Link Salad for Saturday

This is coming late because I literally went into labor after pre-posting last week’s blogs. Here are the best of last week’s blogs (or at least my favorites).

The Joy of Urban Farming– yet another celebration of the container garden. I love these lifestyle blogs.

It’s still too early to plant most flowers, vegetables outside, pros say — but I want to.

Celebrating Springtime at Walt Disney World Resort — yet another reason that I want to visit Disney.

Dorm Decor: 3 Small Space-Friendly Plants for Your Room — I didn’t start planting until after I graduated college. If I had known about these beauties, I might have started sooner.

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New House, New Baby, New Garden

In about a week, (Give or take a week) I am going to be giving birth.  This prompted the nesting instinct in my husband, and as a result, we are now living in a new house. Which means that there is little time (or physical ability) for finding a new garden plot.

For a traditional gardener, this would be a big problem. Fortunately, I’ve been able to move my containers with little effort. And while it’s a bit early for planting tomatoes and squash, I’m right on target for Potatoes and greens.

Potato growing bag in the packaging.

Today’s project was planting potatoes.  In my local big-box garden store I found a new kind of planting bag just for potatoes.  It has a flap at the bottom so that you can pull the bag open, harvest potatoes and close it to grow more.

The instructions for the bag call for you to open it, unfold it and roll the top down until the bag stands at 12 inches tall.

Then you fill the bag halfway with growing medium.  Potatoes will grow in almost anything, including sawdust, straw or lightweight potting soil.  Never use dirt, because it will compact and may contain disease-carrying microbes.

For my growing medium, I chosen Miracle Gro commercial grade potting soil, which I dragged from the garage because my husband would have thrown a fit if I tried to lift the bag.

About two days prior, I purchased seed potatoes from my big box store and cut them into several pieces with eyes.  I chose the big box store because the potatoes were in smaller quantities than I could have gotten at the local farmer’s cooperative. At the same time, I also bought garlic and onion starts.  I planted these in the taller containers that you see behind the potato sack.  Then I gave the extras to my mother-in-law so that she could start her own garden.

I cut the potatoes and left them to sit out in the air for two days. During this time, they developed a calus.  This is important so that the potatoes don’t develop a disease and rot instead of growing.

To plant, I simply put the potato starts on the top of the soil and then covered them with more soil.

According to the instructions that came with the bag, I should unroll the bag when the plants grow out of the top of the soil.  Then I should fill int he bag with more soil, leaving just the tops of the plants exposed.  As the plants grow, they will produce new potatoes along the stems. At the end of this summer when the tops of the plants die and turn yellow, the potoatoes are ready for harvesting. 

Next, I’ll show you my preparations for the straw bale garden.

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Link Salad for a Friday

Due to the fact that I’ve been moving houses ever since my taterpot post, I’ve got several weeks worth of links to share.  Here is the best articles on the web that I’ve found in the past few weeks.

The 5 Best Culinary Herbs That You’ve Never Heard Of – Borage, Lovage and three others.

The Next Urban Garden Trend. On your Bike? — Using an old bicycle as a stationary planter.

25 Cheap Gardening Tricks for Self Reliance on your Homestead – I knew a couple of these already, such as planting marigolds to drive away nematodes.  But a few of them are new ideas to me. Such as dusting seed with Cinnamon to ward off fungus.

Garden Tips for Beginners — Some common sense stuff here, such as starting with just a small garden plot.  And yet, things that I keep forgetting.

100 Reasons to be a Hyperlocavore — I know what a locavore is.  I thought a hyperlocavore was one who had consumed too much honey. Not so.

The Farm of the Future Will Grow Plants Vertically and Hydroponically — Tells of how one family converted their strawberry farm down to just a few acres.  They’re growing the same amount of crop, but saving on production costs and taking up less space.

32,000-Year-Old Plant Brought Back to Life—Oldest Yet — The oldest plant ever to be regenerated has been grown from 32,000-year-old seeds—beating the previous recordholder by some 30,000 years.

A Guide to Indoor Gardening – Expert Tips and Techniques to keep houseplants looking their best by CNN and Real Simple Magazine.

80+ Items You Can Compost — There are some things on here that I didn’t know about.

Herb Garden Inspiration and Ideas — Photos of unique pots and containers.

Plants can Prevent Zombie Attacks — Why not?  Zombies are topical right now.

Refurbishing Old Pots – With a little chalkboard paint, you can repaint your old terracotta pots and then label them with the herbs you are planting. This is a neat idea that I want to try.

Spring is coming: 6 Gardening Apps — Just in time for the release of the iPad 3, you can dl these apps and have fun planning your garden.


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The Tater Pot – Has Anyone Heard Of This Yet?

The garden center of my local big-box store is starting to restock this week. One of the newest temptations items in the aisles is a three gallon-sized container for growing potatoes on your patio, called a “Tater Pot”

Unlike grow bags, this container seems to be a nested pot. Whenever you want to harvest your crop, you lift out the inner pot and pick as many potatoes as you need from the soil. According to the box, the tubers grow back.

This is intriguing to me. Enough so that I very nearly bought one on the spot. If the price had been clearly marked, and if I hadn’t been in the process of moving, I might have picked it up.

Since returning home, I have tried to look the Tater Pot up online, but have not been able to find it anywhere. Is this product simply too new?

I am thinking that I may need to try and review this just for the sake of my own curiosity. We will see once the move is finished.

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Archaeologists Reconstruct Ancient Garden from Pollen

Archaeologists have placed Judean column pediments on display at an archaeological dig of the garden in Ramat Rachel. The site is named after Rachel's tomb, which is located nearby. Photo courtesy the Israel Free Image Collection Project.

When I plant a garden, I hope that it’ll last. I want my vegetable garden to still be producing in fall, and my ornamental garden to be green and lush for many years. But I don’t expect that scientists in the future will take an interest in it the way they have Ramat Rahel.

Ramat Rahel is an ancient palace within a modern Kibbutz (agricultural compound) in present-day Jerusalem. The palace dates back to the biblical kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah (I think it’s pronounced like “Has a Kayak” only without  the last K). Hezekiah was the 14th king of Judah after the country split away from Israel at the death of King Solomon.

During Hezekiah’s reign, he held off the Assyrian nation, which had already conquered Israel, instituted religious reforms and expanded the nation of Judah.

Archaeologists first discovered the palace in the 1930’s, but believed at the time that it was part of a biblical fortress. Only later excavations in 2004 have led archaeologists to conclude that the site is instead a palace, or possibly an administrative center. One of the features of the palace that archaeologists marvel at are the remains of incredibly complex water works system that included a luxurious garden complete with water features such as pools and channels.

Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University’s Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, noted that the garden was impressive because the site had no permanent water source. Instead, rainwater collected in cisterns and pools was funneled to the plants via a system of channels, gutters and tunnels.

Scientists felt that local plants were probably what the biblical Judeans grew in the garden. But they were unable to determine for certain. Although they found ancient pollen in the soil of the garden, that pollen had oxidized.

Then the researchers noticed that the channels and pools were covered in plaster. They theorized that these water features would need to be periodically replastered, and that if the renovations occurred when the plants were in bloom, that the plaster might contain pollen.

This is an artist's rendering of what the complex at Ramat Rahel may have looked like. Based on impressions left in pottery shards found on the site, archaeologists believe that it may be either a palace or an administrative complex dating to the time of King Hezekiah of Judah. Photo courtesy the American Friends of Tel Aviv University.

When the researchers took samples of the plaster, they found pollen fossilized within the various layers. Most layers contained only local vegetation, but one layer that dated to the Persian occupation (5th-4th century B.C.E) contained pollen from introduced plants.

According to researchers, the garden contained willow and poplar – which required constant irrigation to grow, local fruit trees such as fig and olive as well as grape vines, imported trees including citron, Persian walnut, Lebanon cedar an birch as well as ornamental plants such as myrtles and water lilies.

The garden reconstruction is important because scientists believe that it pins down an exact time and place where imported plants, such as Citron were brought into the region. These plants later worked their way into Jewish tradition.

Researchers say that this is the first time that a garden has been reconstructed down to the botanical elements. They plan to recreate the garden so that future visitors can see what it looked like.

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The Best of the Week

Here are some of my favorite article from the Internet this week.

18 of Nature’s Most Powerful Medicinal Plants — Did you know that two of the founding fathers (Washington and Jefferson) grew hemp as a cash crop?  Or that the Declaration of Independence and the Gutenberg Bible are both written on it?

Bringing the Outdoors In: A Unique ‘Garden House’ in Tokyo – I have some friends who visited Tokyo last year. They described a huge city with very little room in it for personal space, much less a garden. This type of housing seems like a good solution.

Interior Gardens Increase Productivity — Houseplants make you work harder. Good news for employers, bad news for water-cooler TV shows.

Most Romantic Gardens in France — That’s saying a lot, considering how France is known for love and romance.





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Hay, Straw or Pine Straw?

There are important differences between straw and hay. Photo courtesy Larisa Larisa/

I’ve written a few articles recently for magazines about starting a straw bale garden. Since then, I’ve received questions about substitutions, such as hay or even pine straw.  Because of this, I wanted to go into the differences between hay, straw, pine straw, barely straw, etc.

Straw — When growers of wheat harvest cereal grains, they only take the kernels.  The stalks that they leave behind is called chaff.  The chaff is what they bale into straw.  Straw is usually what gardeners suggest for garden mulch over hay because it is “clean” meaning there are no seed heads left behind to take root and sprout in your garden.  One of the drawbacks to straw is that it might have selective herbicides or pesticides in it from the  growing process unless the wheat was organically grown.  There are several types of straw to choose from, including wheat, rice, oat or barley. Any straw bales will work, as long as it is straw.

Barley Straw — The biggest use for barley straw right now is in ornamental and commercial ponds to keep down algae bloom. You should be able to find barley straw in a place that sells pond supplies.  Some garden centers may also carry them. Barley straw is an acceptable substitute for wheat straw in hay bale gardens or as mulch.

Hay — While straw is made from the lower part of the plant, Hay is made from the upper part of  grass, clover or legumes (the part with seeds in it) that has been allowed to grow and then cut and bailed. Usually this is grown for animal fodder.  Growers don’t advocate hay for gardens because the grass seed heads (and weed seeds as well) are still attached to the stalk. If you are buying your gardening supplies from a farmer’s cooperative, one way to tell hay from straw is that hay will be labeled for use as animal fodder, while straw will be labeled for use as animal bedding.

Pine Straw — Although pine straw is labeled as “straw” it is not the same thing.  Comparing straw and hay is like comparing apples and oranges. But comparing straw and pine straw is like comparing apples and celery.

Pine straw are dead needles that fall from a pine tree. These needles are usually baled up and sold as mulch. But pine straw mulch is highly flammable, and very acidic. Vegetables will not grow well in pine straw, and it is slower to break down than straw or hay.






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The Best of the Week

Here are some of my favorite online gardening articles this week:

Japanese superlatives, Totekiko, the smallest Japanese Zen rock garden.  A photo of a very small zen garden.  No plants here, just serenity.

House Plants You Can’t Kill.  Most houseplants die from too much water, too little water, or too little light. The plants listed in this article are a little more hardy.

Roof Gardening, First Things First. The first of a series on starting a garden on the roof of an apartment building. The post talks about being mindful of how much weight your rooftop can support.

Hanging Gardens Make Sleek Use of Small Balconies.  Do you want to have patio  furniture on your balcony, or a garden?  You can have both with the right design.

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Cheap, Easy Seed Starter Pot Ideas

Commercial seed starter kits are a little more expensive than homemade versions -- photo courtesy Cynthia Albright/

It’s not quite spring yet, but already I’m getting ready to start cold-hearty seedlings for my early spring “winter” garden. In the past, I’ve gone out and bought those tiny little peat pots with the compressed pellets. But this year I’m trying to save a little money.

The internet is full of ideas for seedling pots. Here are a couple of really good ones that I’ve found.

Egg Cups – If you have a clear plastic egg carton, you can start your seedlings in the little egg dividers. The lids of these cartons make a quick and simple greenhouse. If you crack your eggs carefully and rinse the shells out, you can put half-shells into each compartment for tiny little seedling pots that are easy to remove when the seedlings reach transplant stage. If you use a cardboard egg carton, you have a nice biodegradable container.

Water Bottles – Bottled water is great for drinking, but not so good for the plastic waste that it leaves behind. You can save those bottles from going into a landfill by re-using them to make little pots, greenhouses and even cold frames. Cutting the end off of a water bottle will create a tiny seed pot. Cutting the bottle in half and taping it back to create a hinge will make a small greenhouse or bell jar.  You even collect them to make the walls of a larger greenhouse structure.

Newspaper Pots – Newspaper is non-toxic and biodegradable, so it makes a perfect starter flower pot. Take a newspaper and fold it into thirds lengthwise. Place it on its side and put a bottle or glass over it to create a tube. Then roll it around a bottle or glass. Remove the newspaper roll from the bottle and fold one end inward to create a bottom.

Toilet Paper tubes – The cardboard insides of a tube of toilet paper or a paper towel tube also make a great starter pot. You can fold the ends inward as you did with the newspaper pots, or place the tubes in an egg crate to create the bottoms.

Paper Cups – Paper drinking cups are cheaper than peat pellets and are more instant. Just make sure that your paper cups have no wax coating and that the ink on them is non toxic.

Photo courtesy Shari Weinsheimer/

Yogurt Cups, Pudding Cups and Plastic Cups — Again, these plastic cups are not biodegradable, but if you are going to throw them out/recycle them anyway, you may as well use them. Some pudding cups are made from clear plastic, you should be able to tape two of these types together to make a tiny greenhouse. Just remove the top cup when the seedling starts to brush the top of the cup. By that time, it should be ready to transplant.

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The Best of the Week

Gardening Map Of Warming U.S. Has Plant Zones Moving North — Article on NPR about how gardening zones are shifting northward. Some container gardeners may be able to overwinter plants that they haven’t been able to in years past.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding What to Grow — Another good post from Urban Organic Gardener. This one may save you some effort and disappointment from choosing the wrong plants.

How to Make Recycled Newspaper Pots for Seed Starting — Is it that time of year again? Yep. and this tells you how to save a little money by making your own seedling pots. I may never buy another peat pot again.

How to Create Vertical Gardens — Don’t have enough space to grow a garden? Why not put one on your wall?



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