Sunday, July 31, 2011

Starting Seeds

A great way to enjoy your favorite vegetables and flowers is to save the seeds to plant again. The process is easy and economical.  Tomatoes are ideal for learning how to save seeds. 

You will need:
  • Your favorite ripe tomato
  • Glass jars or container to soak seeds in
  • Paper towel or coffee maker liner
  • Seed packets or plain paper envelopes (great way to recycle old opened envelopes)
Always allow the tomato to fully ripen before trying to harvest seeds.
  • Cut the tomatoes in half at the equator (widthways).
  • Carefully scoop out the jelly and seeds out of the pulp center and place in jar.  If done gently, you can still eat the tomato.

  • Add water to the jar.

  • Cover jar with plastic and make a slit in the top of the plastic to allow for transpiration of the seeds. This will enable the seeds to ferment which will help the seeds separate from the jelly and also help destroy any diseases that the seeds may have.

  • Now place jar in sunny window (60 to 75 degrees) for three to four days. 
Come back in three days and let's see how the tomato seeds are doing!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Arabian Lilac - Summer Delight

Arabian lilacs, Vitex trifolia f. purpurea, a member of the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) family are a new addition to the Florida landscape.  Heat-thriving with soft, fragrant leaves and purplish blue flowers, these plants grow in full sun or partial shade.  As a shrub they grow to be six to eight feet tall, or you can trim them up to be a small understory tree by trimming the lower branches.

Drought tolerant, these Australian natives need consistant watering the first year and after establishment can thrive on normal summer rainfall.  Butterflies are a benefit of planting these purple beauties in your yard. No other pest problems or disease to speak of now.  Ask your local nursery to order one for you!

Summer Containers That Beat The Heat

Creating beautiful pockets of color for your yard is easy when you select the right plants and containers.  Choosing a container is not only about aesthetics but also about your landscape maintenance style. Are you someone who loves pottery full of flowers but you don't have irrigation to the pots or want to worry about watering every day in the summer heat?  Then select a ceramic or plastic container and using a potting soil with water holding materials like coconut fibers or polymer water balls that will allow soil to hold onto moisture longer.  Clay pots dry out very quickly and depending on the plant species used will need watering every day. For succulents and cacti, clay pots are very appropriate.

Mix annuals, perennials, succulents, herbs, and even small trees in your container, making sure they all have the same sunlight and soil conditions.. Select three to five plants that will give you vertical (height), horizontal (width) , and depth (hanging below the pot's top edge).  Vary the foliage types with spikes, succulent vines, or soft velvety leaves.  Use the color wheel approach to match your flowers and foliage with your choice of container. 
Complete your containter by adding Spanish or sphagnum moss to fill in any bare areas to create more interest.  If you are collecting Spanish moss from your yard and want to use it indoors or on a patio, dry it out and kill any insects or mites first by microwaving for one to three minutes before adding to your creation.

Keep an eye on your plants for the first couple of weeks to ensure that it is getting enough rainfall or water to beat the heat. 

Some ideas for great plants to use in containers for full sun outdoors:
  • African bush daisy, Gamolepis chrysanthemoides
  • Ice plants, Aptenia spp.
  • Osteospernum, Osteospermum spp
  • Ageratum, Ageratum spps.
  • Blanket flower, Gaillardia pulchella
  • Bulbine, Bulbine frutescens
  • Bluebird vine, Petrea volubilis
  • Calendula, Calendula officinalis
  • Celosia, Celosia spp.
  • Common yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  • Firecracker flower, Crossandra spp.
  • Firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis
  • Gazania, Gazania spp.
  • Gloriosa lily, Gloriosa superba
  • Showy stonecrop, Sedum spectabile
  • Ornamental potato vine, Ipomoea batatas
  • Jewels of Opar, Talinum paniculatum
  • Lavender, Lavandula dentata, Lavandula stoeches
  • Million bells, Calibrochoa spp.
  • Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea
  • Whirling butterflies, Gaura lindheimeri
  • Zinnia, Zinnia spp.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Updated - Don't Eat Your Vegetables In The Front Yard!

I wrote an in-depth article on Edible Landscaping for Green Builder magazine on "Edible Landscaping 02" pages 31 - 37.

7/18/11 Update: Drudge Report is now reporting that the city of Oak Park, Michigan has seemingly dropped the anti-veggie fines but now wants to impose an unlicensed dog fine equivalent to the same fine and incarceration time. Sounds like a vendetta to me...

After Oak Park City failed in its bid to charge Bass with violating a local ordinance for using her front garden to grow organic vegetables, no doubt put off by gargantuan media attention on the case, they are now pursuing Bass for a similarly ludicrous misdemeanor that carries an identical penalty, 93 days in jail, for owning unlicensed dogs.

However, Bass’ dogs are fully licensed, the city is merely reinstating an earlier charge that Bass has already complied with.

7/15/11 Update: The city of Oak Park, Michigan is delaying any further action on the Bass's front yard vegetable garden.

7/11/11 Update:
My interview this morning with Julie Bass on WLBE 790am (  was very informative. Not only did Mrs. Bass check with the city of Oak Park, Michigan regarding any ordinances restricting raised beds, they told her there should be no problems if she did it. There is Michigan legislation that protects people who want to grow their own food.
And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels
Has the world gone mad? In an amazing turnip of events, Julie Bass, homemaker, mother of three, and simple gardener, could go to jail for three months for growing vegetables in her front yard. The Oak Park, Michigan resident was only trying to make a sustainable garden out of the front yard that had been demolished by the City of Oak Park utilities fixing the sewer system in the spring. Passers-by admired her efforts. A single complaint from a neighbor not green with envy - but with mean-spiritedness - encouraged the Code Enforcement department to issue a warning to Mrs. Bass to remove the raised beds of warm season annuals and vegetables.  When Mrs. Bass didn't comply, she was issued a ticket and charged with a misdemeanor. She goes to a pre-jury trial on July 26th. 

"In order to live off a garden, you practically have to live in it.
- Frank McKinney Hubbard
The reason for the citation is a code that says a front yard has to have suitable, live, plant material.  Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski stated: "That's not what we want to see in a front yard."  Is Mr. Rulkowski a horticulturist, landscape designer, or a landscape architect?  Does the City of Oak Park have a horticulturist on staff to help them dig through all the dirt on what is a suitable plant or not?  Is it based on USGBC green certification, best management practices, asesthetics or personal opinion?  Is turfgrass a suitable plant? Are cookie cutter designs a government regulation? Everbody has to have the same landscape?

See Julie Bass's edible front yard here.

Edible landscaping is still a popular gardening trend in the United States with 43% of households surveyed by the Garden Writers Association Foundation planning on establishing a vegetable garden this year. Vegetable gardening is even being encouraged by the White House - why does the City of Oak Park even want to get involved in such a pickle?

This is not the first case of gardening interference between a regulating body and residents.  Confrontations between HOA's and homeowners has increased over the last few years with homeowners emboldened by new water conserving ordinances.
I'm interviewing Mrs. Julie Bass on "In Your Backyard" tomorrow, at our new day and time: Mondays at 11:30am to 12:30pm.  Please plan to tune in  about this outrageous attack against individual homeowner's property rights. You can also check out the Bass family's Facebook page: Oak Park Hates Veggies.  You can also sign the Bass's petition to stop the persecution.
The word 'vegetable' has no precise botanical meaning in reference to food plants, and we find that almost all parts of plants have been employed as vegetables - roots (carrot and beet), stems (Irish potato and asparagus), leaves (spinach and lettuce), leaf stalk (celery and Swiss chard), bracts (globe artichoke), flower stalks and buds,(broccoli and cauliflower), fruits (tomato and squash), seeds (beans), and even the petals (Yucca and pumpkin).
- Charles Heiser, Seed to Civilization

More with Teresa on edible landscaping: Edible Landscaping: So Good You Can Eat Them Right Up
More resources: 
The garden should be adorned with roses and lilies, the turnsole, violets, and mandrake; there you should have parsley, cost, fennel, southern-wood, coriander, sage, savory, hyssop, mint, rue, dittany, smallage, pellitory, lettuces, garden-cress, and peonies. There should also be beds planted with onions, leeks, garlic, pumpkins and shallots. The cucumber growing in its lap, the drowsy poppy, the daffodil and brank-ursine ennoble a garden. Nor are there wanting, if occasion further thee, pottage-herbs: beets,herb-mercury, orache, sorrel and mallows, anise, mustard, white pepper and wormwood do good service to the gardener.- Alexander of Neckham, Of the Nature of Things, 1187