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What’s the Fig Idea? Find out in the summer e-mag

The summer issue of our Naturally magazine is full of recipes, architecture, DIYs and more. Be inspired to party with sweet figgy bourbon cocktails, spicy green beans and sunny, heat-hardy flowers that will brighten up your home all summer.

In this issue, learn how easy it is to grow and harvest your own baby broccoli, get a peek into an historic piece of architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and learn how to make the most of your water feature. Click below to start reading!

Cabbage Patch Kid: How a plant inspired one girl to feed needy families

Many years ago, the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program — where third-grade students are given a cabbage plant to tend either at home or at school – inspired one young student in South Carolina to create an organization to feed those in need.

Katie's-Crops-1Katie Stagliano was given a plant in third grade. It grew to be almost 40 lbs! Her cabbage was too big for one family. So, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it fed more than 275 people. Amazed by how many people her cabbage fed, Katie started a vegetable garden specifically to donate to hungry people in her community. Her initiative continued to grow and expand, and  in 2012, at the age of 14, Katie became the youngest person to receive the Clinton Global Citizen Award.  She met Matt Damon at the awards ceremony!

Katie's-Crops-2Today, she’s the founder and chief executive gardener at Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit organization that continues to grow food to feed the needy. Offering grants to students and schools, her organization has expanded into 51 gardens run by kids in 21 states. Those gardens produce thousands of pounds of healthy produce for families. We are so inspired by what Katie is doing, and to think it all started with a small cabbage plant donation.

The Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program is open schools across America. This program aims to connect children to their food and nature. Sometimes the cabbages grow up to 50 lbs! Principals and teachers can register here.  Plants will be delivered at the optimal time for your growing zone. Once the cabbages are grown, classrooms can submit entries for a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship. See previous winners here. Warning: They’re adorable.

Plan your summer vacation: A self-watering container review

A guest post by Gary Pilarchik

In early May, I was fortunate enough to attend Garden2Grow 2016 at Moss Mountain Farm in Little Rock, and I had a wonderful time.  I never would have thought my experiences there would lead me to grow an entire cucumber and tomato salad garden in a single container.  The greatest issue with container vegetables is water or more specifically, watering.  Once the soil in a container completely dries out, a lot of harm is done to the plants.  Months of work can be lost by accidently missing a single day of watering.  I have been there too many times while battling our 100-degree summers in Maryland (Zone 7).

During the event, teams of five competed to build a fairy container garden, and the winners got their choice of a Crescent Garden container.  Before the contest started, we were introduced to Crescent’s TruDrop® self-watering system. I was intrigued at the size of some of the plants in the containers. Well, a bit of luck fell our way, and my team won the contest!  That little, yet exciting, victory, led to the experiment I am starting in my container garden today. Maybe now I can beat the heat.



This is a demanding experiment, so I did some research on the TruDrop containers.  The one I looked at was 26 inches wide and 26 inches tall, a solid design for growing larger vegetables. The watering system is self-contained and sealed. No insects will find shelter in the water. The TruDrop container’s reservoir holds 12.8 gallons of water, and it has a simple visual display that tells you where the water level sits; making it extremely easy to know when water needs to be added. The container is double walled, which helps with temperature regulation.  It is made from food safe material and it is recyclable.

photos crescent 004I then had the idea to grow a complete tomato and cucumber salad garden in one container. The 26-inch containers were the perfect size.  I typically grow single tomato plants in 5-gallon containers which can be a challenge as they generally need to be watered twice a day in July.  Vacation is almost not an option during the heat of the summer. When I saw the TruDrop container holding large plants, I really wondered how vegetables would fare in that type of self-watering system. Now I can find out and come late July I will have the results!  And I have to say the brail design and color is so much more attractive than my gray 5-gallon containers.

The system evenly waters from the bottom, which is the best way to water plants. It cuts down on waste and decreases the chances of fungus and other diseases that can occur from overhead watering. The soil stays evenly moist at root level and this promotes a strong well-developed root system.  I will be mixing a water soluble fertilizer in the reservoir to keep the plants evenly fed. With this size container, I will only need to fill it about every 10-14 days when the plants are up to size, maybe less.  I could honestly take a vacation and not worry about watering.

photos crescent 003All of the needed vegetables will be planted in a growing area with 19.5 gallons of soil capacity. That space will hold both a dwarf determinate tomato that delivers pink, 12-16 ounce fruits and an indeterminate compact cherry tomato for sweet cherry tomatoes all summer long.  A bush variety cucumber will be joining the bunch.  Nothing beats the scent and sweetness of a freshly sliced cucumber picked straight from the vine.  I’ll add a jalapeno pepper plant to spice the salads up occasionally, onions of some sort, some basil and maybe some cilantro into the Crescent container.  Like I said, not an easy test for any self-watering system, but I think this one can handle it. Stay posted for updates here or on my channel.

Gary Pilarchik’s Rusted Garden YouTube channel has more than 75,000 subscribers and 600 quick, focused vegetable garden videos. A video update on this tomato and cucumber salad container will be featured at  the end of July.  The channel is a culmination of more than 20 years of gardening experience, and he hopes to help you with your gardens and teach children that vegetables don’t come from a grocery store!

Lettuce and nasturtiums

Intensive Gardening: Growing Organic in Small Spaces

What is Intensive Gardening?

Gardening in small spaces uses an intensive or close spacing that is not the traditional spacing like you see on the back of your seed packets or use in the traditional row garden. It is designed to fit a lot more plants into a smaller space than would normally be required if traditional spacing were used. To be successful, this approach relies on optimum soil texture and fertility so that plants do not find it necessary to compete with each other for the nutrients they need to grow and produce fruit. Using raised beds makes this easy as it keeps the amended soil contained.

Good Soil is the Secret to Success

For some time now we have recognized that there is a whole world beneath the soil; small microscopic organisms that are necessary for the life and health of plants. These organisms are responsible for creating an ecology that enables the plants to feed and take up water; so we must protect that system by doing no harm to these organisms. By avoiding toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and practices like excessive tillage that are harmful to soil organisms and using natural amendments, we allow the plants to excel.

Good texture provides soil that is loose and friable and allows plant roots to penetrate through it easily. This is accomplished by the addition of organic matter, which also increases the soils ability to take in and store water.

The Root of Intensive Gardening

Each type of plant has its own distinctive growth habit above ground, which we are more familiar with. We know that by tucking in the smaller plants such as radishes around some of the larger plants like beans, we can make better use of space and light, but did you know there are also distinctive growth pattern of roots underground that are common to each type? Some plants have deep growing roots, and some plants root grow very shallowly. Some plants root spread wide and far, and some are narrow and compact. If you take these growth patterns, for example, pairing a medium rooting bush bean plant, a shallow rooted onion and a deep rooted sweet potato there is minimal competition for water and nutrients at the same soil level. By combining the above and below ground habits, you can create quite a mosaic in each of your beds increasing your harvest in a small space and keeping the weeding, watering and general labor at a minimum, saving your back. I’m all for having more leisure time to enjoy the harvest!

Silkie Chickens

Poultry Profile: Silkie Chickens

One of the most adorable chickens at the Garden Home is called the Silkie because of its fine feathers that feel and look like strands of silk.

The Silkie isn’t a prolific egg producer, but it’s one of the best breeds to have as a pet. Docile and friendly, they will come to you when called and like to be held. The more you spend time with your Silkie chickens the more socialized they will be.

Children love Silkies because of their wacky appearance. They have a top hat like crest and turquoise earlobes that look like fancy earrings. And they have five toes! Most chickens only have four. They also have feathers on their legs, which makes them look like they are walking around in their pajamas.

Silkies come in both large and bantam (dwarf) sizes, but even the large version is small. They come in black, white, buff, gray, blue, and partridge (brown and black). You can get ones with or without a beard.

As an added bonus Silkie chickens don’t make a lot of noise, which is ideal if you live in an urban environment.

Where can you find these fuzzy fowl? One of the best ways to find them is at a poultry show. At the show you can find a breeder who offers baby chicks or adult birds.

Did you know?
Silkies came from China and were referenced by Marco Polo in the 13th century.

DIY Hand Balm

Homemade Hand Balm

This homemade moisturizing balm is perfect for anyone who’s into gardening or who just wants to take better care of their hands. It’s a soy hand balm, and it’s really easy to make. You can get the ingredients at a hobby store or health food store.

Materials for Making Hand Balm:

  • 6 ounces of soy wax
  • 9 ounces of coconut oil
  • 6 ounces of cocoa butter
  • 6 ounces of sweet almond oil
  • Lavender essential oil

Directions for Making Hand Balm:

You begin by melting six ounces of soy wax on a double boiler.

Once it melts, add nine ounces of coconut oil and six ounces of cocoa butter.

Continue to heat and stir the mixture until everything is in liquid state, then add in six ounces of sweet almond oil.

As a final step add about 20 drops of lavender essential oil to give the balm a nice fragrance.

Pour the solution into a small container with a snug-fitting lid.

Defining Organic Gardening

Like the word natural, the word organic gets tossed around a lot. But what does it mean to be organic in the garden?

A starting definition is gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But organic gardening really means a holistic emphasis on a healthy ecosystem.

Organic gardens cultivate an ecosystem that sustains the life of plants, soil microbes and helpful insects. Instead of delving into a never-ending cycle of shocking the system with fertilizer and then pesticides, organic gardeners understand that healthy plants are strong and much more disease-resistant. The focus reaches beyond just making plants grow in the short term; rather it realizes that a vigorous garden is a side effect of a healthy ecosystem.

The soil is the base of a healthy garden and dealing with soil properly can prevent many issues. So, organic gardeners make sure the foundation of the garden is correct. They add organic fertilizer and compost to the soil to ensure it’s able to retain water and provide adequate nutrients to plants. In summary, organic garden soil contains the right trace elements, low-release organic fertilizers, proper pH, is aerated and contains plenty of compost.

Now, pest control is something all gardeners encounter. Yet, organic gardeners use techniques to keep pest damage below a certain threshold. Rather than inciting a mass killing of all non-plant life by drenching the garden with chemicals, they find a simple solution for the pest at hand. For example, cabbage worms can be plucked off leaves and killed, and aphids can be sprayed off the plants with a hose. These methods require attentiveness and ensure that small issues don’t turn into big issues.

Natural pesticides, found in a garden center or made at home, can be applied to plants too. They tend to break down much more quickly than synthetic mixes, so gardeners must be conscientious about reapplication.

Other good gardening practices include planting native or pest and disease-resistant varieties, providing plants adequate spacing and matching the plant to the right site, one suited for its light and moisture needs. Basic good gardening practices will reduce chances of disease as plants are set up from the start for success.

With good gardening practices, going organic isn’t difficult or complicated. It calls for attentiveness, simple solutions as problems arise and an appreciation for a healthy ecosystem. Keep these principles in mind and watch your organic garden flourish!

Different types of bird seeds

Four Seeds Birds Love to Eat

Sometimes our feathered friends need a little help making it through the harsh winter. When temperatures drop, I think about the beautiful birds that have kept my garden colorful and lively throughout the year. Their water sources may freeze up, and food may become scarce, so I make sure their birdbath is flowing — with water and not ice — and their feeders are full. If you want to feed your local birds, first you need to find out what kind of seed they prefer. If you are starting out, buy for the birds you already have, and not the ones you hope to attract. Here are the basics on a few popular seed types that you can easily find at your local garden center or grocery store.

Bird Seed Millet

This seed is a great option for ground-feeding birds. You can use a low-hanging feeder, platter, or just toss out a handful at a time — but be careful not to set out more than your birds can eat in a day. And this seed may not be a good option if you have cats. When given the choice, birds usually prefer white millet, so you will often find this in many seed mixes. Millet appeals to doves, juncos, sparrows, thrashers, buntings, Carolina wrens, cardinals and starlings.

Bird seed stripped sunflowers

Striped Sunflower
This is an inexpensive seed that, because of its tough shell, is best for larger birds with strong bills. It can also be used as a deterrent for pesky raccoons and squirrels. Place some of this seed on a plate away from your bird feeders to lure them away, and help prevent them from ransacking your feeders. Striped sunflower appeals to blue jays, cardinals, some woodpeckers and grosbeaks.

Bird seed black oiled sunflowers

Black Oil Sunflower
This is one of the most popular birdseeds, and will appeal to a wide variety of birds, especially smaller songbirds. It’s a great beginner seed to try. It is rich in oil and gives birds the energy they need to make it through the winter. The thin shells are easy to open, even for smaller birds. Black oil sunflower appeals to cardinals, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, sparrows and woodpeckers.

Bird seed thistle

Thistle, also known as Nyjer seed, will drive your finches wild. It’s a tiny black seed that’s high in oil, which makes it great for winter bird feeding. Be aware, the seeds are very small and lightweight, and can easily blow away if used in the wrong type of feeder. A mesh-style or sock feeder is best for this expensive seed. Thistle appeals to goldfinches, purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, quail and mourning doves.

Bird Migration Types

When I look to the sky and see a flock of birds in a migratory formation it inspires a peaceful, calming sensation. It’s fascinating to take a moment from whatever task is at hand, and ponder how these birds can soar for miles and miles in this perfect shape. Why do they make this tedious annual journey? How do they know when it’s time to take flight? To what lovely, warmer climate are they traveling? … And why can’t I go with them?

Simply put, birds migrate when the food and nesting resources in their habitat are exhausted, which is usually due to seasonal changes. Though it’s not completely known for sure, ornithologists believe migration is triggered by a combination of changes in the length of the day, temperatures falling, depletion of food supplies, and genetic predisposition.

Different species of birds migrate different distances ranging from just a couple of miles down the road, to across continents. Here is a break down of four basic migration types and where a few of my favorite feathered friends (these will vary slightly from region to region) fit into the formation…

Long Distance Migrants – will travel distances from Canada and the United States to Central and South America. These can include the vast majority of North American bird species such as vireos, flycatchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, ducks, geese, swans, tanagers, Blackburnian Warblers, orioles, Arctic Terns and swallows.

Nomadic/Irregular Migrants – These birds only follow the food. When it runs out the move on, and when they find a good source they may become residents. These can include robins, blue jays, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.

Short Distance Migrants – may travel a few hundred miles or only change elevation by moving up or down a mountainside. These can include waxwings and American Tree Sparrows.

Residents – Some birds will stick out the winter where they are, or not travel but only a few miles to reach warmer temperatures. They tend to acclimate to temperature well, and eat a wider range of foods like seeds. These can include cardinals, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, pigeons, doves and finches.

Bird migration infographic