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. https://www.arborday.org/trees/climatechange/summershade.cfm

Daisy Dunne. Planting a Mix of Tree Species could Double Forest Carbon Storage. Plants and Forests. August 22, 2018. https://www.carbonbrief.org/planting-a-mix-of-tree-species-could-double-forest-carbon-storage

Global Emissions. Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (World Resources Institute, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/

Shannon Waters. New Study shows Plastics Release Greenhouse Gases, Contributing to Climate Change. Surfrider Foundation. August 10, 2018. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/new-study-shows-plastic-as-source-of-greenhouse-gases-potentially-contribut


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, https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/gardening-techniques/healthy-soil-crop-rotation-zmaz10fmzraw




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 (https://unclejimswormfarm.com/) 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?


Foolish February

February is the month that tricks you into thinking spring has arrived when warmer temperatures and sunny days bewitch you. Do not do it. Severe frost is still inevitable here in Idaho. If you are not sure, check with your local extension office or online at http://www.almanac.com for a seed planting schedule. Just enter your zip code and it will let you know when to start seedlings indoors or outdoors and when to transplant outside.

Here are a few things that you can do:

~ Butterfly bushes and Hydrangeas, pretty much anything that blooms on new wood, can be cut down to six inches.
~ Fruit trees can be pruned.
~ This is a great time to move any trees or roses as they are dormant, thereby eliminating transplant shock.
~ Any perennials you left standing through the winter for food and cover for birds, can be cut back now.

Start these seeds indoors the last week of February:  Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, leeks, peppers, and certain onions.

What seeds will you be starting this month?

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius. -Pietro Aretino