Summer gardens are steeped in aromatherapy


I can’t even begin to describe the rich and heady aromas when working, or basking, in the garden. They inundate every physical sense that we have. The lavendar, basils, mints, and celery are near the top of the heavenly scented herbs you would want surrounding you. Buzzing bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and my bunny’s binky-ing around the raised beds all add layer upon layer of therapeutic benefits providing the balm I/we need to unwind from life’s rapacious hold.

Plucking the occasional raspberry and savoring the pop of its juicy, sun-warmed tartness gives me yet another layer of restorative energy while the textures and colorful imagery deepens this holistic occasion. I love it. I want to live here, and I mean IN the garden. I live in a house next to it so I guess I will be content with that right now but to live IN a garden, my home would have to be surrounded by it. Goals!

Todays harvest of herbs for drying

I have been on a mission to grow healthy, organic food for my family. Part of that includes growing my own herbs and spices and to make my own teas and beneficial drinks. Therefore, I am constantly adding more herbaceous plants to my beds. I browse farmers’ markets, roadside walkways, hiking paths, even campsites to find local varieties to add to my arsenal. Plants are our healthline; they are our medicine.

I take a pair of scissors out with me when I’m walking the garden as well as a basket to keep the harvest in. I snip off calendula and chamomile heads, also borage and nasturtium. I create bundles to hang of lavendar, basil, sage, thyme, oregano, cilantro, mints, fennel, dill, hyssop, rosemary, lemon balm, and others. Then I wrap the stem end with hemp twine and hang to dry in smallish bundles. If the bundle is too big, there won’t be enough airflow to dry it evenly.

When completely dry, and easily crumbles, break the leaves off the stems and crush or cut ino appropriate size or grind with a mortal and pestal before storing. I keep my fresh-dried herbs in mason jars with an air-lock lid. They keep great until next year and sometimes I go 2 years before replacing. My countertop was getting full so I invested in these great stainless steel tins that are magnetized. They even came with labels! I love them. My spice cabinet is all cleaned out which made more room for the jars of dried flowers.

Spices! I keep 6 of the more used spices on the microwave, right above the stove top.

I don’t grow/harvest all my spices yet, but many of these I do. I’ll just keep looking for more and adding them to the garden.


Gardening and landscaping for a cooler climate

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions is Energy from heating and cooling our homes and offices.

Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (World Resources Institute, 2017)

Therefore, it would behoove us to reduce our reliance on the addictive thermostats hanging on the walls of our homes.

The region I live in experiences four distinct seasons, with spring and autumn providing the most comfortable temperatures, arid winters being mild to harsh, ranging from the negative to 35F° (wind gusts can plummet those numbers), and summers that are usually very hot and arid with at least 6+ weeks of 90-115F° temperatures. Homes in this region have furnaces and air conditioners built in. We use our heat in the winter and AC in the summer and we are looking for ways to reduce their use.

What are some methods we can utilize to reduce our reliance on energy to heat and cool our homes?   

1. Grow trees and plants, like a food forest, to create a cooler micro climate around your home. The bonus is that a food forest also increases carbon sequestering as suggested by plant biologist and Professor, Bernhard Schmidt,

“With increased species richness, more carbon is stored both above and below ground – in trunks, roots, deadwood, mould and soil. You can roughly say that a diverse forest stores twice the amount of carbon as the average monoculture.”

Which means having diversity in your trees, not an orchard of a single species. Therefore, a food forest makes perfect sense. Trees not only provide cooling shade, they also aid with evapotranspiration which can help remove significant heat from around your home, especially if you have a lot of exposed concrete. You could see a reduction in temps by 2% to 9%F, and shading a home’s wall could see reductions of 9%-36%.

2. Keep the soil covered with natural mulches like leaves, straw, or wood shavings. Mulching covers the soil not allowing the sun to dry it out (or cook the life out of it.) It keeps the soil, plants, and all the microbial life cool and enables the soil to thrive. Think of it as a living organism. Natural ‘ Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon. But it isn’t just the manufacturing of plastics that is concerning, recent studies have shown that degrading plastics are continuing to emit these gases. I will not use it around my garden or food.

3. Plant trees on the west, east, and North sides of the house. Shading the house’s walls, exposed windows, and surrounding sidewalks will minimize heat absorption allowing the AC to run less.

4. Plant species that do well in your climate. It is not helpful to have plants that are diseased or stressed, which invites pests, taking up space in your micro climate. Do your research. Contact your local extension office and find plants that like direct sun, partial sun, and shade. Start with trees, then work on the understory. Use vines, bushes, and a variety of perennials and annuals. You should have them all if  you are layering a food forest.

To find out more about starting a food forest, check out these two you tube channels; Geoff Lawton: Permacuture Online and The Gardening Channel with James Prigioni. Both contain a great number of videos about this subject.

Arbor Day Foundation. How to Plant Trees to Conserve Energy For Summer Shade.

Daisy Dunne. Planting a Mix of Tree Species could Double Forest Carbon Storage. Plants and Forests. August 22, 2018.

Global Emissions. Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (World Resources Institute, 2017). Retrieved from

Shannon Waters. New Study shows Plastics Release Greenhouse Gases, Contributing to Climate Change. Surfrider Foundation. August 10, 2018.

Gardening for a better ecosystem and cooler climate


I’ve been on a mission to grow most of our food in our garden/backyard area. I am also on a mission to increase our soil quality and improve the ecosystem. The more I learn, the more I am aware of the state of our environment, and the more I am concerned about the American lifestyle that endangers it.  Climate change, global warming, deforestation, salinization, toxic runoff and emissions, pollution, extinctions, hazardous waste, and all the other words that provoke us to respond but instead leaves us feeling defeated at the enormity of the problem. I do not think I am much different than the average American, therefore if I feel this way, I’m sure others do as well. The good news is that there IS something we can do to help and we can start now with the smallest habit change.

  1. Make conscious choices. Be more mindful and less impulsive with our purchases, this includes food. Stuff that we accumulate is the largest contributor to global warming (see footprint).
  2. Make a shopping list before going to the store. Keep a list of items or food that you could potentially produce at home for yourself or get second hand. Earmark the ones that are transported the farthest and look to buy local.
  3. Use biodegradable. Consider what the product is made of and how it was produced. Is manufacturing of the item a major pollutant?
“How Bad are Bananas?” The Carbon Footprint of Everything

Keep in mind, we are not going to be able to cut out everything that increases carbon because just living generates carbon, but we can reduce our footprint by focusing on those things or activities that are the worst offenders, or even the ones that are the easiest for us to replace.

  • Make a little time for researching. Don’t rely on hearsay, even this article. When reading advice and tips, check to see who is sponsoring the advice (bias) and if there is factual support (citations or references). For example, if  you want to quit using plastic in the kitchen, look for other products that are cleaner for the environment when manufactured. Therefore, research which industries are the worst air quality offenders.
  • Plant trees. Grow a food forest with fruit and nut trees then layer the undergrowth with fruit bushes, vines and edible plants. Trees take carbon from the atmosphere so plant as many as you can. Trees also provide shade which can lower air conditioning consumption.
  • Keep the ground covered. Mulch with woodchips or straw, something natural that will breakdown and help your soil.
  • Avoid chemicals that harm your ecosystem. Why use sprays when you can pull out, dig up, or cut and cover (smother). It may be more time consuming initially, but your worms and bees will thank you. You may also consider what products you use that get flushed down the drain because they too can be harmful to life. But don’t get overwhelmed with too much. Do what you can until it becomes a new habit, then tackle other areas.
  • Be aware of your carbon footprint. A typical modern consumer that I found in this book, “How Bad are Bananas?” by Mike Berners-Lee. The book is a great read, by the way, and it does not use guilt as a motivator, instead he lets the reader make their own conclusions and decisions.

Ecology Center. Pollution and hazards from Manufacturing. PTF: Environmental Impacts.

Joshua Mayer. Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find. E360 Digest. February 20, 2019.

DIY Plant Labels


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” -Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been looking for some plant labels that add an extra pop to my vegetable and herb raised beds. I do not like to spend money and would much rather reuse, recycle, or DIY my own. Of course I checked out Pinterest and saw some chalk painted painter-stir sticks that I fell in love with. As I thought about their size and shape a bit more, I decided I liked a square shaped rod if I could find something….but I would use the paint sticks if they were cheaper. I had already decided NOT to use a chalk paint since I did not have it on hand, and I saw no need to break the piggy bank just for plant labels, no matter how cool they looked. I already had some matte black acrylic paint that would do but I ended up doing something different. Now, I just needed a white pen that would not wash off in the weather.

20190429_171156On my next run to Walmart, I found a white paint pen that looked promising for $2.24.

Also, I found some nice 5 ft tomato stakes at $3.26 for a 4-pack. I figured I could cut each one into foot long sections, making 20 markers, and I did just that.

But then I thought about doing the Shou Sugi Ban burn method instead of painting them black, which would seal the wood while keeping paint out of the garden. A nice trade. I used my weed torch to burn the wood and was surprised how easy it was. Watch out…. I have some more plans for the Shou Sugi Ban.

20190429_135715Next, I wrote my plant names using the white paint pen. I practiced first, to find the lettering I wanted. I went with block lettering.

What do you think? I really like how they turned out.


The Simplest Raised Garden Bed you can Build Yourself

I am not handy with tools, so remember, if I can do this, you can too. All you need is a drill, some drill bits, and 3” outdoor screws.

Go to your closest lumber store and purchase 2 boards and ask them to cut them for you. I got mine at Lowe’s and they did not charge extra for cutting them. I bought the cheapest wood I could find and because this is for vegetable gardening, I did not want treated lumber. 2×12 by 12 foot long. If you have them cut 4 feet off each board, you will now have 2 – 8 ft boards and 2 – 4 ft boards which is perfect for an 8×4’ garden bed! If you go online, you could probably find the price for lumber in your area, I think it cost me about $35 for 1 bed. I was so worried that the boards would eventually bow and warp that I also purchased 8 – 24” rebars (about $2 each)that I pounded into the dirt about 1 foot below ground level on the outside of the garden raised beds_LIboxes (which left 1 foot showing). They were placed at each corner and two in the middle of each long side, so 8 total rebars for one bed. The reason I left 1 ft showing was for the cold months when I would want to cover the raised bed. As you can see I just eyeballed the spacing and depth. Also, I’ve had these first 2 beds for going on three years now and they haven’t warped at all.

20190217_081126A PVC pipe fits perfect over the 1 ft rebar and I just bend it over to the other side. Super easy to set up and tear down. I used another PVC for the ridge pole and wound some twine around the intersections to hold it in place. Then I got some heavy-ish plastic sheeting to cover it. I gathered and stapled the ends to a 4 ft 2×2 to add some weight so the winds wouldn’t blow it off. And it held up great to 20190421_085833some fairly rough winds and a few inches of snow even! It may not be the prettiest but it got the job done without extensive carpentry skills.

This year, I decided to add two more 8×4’ raised beds, then went on to add a third 8’x4’ and a 4’x4’. The most expensive part is filling it. The least expensive way to fill it is to take a pickup and a tarp and go to the local nursery that sells garden soil by the yard. They will dump ½ yard of it in my pickup bed (on the tarp which I then wrap over the top to keep it from blowing away before I get back home). This is a bit more labor intensive for me instead of buying bags at the big box stores but it is cheaper in the long run. I don’t fill the beds to the brim because every year, I add compost and mulches that get worked in.

Materials I used for a basic raised bed:

  • 3” outdoor screws, 4 on each corner, 16 total
  • Small drill bit to pre-drill each hole
  • Ryobi Battery-powered drill

Happy gardening!

“Agriculture… is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”  -Thomas Jefferson

The Benefits of Crop Rotation


There has been much discussion about crop rotation. Most  gardeners know about its usefulness as well as the negative impacts traditional monocultural systems have had; perpetuating disease and pests thereby decreasing yields.

Crop rotating is when numerous plant species are used in cooperation with each other. For example, growing a field of corn one year then following it the next year by beans. This adds biodiversity for the entire system and helps to accumulate beneficial biomass in the soil. It also discourages pests and diseases by introducing new plants that those pests have no use for thereby disrupting their ability to survive. Also, soils need the variety in root material and nutrients each plant provides as it grows and decays. Beneficial insects, pollinators, and worms also need 20180904_185323the same diversity for their health and longevity. This spider ate many harmful squash bugs last year so I kept her around to do her thing. I hope to see her babies this year. I also had a couple of Preying Mantis’s last year and I have seen several of their eggs while prepping this season’s beds. Invite the healthy insects to keep the damaging insects under control. Crop rotation is a great way to bring variation into the ecosystem.

I have to put a plug in here about companion planting. It goes hand-in-hand with crop rotating in that it uses the beneficial traits of plants to increase yields. A good example of companion planting is when corn and cucumbers are grown together. Corn is tall whereas cucumbers are low and vining which means corn utilizes a lot of overhead space while cucumbers vine on the ground or grow up the corn stalks. Another example would be growing root crops like carrots with bushy or vining plants such as peas or beans since they have different spacial needs; one needs more room above ground and the other 20190408_094355below ground. Companion planting also suggests plants that are attracted to each other and some that repel each other as well as plants that offer insect protection. There has been a number of books written about companion planting. One that I have used for many years is “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” written by Louise Riotte. There are a number of companion planting charts you can refer to online if you google it.

Rotating your garden beds takes just a little bit of planning and is not hard to do. If you have four or five beds, or even three, just assign them a number and rotate them each year. You can make it more complicated, like I do, by researching the needs of each plant and pairing beneficials together. But I have all winter to sit around waiting for spring so I don’t mind researching the varieties and their needs.

  1. Start with a list of plants you would like to grow.
  2. Then determine how many of each plant you need.
  3. Referring to the seed packet, follow their recommended spacing between plants to help define how much space you will need to allow for that particular variety.
  4. Now, look to the companion planting chart to see what can be grown together.
  5. Next, draw a map of your garden beds. I like to use graph paper where each square can equal 1 square foot, but it is easy enough to use plain paper.
  6. Most likely, your beds do not move from year to year so label each one: 1, 2, 3, and so on or any naming system that suits your fancy.
  7. You’ll need to keep your garden map for future reference, so date it. Start a garden journal to help you track your rotations. Journals are also a great way to track the varieties that you chose, which were successful, and which plants were dismal. This is my Microsoft Word Garden Journal for this season.20190408_094419

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I love learning new things and many of you have unique ideas that can benefit others so please share.

Barbara Pleasant, Maintain Healthy Soil with Crop Rotation, February/March 2010, accessed March 20, 2019,


20190322_164153 It was 60 degrees on Tuesday and almost 65 today! Time to move these babies outside.

This tray is full of lettuces, Kale, Bok Choi, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Mustard, Spinach, and onions. I have a couple of  herbs in there too but they can’t go outside yet.

I let them harden off during the day for the past week while I built the raised beds they would be going in. Now that the night time temps are above freezing they stay out all night. And I have more lettuce still growing under the grow lights inside. They are too small yet. I have four kinds of lettuce this year: Parris Cos Island, Tom Thumb, Summertime, and Butterhead. I believe they are all cut and come again varieties.

I built 2 more raised bed frames last weekend and got them leveled. 20190318_163210Then I went to a local  nursery and got a pickup load of soil blend to fill them with. First, I layered some homemade compost on the floor of the beds and then shoveled the soil blend overtop. As you can see from the picture below, there is room for more but I will plant the closest one with my seedlings so I won’t add anymore to that one until next year.




In the picture on the left in the forefront, is the pea trellis. I planted peas there yesterday after soaking them overnight. Tomorrow I will put in the same bed, French Breakfast radish seeds and Rainbow carrot seeds. I might throw in some garlic chives or onion too. The back two older beds container my worm towers which I took out and rinsed for the new season. Last spring I ordered some worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm ( to help aerate the soil and add needed nutrients. I need to make two more for my new beds, and 1 for the cinderblock bed. I add kitchen scraps and moistened paper to the towers that have holes drilled in their sides for the worms to come and go.

How fun and satisfying to be outside playing in the dirt again. What projects are you working on in your garden this season?