category: gardening

Didn’t Caroline’s post just make you itch to get out in the garden or onto your balcony and plant something?  We put in our veg patch last week and every day (ok, about 5 times a day) I’m out there staring at the soil waiting for things to sprout!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t always use up all the seeds that come in a packet.  After all, who needs 200 heads of lettuce?  Some I’ll be keeping to sow later in the season, some I’d like to pass along to gardening friends.  Since I have a project up my sleeve that will use the seed packets to document the garden season I needed a way to save the extra seeds and it needed to be pretty!  So I came up with some seed envelopes.  Hope you like them!  Click here to download the pdf.

chelsea's

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footer for roost Chelsea Rogers has been cooking and crafting… and not cleaning up for as long as she can remember.  When she’s not making a mess, you can find her on Pretty Lulu and An Abundance of Apricots.

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Hello! I hope this finds you well and getting geared up for some gardening time this weekend.  Things here in the Ladybug world are in a bit of a kerfuffle (scientific term) – we had a neighbor dump debris on top of one of our new veggie garden beds and contaminate the soil with sawdust.  It was not malicious – he thought he was doing us a favor – and we had to explain that the chemicals from pressure treated wood are not something we want to amend the soil with. But to make lemonade out of lemons I’ve decided to give strawbale gardening a try…

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Images from Erica Mulherin

I spent a good chunk of today sourcing some straw, and I’ll get going on building and conditioning the garden once the rain stops.  I’m looking forward to seeing how these work for me – I have some really poor soil in areas of my garden, but I want lots of fresh veggies!  I’ll keep you guys posted as to my progress!

Now it is time for me to let you know one of my deep dark secrets….I am the world’s worst seed starter.  Yes, yes, I know how much money I could save by starting seeds, and I can imagine how fulfilling the process must be, but not for me.  I prefer to direct sow seeds into the ground – morning glory, parsley, cosmos, sunflowers, nasturtiums…all of these I grow from seed.  And I put on a grand facade of being happy to buy my seedlings from local organic growers, and I am, of course, but for once I would like to successfully start my tomatoes from seed. This year, however, was not the year.  Spring hit us early and my business needed me more than my seeds did.  So I started late and have, so far, had zero germination.  I have friends with wonderful luck with seeds, and I follow their advice, but I think I need to simply come to terms with the fact that I have a seed black thumb!!

However, what would an organic gardening blog be without seed starting advice, even late in the season.  And what would I be without lots of resources to share with you!  First of all I suggest you ask around in your circle of friends.  See if you can group together to buy and start seeds – sometimes you end up with way more seedlings than one garden can deal with and it is nice to share the bounty.

Below is the basic idea of seed starting:

seed starting

Seed starting images from Fine Gardening, cow pots from CowPots

Here are some great places to visit for more in depth information on seed starting:

Fine Gardening Magazine – they have several articles and videos about seed starting

Vegetable Gardener -  a new find for me…I’m having fun checking out their tips and ideas

A Way to Garden – Margaret Roach is one of my favorite people and a wonderfully generous gardener.

Organic Gardening – Great resource, with a nice slide show showing the thinning out of seeds

Cornell University – Cornell is a constant resource in my gardening life…from apple tree advice to seed varieties and descriptions…do visit them & see for yourself

Do you have any seed starting tips or hints to share?  Did you overcome your fears of seed starting and now it is old news?  Share with me your secrets, dear readers! It is not too late for me to start some mid season veggies and I promise I will take any advice you can give!!

And now, for the requisite bit of Brit in our weekly chat.  This is becoming a habit I will have to break, before it truly becomes “a thing” I’ll  have to keep up with every week…if only Black Adder gardened…then I would never run out of Brit content to post….

Last week I promised you a project…and so in the spirit of seed starting, I would like to introduce you to Guerrilla Gardening and seed bombs.  I’m an active guerrilla gardener – and while I don’t make seed bombs often anymore, I have recently been re-inspired and have ordered the ingredients to make a whole bunch of them this weekend.

I use native seeds, and this year I will be focusing on native milkweeds to feed the monarch butterflies.

The primary thing to remember when making seed bombs is the ratio of five parts clay to one part seed and one part compost. Mix these together in a large bowl, slowly and carefully add water to combine them, then start to shape the mixture into balls. After about a day of drying they are ready to be thrown into abandoned lots or larger areas of land that has gone to the “weeds”!

seed bomb

Photos Gina Ferazzi/LA Times

I hope this will inspire you to think about areas in your neighborhood you can seed bomb.  It really is a fun way to interact with your environment, and as long as the plants you are bombing are natives, you won’t be doing any harm!

Have you ever guerrilla gardened?  Is there an area in your community that could use some attention?  Let’s meet in the comments and see if we can’t beautify the world, one seed bomb at a time!

Next week I have a fun project to share with you all!  Until then, happy gardening!!!

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.


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Hello!  I hope you are all doing well and enjoying your time outdoors.  This week has been incredibly busy and I’m finding myself slightly overwhelmed with the May gardening chores!  The last frost date in CT is in about 3 weeks, and that is when I’ll be putting out my veggie seedlings.  I’m supposed to wait until then to plant up my annual containers as well, but I was seduced by pink flowers at the garden center today and I indulged.  Oh garden centers are my weakness and now I have another “chore” for my list this weekend!

organic  gardening

(Images: Garden Organic)

I’ve been rushing about to prepare my own garden beds. I’m usually out there really early in the morning or really late at night and sometimes I feel a bit nutty about the whole thing.  But then I think about how much the local chipmunks enjoy eating my tomatoes and my motivation just blossoms….

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(Image: Ryan Berkley Illustration)

As a result of my very busy week I’m feeling the urge to sit back and relax with a glass of wine and some youtube videos….yes, the roomba cat will be on repeat, but I will also be visiting some of my favorite organic gardening channels.  I love to see what others are doing in their gardens, and pick up new ideas.

As I mentioned last week, I have an inner English lady.  So naturally, I gravitate to British gardening shows!

One of my favorite youtube channels is GardenOrganic’s channel.

caroline's weekend

(Images: Caroline Finnegan)

The Produce Garden

The Thrifty Gardener

Treehuggertv

Organic Texas

eOrganic

I search youtube for organic gardening, permaculture, landscape design and anything else my mind may come up with….after a couple of glasses of wine, it will be back to roomba cat, I cannot lie…but until then I will be enjoying some great gardening!

Do you have any favorite youtube sites?

Next week I have a fun project to share with you all!  Until then, happy gardening!!!

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.


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Hello! How is everyone this week? Have you started your gardens yet? Are you seeing weeds popping up yet? Or are you lucky and only seeing seedlings???

Here at Ladybug HQ we are seeing lots of new growth on our plants…and lots and lots of blooms. I went into the backyard this morning and cut some viburnum branches to make a giant bouquet….I needed to prune those plants back and am so happy I waited (procrastinated) until they were in full bloom!

This week I wanted to share a few of my favorite things with you…

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Tracey DiSabato-Aust Her book The Well Tended Perennial Garden is a must have for anyone who gardens with perennials . I have learned more from this book than from any other source about cutting back, pinching, planting and generally caring for perennials. Lots of landscape designers shy away from too many perennials in a garden, fearing the maintenance issues that arise with their use. This book makes that maintenance a simple process and I refer to it all of the time.  She also designs remarkably gorgeous gardens and I look to her as one of my primary sources of inspiration.  I have bought at least 6 copies of this book, and I am very glad it is now out in paperback because my car kit just became that much lighter.

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Bonsai scissors I use them to prune the houseplants.

All images in collage copyright Cabbages & Roses

All images in collage copyright Cabbages & Roses

A Guide to Natural HousekeepingCabbages & Roses…what can I say except that I love this book and I love this company. Their clothing speaks to my inner British lady…and their housewares are gorgeously inspirational. This book is beautifully packed with ideas for a green home and garden.  I am ordering their sew your own skirt kit as a gift for myself…I think it will be perfect for flea marketing….

nettle tea

Nettle Tea – This past Monday I took a nap after a particularly early start to what turned out to be a grueling morning. During this nap I dreamed I was drinking gallons upon gallons of nettle tea. I woke up and listened to my dream and have since drunk at least two gallons of the stuff. I love the flavor, the way I feel when I drink it and I choose to believe in its medicinal properties. Some say it tastes like pond scum…I say I must have been a frog in past life I love the stuff so. To make it, I simply throw a bunch of dried nettle leaves into a large pot of water…set it to boil and let it steep for as long as I can wait.  Then I drink away.  After I am done, I use the tea leaves to enrich the water I use for the houseplants…simply throw the leaves in a large mason jar, cover with spring water and let them sit for a few days.  Dilute by half and watch your houseplants perk up.

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The cleaning and gardening trio….

Vinegar – The vinegar I use is plain ole straight up white vinegar. I buy it in jugs and use it up quickly. For cleaning, that and its BFF baking soda cannot be beat. But I love it most for getting rid of weeds in rock gardens or in between cracks of the pavement. Oh how quickly and how easily it works. Just pick a hot sunny day, grab your spray bottle of undiluted vinegar and spray away. It is a non-selective killer, so be careful not to get it on the plants you want to keep…

Baking Soda - Clean away and absorb odors…but also use in your  garden.   Mix one tablespoon baking soda, one teaspoon soap (I use castile soap) and a gallon of water and spray your phlox and roses and hydrangeas and any other plant you find is susceptible to powdery mildew. This works best as a preventative, and I’ve known gardeners to keep a spray bottle permanently hidden in the garden so they remember to spray

Epsom salts – My dear friend Epsom Salt.  I use it to soak away aches and pains, but I also use it in gardens to strengthen roses.  Epsom salts have been used as a fertilizer for generations, but I tend to use it rather sparingly outdoors.  If a soil test tells me the soil is lacking magnesium I am liable to find other ways to supply that nutrient to the soil microbes. But, I will use it selectively on roses as a foliar spray – I mix 1 Tablespoon to a gallon of water and spray every couple of weeks or so. I have personally found this to be beneficial for the roses.  I also use it as pick me up for my houseplants a couple times a year.

What are a few of your favorite things?  Do you have the Sound of Music stuck in your head now?  I do…and I’ve been listening to this version of one of my favorite songs!

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.


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Hello!  I hope you have all had a lovely week and are feeling excited about your gardens  – hopefully they are bursting with new growth…..and not too many weeds!  This past week has been a fun one for me.  I’ve been meeting with lots of new clients, and I’m thrilled that more and more folks are choosing an organic approach for their landscape.  With such a heightened awareness and demand for organic gardening products, I am seeing a huge increase in the amount of products labeled organic.  I wanted to spend this week, in honor of Earth Day, talking about the marketing and labeling of organic products, as well as trustworthy sources for organics.

flowers

A quick Google search will show that there have been many instances of non-organic products being marketed and sold as organic. Calling something “organic” is currently a very powerful marketing tool and many companies are bringing out “organic” versions of their products.   I strongly recommend you do some due diligence before buying any product labeled “organic”.  There are not enough regulations in place to effectively challenge and remove inappropriately labeled products. Indeed, some of the “organic” fertilizers contain ingredients I would never willingly handle. There is a well known and organically marketed product out there that is basically dried sewage sludge.  Under no circumstance would I put this in a garden, especially one that contains edibles.  Yet it is marketed as “organic”.

flowers

This is a brief lecture break:  Be careful when using any fertilizer or pesticide. Even if it IS organic, it does not mean the product will not create harm if not applied or disposed of properly.  Always, always, always follow manufacturer’s recommendations and also be sure you are wearing your sunscreen!  Now back to the topic…

flowers

So what kind of due diligence do I recommend?  Well, first of all learn more about what is truly needed in your landscape.  Yes, that means a soil test! Then start to look around and compare the organic products out there.  I personally always look for a product to be OMRI listed, especially if I am using it on edibles.  I also tend to trust products manufactured by companies that support local and sustainable agriculture.  A great resource for products and ideas is Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.  I adore these guys – seriously.  They have great prices on organic products, and as much as I have problems with the cross country shipping, before organic was a marketing tool, they had the products I needed at a price that was reasonable.  I look to them first and refer most of my clients to their site.

flower

Another great resource is your local farmer’s market.  Go and talk to your local organic farmers.  Ask them where they buy their organically certified fertilizers.  Ask if you can tour their farm, or even volunteer.  Not all farms will be open to this, but many will appreciate the extra help, especially around planting and harvesting time.  Become involved in your community and the resources will appear.  Last year we had buckets and buckets of chicken manure in the garage thanks to a random conversation while taste testing at the farmer’s market.  We used that manure in our gardens, saved ourselves money and met some pretty interesting people.  Food coops are another great place to become involved and find great local resources. Do you have any other resources or ideas you can recommend?  I would love to hear from you if you do!

flowers

For the next week, at least, celebrate Earth Day everyday!  Celebrate your life and your soil and all your blessings, great and small!  Make a conscious choice to educate yourself and connect with your community.  Treat yourself with compassion and extend that compassion to those around you. And most importantly, from an organic gardening point of view, love your soil, love your earthworms and embrace the perfect imperfection of nature’s chaos!!  See you in the comments!!!

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.


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Hello! Welcome to the first step of our journey towards lush healthy organic gardens for us all! It has been a stunning week here in CT – the weather is in the low 70’s, lots of sunshine and the Spring show is in full force. I am thoroughly enjoying my drives around the state and more than once I’ve pulled over to smell magnolias or just stand underneath a cherry tree as its blossoms fall to the ground. I’m never really aware how tired I am of winter until all the voluptuousness of Spring bursts forth and seduces me back into the soil.

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{frill}

Right now I cannot get enough of being outside, and I’ve noticed the sun has been kissing my nose a bit too much! So I am going to remind everyone that one of the most important rules of outdoor gardening is protect your skin! Find a good quality high SPF sunblock and reapply, reapply, reapply. Wear a hat and gloves and be sure to protect the back of your neck, the tops of your ears and your feet. Skin cancer is a very real danger and I beg you to please take your protection seriously.

hat

{much better}

OK. So now on to the garden! The most basic principle of organic gardening is building up your soil. What does this mean? It basically means that you want to create a healthy soil system that is rich in beneficial organisms and bacteria, that can hold moisture well and that can allow your plants to absorb all the nutrients they need.

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{img by Bonnie Forkner}

The first step in building up your soil is knowing what you are already working with. This means having a soil test done, preferably by your local County Extension Office. You can buy kits for soil testing, but these are not going to be anywhere near as precise and informative as the ones run in a lab. When I run a soil test through the UConn Extension Service I get back a sheet of paper with information about the pH and nutrients in my soil. They also provide recommendations for the amount of fertilizer to apply as well as let me know how to adjust the soil pH, if necessary. The pH of your soil is very important, as this will determine and affect the availability of plant nutrients. A soil test cost me $8 per test, and I consider that the best investment I can make in my garden.

how to sample

How to Sample (taken from the University of Connecticut Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory)

1. Using a spade, trowel or bulb planter (illustrated above), take cores or thin slices of soil from 10 or more random, evenly distributed spots in your sample area, to the appropriate depth indicated above.

2. Put the cores or slices of soil in a clean container, and thoroughly mix them. Transfer at least ONE CUP of the soil mixture to the plastic bag and seal. Place the plastic bag in a mailing envelope or a small box along with this questionnaire. (If samples are excessively wet, dry them at room temperature before putting them in the plastic bag. Do not dry samples on a stove or radiator.)

Here is a great video that shows you how to take a soil test.

Before you begin, contact your local extension office and ask them what they require from you. For example, UConn sells kits for $8 each and they come complete with instructions, a baggie and questionnaire form. Other Extension centers just need a baggie of soil mailed to them along with a note asking what you plan to grow there. I always specify that I require organic fertilizer and amendment suggestions.

Create separate soil tests for different areas of your garden. For my own garden I run at least 5 soil tests in the late winter – one for my vegetable garden, two for my lawn (one part of my lawn is shadier than the other), one for an area that is established trees and shrubs and one for the perennial border. If I notice that an area of the garden is not performing very well I will go ahead and run a separate soil test there as well.

soil test

{img by Caroline Finnegan}

This is the first step – next week we will cover how to interpret your soil tests and how to begin to amend your soil. By the way, I watered my camera while taking photos for this post, so next week I will have photos of my current projects…another don’t do this at home moment from Caroline!

I hope your week is lovely and filled with inspiring and fulfilling times enjoying nature. I would love to hear your feedback and am open to dialogue on soil testing, soil health and any other soil related issues you may have.

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.


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