Archive for the ‘Green Gardening & Living’ Category


How to make a DIY seed packet

If you’ve ever wanted to save seeds from your garden for next year, now’s the time. Many vegetable, flower, and herb seeds are easy to save, and they make great gifts when packaged up in a pretty little seed packet. Here’s how:

Step one: Collect seed heads or pods from the plants you wish to save. Choose the healthiest and heartiest of your plants; no point in perpetuating a dud! Poppies, calendula, nigella, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, dill, and cilantro all have easy-to-save seeds.

Step two: Download a free, pretty seed packet template, like the one on my freebies page, print it out (plain ol’ 8.5″ x 11″ printer paper is fine), and cut along the solid lines.

Step three: Fold along the dotted lines and get out your glue stick. Glue all but the top flap.

Step four: Write the seed info on the packet. Sort your seeds on a piece of paper, removing any debris. Use the paper to create a funnel and tip the seeds into the packet.

Step five: Seal the packet and store in a cool, dry place. Or give as a gift. Ta da!

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Eating your weeds

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

As I was weeding the salad garden yesterday, I found several small clumps of chickweed (Stellaria media). Appropriate that it was in the salad garden, because fresh, young chickweed makes a fabulous addition to a spring salad.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Oh god. I know where this is going. I am so *not* going to start “wild harvesting” lamb’s quarters and dandelion greens. And skeptics? I know where you’re coming from.

In fact, the original manuscript for my book included a sidebar on edible weeds, which I scrapped when I realized that as crunchy as I enjoy my granola, I’m not a let’s-make-”coffee”-out-of-this-dandelion-root kind of gal.

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Contest! Win one of three sets of reusable totes or mesh produce bags from Bag the Habit

Bag the Habit tote in 'gray feather'

A while back I wrote a post called Seven tips to make gardening “away” easier, which consists of—you guessed it—seven ideas for making it easier to garden at community garden plots, guerrilla gardens, or any garden that can’t be accessed simply by opening your back or balcony door.

The main challenge with these “away” gardens, in my experience, is all the schlepping to and fro of various tools, water, plants, seeds, and other garden accoutrements. And that’s not even taking the harvest into consideration! There can be, let’s say, transportation issues when it comes to getting the goods home.

The traditional container used for collecting produce from the garden is the harvest basket or trug. As lovely as some of these traditional designs can be, they’re just not my thing. (For one, they’re big! Where would I store it? We have a serious space shortage at our place!) So what I use is a reusable shopping bag—one of those lightweight polyester ones that rolls up into a little pouch. It’s perfect because it fits in a pocket, holds a ton of produce, and is easily machine washed.

Even though I like the bag I use, I’m really loving those produced by Bag The Habit.

Their Luxe Tote, which comes in nine different colours and patterns (I love “gray feather,” pictured above), has padded handles (perfect for hauling potatoes or heavier groceries), and a sewn-in carrying pouch that doubles as an interior pocket. And, it’s made out of recycled fabric. So are their mesh produce bags (shown below). Available in two sizes, these mesh drawstring bags would also be great for transporting garden goodies. Plus, the breathable material extends the life of fresh produce.

Large Bag the Habit mesh produce bag

The lovely people at Bag the Habit are giving away three sets of bags, especially for Heavy Petal fans! For a chance to win, head on over to my Facebook page and leave a comment telling me which bags you’re coveting (a Luxe Tote Trio or a 2-pack of Mesh Produce bags) and how you plan to use them. Contest is open until Sunday, August 29 at midnight PST. You must be a fan of Heavy Petal on Facebook to win.

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Solar garden lighting

lanterns in the tree

On hot summer evenings, our recently-renovated back patio is where it’s at. It’s private (well, as much as it can be in an urban setting) and peaceful (well, as much as it can be with kids playing street hockey a few feet away, and neighbours who love karaoke and mah jong). After a long day, when Lila is finally asleep, there’s no better place to relax with a glass of something cold and potent. The sounds and smells of the city just add to the feeling of being in our own little leafy paradise.

It’s also dark. There’s a porch light, but it’s rather ineffective – and does nothing for ambiance. When we redid the garden, installing traditional hard-wired garden lighting seemed like overkill for this tiny (12′x15′) space (not to mention the added labour and cost), so we skipped it. Perhaps that was a bad call, but I’m not convinced.

Like many people, we’re trying to reduce our energy consumption. Candles are a good option, but aren’t great when you want to play an al fresco game of cards. Solar lighting, in which a rechargeable battery is charged during the day by a tiny solar panel (often integrated with the lamp), seems like a logical solution, but I’m scarred by memories of dim, feeble solar lights from gardens past.

In a quest to find out if solar lights have improved, I interviewed Akshata Kalyanpur, a lighting expert at Canadian Tire.

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Review: Troy Bilt lithium ion battery cordless string trimmer

Meeting the Troy Bilt trimmer

A little while back, Troy Bilt sent me their new TB57 Lithium Ion Battery Cordless String Trimmer to try out. That’s me, above, holding it gingerly and looking like I’m about to stroke its hair. What can I say? I’m not all that familiar with power equipment – I felt it best to approach with caution.

But before I get into my review, I wanted to reassure you that whenever I’m given something – whether it’s a book or a plant or a trimmer – I’m always honest about my experience with that product. I told the folks at Troy Bilt the same thing, and they were happy to hear it. They look for feedback and incorporate it into later models of their products. I like that.

So, without further ado, here’s what I liked about the trimmer (which, in my brain, will always be called a weed whacker):

* Unlike gas trimmers, this trimmer produces zero emissions. And unlike electric trimmers, there’s no cord.

* The rechargeable lithium ion battery really holds its charge – and the machine retains full power along with it. I’ve used it three times for between 10-30 minutes and it’ll still be good for another round. While I haven’t needed to recharge it yet, apparently that process takes just one hour.

*It’s convenient – there’s no cord to wind up or untangle, and no gas to refill. Just pick it up and go.

* At just 7lbs, it’s light for a weed whacker. It’s well balanced, which also helps.

    This is almost the perfect trimmer for small space gardeners or those needing light-duty weed whacking done. It’s awesome for edging lawns, but save nastier tasks such as battling areas overgrown with hardcore weeds for a heavier-duty tool. Gas and electric trimmers still out-perform in terms of sheer power.

    Now you’ll notice that I said *almost* the perfect trimmer. There are a couple of things I’d like to see changed with this model.

    Troy Bilt string trimmer in action

    The first, something that seems to be universally annoying among weed whackers, is that the arm is too short, forcing me to have to stoop over to get at the weeds. Despite the fact that I literally look like a giant in this photo, I’m only 5’10 — tall for certain, but presumably guys are in the target market for this device, too. The arm could easily use another 6-8″.

    Troy Bilt string trimmer line

    My other comment on this product is that its efficiency could be improved with the addition of a double line, which seems like it’d be simple enough to add.

    Fix those couple of things, Troy Bilt, and you’ll have created an ecologically sensitive, powerful little machine. Who knows? If I had a lawn, I’d probably buy one.

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    Soji solar lighting

    Soji-modern-lantern

    There may be snow on the ground but just thinking about hanging a few of these Soji Modern solar lanterns from Allsop Home and Garden makes me want to plan a summer soiree. Like a Le Klint for the outdoors, these would look right at home on our back patio. And they’re solar. No cords!

    Ikea has also come out with a number of solar lighting options. Solig looks cute. Must gather strength to go check out in person.

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    Sneak Peek! Display gardens of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show 2009

    I took the media tour of the display gardens at Seattle’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show today, and wow – what a trip! I’ve never seen a garden show in its assembly phase (although I’ve participated in disassembly). It’s great to see the gardens before the Show actually opens; you don’t have to fight through hoards of people to snap a photo. On the other hand, most of your photos are full of extension cords and ladders and garden designers’ butt cracks.

    Before I share some of my observations and photos – sans crack – ponder this:

    - 415,000 lbs of rocks and bolders are placed in the elaborate display gardens each year – several weighing in at over 7,000 lbs each.

    - 60 dump trucks filled with dirt and mulch are trucked into the Convention Center to form the foundation of the display gardens.

    - 3 1/2 days are allowed for display garden creators to turn their flat, cement space into the gardens we see.

    Pretty impressive. Pretty grand. Not all that in keeping with the current climate of modest spending. And yet, there’s something so thrilling about it all. It’s just so over the top. Which brings me to the gardens themselves. The theme this year is sustainability, of course: “Sustainable Spaces. Beautiful Places.” Call me a cynic, but how do you reconcile that with the above?

    Even if the stated theme hadn’t been sustainability, I think we would have seen “green” inform a lot of the 26 gardens on display this year. I expected to see a lot of green roofs and walls, and a lot of veggies. Green roofs and walls – definitely. Veggies? Not so much. I guess they’re just not as impressive. I’d love to see a garden show elevate the humble vegetable. Consider this a formal request. Thank you.

    On the flipside, I was happy to see that the outdoor kitchen has quietly taken its leave, only appearing in one display garden, and even then, more modestly than in the past few years. (Now, could someone let Garden Design magazine know?) The firebowl also seems to have regretted its past indiscretions and vanished, which we can all be thankful for.

    So if that’s the Not List, what’s the Hot List? Besides the surprising scarcity of edibles, here’s what jumped out at me at the 2009 Northwest Flower and Garden Show:

    Entry to Cascadia

    Native plants cropping up everywhere. In this display, by the Washington Park Arboretum, Phil Wood Garden Design and Bob Lilly, they’re the main contender, but they made an impact in several display gardens.

    Elandan Gardens

    Reusing and repurposing materials. The stumps used in this display by Dan Robinson of Elandan Gardens, Ltd. were harvested from clearcut sites. And what did I say about native plants?

    WSNLA garden

    Awareness of water conservation. Drought-tolerant plantings made several appearances, but so did the humble rain barrel, like the one in this garden by the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, Partnership for Water Conservation, Walden Garden Services and Lucinda Landscapes.

    Rebecca Cole Design

    Green walls. Everywhere. This one’s in a garden by Rebecca Cole Design, Smith & Hawken and B. Bissell General Contractors, LLC. (More on this garden, a personal fave, later.)

    New Leaf Creations garden

    Green roofs are hotter than ever. So is solar power. Look up to see these technologies in play. The above green roof (and accompanying rain barrel) is in a display created by New Leaf Creations.

    There you have the Heavy Petal overview of the 2009 Northwest Flower and Garden Show display gardens. Tomorrow I’ll have a closer look at my two favourite display gardens, as well as a report on the rest of the Show. For now, I’m going to bed.

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    Would you grow your own grains?

    Quinoa flowering, originally uploaded by net_efekt.

    Saltspring Seeds is one of my favourite local sources for vegetable seeds, so when I heard about their Zero Mile Diet seed kit, I was immediately intrigued. What would go into a Zero Mile Diet seed kit? What would I want to grow if I were aiming to provide the bulk of my produce? I imagined my can’t-live-without-them veggies: tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, kale, potatoes.

    Instead, when I checked it out, I found that the twelve seed packets that make up the kit don’t include a whole lot of veg. Grains such as quinoa, amaranth, wheat, barley and flax – as well as dry beans like pinto and kidney – represent most of the seeds. As the introduction in the growing guide included with the kit explains, “by combining [the foods in the kit] with locally grown vegetables, fruits and nuts, you could become close to 100 per cent self-sufficient in food.” Ah. I’ve been growing about this all wrong.

    In my small space, I can’t realistically become completely food self-sufficient (baker and organic food campaigner Andrew Whitley estimates, for example, that I’d need to devote 297 square metres [3196 square feet] to wheat production in order to provide my family with bread for a year). So I focus on things that I love to eat, are fairly easy to grow, and provide a good yield in little space.

    But as the Zero Mile Diet kit (and the experiment-turned-lifestyle that likely inspired that name) make clear, finding local organic produce when it’s in season isn’t really the problem. It’s the grains and beans and storage crops – the things that get you through the winter months – that I should be growing if I really want to eat local, year round.

    amaranth, originally uploaded by angela7dreams.
    But what if, like most of us city dwellers, you simply don’t have the space to devote to grain production? Would a few rows of wheat or a pot of quinoa be completely ineffective?
    Amaranth and quinoa are “awesomely productive,” according to Salt Spring Seeds owner Dan Jason. If you don’t have the space for 50′ (15m) rows (about the minimum length you’d want to sow to get a decent yield) but want to try your hand at growing grains, one plant will produce enough grain for one fantastic meal (just make sure you savour it!). No, it’s not going to get you through the winter, but the greens of amaranth and quinoa are also edible, and the plants are attractive enough to tuck into ornamental beds. And compared to wheat, they don’t need to be ground down into flour for good eating.
    Still, I think it makes more sense for small-space gardeners to focus on growing fresh vegetables in season. If you’re serious about eating local, find an alternative way to grow your own grains or source them from a local supplier. The Zero Mile Diet kit suggests that:
    In an urban environment, you could sow these seeds with family, friends and neighbours as you convert lawns into gardens. One family might have a shady spot for growing greens or peas while someone else could have a hot spot for growing beans and soybeans. City blocks could garden together whereby many households could create a shared food harvest and thereby lessen reliance on food coming from elsewhere.
    If you’re not growing them yourself or within your community, grains can be hard to source locally when you don’t live in a wheat belt. Your best bet, besides going right to the source, is to become a shareholder in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm that grows grains. In Vancouver, Urban Grains is in the early stages of development and hopes to be the first CSA to provide BC-grown grains to Vancouverites.They’re not accepting applications yet, but sign up for their mailing list to stay informed. In Canada, search for a CSA here; in the US, click here and in the UK click here.
    Would you grow your own grains? Tried it and ready to report back? Let us know in the comments.

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    This proves it. Chickens are hot.

    It’s a classic design school project: redesign an everyday object (the stapler and the chair are popular picks.) Maxime Evrard, a student at the Ecole de Design Nantes, chose to redesign the chicken coop. You thought the Eglu was cool? Maxime’s Cocorico looks like a spaceship. With a tent attached. Would this be a good home for chickens? I have no idea. Willi? Robin? Amy? Other chicken parents? Wanna weigh in?

    We all know that sustainability is beyond hip, especially if you can use it to sell your product. But the fact that a chicken coop has become the new objet du jour? Is homesteading on the cutting edge of cool?

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    Cover me: the low-down on green manures

    I didn’t do so well at planting a winter vegetable garden this year (I am terrible at planning for winter in the height of summer, which is, unfortunately, when you need to do your planting for winter harvesting). Other than some quick-growing salad greens that I managed to sneak in at the beginning of September, the holes left by my tomatoes, beets, kale and herbs might have gone unfilled all winter, if it weren’t for cover crops.

    A cover crop, also known as green manure or living mulch, does double – make that triple – duty in the winter garden. First, it protects your soil from harsh winter weather, preventing erosion, compaction and nutrient leaching. Second, it fixes nitrogen in the soil. There’s a whole scientific explanation behind the “fixing” of nitrogen, but all you really need to know is that cover crops, many of which are legumes, add nitrogen back into your soil, prepping it for spring planting. It’s a great service to soil that has been depleted by hungry feeders like tomatoes. Finally, cover crops improve soil structure by adding organic matter when the crop is dug under in the spring. Yay!

    So what do you do in the spring? Watch for flowers: they’re the indicator that it’s time to either dig under your crop or cut it down, leaving the roots in the ground and using the greens for your compost. If you dig under your crop, let the soil rest for three weeks before planting. Enjoy improved soil fertility and structure.

    Popular winter cover crops include red clover, hairy vetch, fall rye, fava bean, alfalfa and Austrian winter pea.

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