What Is Compost And Why Should You Care

What is compost? Ever ask yourself what is compost, anyways? Well, compost is essentially organic materials that have decayed and are weakened by living organisms. This process continuously occurs in nature when leaves and other organic matter collects on the ground. Composting in your own backyard helps accelerate this process.  The resulting substance is rich in nutrients and feeds plants, improves soil quality and even helps prevent weeds. Why compost? You may also ask yourself, “Why compost, just for some free fertilizer?”.  But there is so much more to composting and so many great benefits: It reduces the amount of trash that goes to the landfill not to mention the amount you have to lug to the curb on trash day. By composting food & garden waste and recycling we’ve reduced the amount of trash we throw away down to only one bag per week. Your garbage will smell less. Composting a large portion of the food scraps you would normally throw in the trash also reduces the amount of rotting food in your trash. Which would otherwise stink and attract roaches. You feel good because you’re helping the environment, less methane is produced in landfills (a powerful greenhouse gas). It’s great for your soil,…

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DIY Root Barrel Cellar

This year we grew potatoes in our garden for the first time. We were really surprised at how big the potato plants grew. What we didn’t realize until too late, was that we were alleged to pile more soil on top of the young plants. You get more potatoes that way. Despite our not adding extra soil, we still got a pretty good harvest. About 38 pounds. We don’t eat potatoes a day, although we'll be eating more now. So the question now is how to preserve those potatoes to make them last as long as possible. Eric found (sorry I’m not sure where) someone who made a root barrel (instead of a root cellar). What a cool idea! So, we are going to try it out too. The theory is simple, the labor is hard work. First you buy a barrel. We bought a metal barrel, but plastic would work well too.  Dig a hole big enough for the barrel to fit into. This is the hard part. I’m so glad I didn’t have to do it. This project would have never gotten done if it was up to me. We have rock and clay and Eric dug through it in 100 degree heat.…

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How To Propagate Hydrangeas

Today I wanted to show you a trick for easily propagating hydrangeas. This is the time of year hydrangeas are getting trimmed back, so perfect timing to get cuttings to propagate!The first step is to get a cutting of a hydrangea. In our current place we don’t have a hydrangea, but our neighbor does and she lays the cuttings out in a branch pile so I scoop those up anytime I see them. Now, the cuttings I used had been laying out for a couple days, so they look a little sad and wilty. The great thing about hydrangeas is they will bounce right back, they are very vocal about if they want water and once you give it to them, they perk right back. If you are working off scraps from a fall trim up, you will want to section down those bigger branches into a couple smaller ones.I always cut right above a leaf segment, then pull off any lower leaves, leaving just the top ones. So one of my typical cutting would be about this size. Then my next trick I’ve learned, that seems bad, is cutting all the leaves in half or even smaller if they…

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Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes

I love that about Italian culture.  The annual canning of tomatoes in late summer or early fall, always makes me wish I was Italian and had a large Italian family.  If anyone wants to adopt me into their family, I’m free!  (But, only if you can tomatoes every year!) I’ve tried it in the past, but in smaller quantities.  We live in an apartment, so purchasing and preparing several bushels of tomatoes for canning would be a kitchen nightmare.  There’s just not enough room.  That’s why I’m totally jealous of Nadia and her big backyard.  They all get together and skin the tomatoes, puree them and pack them into jars.  Then, they light a fire under a pot large enough to hold over 100 jars of tomato sauce.  Can you imagine?  That’s a lot of good eating throughout the winter months. She gave me a jar of her sauce a few years back and it was one of the best tomato sauces I’ve ever eaten.  It was so fresh and so delicious.  It encouraged me to try some of my own tomato canning recipes, but again, due to space, I was limited to a smaller quantity.  I did put together…

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Easter Bunny Coconut Tails

Easter cookies and Easter decorations were not big in our family. My parents never decorated for Easter! Sure, we all got a big chocolate bunny, but there was never an egg hunt. Can you believe that? I never once had an Easter egg hunt when I was a kid. In fact, the only thing good about Easter was the chocolate. We were church-going folks and I hated having to leave behind my chocolate bunny and head off to Sunday morning church. That would have been okay, I guess, but we were Apostolic. Sunday was all about church! I think Sunday morning church service started at 10:30 am. We were usually home before 1 pm. Then, we had Sunday School in the afternoon. I think that started at 3 and went until 4. After that, we were forced to take a nap. I’m serious! I think I was 12 years old when Sunday naps stopped! Of course, Sunday evenings we had that big Cold Plate for dinner. And, then we were off to church again at 6:30 pm. That service could last until well after midnight! I kid you not! There was never a time that Sunday night church service ended before 9…

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Potato and Bell Pepper Breakfast Hash

We don’t go out for breakfast very often. In fact, the only time we have breakfast at a restaurant or diner is when we are on the road somewhere. But, I used to be quite the regular at greasy diners for weekend brunch a few years back. Living in Toronto, there’s no shortage of great restaurants, especially the non-chain type! During the summer months, I loved to go to brunch at House on Parliament, Johnny G’s Cafe, or O’Grady’s. Two of those had a patio and the other was quite airy, so perfect for summertime. In the cooler months, I loved Chew Chew’s Diner, The Blake House, or Coach House. They were more suited for cool or rainy weather. One had a fireplace, and the others were very cozy. No matter which restaurant, I always made sure to order a side of breakfast potatoes, if they didn’t already come with what I was ordering. I’m a lover of a classic breakfast – eggs, toast, bacon, and of course, breakfast potatoes! Nowadays, we tend to eat breakfast at home. Most of our weekends are spent at our house. We will either leave Toronto after work on Friday night, or drive up early Saturday morning. To get full…

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How To Determine The Function Or Purpose For My Small Garden

In order to work out your small garden’s function you would like to think about three things: 1 How you will use your small garden This will set the stage for your small garden design. You should begin by asking yourself, “What is my vision for this garden?Do you want to be able to go outside and pick your own vegetables and herbs? Do you want a fragrant rose garden? Or, do you just want a little getaway that you can enjoy by yourself or with family and friends. This is totally up to you; it is completely a personal preference. 2 How much space you have Once you know what you want to use your small garden for, you’ll need to look at how much space you actually have to work with. This will determine if all the ideas you have for your garden are possible. At this stage start picturing in your mind where you would place elements that you may want to use. Think about where you'd put a chair, table, bench, fountain, containers, etc. 3 What is your budget How much do you want to spend? This will determine how large or small your project will…

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How To Make Self Watering Planters

I’ve been wanting to make these for a long time. Since I don’t often have plastic pop bottles lying around the house, it took a while to gather enough supplies. I made three or four of these a week ago and they are a definite success. The soil stays moist without any extra watering from me. The basic idea is that you fill the bottom part of the planter with water, have one side of the yarn resting in the water, while the other reaches up into the soil. You won’t need to water them every day, simply refill the reservoir when it gets low. Supplies you will need in addition to a medium-sized plastic pop bottle: hammerscrewdriverscissorsyarn Instructions: Start by cutting the pop bottle in half. I like to keep the top half (the one with the cap) longer than the bottom so there is a lot of room for growth.Poke a hole in the cap of the bottle with a screwdriver and hammer. This is the most difficult part. As you can see in the above photo, my screwdriver is stuck to the PopCap.Thread a piece of yarn through the pop bottle cap so that there is an…

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Organic Weed Control In Your Small Garden

Figuring out what plants grow best in your area is a very important part of the small garden landscape design process because it would be very disappointing if you plant your garden and then half of it dies at first frost. A simple and mostly reliable way to figure this out when shopping for plants is by using the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. This map divides the United States into 11 different zones based on average minimum winter temperatures. This index rates plant hardiness per area and can be used as a guideline when choosing plants for your small garden. Keep in mind though, that this is not foolproof because temperatures may go well below the minimum temperatures for the area. And it doesn’t account for heat, humidity, and regional climate fluctuations.  Also, there are temperature fluctuations within the garden itself – for example, a shaded garden will have lower temperatures than a full-sun garden. Photo by Arbor Day Foundation When deciding on plants you have to also take into consideration the amount of shade and sun, the wind circulation, and the direction your small garden faces. A southern-facing garden will get much more sun than a northern-facing one. You should also consider…

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Banana Walnut Loaf

This is probably my favourite sweet treat.  It’s one of those recipes that I don’t prepare too often, because I can’t seem to control myself. I will just eat and eat until the loaf is gone. I’ve always loved banana bread, but I prefer to stick to a simpler version.  There are so many versions of banana bread out there. In fact, I have a one made with yogurt, pecans, and chocolate. It’s my Banana Yogurt Chocolate Pecan Loaf and you should take a look at that one if you’re more inclined to like a chocolaty version. Banana bread is fine on its own, but I personally feel that banana bread without nuts is like winter without snow, or a pen without ink, a book without words, or a wallet without money.  It’s awkward, lonely, and completely depressing (ok, I’m probably referring mostly to the empty wallet, but you get the idea!)  That’s why, Dear Reader, I always include nuts in my banana bread, no matter if I’m baking this very easy version, or a more complex version.  Nuts and bananas are a perfect pairing. Another little secret to really good banana bread is cinnamon. Just this past Saturday, we went to…

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Dutch Oven Artisan Crusty Bread

We’ve been enjoying a lot of homemade soups lately. We tend to like soups and stews quite often when the weather is still cold. And, at this time of year when it’s a little on the gloomy side, soups just make everything feel better. But, in our home, soup without bread is just not happening! We love to have a big slice or two of good, fresh, crusty bread to dunk into the broth. And, that’s just what we did with this Dutch Oven Artisan Crusty Bread! I’m going to assume that since you’re reading this recipe, two things are true. First, you like to bake or cook. Which, in turn, leads me to my second assumption – you are the proud owner of a Dutch oven. How were my guesses? Off the mark or accurate? Dutch Ovens – how important are they? A proper Dutch oven is needed to get this bread just right. I have several to choose from. But, that’s because I have purchased them over the years and not all at once. And, because I cook and bake all the time. Dutch ovens are a huge investment, but they are very much worth it if you…

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Sweet and Sour Cauliflower

This is one of those side dishes that takes very little time, but tastes like it’s been braising for hours and hours. I love the combination of the sweet and the sour flavours paired with the freshness of cauliflower and green onions. Not only is this dish delicious, but it’s also prepared entirely in one pan! I know for most of us home cooks, any dish prepared in one pan is certainly favored! Like most vegetables, cauliflower has a lot of water content, so you’re going to want to get rid of as much of that as you can. It will just eliminate the risk of diluting your sweet and sour sauce too much. The sweet and sour sauce will not be extremely thick, but you want it to be syrupy at least. Cauliflower musts and maybes! For those of us who love cauliflower, there seems to be a great divide. There’s those of us that prefer our cooked cauliflower to have a little bit of crunch left. Basically, that means slightly under cooking the cauliflower to avoid the risk of it becoming mushy. It’s important to remember when cooking that even though you turn off the heat, that does…

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How Far Apart Do I Space My Plants?

Something that most people overlook, even the professionals, is mature plant size and plant spacing. I see this much too often in private yards as well as in public areas. I see plants that are so crowded together that you can’t even tell what type of plants you’re looking at. I also see a lot of layered planting with the taller plants in the front hiding the ones in the back. But I understand why people do this. They want their new garden or their landscaping to look mature without having to wait the necessary time for that to happen naturally. Unfortunately, in the long run, the garden just looks cluttered and out of control. As you can tell this is one of my pet peeves. The old saying is true – patience is a virtue. It’s best to let your plants grow and evolve into their mature selves. An easy way to avoid clutter is to just read up on the plants you’re considering before you plant them. You’ll want to determine the mature width and height of each different plant you’re going to use in your small garden. And the recommended plant spacing measure.  Savings-tip: once you know the mature…

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Preparing Your Small Garden Soil For Planting

Before planting it’s important to consider some factors that determine the type of garden soil you have. Soil Structure Garden Soil is basically made up of three components; solid material (organic matter & minerals), water and air. The minerals in the soil determine its texture (clay, silt and sand). Each of these has varying characteristics. Sandy soil tends to have larger particles and holds less water, which in turn makes it less fertile. Clay soils have the opposite characteristic; clay is made up of very fine particles, which holds water too well. The mix of these types determines the soil’s structure. Loam being most desirable type. A quick test to determine what type of soil structure you have; grab a small amount of wet soil in your hand and try to roll it. If It crumbles easily it’s sand, if it stays together very well it’s clay. The desired result would be a soil that rolls up easily but falls apart when rolled thinly this is loam. Soil PH and Salinity PH and salinity are two other factors to consider before planting. The PH (acidity-less than 7 /alkalinity higher than 7) and salinity of the soil will determine what plants will thrive…

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Growing Herbs That Boost Your Immune System

As we deal with the new concepts of quarantine and self-isolation while trying to avoid the Coronavirus, many of us are fortunate that it’s time to get the garden growing. Tilling, planting and tending the garden helps me work off the boredom and frustration I’m feeling, so it’s sure to be just as useful to others. One thing I’ve decided to do while waiting it out is growing more immune boosting herbs in the garden. A healthy immune system helps avoid the virus, and many herbs are useful to boost immunities. Even once this Covid pandemic ends, there are still plenty of reasons to improve immunity. Which herbs work best? Here are my favorite herbs for boosting a healthy immune system. Echinacea – Commonly known as purple coneflower, this is a versatile plant when used for medicinal purposes, and you may already have it growing in your garden. There are more than 40 types of coneflowers, with Echinacea purpurea being most used. Flower petals, leaves and roots can be used medicinally. Make a tincture or tea with these parts to prevent infections and awaken and stimulate the immune system. Turmeric – Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is a beautiful flowering plant filled with Curcumin, vitamin C, magnesium, and…

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