Small space gardening

Mother Nature’s timing in the garden isn’t the greatest when it comes to the herb/veggie team of cilantro and tomatoes. They’re a match made in heaven (think peanut butter and chocolate), but cilantro is a spring producer, and tomatoes aren’t generally ready until mid-summer in zone 5. So for those gardeners out there who love to make fresh salsa with cilantro as an ingredient, I feel your frustration. Cilantro is a dried-up hot mess by the time tomatoes ripen.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered a couple of ways to work around these poorly orchestrated harvest times. One easy, cost-free way is to “assist” your cilantro in re-seeding in mid- to late summer in order to have a second batch while tomatoes are producing. My cilantro re-seeded on its own one summer, and I’ve been encouraging the process every year since.

Here’s what cilantro looks like in the early spring.

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Cilantro is a cool-weather crop. That is, when the heat kicks in, it poops out. The nice full leaves shown in the photo above will start to develop into a lacy, thinner leaf when it starts to get hot, and the stems will begin to thicken as in the photo below. The plant will also grow taller very quickly (called bolting). Many plants will bolt when they’re stressed due to heat or lack of water.

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Here’s another comparison of the leaves before and after cilantro bolts. You can eat the lacy leaves, but they’re bitter.

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It’s hard to believe the last two photos are the same plant only a few weeks apart. Cilantro will also develop dainty white flowers after it bolts. I guess the flowers are some consolation for losing the plant as an edible! It has a Queen Anne’s Lace appearance when in full bloom.

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Cilantro then starts to dry out and get a little ugly. Okay. The truth. It gets real ugly. It looks like a dead plant, which it actually is, but let it be and you’ll be rewarded!

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After the flowering is finished, seeds known as the spice coriander, will form. They’ll be green in the beginning.

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Then they’ll slowly start to turn brown. They generally get to this stage by July or August in zone 5, depending on the weather.

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It’s at this stage, the seeds can be collected and used as coriander if that’s a spice you like to use.  Or they can be scattered for a late summer/fall harvest. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to leave the dead-looking plants in the ground as they are (or in their container if that’s how you choose to grow your herbs), and I place the stems with the seeds on them, between my palms. I rub my hands together as if I’m trying to warm them up, and this will twist the seeds off the stems, dropping them onto the ground. Then I pull the remaining dry, seedless plants from the ground and compost them.

Another way to do this is to simply pull up the plants and give them a good shake, and many of the seeds will fall off onto the ground. I’ve tried both ways, but prefer the first method because if you pull up the plant and shake the seeds off, it’s harder to control where the seeds will drop. In addition, not as many seeds will come off the plant this way.

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I work the seeds into the soil, breaking up any clumps, press the soil lightly so there’s good seed to soil contact, water daily and wait for them to germinate. The looser the soil is, the better your chances are of the seeds germinating. Speaking from experience, this doesn’t work well if the soil has compacted over the course of the summer and you just throw the seeds on top of the soil.

I typically scatter the seeds in my garden in early to mid-August, or wait for a stretch of somewhat cooler weather even as late as mid-September.  The cilantro is up and usable within two to three weeks. Since our average first frost comes around mid-October, and cilantro can handle hard frost, this gives me a whopping 2 to 3 months more of cilantro! It will usually survive until the ground actually freezes. Some of the buried seeds will sleep through the winter and surprise me in the spring if I don’t disturb the soil, and if I keep my current space reserved for cilantro.

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Another way to be assured of having cilantro when the tomatoes finally make their appearance is to freeze your spring crop, leaving some in the garden to bolt if you want to re-seed some. I’ll bet you’re thinking, “It won’t be the same.” The truth is, it’s not the same, but it’s surprisingly close!

Cilantro is so amazing when it’s fresh, that freezing those delicate little leaves would seemingly turn it into a disappointing mush pile.  But if it’s blanched first, it holds its texture without turning into mush. Don’t stop reading now. It’s easy. Really.

To blanch and freeze cilantro, boil an inch or two of water in a large skillet. I think a skillet works best because the cilantro can be spread out and will lay flat, and it’s easier to remove if it all stays running the same direction. It’s also easier to see in an open skillet. Add cilantro to the boiling water for a few seconds–just until it almost starts to wilt and turns a beautiful, deep green color. Remove the cilantro (tongs work well) from the boiling water, and plunge it immediately into a pan of ice water to stop it from cooking.

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I arrange it in a single layer in a Ziplock bag. I remove the air from the bag, seal it and put it in the freezer. The leaves can be removed from the stems before you blanch if you don’t like the stems, but I prefer to leave the cilantro intact and then chop it up, stems and all, when I’m ready to use it. Bonus–It chops easily when it’s frozen.

It’s great for soups and stews in the winter, and frozen cilantro retains much more of it’s flavor than dried cilantro.

The moral of the story is don’t give up on planting cilantro because its early spring life seems short-lived. It actually does better in the fall, depending on our unpredictable Midwest weather, of course. Leave a designated space in your herb garden for it and not only will you be rewarded twice a year, but it’ll be there to greet you in early spring when it re-seeds itself.

I hope you found this post helpful! If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit my other blog at https://HomeStagingBloomingtonIl.wordpress.com.

A big thank you to Mother Nature for beautifying my window boxes with the first snow of the season here in Central Illinois today!

I must also thank my sister, Dee. She knows I can’t turn down cast offs like some lanterns she gave me that were damaged when a tree fell on their house during a storm this past summer. I don’t think she throws much away without asking her hoarder sister first. And just to clarify, I prefer to call it recycling. And recycling her lanterns made for a beautiful winter window box.

 Winter Curb Appeal With Window Boxes/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

My “window” boxes are technically planter boxes, since I didn’t have the nerve to mount boxes to my bricks. Here’s one naked right after I made it.

 Winter Curb Appeal With Window Boxes/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

To decorate them for winter, I thought the most convenient way would be to leave the pots inside the boxes,  cover the tops of the planters with a couple of boards and then mount my Christmas items on top of the boards. You can see in the four corners there are the recessed boards that form the legs.

 Winter Curb Appeal With Window Boxes/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Those are what I rested my boards on to form a “table” for my goodies. Plywood would have been easier, but I didn’t have any on hand. Sorry there are no pictures. It was way too cold out there to be lolly-gagging around taking photos.

After I set the boards in place, I screwed the lanterns onto the boards and then drilled holes where necessary to insert stems of greenery. I also used screws to attach garland and berries and such. We’ll see what’s left after the winter winds take their toll!

 Winter Curb Appeal With Window Boxes/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

These were very cheaply done, since everything in the planters was either recycled, free or purchased at garage sales. This doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. Thrift shops would be another great place to find greens and ornaments for window boxes. I’m guessing I paid no more than $10 or $15 to decorate both of these.

Since my landscaping is new and very small, these planters will be the only form of curb appeal I’ll have in the wintertime for a few years, so they’re pretty necessary.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Yes, Merry Christmas!

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a Journeyman Painter, Certified Home Stager/Redesigner and avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

If you’ve always wanted beautiful window boxes but were afraid of the installation, planter boxes are a DIY-friendly alternative. They’re easy to build, and can be decorated seasonally with non-plant items if you live in a planting zone that doesn’t allow for live plants in the winter. You don’t have to leave them stark and empty in the off-season!

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I moved into this house this past winter, and it was in desperate need of some curb appeal. I had all of the half-dead, overgrown trees and bushes removed, and decided to start from scratch. How sad and lonely she looks. Window boxes will cheer this house (and me) right on up!

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Unfortunately, I did have a problem with my window box idea. The actual construction of the window boxes wasn’t an issue, but my fear of drilling into my bricks to install them certainly was. And to be honest,  I wouldn’t have been all that excited to drill into vinyl siding, wood siding or any other siding for that matter. Thinking about mounting a window box securely enough to handle the weight of the wood, the dirt and the plants made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

So I decided that instead of window boxes, I would make free-standing planter boxes. And when I say free-standing, I mean “$free$”-standing.  I recently had a screened porch added to my house (click here to view) and wrestled some of the wood scraps away from my builder. Wood scraps = free planter boxes.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I decided to build the planter boxes so that pots that my son, Ross, gave me a few years ago would fit inside of them. You don’t necessarily have to have pots inside of planter boxes, and if I hadn’t had these already, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to buy some. I would have just lined the boxes with a weed fabric so that dirt wouldn’t seep out of the cracks, and filled them with dirt. These pots have seen better days, but I love them, and they were perfect for putting inside the planters.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I wanted to use treated 4 x 4’s for the legs, but I only had four that were long enough, and I needed eight. I did, however, have some treated 2 x 4’s left from the porch that I decided to double up and use instead. I knew if I ran a bead of caulk where the two boards met, and then painted them out, they would look just like the 4 x 4’s. My goal here was to not buy anything in order to make these planter boxes, so I had to be creative.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

The actual sides of the boxes were built using leftover shiplap that was also left over from the screened porch. It was already primed and painted, but I still had to give it another quick coat after I finished assembling the boxes.

Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I don’t know how long this shiplap will last out in the weather since it’s pine. The primer and exterior paint should protect it for a while, but if it rots after a few years, I can replace it. I’m also hoping that by using pots inside of the boxes, the shiplap will last a little longer since there won’t be wet dirt resting up against it.

Here are my first two sections I put together after measuring how tall and wide I wanted the planters to be. You can see that the section on the right is made up of the sandwiched 2 x 4’s, so I used that section for the back side of the planter.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Here I’ve added a second piece of shiplap.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Since I was too lazy to go to the basement to get my super-duper saw horses that my son, Brandon, got me for Christmas, I just used my cute little Honda Fit (Love that car!) to steady my two sides while I screwed in the end pieces. And yes, I was careful not to scratch the car.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

In this photo, you can see that I cut the legs a couple of inches shorter than the finished height because I wanted to be able to rest pieces of wood on top of them. I wanted to be able to decorate these boxes for fall and Christmas using non-plant items like pumpkins, ornaments, birdhouses and such. Wood laid across the tops of the legs would give me a hidden platform to set items on.  The pots with the dirt will only be used in the spring and summer for live plants.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Next, I took 2 x 8’s (because that’s what I had on hand–a curb score) and notched out spaces with a jig saw in order to accommodate the legs, and toe-nailed them in from underneath. I chose to leave a space down the center so the water from the drainage holes in my pots would run through onto the ground rather than sit on the wood. If I decide at some point to fill the planters with dirt without the pots, I’ll add another board to complete the bottom.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

And it fits! My plan for when my square pots go to pot heaven some day, is to buy pre-potted arrangements and just set the pots inside the planter boxes.

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

The planters looked a little blah-zay to me so I decided to jazz them up a bit. I had these scraps that were already cut at a 45 degree angle on one end. The 45 inspired me to cut another 45 on the other end, and I tacked them on the front of the boxes to add a little interest. In addition to the 45 degree angle adding some interest, it also helps the rain run off rather than sit on top of the boards.

Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Can you tell it was getting dark outside? Well, it was, so I did the painting the the next day. I primed the raw wood first, then I painted the primed wood, then painted the whole thing one more time.

Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I caulked around the decorative pieces and some other areas that I didn’t want water to get into. Some of the 4 x 4 legs had splits in them, so I caulked those, as well as the cracks where I joined the 2 x 4’s for the back legs. Then, a fresh coat of paint. It always amazes me what a fresh coat of paint can do.

Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I looked through my stash of goodies, and found some white, decorative iron pieces I’d bought a few years ago at Hobby Lobby, and added them to the fronts after rubbing some watered down gray paint on them. And wha-la! Here are my 100% free window box planters!

Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

See what a difference these make for my once sad little house! Before–

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After–

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

And here they are all decorated for fall. I put these together after I realized mums were not happy living in my planter boxes due to lack of sunlight. I had my heart set on mums, but these will do just fine!

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

And yes, I painted my shutters and gave them some jewelry. Now, for your viewing pleasure, another set of before and after photos!

Before–
 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After–

 Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Here’s the second planter box. Even the fall pretties I used to decorate with were budget-friendly. I grew the pumpkins myself, the hydrangea were given to me by a friend, and everything else you see in the planter boxes was from my stash or from garage sales.

Window Box Substitute/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I like the planters better than window boxes because I can move them to the back yard and fill them with flowers or veggies if I want to. I was also able to make them bigger than most window boxes would have been–a window box this large would have been very heavy. If I get tired of them (fat chance), I can remove them and there’s no damage to the house underneath. And God forbid, if I ever move again, I can take them with me!

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a Journeyman Painter, Certified Home Stager/Redesigner and avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

The heat index is a miserable 103 today here in Central Illinois, so what better time to sit in the air conditioning, and write a post about beets? I’ve never bought a beet in my life, but last summer I decided to grow them just for fun because that’s what we gardeners do. Last year my beet planting was an experiment, but this year I got serious. Here’s what I’ve learned in my two beet-planting (and eating) years.

Number one, beets are easy to grow. Number two, beet leaves and their beautiful crimson-red stems are gorgeous as they grow. And number three, beets and their leaves are yummy! Oh, and number four, they’ll turn your pee a lovely shade of pink.

In zone 5, it’s safe to plant beet seeds after May 15 when danger of frost is past. My planting space is very limited so I only planted a short row of beet seeds, and thinned them when they were a couple inches tall to about 4″ apart. I planted them in a side yard raised bed along with some onions. I’d already harvested most of them by the time this photo was taken.

 Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I also am trying the “scatter” method in a window-box-type planter, where I just sprinkle the seeds and then thin them as they grow. These are a second batch I planted after the others, so they’re still small.

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

After about two months, I had some that were big enough to harvest. During my experimental year, I left them in the ground too long and they got to be the size of the Goodyear Blimp. They have a much better flavor if you eat them before they get too big.

 Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

They’re just so beautiful!

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

To fix the beets, cut off the leaves, leaving some of the stems intact at the top of the beet. If you cut the stems off too close to the beet, they’ll bleed. Same goes for the tap root. Don’t cut him off either. If you do, your kitchen will look like a crime scene, and beet blood stains like the real thing.

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

To fix the greens, I cut off the stems, and sauteed the leaves in some olive oil and garlic cloves until just wilted. Salt and pepper is all they need. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the greens! They’re sort of “spinachy”. The stems go into the worm-composting bin.

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I boiled the beets in some salted water in a pan that was just big enough to accommodate the beets. Size-wise these were bigger than a golf ball, but smaller than a baseball, and I boiled them for about 35 minutes. I searched and searched for some idea of what “small” and “big” beets were in different on-line recipes, but no one would elaborate on what constituted “small” and “big”, so there you go. I kept a close eye on them to make sure the water didn’t evaporate too much. They need to stay completely covered with water.

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Remember what I said earlier about how beautiful beets are? Ok, not so much now.

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

After they cooled off a bit, the skin peeled right off.

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Once the skin came off and the stems and root were removed, they were beautiful again!

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I brushed the slices with some butter, and added salt and pepper. They really were amazing!

  Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Beets / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you didn’t get a chance to plant beets in zone 5 in the spring, they can still be planted in August for a fall harvest. If they are planted late, and don’t have time to fully mature, they can still be eaten when they’re small too!

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

If you’re a newcomer to herb planting and harvesting, here are some quick tips to get you off to a good start. This post is specifically about basil, but the process would be the same for many of the most commonly grown herbs.

Meet my basil plants that live on the south side of my house. They replaced some ailing spirea bushes, and look right at home among my other foundation plantings. The sun there is brutal, but they appear to be happy and well-adjusted because they’re getting the required six to eight hours of sun per day. The photo is actually of two plants, planted a foot or two apart that have mingled together beautifully.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you’re hoping to plant your herbs in a tiny space or a small pot, I hate to burst your bubble, but you might want to re-think that idea. Basil, as well as most herbs, when given enough room to mature will grow to the equivalent of a medium-sized bush.

I have a tiny suburban yard, so I have to get creative and be practical with my limited space. I like to use my little slice of the planet for plantings that are not only beautiful but edible too. There’s no reason why basil can’t be used as a foundation planting.

Many people have the standard evergreens, spireas, boxwood and such around their foundations, but here you can see from left to right are a tomato plant, a barberry bush, and some basil instead. Not pictured, to the left of the tomato plant are pickling cucumbers that grow up onto a trellis to save space, and to hide an ugly air conditioning unit.

 How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Another view from left to right shows barberry, basil, burning bush, onions and peas (in the upper right). Also planted in this area are beets, a pepper plant and some red cabbage. All of this in a tiny side yard!

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

OK, back to the herbs. The best time to harvest herbs such as basil and oregano, is before they flower. Once they flower, it takes a little more time to prepare them because the blooms need to be snipped off. But it’s not a big deal to cut the flowers off with a pair of scissors, and the herbs will still taste just fine. If you look closely at the top of the stem in this photo, you can see there are no flowers forming yet.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

When the flowers form, it’ll be obvious because they’ll look like…well…flowers. Basil blooms can be pinkish/purple or white.

 How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Basil can be harvested in the spring in zone 5. The stems can be cut at the ground, and new ones will grow right back. If harvested in fall, basil will return in the spring.

After it’s cut, I remove any grass, weeds or critters that may be mixed in, and then give the stems an extra shake for good measure. I don’t use any chemicals on my basil since nothing insect-wise or disease-wise ever seems to bother it. That being said, I don’t soak the leaves in water before I dry it. Mother Nature’s rain keeps the basil clean enough for me, and a little dirt (protein) never hurt anybody anyway. (I do inspect it for dirt, but it seems a little counterproductive to me to unnecessarily wet down something that’s supposed to be drying out.)

If you cut a large amount of basil, and lay the stems in a ginormous pile, you won’t live long enough to see them dry out because, yes, it’ll take that long. I’ve also heard that they can mold if they take too long to dry, but I’ve never had that issue. I spread them thinly on a cookie sheet for drying.

A more efficient way to dry herbs is to tie the cut ends together, and hang them in small bunches so the air can circulate on all sides. I don’t have a good spot for hanging herbs, but I wish I did so I could be all glamorous like Martha Stewart.

Drying them in the sun is a no-no because they’ll fade and lose their flavor. I’ve read that you can dry them in the oven, but why? I prefer to go au naturale.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Within 24 hours, you can see in the photo they’ve wilted quite a bit, but they’ve got a long way to go. I flip the stems over, and fluff them up often so the bottom leaves will be exposed to the air too.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s the basil after two weeks of drying time. You’ll know it’s ready when the leaves crumble when you rub them between your fingers–anywhere from two to four weeks. You may be wondering if a person might get tired of having a pile of wilted leaves on their kitchen counter for weeks. The answer is yes. But I do it anyway in hopes of being a tiny bit Martha-glamorous, a little more healthy and a few dollars richer.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

To strip the leaves, I hold the cut end of the stem, and pull my fingers down the stem to the tip and the leaves come right off. If you try to strip them by going the other direction, the small branches can prick your fingers. I strip them directly into my food processor bowl.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s what’s left when I’m finished. The stems go into the compost pile or my worm-composting bin.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Now the leaves are ready to be chopped. Some people believe they have more flavor if left whole while stored, and that they should be crushed when you need to use them. I’m thinking a shriveled up leaf is going to have the same amount of flavor whether whole or chopped, but more importantly, they take up much less room in if they’re chopped. You be the judge.

 How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s the finished product. Being a sort-of-hoarder, I’ve got a decent stash of spice containers that I save for storing my own dried herbs. It’s nice to have the containers if you’re giving your basil to friends too. If you put it in a Ziplock bag, your herbs could be mistaken for an illegal drug and you could find your little Martha-self in the slammer (just like Martha, in fact). Food for thought.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

As was mentioned earlier, the leaves shrink up considerably after they dry, and after they’re put through the food processor, they really shrink. So although you may cut several stems thinking that you’re going to end up with a crap-load of basil, keep in mind that you’ll probably be surprised when your crap-load of basil does not end up being a crap-load of basil at all. (I like the word “crap-load”). Just giving you a heads up on that.

And here’s my home-grown basil. I’m good to go until next year.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

Planting small seeds can be a challenge. And there are lots of seeds in the gardening world that are tiny–lettuce, cabbage, onion and many varieties of flower seeds to name a few. These little guys in the photo are radish seeds, which are also small, and here are some pointers on how to plant them.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

Radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They’re good for beginning gardeners because they germinate easily and mature quickly–only about 22 days from start to finish. They also don’t take up too much space, and other vegetables can be planted in their place after they’ve been harvested.

I’m planting mine in a pot because potting soil is nicer to work with for small seeds, and pests aren’t a problem in a pot. But if you’re planting in the ground, be sure to remove any big clods of dirt, sticks or rocks. You’ll need to break up the soil so you’re planting in fine, clump-free dirt.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

Here’s the seed packet I’m using.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

The instructions tell exactly how to plant the seeds.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

They also tell when to plant according to the particular planting zone you live in. In zone 5, radishes will only grow in the spring and in the fall when the weather is cooler. If the weather gets too hot, radishes can be leathery or the tops can bolt and the radish will remain a skinny root and not develop into a ball.

These seeds are two years old, but they’re going germinate just fine. There’s no need to ever throw away unused seeds. I just stick my leftovers in a closet until the next year. Some gardeners like to refrigerate their leftover seeds, but I’ve never done that and have had no problems getting them to germinate.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

There’s no need to dig a bunch of small, half-inch-deep holes, fill each of them with these tiny little seeds and fill each one with dirt. Gardening is supposed to be fun, not an activity that makes you want to tear your hair out. There’s also no need to plant in rows and waste garden space. Instead, seeds can be scattered on top of the soil.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

After scattering the seeds, about half-an-inch of soil needs to be spread over the top of them, because the package gives half-an-inch as the seed-planting depth. Next, the soil needs to be firmly pressed down (without moving it around), to give the seeds good soil contact. I use a watering can or a spray bottle to water the seeds. If I were to use a garden hose, the seeds would be splashed all around, and could end up in clumps or on top of the soil for our fine-feathered friends to feast on.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

Important tip–you must water the seeds every day in order for them to germinate. Every day. If they don’t stay moist, the seeds are just going to hang out in your garden soil and that’ll be the end of them.

Here are the seedlings after a few days.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

As you can see, they’re not perfectly spaced. But while they’re small like this, the crowded seedlings can be carefully dug up and transplanted into bare areas. Or if you don’t have a conscience, you can just pull them out and leave them on top of the ground to shrivel and die. (No pressure.)

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

They need proper spacing in order to grow, and a sunny location where they receive at least six to eight hours of sun each day. Here are some I planted in actual garden soil a couple of weeks prior.

 How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

As radishes grow, the tap root stays down in the soil, but the actual radish grows up and out of the soil. Onions grow the same way. The first time I planted radishes, I kept throwing dirt on them so they wouldn’t die. After seeing that trying to keep them covered was futile, I realized they weren’t going to die, and that’s just how they grow. Hello.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

Here’s a pot with a pepper plant in the center, and radishes planted around it. After the radishes are pulled out, the pepper plant will have the pot all to itself and will have plenty of room to grow.

How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

I used the same method of scattering and covering seeds for planting this tray of lettuce.

 How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

This method of randomly sprinkling the seeds and adding soil over the top of them, is the best way I’ve found to plant small seeds. I also prefer sprinkling the seeds rather than planting in rows since I have a tiny garden. More seeds can be sown in a smaller area this way, and it’s especially beneficial if you have a container garden. I find that when I plant this way I waste fewer seeds, but end up with more vegetables.

I hope you find this method works for you too. Happy planting!

 How to Plant Tiny Seeds / My Urban Garden Oasis

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com.

The subject matter of this post was originally going to be about what worms like to eat in the world of vermicomposting. However, when I was doing my research, I stumbled across some hanky-panky in my worm bin, so we’re going to take a slight detour.

A few weeks ago, I reluctantly started putting avocado shells and pits into my bin, knowing full well that they would be of little interest to my slimy friends. I couldn’t imagine those delicate little creatures chomping into either one of them. We humans won’t even eat them after all, and we’ve got teeth!

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

Last week when I added kitchen scraps to my bin, I poked around a bit in the bedding. As I expected, my instincts were correct. I found the in-tact shells and pits still floating around. Some of the pits had started to grow roots, and they were still hard and untouched by the worms as far as a meal goes. So out to the “real” compost bin they went.

Feeling a little defeated, I decided to remove the shells as well, but when I went to dump the dirt out of one of the shells, I found a big ball of worm “spaghetti” inside of it. I’ve never seen so many worms compacted into such a small space. By the time I got my camera, many of them had made a run for it, but here’s some of the slower moving ones still in a tangle.

Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

I completely underestimated my worms. The shells were clearly a delicacy, so I decided to leave them in the bin.

Today at feeding time, I decided I’d try to get a better picture of the massive game of “Worm Twister” for all of you, but I was met with another surprise. When I dumped out the avocado shells this time, they were full of little baby worms! Again, the little camera-shy creatures started slithering away before I could snap a group photo.

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

Clearly the original worms weren’t playing “Twister” at all. They were playing something else, if you know what I mean. Uh-hum.

Worms are neither male nor female–they all have both sperm cells and egg cells, but they still need a mate to reproduce. And let me tell you from the looks of that tangled mess, there was a lot of cellular exchanging going on. Apparently the avocado is an aphrodisiac in the worm world.

Either before, during or after their romantic episodes, the worms clearly were eating the shells because they were very thin, and crumbled in my hand.

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

So getting back to the original point of this post about what to feed worms in vermicomposting, avocado pits are a no. Avocado love-shack shells are a yes.

As far as other foods, I had always read no citrus, but my worms eat my lemon rinds with no problem. I don’t have a lot of them, but I do throw a few in. I also throw in onion scraps on occasion against the advice of other vermicomposters, and they disappear too.

I’ve noticed my worms won’t eat leaves of Brussels sprouts, and they won’t touch peperoncini peppers. I’ve had a whole one in the bin for a few weeks that I dropped on the floor when I was making pizza, and it’s faded in color but is still whole. (Clearly, they don’t honor the 10-second rule.) They love grapes, but the stems from the grapes just seem to hang around.

I’ve thrown shredded newspaper into my bin a few times, but if the worms have plenty of kitchen scraps, they aren’t too interested in the paper–although they did gobble up a toilet paper tube once. Paper towels (non-greasy) and coffee filters seem to get eaten pretty quickly too.

Of course any fruit or vegetable scraps are a go, but no meat or dairy.

And there you have it folks. A post about the eating preferences of worms with a side order of how to put your worms in the mood with an avocado shell. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get the Nobel Prize for this one (or at least a nomination).

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

You’ve planted rows of vegetable seeds, and now it’s time to thin your seedlings. If pulling out those precious baby plants makes you queasy, take heart. You no longer have to feel like a serial plant killer.

I’ve been re-planting my throw-aways for a few years now, and with great success. I’ve done this with pretty much every vegetable seedling there is—spinach, radishes, lettuce, green beans and cucumbers to name a few. In this post, I’ll be thinning and re-planting peas.

First let me stress that it’s a total waste of seeds to plant them closer together than what the package recommends. I used to think more is better with seed planting, but it’s not. And I strongly suspect I’m not the only gardener that has over-planted for fear of not having enough seeds germinate. And besides wasting seeds, transplanting your thinnings is another reason not to plant too closely or you won’t be able to get a spade in between the seedlings in order to dig up the ones you want to save.

I also used to plant seeds too close together because what was I going to do with all those leftover seeds anyway? May as well use the whole pack, right? Wrong. I’ve learned that you save the leftovers and plant them the next year. And the next, and the next…I’ve planted seeds four and five years old with no problems. I just stored the packets in a closet. No need to refrigerate them as far as I’m concerned.

So here’s what I’ve got. My peas are ready to be thinned to about four to six inches apart. At the moment, they’re about two inches apart.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If I don’t thin these peas, they’ll be a tangled up mess because the tendrils will grab onto the plant next to them instead of my metal fencing. Then I’ll have a glob of pea plants that are all stuck together independent of the fence. Once that happens, it’s all over. Trust me folks, you need to thin your peas.

I bought these bamboo stakes at a garage sale, and they’re perfect for peas to latch onto.

 Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

First, I stick them in the ground where I want my peas to grow. Then at the base of each pole, I remove some of the soil where each seedling will be planted.

 Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I put the excess dirt on this cardboard lid so I can carry it with me.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Now I very gently dig up the extra seedlings by pushing my trowel down into the dirt, three to four inches on each side of the plant, making a square in the soil around each one. Then I dig up the seedling and place it on my cardboard.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I use the excess soil I brought with me from the original holes to fill in each hole I create when I remove the transplants. I push the soil down firmly after I fill each hole with dirt.

Then I plant the seedlings into the original holes. Here they are!

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

They now have four to six inches of space in between each plant to spread out and grow.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Since peas are considered a cool-weather crop here in zone 5, they’re going to bite the dust when it gets hot. They’ll quit producing, turn brown and be pulled out of the ground by yours truly. The beauty of that is, I can plant them close to other plants that will take over their space when they’re gone. In this case, my tomatoes will grow into their space.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I was fortunate enough to have a cloudy day to do this, which is less stressful for the plants. If the sun is out, it’s best to move them in the morning or evening when it’s cooler. Unfortunately, it’s a windy day (we can’t have everything), so I used some twist ties to very loosely tie the taller transplants to the poles to keep them from flopping over.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Soon enough, the tendrils will grab onto the bamboo and they’ll climb on their own like this little guy is learning to do. FYI – since the tendrils aren’t very long, they need something small to grab onto. Lattice, for example is too large for peas to grasp.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here are a few other places I moved my transplants to. My front flower bed…

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I planted some in a pot with some cucumber seeds that haven’t germinated yet, but will take over after the peas are finished producing.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

And in an empty spot near a dwarf lilac bush was another place to plant them.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you’ve never planted peas, and are considering taking the plunge, I highly recommend the edible pod variety. They’re great for stir-frying if you pick the pods when they’re young and tender, and if you let them grow, the shelled peas are great eaten raw on salads. In zone 5, you’ve got until the end of May to plant them, or you can also plant a fall crop when the weather cools.

Re-plant Your Thinned Seedlings / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Happy thinning!

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

When the first warm days arrive in spring, I’m ready to get my hands in the dirt. Although some garden seeds can be sown outdoors now, it’s too soon to plant many of the common container plants in mid-April here in zone 5.  I can prepare my pots now though, so when the time comes, I’m good to go. It’s not one of my favorite projects, but it has to be done. Here are some of the pots that need tended to.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I started getting more into container gardening a couple years ago after finding a couple of large, killer pots at some yard sales that were ridiculously cheap. And since my yard is small, it gives me another avenue for planting so I figured why not give it a try. Now of course, I’m hopelessly addicted. No worries about bunnies, insects or crappy soil.

It’s a good thing my garage sale pots were almost free, because I was shocked, disappointed, frustrated, and then amused to find out how expensive potting soil is. It’s dirt, after all. In my mind it’s like buying water to drink when it comes out of the faucet for free. But I realize potting soil is a whole different animal, and is a necessity for healthy container plants.  Since I almost had to take out a second mortgage to buy lots of potting soil when I first started this adventure, I decided rather than dump out all of my potting soil and start over each year, I would amend what I have and save some money.

To illustrate why you shouldn’t re-use potting soil without amending it, check this out. Here’s what came out of my window boxes. It was just like popping an ice-cube out of an ice-cube tray.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasishoto IMG_4922.jpg

 Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Solid chunks like that one came out of every pot when I dumped out the soil. Here’s a clump of roots that came out of one of my larger pots after I shook all of the soil loose.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Plants aren’t going to be very happy trying to find their way through all those old roots. I promise.

It’s easiest to dump the pots into a wheel barrow, and remove all of the chucks and roots. Those go into my compost pile. I have a pretty large wheel barrow (!!garage sale find!!), but I could only dump a few pots at a time, or it would be too difficult to mix it all up.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

The old potting soil can be amended with either some fresh potting soil, or as I’m doing this year, worm castings and composted manure. Here are some castings I’ve been saving from my worm bin.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

What you don’t want to add to your potting soil is dirt from your yard. I tried that one year when I ran short of potting soil. I thought just a small amount of “earth” mixed in with it wouldn’t hurt, but I was wrong. The soil became hard as a rock and the plants didn’t do well.

So now I have my amended soil ready to put back into my pots.

Some of my smaller pots that I love, don’t have drainage holes in them. I won’t purchase any more ceramic pots without drainage holes because plants don’t seem to like them all that much. I’ve tried drilling holes in ceramic pots with a specialized drill bit, but it’s nearly impossible to do. But since these pots are among my favorites, I still want to use them–drainage holes or not. I use Styrofoam peanuts in them to allow for some drainage space. Even though the pots are medium-sized, they’re still heavy, so peanuts are the way to go. Here’s two of them.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

It’s much less mess if you just put the pot right into the wheelbarrow (if you have one) to fill it.

 Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

For larger pots, I do pretty much the same thing. The lightweight “fake” pots are easy to drill through, and often do not come with drainage holes. After I drilled holes in the larger pots, I duck taped a small section of screen over the hole to help keep the soil from running out.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I know they look like garbage cans at the moment, but for the bigger pots, I add big chunks of Styrofoam and/or empty plastic bottles (with the lids on) so I don’t have to use so much soil. The plants grow just fine in several inches of soil–they don’t need two feet of it. And of course it helps keep the pots from getting too heavy. Also, in the bigger pots, when it’s time to refurbish your soil, it’s much easier to fish through and pull out large bottles and chunks of Styrofoam than it is to pick out a couple hundred packing peanuts.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I went to a local garden shop today for a few seed packets. I started some lettuce, radishes and onion sets in some of my pots.  I couldn’t help myself and bought a four pack of annuals for one of my smaller pots. Here’s my instant gratification for all my hard work. If it snows or freezes again, yes snow is a possibility–anything can happen in Illiniois–I’ll bring my one pot inside with me for safe keeping.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you’re not a container gardening person, but want to try your hand at an in-the-ground garden, now in mid-April is the time to sow some of the cool-weather crop seeds outside. (See the “Planting Timeline” in the margin of this web page to find out what can be planted now in zone 5.).

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

Ahhhhh, Morning Glories! One of the most beautiful and fastest growing annual vines in zone 5. They’re practical too if you’re landscaping for privacy. If you happen to live in zone 5, now is the time to start them from seed indoors.

Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I’m a proponent of growing plants from seed whenever possible, because it stretches your budget in a big, big way. The seeds I’m using now are three years old, which means I’ve gotten three years worth of morning glories for about $2.00. Based on how many of the three-year-old seeds germinated when I planted some last week, I’d say the germination rate was 90% or better.

I used to try starting plants indoors by putting a pot on my kitchen table in front of a south-facing window. Even with southern exposure, my seedlings were always tall and lanky, and the first time I put them outside on a windy day…well…there were few survivors.

So here’s what I’ve learned. To avoid raising weak plants, I move the pots outside on decent days (over 60 degrees), and then bring them in at night. That way, they get the sun they need, but don’t freeze to death at night. This makes a significant difference on the thickness and strength of the stems.

Seeds can be started indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date, which for zone 5 is May 15. To plant Morning Glories, soak the seeds in a bowl of water for 24 hours. The outer shell on a Morning Glory seed is built like a tank, and it helps the seed to germinate more quickly if it’s soaked first.

Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I re-use my potting soil every year, but add some sort of compost/fertilizer to the old soil. This year, I’m adding worm castings from my worm bin. I plant several seeds in one pot by making a ring about a half of an inch deep in the dirt, and plant the seeds in a circle.

Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I add my seeds.

Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I cover the seeds with dirt, and lightly press the soil down so that I have good soil to seed contact. Then I water. I add a small trellis to this pot to give the vines something to climb onto. This was a pot I saved from a plant I bought last year, and it’s perfect for starting my vines.

Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After a week, the seedlings are about two inches tall already! Since so many of the seeds germinated, I’ll probably move half of the seedlings to another pot. If I plant this many vines in this small of a space, I’ll be left with a nightmarish tangle of unhealthy vines.

After re-potting half of the seedlings, I’ll keep an eye on the remaining half, and before they get too wrapped around the trellis, I’ll probably whittle the remaining ones down to about three or four survivors. (Looks like the little guy in the front left is taking a bow!)

Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

When I plant the Morning Glories outside after all danger of frost has passed, I’ll remove the soil, vines and trellis from the pot in one, big bunch, and plant the whole shebang in front of another trellis that they can latch onto.

I’m happy to report that last spring, I had some Morning Glories that re-seeded on their own. Not only did I have an unexpected Morning Glory explosion, I had blooms that were a color I didn’t plant. I always plant Heavenly Blue, which is shown in the first photo posted, but they came up purple last year. I’m not talking a bluish purple, I’m talking in-your-face, Barney-the-dinosaur purple.

I’ve read that a change in the pH of soil can change the color, but I noticed a lot of purple Morning Glories in my city, and no blue ones, so I’m thinking some other environmental factor may have come into play. I was a little disappointed because I love, love, love the blue ones.

Since too much nitrogen will stimulate the foliage, but will stifle flower production, you’ll want to forgo the fertilizer. Other than the worm castings I put in my pot to get them off to a good start, they won’t get anything more to eat at my house once they’re in the ground. They thrive in bad soil.

You can also plant Morning Glories in a large pot with a trellis. I pulled these vines out of the ground last spring when they were little and put them in a pot.

 Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Nothing against Barney, but I sure hope I get my Heavenly Blue ones back this year!

Morning Glories Planted From Seed / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

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