Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Preparing your garden/planters

One of the first steps in preparing for this year's planting season is preparing the land for planting. In my case, the land equals all of my patio planters and the soil in them. Plants grow best in soil that contains the vital nutrients they need to sprout, develop, and grow big enough to produce fruit, vegetables, or flowers. For me this involves preparing my potting soil, cleaning up the leaves and stems-left-overs from last year's harvest, and preparing the potting soil. Last year potting soil preparation was not on my list, seeds went straight into the potting soil mix distributed straight into the tiny cups on my five plant starter trays, so I decided to give my potting soil some preparation this year to see if I can get a better yield this time round. Last year only about fifty-percent of the pepper seeds I planted grew to healthy sprout that went on to be placed in their adult plant pots.

I plan to add some extra nutrients to those already present in my potting soil, things like a little Epson salt, cinnamon, worm casting, and vermiculite. The worm castings for a little extra nutrient, the cinnamon and Epson salt to protect against fungus and the vermiculite to improve the water retaining property of my starter soil mix. When all of the above is complete I will sew my seeds and wait for them to sprout. This year, just like last year I will be planting peppers, and also finding a space for the new grape vine waiting to be dug in. I'm kind of making this stuff up as I go along and even though I was happy with my small patio harvest last year my hope is that this year more than fifty-percent of my sprouts will make it to maturity. Peppers, tomatoes, and onions are on my planting list again this year; the grapes will add to the long established fruit trees already in my backyard and hopefully, eventually provide a nice red grape crop one day.

The thing I like about planting in a planter, or Pots, is that I can grow my plants inside, or outside and as long as I am careful not to select a planter/pot too large, or too heavy for what I call my mobile plants (plants I move inside during the winter, and outside in spring/summer), and of which I can only really say I used to have two, now there is only one so change plants, to plant when talking about my mobile pot. Added to other indoor plants I find that the greenery they provided indoors can at times be therapeutic, just ask me. I want to say something about some of the indoor plant choices that do well inside, but first, let me say this about planters or flower pots.

Most of my pots and planters are plastic and that is something I hope to change over time switching out my plastic pots and planters for non-plastic, most of which were gifts, or just happen to be around when the planting bug bit me. The reason is just about all of the other planters and flower pots, that are not plastic, do a better job of keeping my potted plant soil from becoming too soggy by helping with the absorption of moisture and preventing root rot. Black plastic being the worst offender that can tend to overheat plants when placed in direct sunlight. Potted plants or plants in planters need to have good drainage make sure your pot or planter has sufficient drainage holes on the bottom for the size of pot you select.

Okay now about those choices of plants that do well inside cherry tomatoes, salad greens, lettuce, and herbs like rosemary and oregano are all inside plant species that grow well indoors. They will need four or five hours of sunlight so a window to the outside world will be necessary. Fill the container as close to top as you can to make sure the roots have plenty of room to grow, cover about and 1/8" inches of your potting soil, tend to them keeping the soil moist and in a few weeks say hello to your new baby sprouts.

I checked with my local nursery and verified that trying to grow grapes inside would not be a good idea or else my house may end up looking like a scene from the movie Jumanji, grape vines like room to spread out, everywhere! A little too much greenery for me. Just remember if you don't have backyard garden space remember your balcony, kitchen windowsill or bedroom will do when it comes to growing your own vegetable garden in a container(s).  Clay soil has a tendency to shrink away from the sides of the pot and drains poorly, and the broken pottery doesn't seem to help the water drainage either when I used clay soil. Blending in some sand, and increasing the organic material in my potting soil mix worked best for the proper drainage in my planters and pots.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cinnamon, the medicine

Cinnamon has been part of my diet since I can remember, from cinnamon suckers to cinnamon rolls the word cinnamon has always been related to a flavor I enjoy. Not until recently, however, I have given any attention to the health benefits of cinnamon. One of the things I enjoy is reading about different food medicine benefits like this, finding some way to put them to the test, then sharing the results be they, positive, or negative. Since I started using cinnamon for its health benefits I have noticed a drop in my blood pressure since I started using my cinnamon and honey concoction, a fact that even presented some surprise to my doctor during a most recent physical exam.

As I mentioned I have always enjoyed the taste of cinnamon and now I seem to be enjoying a health-related positive effect of cinnamon too. Personal discoveries by me lately with regard to the medicinal use of cinnamon has me singing the praises of this really neat food medicine. To me, cinnamon is the perfect combination of something that tastes good and is good for you. Cinnamon suckers may be stretching the good-for-you thing a little bit and maybe the cinnamon roll but cinnamon tea, along with cinnamon and honey are some of the ways I have added cinnamon to my diet. I've also gained an entirely different appreciation for the cinnamon I find in cookies, cake, apple pie, apple turnovers or my morning oatmeal.

I also realize that not everyone may enjoy the taste of cinnamon but my hope is that after reading this even a cinnamon hater will be at least willing to try cinnamon for some of the really neat medical properties this famous tree bark possess. If I had a planter big enough, you can bet I would be trying to grow me some cinnamon too because in my opinion cinnamon is one of the best food medicines a person can add to their diet, and while I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the pain relieving properties of ground cinnamon some studies have shown that cinnamon is a better pain reliever than Ibuprofen.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to point out this word of caution, some of the herbal medicine publications I read caution to be careful where herbal and pharmaceutical medicines meet. Therefore I will echo this same caution. If you are taking a doctor prescribed medication, you might want to check with your doctor, to see if taking a herbal medication on a regular basis would be considered safe to use with your doctor prescribed meds. There are several Herbal PDR online that should be helpful understanding the different effects some herbs might have on you.

The use of cinnamon has shown positive results and worked well against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, meningitis, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis. Cinnamon can help balance hormones which can aid fertility for couples who might be experiencing difficulty starting or add to their family.  Cinnamon also contains many of the nutrients the human body needs on a daily basis like manganese, iron, calcium and fiber, cinnamon may even reduce the proliferation of cancer cells.

Until now I never really looked at this natural ingredient for all of its wonderful healing properties, a natural medicine that taste good in my opinion. I know I will not be able to grow all of the herbs, fruits, and veggies that I want or need in my small garden but because of cinnamon's ability to act as a natural food preservative,  reduce the pain of arthritis, and menstrual cramps, take on bad cholesterol, and regulate blood sugar, cinnamon will definitely be part of my kitchen medicine cabinet from now on.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

In the Memory of my Cantaloupe plant.

The herbal garden I started this past summer is off to a good start, several of my plants (peppers) sprouted and out-grew their respective temporary starter cups ending up in their very own flow pot. Currently, my experimental home-grown food specimens are officially still on winter break, but I plan to pick up where I left off now that spring is here again. Once my plants reach their flower pot or planter stage I will continue the fertilizing routine from this past planting season, where I feed them on diet of Fish Fertilizer, once ever week or so, with an occasional sprinkling of Epson Salt for potassium.

If these first few seedlings can grow, with me as their farmer, then I will plant more in the hopes of one day having an onion, peppers, and garlic harvest good enough to last me throughout the winter months. This past year's lesson, for me, was all about pesticides because of my misuse of an insecticide that cost me a perfectly healthy cantaloupe plant. When I went to a real planting pro (my neighbor) who often shares out of her garden with me, to find out how their garden grew such a nice variety of different fruits and veggies even though I hardly ever saw her using any kind of pesticide.

To my surprise, she admitted that she does on occasion use pesticides but vert sparingly, and very directed, meaning she didn't wholesale spray all of her plants just to treat one ailing plant (the way I did). The pesticide she chose to use was always carefully selected, and used. She also went on to explain to me how she had practically engineered her planting space (she grew her plants in pots the way I did) so that there were no heavy dependents on pesticides.

She told me that she planted things in her garden that would attract the kind of insects that ate the plant-eating pest. Which of course went way over my head when it came to understanding what she meant. She informed me that my scorched-earth policy, of wipe 'em all out, wasn't really the best plan either since most pesticides were indiscriminate in their bug-killing ability. She said that in her garden she worked for more of a natural balance that she could occasionally tip in her garden's favor so that the good bugs, always outnumbered the bad. An early day lesson learned, for her, happened when she used so much insecticide to kill the pest, her plants were no longer eatable.

To make matters worse it seems that she had also misidentified the plant-eating pest, sorry I didn't ask her which one, to me a bug, was a bug, so I thought to myself great! Now I have to be an Entomologist too!? The good news is no, you don't need to be an expert in that branch of insect zoology. I found that some of the people at my local nursery could be very helpful when it came to identifying the flying and crawling creatures that also enjoy my plants. You will need to capture one of them, though, at least that's the way I did it. Showing someone at a nursery, or perhaps even a Home Depot or Orchards Garden Supply store should allow them to help you select just the right insecticide for your needs.

For sure the lessons I have learned over this past growing season will come in handy with this years back porch garden crop. I may even try planting cantaloupe again this year, and this year, the cantaloupe will make it!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Kitchen Counter-top Garden

Throwing away good food is wasteful so I have to admit that when it came to using green onions in the past I had been very wasteful. When I was younger and had a pet rabbit I would save my plant and veggie bits and pieces for them to munch on. Today I tend to see all food scraps as garbage to be cast aside in favor of the chosen parts, for the meal being prepared, I hung on to all the good parts of the fruits and vegetables I was working with and cared less about the other unused parts of those food items. That was until I decided to give an idea I had once read about a try. From and article I read, I learned that several of the food items I was discarding could have provided me with an almost endless supply of romaine lettuce, celery, carrots, and green onion, for cooking if I had only taken the time to do the following, so!

On the topic of green onions, over the winter months when it was too cold to think about planting anything outside, I started regrowing some of the onions I cook with in my kitchen. Pictured here above on top of kitchen my miro-wave oven, my normal position for them is the kitchen window. I have been surprised to see how some plant foods like the green onions can regeneration themselves, hydroponically. So if you use the onion pictured above that goes by the name of spring onions, green onions, or scallions, you can generate your own, close-to-endless supply of green onions to add to some of your favorite dishes.

To get started simply cut off the bulb part of the green onion with the root attached, leave at least a half-inch to one inch of the onion shoot. Stand them upright, submerge the root in water, and you're good to go. You should notice some growth in a few days. Recycling, or changing the water once a week should be enough to keep your food scrap, counter-top, garden growing. You should see green shoots in about a week that, in my case anyway, continued to grow rather rapidly. When the shoots are five to six inches long you will have the option to leave them in their hydroponic growing container, switch them to a planter, or plant them in your outside garden. For me, nothing beats the kitchen counter-top closeness when it comes to keeping my cooking herbs and spices nearby. The green onions will continue to regrow themselves indefinitely, just cut off what you need and allow the green onion plant to grow some more.