Posts Tagged ‘Gardening in Small Spaces’

Garden Tower 2 Update

For those wondering how the Garden Tower 2‘s producing, here’s a photo series taken from each side. I rotate it daily or every other day. You can see some sides have more growth. Those would be the days I didn’t rotate so those plants got more southern exposure. This is a heavily harvested tower and still producing. I made a huge batch of pesto last weekend, mostly from the tower, and it looks like this weekend will be pesto time again.

Turning the tower seems to have kept most of my lettuce from bolting even in our many days of 90+ degree heat. As long as the tender greens get periodic afternoon shade, they seem to think it’s still earlier in the season. I can’t believe how much produce I’m getting from 4 square feet of space!


So far so good with the fencing and mesh cage. A groundhog sniffed around and tried to figure out how to break in, but the 2 foot metal fencing and gate around the bottom are just high and wobbly enough that it gave up after just one “window warning” (opened and slammed shut).


The other advantage so far is that the white cabbage moths can’t fit through the mesh to lay eggs on my kale. Major score! Usually by this time of year, those little green caterpillars do major damage or it becomes a near full time job picking off the eggs. It felt soooo satisfying yesterday to watch a moth try to enter from every angle and eventually move onto sipping catmint flowers. 🙂


Now …. if we can just get the groundhog to move out of our shed. I had enough extra kale to give my neighbor a bunch when she dropped off a bucket of used kitty litter to drop down the new burrow. Fun times! She said, “I’m trying to wrap my head around this. I’m leaving a bucket of used kitty litter on neighbor’s porch — and I like her.” Always an adventure, even with plenty of yummies.

I also need to figure out how to prop up the dwarf tomato plant without ripping the mesh sides or ceiling. Even with pruning, it’s getting too big to rotate without hitting the top or sides.


Overall, this garden season feels much more fun than past years in Kalamazoo. The front yard is mostly herbs, flowers, hot peppers, cucumbers and eggplant, but so far so good even there for lettuce. The front yard beds get afternoon shade, and the cucumber vines now shade the lettuce even in the sunniest parts of the day.

The weirdest thing is that something — I think a deer — is leaving all my edibles alone but decimating my “critter resistant” large sedum and one other plant that I only purchased due to its resistance. I forget the name now, but it starts with an “a” and it’s totally gone. I’ll take it, though. If something wants to concentrate on non-edibles that I only planted so I’d for sure have plants there even if an animal ate my more prized items, I’ll play along. Munch away … far, far away from the things I want to eat. 🙂

Garden Tower Project + Face Mask Frames

Last night, I asked my future self in my dreams, “What are you grateful I put into play earlier? What do you wish I had done now?”

As a result, Crazy Plant Lady spent this morning figuring out how to set up our Garden Tower 2 in an animal proof way, since all the critters have made for much smaller scale gardening than I did in Goshen with two fully permacultured yards. I also ordered seeds for crop varieties I’d given up growing due to our many groundhog “friends.” We mostly have perennial herbs, rhubarb, alpine strawberries, aronia, elderberry and blueberry bushes, plus some edible ornamentals scattered among the flowers.

The Garden Tower 2 inside a mesh pop up cage, on top of concrete pavers surrounded by wire fencing, in our fenced backyard should allow me to grow carrots, collards and other goodies normally devoured by rabbits, groundhogs and deer. With some of my crops protected, I can focus attention more on those, and feel relaxed about the other beds planted with more critter resistant varieties.

We have a yard with lots of raised beds, but the Garden Tower 2 allows you to grow 50 plants and compost in a very small space. For those people looking to garden more, here’s a list of my favorite permaculture and edible yard resources.

I also see that The Garden Tower Project is now manufacturing face mask frames for men, women and children. You can add your own filter, bandana, or whatever fabric you have on hand.

I know both Colin Cudmore (inventor of The Garden Tower Project) and his mom, Ann Kreilkamp, but I have no financial connection to these resources. Just sharing here in case anyone else feels led to increase garden yields or make their own face masks. Remember to breathe! As the Hopi say, “This could be a good time.”

Garden Update: Perennials in Containers and Mid-May Blooms and Growth

Tomorrow marks the supposed last frost for Kalamazoo, MI. I’ll need to find a new motivation to do squats now that I (hopefully) won’t need to haul these lilies and ranunculus into the garage a couple nights per week! The almost blooming chives in front love the cool spring nights, but I bought the more tender flowers on the first warm day we had. Six frost warnings later, I admit, I got a bit ahead of the weather. 🙂


Our backyard redbud knows the right time to blossom. I love this tree, and the photos never do it justice:


Hostas, rhubarb, vinca, and strawberries know it’s time to go green: Continue reading

Edible Landscaping Secrets

I get so many questions from people about permaculture, edible landscaping, Robinhood roses, and “permaculture in pots” that I thought I’d list some of the top things I’ve discovered here. This is by no means a comprehensive post — just sharing some of the beauty and a handful of general tips. (If you would like personal assistance with your own situation, this month’s Property Reading Special can include that.)

Combine Flowers with Veggies:

One of the easiest ways to sneak edibles into a “regular” landscape is to intermingle them with flowers. Passersby will notice the blooms but not the edible. This purple iris and columbine camouflage purple and green radicchio. The taller, vibrant plants distract critters from the radicchio, while the lower radicchio covers the soil and keeps it from drying out so fast. The radicchio is so well hidden that I forgot it was even there, until I found it un-nibbled and happy in the slight shade provided by the purple maple and taller flowers:


Even trickier, you can plant edible flowers like nasturtiums, violets, hibiscus, borage, and roses. Many herbs like sage and lavender flower as part of their life cycle, and squash blossoms are not only beautiful but delicious!

Consider Color:

Many vegetables come in unusual colors beyond what you find in the grocery store. Sources like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds specialize in rare and colorful varieties of garden classics. Even standards like red chard can play nicely with coordinated snapdragons and pansies like we have approaching our front door:


Continue reading

Troubleshooting in the Garden: Some Tips

morning harvest

This morning’s harvest

Even during unrelated intuitive sessions, clients often take a few minutes to pick my brain about garden challenges. Since I keep hearing similar questions, I thought I’d share a few observations and tips here.


Many people know I’ve owned and used both the original Garden Tower Project (which a new gardener friend now has) and the new Garden Tower 2. A lot of people purchased GT’s after reading about them right here, and new growers have asked for help this year.

First of all, I have to say that in most areas of the US, 2016 has been an extremely difficult gardening year! If you have not had the hugely abundant harvest you imagined, don’t blame yourself or the Garden Tower Project. In most areas, prolonged heat and drought have played a major role — including in my own next generation GT, until I figured out the issues. Below, you’ll find some photos, along with my discoveries in our yard, as well as what I’ve deduced from talking with clients. You can also skip my observations and go directly to their website’s FAQ’s.

Garden tower 2 in August.jpg

As you can see, we’ve got some really good growth up top, some moderate growth in the middle, quite a few empty holes, and some dried out plants on the lower level. If the GT2 were my only garden, I would give it full attention, and I have no doubt this system would be producing from all the holes. I just happen to be gardening 1/3 acre spread across two yards, with many thirsty and delicate new fruit and nut trees and perennials. I also have annuals spread all over the yard in various raised beds and in the ground, so unfortunately, the GT2 has not received priority this summer. That’s sad news if you happen to be a plant in my GT2; however, it’s good news for people who are not as passionate about gardening as I am. Let’s call this a level playing field for the average person who just doesn’t spend much time gardening.

GT2 backside

The empty holes you see above at one time held cooler weather crops like lettuce, cilantro and arugula, which really don’t like much above 70 degrees, or they bolt. We’ve had consistently hot, humid, rain-less temps in the 90’s for weeks. It’s miserable for a person, let alone cool season annuals! If you provide just the right shade at just the right time of day, or you reseed throughout the season, you can grow these crops all summer. I just got too busy to replant when the first round died out, which brings me to …

Tip #1: If you want maximum harvest, then you need to plant the holes with the right types of crops for each season. Again, the Garden Tower Project website’s FAQ section contains a lot of info about appropriate plants. The Urban Farmer site also includes month-by-month info on what to plant when.

Tip #2:In addition to providing extra plants to harvest, filling all the holes with plants shades the soil and keeps the GT and GT2 from losing so much moisture out the sides. I discovered this the hard way! The lower pockets dry out first, since moisture rises. If you don’t water deeply enough, those plants may not even get enough water to begin with. If you have lots of openings for the sun to beat on all day, then those areas and nearby plants will dry out faster. Once your plants grow large enough to shade any empty pockets, this becomes a non-issue, but if you only want to grow a few plants, then you’d be better off growing them in smaller containers. Taking advantage of the many growing holes in the GT and GT2 creates a synergistic effect for all the plants, as they work together to hold in moisture. Plants are social! Pack ’em in.

For the record, we’ve already harvested a lot of produce from the GT2: eggplants, green beans, celery, purple kale, basil, cilantro, lettuce, and we’ve got okra on the way. I find the celery particularly impressive, since that’s usually a challenge even for advanced gardeners to grow well.

The various beans were growing strong until I let them all dry out. Beans like moist soil, which brings us to…

Tip #3: If you want to ignore your GT or GT2, then consider planting more drought-hardy plants like amaranth, quinoa, cosmo flowers, or even a green striped cushaw squash from the bottom holes. 

I’ve actually been really impressed with the eggplants and kale, since despite my neglect this summer, the GT2 ones are producing more rapidly than their in ground or raised bed counterparts. The opposite is true with my black-eyed peas, which apparently hate my irregular watering in the GT2 but have grown gangbusters in the ground. They’ve shown medium performance in raised beds, with much better growth the better the bed retains water. It’s all a mad scientist garden experiment, but now I know: black-eyed peas go in the ground if I want maximum growth. Put hardier plants in the GT2 if I don’t want to babysit it while the rest of the yard demands so much attention.

Tip #4: Yes, you really do need the red wiggler worms, and you need to feed them regularly! If you don’t feed them in the compost tube, they will die, and then your plants will look all sad and nutrient deficient. That happened to me, because we have four other compost bins, and I had “just filled the GT2 tube a few nights ago.” I kept dumping veggies craps in the other bins, and when I opened the compost tube again, it was empty. Those worms can eat! David does vermicomposting in our basement, so I replaced the red wigglers and have continued to feed them every day. Within two days, all the plants except the black eyed peas perked up. I really just need to replace the black eyed peas with a fall crop!

Tip #5: Do collect and reuse your water from the GT and GT2. You need a tub under the first generation GT, but the second generation has a collection cabinet built in. You’ll see the nutrient-rich, brownish “worm tea” when you collect it and your plants will love you for re-watering them with such potent growth material!


The Garden Tower Project is essentially a very large, complex container garden with a built-in vermicomposter, so all the tips about needing to monitor water and plan for drought periods holds true with container gardening, too.

Plants in the ground can grow deeper roots if the soil dries out, but plants in containers only have whatever water you or rains provide them. Mulch helps. If your soil still dries out between waterings, or you just don’t want to water so often, you can also saturate the soil and then fill an old wine bottle with water and stick it on an angle in the soil. As the wet soil dries out, it will begin to pull water from the bottle. (If you begin with dry soil, then all the reserve water will just pour out, so begin with wet soil to use this method.) I have many tomato plants in raised beds, but this little container plant produced our first five tomatoes of the season and continues to pump them out. I can’t believe how many tomatoes we get from such a tiny little plant!

tomato with wine bottle

Without the built-in vermicomposter of a giant Garden Tower Project “container garden,” you will need to provide additional nutrients at some point(s) throughout the season, depending on how rich your original potting soil was and how heavy your plants feed. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and leafy greens are all heavy feeders!

You can use an organic fertilizer for fruits and veggies, or dilute your own urine as nutrient boost. It sounds gross, but Mother Earth News did a study a few years ago to find the best fertilizer for plants, and diluted human urine won. It’s free, sterile, and you don’t need to flush your toilet all the time. Depending on the plant and how yellow your pee is, you’ll need to water it down anywhere between 5-20 parts water:1 part urine.

Do NOT pour straight pee or old urine on your plants! It’s too strong and will likely kill them. You can, however, dump straight pee or old, collected urine directly on your compost pile. A lot of organic farmers just pee in the fields (but not directly on their plants) or in their compost pile. It’s kind of a not-so-secret sustainability tip that closes the loops.


I’m running out of time here, but thankfully, my public outcry about the drought appears to brought some much needed rain as I typed! Speaking of drought tolerant plants, though, if you’re looking for no-care roses that tolerate pretty much any conditions, I highly recommend Robinhood roses:

robinhood roses

I planted a whole hedge of these lovelies in front of our house, and they bloom from June until the first heavy frost. You don’t need to deadhead them back to the first five leaf bunch like most roses, and I have not even watered these once this year. Sometimes I do cut off the spent blossom clusters, but not in a fussy way at all. These roses are somewhat salt tolerant, too, so you don’t need to worry about acidic soil. They line an area that often gets salt spray in the winter. Birds love hopping around these branches, and bees go nuts on the blooms! Every morning, I see flowers waiving in the breeze.

Robinhood roses: the most carefree beauties in our yard.

Wishing you and yours beauty and abundance. If you don’t grow your own, consider volunteering to help a neighbor who does in exchange for their excess … and don’t forget to support your local farmers market!

Growing Up

In so many ways, humanity is being asked to grow up right now: take those heads out of the sand, look around, and decide what you’d love to see in your world. Then plant it, water it, nourish it, and watch that reality grow as you do. I see so many parallels in my private sessions and classes with people, and in the microcosm of my side and backyard gardens. One parallel I’d love to address today is the concept of limitation — looking around at your life, your yard, your “circumstances,” your world … and giving up before you start. Common excuses include:

“I don’t have enough space/time/light to get started.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“What if I fail?”

“It’s too much work.”

“I’d love to have more sovereignty over my life/food/career/mind, but what can you do? It is what it is.”

To which I say, “Grow up.” In the nicest possible ways, each and every one of us needs to step into our own natural creativity, sovereignty, community and wisdom. If we don’t see the space (whether literal or figurative), we do have the power and the choice to clear things away, to grow in unusual and unexpected directions, and flourish under any and all supposed restrictions. Today I’m posting a couple videos from others and some photos from my own very small space, vertically efficient garden. Please take whatever inspiration you can glean on whatever level, whether related to gardening of the soil or soul.

In this first video, we see an urban garden with loads of cabbage and chard serving as edible front yard ornamentals. Many people let city regulations stop them from using sunny front lawns to grow food. With the right selections, you can create beauty and food. The book “The Edible Front Yard” offers lots of guidelines, from simple to extravagantly gorgeous. The Healthy Irishman in this video interviews his neighbor about her growing strategies, and at the end you can hear how her choices impact her neighborhood of cooks.

This next video shows John Kohler’s front yard garden. When I lived in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, CA, I knew John. I have to say, his garden has grown. LOL!! Majorly. John’s a hardcore gardener and avid raw foodist. He’s also very frugal and shares many tips in this video about how to save money while building raised beds. He also covers drip irrigation to water at the roots of the plant, allowing him to maintain a busy travel schedule while saving water, too. He also covers spacing for maximum harvests. John uses rock dust as a fertilizer, and I have to say his produce was some of the sweetest, tastiest stuff I’ve ever tasted. Even if you’re not intending anything as major as John’s front yard farm, you can learn a lot from his vast gardening knowledge:

The following images are from our own side garden, which is extremely narrow and runs along the chain link fence between us and our neighbor.

Cucumbers growing up the fence behind our side steps

Cucumbers growing up the fence, behind our recycling and garbage cans

Topsy Turvy Tomatoes, morning glory and cucumber vines

I had been fighting the morning glories, trying to maintain space for our cucumbers, until the faeries just about went on strike. “Stop pulling out the morning glories!” I tried to explain that I had so little growing space that I wanted to save room for “edibles” or “plants I can use.” Well, those faeries sure showed me. I’ve been having trouble sleeping with all the solar flares, so I felt led to buy some Tulsi Sleep tea at Whole Foods. I didn’t look at the ingredients until I got home. Among them is “Dwarf Morning Glory (whole plant).” The next day, David surprised me with some flower faery books from the library. I opened to the Morning Glory, which “keeps away evil faeries at night.” OK, message received! The cukes and Morning Glory have made their peace, and I’ve let other — even non-edible –wildflowers grow amongst the edibles. Why? Because the faeries like them. Truth be told, so do I, and that side garden is a haven for bees, too.

Garden July 26, 2012

Believe it or not, we had a massive hail and rain storm last night, so this lush garden above was just been heavily pruned by me before photographing it. I harvested greens for a huge green smoothie this morning, plus enough greens for a large salad for lunch. I also cut some renegade tomatillo “limbs” that had become light hogs over the rest of the plants. I also used more string as support to lift the tomatillo and tomato plant offshoots off the ground. I learned last year that tomato leaves on the ground are an invitation for blight, a fungal disease that your plants really don’t want! Lifting them encourages healthier growth.

I initially worried about how much our garden has inserted itself beyond the fence. Nature uses fences as support rather than aggressive dividers — something we might do well to remember for ourselves! But I don’t like when people encroach on other people’s space/energy without asking, so I had been feeling a bit hypocritical blasting over and through the fence into our neighbor’s yard. Anyway, last week, I ran into our very busy neighbor, Lisa, and I apologized for the crazy growth into her yard. She smiled and laughed, then asked what I was growing. I then asked permission to harvest from her side of the fence if I couldn’t reach fruits from our side. I didn’t want to presume I could just enter her yard unannounced, and she’s rarely home, so I didn’t want to wait until I might happen to see her if I needed to harvest something. To my surprise, she was thrilled that I was growing food so close to her home. She mentioned her own not-so-green thumb and thought she might have just “manifested a gardening neighbor instead.” I offered her some of our harvest, and she thanked me for that. She would have let us harvest anyway, but it was a nice touch.

Two days later, I saw her carrying potted plants into her garage. I yelled over, “Wow! Did you decide to grow things after all?” She explained that she had been so inspired by my garden and comments about how grounded I feel tending plants that she went out and bought some potted herbs for herself. She didn’t know how to grow herbs anymore than she had known how to grow tomatoes when they failed a few years earlier. I, on the other hand, grow herbs year round, indoors and out. She walked over to our side of the fence to see our basil, sage, parsley, oregano and other herbs and to get some tips for indoor potting soil and growing. I don’t know why, but it made me so happy that Lisa, our non-growing neighbor, suddenly felt the urge to bring some plants into her home. I’m sure the basil and other herbs will love her southern window sills.

All of which is to say … that so many of our limitations really do exist only in our imaginations. If we can express our desires, share our visions and ask for permission before trouncing on anyone else’s space, sometimes those discussions lead to surprising and wonderful places. Because of my garden, I now know that my busy neighbor isn’t just a schoolteacher, but also a passionate artist whose private business is flourishing. She now knows I stick my hands in the dirt to ground myself from all the intuitive work I do. She knows I talk to faeries and give them bling in exchange for them helping tend my trickier plants. I know she’s looking forward to fresh produce “magically” appearing on her doorstep. She now knows that herbs are the easiest things to grow — almost like weeds. The biggest problem she’d likely have would be from over-watering or over-care. That drew a big smile from Lisa!

A couple weeks ago, I had asked the Universe to help me get to know my neighbors better than just a wave. In this past week, all connected to gardening, I’ve gotten to know an intriguing but busy neighbor on one side, called a rain storm in with a neighbor on the other side, discovered our across-the-street neighbors have the equivalent of a small farm tucked away in their backyard, and met several other neighborhood friends of friends. In perfect balance, our neighbors on the other side, have a prolific vine growing onto our side of the fence. I prune it back over my shady backyard garden, but in other parts I let it grow large and free. I’ve posted about hummingbirds twice recently, and this is where I see them. As I type, I can look out at the orange flowers and my friendly neighborhood hummingbirds. Life is good!

Eco-Watering, Faery Guardians and Plant Wisdom

Well, it’s July 1, which has, since 2010, been celebrated by me as the official “Laura Bruno Independence Day.” What better way to acknowledge the day than by recognizing that deep, abiding connection to Mother Earth, who provides whatever we need if we honor her and have eyes to see: hence another gardening update. (Also, Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian friends and readers!)

Garden July 1, 2012

I have learned so much just by watching plants. Take, for example, my various kale species, which I grew from seed indoors. They had spindly stems when I transplanted them outdoors, and I watched for weeks as they did flip flops every day. At first, I tried to “help” them by straightening them out, encouraging them to find what I considered a “better” angle for growth. Haha, silly me! I finally left them alone to do their flip flop, figuring if they were all doing it, they must have some kind of method to their madness.

Sure enough, they created firm bases from which to grow. The spindly stems have now grown strong, if crooked, responding to their environment in such a way that they have more solid grounding than straight growth would ever have afforded. There’s a lesson in there for those of us who find ourselves inexplicably led down seemingly opposite or unrelated paths for awhile. Follow that intuition as it creates a solid base from which to flourish!

Plants are smart. My cucumbers were planted too far away from the tomato cage and fence setup, but I worried about moving the cage in case it disturbed their roots. Then one day, I looked, and the bigger cucumber plant had miraculously centered itself directly inside the cage. What’s more, someone or something helped manifest even more support. I got the idea that this tomato cage wasn’t really a trellis and might not do the trick. Yesterday, I intended to walk to the co-op to get a green juice, but something told me to walk down a different road. Lo and behold, a garage sale sign! “Maybe I’ll find a cucumber trellis,” I thought. Well, I found a lovely bauble to go with the others I’d hung to appease the faeries watching over my garden:

Garden Baubles for Faeries

Not seeing a cucumber trellis, but sensing one there, I finally asked. The woman tending the garage sale explained that it was not her sale, so she didn’t know. She asked me how large a trellis I needed. “Not large, I guess. I just need to help the one plant over to my steps or to the fence.” “How ’bout this?” asked the woman. She removed several items from a display rack, and sure enough, that would do the trick. I returned home and thought, “String. I need some string for that tomato cage. Where am I going to manifest my string?” Forgetting about that, I decided to plant some lemon balm and noticed a container that had been bugging me all week because its decorative string had begun to unravel. I started trying to replace the string and suddenly, silly me, I realized what had happened. I strung the string on the tomato cage turned cucumber trellis:

Smart Cucumbers and Magic String

In the photo, you can see how the larger cuke has situated itself right inside the cage, and how the white display rack/sorter shelf perfectly fills the gap between cucumber and fence. I’m still shaking my head over that one, in addition to realizing the night before that those faeries wanted more bling in the garden. I had already hung the little peace bauble, as well as a tiny bejeweled Hamsa to protect my cabbage family plants from caterpillars, but the night before the garage sale-string adventure, I had gotten the clear message that garden faeries wanted at least one more shiny thing. As a little reward for finding the bling, I also received a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s lavender hemp soap for only 75 cents. (Winks and giggles from the Universe, since I had just noted I’d need to buy more soon.)

In addition to manifesting various gardening treats and tools, I’ve found that plants really do respond to invitations. We now have tender dandelion leaves growing in our back yard garden bed, along with purslane, nettles, volunteer strawberries, some thriving parsley and other friends. David and I love, love, love purslane, and I strongly invited it to grow prolifically. Sure enough, that Omega-3 rich, lemony purslane has sprouted up in sidewalk cracks, where it’s currently thriving, as well as in the garlic “hole” of our Garden Soxx:

Volunteer Purslane

OK, I’ve shared about the faeries, plant wisdom, manifestion, and invitations, but what about the eco-watering? Wisconsin’s having what some people would call a drought. I don’t like to label things unless I want them, so let’s just call this an opportunity to recognize abundance. I’ve lived in the desert before, although I never gardened there. But my Sedona friend, Toni, does! She’s so cute, giving me weather updates and flower photos nearly every morning, and she often shares about her use of gray water.

We have a rain barrel here, but when it rarely or never rains, those barrels get low. For some reason, our barrel always has at least a little water in it, even when nowhere else gets rain. It’s like a magical cauldron or something, how that rain barrel keeps replenishing itself without rain. The bees and wasps love it, too. There’s a tiny leak at the bottom, and my little pollinators and predator insect friends go there to drink. I love the rain barrel, but this week it struck me just how much water we can waste without even thinking of it. Years of desert living taught me not to flush the toilet after every single pee, but when you live in massive humidity, you can sometimes forget how dry it really gets. You can forget to honor a precious resource.

This week, David and I put buckets in our sink and shower, collecting water from showers and hand/dish washings. I know people in Santa Fe who do this regularly, but in humid Madison, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve let gallons of perfectly good water go down the drain. No more! We’re reusing our gray water for flowers and thirsty non-edibles. Yes, it’s kind of a pain in the neck (sometimes literally) to bring the buckets outside, but whenever I do so, I make an offering back to the Earth. She has responded with joy and sighs of relief. I also offer all smoothie and kefir rinse water to my plants, as these are so full of nutrients and/or rich organisms to help the soil.

Speaking of offerings, I wasn’t sure about sharing this next part, but it really does work well. I read last year in Mother Earth News that the best all around fertilizer for plants is a mixture of 1 part pee to 20 parts water. Minimum dilution ratio is 1:5, depending on plants’ nitrogen needs, and you can use anything from 1:5, 1:10 or 1:20 depending on frequency and soil. The 1:20 ratio is supposedly the best combo of the main macronutrients Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK). Other plant friendly additions include kelp, nettle infusion leftovers blended with water, chaga leftovers blended with water, worm tea or worm castings, as well as the coffee grounds I get each week from our local co-op.

When I first heard about the pee fertilizer, I thought, “Ew, gross!” and a lot of people still give me that look if I ever mention it. Watching how my plants respond to the dilution, though, I’ve come to view it as one of the deepest, most intimate ways I can give back to the Earth and plants that feed me. The day after I water the roots with my own urine mixed with water, I swear my plants have grown 30% larger overnight. The flowering ones put out new buds, and the greens seem to stretch themselves proudly to the sky. So yeah, maybe I’ve gone “off with the faeries” to Hippieville, but it saves a many gallon flush and makes my plants rejoice.

Our little side garden plot is so alive with bees, herbs, wasps, flowers, and faeries that it has become my favorite spot to sit and read. I’ve got chamomile sun tea “brewing” now, and the Tupsy Turvy tomato plants are growing well. I’m mid-process of manifesting some free lavender cuttings, and my newly planted lemon balm seeds will either grow this time, or the lemon balm cuttings will present themselves, too. I love our magical little garden, perhaps even more because of its challenging location and rental/weather restrictions. Thanks for sharing the journey with me! May we all flourish with our loving Earth.

Gardening in Partial Sun and Poor Soil

Here’s a little photo update detailing our gardening endeavors. As I’ve indicated before, our rental property presents some challenges in that neighboring trees shade the only raised bed for veggies, and the side of the house has poor soil and a chain link fence. Without major digging and soil amendment, we’re still aiming for maximum productivity with minimum effort and space.

We may still add some hanging Topsy Turvy Tomato planters, making sure to fertilize regularly, since I learned last year that without regular compost or nitrogen boosters, the tomato plants yield very few good fruits. Good news, though: used coffee grounds make excellent tomato fertilizer. Just today, I arranged at our local co-op to bring in a bucket, in which they will happily dump all their used coffee grounds for a later pickup. Free and easy on the adrenals. 🙂

Anyway, here are some shots:

Backyard Raised Bed

Our shady backyard bed has volunteer broccoli from last year. We keep the greens active, rather than the full broccoli plants, primarily because I don’t want to deal with green broccoli worms. The leaves taste essentially the same without any extra maintenance besides the nearby marigolds. We’ve also got what appears to be a volunteer strawberry plant. We planted some bok choy and celery leftovers from store bought produce, both of which seem to be growing now. I have transplanted collard and kale that I started indoors from seed. Those are growing, but definitely not too quickly with all the shade. Nasturtiums and parsley seem to be doing well, though. In the back of the bed, we have asparagus roots from our landlord, and on the other side of the bed, we have green onions planted from the produce section, as well as some prolific nettles and chives that reseeded themselves from last year:

Nettles and Chives

I will be planting some Asian Greens known as “Tatsoi,” which are supposedly “fast growing and vigorous … popular as a baby leaf for salads.” I like the idea of speedy and hardy growers that can handle partial shade, because I really am a lazy gardener. That’s why I love my nettles and mints:

Apple Mint from David’s house where he grew up.

My new favorite smoothie is nettles, apple mint, strawberries, banana, water and lemon stevia. Super yum!

Peppermint I planted last year when I learned it would be illegal in the UK.

Another delicious smoothie is what we call Andie’s Candies: peppermint (or peppermint essential oil), carob powder, hemp seeds, spirulina, coconut water and vanilla stevia. Way yummy!

Garden Soxx with a Southern Exposure

I have partially planted these experimental Garden Soxx — some with my own plants grown indoors from seed, and some with seedlings from our co-op. Those compost-filled, black mesh bags heat up in the sun, so some of my less mature seedlings wilted. Without mulch, I decided that larger plants might fare better. We still may add some kind of mulch, but for now, this is what we have: two kinds of kale, ruby red chard, nasturtiums, Greek oregano, flat leaf parsley, tomatillo, green onions, garlic greens, all with marigolds planted at each corner of the bags. One of the more fun aspects of our gardening project involved my building a tomato “fort” with a large board to secure compost within the chain link fence and then logs and concrete castaways from our neighbors’ patio project. We filled the fort with compost from our backyard, and then I planted two tomato plants I had started indoors from seed, plus a relocated indoor basil starter. My indoor basil is still growing gangbusters!

Tomato Fort with Tomatillo in the Garden Soxx to the right

We have another experiment in the works soon. It involves me creating a few indoor starters of “Double Yield” cucumbers, and then transplanting them outside so that we know which are the right cukes to foster. According to Seed Savers Exchange, “Introduced in 1924 by Joseph Harris Co. of Coldwater, New York. In the words of the introducer, ‘The remarkable thing about this new cucumber is its wonderful productiveness. For every pickle that is cut off, two or three more are produced.’ Very early pickling type. Green 6″ long fruits are symmetrical, smooth, and uniform. 50-60 days … Can started indoors 2-4 weeks before the last frost for an earlier harvest.” We will be planting these little guys under our side steps, allowing the vines to snake up the steps, a tomato cage, and the fence chain link fence. I created a little brown bag and rock “path” between the tomato fort and the steps for easier harvesting. Good thing I’m tiny and do yoga!

Cucumber Spot between the steps and fence

Other things in the works include New Zealand Spinach, which will never bolt, even in the hottest summer weather. I may plant those in some Gardeen Soxx alongside the other greens. I’d also like to check out a few other starter plants at Whole Foods and see if we want to do the Topsy Turvy tomato planters again. We do have two elder trees growing out back from last year’s planting. I don’t know if we’ll get any berries from them this year, though. Our window boxes will only hold flowers this year, and we’ve opted for a moisture control, non-organic soil for those, just to keep them lower maintenance than last year’s two waterings per day extravaganza. We did get some yummy kale and chard from those boxes with our nasturtiums, but they required more babying than I’m willing to offer this year. It’s all about ease and the yield this year, growing the right things in the right microclimate. I hope this inspires you in your own small plots, and I’ll let you know how it goes!