chile petins.  I also plan to put a stone topper on the cinder block wall to make it look presentable.

Someday Eric and I will build a giant back porch on the house, but until then this will make for a nice seating area with edibles near the kitchen. I will keep you posted on how it turns out. Wish me luck! Are you familiar with Hugelkulure? What do you think about this concept?

Winter Indoor Plants

In winter, I bring in a few of my potted tropical plants that I typically keep outdoors to protect them from freezing weather. This includes my Ficus benjamina tree and my variegated spider plant a.k.a.Chlorophytum comosum. I also have a few little succulents that live in my office during the winter.

For larger plants, I recommend getting a plant caddy to keep your plant elevated off of your floor and to make moving the plant easier. Be sure that your potted plant is relatively free of bugs- especially fire ants- before you move it indoors. 

Plants do not move by themselves in nature, so moving them from outdoors to indoors is a really weird and upsetting experience for them.

Make sure you put your plants near a sunny window. Even though a room might appear brightly lit to us humans, the intensity and amount of light that the plant can use indoors is far lower than most outdoor locations. 

Our homes have different humidity levels than the outdoors in general, so your pots may dry out faster indoors or they may stay wet longer than they did outdoors. Be sure to monitor the plants more often and adjust your watering as needed.

I think that the number 1 killer of houseplants is over watering. It is important to use your finger to check the moistness of the soil each day. Try to stick your finger into the soil at least an inch in depth to see if it feels wet. Only water it if it feels completely dry. Sometimes when a plant is getting over watered the roots will begin to rot and you will see the leaves of the plant wilt. Many people think that a plant with wilted leaves must be dry so it needs more water, which just makes things worse. Rotten roots are not able to take up water, so the plant will look thirsty on top. So just use your finger to check before you water. This is much harder than it sounds and takes some trial and error to find the right plant sometimes. Don’t get discouraged. It might help you to know that my husband waters our houseplants about once each week. Big plants get a big cup of water. The little plants get a few splashes. 

Another key to not over watering your indoor potted plants is to make sure you use a pot that has a hole in the bottom for drainage. Use a saucer or a tray to catch extra water that comes out after you water. When you water the plant, water slowly and stop watering when you see water coming out of the bottom of the pot.

Many houseplants will start to look really weak and tired after a year or two in the pot. They need to be repotted, and repotting is fun and easy. Winter is a great time for repotting. Spread out a tarp or some newspapers. Just tip the pot over and dump the root ball out gently. You may need to use a knife to separate the roots from the side of the pot. Then shake off some of the old potting soil and loosen up the roots on all sides. You can remove about 1/3 of the root ball to make room in the pot. Then add some new potting soil to your pot and put the root ball back in. Fill in around the edges with more potting soil. Water the pot all the way around the edges until you see lots of water coming out of the bottom. Old potting soil is a great addition to your compost pile.

Remember that indoor plants do not get rained on to clean off their leaves. They need to have their leaves wiped off or dusted once a month or so. Dust can build up on the leaves and inhibit their ability to breathe and take in light. Cleaning off the leaves can also remove insects that often infest indoor plants like red spider mites and scale. Some gardeners wash their plants in the shower.

If you feel really chipper, your houseplants also appreciate some fertilizer. Since they are constricted to a pot, their roots can’t grow out to find nutrients. Plus, most potting soil does not have nutrients in it. Some potting soils have fertilizer built in but it wears off after a few months. Use an organic liquid fertilizer like Medina Hasta Gro when you water your indoor plants and you will definitely see a difference in their health. They can also benefit from a bit of compost or worm castings around the top of the pot or from liquid compost tea.

Sometimes indoor plants can become dear to people in a similar way to a pet. With just a little knowledge on how to care for an indoor plant, you can have a life-long little green friend! My mom has a few Christmas Cacti and asparagus ferns that are older than me! Awww! I know I cherish the plants that were given to me by friends who had to move cross-country or overseas and couldn’t take the plants with them. Happy indoor gardening! What plants do you love growing indoors?