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One of the many blessings of living in the desert Southwest is the ability to grow vegetables out in the garden all year long. Today, I thought that I would give you a peek into my winter vegetable garden.

Over the past couple years, my vegetable garden had become slightly messy with a mixture of herbs, vegetables, and flowers growing in disorganized masses. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a perfectionist – far from it. But, I realized that I am more likely to maintain and harvest my vegetables when they are neatly laid out in rows. 

So in August, I ripped out everything from the garden except for a new Spanish lavender plant.

Once September arrived, my husband helped me to replace a few of the wood sides that had gradually rotted. I was happy to note that they had lasted over five years.

We amended the soil with 2 parts of mushroom compost and 1 part aged steer manure. This was my first time using mushroom compost. I wish I could say that it was because I had read about how good it was, but the truth is that the store was out of my favorite brand of compost, and mushroom was what was available. So, we used it.

Blood and bone meal were then sprinkled to provide organic sources of nitrogen and phosphorus.

A new irrigation system was installed in the form of micro-soaker hoses. We bought a kit from our local big box store, which was easy to install. 

Now for the fun part, sowing seeds!

The folks at Botanical Interests provided me with seeds, free of charge, to try out in my garden. I’ve used their seed for years, and they have a large selection of flowers, herbs, and vegetable seed that is of the highest quality.

My favorite cool-season crops are leaf lettuce and kale. I’ve had great luck growing kale, with the same plants lasting for over two winter seasons.

The earliest crop that I’ve harvested were bush beans that I planted in September from seed. Botanical Interests suggested I grow ‘Jade’ and ‘Royal Burgundy’ varieties. Both were delicious, and I discovered that the purple color fades when roasted.

The mild winter has my basil thriving. A client gave me this unique variety of basil called, Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil. It is an heirloom variety, and it is growing beautifully.

Three-inch little heads of cauliflower are just beginning to form. For some reason, I don’t have much luck growing broccoli, but I do grow a mean cauliflower.

While I did reduce the number of flowers in the vegetable garden, I grew a brand-new variety of marigold from a seed called ‘Moonsong Marigold Deep Orange.’

My strawberry plants are beginning to flower and produce tiny fruits.

My avoidance of bagged salad greens is still in place as the garden is still producing plenty of leafy greens.

Finally, a peek into the future, with carrots growing vigorously. 

Do you grow vegetables? I highly recommend it. Even with the busyness of life and the stresses that it brings, it just melts away as I take a few minutes to walk through the garden observing new growth, some welcome surprises, and most importantly, the delicious flavors that it adds to our favorite dishes.

Disclosure: I was provided seed from the folks at Botanical Interests free of charge for my use and honest opinion.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

That is a lot of dirt!

Almost done!

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 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.

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.