May 31st, 2012 § § permalink
Seed bombs are magical little nuggets of clay, compost and native seeds used to surreptitiously improve areas you’re unable to reach.
To determine native species in your area, ask a smart friend, or visit the Native Plant Database. My family and I live in the Northeastern U.S., and our seed bombs include (among other seeds) eastern red columbine, red milkweed, butterfly weed, New England aster, joe pye weed, lanceleaf coreopsis, blazing star, wild bergamot, sweet coneflower and rigid goldenrod. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. As mentioned previously, choose seeds wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive species that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native critters like butterflies and birds.
To determine your soil type, do the squeeze test: take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil and give it a firm squeeze. Most likely, one of three things will happen:
- The soil falls apart as soon as you open your hand. This means you have sandy soil.
- The soil holds it’s shape, and when you give it a little poke, it crumbles. This means you have loam. Perfect for a garden—it retains moisture and nutrients, but doesn’t stay soggy.
- It holds it shape, and when you give it a little poke, it sits stubbornly in your hand. This means you have nutrient-rich clay soil. Perfect for this project.
If you have dreams of a yard-ful of annuals, perennials and veggies, yet have the horrible misfortune of heavy clay soil (I can relate), today you are in luck. There is little need for clay amendment in your seed bomb recipe. Just head to your backyard and collect some clay soil. If your soil is sandy or loamy, however, you must add natural clay (often found in natural stream banks), terracotta clay powder or air-dry clay (found in art supply or health food stores).
Like making a mudpie, making a seed bomb is not an exact science. Use the below recipe as a guide, but your measurements needn’t be exact.
Seed Bomb Recipe:
3 parts clay (see note above)
3 parts dry organic compost or worm castings
1 part small native perennial seed
1 to 2 parts water (added by the Tbs)
The mixture should be moist, but not wet. Knead it with your hands, being sure to incorporate all seeds. Roll it into 1 to 2 inch balls. Set them on newspaper to dry for 2 days before using, or store on a sunny windowsill before throwing over a fence. Your seed bombs are ready to wreak havoc on green wastelands. Just throw and they will grow. Rich in nutrients, the clay and compost aid in germination and help strengthen plant root systems.
Nicely packaged in a handmade bag, seed bombs make fantastic handmade gifts for friends, family and teachers. Include a nice note or quote like one of these:
- Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. –Robert Louis Stevenson
- Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. –A.A. Milne
- Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy. –Shel Silverstein
- The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. –Roald Dahl
- Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart. –A.A. Milne
- Small as a peanut, big as a giant, we’re all the same size when we turn off the light. –Shel Silverstein
Once you have perfected the seed bomb, you may get the urge to branch out and attempt other small-scale unlawful acts. Do not mention my name during your interrogation!
Now, Joanie or Johnny Appleseed, plant something already!
May 20th, 2012 § § permalink
It’s time for unlawful mischief. It is time to plan swift small-scale attacks and organize aggressive mini mobile units to exhaust opposing forces. It’s time to take back orphaned land all but forgotten. To arm yourself with trowel, seeds, bulbs, saplings, and a vision of verdant green. It’s time to plant everywhere. Anywhere.
Fare-the-well sterile orphaned lots with rubble and rubbish—vacant unloved spots thrust between broken buildings and wildness! It’s time to whisper plans to each other—to break ground and work silently, stealthily—to race home and dance with heart exposed and arms in the sky. We will win! We will win!
Guerilla Gardening. Unbeknownst to you perhaps, this (slightly) unlawful silent underground movement—the unauthorized cultivation of plants on otherwise neglected public or private land in response to dwindling green space—is cropping up all around us. The idea is to reclaim green space, regardless of who actually owns it. Technically, guerilla gardening is illegal. You must accept the fact that some might view seedbombing as vandalism, just performed with plants instead of spray paint, rocks, matches or eggs. One part beautification, one part eco-activism, guerilla gardening is a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts—free-range planters on a mission.
But, it’s more than just planting. It’s putting green where it’s not expected—putting something common in an unusual place or something uncommon in a usual place—surprising people and making them re-evaluate their position in the natural world.
Never underestimate the power of a plant.
Before grabbing your spade (Holy moly! I can’t wait!), ask yourself the following:
- Will you be part of an organized gang (launching your green thumbs into an unstoppable offensive of wax myrtle at Calumet and Main) or will you work solo, impulsively scattering shooting star seeds in pavement cracks on your way to the post office?
- Will you be a one-time guerillero, or will you be making this a regularly scheduled habit of dogwood debauchery? You’re far more likely to avoid trouble if you bring smallish people with you. This lends some credibility to your act.
- Will you work in the early morning, evening, or furtively at midnight? I highly recommend early morning hours to avoid detection from suspicious passersby. Or, you may opt to be discovered. If so, wear THIS.
Where Do I Plant?
If not working alone, you should meet with your trusty gardening team (mine has small, steady hands) and do some research. Look around you and consider a few unloved orphan spots close to home—empty pots or concrete planters, abandoned public gardens, vacant car parks—even a gap in pavement can serve as a modest blank canvas. Now, let’s be clear. I don’t advocate tossing seeds or planting plants in your neighbor’s weedy flowerbed, and you don’t need to plant a farm or a community garden. Just one plant will do for now. You do need a sunny spot and good soil. You may consider planting at first in a portable pot. Placed near a street sign or next to the barber’s door, this may be the ideal start to a career of gardening with intention. Of course, you should sneak by to water it every so often, or leave with it a kind sign: I’m yours. Water Me Please.
What Should I Plant?
If possible, find a generous gardening friend with a good plant or seed selection. Otherwise, purchase species from a local plant or seed supplier. Often, native wildflower seed mixes are available. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. Choose perennial species wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive perennials that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native species like butterflies and birds. For a list of recommended native species in your area, visit the Native Plant Database.
The following are your planting options:
Native Bulbs: Usually planted in the fall, these miraculous little storehouses are simple to plant and bring a spring surprise.
Native Plants, Shrubs and Trees: Just pop in a plant. Choose hardy, preferably perennial native plants that are easy to maintain.
Annual Plants with Big “Wow” Factor: Choose plants that will catch someone’s eye—plants with a powerful punch.
Classic Clay Seed Bombs: These little fistfuls of compacted clay, compost and native perennial wildflower seed break down over time and eventually plants sprout in place of dirt, weeds and invasive species. Seed bombs are used to surreptitiously improve areas that a guerillero is unable to reach. Locked vacant lots or roadside embankments—all are promising native plant nurseries. Keep in mind that seed germination is highly dependent on water. Keep track of the weather. Scatter the seed bombs on the ground—over a fence onto an empty lot—right before an early spring rainy spell to ensure germination.
Pre-made seed bombs may be purchased HERE and HERE. Or, check back in a few days for my GREAT GUERILLA SEED BOMB RECIPE.
Please send me your before and after photos–I’d love to see.
Now, go forth and garden!
January 4th, 2012 § § permalink
Almost two years ago, through a local educational grant, I was among a group of parents, students, teachers and administrators who helped establish a vegetable garden at our grade school. We designed and installed a 25’ x 40’ garden with nine rectangular wood-framed beds, permanent above- and below-ground fencing, and an underground high-efficiency drip irrigation system.
Today, our small gardening program provides benefits that reach well beyond the garden gate. Our small garden helps teach an environmental ethic, helps demystify the concept of food production, and helps get kids really dirty. In December, we harvested the hearty carrots and turnips and watched our winter cover crop come up. In January, we keep small busy hands warm inside. Now we plant paperwhites.
Bulbs are miraculous little storehouses that hold not only a future flower, but also a stockpile of plant fuel required to produce an entire season of blooms. Here in New York’s Hudson Valley, typical hardy flower bulbs and the bulbs we eat (onions, shallots, garlic) require a chilling period before bloom or harvest time. Cool temperatures spark an internal biochemical response that triggers the embryonic flower to start its development. Most flower bulbs (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, Dutch iris, scilla) require 16 to 18 weeks of cold before the flower is fully formed. Once the blooms have faded, the bulb is nourished by the foliage and is equipped to produce flowers next season. It is a self-sustaining cycle.
Unlike most bulbs, Narcissus papyraceus is uncomplicated and quiet and doesn’t ask for much. Native to the southeastern Mediterranean’s warm climates, paperwhites are coaxed into indoor bloom with very little effort. Kept evenly moist in a bowlful of pebbles in the sun, they are reliable to the point of being foolproof. The outcome: fast-blooming star-shaped clusters of delicate white sweet-scented flowers—instant gratification in the dead of a northeast winter.
Paperwhites will bloom about 4 to 6 weeks after planting, so if you’d like flowers for special occasions, plan accordingly. For continuous bloom throughout the winter, plant bulbs every two weeks from now until mid-February.
How to plant paperwhites:
- Choose firm top size unsprouted bulbs, free of blemishes or discoloration. Select a watertight container 4- to 5-inches in height. Be creative—a small salad bowl, glazed pottery, clear glass vase or wide-mouthed jar is perfect for the job. Choose a size that’s wide enough to hold a small quantity of bulbs shoulder to shoulder.
- Spread a layer of clean river rocks, marbles, glass beads, or gravel along the bottom of the container. Gently position the bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the medium. Paperwhites prefer a big crowd, so squeeze them in. The more the merrier! Add another layer of anchoring material (rocks, etc.) to fill any gaps. Cover the bulbs up to their shoulders, leaving the pointed tips exposed.
- To avoid bulb rot, fill the container with just enough water so it contacts the roots, but not the bulb. Dutch farmers say to keep the water close enough so the bulb can “sniff” it, but not touch it.
- Set the container in a cool location with indirect light. Replenish the water every 2 to 3 days. Be patient. When roots develop in 2 to 3 weeks, move the container to a sunny window with southern exposure. Once the plants flower, remove the bulbs from direct sunlight and place them in a cooler place with indirect or diffused light.
- Ahhh! Spring in the midst of winter!
October 31st, 2011 § § permalink
Seeing as I’ve had a few of those crazy weeks (and I know you know what I mean), in lieu of a highly descriptive and captivating post about barely completing our mummy costumes for tonight’s Halloween events due to a surprise “winter” storm and loss of power, I hope you’ll accept some gratuitous photos of times I’ve recently had working in the school garden with all the kids. We’ve been busy putting everything to bed for the upcoming winter—harvesting the hearty fall beans, lettuce, tomats, carrots; cleaning up the beds; planting the winter cover crop. It’s important.
G’night garden! Sleep tight!
May 18th, 2011 § § permalink
My apologies. I’ve been neglectful. Spring arrived and I was caught off guard and spent the past few weeks getting my hands dirty, getting splinters and bruises and too much sun and getting darned poison ivy. There is nothing I like less than an armful of itch, but a new sheriff’s in town and the ivy’s been apprehended—I’ve laid down the law along with my basil, sugar snap, carrot, radish, lettuce, and swiss chard posse. Everything but the tomatoes and cukes are in. Yee haw! I’ll spare you the dirty details. I’ll admit only that I’m sure to have planted too much. I always do.
Here in the Hudson Valley, last spring frost is around Mother’s Day. Our growing season is short. This means many seeds are sown indoors weeks before final frost date. Tomatoes, cucumbers, looseleaf lettuce, summer squash, and gourds all spend quality family time with us inside in early spring. Some hearty ones we plant as seeds directly in the garden—sugar snap peas, radishes, swiss chard and carrots are tougher than the rest.
There are many. And they are hard to keep track of. Hence, plant markers.
This project requires old silverware. Teaspoons, tablespoons, iced tea spoons, and soup spoons are perfect for the job, but you nonconformists out there may use forks or knives. You will also need steel wool or sandpaper, a dishcloth, a black permanent marker, a hammer, cement or steel block, and a handy metal letter stamping set.
First, with your design team, consider what you’d like to display on your marker. Start simple. “Dill” and “Mint” are good. With practice, you’ll soon move up to “Catnip” and “Rosemary.” Cute lengthy phrases will eventually come easy like “you are my sunshine” or “meet me in the garden” or the cheeky anthropomorphic “water me, please.”
Anyway, to prepare your spoon for printing (I’ll say spoon since, to spare small delicate fingers, we prefer working with spoons over other silverware) wrap it in the dishcloth and place it face down on a hard, flat surface like a steel block or cement. Hammer the back of the spoon until it is completely flattened. Count out the letters in your word. With permanent marker, mark the number of letters in your word (with dots) on the spoon. Beginning with a middle letter, carefully place your stamp over the corresponding middle dot, being certain that the letter is facing the right direction. Firmly whack the top of the stamp once with your hammer. Repeat with remaining letters, until your word or phrase is complete. Using your marker, completely fill in each letter—no need to stay within the lines. Using steel wool or sandpaper, gradually buff away the black permanent marker marks surrounding the letters.
Voila! Now, get outside and use ‘em.
Just a note: It might be helpful to remember that your markers don’t have to be limited to plant pots and garden beds. Silverware is flexible and quite forgiving. It can be hammered and twisted and tilted and bent into gift tags or napkin rings or bracelets as well. Furthermore, don’t limit your garden dreams to fancy old silverware. My friend Ian, a roofer, provides me with beautiful scrap copper that can be hammered and bent and sanded and is just perfect for the job.
March 2nd, 2011 § § permalink
It’s time. For a few frosty months there, I had completely neglected a huge part of me. My clever friend Minty Pea Todd reminded me of this. You see, here in the Hudson Valley, the last spring frost will be around April 20th. This means big planning must start today. Like, right this minute. Now, there are more than a few of you out there who either remain uninterested in small silent green beings, or consider your backyards to be barren, sterile and unplantable. Still, others (don’t hide) consider yourselves unplantworthy. This post is for you.
Let me start by saying that I am no Master Gardener. I could go on and on with current examples to illustrate my point—neglected soil-filled moldy pots on our back porch; shrunken, wrinkled leaves of secondhand orchids on the sill; a yellowed kitchen cactus struggling to flower year after year after year. That said, I am fortunate to have a small raised-bed plot in our community garden. Each spring, my tiny but powerful gardening team and I meet to determine the garden’s direction. Our selection of five-star veggies is based on the following quantitative and qualitative characteristics: Speedy Growth, Seed Wow Factor, Easy Peasy, and The Big Yum.
Over the past 8 years, we have mostly settled on the following: looseleaf lettuce/baby greens, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, radishes, summer yellow squash and zucchini, potatoes, Swiss chard, green bush beans, stubby carrots, gourds, and annual herbs and flowers (basil, parsley, cosmos, alyssum, cornflowers, cosmos, zinnia, marigolds, and sunflowers).
Now, let’s be clear. You don’t need a farm or community garden to grow fresh vegetables. You don’t really even need a garden. You do need good soil, a sunny spot, a water source and, most likely, a fence. If deer are known to nibble your Hostas, the entire woodland critter community will crush your dreams of home-grown veggies.
You may consider simply planting your vegetables in a few containers. Almost all of the above would thrive in pots placed in a sunny place—lettuce (I plant many in hanging pots), bush tomatoes (especially cherries like Tumblers or Tiny Tim), bush cucumbers (especially Salad and Sweet Success), radishes (even indoors at south-facing window), potatoes (in bins or spud grow bags), Swiss chard, stubby carrots (in deep pots with light, well-drained soil), and flowers and herbs. Granted, a mini vegetable garden or a container-filled porch may not be enough for subsistence farming, but it may be enough to grow a season of heavenly tomatoes, salad greens and radishes.
Before grabbing your spade (Holy Moly! I can’t wait!), meet with your trusty gardening team and do some research. Consider a few easy plants like those listed above first. Then, find out your final frost date. You can get fancy and go to the National Climatic Data Center, or you can find a simple chart at The Old Farmer’s Almanac site.
Once you and your team have determined your focus, set out to find some seeds. You may have a neighborly neighbor who has an abundance of seeds to gift you. If not, the Organic Seed Alliance has a handy list of seed suppliers. I head to Turtle Tree, a small, non-profit seed company that sells 100% open-pollinated non-GMO vegetable, herb and flower seeds.
Remember, you don’t have to know everything there is to know about gardening right this very minute. Just become familiar with the one or two plants that you plan to grow this year. Once you’re comfortable with those, go find a few more seeds. Just know what you grow.
Harvesting family-grown vegetables can be empowering stuff. Planning, constructing and maintaining a family garden involves research, requires decision-making skills and demands teamwork. Preparing soil for planting is hard work. Nurturing and caring for plants and waiting for them to mature (Can I pick it now? How about NOW? NOW?) requires responsibility and patience. At this very moment, you have the opportunity to play a unique and vital role in a little person’s environmental awareness, to make your family healthier while reducing your ecological footprint, and to potentially empower your child to make a difference.
Anyway, little people live close to the ground. They should be getting dirty.