Ali Lawrence has been gardening since she was five. She was born and raised in Alaska but now resides in Pennsylvania where her family grows a large garden every year. Her passions include writing haikus and finding new ways to use her essential oils! Read more articles from Ali at HomeyImprovements.com and connect with her on Pinterest.
 

 

4 Unusual Edible Plants to Grow
by Ali Lawrence - posted 03/03/17

This summer I’m expanding my garden to include some unique edibles. Your typical veggie is fine and dandy but sometimes you want your garden to surprise you. What’s the point of growing your own food if you don’t grow things you can’t find in a store. There’s something magical about getting seeds to plants you’ve never seen and watching them grow in front of your eyes for the first time.

Hopefully this list will inspire you to let yourself go wild and try a few plants with uncommon flair and color.

cucamelons - unique edible plant

1.     Cucamelons

Nicknamed “mouse melons,” these miniature melons grow to be a little over an inch in length. Crunchy and easily grown, cucamelons vine vertically toward a height of eight feet. Don’t leave them too long on the vine, though, because the skin may become tough. Ripeness occurs when the cucamelon is about the size of a grape. The taste is like cucumber with a splash of lime.

Cucamelons originate in South Americaand were part of the Aztec diet. They’re perennial plants, and once established, will thrive every year. Plant in a sunny area away from strong wind, and keep in mind that maturity time is about 80 days.

2.      Pineberries

Pineberries are basically the original strawberry, with white flesh and red seeds. The white color doesn’t come from any genetically altered plant strain.

Some of the original Chilean strawberry strains remained with European breeders, and that’s where today’s pineberries come from. They went into mainstream production about ten years ago, but you won’t find these in your local grocery store. To have a regular crop, you’ll need to grow your own pineberries. They best thrive in USDA zones 4-8 but also work well in multiple zones when planted in containers, with at least six hours of sun.

Some nurseries may stock pineberries, but they are also occasionally available on Amazon. Make sure you order the self-pollinating types, preferably the White Carolina, White D, or White Pineberry.

3.     Purple Podded Peas

Aside from being fun to say five times fast, purple podded peas are beautifulas they grow on the vine. The pods are purple and the peas are green.

It’s easier to tell when these are ready to eat, too! In terms of taste, they’re just like ordinary green peas. You don’t grow them any differently than normal peas, but there are some claims this variety should be more protected when growing.

4.     Oca

Known as the New Zealand Yam, this hardy root crop tastes like potatoes bathed in lemon. Some consider the oca to be “the lost crop of the Incas,” originating from South America.

In terms of texture, the oca is similar to a crunchy radish when raw. It’s usually prepared by boiling or roasting with herbs, just like potatoes or radishes. When cooked, ocas have a softer texture more similar to yam or squash than potatoes. They resemble bumpy oblong red potatoes when harvested, and if you let them grow for their flowers, they produce small daisy-like flowers.

These plants are unusual and lovely additions to grow from seed in your garden. Watch the white pineberries, cucuamelons and purple podded peas thrive happily in the sun as they wind upward. Drizzle a little olive oil and herbs over your roasted ocas, and enjoy a lovely picnic under the sunset this coming harvest.

Photo by poppet with a camera

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Beautiful Garden Trends for 2017
by Ali Lawrence - posted 02/17/17

Soon the last frost will be here and your green thumb will be itching to sow seeds. Everyone is springing forward early with a passion for all things green and greenery, which means it’s the perfect time to start planning your garden for planting season! Get started on 2017’s best gardening trends and come spring, your garden will be bursting with the inspiration and color of nature!

Remember Elephant Ear Plants

elephant ear plants

They say elephants always remember, and elephant ear plants will be the most memorable feature of your garden this coming season. These plants are shaped like big elephant ears and bring a tropical look to any landscape.

Elephant ears are wonderful to use as a focal point in your garden. Plant at the borders of walkways and around ponds. If you are making a container garden, many types are also well-suited to grow in containers.

Elephant ear plants prefer moist and rich soil and need a bit of shade to thrive. As soon as the frost has cleared, plant tubers two to three inches deep into the ground, with the blunt end facing down.

Feel the Love With Soft Pink Plants

The beauty of soft pink petals is trending again this year- both in home décor and in the garden. The color is similar to rose quartz, which is a symbol of love, friendship, composure and compassion. Think of rose quartz plants like thyme pink chintz, cherry blossom, Belinda's Dream rose, mountain laurel, dogwood or peony.

These lighthearted blooms thrive in many conditions, and you’ll find a soft pink plant to suit your plot. Plant these near your doorway, a bench or a porch to promote a sense of interconnectedness and love among visitors.

Succulents Keep It Low Key

Succulents are perfect if you prefer low-maintenance plants or don’t have much room or time to dedicate to your garden. Focus on cultivating an indoor succulent garden for your home or office. For small plants, the foliage of succulents is very showy and inspiring to the eye.

Due to adaptive traits, succulents thrive indoors in dry environments just as well as they do outdoors with bigger roots and fleshier bark. Most will need to be placed by a window for bright light, such as by a southern or eastern window. They prefer well-drained and sandy soil. So, half sand and half potting soil works well for succulents. If you mix succulents in a larger container, make sure their care needs and rates of growth are fairly similar. With only a little water needed, these plants are low-key and beautiful!

Check out my post on how to create beautiful hanging terrariums for your home or outdoor space.

Help the Bees and Butterflies

The bees and butterflies haven’t got much love with increasing urban development and people’s war on “weeds.” Many are now listed as endangered and are so important to the cultivation of food and the beauty of every garden.

Help the bees and butterflies by creating a small garden area focused on them. These are also known as pollinator gardens, and the most common bee and butterfly beneficial plants are natives that grow wild naturally. Leave a section of your yard to grow wild or plant natives such as milkweed, butterfly bush, lobelia, dandelion or bee balm. Avoid using commercial pesticides and consider more natural options for extra pollinator ally points.

Show Some Hexagon Love for the Bees

Don’t stop there! Go bee crazy and decorate with honeycomb-like hexagon shapes all over your garden and yard. Construct hexagon stepping stones for your walkway. Build six-sided hexagonplanters for your pollinator plants and herbs. Place garden tools on hexagon shelving. Let guests set drinks on hexagon coasters as they admire your beautiful bee and butterfly garden.

Get pen and paper and start laying out your garden plot now!

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5 Useful Gardening Projects to Get You Through Winter
by Ali Lawrence - posted 12/13/16

indoor garden herbs

Before you know it, planting season will be here. You’re probably thoughtfully planning out your garden and counting down the days until winter’s end. Yet, the cold season doesn’t have to be colorless or lifeless.

Bring the green indoors! Get a start on your organization, what you’ll be planting and where. While you’re considering what to grow, these useful gardening projects will be a creative outlet to keep your planting thumb green:

1.    Self-Watering Indoor Herb Garden

Create a self-watering herb garden inside your home. Herbs like thyme, rosemary and basil — most mints, really — thrive indoors. A small string from the neck of a wine bottle pulls water up from a glass reservoir beneath it, making the planters self-watering.

You’ll cut off the tops of old wine bottles and then turn them over to create a funnel. If you don’t have a glass cutter, score a ring around the bottle, heating it with a candle. Submerge the bottle in cold water quickly. Sanding the edge will give you a smooth surface.

The wine bottle is inverted like a funnel into a larger open-mouthed jar filled nearly halfway with water. A small layer of a mesh screen holds the earth in the wine bottle. The string should go through the earth and through the funnel to touch the water. As the roots adjust to the new system, it may take a few days for it to start working.

2.    Soak Sprouted Foods

Sprouting seeds by soaking is great to do in the winter, whether you’re doing it to enjoy sprouted foods or to get a jumpstart on your planting. Some believe that sprouted foods, or “activated foods,” contain an even more powerful punch of nutrients and vitamins, as they’re more easily digested and absorbed into the body.

Most grains, legumes and seeds may be sprouted. Rather than buying from the grocery store, purchase organic seeds meant for sprouting to ensure success. Each will have a different sprouting time. For example, chickpeas should be soaked for 12 hours and will sprout in one to three days. Mustard seeds should be soaked for eight hours and will sprout in two to three days.

Place the seeds in a glass container filled with filtered or purified water — about two to three times more water than seeds. Cover completely and leave in a cool spot to soak. Drain the water through cheese cloth. Rinse and drain every eight hours until you see sprouts. Keep the container at room temperature and out of sunlight, until you see a little tail of a sprout coming out. Dry them in the sun for an hour so the moist sprouts won’t spoil. Store in the fridge for two to three days, if you’re going to eat them.

3.    Make Creative, Functional Plant Markers

Everyone has an odd assortment of “junk” laying around, waiting to become something, someday. Get started on an art project and make creative plant markers for your spring garden:

·         Hot glue old keyboard keys to spell out “peas” and other vegetables.

·         Buy chalkboard spray paint to paint over surfaces and create erasable labels to use every year.

·         Use a permanent marker to label old wine corks with herb names and pierce them with old forks decorated with rustic bows.

·         Color in cheap wooden serving spoons with markers to doodle images of corn or watermelon.

·         Collect forest items to label — decoratively write on pebbles or carve and paint twigs.

 

4.    Plan Your Garden Design for Next Year

This is one of my personal favorite things to do during the winter. There are so many creative and beautiful vegetable garden design ideas out there on the web these days! A few of my favorites to think about and plan on keyhole gardens, hügelkultur and figuring out how to DIY an irrigation system within the design.

5.    Make an Edible Ice Wreath Bird Feeder

Making an edible ice wreath feeder is a great pantry-emptier to do with the kids. In your pantry, you’ll likely have extra boxes of brown rice — which is okay for the birds— corn flakes and oatmeal. Add in bird seed, if you have some. Empty and mix your collection of pantry items into a Bundt pan. Fill it until covered with water. Let it freeze outside, after you’ve gotten a good snow.

After the wreath freezes, slip it out by soaking the Bundt pan in a sink of warm water for a minute. Tie the wreath up with a strong rope or ribbon, and let the birds have at it.

Winter doesn’t have to be completely cold and dreary. Bring the green indoors, plan ahead for your planting season and help to feed and house the birds and beneficial bugs.

 

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