Building A Patio Garden With Limited Space

One of the things I believe in above all is that everyone should know how to grow their own food.

Waking up to a whole new batch of food that you grew yourself is an incredible feeling. I know everyone thinks gardening is for old ladies who just want to burn time, but there are few things that provide a sense of self-reliance quite like gardening. The apocalypse is probably not going to happen any time soon, much to the dismay of zombie fans, but if it did, the ability to survive is dependent on the ability to grow food.

My little patio is simply:

  • Width: 85 inches
  • Height: 43 inches
  • Depth: 22 inches

And so far this year I have:

  • Over 20 flower plants
  • 1 mint plant
  • 1 strawberry plant
  • 4 basil plants
  • 2 pepper plants (one of the also might be a jalapeño, waiting to see)
  • 7 tomato plants

Some pictures:

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Of course, there are a ton of other gardeners who really mastered gardening in small spaces, but with my limited budget (Less than $50), I wanted to keep things as simple as possible.

For anyone who wants to build a patio garden, here are my steps:

1. Determine your climate

A chart like: THIS generally helps. That’s a good guide to determine what will grow and survive in your area. However, if you have a greenhouse or want to put plants on your windowsill, you might be able to grow more than your chart shows.

2. Get some seed starter packs

For years, I have owned little seed starters that look like this:

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These also usually have little plastic covers so they stay warm.

3. Plan out your space

Some plants need a significant amount of space in order to grow. Some just need a small windowsill. It’s best to Google what specific plants look like when they’re full grown to see if you have the space needed.

Take a list of all the herbs, veggies, etc. that you personally enjoy to eat. There are thousands of varieties to choose from, so let yourself dream a bit.

There are some people who prefer to start out small, with just one to three varieties and see how it goes. That’s great, too!

4. Order some seeds

Most grocery stores have a wide selection of seed packages you can buy, I have been loyal to Johnny’s Seeds since I was a young child.

It was on my Christmas list when I was in middle school to order seeds. Back then, there was no online ordering, so we had to call to order. My mother explained to them that I randomly picked up a gardening habit in 7th grade (true story), heard that they were the best, and wanted to order a few packets.

Someone at the company obviously heard my story, and they included a free book about cool gardening projects for families.

Needless to say, that small act has made me a lifetime customer.

If you want, you can order a free catalog off their website: HERE. (Not an affiliate link, I just really like their company.)

I like to go through every winter, earmark each page, and plan out what I am going to grow in the spring.

5. Read the packets and put the seeds in the little starter

Some seeds require watering, a certain depth, to be soaked first, etc., before growing. Be sure to read the back of the packet to know exactly what to do.

As they grow, water them gently. A common problem is being overly aggressive with the watering, which actually ends up drowning the little seedlings.

I actually use a spray bottle with the setting on light misting.

That is really just the basics! Some seeds won’t make it, some will grow great. Developing a green thumb is just a matter of trial and error for the most part. Even if you haven’t ever grown your own garden before, I promise it’s a simple process once you get the hang of it!

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10 Ways I’m Helping the World This 4th of July

Ah, America.

I love this country so much I get teary every single time the Star Spangled Banner song comes on. It’s pretty embarrassing, actually, but it happens.

It isn’t a perfect country, but no country is perfect. Every day we can all make an impact in a positive way no matter where we live.

Small changes to our lives can help improve our local economies AND the world. There is no lose-lose situation, unless we all stop supporting each other and become extremely selfish.

Instead, I thought I’d share my top 10 ways I try to help my community every day of the year:

1. Buying used when I can

There are so many cool thrift stores in Denver that are locally owned. I’m not a huge fan of buying “new” stuff all the time. I know everyone says shopping is incredibly patriotic, but I disagree. I think it’s better to support local companies that make things here or buy used from local thrift shops.

Plus, buying used keeps things from going in the trash.

2. Switching to glass

Plastic sucks. Period. Yes, it’s cheap. Yes, it can help some manufacturing processes. Yes, it’s everywhere.

When my choice is between glass and plastic, I choose glass. It’s better for the planet, and when I can buy from a local company, it helps my community.

3. Buying American

Insert your local economy or country into that sentence.

I fully support American companies who manufacture their goods here as well. Some of the things may cost more (but a lot don’t!), but the long-term benefit on the local economy and supporting small businesses outweighs any initial cost.

4. Donating

Throwing perfectly acceptable items away without donating them is a complete waste. Not to mention, most of these things end up in landfills and take thousands, upon thousands of years to decompose.

5. Voting

The amount of people who take their right to vote for granted is appalling. We can all do things on a micro level to help each other, but putting the people in place that support our values is essential as well.

If you haven’t registered to vote, please consider registering.

6. Supporting GOOD companies

Look companies up on the internet. Some pollute horribly. Some use slave labor. Some have inhumane practices. Always, always check where your money is going, especially if it is a company that you buy from often.

7. Donate to non-profits that get stuff done

Some non-profit organizations are more action-oriented than others. Along with point #6, look into the non-profits you support. Make sure they spend more time getting things accomplished than marketing.

8. Consuming less and focusing on minimalism

I have always believed that owning less and doing more helps the world better than we know. We have more time to garden, volunteer, help friends, and anything else we say we never have time for.

When we have time to be there for our friends, family, and community, we create a better world. I have created a lot more time in my day by needing less materialistic stuff, thus needing less money.

9. Focusing on less processed food

Farmers markets > grocery stores.

Buying from local organic farmers is important when it comes to helping to change the world around us.

10. Better eating habits

Eating organic vegetables is one of the best habits I ever started introducing to my diet. There is little debate that factory farms for either animals or plants is a good thing for the planet. One thing I always recommend is to eat vegan at least one day a week. If you can do more, that’s awesome, but at least start with one day a week.

If you’re curious on the statistics behind factory farms, meat eating, and the planet, read: THIS.

 

The narrative within our society is that we have lost any power to change anything around us. The mainstream media talks about the environment, the economy, and politics like it is somehow something out of our control.

By changing little habits and our lives and making sure our money goes to sources that help the world instead of hinder it, we would realize that we have WAY MORE power than we’ve been told.

 

What small habits do you do every day to make this a better world? Leave a comment below!

5 Essential Herbs for Any Kitchen

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The most common complaint I heard as a personal trainer was, “Healthy food is just so bland.”

I always shook my head and asked them how many herbs they had available in their kitchen. The answer was always zero, and if I was really lucky, they had one.

We would always get together and I’d introduce them to the wonderful world of herbs. They quickly learned that healthy food is, in fact, not bland at all IF you know what you’re doing.

There are hundreds and hundreds of herbs out there, but if you start with these essential five, you’ll fall in love with them.

Pro tip: If you buy them as plants as opposed to dried branches at the store, you will save a TON of money throughout the season. Seriously.

1. Basil

In my house, basil goes on top of pretty much everything. Tomatoes, pasta, pizza, sandwiches… Of course, “basil” is a blanket generalization, since there are different kinds, but most stores will have Italian basil (my personal favorite) or lemon basil.

It also has an excellent amount of Vitamin K and Manganese.

Take some bread, add on a slice of tomato, mozzarella cheese, and some basil. It is HEAVEN.

I also add it to fish and other meats while they cook for extra flavor.

2. Rosemary

Rosemary is HEAVEN to add on top of meat and in soup. It also tastes wonderful in eggs or in olive oil for a dipping sauce.

Rosemary became popular back when people believed that the smell would strengthen their memory. The Greeks would put branches in their hair while studying for exams.

3. Thyme

Thyme is delicious in pretty much everything. I add it to almost every chicken dish.

Thyme works as a wonderful anti-oxidant and also contains a healthy amount of Vitamin C.

4. Cilantro

Cilantro and I only recently fell in love, but now it is a kitchen necessity. Ever since moving out west and being introduced to real salsa, I add this herb to so many dishes, especially any Mexican recipes.

The health benefits are a long list, but add a few leaves to your salsa, tacos, or quinoa salad to get why this is such a wonderful herb.

5. Mint

I use mint less so for cooking and more so for my life. You know how there is mint flavored gum? Yeah, that comes from an herb. Sadly, most major companies don’t actually use dried leaves, but you can! Just like the other herbs, there are different kinds of mint including peppermint, applemint, and spearmint.

Mint can help your skin, freshen your breath, or add an extra kick to your tea. I always add some mint leaves to my nightly peppermint tea.

 

I want to hear from you!

What are your favorite ways to spice up your dishes? Leave a comment below!

My Favorite Eco Companies and Nonprofits During April 2015

*Just to note: I am not sponsored by any of these nonprofits. I just really like their goals.

1. Leaping Bunny.

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I, personally, feel better when I buy home products not tested on animals. I didn’t even know this was a thing until I was in my 20’s and it is clearly a well-kept secret by most big companies.

If you see their logo on a product, you can rest assured it is cruelty-free. Plus, they have a free guide on their website for all the certified companies that do not test on animals.

The whole site and all their information is free. I’d highly, highly recommend their site.

2. Protect Our Winters.

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As a Colorado resident, I love the Rocky Mountains. One of my favorite parts of traveling into the mountains is snowboarding in the winter.

Protecting every inch of snow is an important part to keep the mountains and the towns up there thriving. Protect Our Winters works hard to combine the winter action sports community with the opportunities to protect our winters.

3. 5 Gyres.

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5 Gyres worked hard to actually try and put a number to the number of plastic in our oceans. (In case you were wondering, it comes out to about 270,000 metric tons.) They focus on educating consumers as well as corporate and legislative responsibility to try and get everyone working together to solve this massive problem.

5 Life Lessons From Gardening

Gardening will teach you everything important about life if you just listen.

This is why it is such a shame that people are so removed from getting their hands in the dirt. Let’s dive right in:

1. You cannot stop growth or progress.

The fascinating part about visiting old, abandoned places is to see that the vegetation has taken over most of the constructed parts. It is a great reminder that the world will continue on no matter what. When things need to grow, they will, no matter what is in the way.

2. You need to get your hands dirty.

I have always enjoyed gardening without gloves. There is something therapeutic about cold dirt. This is a reminder that sometimes you have to get your hands dirty in order to build something beautiful. This applies to all areas of life. You have to get in the nitty gritty, experience successes and failures, in order to make something grow.

3. Be observant.

If there is a problem, your plants will tell you. This requires you to pay attention to the leaves, the stems, the fruit, the dirt, and everything else. How true is this for our own lives? Is there something bothering us or someone we know, and we are simply not paying attention to the signs? We all have our own ways of showing that something is getting in the way of our growth. Pay attention.

4. You reap what you sow.

You have to put the seed in the ground to reap the harvest later in the year. How many dreams do we have where we haven’t even planted the seed? If you don’t plant the literal or metaphorical seed, you can’t reap the harvest. You can’t have a dream come to life if you don’t start the process.

5. Self-reliance.

Knowing you can grow your own food provides a level of self-reliance few other hobbies can. When I see basil at the store for $5 for just a few dried leaves, I can laugh knowing I just have to head home and cut some off the plant on my windowsill. Gardening keeps you aware of what the food marketers are trying to pull on all of us.

What have YOU learned from getting your hands in some dirt?

Spring Decluttering (While Helping the Planet)

While the spring brings about a desire to get outside, it can also bring a desire to clean the house.

I love purging in the spring. It’s been a habit ever since growing up watching Martha Stewart.

The problem I keep encountering on my decluttering journey is that now what I know happens to a lot of our plastic that is thrown away, I hate the idea of just tossing things in the trash.

It’s even hard for me to watch those decluttering shows where they take a TON of crap and just simply throw it away without trying to recycle or donate it.

To avoid this, I’m finding new ways to reuse everything. Currently on my desk, I have old plastic Easter decorations that hold my pens, index cards, and spare headphones.

In the past, I followed the general advice: “Get rid of everything you don’t need!” only to feel like kicking myself months later when I needed some of those things and now have to go buy them again. Ugh.

So, my goal for this spring is to simply declutter while minimizing my impact on the planet.

Here is my general plan (with updates to come!):

1. Pack away my winter stuff.

If you have a big enough closet, it’s easy to just store your winter stuff in the back. However, I live in a pretty tiny apartment, so it’s easier for me to just pack all my winter stuff away. Keeping out all my winter clothes and sweaters just makes it all look messy. The warm weather is here!

Of course, if there is anything I am going to pack away that I haven’t used in a long time or I no longer want, I will be putting it up for sale on Craigslist/eBay or simply donating it.

2. Focus on maximizing the things left.

While I love the idea of minimalism, there have been a lot of posts about the problems with it. One being that when you need something, you have to go out and buy it again.

For me, one of my goals this year is to buy less and fully maximize the things I already have.

3. Consume less.

Throughout college I fell into the “Stuff = worth” trap. I simply spent too much and owned too much in an attempt to prove who knows what to the world. Throughout this year, my goal is to only as little as possible. If I do buy anything, my goal is to buy it either already used or something that I will use for a really long time.

This spring cleaning will be different than ones in the past, but these are changes I’m looking forward to making instead of just throwing everything away to fit in with some minimalist crowd. Cheers to the warmer weather!

Gardening to save money

Gardening has many perks besides having a whole selection of food on your patio. Apparently other major seed companies have seen the growth in popularity as they have all seen an increase in sales since the economy started to tank a few years ago.

I’ll be the first to admit that gardening takes time, but any worthwhile investment does to start.

I was just at the store the other day, and tomatoes were going for about $1.50 a pound. Now, that’s not the best price I’ve ever seen, but as someone who has gardened for a long time, that is just crazy. To put it in perspective, a packet of organic seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (my favorite company ever), is $3.45. A packet of seeds generally has about 40 seeds, and each one of those seeds will easily grow pounds and pounds of tomatoes.

Let’s say that you buy about 5 pounds a month of tomatoes for the summer (May – Sept). That comes out to $37.50 for the cost of tomatoes for you for the summer. (plus we’re not even talking about organic tomatoes which is now $2.50/lb.) I know that’s not a huge crazy amount, but that’s only one specific food we’re talking about there.

Not to mention, who wouldn’t want to find ways to save money, bond with their family, and eat healthier?

What is the Dirty Dozen?

You may or may not have heard of something called “The Dirty Dozen”. (No, not that kind of dirty. Sorry.)

The dirty dozen is basically the 12 fruits and veggies that you should try to get organic because they tend to have the most pesticides on them. How do they get the most? Well, usually this occurs because the skin is thinner than the other fruits and veggies out there, so the chemicals can seep through easier.

Here is the list according to organic.org of the 12 most contaminated:
-Peaches
-Apples
-Sweet Bell Peppers
-Celery
-Nectarines
-Strawberries
-Cherries
-Pears
-Grapes (Imported)
-Spinach
-Lettuce
-Potatoes

They also included a list of the 12 least contaminated:
-Onions
-Avocado
-Sweet corn (Frozen)
-Pineapples
-Mango
-Asparagus
-Sweet peas (frozen)
-Kiwi fruit
-Bananas
-Cabbage
-Broccoli
-Papaya

Winter gardening in Colorado

Most people think that once winter comes, the gardening season is over, but that simply isn’t true! There are quite a few crops that can survive through the winter, especially considering the abundant amount of sunshine we get in this state.

Here are some examples of simple, easy-to-grow plants that survive in the winter:
-Beets
-Broccoli
-Cabbage (The cooler the weather, the sweeter it gets)
-Cauliflower
-Kale
-Onions
-Spinach
-Potatoes
-Winter squash

Just make sure to be extra safe and cover them on those nights where the weather dips below freezing and they should be just fine!

Not to mention, there are so many options if you want to do a mini container garden inside your house! Keep up with this blog and we’ll be going deeper into all kinds of vegetables, herbs, and fruits and their importance.

Anyone else have any winter gardening in Colorado tips?

Why you should garden

I hear this all the time: “Why should I garden?” “Doesn’t it take a long time?” “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “I can just buy my food at the store.”

Let me explain to you why these are all horrible arguments for not gardening, and more importantly, why you should start.

1. In this hectic pace we all seem to live at, gardening forces us to slow down and simply enjoy the scenery. With all the crazy stress that can lead to severe problems, it’s important to find a hobby that makes us take a step back and breathe for a minute. Gardening also forces you to get outside (or bring the outside inside if you have a container garden inside your home). At first it may be weird for some people to dig around in the dirt, especially if you’re brand new to gardening, but after a while you will see that it really helps you relax and start to feel like a kid again. Plus, you truly can’t make gardening happen fast. Nature goes at its own pace so no matter how rushed you feel, it is a good reminder that some things need patience.

2. Gardening is a great hobby that you can do with the whole family. Kids especially seem to love gardening especially when it comes to being able to see something grow. It’s a great first step to show them how their work can pay off. You’ll see it in their face the moment they eat their first fruit or vegetable that they grow.

3. A packet of seeds is only a few dollars. That one packet of seeds will usually contain plenty of seeds so you will be able to grow a good handful of plants (and if you have a small amount of space, one packet will last you a few seasons). Now go to a store and you’ll see that even one pound of tomatoes costs more than the packet that could provide you with tomatoes all summer! People are always talking about ways to save money at the grocery store, but gardening cuts out the store completely and you’ll feel the difference in your wallet.

4. When you garden from home, you don’t have to wonder what kind of pesticides/herbicides are all over your food because you are in complete control of that. You can even go the extra length and put organic dirt in your garden and buy organic seeds. Plus fruits and veggies grown in your own backyard just simply taste better. Grow some and try it for yourself!

5. Gardening counts as exercise. If you really get into it and spend a few hours outside a week pulling up weeds, moving plants around, trimming them, picking veggies… it will definitely get you sweating!

What other benefits from gardening have you found?