Monday, May 31, 2010

Spin Bin Composter Giveaway

On May 21st, my blog turned 3 years old - I can't believe it.  You can see a picture of my first garden here.  I still love the upsidedown tomato cages which a reader corrected me on, thankfully.

To celebrate my blog's birthday, I'm giving away this great compost tumbler, courtesy of Clean Air Gardening.  It's made from 100% recycled plastic and holds 60 gallons.  These closed system composters are great for food scraps, especially if you're too afraid of mice (or God forbid, rats) to throw them into an open compost pile like I am.

If you'd like to enter the contest and you live in the 48 contiguous United States, leave a comment here telling me why you need this composter and I'll select a winner randomly from all the comments submitted.  The deadline for submissions will be Friday June 4th at 5:00 pm central standard time.  If you win, the company will ship the composter directly to your house.  So, please make sure that you either leave your email in the comment section, or that your profile links to something with an email address.  I'll announce the winner here as soon as I'm able to notify them.

Clean Air Gardening also sent me a Spin Bin to review and I'm super excited about it.  My husband says it looks like a spaceship but all those bolts along the seam remind me of Herman Munster for some reason.  I've already assembled mine and placed it in its new home right in the middle of my kitchen garden.  I'll be posting a full review as soon as I get some greens and browns in there and see how it works.

See high tech video below for a spinning demonstration.  And, Good Luck!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Feature: Garden Tours

Over the past few months I've been rather obsessed with the website Apartment Therapy.  I won't bother trying to telling you all about their site, but if you've never visited it, check it out.

My favorite feature at Apartment Therapy is their house tour.  In a very simple format, they ask the homeowner to answer a few questions about their house, stuff like style, inspiration, biggest challenge.  And they also post a few pictures of the house.  The survey in conjunction with the pictures, really gives you a sense of what the homeowner is like.  I just love it.

These house tours got me thinking of how our gardens are a reflection of our personalities, just like our houses are.  So let me just get to the point.  I'm starting the same type of feature here, except with gardens instead of houses.  I'm sticking to the same format Apartment Therapy uses and I'll post the gardener's completed survey, along with a slide show of pictures they chose.  Ones they felt captured the essence of their garden.  I hope you enjoy it.

Dear Apartment Therapy - thank you for inspiring me!

If you would like us to tour your garden, email me at myskinnygarden (at) yahoo (dot) com and I will send you the survey with instructions.

Welcome to Garden Tours!  Click here to be taken to Colleen's Organic Detroit Garden.

Colleen's Organic Detroit Garden

Name: Colleen Vanderlinden
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Size: ¼ of an acre
Age (of garden): 6 years 

Bio: I’ve been gardening since I was about 20, but I was bitten by the gardening bug as a teenager (it took a while to get my own garden.) Between pulling weeds in my mother’s garden and spending lazy summer days as a little girl lying under my grandmother’s giant lilac bushes, I’ve been in love with plants for a very long time.
I’m a garden blogger and writer. I blog at In the Garden Online, and am the organic gardening expert for and I lived a longtime dream last spring when my first book (Edible Gardening for the Midwest) was published. I feel insanely lucky to be able to make a living writing about things that interest me.
Type: Backyard
Style:  I guess if I were being generous, I’d call my garden a cottage style garden. I’m one of those people who falls in love with a plant and figures out where to plant it after I’ve already brought it home. So it’s kind of a mess, but it suits me.
Inspiration: Books and magazines, other garden bloggers, nature, and farms. (You know those people who say that a veggie garden shouldn’t look like a farm? They’d hate my garden because I actually want that straight-row, farm look!) My front garden was inspired by the book “Front Yard Gardens,” and seeing how much more could be done with the average American front yard.
Favorite Plant: It’s a tie between my ‘Miss Kim’ lilac and my ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes.
Biggest Challenge: Trees! We have six shade trees on our lot, one of which is a ginormous silver maple that sends roots everywhere. So between the shade and the roots, it can be tricky to grow everything I want to grow. The upside is that we always have plenty of leaves for mulch and compost.

What your friends say: “You got rid of more grass, didn’t you?”

Biggest embarrassment: This is going to sound stupid, but I’m really not easily embarrassed, so I can’t think of one. I’m sure I’ve made gardening faux pas, I just don’t care
Proudest DIY: All of the raised vegetable beds in my garden. Each one we add means more fresh food for my family.

Biggest indulgence: I’m really cheap by nature, so I don’t have many. I bought a few really nice, big glazed pots for the front porch last year, and that’s probably the most I’ve spent on anything other than mulch and manure in a long time.

Advice:  Just do what makes you happy. Don’t stress out when something doesn’t work out – that’s life in a garden. Also, don’t be afraid to try something just because the “experts” say it’s wrong. You’re the expert on your garden, and you might just know a few things they don’t!
Dream Source: The Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) catalog. I literally spend hours looking through it, dreaming. And this year I finally joined SSE and got the huge yearbook, with all of the available varieties listed. Heaven!

Garden Tour

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Swiss Chard, Scarlet Charlotte

I'm growing Swiss Chard for the first time this year.  (I did try to grow it one other time but it was a massive failure.)  I'm trying a couple of different varieties including this one, Scarlet Charlotte from Renee's Garden.  These were planted a few weeks ago from seed.  They are small and the leaves are still very pale green but they'll darken as they grow larger and when they're mature, they'll be a much deeper green with magenta colored stalks.

What is your favorite way to eat Swiss Chard?  I don't think I've ever purchased it so I really have no idea what to do with it other than to admire those beautiful red stalks.

Friday, May 28, 2010

First Harvest: Organic Home Grown Salad Greens

Yesterday I harvested the first food from my garden.  Fresh salad for lunch and dinner.  In the bowl I have a mix of Spinach and Arugula, both grown from seeds I purchased at Botanical Interests.  And Rocky Top Lettuce Mix, one of my favorite mesclun mixes from Baker Creek Seeds.

Some gardeners are intimidated to grow salad greens but take it from me, they're about the easiest, most rewarding things you can grow in your garden.  Get yourself a pack of mesclun seed mix, scatter them lightly over the dirt, then sprinkle a little dirt over the top of the seeds, barely covering them.  And water.  You can plant a little every three weeks and your family will be stocked with fresh organic salad all summer.

Organic salad greens are expensive.  Plus, I hate the pressure of buying a big container of them then stressing about eating them before they go bad.  Remember, by the time grocery store salad greens make it to your kitchen, they may have traveled over 1,500 miles.  They won't last long!  But grown in your personal garden, you can pick enough for each meal and leave the rest growing outside where they belong.

The hardest thing about growing salad greens is their tendency to bolt in the hot summer.  Are you growing a super heat tolerant salad green?  Leave a comment telling me which one it is so I can try it, myself.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peony Festiva Maxima

This is one of my two Peonies, Paeonia lactiflora 'Festiva Maxima'.  I picked this one up at the Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show in 2008.  It's is the second year it has bloomed.

Festiva Maxima is a Double Peony and the blooms are enormous, nearly 8 inches across.  I have a perfect view of it from my kitchen window and even at night the huge gaudy white blooms command attention.

I know you're supposed to cage these things to keep them more upright, but I like to let them wander around wherever they like.  And I've had no problem with them not being supported.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicago Green Festival 2010

This Saturday I attended Chicago Green Festival at Navy Pier.  According to their website, Greenfest is like a "taking a walk through a sustainable community."  To me, it was more like taking a walk through a giant infomercial.

It was my first time attending Greenfest and I had high hopes I'd go there, learn tons of new stuff and really relish being surrounded by like-minded people.  But there were so many high-pressure vendors yelling from their booths, and worse, standing in the middle of the walkway creating a barrier so that you had to listen to their pitch before passing.  My God they were aggressive.  I hate that.  The worst one was selling some small water bottle with a filter built right into it.  This lady was hard core!  As I walked through, she stepped in front of me, blocking me in.  Then she told me the story of the bottle which included some crap about her super hero husband who I think designed the bottle.  I don't know - my eyes glazed over as soon as she started talking.  I guess it's efficient to have a filter right there in your water bottle but I know I wouldn't go to the trouble of keeping a stock of the replacement filters and besides, I was highly annoyed by her tactics.  And there were a lot of vendors just like her!  I sort of found myself peaking down the isle to see if there was any particular booth I wanted to stop at, and plotting how I'd get to them without being accosted by the vendors I wasn't interested in.  As a result, I missed a lot but I was so annoyed I didn't even care.   I wonder what they'd do if I yelled "ShamWow!" at them as soon as they started their pitch?

There were some interesting lectures at the show, but when I attend these things, I always find I'm battling between whether to sit and listen to lectures, or spend my time out on the showroom floor looking for cool booths.  No matter which I choose, I always feel like I'm missing out on something.

The parts of the festival that I did enjoy were the booths who weren't really trying to sell a product as much as teach a concept.  Like Chicago Fair Trade and One Seed Chicago.  And my group did spend a big hunk of time talking to the guy from Seed Savers.  Hearing about the history of Seed Savers as well as how they run their operation was the highlight of the day for me.  Plus, I got a free pack of Sheepnose Pimento Peppers.  Score!  And I did get 4 new plants from a cool vendor whose name escapes me.  I also ordered a t-shirt and renewed my subscription to Mother Earth News who had a very low pressure booth at the show.

I was glad to see some of my favorite vegetarian restaurants like Chicago Diner, Soul Vegetarian and Upton's Naturals serving food at Greenfest.  It was a heck of a lot better than the corn dog type food normally sold at these shows.

Even though Greenfest was different from what I expected, I enjoyed meeting up with some of my favorite twitter peeps.  Xanboni, Alexander_Roman, Copedog, Snarkyvegan, mrbrownthumb, it was great catching up with you.  Let's do it again soon!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Who I Am

     I am a wife

     daughter-in-law, aunt

     a sister, basketball lover, an integral part of my community

     a gardener, daughter, friend

     a neighbor, a sister-in-law and a writer

It has taken me a very long time, but I'm starting to figure out who I am.

Who are you?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Painted Daisy

This is a Painted Daisy, Chrysanthemum coccineum.  It is on my top 5 favorite perennial plants in my garden.  The foliage is lacy, fern-like.  And the flowers grow along a tall slender stalk that is delicate enough to wave effortlessly when the wind blows, but strong enough to remain standing after the gusty Chicago winds.

The flower heads contain pyrethrum insecticidal substances, so plant them as companions along side veggies with bug problems.  These plants are thought to repel aphids, spider mites, cabbage worms and a whole host of other garden pests.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Help Me Identify This Plant

This is a plant that volunteered in my garden this year.  The stem is huge, maybe 1.5 inches wide.  The plant is over 3 feet tall now.

A few people have suggested that it could be the herb Lovage but Lovage leaves supposedly smell like celery, and these don't.

If you know what this plant is, please leave me a comment.  Thanks!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Semi-Dwarf Belle of Georgia Peach: We've Got Peaches!

I planted my only fruit tree, a Belle of Georgia Peach, in the summer of 2007.  This was the year I first started gardening and I didn't know anything about what to plant or where to plant it.  I knew that my family liked peaches so buying a peach tree seemed like a wise thing to do.  Then I started learning more about gardening here in Chicago and was disappointed to read that peach trees aren't typically grown here.  Our cold hard winters are just too much for them.

My peach tree came from Home Depot.  It was around 4 feet tall and pretty scruffy looking when I bought it.  I planted it way too close to the house and after learning I'd probably never get peaches, I sort of forgot about it.  I've never pruned it, never fertilized it.

Yesterday, while watering my newly planted Japanese Maple I caught a glimpse of something attached to the branches of the tree.  I was so excited to see baby peaches that I nearly peed myself.  I called my husband over and we stood there for a good long while, marveling at the peaches and talking about all the things we'll do with them if they survive.  It was in my top 5 gardening moments.  In fact, I haven't stopped talking about it, yet.

Unfortunately, I also noticed this gross red lumpy stuff on the leaves and later learned it's Peach Leaf Curl, a fungus that commonly attacks peach trees.  It seems that by the time you spot it, nothing can be done to get rid of the fungus.  The tree will need to be treated around November, or whenever about 90% of the leaves have dropped, and possibly again in January.  I also thinned as much of the tree as I could reach so that there is only 1 peach every 6-8 inches. This allows the energy to be focused on fewer fruit, a necessity since this fungus really stresses the tree.

So, after 3 years I'm thrilled to report that we're officially on a peach watch at my house.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Autumn Moon Japanese Maple, Take Two

A week ago Monday I pulled my car into the garage and as soon as I stepped out of it and glanced out the garage window, I knew something was wrong.

My landscaper pulled out the little Autumn Moon Japanese Maple that I planted last year in memory of my late father-in-law.  The tree was very small, probably only two feet.  Still, it was leafed out therefore I have no idea how it could have been mistaken for a weed.  It's inexcusable.  There are a lot of things in my yard that look like weeds, but who could mistake the leaves of a beautiful maple?  They also thought my Coconut Lime Echinacea was a weed, too.

I purchased a replacement which I planted today.  This one was the next size up and it's quite a bit bigger than the other.  These really are beautiful trees.  I'm so glad that I took Carolyn's advice and ordered it.  And as soon as I get reimbursed by the landscaper, he's getting fired.  I have had enough of people destroying my plants.  From now on, I'll be doing all my own mowing.

If you are looking for a well priced Japanese Maple, I highly recommend Wildwood Farm in Sonoma California.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring, The Scariest Time of Year for Midwest Gardeners

By this time, gardeners have likely planted cool season crops outside and some may have even been brave enough to transplant warm weather seedlings into the garden.  Now we worry ourselves crazy watching the weather, hoping the temperature doesn't drop too much.

In the summer the garden is in full production and the only thing to worry about is bugs and remembering to water.  We can do that!

In the fall, there's a risk of frost, too, but we don't care that much because we've been harvesting all summer.  Maybe we're even secretly hoping for frost so we have a good reason to put the garden to bed.

In the winter we're scouring seed books and making sketches of where stuff will be planted come spring.  And maybe we start some seeds indoors, safe and secure under grow lights.

Then comes spring.  We're excited to get outside and plant.  Then we sit back knowing we'll probably need to resort to desperate measures at least once before the temperature stabilizes.  Like tonight.  All over the midwest gardeners are bring seedlings back in the house and rushing to cover what can't be brought in.  I threw and old paint drop cloth over my strawberry plants tonight.  The rest are on their own.

This gardener took all her bed sheets outside to protect her vulnerable seedlings from the dropping temperatures.  What is the craziest thing you've done to protect a plant from the cold?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Community Supported Goat Share Programs

You know how they have Community Supported Agriculture programs where you can purchase a share of the produce grown on a CSA farm?  Well now you can do the same thing, but with goats!

Community Goat Share programs like the one at Prairie Fruits Farm are becoming more common.  You purchase a share of the goat, and in return you get fresh, local goat cheese.

At Prairie Fruits Farm, a full share is $200 per year and you'll get four (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) deliveries of fresh cheese.  If you live in the Chicago area, you can pick up your share at Green City Market.  Half shares cost $100.

It's too late to purchase shares this season but come December, be sure to check out Prairie Fruits Farm's CGS program.  I just love the caption under the cute goat on their goat share page.  "Do you want to have an intimate relationship with one of our goats and get cheese in return?"

If you know of other Goat Share programs or if you have participated in one yourself, please let me know.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

3 Things About Sowing Nasturtium Seeds

If you're planning to grow Nasturtium this year, there's a few things you ought to know about starting the seeds.

  1. Nasturtium don't really like being transplanted, so either direct sow them, or try starting them in peat or coir pellets.  
  2. Nasturtium seeds need darkness to germinate.  This makes starting them in pellets a little trickier because making sure they are completely covered and in darkness isn't as easy with pellets as it is with regular ole dirt.  
  3. Nasturtium seeds germinate a lot better if they are soaked in water over night.  
I started part of my Climbing Nasturtium seeds in peat pellets inside a plastic jug this year.  But, because I did not soak them overnight and because I didn't make sure the seeds were down deep enough in the pellets with the peat material covering them so that they were in darkness, only about 50% of them germinated.  I'm planning to direct sow the remaining (soaked for 24 hours) Nasturtium seeds.  

Nasturtiums are lovely, easy to grow from seed, plants.  They are beautiful in hanging baskets or spilling over the sides of a raised vegetable garden.  It's not too late to pick up a pack of seeds and try them for yourself, this gardening season.

"I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks, to Renee's Garden for the seeds."