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.
 

 

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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Gifts for the Gardener in Your Life
by Ali Lawrence - posted 11/22/16

best gifts for gardeners

If you know someone with a green thumb, buying a gardening-specific gift can add a special touch to any occasion. No matter what your budget, there is a unique gift you can find for the gardener in your life.

1.    Succulent Terrarium

Succulents are easy to grow and durable, and they transport well. If you have to mail the gift to the gardener, a succulent will be hardy enough to survive the trip. A succulent terrarium can sit on a gardener’s desk at work or be displayed in the home, so your gardening friend can enjoy a bit of the outdoors in a small container.

There are many different types of succulent terrariums. While you can buy terrariums for around $15-$60, it would make the gift even special if you make it! Here are instructions on how to making hanging terrariums.

2.    Garden Themed Charm

If the gardener in your life also loves jewelry, consider a garden themed charm. If the person does not yet own a charm bracelet, you could purchase both the bracelet and the first charm for it. If they already own a charm bracelet, take notice of the brand.

Go to your local jewelry store or check out charm collections online to find a charm that would fit their bracelet and would remind them of both you and gardening.

3.    Heirloom Seeds

If your gardener enjoys growing tomatoes in the summer and worries over GMOs, then a terrific gift is heirloom seeds. If you want to gift the person with a number of seeds at once, EcoFarms offers a gift set of organic, non-GMO heirloom seeds. Seeds that come in the boxed set include corn, carrots, broccoli, pepper and tomato. The set costs $21.88 with free Prime shipping.

4.    Self-Watering Herb Garden

How much fun is a fish tank with an herb garden on top? Put a beautiful beta fish in the base, and add an herb garden on the second tier. The water is nutrient rich because of the fish, so it will feed the plants as they grow. The plants also help to purify the water, so the entire mini-environment is low maintenance and creates a healthy environment for the fish and the plants. The garden kit is $60.

5.    Cute Watering Can or Gardening Tools

Even though your friend won’t be able to use the item for a few more months, gifting a cute watering can or other fashionable garden tool is a great way for them to remember you whenever they are working in their garden.

Creating a unique and memorable gift for your gardening friends is as simple as knowing what tools they already have and what they’d like to utilize. With that knowledge in hand, you’ll choose the perfect gift!

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4 Plants to Try to Grow During the Colder Months
by Ali Lawrence - posted 11/10/16

cold climate cabbage

If you love gardening and fresh vegetables, it might be hard to see winter arrive. After all, the garden is going to be gone once frost hits, right?

Well, some crops will be gone — tomatoes and corn, certainly. But a surprising amount of vegetables and other crops can be grown in the fall and even into the winter. Try these for variety.

Leafy Green Vegetables

If you have an idea that leafy green vegetables are delicate and shrink at first frost, think again. It’s true of some leafy greens, but not all. Leafy greens that are low to the ground absorb heat from the earth because of the proximity. They are therefore slow to freeze. The greenery also augments their energy absorption from the sun. Cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens and kale will all grow nicely until the weather hits a steady 20 degrees Farenheit. Look for late summer and Fall varieties of cabbage, such as vantage point.

Root Vegetables

Why does it seem like root vegetables and cold temperatures go together so nicely in cooking, as in pot roasts with carrots and potatoes? Well, in the days before vegetables could be flown in to your local grocery store from all around the world, they were the only vegetables that kept growing once the weather got cold. The ground protects them, to some degree.

Beets, carrots and radishes will grace your gardenuntil the temperature hits the high 20 degrees Farenheit. Rutabagas and turnips can grow until the temperature hits 20 degrees Farenheit.

Herbs

If your green thumb cries out to be used during the colder months, turn to herbs. They will also go well with the vegetables.

You can also have an herb garden during the colder months by growing them indoors, in containers. Be sure that any container you buy has excellent drainage at the bottom. The bottom of containers need to be covered in porous material, so draining can take place and root rot — a condition caused by too much water — doesn’t set in.

Basil will thrive indoors in winter in containers, as long as it can receive 6 full hours of sunlight. It grows well indoors for the winter in well-drained containers. It’s an herb that complements most dishes, from pasta to roast meat. It can also be made into pesto for pasta and other sauces.

Chives also grow well during the winter. They’re slightly onion-like in flavor and go well with soups, potatoes and dips.

Rosemary will be robust in the winter as long as there is enough sun. It needs a few hours of sun or partial shade per day. Rosemary is a great herb for roast meats.

Ornamentals

Many ornamentals are another plant that can be grown in colder climates.

Evergreens are good choices for winter, and they will make your garden look vibrant even during the snow. Wintergreen, for example, tastes like mint and can be harvested for the flavor. Holly is another ornamental that will grow all year and sprout jewel-like red berries in the winter.

Container gardens are also a good way to grow ornamentals. Dwarf spruce and cypress are particularly hardy during the winter months.

Growing doesn’t stop because the weather turns cold. You can be rewarded with healthy eating and vibrant gardens all year long. 

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