Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful for Kitchen Garden

On Thanksgiving day I picked a huge salad of various greens fresh from my garden. It is so wonderful to skip out the front door to the kitchen garden and be able to have fresh veggies at the end of November.

This kitchen garden is new this year. We started building it in the early spring using various materials. I like to experiment to see what works well so I can share that information with others. I have beds of concrete blocks which might not be the most fashionable but are easy to find and construct into a raised bed, inexpensive, won't rot and I like the fact that I can plant companion perennial herbs and flowers in the blocks themselves without having to take up room in the main planting area.

Pine 2" x 12" boards were used to make 9 beds in the garden. Again easy to find and make into a raised bed using metal L brackets on the inside corners plus an added crosspiece in the center. Inexpensive too, materials for all 9 beds ran right around one hundred bucks. Of course they will decay in three or four years possibly but easy to replace at that time I figured.

This fall we have added more beds, my husbands insists I'm crazy and I must be forgetting we are only two people but that has never stopped me before...besides, I love to share with neighbors and friends. These beds are built out of rough sawn red cedar from a local mill and should last many years without rotting. The lumber costs more than pine but not will not have to be replaced as quickly.

Soil depths are experimental as well. How deep does a raised bed have to be any how? Well, that depends on who you ask I've found out. Everyone has a different opinion from 5 inches to 18 is what I hear is optimal so again I'm going to try differing depths and check it out for myself.
After taking a month off to see other gardens, relatives and friends in Europe at the end of summer I thought perhaps I had missed the widow of opportunity for planting a cool season fall garden. Even though I got a late start it hasn't effected my amount of green veggies I harvest daily.

By constructing two hoop houses, one portable greenhouse, and three cold frames I am amazed how well everything is doing. I hope to have produce all winter here in Middle Tennessee. Since I have no heat options in these temporary structures it will be interesting to see what will survive, what will croak and what will flourish in the coldest stretch of winter.
Currently I am growing brussel sprouts (in and out of protection), broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli raab, spicy greens, arugula, kohlrabi, swiss chard, corn salad and shallots (no cover), six or so varieties of lettuce, cilantro, spinach, kale and some others that I will remember later.

It is great to know I can stir fry or steam fresh greens make salads for every meal (or whenever I get a hankerin). Best of all it is knowing it is a time when you see organic vegetables shipped in from China, it is good to know I don't have to wonder where my food is coming from or what has been put on it.
Local is the way to go and growing your own is the best way to ensure that but the next best thing is buying from the local farmers wherever you live.

Because I got a late start this year I bought transplants and then started seeds to keep a continual harvest going. I found my best transplants at Riverbend Nursery of Franklin, TN and great majority of the seeds I planted are from Renee's Garden at Renee has wonderful seeds and such a variety of new and fun veggies to grow. Some of the seeds I planted are in packets printed in Swiss German and since I can't read the packages I can't you where they are from...thank goodness for latin plant names!

I am so thankful for my family, friends, and the bountiful harvest from my kitchen garden.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kitchen Gardening in Pots

Love to garden but don’t have a big yard, or lots of extra time? Pot gardening may be just the ticket for you. It allows you the opportunity to have a beautiful garden in a small area, without having to spend a vacation day or your entire weekend to accomplish! All you need is a few pointers and your own natural creativity to get you on the road to pot gardening.

First you will need a pot. Pot being a relative term for any kind of container that has enough room for potting soil, plants, holes for drainage and can fit somewhere on your porch, deck or patio. Have a blast with this one...go to the antique or junk store, garage sales or even better look through your garage or attic. You will be amazed what you will find to use for planters! I have been known to use old chairs, bird houses, antique bed pans, large funnels, bird baths, old pots and pans, granite dishpans, buckets, baskets and my all time favorite, my sons’ work boots (of course they were size 14 and 15 – who could resist?) Of course conventional clay or lightweight plastic pots are wonderful as well and might be more appropriate for a front entrance.

Most vegetables, herbs and flowers love at least 6 hours of sun each day. For convenience sake locate your containers near the kitchen where you can run and quickly pick or snip fresh produce when you need it. A water source nearby is a good idea saving you time and frustration as you will need to water plants more often in a pot, especially during hot summers. Water as needed...being careful to avoid extremes of dry and wet...usually once in the morning. Form a habit of watering while you drink your morning more exciting reason to jump out of bed.

It is nice to pick a mixture of plants using various colors, shapes, and textures. . When it comes to design think outside the pot, anything goes. However, if that concept is scary, try the following basic formula:

Vertical interest: Choose a plant that is tall or a trellis for the center of the container, a real show stopper.

Mid-section: Use plants with lots of texture, blooms and foliage, fill it

Bottom fall out: Plants with natural drooping tendencies go around the
edge, cascading down the sides as they grow.

In other words, you will need a thriller, fillers and spillers! Use transplants or plant seeds. The great thing about kitchen pots is that you can start in early spring with cool season veggies when the average daytime temperature is 60 degrees and nights average 40 degrees. As the weather warms to 70 -80 degrees with nights above 50 degrees you can switch to warm season crops. In many areas you can then start cool season veggies again in late summer for fall produce. With a little protection from freezing nights, some may be able to pot garden most of the year.

If your containers are large you can do what I do and recycle some plastic milk jugs, soda bottles and water bottles in the bottom before filling up with soil. This makes the container much easier to move around and less expensive. The roots need about 8 – 12 inches. Use potting soil, or compost or a mixture of top soil, peat moss, potting soil, compost, vermiculite.

Plant what you like to eat and try a few new things just for fun. Try theme gardening by planting a salsa garden with tomato, cilantro, green onions and hot peppers, or an Italian garden with tomato, eggplant, basil, garlic chives, marjoram and oregano.

Keep in mind companion planting; sweet alyssum to house beneficial insects or basil with tomatoes for improved vigor and flavor and to confuse those nasty hornworms. These are just two examples – pick up a copy of my book “The Cracked Pot Herb Book” for more companion ideas.

Here are some plant ideas for your kitchen pots – just to get you thinking…
Warm Season:
Thrillers – Lemon grass, okra, scarlet runner or pole beans on a trellis.
Fillers – Tomatoes, basil, eggplant, peppers, parsley, oregano, chives,
Spillers – thyme, alyssum, pinks, golden oregano

Cool Season:
Thrillers – Peas on a trellis, cilantro
Fillers – Kale, beets, lettuce, radish, chard, broccoli raab, arugula
Spillers, pinks, thyme, parsley

Fertilize if needed when you plant with a slow release variety granular (made for vegetables) for up to three months of worry free growth. Or add composted horse, cow or chicken manure each time you start a new crop. A compost tea can be used as well for a plant “pick-me-up” during the growing season if needed.

Look for vegetable, herbs and flowers developed with container growing in mind.

This year I'm growing plants for my kitchen garden pots from Renee's Garden
container collection -'Pizza My Heart' peppers, 'Super Bush' tomato, 'Little prince'
eggplant, 'Bush Slicer' cucumber and 'Pot of Gold' chard in my container kitchen gardens;
along with 'Window box Mini' small leaf basil, 'Italian Cameo' large leaf basil, 'Junior'
sunflowers and 'Pixie Sunshine' zinnias. All have been well behaved in their respective
pots and very productive. Renee's Garden offers container sized seeds online at

Here are some photos of the Kitchen Garden Pots progress thru the year......






Here is a photo example of using recycled plastic bottles and jugs to take up extra space in your large containers.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pomanders: A Christmas Tradition

Every Autumn I find myself drawn to the lemon and lime section in the produce department. I start imagining the smell of citrus, cloves and cinnamon, which takes my mind on a quick journey down Christmas Lane.

What is a pomander you ask? Good question! According to the dictionary, a pomander is: (noun) a mixture of aromatic substances enclosed in a perforated bag or box and used to scent clothes and linens or formerly carried as a guard against infection; also : a clove-studded orange or apple used for the same purposes.

Now you know, right? Well, in case it still isn’t that clear, let me try to shed even more light on the subject. The history of pomanders goes back to the Middle Ages. Sanitation was not what it is today and people did not bathe as often as we do now. So some clever folks came up with a way to make life more pleasant by combining various herbs and spices to help mask undesirable scents and also by using certain herbs and spices to protect themselves from unwanted infectious viral and bacterial situations. They would wear perforated containers filled with an herb/spice mix, usually in a ball shape on their person; usually close to their noses where it could sweeten the air they breathed.

The Victorians brought pomanders or pomander balls into high fashion, combining practicability with beauty. They expanded on the uses to include household decorations, closet and drawer perfume/insecticide, Christmas ornaments and even wedding bouquets.

The tradition of pomander balls as Christmas ornaments is still in fashion today and a lovely way to add fun and scent to your holiday season. I have made these for years and it is an especially wonderful activity for the whole family. They are easy to make from lemons, limes, tangerines, oranges or apples. My favorites are lemons and limes. You can buy them by the bag full and they are just the right size to hang on the Christmas tree, in a garland, in doorways, mix in the mantle decorations or pile them up (after they are dried) in a rustic bowl with or without potpourri. I have even made mini topiaries with them! You can store them away to use year after year. They take three or so weeks to dry so get busy and make pomanders, start a new tradition with your family and make your home smell oh so festive!

How to Make Pomanders


* Small to mid sized unblemished fruit – apples, oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines
* Large headed cloves*
* Ground cinnamon, (nutmeg, ginger, ground cloves)*
* Knitting needle, skewer, or nail
* Thimble or masking tape for fingers - optional
* Orrisroot – note: orrisroot is used to act as a preservative and scent enhancer Orrisroot is dried, powdered material from the Iris bulb. Some people are allergic to this so if you are concerned you can skip it or add sandalwood oil as an alternative preserver.
* Ribbons or raffia, tissue paper or paper bags

1. Use knitting needle, skewer or nail to pierce the skin of the fruit. You may want to use a thimble or cover fingers with masking tape. Insert cloves close together but not touching in straight vertical lines or patterns, covering as much of the fruit as possible. Be sure to leave spaces for 1/8” ribbon to run down two sides, crisscross at bottom and come back up opposite side of fruit for hanging purposes if you choose to do so. Otherwise cover entire fruit with cloves.
2. In a glass bowl, combine powdered orrisroot (again you can omit or use sandalwood oil), ground cinnamon and other ground spices if you like – experiment to find which combination you like best. For 6 limes I use approx. ½ cup cinnamon and 8 drops of sandalwood oil. If you add the other ground spices try 1 tablespoon each (including the orrisroot) to the cinnamon mix. Pour spice mix in a zip lock bag. Place the clove-studded fruit in the bag, rolling around until entire fruit is covered with spice mixture.
3. Shake off excess spices, use ribbon or raffia and hang pomander ball on drying rack, doorways (I’ve used the kitchen cabinet knobs or the chains on the ceiling fans!), etc. If you are not going to hang them, then wrap each pomander in tissue or small paper bag (newspaper may work as well) and store in a cool, dry place for about 3 weeks. Be sure to check occasionally. Should one start to mold or rot, toss it out.
4. Display and enjoy your pomanders - Keep in mind this is not rocket flexible and creative!

* You can find large containers of cloves and powdered cinnamon usually at Sams or Costco. Yarrow Acres in downtown Franklin, Tennessee has essential oils. You can order cloves, ground spices, etc. from the San Francisco Herb Co. Email address is

For more information on "all things gardening" please check out my "Cracked Pot Gardener" book page at

Until next time....Make gardening fun or it will become work!!!