Friday, May 31, 2013

Playgroup Granola Bars

I didn't make up the catchy name, but these have caught on around here! I have been experimenting a lot with different granola bars because the kids love them so much, and I have a hard time spending big bucks on granola bars from the store that are filled with a ton of (mostly unwanted) ingredients.

The nice thing about these is that they hold together very well. Once cut and cooled, we can grab a bar on the way out the door without the threat of being showered with granola crumbs by the time we reach our destination. :)

These don't fall apart in our hands!

Playgroup Granola Bars (source:

2 c. rolled oats
3/4 c. brown sugar (I have cut this down to a scant 1/2 c. with no problem)
1/2 c. wheat germ
3/4 t. ground cinnamon
1 c. flour (I used whole wheat)
3/4 c. raisins (I like to use 1/4 c. raisins and 1/4 c. chocolate chips instead)
3/4 t. salt
1/2 c. honey (I've used agave too, still great)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. vegetable oil (I fill a 1/2 c. measure almost full with unsweetened applesauce, then fill to top with oil)
2 t. vanilla
*my additions
1 T. chia seeds
1 T. millet (this is awesome! Adds a subtle crunch to each bite)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Generously grease a 9x13 inch baking pan (note: I have a 9x13 baking sheet that I highly recommend getting if you make granola bars a lot).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, raisins and salt (chia and millet if you are using). Make a well in the center, and pour in the honey, egg, oil and vanilla. Mix well; the batter will be sticky and thick, just keep turning and stirring until all the flour is incorporated. Lightly oil (I use non-stick spray) your hands and pat the mixture evenly and firmly into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bars begin to turn golden at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bars while still warm. Do not allow the bars to cool completely before cutting, or they will be too hard to cut.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Panic, and the Plum Tree that Will Save Me

Red Plums on tree.jpg

I've already been in a mood the past few weeks. I had gallbladder surgery a month ago (and was extremely sick prior to it), and the healing process was longer than I had expected. Then the Boston bombing happened and effected me in a very bad way. I guess you could say I've been feeling 'depressed', and weak...unmotivated.

This was the state of mind I harbored when I headed out on Tuesday morning and saw a lawn service mowing the empty lot. The mower was circling around the white house that has been for sale forever (NOT Edna's house) and then on into the empty lot, which sits between Edna (owner) and the empty house.

Edna has always had a grandson do the empty lot with a pushmower. NEVER a lawn service. And the way the lawnmower was circling around, it appeared that everything was being done together.

So I naturally thought, as I stared across the street: "Oh, my god. The white house has sold, and Edna has sold the empty lot to whoever bought that house. I'm too late. Oh dear god, I'm too late and my dreams are going down the drain."

Yeah, I'm dramatic. I even cried. I had to leave to get kids to school on time, but I obsessed, tearing up. If only I'd had the guts to tell Edna how much I wanted to buy that lot!

I returned home after school dropoffs to find that only half the lot had been mowed, and the lawn service was gone. What is this? Am I saved? Looked like the service realized they had gone too far over on the property and stopped.

This episode of panic has showed me I am going to have to grow some balls if I want that empty lot. 

The plum tree will be my icebreaker, I've decided. Each year it explodes with fruit that goes bad. Gorgeous, gorgeous fruit, mind you...the best plums I've ever had. Last year Simon kept picking them, but at a certain point I felt we should ask permission. So I sent him to her door several times, where he knocked, and knocked. And was ignored. UGH! This year I will take matters into my own hands and knock on her door myself. "I just love your plum tree, we admire it every year. Do you mind if we harvest it? I plan to make plum jelly, dried plums, plum crisp. I will share whatever I make with you. Can we help ourselves?"  "Oh, and while I have you standing here, can I plant a garden on your beautiful empty lot? Pretty please with plums...on top???"

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Potato Update and Garden Gifts

One of the potato plants died a couple days ago, while the other is flourishing. I've barely watered the pot, because I read potatoes do not like to be very wet. I've covered up the green growth with soil a couple of times, and it's nearing the top of the pot. It's looking cute!

I've been receiving some great gifts from friends!

My friend Yvonne let me know she has some seed potatoes that she doesn't need, and has offered them to me. I have a very hard time turning down free plants and seeds. Looks like I may be trying to locate some old tires to make a tomato tower!

My neighbor Linda (who dubbed me the tomato lady) gave me two of her tomatoes she'd grown from seed. I am not sure of the variety. She actually saved the seeds from her tomatoes last year, a feat I haven't tried yet. She said they are yellow and long, maybe a yellow Roma.

Casey gave me 3 cucumber plants, and a cut of rhubarb that I am going to try to establish in a large pot.

Uncle Loren had me come over to harvest some of his rhubarb (which he has a TON of!), and then he also handed me an armful of plants for the garden. LOVE IT! He gave me : 1 beefsteak tomato, 3 early girl tomatoes, 1 eggplant, 1 sweet potato, 1 yellow pepper. I am so excited! He also had something to say about the potatoes. He too, has tried growing potatoes from the sprouts of old potatoes. He said you just never know what you will get. Sure, the sprouts will make beautiful plants, but you won't know if you got any potatoes for sure. It sounds like a gamble to me, but it's a fun experiment, and we will see!

With all the freebies I've been getting, the garden is looking fuller. I am looking forward to seeing everything grow and flourish.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fast Friday Tip: Mulch Madness

Our heirloom tomatoes, freshly mulched with straw. I just snapped this photo a few minutes ago. :)

Mulch is your best friend. Get ahold of some and make your garden happy! It can be made of wood chips, newspaper, shredded leaves, straw. Mulches help keep soil temperatures even, help soil hold onto its moisture, and help keep down weeds. Another added benefit? Earthworms and microorganisms stay nearby...they prefer mulched soil to bare soil! I didn't start using mulch until last year, and I noticed a huge difference in the health of the tomato plants, and how often they needed water. We all know we need to conserve water!

Our friends at Taking Back the Farm used 4 inches of wood mulch, and barely had to water their plants last summer, even during drought. Such a simple thing to do, with so many benefits.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fast Friday Tip: Tomatoes in a Cat's Cradle

Here is a strong, sturdy alternative to using cages for your tomato plants.

Plant tomatoes in a row, about two feet apart, if you will be using this method. Push stakes or rebar at least 12 inches into the ground at each end of your row and between every other tomato plant. Use strong twine to weave in and out among the plants to keep them up off the ground. Every week or so, as the plants grow, add another layer of twine.

Click HERE for a more detailed article at Organic Gardening!

Monday, May 13, 2013

More Tomato Drama

I put the tomatoes out last saturday (May 4), simply because I knew there was no other option!

They had fallen over several times, pulling their twine-tape contraptions right off the window with them. They were out of control, and even though it felt just a tad too early, I took them out, one by one, and got them into the ground.

After spreading fresh compost over the beds, I used this technique to plant the tomatoes sideways.

I won't lie, it felt all sorts of wrong and I was very worried. It looked like some kind of natural disaster battlefield.

Not pretty at all. I let the plants rest for a day or two, and then put in the cages.

Added this updated pic from June 13 to show that after mulching and training the plants on their cages, all is well. :)

Checking the weather forecast for the week, I was alarmed to realize freezing temperatures were on the way. I've never covered plants up before, and didnt' feel like I knew exactly what I was doing, but I headed out to the garden armed with bed sheets and lots and lots of clothespins. I draped the sheets over the cages and started pinning the heck out of them.

I left the sheets on for the whole weekend, and each time I stepped out, I felt the chill on my own skin and felt worried and concerned. The highs were in the 50s, and each night over the weekend, temps got down to the low 30s.

Hoping that covering up the babies saved them from the freeze!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to Make a Raised Bed Garden

I am a big fan of raised garden beds. They give you a real advantage when it comes to soil conditions, since you get to control the quality of their contents (think lots and lots of good compost). Our south garden consists of raised beds on top of nothing but rocks, and our plants thrive there! Raised beds can be constructed out of almost anything you can come up with, or even made with nothing at all (you can simply make large mounds of compost/soil over your existing space). Do a Google Image search for 'raised garden beds', and you will be amazed at the variety of beds that people come up with.

This is a good, basic article on some different ways to make raised garden beds.

How to Make a Raised Bed Garden
By , Guide

What is a Raised Bed Garden?

A raised bed garden is a garden built on top of your native soil, sometimes incorporating native soil, sometimes not. These gardens can be contained, such as when you build a wood or stone structure to keep the bed intact, or they can be more free form, with soil and amendments merely piled several inches high. You can plant anything from herbs and vegetables to perennials and shrubs in a raised bed.

Advantages of a Raised Bed Garden

Aside from avoiding the issue of gardening in poor soil, raised beds offer several advantages:
  • They warm more quickly in spring, allowing you to work the soil and plant earlier.
  • they drain better.
  • The soil in raised beds doesn't get compacted, because they are constructed with accessibility in mind.
  • It's easy to tailor the soil for your raised bed to the plants you plan to grow there.
  • After the initial construction process, less maintenance is required than there is for conventional garden beds.

How to Make a Raised Bed Garden

Contained raised beds are the most popular type, and they're great for vegetable and herb gardens, as well as flower gardens. Fruits, such as strawberries, grapes, blueberries, andraspberries, also do very well in a this type of bed.
You can choose from a variety of materials to construct your frame. Wood is a very popular choice, because it is easy to work with and it is inexpensive. Concrete blocks, natural stone, or brick are also nice options, but there is definitely an added expense and labor to consider in using them. Some gardeners go the ultra-simple route, and simply place bales of hay or straw in whatever configuration they desire, then fill it with good soil and compost and plant it up. This solution will only give you a year or so of use, because the straw will decompose, but it's worth trying if you don't mind replacing the bales yearly, or if you're still developing a more permanent solution.
Since most contained raised beds are constructed from wood, here are instructions for building your own wood raised bed garden.
Step One: Select your site. If you know that you'll be growing vegetables or herbs, or sun-loving flowers in your new garden, select a site that gets at least eight hours of sun per day. A flat, level area is important, and you should also make sure that the area has easy access to water sources as well as room for you to work.
Step Two: Determine the size and shape of your garden. Make sure that you can access all parts of the garden without stepping into the bed. One of the main advantages of a raised bed is that the soil doesn't get compacted the way it might in a conventional bed because they are planned for accessibility. It is a good idea to keep the garden to around four feet wide, because this way you can access the middle of the bed from either side. If you're placing your bed against a wall or fence, it should be no more than three feet wide. Any length you like will work, as long as you keep the width in control. In terms of depth, six inches is a good start, and many vegetables grow well in a bed that is six inches deep. As with many things, though, if you can do more, more is better! Ten to twelve inches would be ideal. If you have decent subsoil (not too clayey or rocky) you can simply loosen the soil with a garden fork and build a six to eight inch deep bed. If your soil is bad, or you are planning to grow crops like carrots or parsnips that need a deeper soil, your bed should be at least ten inches deep.

Step Three: Prep Your Site. Once you know the size and shape of your bed, you can get to work prepping the site. How much prep you will have to do is determined by the depth of the bed you're planning, as well as the plants you're planning to grow there. If you are planning a vegetable or herb garden, a six-inch deep bed is perfect. To save yourself some labor, you can use newspaper, landscape fabric, or cardboard to cover and smother it, then put your soil and amendments right on top. However, to ensure that your plant's roots have plenty of room to grow, it is a good idea to dig out the existing sod and loosen the soil with a shovel or garden fork to a depth of eight to twelve inches. 
Step Four: Construct the Bed. Using rot-resistant lumber such as cedar or one of the newer composite lumbers, construct your bed. Two by six lumber is perfect, as it is easy to work with and will give you six inches of depth. Cut your pieces to the desired size, then attach them together to make a simple frame. You can attach them in a variety of ways. You can make a simple butt joint at each corner, pre-drilling and then screwing the corners together with galvanized screws. You can use a small piece of wood in the corner,and attach each side to it.
Step Five: Level Your Frames. Using a level, make sure your frame is level in all directions. This is a necessary step because if your bed is not level, you will have a situation where water runs off of one part of the garden and sits in another. If part of your frame is high, just remove some of the soil beneath it until you have a level frame.
Step Six: Fill Your Garden. The whole point of a raised bed garden is that it gives you the opportunity to garden in perfect soil. Take this opportunity to fill your bed with a good mixture of quality topsoil, compost, and rotted manure. Once they're filled and raked level, you're ready to plant or sow seeds.

Maintaining a Raised Bed Garden

Happily, raised beds require very little maintenance. Each spring or fall, it's a good idea to top dress with fresh compost and manure, or, if your bed only holds plants for part of the year, go ahead and dig the compost or manure into the top several inches of soil. As with any garden, mulching the top of the soil will help retain moisture and keep weeds down. Moisture retention is important, because raised beds tend to drain faster than conventional beds.
Original Article found HERE

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fast Friday Tip: Sharpen Your Shovel

A sharpened shovel will make your life much easier in the garden.

All you need is a flat file. Keep it simple.

Lay your shovel flat on the ground and step on the neck to keep it steady. Use your file to gently push away from you at the tip of the blade at a 45 degree angle. Follow along the top until you have nice, shiny, sharpened metal edge. Turn the blade over to remove any burrs.

So easy a kid can do it-with supervision, of course! :)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dream Garden

I love this picture! I found it on Facebook, posted in my favorite group, Occupy Your Garden.

This is the type of oasis I imagine when I gaze across the street at the empty lot. Ahhh, maybe someday!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Herb Spirals

I remember seeing the herb garden at FutureFarming's headquarters last summer, and I noticed it was circular, surrounded by rocks, and with an apparent plan. It may have been planted with the 'herb spiral' in mind.
Herb Garden At Future Farming

What is an Herb Spiral?
Locate your herb spiral close to the kitchen for easy harvesting. | The Micro Gardener
Here are some nice examples, followed by a blueprint that shows where to place what herbs. It's not too late to get this going for the summer!
Herb spiral with compass points. | The Micro Gardener
Giant herb spiral with 50m pathway. | The Micro Gardener
Herb spiral on a small allotment. | The Micro Gardener
Herb spiral within a raised bed. | The Micro Gardener

File:Herb spiral.svg

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: Urban Farms

Urban FarmsUrban Farms by Sarah Rich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fun picture book for the wanna-be urban farmer. I love looking through the colorful, whimsical photos when my inspiration is running low.

I was really excited to see up-close-and-personal pictures of Novella Carpenter's inner-city farm, because I find her personal story fascinating--I've read her books and it's nice to put a visual to the work she chronicled so well in words. 16 farms are featured in this book in full, vivid color. The photos have creative flair, with fun closeups and interesting vantage points.

It's encouraging that many of these urban farms do not have the look of perfection. There are raised beds falling apart but still functioning, straw and compost strewn about, stacks of pots waiting to be used, hoop houses that appear functional but definitely homemade, and a delicious sense of hodge-podge on nearly every page. Now and then a random flower pokes through, basking in the sunlight, or a pig rests by his homemade pen, looking pleased. Why does this appeal to me? Well, it's enormously encouraging to see real urban farming and all it's imperfect quirks because I feel like so many of my own personal projects just, well...look terrible. I can get lost in this book for a few minutes and gain new appreciation for my 'happily cluttered' garden adventures.

These bright and colorful photos remind me that the beauty lies not in immaculate rows of vegetation, but in the efficient function, the practicality of the urban farm layout. The spaces showcased in these photos have very little wasted space, and are great examples of polycultures, loaded with biodiversity. Also, it's obvious that many of these urban farms have perfected the talent of repurposing objects for ingenious new uses.

Reading the stories of the farmers who tend these amazing enclosed food-havens is calming and inspiring. Because I dream of creating my own productive urban oasis, I feel a connection to these visionaries.

This would be a nice book to keep on the shelf to gain inspiration whenever you need it. Open to any page and feel an instant sense of peace and purpose!