Lava Soap

Disclosure: This post is paid for by the folks at Lava Soap. The opinions expressed, are my own.

Are you afraid to get your hands dirty when you garden? I’m not. In fact, I seldom wear gardening gloves when I’m working in the soil. Oh, gloves are useful when using pruners, raking, or dealing with thorny plants. However, I find elemental pleasure with working in the soil with my bare hands.

vegetable garden

I especially like to ditch the gloves when I am working in my vegetable garden where whether I am planting seeds, smoothing out a new layer of compost, or harvesting plants – touching the plants and soil with my hands makes me happy.

vegetable garden

Last week, I spent the morning out in the vegetable garden, cleaning out old plants and getting it ready for sowing seeds in mid-September. The experience was not unlike the feeling you get after spring cleaning. I have an almost blank canvas on which to add new vegetables this fall.

compost  bags

After the plants are ripped out, I add several inches of new compost to prepare the beds. I buy my compost in bags, which makes it easier to add just where I want it to go.

compost bags

This year, I am changing things up a bit by adding mushroom compost, which has composted horse manure and straw among other things. I like to try new things to see how they perform and then communicate that information to you.

All told, we added a total of 6 inches of regular and mushroom composts to the garden.

desert tortoise, Aesop

Our desert tortoise, Aesop, came out to see what we were doing. Unfortunately, we discovered that he is able to climb up into the vegetable garden, which we don’t want as he will eat our leafy greens. So, we will have to replace the short wood sides with taller ones.

 my grandson, Eric

As if my hands weren’t dirty enough after pulling out plants, they became more so as I smoothed out the newly added mulch around the few plants that remained. Of course, any chance of getting his hands dirty, brings out my grandson, Eric, to help me out in the garden.

Lava Soap

Back in the house, we had two pairs of messy hands. So, out came my favorite hand cleaner that I reserve for the dirtiest of messes. Lava Soap is the most effective way that I have found to get rid of the ground in garden dirt from my hands, and Eric was anxious to get started first. Within a couple of minutes, his little hands were nice and squeaky clean.

bar of Lava

My hands were worse than Eric’s, coated with soil and plant debris and I knew from experience that regular soap wouldn’t do the job. So I grabbed my bar of Lava and got started.

bar of Lava

That is a lot of dirt!

Lava Soap

Almost done!

Lava Soap

Finished!

In the past, whenever I would use regular soap, it never got them completely clean, and I would have dirt remaining in the small cracks in my hands. I also didn’t like how dried out my hands would feel after working in the garden.

Lava Soap

Lava Soap not only gets my hands (and Eric’s) cleaner than regular soap, it doesn’t dry them out either. Most of us have heard of this famous cleaning bar and how it is useful for getting rid of grease, paint, and glue due to the pumice that within it. However, I’m here to state that it also did a fabulous job removing the garden soil from my hands while leaving them moisturized afterward.

Lava Soap

So, ditch the garden gloves, reach your hands into the soil and experience the joy of gardening. Just be sure to have some Lava Soap ready to help you clean up afterward.

Lava Soap is available at retailers across the country, including Ace, Walmart, Dollar General and Family Dollar. To find a store near you, visit LavaSoap.com and click on the Where to Buy button.

desert tortoise

You would expect that after living in our backyard for two years, that Aesop, our desert tortoise, would have discovered all there was to see. However, that wasn’t the case. His curious nature led him over to where I was working to pull out plants in the vegetable garden and to his joy and my dismay, he was able to climb up into it.

Getting out was a little trickier, as you can see in the video below.

 

 

Looks like we will need to raise the sides of the garden to keep him from eating the leafy greens.

Aesop, the Desert Tortoise Gets a Bath

Growing Garlic? Use the Greens to Flavor Your Favorite Dishes

Do you grow garlic in your garden? If so, you know that it takes a long time to grow with planting in October and harvesting it in May. During the long growing period, the leafy green tops of the garlic plant are all that is visible while the garlic bulb is growing below ground.

But, did you know that the garlic greens can be used in some of your favorite dishes? Here is how I use them…

It’s always fun to find new ways to enjoy the vegetables in your garden. Have you ever tried garlic greens or other non-traditional parts of vegetables?

Growing Garlic? Use the Greens to Flavor Your Favorite Dishes

For tips on how to grow your own garlic, click here.

Cool-season vegetables transplants

Cool-season vegetables transplants

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest is the ability to garden throughout the year.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration – I don’t especially like gardening in July or August.  During those months, I simply like to view my garden out the window from the air-conditioned comfort of my home.  But, you’ll often see me outside spending January in the vegetable garden through the winter months.  

Cool-season vegetables transplants

So far, this year’s cool-season garden hasn’t been very impressive.  In fact, it was quite disappointing.  Our drip irrigation system wasn’t watering this particular vegetable bed well because the tiny holes had become clogged from mineral deposits left behind by our notorious hard water.  As a result, a handful of romaine lettuce transplants survived, but none of the seeds that I planted in early October germinated except for the radishes and a couple of carrots.  

To make it worse, when I discovered the problem last fall, I was so busy trying to keep up with my landscape consulting that I didn’t fix the irrigation troubles.  Spring and fall for horticulturists is much like tax season for accountants, and little else gets done.

Well, I felt bad looking out at my sad little vegetable bed, so I cleared my calendar to give it a little TLC earlier this week.  First on the list was to pull out the lettuce plants, which had bolted and were ready to be taken out.  I was able to get a few radishes, much to the delight of my youngest daughter who loves them.

Cool-season vegetables transplants

Before planting, I added a 4-inch layer of compost to help refresh the soil.  There wasn’t any need to mix it in with the existing soil – in fact, it’s better if you don’t do that.

Like many people, I find working out in the garden therapeutic and the stresses of day to day life simply melt away.  What made this day even better was that my husband came out to help me.  At this point, I should mention that he isn’t one of those men who loves to work out in the garden.  Oh, he does a great job at it, but he doesn’t like it – at all. Poor guy, he had no idea that the woman he married 30 years ago would turn out to be a plant lady who lives, eats, and breathes all things related to the garden.  

Cool-season vegetables transplants

My darling husband took an entire morning out of his busy schedule to help me in the garden, fixing the drip irrigation system in my garden.  Forget flowers, if spending a morning out in your wife’s vegetable garden fixing irrigation doesn’t shout “I love you,” I don’t know what does.

The drip irrigation system in my vegetable garden is made up of a main poly drip line that runs up the center of the garden.  Micro-tubing, with small holes along the length, are then looped along the length of the main drip line.  We pulled out the old micro-tubing and replaced it.  

Cool-season vegetables transplants

Once the irrigation repair was finished, it was time to add plants.  Luckily, there is still plenty of time to plant cool-season favorites.  To get a head start, I bought romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach transplants.  The rest I would grow from seed.  Irish Eyes Garden Seeds is one of my favorite seed companies.

Cool-season vegetables transplants

Another seed company who I have used over the years is Burpee.  I remember perusing my dad’s Burpee seed catalog when I was a child and planning on which ones I would order for the little plot of land that he gave me in the back garden.  

I still order seeds from Burpee and was pleasantly surprised to receive a gift from them this Christmas – an advent calendar where each door opened up to a seed packet filled with one of their new 2017 plant introductions.  What an ingenious marketing tool!  Every morning, I felt like a kid again waiting to see what new seeds I would find behind the door.  

Cool-season vegetables transplants

I selected ‘Dragon Tail’ radish, where you eat its purple seed pods and NOT the roots.  It is a version of an Asian heirloom radish and has a more delicate flavor than regular radishes.  I am very excited to see what this one does in my garden.  ‘Rido Red’ radish and ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas also found a spot in the garden.

Marigolds and nasturtiums are always present alongside cool-season vegetables as they attract beneficial pollinators, discourage harmful insect pests, and just make the garden look pretty.  Imagine my delight when I saw new varieties of my favorite flowers in the advent calendar.  ‘Strawberry Blonde’ marigolds and ‘Orange Troika’ nasturtiums will add welcome beauty to my vegetable bed.  There were other seeds in the calendar that I plan on using including ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas.  I plan on giving some of my seeds to my mother for her garden.  Burpee has a list of their new 2017 introductions, which you can access here.  I’d love to hear if you grow any of them.

Meyer' lemon tree

Next to the vegetable garden is my young ‘Meyer’ lemon tree.  We planted it two years ago, and this is its first ever fruit.  Young citrus trees can take a year or two, after planting, before it produces fruit and I look forward to years of delicious fruit from mine.  

Meyer' lemon

Meyer lemons aren’t true lemons.  They are a cross between a regular lemon and mandarin orange, and this gives them a sweeter flavor and a deep yellow skin.  The story behind Meyer lemons includes overseas exploration, threatened extinction, and Martha Stewart.

Well, that is what is happening in the January vegetable garden.  What is growing in your winter garden?

Books for Waterwise Gardening

Books for Waterwise Gardening

Gardening in a dry climate comes with unique challenges where water is viewed as a precious resource and needs to be used wisely. Does that mean that you cannot have a beautiful garden?  Absolutely not!  You can have an attractive outdoor space filled with beautiful plants and a vegetable plot as well with proper planning with help from these water-wise books.

Today, I would like to share my final installment for gifts for the gardener by sharing not one, but two books that are worth adding to your gardening library.  

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

Books for Waterwise Gardening

Waterwise gardening

If you are looking to create a drought tolerant landscape but are in need of ideas and guidance, look no further than The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick.  

The book opens with a chapter dedicated to inspiration with several types of water wise gardens highlighted to help the reader determine which one is right for them.  Lovely, color photos of landscapes display the incredible beauty of gardens that conserve water.

Books for Waterwise Gardening

Waterwise gardening

Designing a water-saving garden entails including several elements such as contouring, permeable building materials, and more to help conserve water and Pam does a great job of talking about each type and how to incorporate into the landscape.

Books for Waterwise Gardening

Plants that are native or adapted to survive on little water are the backbone of the water-saving landscape, and most are surprisingly attractive.  A substantial list of drought tolerant plants will have you imagining how they will look decorating your outdoor space. Helpful tips for when to plant as well as alternative locations for growing plants are included within the pages of this book, and the author doesn’t stop there – she has an entire section of how to incorporate water or the appearance of water in the landscape with water features and plants.  

The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water is a book that will help readers create a water-wise landscape filled with beauty and would make a wonderful gift for the gardener in your life or yourself.  

Pam has another book, Lawn Gone, which I bought a few years ago, and it sits in a prominent place in my garden library.  It’s filled with inspiration and guidelines for a grass-free landscape.

Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert & Dry Times: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening without Wasting Water

I enjoy my edible gardens very much and so I was excited when Sasquatch Books provided me with a free copy of Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert & Dry Times: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening without Wasting Water.  I certainly wish this book had been around when I first started.  Vegetable gardening comes with its set of challenges like watering efficiently and creating a micro-climate that is favorable to growing vegetables.  This book addresses these issues and more.

Whether you are a beginner or have grown vegetables in a different climate, this book is a must have for those who find themselves living in an arid region.

successful vegetable garden

Location, location, location is perhaps the most important part of a successful vegetable garden.  Of course, not everyone has the best location and the book talks about what to take into consideration when deciding where to grow your vegetables in addition to ways to modify the dry climate to make it easier for them to grow in a dry climate.

growing vegetables in raised beds and even containers

Guidelines for growing vegetables in raised beds and even containers are provided along with how to amend the desert soil so it can sustain vegetables.  Perhaps the most informative chapters for desert gardeners are those addressing several ways to irrigate as well as a list of the best varieties of vegetables for arid climates.  Additional chapters teach how to control harmful pests and solve common problems.  

If you or someone on your gift list is new to the desert or simply want to begin gardening, both of these books are filled with inspiration and guidance.

Toilet Paper Rolls and Vegetable Seeds…

mother's vegetable garden

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

This is what my mother’s vegetable garden looks like in the middle of winter.  

She works hard at growing a variety of vegetables in her two raised beds.  On Wednesday nights, we all gather for dinner at her house and get to enjoy many of the delicious vegetables straight from her garden.   

Sadly, her plans for this season’s vegetable garden faced a serious setback.

mother fell and broke her leg

My mother fell and broke her leg while cooking dinner with my youngest daughter.  Both bones in her lower leg suffered multiple fractures, and a metal rod had to be inserted down into her tibia.

Understandably, she cannot put any weight on her foot for at least two months.  So, while she works hard at physical therapy to gain as much independence as she can – we decided to help out with her garden.

mother's vegetable garden

My kids, along with my nephews, were eager to help with Grandma’s garden.  We stopped by the nursery to pick up broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leaf lettuce transplants while I brought some carrot and radish seeds from home.

Lucky for us, she had already amended her soil with one of my favorite soil amendments – used coffee grounds (from Starbucks).  I added some of my favorite organic vegetable fertilizer for the garden, and we were ready to start planting.

mother's vegetable garden

I instructed the kids on where and how to plant the vegetable transplants in staggered rows.

My sister was also watching us and even stepped in to help out, despite the fact that she never gardens.  

mother's vegetable garden

The kids were eager to help out their grandmother, and we all enjoyed out time out in the garden.  

I took a few photos to bring back to her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recuperating, to show her what her grandkids had done for her.

My mother is doing well and is working hard at her daily physical therapy sessions so that she can get home as soon as possible.  We visit her daily, and her room has pictures drawn by her grandchildren and cards from friends and family.

 

On our most recent visit, my grandson discovered the delights of pushing around his grandpa using great-grandma’s wheelchair.  His smile and laughter brightened everyone’s day.

Meanwhile, back at the vegetable garden.

mother's vegetable garden

I came back to check on the newly planted vegetables.  Most were doing quite well, but I did see a few plants with telltale holes in their leaves.

mother's vegetable garden

I discovered the culprit nearby.  Cutworms are caterpillars that eat holes in leafy vegetables as well as ‘cut’ off young vegetable transplants at their base. 

mother's vegetable garden

The cutworms did kill some of the newly transplanted broccoli, but most of the leafy greens were fine other than a few holes in the leaves.

I brought my favorite organic pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills the caterpillars.  I like to use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden, which helps keep the caterpillars at bay.

mother's vegetable garden

I sprayed all the vegetables, taking care to spray both top and underneath the leaves.  

BT can be reapplied every 7 – 10 days until the caterpillars are gone.  

**Note; it can be hard to find BT in your local big box store or even some nurseries.  However, you can find it offered online from garden supply companies and Amazon (affiliate link).

Have you planted any vegetables this season?  What are your favorites?

While strolling through the vegetable garden the other morning, pulling out weeds, I spotted a pretty white mystery flower growing on top of a weedy-looking stalk.

Mystery Flower in the Vegetable Garden

I stepped over to take a closer look and scratched my head for a few seconds trying to figure out where this mystery flower came from.

The flower was quite attractive and dainty in appearance.

Mystery Flower in the Vegetable Garden

While the green part of the plant resembled a weed, I noticed that the lower leaves looked much like a type of vegetable I had grown in my garden.  

That is when I remembered where I had seen the flower before.

Mystery Flower in the Vegetable Garden

Mystery Flower in the Vegetable Garden

A few weeks ago, I had asked my daughter to pull out any large radishes, which were too tough to eat.  It looked like she missed one.

If I let the radish flower remain, it will go to seed and new radishes will come up in its place.  However, because the end of radish season is at hand, I will probably collect the seeds to plant in the fall.

For now, I will enjoy the lovely, little flower.

Have you ever seen a mystery flower in your garden?  What was it?

Unexpected Discoveries In A Small Garden

Do your kids beg you to feed them kale or other dark green, leafy vegetables?  

Probably not.

I confess that I don’t particularly like to eat kale when it is in large pieces.  But, after planting it for the first time in my vegetable garden this year, I was determined to learn to enjoy eating this vegetable along with my kids.  The question was how?

dark green, leafy vegetables

I decided to take my freshly picked kale and cut it into narrow strips, about 1/3 of an inch wide.

radishes

I did the same with radishes from the garden since some of my kids don’t like them either

radishes and kale

My idea was to make their individual size smaller and then mix them with other leafy greens, hoping that they could blend in with the rest of the salad.

 leaf lettuce ,  iceberg lettuce , cucumbers ,kale and radishes

Salads in our house consist of leaf lettuce from the garden, a little iceberg lettuce (the kid’s favorite), diced cucumbers and finely chopped kale and radishes.

dark green, leafy vegetables

Once mixed together, the kale, along with the radishes, blends in rather nicely as do their flavors.

So, did it work?  Do my kids now like kale?

Well, earlier this week, I overheard them discussing what we were going to have for dinner and my two youngest kids said, “I love kale and radishes”.

You know what?  So do I.

**Have you ever found a way to get your kids to eat certain foods?  If so, please share your experiences with me 🙂

Winter Garden Harvest: I Never Thought I Would Love Kale!

Have you ever grown pumpkins?

The first pumpkin I ever grew

The first pumpkin I ever grew.

Right now, pumpkins are of three things growing in my summer vegetable garden alongside peppers and basil.

In June, I planted 4 different types of pumpkins – Cinderella (an old fashioned looking pumpkin), Lumina (a white pumpkin), Rouge Vif d’Etampes (a French heirloom pumpkin) and some seeds from an unknown heirloom pumpkin I bought at the store last year.

Male pumpkin flower

Male pumpkin flower

The pumpkin vines are growing nicely and the male flowers have begun to appear.

Pumpkins have both male and female flowers – the male flowers appear about 2 weeks ahead of the female flowers.

Lumina pumpkin

Lumina pumpkin

I’ve had both successes and some failures growing pumpkins.  Last year, I planted a Lumina pumpkin, which was so beautiful.

This summer, I decided to dedicate my entire potager vegetable garden to growing pumpkins.

Why an entire vegetable garden you may ask?

growing pumpkins

My first attempt at growing pumpkins began in my smaller vegetable garden, located just off of my back patio.

I remember being so excited when my pumpkin seedling grew its first pair of ‘true’ leaves.  

growing pumpkins

But, what I had not prepared for was how wide it would grow – a lesson on why reading the label on the seed packet is important.

My young pumpkin seedling soon outgrew my little vegetable garden and in fact, most of its growth extended outside of the garden.

I patiently (not)! waited for signs of a young pumpkin to form.

young pumpkin growing

You can imagine how thrilled I was at finding this young pumpkin growing a couple of weeks later.

vegetable garden

The only issue was that it was growing outside of my vegetable garden.

The Summer Vegetable Garden: Pumpkins!

To be honest, I didn’t really care – there was plenty of room for it and it seemed happy perched on top of my garden hose.

The Summer Vegetable Garden: Pumpkins!

It grew fairly rapidly and soon its green color lightened to a beautiful orange.

pumpkin

As you can see, it wasn’t a large pumpkin – smaller varieties are easier to grow in the home garden.

White 'Lumina' pumpkin hidden underneath the leafy vines

White ‘Lumina’ pumpkin hidden underneath the leafy vines.

My hope for this year’s crop is that I will soon find young pumpkins growing underneath the huge leaves of my pumpkin vines.

How about you?

Have you ever grown pumpkins?

What types?

Any helpful tips you’d like to share?

********************************

On a personal note, I’ve been knocked flat by a virus – neverending cough, sore throat, headache, aches, fever, etc.

I’ve always found it surprising to get a flu-like illness in the middle of summer and not during the cold winter months, which actually works better for me since I my work tends to slow down in summer.

After 7 days, I am slowly getting better and am  thankful for the timing of my illness.  Next week – July 31st – August 2nd, I’ll be a presenter at the annual Hummingbird Festival and it would be almost impossible to give two separate 1-hour presentations with the current condition of my throat right now.

Sorry for complaining, I have a bad case of cabin fever, but my body isn’t up for doing much of anything except for a 10 minute walk this morning through my gardens to see how they are doing – but that felt wonderful!

I hope you are staying healthy this summer!

Have you ever found yourself intimidated by fashion magazines filled with beautiful celebrities and models who are then photoshopped to remove every little imperfection?

Believe it or not, vegetables can be portrayed the same way in magazines and online.  Articles filled with photographs of perfectly-sized vegetables without a speck of dirt on them can be intimidating to the average vegetable gardener.

dirty secrets of vegetable gardening

Well, I’m here to tell you the truth and reveal two dirty secrets of vegetable gardening with some assistance from my little helper. 

My granddaughter, Lily

My granddaughter, Lily, was excited to help me harvest the last of my cool season crops.

So we ventured out into the garden and pulled out carrots and garlic. Then we harvested the last head of broccoli and picked the first of the blackberries from the bushes and cut the parsley.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

This is what our harvest looked like.

I’ll admit that it looks rather dirty and messy and certainly not something you would see in a magazine.

'secret' about vegetable gardening.

This leads me to reveal the first ‘secret’ about vegetable gardening.

“It’s dirty.”

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Think about it – vegetables grow in the dirt.  They don’t come out clean.  In fact, it can take a while to clean the dirt away.

Lily was excited to help me clean the vegetables, so she would fill her ‘My Little Pony’ cup over and over and pour them over the carrots. 

 harvested vegetables leave

In fact, freshly harvested vegetables leave dirt behind on counters, floors too.

clean garden tools and spotless gloves

And those shiny, clean garden tools and spotless gloves?

They don’t exist in a real garden.

Okay, so we’ve covered the fact that vegetable garden is a dirty hobby – it’s supposed to be.

Now, here is the second dirty secret of vegetable gardening…

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

“Not all the vegetables are the same size and come out unblemished.”

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Here are four carrots that I harvested from the same garden.  As you can see, they are all different sizes.

The tiny ones, came from an area where I accidentally dropped a small pile of seeds. The large one was a result of an area in the garden that received too much water and the carrot was so big that it broke off as I attempted to pull it out.  

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Of course, any decent photo would display only the ‘normal-sized’ carrots – but that is not necessarily the truth of what a real garden harvest would look like.

crop of garlic

Here is another example. Our crop of garlic was bountiful. But, notice that there are not all a uniform size.

crop of garlic

While the majority of the garlic harvest was made up of normal-sized garlic heads – there were some very small and some giant heads.

But of course, that is not what you see when people typically show off their garden harvest – especially when they are to be photographed.

– First, only the most attractive vegetables are selected – those that are unblemished and a uniform size.

– Second, all the dirt is cleaned off.

– And finally, the decorative dish towels come out for an attractive background.   

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

I have several decorative dish towels that have never seen a dish.

I use them when I photograph vegetables, herbs, etc.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Here is my ‘perfect’ garlic harvest. What is interesting is what you DON’T see.

All of them are nicely shaped, roughly the same size and most of the dirt was cleaned off.

Most definitely NOT what they looked like when I brought them in from the garden.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

A ‘real’ vegetable harvest is not ‘photoshopped’ and consists of dirty vegetables, some with blemishes and in all sizes and shapes.

So, when you harvest vegetables from your garden, don’t worry about perfect-looking vegetables. Remember, it’s the taste that matters!

My Secret Vegetable Gardening Tool…