It’s Growing! #gardenlove

Beds2My husband rushed to put all of his seedlings in his newly built garden bed before we headed to Florida for a few weeks. The light began fading from the day as he tenderly placed the last plant in the soil he’d been preparing for a few weeks. And then the heavens opened up.

He raced to the porch just as the rain poured down on the plants. Now almost three weeks later, I’ll let you be the judge whether that was a good omen. The plants are all thriving here in the Smoky Mountains.

Before we left, we put together a simple, yet effective compost bin. We’ve been unable to compost for the past ten months, and it felt wasteful to throw away onion skins, broccoli stalks, eggshells, and coffee grounds. We put the new bin right next to the deck steps for easy access from the kitchen.Compost

Here’s an excerpt from my book, From Seed to Table, which contains a section on creating a place for your scraps from the kitchen.

Composting

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then I’ve composted on a twenty-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

It’s not a complicated process, although many folks hesitate to begin because they believe it’s difficult. If you simply follow a few basic instructions, you’ll be rolling in the black gold of the gardening world as quickly as the tomato plants begin sprouting green fruit.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils, or grease because they attract wild animals, take a very long time to break down, and can spread harmful bacteria into the soil and infect plants.

Eggshells, coffee grounds, and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold. We buy brown (unbleached) coffee filters, so we throw the grounds and the filter in the compost bin as well.

Once the container is filled with your kitchen scrapes, empty it into the compost bin and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. The green things are those still close to the live stage, such as grass clippings, food scraps, and some manures. Don’t use the manure from pets or pigs, as it will promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Chicken manure is the best kind. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves, woody materials, and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace, too. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in the compost container and in the air without watering the pile. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $20 to several hundreds of dollars to make a compost bin. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. However, I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending tons of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow airflow. You can spend a little more on a galvanized garbage can, but it will be more difficult to remove the bottom. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the outer sides to make it secure.

I covered the bottom on the inside with the dirt I removed to make the hole, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

In Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has small panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.image008

In the spring, I fill flowerpots with the healthy rich soil from the bottom of the compost bin to assist grateful petunias, pansies, impatiens, and marigolds. We’ll gaze upon the blossoming colors on the patio and take satisfaction in making fertile soil that originated in our kitchen and garden. Our vegetables, herbs, and flowerbed plants will all receive a healthy dose of the soil as well, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt.

I love the symmetry of composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

How’s your gardening going? If you’re not a gardener, what’s going on with local food at the Farmer’s Market? Always love to hear what’s going on in different parts of the country. We figure we’re about a month to six weeks ahead from where we were in Pittsburgh. Even though we’re in the mountains, it’s still the south! Happy gardening and eating the luscious foods of spring and summer.

S2T-6

Click on cover to purchase on Amazon.

 

Building the Garden Beds

 

DSC03560

Pre-Samuel

We began by hiring Samuel to bring his excavator out to the cabin to prepare the site for a garden. Tree stumps stood in Robert’s way to turning the soft clay soil. Samuel had no problem ripping them out of the ground and dumping over the other side of our small mountain (folks here call these hills or foothills).

 

We heard him before we saw him. He decided to unload his machinery down at the bottom of the hill and drive it up to the cabin. And then he got right down to work.DSC03568

DSC03570

DSC03571

After three hours, Samuel finished the job, leaving the rest to Robert and another great guy, Peter, to start building the beds.

 

DSC03573

Cutting the boards for the sides of the beds

DSC03575

The inside of the boards were lined with plastic to protect the wood. Robert decided not to use pressure treated lumber even if it means replacing these boards in a few years. When that time comes, we hope to find a local supplier of boards made from recycled materials.

DSC03581

Making the soil: Layers of mostly decomposed bark, mushroom manure, top soil, more bark, more manure.

 

 

DSC03584

Raking in more bark, a sprinkling of lime, and another layer of top soil. 

DSC03591

Robert stained the wood to make it blend in with the surroundings.

DSC03592

The side going down the hill.

 

Originally, we planned to build two beds – one beneath this one. But then we decided that the lower bed would actually be two or three smaller boxes to be built later in the spring. One thing that has been difficult is finding good top soil. We finally found someone who will be delivering a load this week, and that will finish off this first bed.

Robert wants the soil to rest for a few days before he begins planting the seedlings, although he’s going to hold off on the tomato plants for a few weeks.DSC03589DSC03587

DSC03593

And my little herb garden – the two larger plants (rosemary and oregano) were purchased. The little babies were started by Robert from seed. The planters will be right outside on the deck so I can easily grab them during meal prep

I think this will be an excellent garden. I will keep you posted on the progress.

Robert’s retirement brings him to a place where he can pursue his passion for growing food full time. Next challenge for him will be to create a garden in our Florida home. He’s in for a huge learning curve as all of his gardening – since he was old enough to hold a shovel – has been in the north. Lots to learn in the coming months, but also food to eat and stories to tell.

 

From Seed to Table presents lots of gardening tips and recipes for meals and also for preserving the food from the garden. I wrote this book based on a northern garden. I guess it’s time to start creating another volume for gardening in the Smoky Mountains! Still, I think you’ll find lots of good tips no matter where you live.

S2T-5

Click on cover for $.99 cents Kindle version

Happy Spring – Building a Garden

 

DSC03550

Cherohala Parkway – A frost in March that lingered

Living here in the Smoky Mountains during the winter made for some easy living. If it snowed, the sun shone the next day. If the temperatures dipped one day, we were in shorts the next. It’s been a lovely winter in our new home.

 

But now spring gradually spreads itself over us, and Robert has turned all of his attention to building a garden in the front yard of our mountain home. The first day we saw this cabin in May 2015, he jumped out of the realtors vehicle with his phone in hand with the compass app ready to go. He declared the side of the driveway (of course, on a hillside) to be perfect for a garden site as it faced south and receives the best of the summer sun.

DSC03586Onion seedlings ready to go in the ground. As usual,  he began his seeds several months ago, and now the onion plants are yearning to go into the ground. So are the other plants. Over the past two weeks, along with the help of some great folks, he’s been working every day to build beds and create a soil able to sustain vegetables during the growing season. It’s not cheap to build a garden from scratch in soil that is mostly clay, but it’s a one-time expense that will pay for itself within a few years of healthy harvesting of vegetables.The chosen spot for the garden before the heavy equipment arrived contained tree stumps we attempted to burn out to no avail. Let the excavation begin!

 

 

 

DSC03560

Next post – the building of the beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FREE March 9-13 – FROM SEED TO TABLE

S2T-5

Good morning – Just wanted to let you know that my book, From Seed to Table, is available for free download on Kindle today through Sunday, March 13.

This book is a compilation of my blog posts about gardening, harvesting, and preserving vegetables. It’s full of recipes and organized by the season. If you don’t have your copy, now’s the time to get it.

I haven’t been posting about gardening much in the past few years because we’ve been in transition and moving. But this month, my husband–the real gardener in our family–is building raised beds on the side of our North Carolina hill, foothill, mountain, and I’ll be posting his progress as he begins our new garden journey.

Here’s an excerpt From Seed to Table:

SPRING

Most years by the end of March, the seedlings are growing; onions and garlic are in the ground; spinach, lettuce, and cole plants await placement once the soil is workable. During the second week of March, Robert begins covering the areas of the garden with plastic sheets where he’ll plant first to protect the soil from the late winter/early spring snow and rain. The soil needs to be dry when he begins turning it over and readying it for planting.

Since there’s still a chance for frost or a freeze, we watch the weather each evening and keep the Reemay® near to cover the onions, if necessary. It’s a time of growth, but it’s a tender and tenuous time as well.

From Living Lightly blog – April 2, 2013

The spring of 2013 is late in coming to western Pennsylvania and other parts of the Midwest and Northeast. Spring sprung on the calendar more than ten days ago, yet the cold temperatures stymied our gardening plans. Seeds sprouted a month ago are now seedlings growing under lights in our family room.

I can tell they are yearning, as we are, for the warmer days and nights of spring, for the sunshine to heat the earth, and for soil large enough to spread their roots.

The onions should be in the ground by now or at the very least, they should be outside getting sunlight for a portion of the day. My husband has been putting them out for brief periods, but the temperatures are still too cold for any type of sustained sun bathing.

011016fa1eba689f028e72d6e6ec86d922025ccae9

The soil for spinach needs preparation. They’ll be ready to go into the ground as soon as the weather cooperates. If spinach is started indoors about a month before transplanting into the garden, the harvest will triple or quadruple, and huge succulent leaves will grow before the plants go to flower in June. Any plants grown indoors need to be slowly exposed to direct sunlight for a few days with minimal mid-day sun during the early spring.

The peas have been most affected by the cold weather of spring 2013. My husband worried for weeks that he wouldn’t be able to get the sprouts in the ground in a timely manner. He sprouts seeds on an old cookie sheet and covers them with several layers of damp paper towel. He has one tray all ready to plant, which he intended to do this past weekend. Then we heard the weather report for the first week of April: nighttime temperatures hitting the low to mid-20s. He said he’d put them in the ground even with predictions of high twenty temperatures, but 25 degrees is too low. He sprouted another set this past week because he’s fairly certain the ones already sprouted won’t last until he can put them in the

???????????????????????????????

peas ready to plant on March 30, 2013

ground. He put the tray in the basement, hoping to slow down the process.

We’re learning to be flexible with the unpredictable weather patterns of recent years. It’s not always easy, especially when we’re as eager for the warmer temperatures as the plants stretching for light right before our eyes.

 

If you enjoyed this excerpt, download the rest of the book for free until March 13, 2016 by clicking here.

If you prefer reading the paperback, click here. It’s $7.99 on Amazon.

Thank you and happy gardening. Would love to hear what’s popping at your house!

 

SAYING GOOD-BYE TO #PITTSBURGH

PNCPark

PNC Park

Nearly seven years ago, Pittsburgh took me by surprise when it grabbed my heart and squeezed.

All I knew of the city came from my college geography and history classes. At the time, I was struck by the role of rivers in the formation of cities. Pittsburgh doesn’t just have one river, but three, and during the Industrial Revolution in the United States became known for its ‘dirty’ industry. The rivers made it an attraction and strategic location and the seam of coal sitting underneath created an important industrial capital. Despite my interest in the location, I never thought about visiting, and I certainly never considered living in the Steel City.

Yet, life had other plans for me when I reconnected with a love from my teenage years. That’s the other thing I knew about the city. I knew more than forty years before that he’d left me to make a go of his life in Pittsburgh. After I graduated from college, I headed south to Florida. And that was my connection to Pittsburgh until 2009.

Fort Pitt TunnelWhen we reconnected, I visited Pittsburgh for the first time. Once my husband drove me through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and I came out on the other side into the magical land of the three rivers, I was a goner. I became more familiar with the downtown of the city than my husband, who’d lived in the north hills and only came downtown occasionally.the view

I shopped in the Strip district every month, stocking up on seafood, freshly roasted coffee beans, cheese, stuffed grape leaves,  and craft beers brewed nearby. Walking down Penn Avenue that cuts right through the heart of the Strip, dodging vendors’ tables piled high with Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins gear and indulging in impulse purchases of scarves and hats, put me in mind of a Moroccan or Chilean market.

For years, I’d denied my sports-dominated childhood. I grew up with four older brothers–athletes all–where I existed as the physically ungifted girl. But that all changed when I moved to the ‘Burgh. I went back to my roots, except this time instead of cheering for the Lions, Tigers, and Red Wings, I’d become a fan of all things gold and black.

Go Steelers!

Go Steelers!

There is nothing quite as exciting as attending a Steelers game at Heinz Field and watching the ketchup bottle spill the red stuff whenever the home team made it to the end zone. The coolness of entering Consul Energy Center gripped me and kept me cool while the Penguins melted the ice, playing stellar hockey and entertaining the fans with the likes of Crosby and Malkin. I never really liked hockey until these boys made it impossible to sit back and ignore.

But nothing made me more of a fan of Pittsburgh than going to PNC Park and watching those Pirates grow into a team that could be a contender. My husband took me to my first game in the spring of 2010 on a Friday night. Along with maybe one hundred other fans, we had our choice of seats to watch a lackluster team. Except for two new players: Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. I felt a rush of adrenaline when either one of them came to the plate. Within two years, the Pirates rose from laughing stock to winning team. It’s been a pleasure to watch them play and revel in their victories. This past year, thirty thousand fans often packed the house of Friday nights.

PNC Park

PNC Park

Last month, we left Pittsburgh physically. We’ve been in the process of leaving for six months, but in December it became official. Each thing I did in those final weeks became poignant with the thought I may never pass this way again.

Seven years ago, I’d never imagine the sadness I felt about leaving.

The move is positive, but as with most things in life, change is still a form of loss. I will mourn the loss of Pittsburgh in my life, but will be forever grateful for the home it provided me in the past six years as my husband and I began our life together. I will always view the Steel City with the soft chewy center as the place of my honeymoon that never ended. Steelers Fans

Thank you, Yinzers. I will always be a fan, and you will always be a part of my heart.

Heinz Field

Heinz Field from the Allegheny River

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

The abundant garden

Our abundant garden

 

And always the bridges of steel

And always the bridges of steel

GARDENING BY DEFAULT – TOMATOES, PEPPERS, AND PRAYING MANTIS

June 8, 2013 - Raccoon Township, PA

June 8, 2013 – Raccoon Township, PA

I’ve written several tons about my husband’s gardening abilities and prowess. But this year, we’ve had to readjust because of the major transition in our lives. We’re still one foot in Pittsburgh and heart and soul in the Smoky Mountains. He knew this year’s gardening would be non-existent, but still he refused to give up completely.

Before he left our cabin in early July, he threw two pepper plants and two tomato plants in the ground where he hopes to build terraced beds next year. He bought the plants at Lowe’s, unlike in past years when he started all plants from his own seeds. Yet, he persisted. When I came back to the cabin in August, the plants had survived and banana peppers and one tomato hung on the vine ready for me to eat.

August 2015 - Neglected Peppers

August 2015 – Neglected Peppers

I left the mountains and came back to Pittsburgh for a few weeks. We returned to the cabin last week. To our surprise, our neglected, but not forgotten plants thrived in our absence. My husband feels certain the soil and the sun will provide us with a two-season garden in the years to come.

Garden Bounty

Here’s another little treasure from our trip to the mountains. We picked up a hitchhiker and he clung to our windshield until we drove to the river where he finally flew off. Hopefully, not to get his head eaten by his female partner as some rare species of praying mantis are wont to do. Autumn is mating season so perhaps he decided to get away from that dreaded fate.

praying mantis

Tomorrow Robert undergoes surgery for his GERD, which we hope will help alleviate many of the symptoms he’s suffered through the past two years. It’s been tough for him, and we would appreciate prayers and positive thoughts for his recovery back to his old self. the leaves

Saying Good-bye

MaplehurstIt took me by surprise when I shut the garage door and prepared to leave the house for the last time. I sat in the driveway, crying. I called my husband, but he was in a meeting. So I sat and cried. We loved this home where we’d lived for the past five years. With our wedding in the backyard less than a month after we moved in, we began our marriage in the large house with a flat yard for my husband’s garden.ceremony

Love and produce blossomed and bloomed in this house. We didn’t sell the house because we hated living there; we sold it because the time had come for it to be used by a family big enough to fill its spaces.

And so this week after months of preparation and packing, the place stood empty, but not vacant. The walls echoed with the sound of our laughter and waited to embrace the young couple who bought it.

I cried again at the closing. Not tears of sadness, but of happiness for the family about to make it theirs. Two young folks with a five- and two-year old and another baby on the way in September, excitedly signed the papers turning it over to them. Their young sons played on the floor behind us, unaware of the momentous event occurring for their parents who were buying their first home.

“You know why we bought this house that was far too big for us?” I asked the couple as we signed papers. “It had a flat yard for the garden.”

“That’s my favorite part, too,” the woman said.

June 8, 2013

I wish them abundance, laughter, and love in this home that embraced us in its loving arms.

We left green tomatoes on the vine, peas bursting from pods, and onions peeking up from the earth. It feels good to walk away knowing we nurtured the land and left it better than we found it.

We move forward in a cabin that is much, much smaller and with no flat land. We’ve packed the pick-ax and boards for terracing a mountainside garden. Wish us luck!

 

I gave the couple an autographed copy of From Seed to Table and two of my novels written in this house. This home proved fruitful for both vegetables and words.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page