Tips for Growing Brassicas

If you live in a temperate area, consider growing brassicas. Brassicas include garden staples like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, turnips, kale and kohlrabi.



Brussels Sprouts in the garden

Brassicas do best in moist, well-drained soils with full sun. They tend to be susceptible to diseases and pests, so maintaining proper moisture levels is essential. It also helps to cover your plants with row covers to keep pests in check. And, remember to space them properly to keep air flowing between the plants.


Since they’re cool-weather crops, they tend to bold during heat waves. For broccoli, I’ve had luck pulling flowering buds and giving them to the chickens.


Harvest when you want; however, keep an eye on pests and bolting plants.


Be sure to rotate your crops. Don’t plant a brassica where you planted one last year, so don’t plant broccoli where you had cabbage, or Brussels sprouts where you had cauliflower. Planting them in the same spot year after year will make them more susceptible to disease.



If you want more garden tips, be sure to sign up for my gardening class on Skillshare.

Boost Your Mood in the Garden

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Plant sunflowers–they’re easy to grow and are good for wildlife and your mood!

Now is the time to started planning your garden. And, while you’re planning, think about your mood. If you’re prone to the blues, or just want more energy, plant vegetables and herbs that will give you a boost.

I saw this article from Rodale’s Organic Life, Fight Depression by Growing a Good-Mood Garden. I don’t know about you, but gardening always puts me in a good mood. The combination of being outdoors, digging in the dirt and seeing the (literal) fruits of my labor on a daily basis puts everything else in perspective. Sometimes when you’re stressed, all you need is a spade and some weeds to get your aggression out.

The article recommends the following mood-boosting crops to plant:
Swiss chard
Blue potatoes
Cherry tomatoes
Black-eyed peas
Evening primrose
St. John’s wort

Of these, the only ones I grow are sunflowers and lavender. Tomatoes don’t grow well where I live, although I do have some luck growing them inside the sunporch. However, I will have to add blue potatoes and chamomile to the list—the benefit of the latter is that I can also make a tea from it.

While it’s best to continue to take any medication you’ve been prescribed for your moods, adding these to your garden can only help. Get out in the sunshine and get planting!


Want to learn more about gardening, especially in small spaces? Take my class on Skillshare. Click here to learn more and to sign up!

Gimme Some More…Jam

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

Just when I thought I was done making jam for the season, we discovered blackberries and a cherry tree on our property. I had noticed the fruit on the cherry tree about a month ago when we were clearing wood from the front of the yard. We wondered if the fruit was edible, but didn’t want to take any chances. When our friends visited us this weekend, they identified it immediately and ate a few of the cherries. When they didn’t die or tax our sewer with explosive diarrhea, we picked the rest of the fruit and started drying and canning it.

We’ve since identified the trees as Rainier cherry trees. Our trees are older and well established, and the fruit is sweet. Apparently Rainier cherries are the sweetest of the cherry varieties, which is great because I used less sugar in the jam recipes, saving money and my pancreas.
The thorny bushes around the perimeter of our property are blackberries—rich, delicious blackberries. Although the berries are a pain—literally—to pick due to all of the thorns, the bushes produce a shit-ton of berries. We spent 20 minutes picking the berries within arms-reach and came out with a huge basket of berries. And there’s more where that came from.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!


I had thought they were wild roses, and thought it was odd that they never produced flowers. Now I’m wondering how many of the prickly vines that I’ve ripped out around the property have been roses and which have been blackberries.




4 Things to Do When You Have a Bounty of Fruit

1. Dry them. Our food dehydrator has gotten a workout over the past few days as we’ve been drying about 10 pounds of cherries. (If you’re a fan of sour candy, drying cherries is for you.) We’ve dried everything from apples to kale in the dehydrator. Drying time varies by fruit—more watery fruits may take longer—but the result is delicious. Although dried fruit will last a fair bit of time, it will probably be eaten within a week.

2. Jam them. Jam is the easiest thing to do with fruit. Find a great recipe either online or in a cookbook, but don’t be afraid to tweak the recipe a bit. I love adding cinnamon to everything—it gives the recipe a spicy little kick. While some things in jam recipes should remain balanced (e.g., the fruit, sugar and pectin proportions), experiment with adding spices that you think will add to the finished product.

3. Freeze them. While I haven’t done it yet, freezing excess fruit is a great way to have fresh fruit year-round. This is a neat guide to help you if you want to find out more.

4. Give them away. Many food banks will accept excess fruit from private citizens. While sometimes they’ll send out gleaners to take the fruit off of your hands, other places may allow you to drop it off at their facilities. Check with the food bank near you to learn more.

jams august

A Garden Miracle!

Maybe there’s hope for the zucchini after all.
I harvested two very large zucchinis this week, giving me hope that I’ll be able to enjoy them this summer. The egg shells and organic fertilizer must have worked!

The garden this week.

The garden this week.

I’ve been harvesting from the garden more frequently. The spinach is ready to pick, as well as the lettuce that I haven’t let bolt. We have tons of sugar snap peas on the vines; although by some mystery they never seem to make it into the house. The onions appear to be ready, but I’ve been hesitant to pick them. This is my first year growing them so I’ve had to consult the books and Google to make sure that I harvest them correctly and at the right time.

What did people do in the days before Google?
Even though I have a few gardening books at my disposal, I’ve been consulting Google a lot this year for gardening tips. As a person born on the cusp of Gen X and Y, I find that it’s easier to type a question into Google and see what comes up before I think to consult the index of a book or call my mom. Actually, it’s been so long since my mother had a large garden that she often can’t remember the answer to the question I’m asking. I’ve been reading Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Jenks Farmer, a book that seeks to take gardening back to its roots, where people passed wisdom down through the generations. In many ways, passed down knowledge can be more reliable than what you read in a book, especially when it concerns native plants, how to deal with pests and what vegetables grow best in that area. But, when you don’t have the luxury of knowing this information from a local, the next best choice is Google, I guess.

Why are Americans still hungry?

If you haven’t read The New Face of Hunger by Tracie McMillan in National Geographic, you need to. The article, with accompanying photos and video provides several portraits of food insecure families across the U.S. The families profiled and their stories provide a human face for the statistic that one-sixth of Americans don’t have enough food to eat.

The stories are heartbreaking. Most of the families are struggling to get by on the money they get from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Their dollars are stretched thin as they struggle to pay their bills and support their families on limited incomes. And while they are able to hit up the food pantry and purchase food with government assistance, much of the food that’s available is processed crap full of empty calories. The combination of poverty and food deserts lead to only one thing: hunger.

Not everyone has the luxury of growing their own produce.

Not everyone has the luxury of growing their own produce.

This is a really well-done article that outlines hunger in America. It’s not as black and white as the politicians and pundits make it out to be, although wouldn’t it be nice if it were? The families profiled all have at least one working adult with a full-time job. All have children. And all are trying make do with what they’re given, finding creative ways to make their food dollars stretch. There may be some who will say, “Why can’t both adults work?”—those people have obviously never had to pay for childcare, the cost of which often rivals a house payment. If you’re on a limited income, paying for childcare isn’t an option.

It’s crazy how little many of these families are given to spend on food each month. I just went grocery shopping today and spent over $100. That will last us for the week; however, we’re also fortunate to have a garden of vegetables outside. Food is expensive, even if you plan on cooking your meals from scratch instead of out of a box. Grocery stores are pricey. If you’re fortunate enough to have a Trader Joe’s or a co-op in your community, you’ll probably spend much less, but it would still be hard to scrape by on $100/month. (Not to begrudge the supermarkets—they have a business to run, too, and let’s face it, their profit margin isn’t huge.)

“[M]ost of the working poor don’t have the time or know-how required to eat well on little. Often working multiple jobs and night shifts, they tend to eat on the run. Healthful food can be hard to find in so-called food deserts—communities with few or no full-service groceries.”

Food banks fill the void for many of these Americans; however, with more Americans feeling food insecure, these organizations are left stretched thin, struggling for food and cash donations and volunteer man-hours. There are some food banks, like the one that serves my community, that offer cooking classes to their patrons, so that they know how to cook the food and fresh produce available. And, with food stamps being accepted by many farmers’ markets, it’s easier to for people to get ideas from their friendly farmer about how to prepare the food.

However, if you live in a food desert—a community that has few or no supermarkets within walking or public transit distance—then you have fewer healthy options. Pre-packaged and processed foods are all that are available. Those empty calories may help people feel full; however, they only leave the person overweight and malnourished.

My heart goes out to the families profiled, as well as other families in their position. Take a moment to read the article, watch the video and put yourself in their shoes.

Vegetables: Rebranded

How many times have you put back an apple or a cucumber because it wasn’t perfect? Probably never, because most consumers never see the misshapen fruit and vegetables unless they shop at a farmer’s market or grow it themselves. It’s not that this produce tastes any different; it’s just not as aesthetically pleasing.

We’ve been taught as consumers that carrots are orange and shaped like a long triangle (or small two inch nubs in snack-sized pages of 20) and apples are perfectly symmetrical. If you’ve ever grown carrots in your garden, you know that it’s rare for carrots to turn out symmetrical and perfect. Instead they grow long and gangly like a witch’s gnarled fingers from your favorite fairy tale. And apples aren’t perfect either.

Give imperfect produce a chance. Poster by photographer Patrice de Villiers.

Give imperfect produce a chance. Poster by photographer Patrice de Villiers.

That’s why I was super stoked to see this article in Fast Company online this morning about the French grocer, Intermarche, commissioning posters of imperfect fruit and vegetables for its campaign to reduce food waste. A ridiculous amount of food is wasted every year, and while some of the blame lays at the feet of consumers (We’ve all purchased more produce than we could eat and had to throw it away when it went bad), much of the blame is on merchants and others who toss fruits and vegetables deemed not attractive enough to sell. We’ve become so conditioned to expect perfection from our produce that they don’t think that we’ll purchase a wonky carrot.

Maybe they’re right; I’m sure there are folks who’d say, “Ewww, I won’t let that funky-looking carrot or lopsided apple anywhere near me” as they then proceed to huck five packages of Hot Pockets in their shopping cart. And that’s okay. You’ll always have people who are driven by appearance.

However, check out these fun posters created by photographer Patrice de Villiers, as well as his other work at the link (warning: don’t view on an empty stomach).

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What’s going on in the garden?

July is a great time to see the rewards of what you planted in the garden a couple of months ago. Many of the plants that take a while to grow, bloom and fruit are reaching their potential. When I was planting the seeds and starts in my garden, I remember worrying that I wasn’t planting enough. Looking at my garden now, I realize that I should have given some of my plants a wider birth (I’m looking at you, borage).

The garden this week.

The garden this week.

Tilling is a great workout. After two months of being covered by old carpets, the soil in the garden next to my current garden has fewer weeds and was ready for a good tilling. I used a digging fork to get deep into the soil, which was much easier to break into than it was a few months ago, to unearth rich soil. It took me most of the afternoon to double-dig the 8’ by 10’ plot, pulling up rose and weed roots as I went. Then, on Monday, I planted some snap peas, sunflowers, beans, radishes, cilantro, parsley and transplanted some strawberries. Eventually, most of the garden will become a strawberry patch, but for now I’ll grow some yummy vegetables.


Forget plain ice cubes. Since my borage began to flower, I’ve been cutting the best buds and freezing them in the ice cube tray. They add some life and color to regular water and make me feel a bit fancy. Since the cilantro I planted is growing like gangbusters, I cut them back to encourage more growth and then chopped and froze the leaves of the clippings in an ice cube tray. Fresh cilantro from the garden all year round!

That’s plum crazy! I finished up the plum preserves the other day. One full tree of plums has yielded 9 half pint jars of plum butter (with an assist from 5 Granny Smith apples) and 8 half pint jars of plum jam (with an assist from 3 Granny Smith apples). While the butter has a wonderful tartness with a sweet aftertaste, the jam is smooth and not too sweet.

All in all the jam was easy to make. While it did involve a lot of stirring, it wasn’t as labor intensive as I feared it would be. I was worried that it wouldn’t set well—while I was ladling it into the jars, I was worried that it wasn’t thick enough. After it had time to set, it did so perfectly. It’s my new favorite jam.

3 Reasons to Keep a Garden Journal

I recently purchased a garden journal, and it’s been one of the best investments I’ve make so far. Published by Moleskine, the garden journal features plenty of space to take notes about the plants I’m growing, design new garden spaces and much more. I’m a convert. But, I hadn’t thought about keeping one until this year, perhaps because I haven’t had the space to grow as many types of plants as I’m growing now. However, anyone can benefit from keeping a gardening journal. Here are three benefits of keep one:

Keep track of what you grow with a handy journal like this one from Moleskine.

Keep track of what you grow with a handy journal like this one from Moleskine.

1. Know what works, and what doesn’t, in your garden. Garden journals allow you to take notes about your plants, including what the sprouts look like, how large they get, and anything else you wish to write about them. Although seed packets and plant tags can give you this information, there’s nothing like growing them yourself to see each plant’s quirks.

For example, I tried growing green beans this year and for some reason, they’ve had trouble sprouting. So, I wrote this down in my garden journal so that next year, I can adjust when I start them or buy plant starts at the nursery. My snap peas, on the other hand, are growing like gangbusters, so next year I plan to give them much more space.

2. Prevent overwatering. Keep track of when you water, fertilize, mulch, etc. in a garden journal so that you can avoid overdoing it. While water, fertilizer, etc. are beneficial to your plants, giving them too much of a good thing can make them more susceptible to pests and disease. Also, note any rain that you receive as well so that you don’t double up on your watering schedule. It’ll keep your plants from becoming water logged and keep the pests and disease down.

3. Reduce pests. My garden journal has a neat-o section with gridded pages where I can draw my current garden, and plan my crop rotation for next year. Crop rotation is important to keep pests in check. When you plant crops in the same place every year, pests are able to attack your plants year after year. However, if you plant crops in a different spot in the garden each year, it’ll take longer for the pests to find their favorite plants, as long you make sure that you don’t plant something from the same family in that spot. For example, I won’t plant my peas in the same spot next year; instead, I’ll probably plant sunflowers or corn or tomatoes—something that grows tall and won’t overshadow the plants in front of it. This way, the bugs that love my snap peas will say, “hey, wait a sec, where’s our dinner at?” and they won’t be tempted to hang around.

Open Source Seeds–Yes, please!

As someone who’s interested in seed saving, the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), a project out of the University of Wisconsin, makes me happier than an Orange County Housewife in a diamond mine. 79420034

While many people in my community hate Monsanto, et al because of the possible impacts of GMOs and so-called Frankenfoods on health, my issue with these major seed producers is the limits they put on farmers who wish to save the seeds from their crops. I get that they’ve spent a ton of money on R&D for their special seeds and they want to protect them. But, there’s a fine line between wanting to protect your intellectual property and being greedy. When farmers can’t save the seeds that those crops produce for the next year, and farmers who don’t want the seeds in the first place end up with them in their fields, and Monsanto can turn around and sue them for using their patented product, well, that’s bullshit.

Their shenanigans not only impact the often shallow pockets of family farmers, they also impact the biological diversity of the plants available, which, in turn, jeopardizes the entire food supply. Add in to the mix the effects of climate change and not even magic seeds will save us.

OSSI is to seeds what open source software is to technology—no one owns a patent on the seeds. They’re for everyone to use. In fact, each seed packet contains the following pledge:

This Open Source Seed pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users. By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives they will also be accompanied by this pledge.

As more people turn to their land to grow their own produce, the use of non-patented seeds will become more vital. After all, seed saving and trading has been a pivotal part of farming for hundreds of years. Your neighbor has a ghost pepper that grows well in your climate? Great, hit him up for a few seeds to grow your own. The guy down the block has the best cherry tomatoes you’ve ever tasted? See if he’ll share some seeds from this year’s crop. The point is, Hannah Housewife shouldn’t fear that Monsanto is going to come after her in its sue-happy glory if she plants some tomato seeds she got from her neighbor, and sells the excess crop at her roadside farm stand.

And, this doesn’t just impact farmers in the US—it’s a worldwide problem. Big seed producers have farmers all over the world by the balls, forcing them to buy new seed every year at high prices. In response, seed banks have sprung up to give farmers a choice in what they want to produce.

Read more about OSSI
The Guardian

Fast Company

Learn more about saving seeds from Vandana Shiva: