Growing Organic Blueberries is EASY!

Want to raise your own organic fruit?  Why not start with the easiest and one of the tastiest fruits first?

Blueberries win that contest hands down.  Long before edible landscaping was popular, I began exploring ways to raise fruit like blueberries, one of the more expensive products you’ll find in any store.

Organic blueberries on the bush

My organic blueberry plants yield 40 to 60 quarts every summer and take little or no work.

I put in 12 plants – 4 different varieties and I’ve been harvesting blueberries ever since – 4o to 60 quarts a summer!

That translates to a savings of $500.00 every year and that’s a conservative estimate.  That’s $7500 in my pocket for an initial investment of less than $100.00!

You’re probably thinking, “Oh, I don’t have enough space.” or “I can’t grow anything.”  Or my favorite, “I don’t know how.” I am here to tell you blueberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow…period.  And I’m going to tell you how to do it.

Pick the spot where you will plant them
Even if you are putting them in pots.  Why?  Two reasons. Blueberries need sunlight and lots of it so pick the sunny side of your house, a sunny spot in your yard or a sunny patch on the deck to plant them.  Blueberries also need good

Organic blueberries growing in my back yard.

Organic blueberries don’t need much to produce – sun, water, mulch and time.

drainage so don’t pick the soggy spot in your yard where nothing ever grows.

Pick the bushes you want to buy
I got mine at Miller’s Nursery (now Stark Brothers) 15 years ago and had to figure it out on my own.  But Miller’s has made it even easier to choose, now.  They tell you about each plant including how hardy they are, how tall they’ll grow and when they fruit.  They even have collections! So whether you’re potting your plants or using them to landscape around your house, it will be easy to get the right ones.

Make sure your dirt is good for their roots.  Blueberries like acidic soil – a ph of 4 to 5.  Any nursery can help you buy the right dirt if you’re potting.  And your local Ag Extension office can test the soil in your yard to see what you have to add.  NOTE:  I didn’t test; I just planted and all of my bushes survived and grew.

Plant them the right way.  For plants, take the plastic pot off, lightly roughen up the outside surface of the root ball. Set the top soil line of the plant about 1-2 inches higher than the existing ground and firm around root ball. Mound soil up along sides of exposed root mass. Water well.   For bare root plants, spread roots out wide and shallow, cover with 1/2″ of soil. Firm soil around roots and water well.

MULCH!
This is one of the best ways to ensure your blueberries will “live well and prosper” at your place.  Blueberries are shallow rooted.  If you don’t mulch, anything from frost, to extreme heat to rabbits can find and damage the roots.  But don’t think you have to buy expensive mulch!  Use my trick – newspaper and straw.  That’s right – Scott and Helen Nearing’s method.  It’s cheap, it provides fertilizer because the materials are acid and do break down and it makes my blueberry patch…weed free.

Sit back and watch them settle in and grow!
In an average year, I harvest up to 60 quarts of blueberries.  That’s 120 pints and 240 1/2 pints of organic, good for you and good tasting blueberries.  I eat them, make low sugar jam (using Pomona Pectin) out of them, freeze them and enjoy them even in the dead of winter!

If you grow your own blueberries, you don’t just save cash, you get all the health benefits that these tiny, blue jewels bring to your table.   Blueberries are one of the superstars on the healthy foods list. Only 80 calories per cup and virtually no fat, packed with vitamin C, a ready source of fiber and near the top of the list when it comes to antioxidant activity per serving.  How could you resist them?

 Bob’s Blueberry Buckle
¾ c sugar
¼ c butter
1 egg
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 c blueberries

Topping:
½ tsp cinnamon
½ c brown sugar
1/3 c flour
¼ c butter

DIRECTIONS:
Toss blueberries in a little flour.
Make topping.
Mix all ingredients for cake together.
Stir in blueberries.

NOTE:  This is a very, very thick batter.  Don’t worry about it.  Just pat the cake batter into a 9 inch square baking pan.  Sprinkle with topping and bake at 375 for 40 to 45 minutes.  While it’s baking, soften the butter and stand back.  When it comes out of the oven, there is nothing better than warm blueberry buckle, buried in butter.

Margaret Roach Holds Open House

If you live anywhere near Margaret Roach’s New York home, you should sign up for her open house in May.

Roach, who has written three books including ” A Way to Garden, I Shall Have Some Peace There and Backyard Parables, was also the leading garden writer for 25 years at Martha Stewart Living.

She hosts  a public-radio show and, on rare occasions, opens her 2.3 acre spread in the Hudson Valley to experts and visitors for a day of delightful learning and sharing of all things gardening.

But what’s really wonderful about this accomplished woman is how very human she is, how real and how willing she is to share mistakes, secrets and her special gardening friends.

Her open houses fill up fast so visit her site and sign up if you can go.  Then share what you see, learn and love about visiting with this extraordinary author, gardener and fellow human being.

Spring Cool Crops Growing So Easy!

The weather has been so unpredictable here in the Mid-Atlantic but win, lose or draw, I decided it was time to get on out there and get gardening.

Growing season begins in the mid-Atlantic.

Three of the raised beds are prepped and two have baby transplants in them.

It was gray and cool day, perfect weather for the baby plants that I put in the old ’55 Chevy truck bed!

Lettuce, spinach and onions growing in raised truck bed.

Cool weather and cool raised bed of a 55 Chevy truck making for happy lettuce, spinach and onions.

All of butterhead lettuce and the spinach slid right into the soil and the plants responded to the cloudy skies and low temperatures beautifully.  The oak leaf lettuce (lower left hand side of the picture) didn’t fare as well.  It got a bit battered by the wind which rose to 35 miles per hour the day after transplant.

Baby beets grown indoors from seed.

Beets started indoors can be transplanted outdoors as soon as you can work the soil — if you protect them from frost.

Next to go out, will be the baby beets I started in the basement from seed.

I used a 40 cell propagation tray and put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell. When I transplant the beets, I will separate them by gently teasing apart their tiny roots (cilia). Using a pencil, I will punch a hole in the ground and set each beet in, tamping gently around the stem.

The kale, which is a mixture of dinosaur, curly and seeds from Adaptiv which came from around the world, will go in on the same day as the beets.

And if another frost is in the forecast, it will be easy to protect all these small plants using materials I got for free. The old window frames came from a friend’s house.

The sheer curtains came from my own living room. Both were being replaced and could have been thrown out but I saw opportunity. I knocked out the glass and cleaned the frames up a bit. Then I stapled the curtains to the window frames. In 20 minutes I made half a dozen “raised bed” covers.

Free raised bed covers for transplants

Protective covers made from old windows and old sheer curtains keep the frost off.

These covers can be used year after year and make protecting transplants easy. Just make sure your raised beds are the same width as the length of the windows so you can use the sides of the beds to prop up your covers – just lay them across the raised bed and…instant coverage.

Are your transplants in the ground yet? Are you getting ready to harvest? Share the state of your garden and any tips you have for getting plants into the ground!

Happy gardening, everyone!

Grow So Easy Organic – Find Free Tools to Start Your Garden

Want to start organic gardening but don’t want to spend a lot of money?  You can and it’s pretty darned easy.  Unlike traditional gardening, if you go organic, there are a lot of things you will NEVER have to buy.

You do not have to buy any chemicals or herbicides.  You don’t have to have fancy sprayers or a rototiller – not even one of those small ones named after the bug that prays.

The short list of what you need is dirt, water, seeds and sun.  If you try organic gardening and don’t like it, you’ve probably only invested a few dollars and some time.

But if you do try it and you do like it, you probably already own just about everything you might need to get started.  What you don’t own, you can usually get, for free.

So, here’s my list of what you need to be an organic gardener:

  1. Dirt – free.
  2. Seeds – cheap to buy and even cheaper if you save some for next year’s garden.
  3. A big spoon or small shovel – something to dig holes with when transplanting.
  4. Newspapers – free if you ask your neighbors and co-workers for them.  You can use them for mulch and make transplant pots with it, too.
  5. Straw – free if you find a farmer who has old or moldy straw to get rid of and which works just as well as the golden yellow stuff.
  6. Some found items that your cukes, tomatoes and peppers can climb
    Cucumbers growing up an old inner spring.

    Cucumbers like to climb and did great on this old bed spring.

    up or grow in.  When I say found, I mean things like the old double-bed spring I use for climbing vegetables or the headboard and footboard from the cast aluminum bed that I found on the side of the road.

  7. Epsom salts – dirt cheap in half gallon milk shaped containers.
  8. A bucket – free if you can get a hold of a kitty litter container or a dog food bucket.
  9. A mug – free if you liberate it from your kitchen and use it to deliver water or fertilizer right to the roots of your plants.
  10. Twine – free if you (or someone you know) buy straw by the bale, save the baling twine and use it to tie up plants.  You can also get tons of baling twine in any horse barn.  NOTE:  Do NOT use green baling twine.  It has been treated with strychnine to kill mice and rats.
  11. Old, sheer curtains, old bed sheets and even old mattress covers – free if you save yours or ask relatives and friends to give their old ones to you.  They don’t look as pretty as commercial row covers but they will keep frost off your baby plants.  And they’ll slow down all the bloody beetles that want to share your food.
  12. Access to a public library – free and there are always books and magazines about organic gardening ready for you to browse through, borrow and take notes from.Oh, and libraries have computers and internet connections. Using them is free. And online is just FULL of ideas, tips and advice on organic gardening.  All you have to do is put in your search terms and hit Go.
  13. An old 3-ring binder and some paper – can be free if you ask co-workers to save used copy paper and write on the back.  NOTE:  I consider this a requirement for my gardening.  If I don’t write down a tip or a “lesson learned”, I forget and end up repeating my mistakes again and again and again.
  14. A bit of inventiveness, a dollop of gumption and enough courage to try, fail and try again.

There’s no hurry.  You don’t have to have all of these things all at once in order to get started.  In fact, I accumulated all the items above over the years.

So, you can garden happily without most of them.

FYI – I call this section in my book – Grow So Easy: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us “practical” because most of the tools you need are in your closets or cabinets, the garage or the shed.  Don’t buy….just give gardening a try.

What is landscaping? – ArtyPlantz

I love this essay; I love the underlying thought and philosophy it is base on.  What is landscaping? – ArtyPlantz.

Looking out my kitchen window at my back yard, I have never thought of what’s

ArtyPlantz changed landscaping for me.

Back yards are more than landscaping; they are healing places.

growing out there as anything more than either a means to an end or “mine.”

Blueberries, blackberries, apple, pear and cherry trees live side by side with vegetable and herb beds.  Flowers grow around all of them.

 

This morning and every morning, hereafter, because of this essay, what I see will be forever changed.

With the rising sun, I will begin to look at my back yard as a bit of heaven on earth, a place where the wonders of nature – sun, rain, seeds, wind, all conspire to create a healing place full of plants, full of wonder.

I believe I will begin to understand that I am just the caretaker of this bit of heaven…not the creator of it.  And I know I will feel the richness, the peace and the joy that sprouts in this bit of land even more deeply now, thanks to ArtyPlantz.

ArtyPlantz is a group of people working hard to “grow” love for plants and trees in their homeland.  As described on their website, this group is located, “In the heart of The Garden City of Bangalore, we are located in R T Nagar, just a few minutes away from Mekhri Circle, Palace Grounds.”

Perhaps, someday, I will visit their little bit of heaven but even without traveling half way around the world, I feel as though I have touched and been touched by this amazing group.

NOTE:  ArtyPlantz is a member of the LinkedIn group – Grow Girls Grow Organic.  For more posts like this one or to share your ideas, tips and thoughts, please join our organic gardening group and help us change the world!

Growing Season Begins! Tips for Getting Ready

It’s time!

The weather is relenting; the cold retreating.  Birds are singing and trees are putting on their Spring buds.  It’s gardening season and I have some tips for you on how to make the most of the next two months.

Outside, it’s cool weather crop planting time in Zone 6A or 6B or whatever USDA is calling it now.  For me, that means putting in lettuce seeds in the old truck bed and sowing beet seeds.  I’ll keep both watered by hand (a hose would still freeze solid) for the next 2 to 3 weeks while their hard hulls soften, crack and start to reach for the sun.

Inside, I’ve transplanted the baby kale to small pots and given them a quick feed. IMG_2189They’ve been moved out of the basement to join the lettuce I started inside and I’m now hardening them off.  Both are starting to go outside for quick visits with the sun and the wind.

Meanwhile, back in the basement, the tomato and pepper seeds I started in cells just got transplanted into cow pots (which I got online at a great price).

Seedling tomatoes and sweet peppers

Transplanted tomatoes will live in the basement until early May.

Sweet Italian Pepper Transplants

These babies will stay in the basement, growing, being fanned and fed, until the first week of May when they will take their place in my office and begin their hardening off process.

NOTE:  I used to harden plants off haphazardly.  Dangerous! The seedlings you worked and worried over will quickly die if they are not properly introduced to the great outdoors – an hour a day for 2 days, 2 to 3 hours a day for 2 to 3 days, 8 hours a day for 3 days and only then (and only if it’s not hailing or very windy) do they get their first overnight!

DOUBLE NOTE:  I also used to hurry and plant my babies by May 7th or 8th. Frequently, the ground was too cold for warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers and they simply stopped growing for a couple of weeks (or forever in some cases).  Putting plants in the ground too early can be deadly so give the soil a chance to warm while you get your plants ready for the great outdoors.

If you don’t want to start bedding plants from seed and you happen to live in Amish country or near some old, established nurseries, go check out their plants. Maple Shade Nursery in Kirkwood, PA is Amish run and you can watch the women tease baby plants apart and re-pot them right at the register.

In the Spring, I can get an early fix just by visiting and strolling through their greenhouses.   I supplement my seedlings with theirs and I buy herb plants from them like my Bay “bush”.

Bay plant, bay leaves, Amish nursery

“Bayby” is a bay plant I picked up at an Amish nursery 5 years ago.

“Bay-by” was in a 3 inch pot when I bought her but now, 5 years later, she graces my desk with her splendid inch wide trunk, stands a foot high and provides me with fresh, tasty bay leaves for my soups and stews.

I simply bring her in during the winter then set her out on the patio for late Spring, Summer and early Fall.

FYI – the reason I avoid big box stores when it comes to getting bedding plants is because I have NO idea where the seed came from (I want organic and no GMO) or what they’ve been fed.

Want to learn more about organic gardening?  Want to see just how easy it is to grow your own, healthy and organic food.  Take a look at my Kindle book – Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us.

RECIPE: Zucchini-Crusted Pizza

I’m not sure how food gets any better tasting than this nor any better for your health!  Today, in the midst of a truly big snow storm, I decided to make Zucchini Crusted Pizza.

Organic ingredients grown by me are the base for this fabulous pizza!

Organic ingredients grown by me are the base for this fabulous pizza!

What’s really nice is that I had all the ingredients in house, already.  Even more special than that?  Almost all of the ingredients came from my 2014 backyard garden.

I raised the zucchini, garlic, tomatoes (for the tomato paste), onions, basil and oregano.  I give Trader Joe’s the nod for the black bean dip (which I mixed with my homemade tomato paste), the goat cheese and the organic grape cherries thinly sliced on the top.

So, here’s the recipe!

Zucchini Pizza Crust
8 cups fresh shredded zucchini
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 cup almond flour
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
3 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp basil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt

Pizza Sauce & Toppings
Homemade or organic tomato paste
Carmelized onions
Goat cheese
Thinly sliced, fresh organic tomatoes
Grated pecorino romano

Optional toppings:
Roasted peppers or roasted pepper spread
Black Bean dip
Mushrooms

Directions
Preheat oven to 550F.  If you have a pizza stone, put it in to pre-heat it.  I just use a stoneware deep dish pizza pan.

In a large bowl, toss the zucchini with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and set aside for 15 minutes. If frozen, thaw out and put into a large strainer.  Squeeze the excess moisture out of the squash by wrapping it up in a clean tea towel or piece of cheese cloth and wringing it out, discarding the water.

Once all of the excess moisture has been wrung out and discarded, place the shredded zucchini into the bowl and add the cheddar cheese, flour, garlic, oregano, basil, eggs, and salt.  Mix with your hands,

Place the zucchini mixture and using your fingers, spread the mixture to fill the pan or stone pushing it up the edges (if using a pizza pan) so that it forms a edge crust.

Bake the pizza shell itself until it starts to brown.  NOTE:  if your zucchini was too moist, just let the shell cook a bit longer to ensure it’s done, all the way through.

Pull the crust out of the oven and top with sauce, cheese, onions and any other ingredients you want, put it back in the oven and bake 10 to 15 more minutes – until the cheese melts and the sauces heat through.  Zuke Pizza With Flower

FYI this is good hot or cold – in case you lose power!  Bon appetit!