Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Live Mulch Experiment

 I think an alternative title for this post could be "Basically, I Overplanted," or at least that's what it looks like.  We use a no-till method in our garden, which means we top-dress nutrients rather than turning the soil every year.  This allows me to constantly overlap sowing and reaping of different varieties in the same bed.  In seasons past I have worked hard to keep the beds thickly mulched (with shredded dead leaves, shredded hardwood mulch, or compost) to protect against moisture loss in our hot Texas summers.  But this year I am trying something different.
 With raised beds it makes no sense to plant rows (we don't need rows between which to walk), so I've used a variety of square foot gardening technique to arrange my plantings.  But this means only 6 tomato plants or 3-4 squash plants would use up ALL of one of my 4x8' beds, and I only have two and one in-ground bed. Plus, when you plant 12 kale plants in a perfect grid and 1/4 of them never make it to adulthood, you're left with a few empty square feet.  And this type of growing has always resulted in a fair amount of bare soil, thus the attention to mulch.
 One morning, as I walked in the garden, I realized the leaves of the mature existing plants were keeping the air and soil cool and moist beneath, and that flower seeds my kids had thrown out there were germinating under their cover.  It hit me that all this time I've been trying to grow a garden in a very logical, albeit unnatural arrangement.  In nature, plants are not perfectly spaced in a grid-like pattern.  And when one plant is mature, many new plants are up and coming beneath its canopy.  Why couldn't I use living plants like I use mulch - and get food out of it?  The mulch covers the soil and keeps it cool and moist.  The shadows of leaves do the same, and once those mature plants die, they can slowly be broken back down into the ground naturally.
 So this year I'm trying it out.  I'm crowding things in; I plant a kale seed every square foot, then when it's 3" high I plant mesculun lettuces around them.  Then when those are about 3", I plant something else - maybe scallions, maybe bush beans.  Hopefully soon every inch of soil will be hidden by plants.  I'm planting seeds about every 2-3 weeks, but they're so inexpensive.  And just look at all that life in the garden!  It's May, and my garden is full!  Also bear in mind that we have already harvested 11 shopping bags full of greens and lettuces since New Year's, not including the small harvests I've made when making dinner.  This from about 120 square feet.

Lettuces give shade and protection to newly transplanted tomatoes.  Chive and scallion greens shelter zinnia sprouts, and basil is germinating in the shade of kale.
 Thyme and chard shadow bush bean seedlings, pepper transplants are rising up between red onions, and the bolted (flowering) kale is attracting pollinators for summer crops.  Second-year asparagus spears sway in the breeze with onion greens, and marigolds are posturing to take over the edges.
 The entire garden is alive, which is huge change from the sparse Spring garden I had in seasons past (when I was careful to abide by square foot gardening spacing guidelines).  Now, I am not saying those guidelines are not true or that the methods aren't good.  But why not have the next crop on its way and benefiting from the first?  I've also noticed in this new experiment the seedlings are being protected from both heavy rain and pests.  It will be interesting to see how this method will fare for the summer crops.  I wonder how long I'll be able to keep my greens in the Texas heat?
 Here kale sprouts lift their tiny heads in the shade of blue borage leaves.
 Here kale buds and blossoms attract native bees and add color and beauty to the veggie bed.
Here kale seed pods dance in the breeze.  I think I'll let some of them fall naturally -- an early start on the Fall crop.  Clearly, we love kale.

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Favorite Skin Care and a Mother's Day Giveaway

As I have moved toward more organic methods of gardening, my awareness of what non-organic practices affect (like the food on our table, skin care, and the environment) has steadily increased.  And as knowledge increases, so does sorrow. Realizing what "mineral oil" really means (found that out on an episode of Dirty Jobs) was the wake-up call that began my journey away from mainstream skin care practices.  And when you realize that your skin is your body's largest organ, and brings an alarming amount of what you put on it INTO your body, your label-checking broadens from just your food to include your skin care as well.  Which has led me to a lot less skin care purchases at the store.

After paring down products that contained things I didn't want on my skin, I had little left.  I used nothing to cleanse my face but a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and castor oil (and scrubbed with a hot washcloth), and nothing to moisturize but coconut oil.  Oil dissolves oil, so without soap my skin brightened, cleared, and felt softer after cleansing.  I thought I had found the most natural, complete skin care I needed.  
My incredible photography shoot in the nursery. Ha.
Then I attended a Savvy Boheme party, and BOY was it an educational experience!  Keri passed around the products she has formulated from raw and natural sources, and also blew our minds with the science behind why her products work.  Like how the sugar in her scrub creates alpha hydroxy acid when used on your skin -- but it contains real, live ingredients that work on your skin in a way that pharmaceutically formulated products simply can't.  Amazing.  And each item I tried intoxicated my senses with the aromas of coffee, rose, lavender, citrus, cocoa or rosemary. But I thought I had all I needed with my oil cleanser and my coconut oil.  So I bought a deodorant (that works - without aluminum!) from her and took home a tester of Anouk raw whipped shea butter, and thought I was done.
Whipped Shea Butter - light, creamy, heavenly
It wasn't until I used that whipped shea butter that I realized what I had been missing.  Though it was effective against blemishes because of its antibacterial, antifungal properties, the coconut oil didn't keep my skin soft all day.  It left it dry half-way to lunch.  Turns out it's an astringent, and couldn't touch the whipped shea's effectiveness as a moisturizer. Plus, the Anouk whipped shea butter's aroma of lavender and vanilla was just the pampering this mother of three little kids needed to get going in the morning.  Or mid-afternoon.

Raw Sugar Scrub - when you cleanse with oil rather than soap, your skin no longer needs to compensate for lost sebum, and ends up being less oily overall. Counter-intuitive but true.
 And it's all thanks to Savvy Boheme! Now I get to spread the love in honor of Mother's Day: Keri is giving away Savvy Boheme's complete cleansing and moisturizing set, the Facial Trivium, to one lucky reader.  This set includes the super-moisturizing Raven's Balm, the amazing African Black Soap, and the Raw Sugar Coffee Scrub in Tall Americano (a combined value of $57).  Which smells incredible, by the way.  Like coffee at a cafe outside Paris with citrus trees swaying in the morning breeze, I'd imagine.  Win this for your sweet mama, your hard-working wife, your daughter, your neighbor, or yourself.  Every mama could use this kind of pure pampering.  The contest ends Mother's Day at midnight, and the winner will be announced the next day.  Enter below!  
Win this!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please note that Savvy Boheme has not offered me any compensation for my review or for holding this giveaway - both were my ideas.  This blog is a wonderful way to me to give back to small businesses by promoting them in my little circle, and this is a business I truly believe in.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day

 Here are a few photos from the garden in honor of Earth Day

... and in honor of me finally getting a few lessons on how to use my real camera

... and in honor of photos from a real camera as opposed to the iPhone. Enjoy.
 The Zephirine Drouhins are blooming.  I wish I could share the fragrance with you somehow.
 The Autumn fern
 Heuchera buds
 New growth on the camellia
 Mustard greens
 Onion blossoms.  Sometimes the vegetable garden is an unexpected source of blossomed beauty.
Arugula blooms

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Beat the Peat -- Why I've Changed My Mind About Sprouting in Natural Fiber Containers

Remember how I was so proud of sprouting my veggies and flowers this year in cardboard egg cartons, peat pots, and modified toilet paper rolls?  I felt so organic and sustainable and natural.  Well, a recent observation has made me swear I'll never repeat that mistake.

What could be wrong with growing in natural fibers? They break down over time, adding organic matter to feed the seedling's roots, and seem so much "greener" than conventional plastic pots.  But we're 6 weeks in, and my tomatoes and peppers are still tiny - we're talking less than 2" tall - all of them, that is, except for one.  My daughter started a tomato from seed (from the same packet I used) over a week after I started my seeds, and now hers is about 6" tall and full of beautiful, healthy leaves.  I was struck by the difference between her plant and mine, and realized the only difference was the container material; she chose to reuse a black plastic 4" pot from a nursery plant.

Why would the plants in the natural fiber containers be so stunted, so much smaller than the plant in the plastic container?  Because cardboard and peat wick moisture away from the soil, and the roots of these plants then dry out far faster than if they were in plastic pots.  I watered them once a day, but apparently I would need to water them more often to counteract the wicking action of the peat (and that's more time than this mama can devote to organisms with cell walls!). This includes the seedlings I kept in my little greenhouse outside, which does a pretty good job of containing moisture and creating a humid environment.  Even there, my plants needed watering about 8 times more often, if not more, than her plant.

So while natural fibers are...well, more natural, I think from here out I will be sticking to plastic for seed starting containers.  In this situation, plastic produced more growth in seedlings, required less watering, and could be used over and over, as the plastic planters are still usable after the seedling is transplanted.  My cardboard products will instead go straight to the compost.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

“I haven't failed, I've found 10,000 ways that don't work” - Thomas Edison

Monday, April 7, 2014

April Blooms in the Garden

Here's a little tour of my garden and what is blooming there today.  The azalea blooms were beaten pretty badly by hail this weekend, but these have survived beautifully.
creeping phlox
garlic chives
common thyme

Monday, March 31, 2014

Guest House Bathroom Big Reveal

 White tile, dark gray grout, and bright white trim.  It all adds up to a 2000% improvement.  Or more.
 We decided to use the same paint we used on our shed on the walls above the wainscoting.  It's crazy how dark green it looks in here.
 Laminate self-adhesive floor tiles with a lifetime warranty? Uh, yes. Please. With grout.  Looking forward to doing the rest of the floors in this.
This is a piece of old fence wood from our yard.  Our new tenants picked out some beautiful knobs and we made it into a towel rack.  Hopefully they really enjoy this place!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Guest House Bathroom Reno: More Progress

 I spy...A new window, board and batten wainscoting, and tile prep board.
 I spy...shower area trim and window framing.
 I spy...a pretty sweet window trim, crown molding, and a switch plate (it's the little things, people).
I spy...paint!

Now let's have a little chat.  How many readers are screaming, "NO! Don't paint it!! Let the wood be naked and free!"?  I can appreciate you hipster naturalists. We actually bought gray opaque stain to allow the wood grain to show through, but alas the squiggles of adhesive around the shower area would have been painfully accentuated.  So we are painting it, then sanding down in places to reveal the wood's beauty.  And if that looks crappy, we'll paint over it again.

Just keepin' it real.

Remember to come back Monday for what will hopefully be the big reveal!