A few year ago I came across one of the most beautiful red heirloom lettuce called Merlot. True to its name the lettuce is wine red in color and rich in flavor. A quick growing lettuce (60days) which holds up well in the summer heat.
Try to find seeds for your garden right now and you may be out of luck for a while. Seed companies have been taking so many orders some have either sold out of supplies or stopped taking any more orders due to the increased volume due to the pandemic. The pandemic with the current Stay-At-Home orders in place in most states has made many Americans sit up and take notice of some of their vulnerabilities. We’ve always taken some things for granted, our freedoms, to go to the store whenever we want or a restaurant with friends and family. But now our freedom has been put on hold temporarily and Americans are left wondering for how much longer and is there anything that we can do to feel a little bit more in control during our quarantine.
The pandemic pantry became a ‘thing’ recently, many realizing that they don’t have enough food in their cupboards for even a long weekend let alone. We are so accustomed to two day delivery or two-hour depending upon where we live. Conveniences put on hold right now. A trip to the grocery store initially met with empty shelves s few weeks ago, has been replaced by having to “mask up” and enter a scene from a Stephen King novel to stock up on the perishables needed. Perhaps I should build a barn an get some chickens and cow so we can have milk and eggs without having to go to the store.
We set up our new Tower Garden HOME system in the end of January, something we had been planning to do pre-pandemic. We live 1500 ft up on the side of a mountain and have become accustomed to not being able to always go out and get supplies. If anything the last four winters have taught us is how to stock up and be able to live months on end without having to go down the mountain. Since spring is just an extension of a mild winter up here and outdoor gardening can’t even be considered until mid-May, the idea of being able to grow some greens indoors all year long became very appealing. We have grown indoors before but when we moved up to New Hampshire , we weren’t set up for it until recently.
The idea of being able to grow fresh greens throughout the year has been a goal of ours since we moved up here, so I was thrilled when Tower garden came out with it’s new HOME unit. One thing our mountain life has taught us is to be prepared for anything. We know we can’t always run out to the store to get groceries because there is too much snow or the road is really muddy and it would be better not to drive up and down it. We work from our house so we are used to be up here for weeks sometimes without seeing anyone but perhaps our UPS and FEDEX delivery guys.
It’s the small things sometimes that help you through the rough times. Being able to see the fresh lettuce herbs and other vegetables we since added to the Tower Garden has been a mental boost for me. Mental boosts I found are few and far between right now. It’s been a cold, snowy spring up here despite the snows having all melted or no longer sticking to the ground , the garden is still too cold to work in thanks to the wicked winds we’ve had too just makes being outside unpleasant. One thing we have come to realize throughout this epidemic is that we need to continue to grow our own food and we plan on growing more in grow bags and add another bed.
It’s been a comfort being able to go to the pantry and open a jar of tomato sauce from the harvest of 2018 when we put up some 30 gallons of tomato sauce. The kids being able to enjoy homemade salsa from last summer’s harvests has made getting through meal and snack times a reason to smile since I know there are many more jars in the pantry which is sate our bellies. Homemade food is the best comfort food there is – particularly during a pandemic.
Eight years ago, Mark and I started Homegrown Harvest in response to the Great Recession following the 2008 financial crisis. We had both always loved to garden but we saw the need to help others learn that growing some of your own food doesn’t have to be as difficult as most people this it is. We focused our online store with simple solutions for gardeners of every level. Growing some of your own food does not need to be difficult, there are solutions out there to make growing easy and simple which is a lot more fun than thinking you have to take care of some huge vegetable patch.
Many are quick to say it’s too hard, it takes too much time, I don’t have the space or it will probably cost too much money, but claim they’ve always wanted a garden. One of the biggest misconceptions is the space you need or perhaps you live in an urban environment and don’t think you have the capability to grow some of your own produce. Even if you have one small container in a window, there are plenty of things you can grow indoors. Greens are super easy to grow indoors and microgreens and sprouts are even easier and quicker and even more nutritious.
In these uncertain times, I take comfort in knowing that in a few short weeks, I’ll be able to enjoy more bountiful harvests from our indoor garden. We may still be under the Stay-At-Home orders at that time but being able to do that or walk out to our garden and work towards future harvests knowing that we are not as dependent on running out to the store and that we won’t have to “mask up” in order to get it some fresh produce.
When my daughter returned home from college one semester a few years ago, our house became one of the most saged houses in town, if not the entire state. “It gets rid of negative energy”, she would say as she made a beeline for her brother’s room.
Sage, a member of the Lamiaceae family (mint), is an ancient herb which has been highly valued for its medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries.Considered a purifying herb in Ayurvedic medicine, Deepak Chopra recommends it for “excessive accumulation of toxic emotions.” So my daughter was on to something after all and despite the eyerolls we may have given her at the time, she was on the right track.
Burning sage is purported benefits such as removing bacteria and repelling insects, even reduce stress and anxiety. Its roots deep in Native American tradition, people burn sage to cleanse a space of negative energy, to generate wisdom and clarity as well as promote healing. There are many different types of sage and the most common used for burning is white sage (Salvia apiana) although blue sage, black sage and others are used for specific purposes. In appearance salvia apiana is mostly white with hints of lavender. Although white sage is mostly used for burning as incense, it can also be use for culinary and medicinal purposes. Common sage , salvia officinalis is primarily used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Its purifying reputation comes from its antimicrobial and antiviral activities. The volatile (essential) oils in sage, include a compound called thujone is an effective agent against salmonella and candida. The phenolic acid rosmarinic acid in sage is both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Recent research supports sage’s memory enhancing properties, something herbalists have long known.
Sage tea has also been recommended to use to fight against menopausal night sweats and hot flashes, whereas other infusions of sage have been used to treat depression, nervous anxiety and liver disorders. The leaves are antiseptic and used in mouthwash rinses and gargles for laryngitis, tonsillitis, breath freshening and as a tooth cleaner.
The only drawback sage seems to have is that is may interfere with breast milk supply and be a uterine stimulant causing some doctors to advise patients to avoid using sage culinarily or homeopathically while pregnant.
In the garden, sage is a versatile perennial evergreen, part of the mint family. It is a low-growing subshrub (12″-24″) with strong tap-root and square woody stems that blooms in the summer with whorls of violet blue flowers that shoot up in spikes. There are a wide variety of sages to choose from to suit your specific needs. There are culinary varieties such as Extrakta Garden Sage, an improved German variety that is higher in essential oil content. Culinary sage can be plain with narrow flowering or broad leaved non-flowering types. There is a good selection of ornamental sage ranging in leaf colors from purple, gold, grey-green and variegated. Sage is one of those hardy herbs that grows in zones 5-9 that likes lots of light and good drainage.
Salvia officinalis, the word salvia is from the Latin word salvare meaning ‘to heal and save’. It’s obvious that even the ancients learned the powers this herb held within. We added it to our garden long before the “saging rituals” began in our house. It’s tasty woody stalks became a treat for our young pup, Marley who quickly earned the middle name “Sage” because of her insistence on chewing on it so much. Sage is a valued herb in the and out of the garden. So throw some sage on your pork on the grill, light up some sage to repel the mosquitoes away as you enjoy the evening.
We are happier in many ways when we grow old than when we were young. The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage.Winston Churchill
There are so many double letters in the garden, this photo challenge was a snap. These are my photos for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Anything with double letters.
I remember walking out to the garden the morning that I took this photo. This was just one of many punch drunk bumblebees that were covered in pollen and asleep in the center of one of the many flowers in the garden that morning. Some were in zinnias like the one pictured, others nestled in the center of squash blossoms. I love including zinnias around our vegetable garden, they attract so many pollinators and you can see the flowers dance with activity as the bees go from flower to flower.
This is my Flower of the Day – FOTD.
Let me start off by saying right upfront that I am an independent Juice Plus+ Partner and I sell their Tower Garden Home Gardening Systems. I sell Tower Gardens because I know they are an easy and effective solution for home gardening because I have been a personally used a Tower Garden system for the last 8 years. I wanted to write a review of the Tower Garden Home Gardening System Flex but since I sell them I figured a “review” may not thought of as appropriate. Afterall why would I give a product I sell a bad review. The answer to that is I wouldn’t sell the product in the first place if I didn’t think it was a good product. But thought it more appropriate to call this post a Product Spotlight which will discuss various products that Homegrown Harvest sells and recommends. So welcome to our first Product Spotlight feature!
I first was introduced to the Tower Garden by accident, despite the fact that Mark and I had just started Homegrown Harvest and we were actively looking for easy solutions for people to be able to grow their own food. But our focus was on traditional raised garden beds when Mark stumbled upon the Tower Garden one day. I had blown out my back and couldn’t drive so he took my daughter Samantha up to lacrosse camp in Newburyport, Massachusetts for me. They were getting sandwiches at the local deli when Mark saw the Tower Garden outside for the first time. He snapped a photo of it and sent it to me immediately. [I have so many photos that when I went to go find this photo of this first Tower Garden he saw, I couldn’t find it. What really ticks me off is that I saw it not too long ago , within the last week and was excited to find it thinking I’ll come back to that when I write the article. Alas, best laid plans.]
We had never seen anything like it and knew absolutely nothing about growing hydroponically. But were both immediately drawn to the beautifully growing produce that we saw growing from the tower that we had to find out more. Basically, the Tower Garden Flex system is an aeroponic system that takes up less than 3 square feet of space. It’s a home gardening system that lets you grow fresh, nutritious fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers anytime, anywhere – practically.
The Tower Garden is what I consider the iPod of home gardening systems. Designed to be simple and easy to use, its clean, sleek design doesn’t intimidate beginner gardeners new to hydroponic systems or gardening in general. As a matter of fact, the Tower Garden is perfect for people who don’t want to bend or get their hands dirty. There’s no dirt, no digging or weeding! No need to worry about contaminated soil or excavating rocks from the earth. It’s the perfect system for my baby sister, a very capable woman who doesn’t even walk barefoot in the grass because it feels icky. Thankfully, the Tower Garden has allowed her to see that she can grow some of her own food and not have to touch the dirt at all. Again that’s one of the things that I love most about the Tower Garden, it’s so easy to use even for the person who thinks “I don’t have a green thumb” or “I’m not a gardener’.
The vertical design of the system uses 90% less space and allows you to be able to grow in some interesting places from balconies, backyards, front yards, side yards, classrooms, poolside, on the porch, roof or patio, even in the kitchen. Wherever you want and have the less than 3 square feet of space and access to an electric outlet.
Research has found that aeroponic technology versus traditional growing methods is a much more efficient way to grow produce yields are increased by an average of 30%, plants grow up to three times faster, and uses as little as 2% of the water. The Tower Garden Flex growing system is designed for outdoor growing or indoor growing with optional LED grow lights. We’ve used our Tower Garden both indoors and outdoors with great success.
If you have ever seen a strawberry start when it comes out of the mail – they look like dead things you already killed. Clients don’t like to see dead looking things planted in their new strawberry containers – they like a little more instant gratification than that and if you try to sell containers that way, if probably wouldn’t go over very well. I found the Tower Garden to be extremely helpful when it came to pushing the strawberry starts along to at least where they would leaf out and even start to flower. I’d come downstairs and check on my plants every morning with coffee cup in hand and I swear I could see the daily change in growth.
The Tower Garden Flex holds 20 gallons of water in the reservoir. You can plant 20 plants and with the extension kit as many as 28 plants on one tower. You can actually buy as many extension kits as you like and make one tower as tall as you like, but you need to purchase a more powerful pump in that case. The pump the kit initially comes with is good for at least one extension kit. If you enjoy microgreens you can purchase the microgreen extension and grow as many as 52 plants on one tower!
As I mentioned earlier setting the Tower Garden up is simple and easy. One important step in the final set up is testing the pH of your water. They include everything you need, a simple pH Test kit as well the pH up and down adjustors you may need. They also include the Tower Garden Mineral Blend Plant food and a measuring cup, so you have all the tools you need. The plant food is important since this is what helps make your produce healthy and nutritional. Add the plant food first before you test the pH of your tank’s water. This way it takes into account the precise pH that your plant’s roots will grow in and optimally for vegetables you want your water to be somewhere between 6.0-7.0.
The way the Tower Garden works is that the low wattage submersible pump pushes the nutrient rich water up through a central pipe which then drips down the inside of the Tower Garden evenly cascading over the exposed plant roots. A timer ensures the consistency and repeats the process continuously usually in 15 min. increments – 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off, on, off, on, off…This delivers the ideal amount of oxygen, water and nutrients to the plants.
Also included with each system is seed starting supplies: a germination tray, rockwool cubes, vermiculite, net pots, and a variety of seeds. Rockwool is a soilless growing medium which provides plant roots with oxygen and consistent moisture, encouraging rapid healthy growth. This little kit makes it simple and easy and again not intimidating to the novice gardener. Once the seedlings sprout with their first leaves, all you have to do is pop in your rockwool into its netted pot or clip in the Tower Garden and off you go!
Overall, I find the Tower Garden to be very low maintenance, only having to refill the reservoir every 2.5 to 3 weeks. Each time you fill up the tank, you need to add nutrients and re-test the water. We have grown and harvested hundreds of pounds of fresh fruits, veggies and herbs. We’ve grown beans, greens, tomatoes, peppers, squashes, flowers, herbs, even a radish! We had to experiment – it’s the one things Tower Gardens can’t grow – root vegetables. I’ve enjoyed the Tower Garden so much we always set of them up in our outdoor garden each year, set right next to our cedar raised garden beds. This season though because of the pandemic we will set up at least 3 possible 4 of them in the garden to try to grow as much fresh produce as we can on our own to keep up a little more independent from having to run out to the store to buy something.
As I said at the start of this post , I sell Tower Garden Home Gardening Systems, accessories and supplies. If you are interested in checking out more information about the Tower Garden Home Gardening System visit my Tower Garden Store. There are two types of Tower Garden units, the FLEX which I spotlighted in this post and their newer HOME unit which is I will write about sometime soon in the future as we have just recently set that up and been growing indoors with it. Look for that Spotlight blog sometime in the future!
Pansies are a terrific addition to your springtime garden and unlike their name implies they are quite hardy.
If you have photos of pansies, we’d love for you to share them with us! The Homegrown Harvest Photo Share is a weekly themed photo opportunity for gardeners and photographers to share their beautiful gardens! Leave us your link in the comments.
Broccoli, I find to be an essential cool-season vegetable to include in the garden. Little kids get excited about eating “little trees” if you are a clever enough parent to be able to convince your children they are giants who can take a forest out in one meal. My own kids never fell for this, probably because I myself wasn’t that big of a fan – that was until I started to grow my own broccoli.
A member of the cabbage family, its distinct flavor differs slightly depending upon the cultivar and there are so many different heirloom and hybrid varieties to choose from. A complete spectrum of flavor from raw to cooked. Please Note: It should go without saying that the flavors you experience in growing your own do not compare with the flavors of the fruits and vegetables that are commercially grown. Commercial fruits and vegetable varieties are selected based on ability to be harvested and transferred long distances – flavor is not considered.
Broccoli is though to have been from the Eastern Mediterranean area, Crete or Cyprus. It was the Etruscans considered horticultural geniuses, who engineered broccoli from a cabbage relative. An important part of the Italian diet since the Roman Empire it made its way to England by the mid 18th century and was referred to as Italian asparagus. The English word for broccoli is derived from the Italian word ‘broccolo’, meaning ‘the flowering crest of a cabbage’.
The avid gardener, Thomas Jefferson brought broccoli seeds to Monticello in the late 1700s, although he was the not the first to bring in over to America. However, it didn’t reach its popularity in the United States until the 1920s when the Arrigo Brothers, immigrants from Italy planted a test crop in California in 1923. By fall 1924, they shipped ice-packed broccoli by rail to Boston and other east coast markets and the rest is history.
A member of the brassica family of cruciferous vegetables, nutritionally broccoli is considered vegetable royalty, as it is consistently on the top ten healthy food recommended by nutritionists, medical doctors, naturopaths and researchers. It is loaded with vitamins A and C, Calcium and full of antioxidant sulforaphane. One cup of broccoli contains 31 calories and contains 2g of protein, 2 g of fiber, 288 g of potassium, 43 mg of calcium, 81 mg of vit. C, plus folate, magnesium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, vitamin A and 1277 mgs of lutein and zeaxanthin, good for eye health.
Broccoli loves cool weather and should be added to the garden either by seed or transplant anytime from late April to May or late July and August to get either an early summer harvest or fall crop respectively. Plants will thrive in a fertile rich, well-drained soil. I have been very successful growing broccoli in a container, a raised garden bed as well as in our Tower Garden. Since broccoli can be a heavy feeder it’s good to know what will work well in the garden with it. Good companions to broccoli include basil, beets, bush beans, celery, cucumbers, dill, hyssop, lettuce, marigolds, mint, nasturtiums, onions, potatoes, radishes, rosemary, sage, spinach, thyme and tomatoes. So, you have lot of options to choose from. Broccoli coupled with celery and onions is said to improve the flavor of your broccoli. Whatever you do, keep it away from grapes, mustard, rue and your strawberries – these guys don’t play well together in the garden.
Depending on the variety selected broccoli can take 60-95 days to mature. I always look for the quick maturing 60-75-day varieties since I have such a short season up here in my zone 5 garden. Pests to watch out for – aphids, flea beetles, cabbage worms and cutworms to name few. The broccoli heads should grow in to tightly formed, compact heads with firm stalks, not rubbery. Harvest the broccoli before there are any signs of yellow buds emerging from the flower heads, otherwise the broccoli will taste bitter. Once the main shoot is harvested side shoots will continue to grow and should be harvested before flowering. To harvest broccoli simply cut the heads below the branching where the stem is singular and solid.
Every part of the plant is edible. The stalks should be peeled of their fibrous skin and there are nutrients to be had in the leafy greens as well. One of the allures to growing broccoli is that it can be cooked and prepared so many different ways – steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled or raw! This extreme versatility along with its health benefits has escalated broccoli consumption over the last 30 years threefold.
Some of our favorite ways to prepare broccoli from our garden:
Broccoli with Golden Garlic and Lemon
1 bunch broccoli, about 1 pound
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Steam broccoli in a large saucepan of boiling salted water 5-6 minutes or until crisp tender. Arrange in a serving dish and cover and keep warm.
Warm olive oil over low heat In a small frying pan. Stir in garlic and cook slowly until golden brown, careful not to burn, 1-2 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Pour over broccoli and serve.
 The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Jonny Bowen, Ph.D., C.N.S.
Spinach is one of those greens which is very easy to grow and you don’t need a lot of space to grow it either. A container is just fine or in your raised garden bed or Tower Garden, perhaps. These days while going out to the supermarket on a daily basis for fresh produce is not an option due to the pandemic, spinach is an essential choice for growers.
There are so many different varieties of spinach to grow at home. Some of our favorites include Palco, Regiment and Red Kitten to name a few. Originally from Persia it was introduced into China in the 7th Century. Today China is the world’s largest producer of spinach producing 85%-91% of global production. California is the largest U.S producer responsible for 74% of American production.
In 1933 during the Great Depression, Popeye was credited with a 33% increase in spinach consumption. Spinach is best eaten fresh, as it loses its nutritional properties from the time it is picked from the ground. It is full of nutrients and has a high level of oxalate which can prevent the body from absorbing iron. Oxalates can sometimes cause kidney stones in some predisposed people. You can boil raw spinach to eliminate most of the oxalic acid. Raw spinach is 91% water and 100 grams has 3.57mg of iron versus 100 grams of hamburger which has 2.49mg of iron. Spinach leaves also act as a mild diuretic and mild laxative.
So if you are looking for a simple and easy crop to grow, consider growing spinach. Just like other greens spinach doesn’t require a lot to grow, although has a tendency to prefer the cool weather of spring and fall to summer, unless you have an indoor set up like a Tower Garden which will allow you to grow cool weather crops no matter the weather outside.
The art of gardening has a long history and where there is a long history there is enough folklore and gardener’s tales to last you a lifetime of reading. The old school ways which may bring to mind the garden our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ kept depending on your age are not the ways of today. Or perhaps it’s a vision of Peter Rabbit being chased through Mr. McGregor’s vegetable patch in your mind. Whichever image vegetable gardening conjures up for you in today’s world, research has helped us to understand and discover the best and easiest ways for the modern day gardener to tend to their gardens.
Raised garden beds make a world of difference in the garden. Some people may not initially want to give up the old ways, after all they have been growing food a long time inground. Farmers all over the world grow food in the ground. But those are farmers, not gardners and their problems should not the same (exactly) as ours in the garden.
Gardeners have been setting up miniature versions of the farmlands and their vast fields of one crop after the other. This is not the best way to set up a kitchen garden. I’ll refer to it as a kitchen garden to make sure we all understand I’m talking about growing food specifically. In today’s environment with limited access to being able to go out to the grocery store even, setting up a small kitchen garden it something most everyone can do and should do for their own individual or family food security.
One of the biggest benefits to growing your food in a raised garden bed is that you have more control over the soil from the very beginning in a raised bed vs. an in-ground garden bed. You don’t have to deal with any rocks which makes growing root vegetables a breeze. You don’t have to test your soil for lead and other toxins or need to amend it one way or the other. You don’t have to struggle to rototill the ground which has been proven to do more damage than it does good. When we used to install gardens we would do a mixture of composts combined with some peat or coir and vermiculite. Our ratio was about 1/2 compost to 1/4 peat/coir and 1/4 vermiculite. After each harvest we would replenish some compost if we planned a succession planting and always add new compost after the harvest in the fall or in early spring. You need to replenish the compost only this is the source for the minerals and nutrients in the produce you grow. The peat or coir works to help retain the moisture in the raised garden beds, reducing the amount of overall watering vs. an inground bed. The vermiculite works to hold both nutrients and water in the soil in reserve waiting for thirsty roots to deliver these vital elements to. The combination of the peat and vermiculite help to also make the compost more friable and therefore a optimal environment for plants to grow and thrive. Depending on what you choose to grow will dictate the pH range – to grow most vegetables a pH of 6.0-7.5 is desirable which is slightly acidic.
Raised garden beds can be built as high as you need in order to be able to garden comfortably. There are elevated beds that can be built to be handicap accessible. We recommend that your raised beds are never wider than 4″ so that you can reach in easily from all sides and not have to lean or walk into the raised bed. If your garden bed is up against a wall we have found the best width is closer to 3″ wide – otherwise it’s very hard to lean into the back row to seed or harvest.
When you use raised garden beds all the energy is focused where it needs to be — on the plants, not on the paths. In-ground gardens tend to waste more water and the paths end up being watered as well. Walking on the paths causes the soil to compact which is unhealthy for the surrounding plant’s root systems. Paths also create a clear environment for weed seeds to take hold. Afterall, they get watered too.
Raised garden beds provide superior drainage – so go ahead and let the little one’s in on watering the garden from time to time. They can’t overwater a raised garden bed, unlike an inground one.
A Little Space Can Go A Long Way
You may be thinking that you still need more space than you actually really need in order to start a kitchen garden. We always recommend to start off small that way you don’t overwhelm yourself initially and you will be pleasantly surprised with the surplus of produce you can grow even in a small 4’x4′. You can always add more raised garden beds later if you see fit. By employing the method of intensive garden or square foot gardening, you can allow just enough space for the plants to grow but crowd out any space for weed seeds to take hold. It’s not to say you won’t ever get a weed in your raised bed, but it’s a lot harder for them to take hold and they are easy to spot. I recommend though if you are unsure whether it’s a weed or a plant you may have seeded to be patient and wait until you are sure.
In a 4′ x 4′ raised garden bed there is 16 square feet of planting space and that doesn’t include if taking advantage of vertical growth space. The Square Foot Gardening Cheat Sheet shows the space certain vegetables need to properly grow and I think a lot novice gardeners would be surprised to learn how much they could actually grow in a small space.