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8 Gardening Tips for Beginners & 4 Must Have Tools

gardening tips for beginners  

I haven't always wanted to grow my own food.  I didn't even really understand where food came from for a while (besides that it came from farmers).  As I started reading about nutrition and started cooking for myself, I wanted to see and be a part of the entire cycle of seed, plant, harvest, eat.  

I read a little about gardening, but any gardener will tell you, the best learnings come from your garden (your success and failures), not from a book.  Every garden is different, as is every gardener.  You may have a patio with a couple pots or an acre of tilled soil.  That dirt could have come from a bag or be rocky clay like mine was.  I wanted to pass on my learnings because failure can be hard to overcome and can kill all motivation to grow your own food.  But with these few tips, hopefully you'll bypass any setbacks and have success from year one!

Untitled tomato flowerssquash baby spaghetti squash

1.  Good dirt is essential!  Our yard is rocky clay dirt.  Just awful for growing anything but grass and weeds.  So we knew to start, we needed raised beds with trucked in dirt.  Too bad we didn't spring the extra dollars for some good, dark garden soil.  But over time I've added amendments (compost, peat moss, and fertilizers) and we have good dirt!

2. You can use fertilizer and still grow things organically!  I was so scared to use fertilizer when I started.  Just the thought of whatever the plant eats will be in the vegetable which I will eat... ick!  Well, my plants didn't grow because they didn't have enough nutrients in my awful dirt.  I grabbed some organic fertilizer the next year and had much better results!  Now I add it once when I'm planting and once mid growing season.

3. Don't neglect your garden halfway through!  This one is still hard for me... I put it quite a bit of energy in the beginning; planting, weeding, watering, observing.  Then summer comes and I want to do other things.  The dirt dries up, the weeds take over, and the vegetables that are growing are forgotten.  So pick a day of the week and spend 30 minutes watering and weeding.  You'll know what's going on in your garden and harvest a lot more.

4. There are good and bad bugs.  Some bugs can eat away at your entire garden if they invite their friends... others make your garden possible.  Worms, ladybugs, fireflies, and pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc) are all garden friends.  Slugs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, aphids, and most beetles are all trying to eat things in your garden before you do.  Spray them off with a hose or use an organic insecticide (but not within one week of harvesting), I use diluted neem oil.

5. Most vegetables need one inch of water per week.  If you have your plants in pots, it dehydrates faster, so water at least twice a week.  And fully saturate the soil you're watering.  The deeper the water grows, the deeper the roots grow.  The deeper the roots, the bigger the plant.  The bigger the plant, the more veggies you'll get!  Also, if the water is underneath the surface, the sun can't zap it away. 

6.  When planting, dig deep.  Especially with clay or rocky soil, when you dig out a hole that is deeper and wider than the plant actually needs, you have loosened up that soil so its roots can easily grow down and out making a stronger plant.  Add some fertilizer at the bottom mixed with some loose soil... and those roots will reach down for it!

7.  You might need a fence.  If you have deer, rabbits, or dogs in your yard, you have just planted a buffet.  I tried scarecrows, shiny items, noisy stuff, fake snakes, dog fur... so many things to keep the deer away.  Nothing works quite as well as a cheap wire fence.

8.  Know how much sun your garden will get.  If your garden location doesn't get much sun, chances are good that you won't have much luck with tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant.  If it gets full sun... you're lettuce and cabbage will bolt before you can harvest anything leaving bitter greens (but your tomatoes will be prolific!).

Now that you have the tips, you'll need some tools.  Gardening should be a "cheap" hobby.  As with any hobby, it's easy to spend more money than necessary.  Here are four tools you will need to start...

gardening tools
link to my shovel (which I looove)

And a couple that come in handy...

garden tools

Gardening is great for giving you time to think and reflect.  It's almost like meditation, but you're getting your hands dirty and fresh food.  The past several years I have spent gardening has really made me feel closer to my food.  Not just the stuff I grow myself, but knowing and understanding how the whole cycle works increases your appreciation of all food!  

garden update garden update
garden update garden update
garden update garden update
garden update garden update blue skies garden update 

Weekly Menu

It's been a fun packed weekend and of course it eventually had to come to an end.  My in-laws and their friends were in town and we were showing them around Columbus... well... really just eating and drinking at some of our favorite spots.  (Which may be inspiring a future Cbus post for a fun day in each of the Cbus neighborhoods.)  And then today we went for our obligatory annual visit to ComFest with our jerk chicken tradition.  I really love the meaning behind ComFest, bringing together community, supporting local, free spirits, and no trace!  The meaning gets lost in the massive crowd that descends on Goodale Park every year, but it's still fun.  :)

pigskin brewery cup o joe Untitled Untitled

I made kale chips to snack on throughout the weekend (they were gone in an hour).  RECIPE HERE  Kale chips really are the ONLY way I can eat kale... I can't quite understand how something that tastes like grass can taste so good after 25 minutes in the oven!

kale chips kale chips

I skipped a week or two of planning out our menu and it certainly made me feel unprepared and less motivated to cook anything (despite having a fridge full of ingredients).  So this week... back to meal planning.  Here's what's on tap for us...

broccoli frittata with roasted potatoes
pizza night
burgers and salad
sloppy joes with roasted fennel
zucchini latkes with green beans

My POV on GMOs

good bad and ugly on GMOs

GMOs (or genetically modified organisms) have been in the new a lot over the past five years or so.  In the last month, fast food restaurants like Taco Bell and Panera have announced they are removing GMOs and other artificial ingredients from their foods.  Food Babe, a pretty controversial food blogger, also preaches the horrors of consuming GMOs.  All are being met with some opposition from the science community saying that we shouldn't be afraid of scientific advancements in the food industry.  All of this can be pretty confusing.

I take a pretty opinionated stance right in the middle ground.

So here are my pros and cons to GMOs...

The good...
Genetic modification actually occurs in nature.  If a bee pollinates a spicy habanero plant and then to a sweet tomato plant, that tomato will have a bit of a kick to it because of cross-pollination.  As a gardener, that is how we get so many different varieties of plants to choose from.  It is plant evolution.  The seeds from the most delicious cross-pollinated fruits have been saved over the years and are now our heirloom varieties.  My favorite tomato, purple cherokee, did not exist 100 years ago.  Instead, it is a descendant of the original, Mexican tomato that grew like a wild flower.

There are so many that go hungry every day because they either do not have access to food or cannot afford it.  When scientist find varieties that are naturally resistant to specific problems, like blight resistance or drought tolerance, and then cross-pollinating those in a lab with another variety that may be known for high yields results in a plant that provides a lot of food and doesn't need as much water or chemicals.  More food using less resources sounds like a win in my book!  Take that extra food and cost savings and distribute it to those who are hungry and that "GMO" solves (or gets closer to solving) world hunger.

The bad...
Unfortunately, the Big Ag companies that are creating most of the GMOs aren't doing it to feed the world, they are doing it for profit.  Companies like Monsanto and Bayer create seeds that are dependent on their chemicals.  Or... the chemicals are "baked" right into the seed.  Now think about a tiny seed injected with insecticides, fungicides, and fertilizers that becomes hardwired in the plant and therefore the food it produces.  There have been too many reports of bees pollinating these chemically charged plants and dying on the spot.  Now imagine what it could do to you (or to the cows and chickens that eat that same grain that end up on your grill).

Like I mentioned in my first point, some of these modifications are the natural process of plant evolution.  However, the modifications Big Ag have been working on are getting patented.  That means even if you're not using Monsanto seeds, pollinators will still travel between crops.  This results in the patented GMO DNA in your non-GMO plants.  Because of patent laws, this means companies like Monsanto are able to sue farmers for stealing their genetically modified intellectual property and prevent the farmer from being non-GMO certified.

The ugly...
Now that you know not all GMOs are created equal, you still have your own consumer decision to make.  Do you play it safe and go non-GMO whenever it is available?  Do you support science's right to patent plant DNA knowing that some of them are trying to solve for world hunger and others are trying to profit?  It is a confusing choice to make and certainly not an easy one.

Snowville Creamery Farm Tour

snowville creamery farm tour

Snowville Creamery might be known best as one of the original cream suppliers for Jeni's Splendid ice creams.  As it gained popularity in the Ohio dairy market for its grassfed cow goodness, most grocery stores started carrying many of their products including Whole Foods, Giant Eagle and Kroger.  Snowville distributes milk and cream, obviously, as well as yogurt and creme fraiche... and I get all of mine delivered to my door through GreenBEAN.

Every year, Snowville opens their farm to their customers for a little free food, fun, and farm tour!  Not far from Athens, the rolling hills are quite scenic as you approach the main farm.  While the land may seem to go on forever, there are surprisingly very few structures that collect, process, and carton the milk we enjoy every week.  The milking barn, pictured below, has room for only 18 cows to be milked at a time while the cows enjoy a little grain snack in the trough.  The farmers are the ones down in the pit you see in the middle making sure everything is sanitary and the milk is flowing.  The cows get milked twice a day and then ushered to a new pasture where they roam freely and munch on grass.

 Snowville Creamery Farm Tour Snowville Creamery Farm Tour Snowville Creamery Farm Tour 
We tried some yogurt flavors I've been too nervous to get full cartons of like coffee-cardamom and gingamon.  I'm still not sure what cardamom tastes like, but I really like coffee yogurts and ice creams, so I'll be getting the coffee yogurt again.  The gingamon tastes a lot more like a greek yogurt with with a slight tang.  Snowvillians were also handing out ice cream... churned using a bicycle!  

We met some cute calves and their mamas... and this old Australian Shepard with beautiful blue eyes (even though she closed them went I went to take a picture after a long pet).  If you enjoy daily reminders of where your milk comes from, Snowville posts daily doses of cute to their Facebook page, usually of cute calves or cows licking their noses.  :)

Snowville Creamery Farm Tour Snowville Creamery Farm Tour Snowville Creamery Farm Tour Snowville Creamery Farm Tour
It's really quite amazing that just a few people and a lot of cows can produce enough milk to keep up with demand!  I love that Snowville's founder quit the commercialized dairy industry and wanted to give consumers a grassfed, pasture raised option rich in nutrients and connected to the community.  Here's his story which aired on PBS's Perennial Plate...

Weekly Menu

Hope your weekend was fabulous!  We had a great time on Snowville's farm (more on that soon), walking around Athens again, and finally getting the kayak and paddleboard on some water this year!  Pretty good weekend if you ask me.  ;)

snowville bagel street deli casa lopez AW Marion

Keeping it short and sweet this week, but wanted to say one thing about meal planning.  I think everyone knows that cooking for yourself is healthier than going out to eat.  Most businesses take many shortcuts on quality to keep profits increasing and then add fats/oils to make it taste like something.  Cooking at home can sound like a pain in the butt.  It does take some time every day, but it doesn't have to be much time.  Most of the meals I cook take less than 30 minutes, most of my go-to meals are even less than 10 minutes start to finish.  And yes, there is a small mess to clean up afterward, but you probably have a dishwasher.  And yes, some times what you make doesn't come out right, but you're learning.

The easiest thing to do that keeps me cooking at home all week is to have a plan.  Then buy the ingredients.  When everything you need is already in your kitchen, you start to run out of excuses.  You already spent the money.  There have been several times that I have come home from work or from a workout tired and wanting to just grab something on the way home.  Then I remember I have free-range chicken and local organic spinach at home ready to be turned into enchiladas... and I am infinitely happier with my custom-made enchiladas than something from a drive thru.

So this week's meal plan...

spinach enchiladas with homemade guac
stuffed peppers
creamy dijon chicken with spinach strawberry salad
homemade pizza (with peppers from the garden already!)
dinner at our friend's wedding reception!  :)

2015 Columbus Festival Schedule

columbus ohio festival schedule

The summer festival season has officially kicked off here in Columbus!  It really just wouldn't be summer without some of these staple events.  When all of Columbus comes together to partake in the festivities, enjoy the weather and some good grub.  So it's time for a festival roundup to make sure your calendars are marked...

Park Street Festival (12-13th) - local music, food trucks, and fun all night
Columbus Arts Fest (12-14th) - browse 100's of artists' booths with jewelry, paintings, sculptures, and more
DigFest (13th) - day drinking at its finest with local brews
Pride Fest (19-21st) - come out and support our LGBTQ friends and listen to some good music
Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival (19-21st) - kick back and chill to the soothing sounds of blues and the Big Walnut Creek streaming by (plus Pigskin Brewery is there)
ComFest (26-28th) - let your inner hippie out :) a festival just about coming together as a community

Red, White, & BOOM (3rd) - largest fireworks display in the Midwest... and it's on a Friday this year... and we get that Friday off from work... what!?! 
Ohio Wine Festival (10-12th) - find a favorite local wine while strolling through North Market's wonderful vendors
Jazz & Rib Fest (17-19th) - I don't always eat ribs, but when I do, I chow them down!
Violet Festival (29-Aug 1st) - one of the smaller festivals on the list, but Pickerington is hosting Kansas this year

Ohio State Fair (Jul 29-Aug 9) - you're gonna need to do a lot of walking to walk off that deep-fried everything :)
Dublin Irish Festival (Jul 31-Aug 2nd) - we're all a wee bit Irish, so let's celebrate with food, beer, and live music
Festival Latino (8-9th) - Latin music makes way for Latin dancing...
All Ohio Balloon Festival (13-15th) - riding in a hot air balloon is definitely on my bucket list.  watching one shaped like Yoda float along the skyline is up there too
Summer Beer Fest (14-15th) - calling all beer aficionados and novices alike, a great way to find new favorite
Food Truck Festival (14-16th) - what's not to like about a bunch of artisan food vendors lined up at a park?
Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival (14-15th) - alright, this one makes the list solely because I live down the street from it ;)

Millersport Sweet Corn Festival (2-5th) - a bit outside Columbus, but a lot of good country fun
Greek Festival (4-7th) - fun dancing and delicious food, OPA!
FMMF (5-6th) - last year was the inaugural year for Fashion Meets Music Festival, and now that Cbus has been named the third largest fashion capital of the US, it's only going to get better
Independents' Day Festival (19-20th) - the first central Ohio town puts on a celebration of arts
New Albany Classic (20th) - not exactly a fair, but definitely some family fun with world-famous horses and a teen-pop concert to dance around to on the Wexner's estate
Oktoberfest (25-27th) - cheers to a great summer of festivals with some bier... prost!

For more festivals around Ohio, check out the never-ending list here.


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