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Do you know what these are?   You may say that they are nothing more then little balls of mud and you would be partly right.  But, there is more then just mud included in these balls.

Known as seed balls, earth balls or seed bombs, they contain a mixture of clay, compost and seeds.

So now that you know what seed balls are, you may be wondering what do you do with seed balls and why would you want to make them?

Seed balls are an easy way to plant seeds in an area  with regular, unimproved soil.  The ‘ball’ part contains ingredients (clay & compost) that help the seeds within to start growing without having to dig a hole or improve the soil.

You simply throw the seed ball(s) on a bare area where you would like to see plants grow.

I saw these seed balls while attending the first annual Sustainability Festival that was held over this past weekend in downtown Phoenix.

I will talk more about the festival in a future post 🙂

Back to seed balls – the clay and compost mixture protect the seeds from being eaten or blown away until the time is right for the seeds to start sprouting – usually in response to rainfall and the right temperature.

‘Seed bombing’ is becoming a common practice in many countries and is part of a movement called ‘Guerrilla Gardening‘, which uses seed balls to plant vegetation in empty lots (often without permission), that are often present in urban areas.

It is also used to plant seeds in bare areas on large pieces of property.  The seeds will stay safely inside their little ball until there is enough water provided by rainfall.  

I think that seed balls would make a fabulous gift for the person in your life whether they are a gardener or have a ‘black’ thumb.

They are easy to make.  The following directions are furnished by the Valley Permaculture Guild.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups Red Clay Powder for Seed Balls and Seed Bombs (1000g) 1 cup compost (you can buy a bag at your local nursery if you don’t make your own).1/4 – 1/2 cup of seeds.

Mix together and add spoonfuls of water, stirring in between until the mixture sticks together.  Form into small balls and allow them to dry for a few days.  Store dry seed balls in a paper bag or cardboard box until you are ready to scatter them. The seed balls will sit until they receive enough moisture to soften the clay/compost mixture and allow them to sprout.

You can make them into fun shapes like the hearts, above.

For the Southwest, I recommend using wildflower seeds (California poppies, lupine, red flax), sunflowers, desert marigold, brittlebush, penstemon or globe mallow in your seed balls.

You can gift wrap your dried seed balls using half a toilet paper roll.  Place the seed ball inside and squeeze the ends closed.

Then wrap with a strip of colored paper and tape shut.

Using seed balls to revegetate bare areas has been in practice for many years in other countries such as Japan and is now becoming a popular trend in the United States.

*I don’t recommend throwing seed balls into areas that already have vegetation growing, such as natural areas because the new seeds can compete and overtake the native plants.

So what do you think?  Are seed balls a gardening trend that you can get into?  I enjoy making my own seed balls and teaching others how to make them too!  

What can you do with a sprig of basil, a teaspoon of peppercorns and a lemon?

Hint: The answer doesn’t involve eating them.

I can’t wait for you to see what I do with these 3 items as well as some other interesting combinations.

I’ll post what wonderful things you can do with some simple, edible items on Monday.

**Sorry for the teaser, but it will be worth the wait  – I promise 🙂

I posted a photo of the uniquely-shaped pottery that I came across at a local nursery, yesterday on facebook and asked you to guess what they were used for.

This unglazed pottery was commonly used in arid regions long ago to store both food and water.  They are called ollas.

Ollas are making a comeback in the garden – particularly in arid regions.

Why?

Ollas are a great way to deep water plants.

They are buried so that only the top is exposed.  Water is added and slowly seeps through the walls of the olla, providing uniform moisture to plant’s roots.

The top of the soil remains dry, so that evaporation is limited and decreases problems with weeds because their roots can’t reach the moist soil underneath.

Ollas can be used in vegetable gardens, containers and among other plants in your garden that may not be attached to an irrigation system.

To use, simply take the lid off, and fill with water. Every few days, refill and then let the water slowly percolate into the soil.

There are companies now making ollas for the home gardener.  They are not cheap.  The ones above were going for $35.

I would love to buy one, but they are not in my budget right now.  Maybe I can add one to my Christmas list?

You can make your own inexpensive olla using a plastic milk jug or 2-liter soda bottle, with small holes punched all around and then bury it.

OR, you can take two unglazed tera-cota pots and glue them together with silicone.  *Learn how to make both types of homemade versions, here.

I really like when the old-fashioned ways of doing things come back into style.  Technology is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean that the older ways of doing things is obsolete.

**For those of you who would like to purchase an olla, like the ones pictured above – they are available at local Summerwinds nurseries throughout the Phoenix area.

For those of you who live elsewhere, here is a link to the company who created the ollas in the photos above.

Is you home decorated for fall yet? I am still working on getting my house ready for the fall holidays.  

Normally, I am content to buy a single pumpkin and set it in the middle of my dining room table.  But, after seeing my mother’s beautiful fall centerpiece (above), I decided to try to do something a little more creative…

So, I decided to challenge myself to see what I could come up with for my own unique fall centerpiece by taking a visit to the produce section of my local supermarket.  I was determined to look beyond the normal fall offerings of pumpkins and Indian corn to see if I could be inspired. 

Surprisingly, I found quite a few vegetables and fruits that would look nice in a fall centerpiece.  So, armed with my cell phone camera, I started taking photos of some of my favorites…

Acorn Squash

Now, I don’t like to eat squash at all.  I still remember hiding the cooked squash in my napkin that my grandmother would try to get us to eat.

Spaghetti Squash

BUT, squash looks great when used as a fall decoration.

Butternut Squash

In fact, I have even seen Butternut squash decorated as a ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ with a ghost face colored in using black markers.

Artichoke

Okay, artichokes are another vegetable that I don’t like.  But, they look great in arrangements, so I bought one.

Pomegranates

Finally, I found something that I do like to eat AND decorate with – pomegranates.  I love their deep color, don’t you?

Oranges

Limes

Let’s not forget citrus, which is always beautiful no matter how you use it – whether in a bowl in the center of the table or as part of a larger arrangement.

Heirloom Tomatoes

I admit that heirloom tomatoes aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when creating a fall centerpiece.  But, their deep and rich colors would accent any centerpiece.  Tomatoes won’t last as long as the other produce I have profiled, so use for a few days and then eat them.

Mangoes

How about mangoes? 

Apples

Apples are great for decorating the tabletop.  I like to use them at Christmas time as well.

Red Pears

I don’t think I have ever noticed all of the different types of produce that my grocery store had before now.

I did come away with a few things that I will attempt to create a centerpiece out of.  I promise to share it with you later.

In the meantime, I did find myself captivated by the unusual pumpkin offerings at the store…

Aren’t they beautiful?

I selected one for my centerpiece.  When I got home, I excitedly showed it to my kids, who to my surprise, were not happy about it.  They asked, “Is this the pumpkin we are going to carve?”

I assured them that this pumpkin is for decoration only and will hopefully last until Thanksgiving.

I did promise them a ‘regular’ pumpkin for carving later on.

So, when you head to the supermarket this weekend, take a closer look at the produce aisle and see what you can use to create your own ‘natural’ fall centerpiece.

Earlier this month, I was visiting the garden of a homeowner while doing a consultation.  The landscape was in great shape with healthy shrubs and trees.  But, what kept catching my attention were the beautifully decorated blocks that made up the border.

The entire front landscape was bordered with uniquely decorated cement block, decorated with pieces of dishes, glass beads and more.

Every block was a unique creation.

While admiring the border, the homeowner told me that his wife had made this beautiful border using everyday items such as plastic food containers and cooking spray.

He offered to introduce her to me, so we headed into the house where I was greeted by more of her beautiful creations.

I love this welcome stone, don’t you?

Here is another decorated step stone…

I love the spiral pattern.

I was shown her workshop where she creates her works of art.  You can see the plastic food containers and some dishes ready to be broken into small pieces.

The dishes were purchased at the local dollar store and the glass beads came from the craft store.

I asked her how she made them, so that I could share it with you.

Supplies: Mortar mix, a bucket, a trowel, plastic food container in desired size, cooking spray, broken pieces of dishes and glass beads.

1. Mix the mortar mix in a bucket with water until you have the consistency of brownie batter.

2. Spray the food container with cooking spray.

3. Add the cement mixture to the container to the top and smooth out with the trowel.

4. Now for the fun part – add pieces of dishes and/or beads to create your design.  You could even use small pieces to spell out words.

5. Allow to dry for 48 hours.

6. Pop out and place in your garden!

You can buy plastic forms at your local craft store to create stepping stones, following the same steps above.

I thought it would be a fun way to create plant markers for the garden by using small food containers as forms.

I will undoubtedly be trying this in my own garden.

How about you?  Have you ever created your own step stones or border?

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I have two exciting new items to share with you…

The first is that my daughter, Rachele, graduated from her Navy Seabee school today.

She texted me a photo of her wearing her “Seabee Greens” for the first time.  The Navy camouflage uniform is gray and blue, but when you are a “Seabee” you get to wear green.

I shared it on my facebook page if you would like to see it.

Rachele is coming home this weekend after 5 months away of training.  Then she will be off to Mississippi for a month for more schooling (Expeditionary Combat Skills).

The best news is that she is going to be stationed in CA, just a 1/2 hour away from where I grew up!

For my second bit of news, I will share with you next time, but I’ll give you a hint – it involves television cameras…  

You’ll never guess what I made this Christmas tree out of…

A tomato cage, mini-white Christmas lights and a hair band is all that it took to create this festive Christmas tree.

I brought out my tomato cages and grabbed some Christmas lights and took the hair band out of my hair 😉

I used the hair band to wrap the top of the tomato cage.  Then all I had to do was to begin wrapping lights around the cage, starting from the bottom.  

This is what it look like when I was finished.

I decided to use them in my vegetable gardens since I can see them from the house.

My son, Kai, had fun helping me get all the lights up and connected.

Before we connected the lights, Kai said “This is like the movie Christmas Vacation just before the plug in the lights.”

I must say that I am so happy with how they look.

I liked it so much that I did the same thing in my other vegetable garden…

Who knew that a tomato cage could turn into something so beautiful?

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How about you?

Have you ever transformed an everyday object into a holiday decoration?

I love decorating for fall and so I always grow some pumpkins in my garden.

But, I must admit that I also use a few ‘faux’ pumpkins as well when I decorate.

This year, I am very excited to be hosting our family’s annual Halloween party.  Mostly because we have the best neighborhood for trick-or-treating.

So, I have been trying to add to my Halloween decorations.  I visited our local craft store to buy a few extra ‘faux’ pumpkins and was shocked at how expensive they have become.  Even with a coupon, I left the store without buying any.

I went online to look at other options and maybe how to make a pumpkin.  After a bit of research – I decided to make paper mache pumpkins.

All it took was beach balls, twine, newspaper, flour, water, spray paint and a little piece of tree branch.

It all starts with a beach ball tied with twine.  You will need someone to help you hold the knot down with their finger as you tie it.

Gather 1-inch wide newspaper strips.

Prepare your paper-mache mix (1 part flour to 2 parts water).  It’s optional to add 1 teaspoon cinnamon to mask the ‘paper mache’ smell and 1 teaspoon salt which helps keep mold from forming on the paper mache.

 Mix together.  Add a single strip of newspaper to the paper-mache mixture and then gently wipe off the excess paper-mache mixture.

Apply strips to beach ball, overlapping.  Tear the strips to whatever size you need.

Allow to dry.  This will take longer in more humid areas.  I used a fan to help speed up the process.

Apply a total of 4 layers, allowing them to dry after applying each layer.

Paint with black spray paint and let dry.  This keeps the black and white colors of the newspaper from showing through the colored spray paint later.

Then spray paint with either orange or off-white paint.  (I used 2 coats).

Using a glue gun, glue a 1-inch piece of a tree branch for the stem. 

Finished!!!

I am very happy with the results.

Although you can’t carve them – you can paint on a ‘jack-o-lantern’ face or just leave them plain.

It did take a couple of days to finish, factoring in the drying time.  Paper mache can be a bit messy, so I recommend wearing an apron and covering your work surface with plastic trash bags.

I hope you try it!

**Update – I made these paper mache pumpkins four years ago and they still look great!

Feel free to ‘Pin’ the image above to your Pinterest!

Did you know that you can kill weeds with ingredients that you probably already have in your cupboard?

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to make your own ‘natural’ weed-killer that is organic and much cheaper then buying weed-killers?

Well, here is all you need…

Believe it or not, vinegar, dish soap and a spray bottle are all you need to make an effective weed killer.  You have these things already, don’t you?

I had known that vinegar  and soap could kill weeds, but had never tried it before.  So, I set out to prove that it worked in my own garden.

First, I took photos of a few of my weeds…

I must admit that it felt kind of funny taking pictures of ‘weeds’.  My neighbor thought so too 😉   I sprayed each weed with my vinegar and soap mixture and waited 24 hours.

Here are the results:

Pretty impressive, isn’t it?  I couldn’t even find the third weed – it had dried up so quickly.

So for those of you who like to know how vinegar and soap kills weeds, here is the scientific explanation:

The acetic acid in vinegar ‘sucks the water’ out of the weed while the dish soap helps to break down the outer coating of the plant, which helps the vinegar to penetrate.

*You can try using vinegar alone, but I didn’t get good results without using the soap.

So are you excited to try this for yourself?

Okay, here is how to make your own….

1-gallon of vinegar (5% acetic acid)

&

1 oz. dish detergent

1. Put in a plastic spray bottleand apply to plants on a sunny day.

That’s it!  

Because this a non-selective weed-killer, it will kill anything it lands on – be careful not to get any on your plants, grass or trees since this mixture can hurt or kill them. 

**For tough weeds, regular white vinegar may not be strong enough.  In that case, you may want to use ‘horticultural vinegar’, which has a higher level of acetic acid (20%).  You can find this type of vinegar online, which is a popular, organic weed killer.

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Wouldn’t it be great to be able to make your own ‘natural’ weed-killer?  It’s organic, cheap and easy to make from ingredients you already have at home. 

I’m sure you all have been waiting with baited breath for the second installment of how to grow and dry your own herbs….I know I have 😉

Clockwise from top left – Oregano, Basil, Sage, Purple Basil, Parsley and Thyme.

Last time we talked about how to harvest and dry your herbsThe process is so easy – the ‘air’ does most of the work for you.

Once your herbs are nice and dry, it’s time to get the herbs ready for their containers.

Now, I will be the first to admit that dried herbs aren’t all that pretty.

Even though they aren’t all that attractive at this point, they are full of concentrated flavors that will help you create delicious food.

I bought inexpensive glass jars at IKEA for a $1 each in which to store my dried herbs.

Now it is time to get the dried leaves off, without the stems.

I found the easiest way to do this was to simply press the leaves between my fingers.  They came off easily, without too many stems falling in.

The few stems that fell in, were easy to pick out.  I then used my fingers to grind up my herbs to the desired size…

All there is to do at this point is to pour the herbs into my glass jars…

Jars of Oregano, Thyme and Oregano

My homegrown dried herbs are ready to use right away.  They also make great gifts.

Dried herbs should be stored in a dark, dry place (pantry or cupboard) and taste best when used within 6 months.  

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I hope your week is off to a good start.

I had two consults last week, which went very well.  In the summer, I don’t do too many consults because many people don’t want to spend a lot of time in the garden in the heat.  I actually enjoy this time of year because it is a bit of a break for me 🙂     

Do you love using herbs when you cook?  I do – especially basil and oregano. I also appreciate how easy they are to grow. 

I grow basil, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme in my garden.  To be honest, I don’t use a lot of fresh herbs and I really should.  I tend to use dried herbs instead.

While I do like to use dried herbs when I cook – I don’t like to pay $3+ dollars for a tiny container.  So, instead of buying dried herbs
at the grocery store – I make my own.  

It is very easy to dry herbs and they make great and inexpensive gifts. Herbs are best when they are air-dried – which is the method that retains their flavor best.

Here is how I do it:

– I harvest my herbs, usually before they flower, for best flavor. In my herb container, there is basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme growing.    

– Pick your herbs in the morning and wash and dry them.  Discard any discolored leaves.  

– Using string or twine, tie your herbs into small bundles (this is especially important for basil, which as lots of moisture in its leaves).  Wrap the string a few times around each bundle to keep them from falling out as they dry.

Bundles of Oregano

Tie each bundle to a coat hanger.

Bundles of Oregano and Sage

Herbs need to hung indoors to dry.  Hang them in an area out of the sun in an area with good air circulation – I used our garage.  

You can hang them from a clothes rack that you use for drying your clothes, or you can tie them from almost anything.  Laying herbs on paper towels and placing them by a de-humidifier to dry is another method to dry herbs.

**To protect your herbs from dust, you can place paper lunch bags over each bundle – to do this make a hole in the bottom of each lunch bag and thread the cotton string through it before attaching the string to whatever you are hanging your herbs from.  It is okay if the herbs stick out the bottom of the bag – it’s the top which need protection from dust.

Depending on where you live, drying herbs can take as little as a week in a dry climate up to 4 weeks in more humid climates.

Come back for “Part Two” to see how I how to crush and store dried herbs.

*If you are interested in growing herbs, learn how I planted my herb container here.