Mar 092012

Our Bok Choy Seedlings

Here are my top 10 go-to websites that I visit when I need gardening tips.  If you want to start a garden, or if you’re an experienced gardener looking to improve your skills, take a couple minutes to check out these sites.  And before I lose any of you who live in apartments and think you can’t garden, I’ll point out that my list includes tips on unconventional gardening- from container gardening to window gardening (yes, rigging up a vertical garden in your window- you’ve got to see it to believe it).  Here are the best gardening websites I’ve found:

  1. Basically an encyclopedia of gardening.  Check out their plant finder, where you can find the most ideal plants for your area.  I also love their garden design ideas, and they’ve got a whole archive of articles on small-space container gardening.
  2. They’ve got an entire section devoted to garden-related forecasting, including an absolutely essential tool- a gardener’s forecast customized to your particular location.  Want to know whether you need to cover your plants tonight to protect from frost?  Want to know the watering needs of your plants over the next few days?  This website will answer those questions with a clear layout showing all of the variables that might affect your plants (rain, wind, temperature, light intensity) in the upcoming week.
  3. Like, Urban Sustainable has amassed a treasure trove of useful articles on gardening, but it’s focus is entirely on small space gardening (which frankly applies to suburbs just as well as cities- most people don’t want to tear up their lawn to install a garden when they could create a container garden on the patio instead).
  4. Renee’s Garden Seeds offers organic and non-GMO seeds, but I like this website best for it’s excellent archive of unintimidating gardening how-to articles- including Gardening with Children, Growing Your Container Kitchen Garden, and What to Plant in the Shade.
  5. Love Apple Farm is a nationally renowned small farm that elevates tomato growing to an art form- so if you want to take your tomato growing to the next level, check out their Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Growing Tomatoes and Growing Tomatoes in Containers.
  6. Speaking of tomatoes, did you know that planting tomatoes next to carrots will stunt the growth of the carrots? Or that planting chamomile next to onions improves the flavor of the onionsGolden Harvest Organics has compiled a comprehensive list of all of these companion planting tips hereDon’t be put off by the 1990′s formatting of the website- the tips are tried and true (and make sure to scroll down on the page if you don’t see them).
  7. Looking for some city gardening inspiration?  Try Urban Homestead- the website of a family in Pasadena, California that figured out how to grow 6000 pounds of produce a year on 1/10th of an acre.
  8. So, how about that window farming? explains the concept with beautiful pictures and informative videos.  Best of all, they provide detailed instructions for how to build your own window farm (or if you’re not feeling very handy with the tools, you can buy them pre-made).
  9. Just for fun, check out this garden pool.  They’ve got lots of photos and videos showing how they transformed a backyard pool into a micro farm complete with vegetables, fish and chickens.
  10. Ok, back to more conventional gardening- if you like how-to tips but would rather watch them in video format, check out Garden Girl from HGTV.  Her website has lots of videos covering all the basics of gardening.

What’s your go-to gardening website?

Thanks for reading!  I love comments, so let me know if these websites did (or didn’t) work for you.

Feb 182012

This week I saw flowers blooming in the meadow behind our house, which told me that spring was here.  (This scene sounds a lot more pastoral than it is- the “meadow” is actually an empty lot waiting for our neighbor to build it up with two houses approved by the planning commission.  But, for the time being I like to imagine it will stay a grassy oasis.)  Seeing the wildflowers brought on a sudden and enthusiastic urge to start our garden, and I grabbed last year’s seeds and marched my daughter out to the back yard to start planting. I have this notion that one day we’ll be growing a bounty of vegetables in our humble planter boxes, and I’m apparently undeterred by my inability to grow little more than two tomato plants, some hardy beans, and a few straggly herbs since I started this whole gardening thing three years ago.
Hopefully adding a little bit of public accountability to my gardening will result in a better harvest, so I’ve decided to add a little “widget” to this blog to track what we’re growing in the garden at any given time.  Because I’m known for planting lots of seeds and then forgetting to water them, I’ve resolved not to add a plant to the widget’s slideshow until the seed has actually sprouted into a verifiable plant.  For that reason, the widget currently only showes the chives, rosemary, and other hardy plants that managed to survive last fall’s ill-timed planting.  But I can hardly wait until the beets, carrots, bok choy, leeks, and other cold-weather crops start sprouting so that I can add them in!

What’s growing in your garden right now?  I’d love to know!

Feel free to leave comments, and thanks for reading!

Jun 132011

In Grow Some Herbs I talked about my venture into herb gardening as a cost-saving defense against buying those ridiculously expensive bunches of herbs at grocery stores.  The venture is not exactly a success so far- the oregano, thyme, basil, and parsley have not even sprouted, despite being planted 6 weeks ago, so I must have done something very wrong.  I’ll need to replant when I have a chance.
The two cilantro seeds sprouted, looked fairly healthy, and then died suddenly.  I planted two more cilantro seeds and they sprouted a couple days ago, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed on those because I have been plans for those plants- specifically, to save money by making fresh salsa this summer instead of buying it at the store for $4.50/tub.  The other ingredients I’ll need are tomatoes, onion and jalapeno peppers.  The tomato plants are growing nicely, and now that temperatures have warmed up I’ll buy a jalapeno seedling from the nursery.  I’ll probably just buy onions from the grocery store because onions are so cheap that it’s unlikely I could save money by growing my own…

Feel free to leave comments! If you don’t have a Google account, just select “Name/URL” or “Anonymous” in the comment form. Thanks for reading!

May 092011

There is some debate as to how cost-effective it is to grow your own vegetables.  For instance, in the book pictured above, an avid gardener details how his adventures in gardening led him to unwittingly grow tomatoes that cost him $64 a piece.
The frugal idealist in me wants to believe it IS possible to grow vegetables more cheaply than buying them at the grocery store, and I’ll be monitoring my gardening costs this summer to see how it turns out.  But, I’m also “diversifying my portfolio” with the belief that growing herbs will be a sure-fire way to save some money over buying them at the grocery store.  Organic parsley and cilantro sell for about $1.50/bunch, and herbs like organic Tarragon, Rosemary, and Chives sell for $2.50/bunch.  A “bunch” is about 3oz, which means we’re paying over $13/pound for fresh herbs! To make matters worse, the bunch inevitably spoils before we’re able to use it up, so we don’t even get our money’s worth.  On the other hand, herb seeds are fairly cheap- even the organic, non-GMO ones.  For instance, the seed packs pictured below are only $1.59 a piece.  Now, at this point I should admit to you that I am NOT an expert gardener, and in fact am only in my second year of gardening, but my understanding is that herbs are typically not that picky about soil conditions, fertilizer, pot size, etc.  So, this spring I found some cast-off planters under our patio stairs, filled them with basic soil, and planted the seeds according to the packet directions.  According to the seed packets, a once/week watering is typically sufficient.  Some herbs, like Tarragon, prefer dryer conditions, and other herbs, like Rosemary, are able to withstand virtually any abuse or neglect that comes its way, including 6 months of only occasional rainwater because it’s been forgotten behind the hot tub (that was last year- I’m sure I won’t be so forgetful this year).
Since my goal is to save money by growing the herbs,I’m doing my best to limit my equipment expenditures- resisting the temptation to buy new pots, garden gloves, etc., which will quickly wipe out any monetary advantage to growing our own herbs.  My start-up costs so far are low:

  • $1.59/seed packet
  • used planters (free)
  • $3 bag of soil (of which I only need half)

If my only other cost is weekly watering, then I should, theoretically, be able to grow some delicious, fresh herbs for significantly less than $13/pound.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Feel free to leave comments! If you don’t have a Google account, just select “Name/URL” or “Anonymous” in the comment form. Thanks for reading!

Apr 242011

April is a great time to start a garden, if you haven’t already.  Here are some of the best websites I’ve come across for gardening tips.  They’re not necessarily the top 5 of all time, they’re just ones that I regularly refer to for sound advice and inspiration:

  1. Sunset Magazine: If you live in the western United States (or any climate similar) this website is a virtual encyclopedia on gardening and landscaping.  Helpful to everyone from novice to expert.
  2. Garden Girl: If you learn best by watching videos, versus just reading text, check this website out- it’s chock full of how-to tutorials on gardening.  A great website for beginner gardeners.
  3. Grow Better Veggies:  The writer of this website is an expert gardener who teaches about gardening professionally.  She is tomato-obsessed and has a very informative post on how to grow top-notch tomatoes.  This website is best for experienced gardeners, as her methods are a bit complicated for beginners.
  4. Urban Sustainable Living: Lots of tips for those of us trying to grow veggies in urban and suburban environments.
  5. Veggie Gardening Tips:  Lots of practical advice, doled out with a sense of humor.  Great for novice to expert gardeners.
May 182009

Here in the northern hemisphere, spring has sprung and summer is almost upon us. Plants are abloom. Here are some helpful articles about tending to your lawn and starting your garden:

To Urban-dwellers: Yes, you CAN garden in the city- a pot on the window sill, with a couple herbs growing, does count and will save you money.

To Workohalics, Parents, and Other Insanely Busy People: Yes, you CAN garden with very little time: a rosemary plant requires almost no care other than watering, and tomato plants are pretty independent little producers, as long as you’ve got 1) sun, 2) water 3) a non-toxic bug spray to ward off any infestations.