First-Time Vegetable Gardening for the Black-Thumbed


  Some of you may feel like no matter what you try to grow, it dies. Too much water, not enough water, too much sun, too much shade, or… it just dies for no reason at all. This has been my experience with gardening for a long time, and when I tried to grow a vegetable garden for a few years in a row, it was a total disaster. I fought a never-ending battle with weeds — and lost. Bugs ate more vegetables than I did those summers, and “working in the garden” involved lots of standing and squinting, hands on hips, uttering curse words under my breath. Cut to the past two summers — minimal weedings, efficient worry-free watering, easy pest control… and a picturesque bounty of gorgeous vegetables! Here are ten things I learned.

1.  Start small. My first vegetable garden was probably five times bigger than it should have been. I started with way too much space (read: more opportunities for weeds to creep in) and way too many plants. If this is your first garden, start with a small plot and it becomes much less intimidating. Once you have a winning season, you can be a little more adventurous with next year’s plans.
2.  Get a major head-start on weeds with a raised bed. Again, my first garden — we tilled up the soil, planted, and weeds seemed to sprout up before our very eyes. With a raised bed, you not only get excellent drainage and can control your soil quality, you can make weeding so much easier (and have to weed much less often.) My weeding experience went from hours kneeling on hard earth, tugging and cussing tough-rooted plants out of the ground, to casual weed-flicking; now I just gently tug weeds out of the raised bed every now and then when I spot them.
Sunset has an excellent tutorial on building a raised bed; the final project is about 8′ x 4′ and costs about $175 to build yourself.
3.  Know the basics. Be familiar with the basics of what you’re growing, including sun requirements (most likely, your veggies will need full sun), when to plant, and what kind of soil and fertilizer to fill your bed with. There are lots of resources online to help you plan your garden; read about planning your first vegetable garden in this article from Better Homes and Gardens.
4. Know which vegetables will grow easily in your area, and which ones won’t. Let’s take another look at my disastrous garden; we were determined to grow broccoli even though our next-door neighbor (a very experienced farmer) told us he never has been able to grow it in our area and that it was tough to cultivate. Prepare yourselves for this shocker: it didn’t grow. Well, it did grow, but it was not successful, in spite of our efforts to support it.
For your first garden, get some easy wins; get some advice from locals on what works, and stick with that! You can always start branching out next year.
5.  Keep your garden close to you. One of the (many!) disadvantages of our first garden was the distance from our home, not only for watering purposes (see #6!), but just in convenience and familiarity. Our new little garden is a part of our yard; we tend it frequently because we see it all the time. While kids are playing, while guests are milling around, we are always attentive to our plants because we are so familiar with their growth and progress. Likewise, weeds don’t stand a chance because we see them before they get a stronghold, and we pull one or two here or there as they pop up.
6. Have a watering plan. There’s no doubt about it, for a garden to be successful, it has to be amply watered. And to be amply watered, water needs to be available — seems obvious enough, right? Now, this doesn’t do credit to our intelligence and foresight, but as I mentioned, we put our first garden plot quite a distance from our house and water source. I’m talking multiple tens of yards. Not only did we have to buy a ridiculously long hose, we had to deal with poor water pressure, more area to spring leaks, and lots of walking back and forth to turn the water on and off. It was not enjoyable, and our garden didn’t get watered nearly as much as it should have.
Now that our little raised bed is next to our patio, just a few mere feet from our outdoor spigot, we have a simple, easy-to-keep-up-with watering plan. We could (and sometimes do) water manually every morning, but we’ve also set ourselves up with the option of watering from underneath the soil by burying a soaker hose before we planted. This method of watering is more efficient and helps plants retain more moisture.
Read about irrigating with soaker hoses in this article from Popular Mechanics.
7.  Not all bugs are bad. Most people know ladybugs eat aphids and other pests, but did you know there is a certain kind of wasp that kills hornworm caterpillars? It’s worth your time to quickly become familiar with which crawly things are pests and which are worth keeping around.
Here are some tips on attracting beneficial insects, from
8.  Become familiar with natural pest control. There are several things you can do to avoid having to douse your plants in poison (although, admit it — it would be so satisfying to violently eradicate all those bugs that are gorging themselves on your food!). We grow lots of hot peppers and garlic because we enjoy them, but we’ve also found that planting them around our other crops helps keep some pests away as well. There are other things you can do, too — this article on natural pest control from eartheasy lists preventative measures you can take, as well as gentle methods for controlling specific pest problems.
9.  Don’t forget pots. We eventually relocated some of our plants that were in our raised beds to pots around our patio — herbs, garlic, and strawberries were put in pots around our patio furniture, and we were able to reclaim some space in our small bed (as well as add some green and variety to our lounging area!)
Read about growing vegetables in pots and planters in this helpful article from Gardener’s Supply Company
10.  Sometimes things just don’t work out. After several years in our new garden, we got used to a bumper crop of cucumbers every year. And just like that, one year … no cukes. We got several measly, sad little guys, but that was about it. And I’m sure we could have gotten to the bottom of it — there has to be a solid reason why one year our crop failed — but for us, it was easier to just shrug, call it a loss, and enjoy the rest of our veggies for the summer. Don’t be hard on yourself if something fails.
Above all, realize it’s a learning process — our garden-savvy older neighbors have consoled me many times with the advice that every year you learn something new; don’t expect to come out of the gates a gardening whiz! Just enjoy the process, and the literal fruits of your effort — and give yourself just another reason to look forward to summer!

Composting for Beginners Want to start composting? Let’s break it down.

As we progress further in a new decade, we’ve realized that a mindbodygreen lifestyle is universally accessible. We’ve realized that we don’t need fancy yoga clothes to rock a Warrior II, we can mediate without achieving the enlightened state of the Dalai Lama, and we can chisel our dream bodies while eating real food. Composting is no different.

Composting nestles nicely into the democratization of environmentally friendly practices. It has never been easier to cultivate a green life that includes not only separating our paper, glass, and plastic waste and depositing it at the curb once a week, but also includes using our food and yard refuse in a proactive way. Composing allows us to nurture a synergistic relationship with the natural world, and with all of the technology and information available to us, it’s never been easier!

No longer does composting involve tedious, smelly and complicated steps. It’s conducive to everyone’s lifestyle, even lazy environmentalists who care about the earth but prefer simple ways to green their homes. So why not just store your yard and food waste and transform it into something that benefits and beautifies the world?

Not only is composting a simple action with countless benefits, but its growing popularity renders it the hottest way to repay Mother Earth. Celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah, and of course infamous treehugger and comic genius, Ed Begley, Jr. (pictured left) all compost. Even Starbucks lauds the practice by offering customers free 5-lb bags of used coffee grounds to add to their steaming pile of environmental goodness. The Denver International Airport also understands the importance of composting. It is currently collaborating with A1 Organics, Colorado’s leading recycling business, to install 65-gal compost containers throughout the airport, especially in employee break rooms and restaurants. If big name celebrities promote it and if significant establishments find ways to engage the public in it, then composting truly is something everyone can do.

Let’s break down this seemingly complex process, discredit misconceptions and address some common questions.

What is compost? What does it look like?

Compost is earthly material produced from the natural decomposition of organic matter. Basically, it’s composed mostly of once-living things turned into soil and fertilizer. When fully decomposed and ready for garden use after several months, our composted yard and food scraps look somewhat like topsoil.

Why should we bother to compost? Doesn’t our yard and food waste just biodegrade in landfills anyway?

Yes, our organic waste eventually decomposes in landfills, but the non-organic trash surrounding it prolongs the process. According to the United States EPA, yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. That’s a lot of waste to send to landfills when it could become useful and environmentally beneficial compost instead! Earth911 lists that compost enhances the physical structure of our soil, stabilizes our soil’s pH levels, and controls erosion. Let’s give our overwhelmed landfills a break and use our organic trash to nourish our gardens and change the world.

What do I need to get started?

Think storage. Purchase a compost bin — one of the most popular and affordable ways to store refuse. Visit your local garden store or check out what mass marketing stores offer online to find a compost bin that accommodates your needs and lifestyle. From enormous to tiny and from electrically run to self-operated, a host of compost bins under $100 await your discernment and selection.

Live in an open area and have some outdoor space? Perhaps try a larger compost bin that spins and holds many gallons of waste. Kickin’ it in an urban environment and strapped for space? Purchase yourself a tiny compost bin that discreetly nestles in with your furniture and appliances.

If you’d like to invest in a more complex compost bin, choose from several innovations. Small, plug-in devices that heat scraps to speed the decomposition process run close to $400 and work well in small spaces for people without the desire or time to turn their compost. Those of you with more space might like large, globe-shaped compost units that hold 70 gallons of waste are priced around $200 and contain several air tubes to aerate the contents and produce compost after only 4-6 weeks. Some compost bins, priced around $100 use stackable layers to house worms that eat scraps and leave compost behind.

Although it might seem like you need all of this composting technology to give some love to Mother Earth, no elaborate equipment is necessary. Feel free to channel your inner carpenter and build your own compost bin. Visit EarthEasy for simple instructions or check out hundreds of how-to videos online. Chicken wire, one of the most malleable materials, also makes a great place to store refuse. Just mold it into a wide, cylindrical shape and start composting!

What do I compost first?

As Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening Magazine says, “Compost happens — you don’t have to do a lot to make it work, but a few tips can make it more manageable.” Keep this in mind and the composting process will rarely overwhelm or frustrate you.

Here’s a great way to remember what successful composting requires:

Brown – Refers to the carbon part of the carbon to nitrogen ratio, an essential balance that sparks decomposition and produces usable compost. While numbers vary, an easy way to compost is to include roughly the same amount of carbon and nitrogen scraps. Brown ingredients include shredded paper, straw and leaves. These ingredients should be the first ones you throw into your bin, your first layer.

Green – Refers to the nitrogen component of a compost pile. Green ingredients include table scraps and animal manure.

Water – Ensure that your pile has the wetness of a damp, wrung-out sponge by watering it once a week or twice a month.

Air -This crucial ingredient speeds decomposition and mitigates odor, keeping insects and animals out. Turn your pile a few times a month with a garden fork or mechanism on the bin, or simply shake around the bin to aerate the waste.

Don’t forget to include soil in your pile, as only 1 tablespoon contains 6 million

microorganisms that devour your scraps and produce compost.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll have fine compost within 6 months. Thinking BGWA will help you remember all of the critical ingredients in compost and turn your trash into treasure!

What can’t I compost?

Meat and dairy produces should not go into your compost pile. They produce odors when they decompose, attracting animals and validating all of those unfortunate misconceptions about composting at home. Eggshells are the only animal products that you can compost — they’re high in calcium level and great additions to your pile.

It’s trendy, it’s simple and it’s for everyone. Composting is now one of the easiest ways to green our lives. By composting, we can practice environmentalism on a local level and affect our planet on a large scale. With comprehensive information and innovative technology at our fingertips, we can incorporate composting as a mainstay of our mindbodygreen lives.

first image via earth911 last image via waystogogreen

Chai Green & Vanilla Chai Teas – STASH

I live on these teas in the winter!!! I usually make little gifts, with them, for the mail lady, and my mother & I trade teas every once in a blue moon, actually, my mother is who got me HOOKED on the Vanilla Chai. Thanks mom!


A Huge Mound of Packing Tape

I am sitting here, on the couch, what is left of our green micro Swede couch, what is not in storage, already, that is. I am staring at a Huge Mound of packing tape to my right, as I am surrounded by plastic and cardboard boxes, alike.  I have my blue book, here with me, also, so that I can number, label, and know what is being packed in what box; sometimes I hate my organization skills, sometimes. Ugh… I just finished the 2 loads of dishes, lunch is in the microwave, and I am to pack what I can, till my Husband gets home from work, late tonight. . . Right after I finish re-working my 3 month calendars, and writing a terrified that I have been putting off. Have a great Saturday!! Goal up some sun, on the 1st day of fall, for me!!  Oh, I have a wreath to make, and post the tutorial here, too! ~Ami