Tag Archives: container gardens

Harvesting Rainwater and Greywater

“Rainwater, the cleanest and healthiest water for our gardens,” said Laura Maher, an organic seed saver and Ventura County water saving expert pictured above, “but this wonderful water is dispersed and lost into rivers, lakes, and oceans.”  Kids can harvest water right where they live and use the water for their fruit and veggie gardens by attaching a rain barrel to the down spout from their roof.  Rain barrels usually hold 60 gallons, but fill quickly in a rain storm. Gutters, downspouts, and pipes can be installed from the roof to various sizes of tanks and cisterns, even placed at some distance from the house, as long as the tank inlet is at least one foot lower than the bottom of the gutter.  Tanks should use screens to keep out insects and be dark colored to discourage algae.

Native plants used in a home’s landscape require the least amount of water and offer food and shelter for beneficial insects and wildlife. By using native plants rather than a lawn, contouring the landscape, making curb cuts from the street, and building swales, homeowners can harvest an abundance of rainwater on site. Swales are recessions in the soil or low tracts of marsh land that hold water and keep organic matter on site. To create a swale, dig down six inches and use the dirt to make a berm on the downhill side. This swale will manage water runoff, filter pollutants, and increase rainwater infiltration. By using mulch and cover crops, the flow of rainwater during a storm can be slowed and encouraged to percolate into the soil.

Families can also divert gently used water from their shower, bathtub, bathroom sink, and laundry to water trees and shrubs. However, greywater users must switch to plant friendly laundry soap as salts and Boron are micro-toxins that can build up and kill their plants. One simple reuse option is using a bucket in the shower to catch the cold water before it heats up. This can often be the right amount to water patio plants and veggies or flush a toilet in an apartment. Families can harvest and store the most water by creating swales and by sculpting their landscape to keep the water on site.

Biochar for Soil Sustainability

“Biochar’s high carbon content and porous composition helps soil to retain water, nutrients, protect soil microbes, and ultimately increase crop yields while growing healthier, more productive, disease-resistant plants. All the while helping combat global climate change by sequestering and stabilizing rich organic carbon in your soil,” explained Michael Wittman.

Biochar is a charcoal soil amendment that has been made in Asia, often from bamboo, for thousands of years to increase plant productivity. Charcoal been used for years as an air and water filter. “A natural amendment,” said Michael Wittman, “biochar is a microscopic honeycomb that holds beneficial soil bacteria, moisture, and nutrients.” It can improve soil structure, reduce erosion, and do its job in the soil for hundreds of years. Like a fire in the forest leaves charred wood to enrich the forest floor, biochar enriches the soil by retaining moisture and nutrients. Bamboo biochar has ten times more surface area, a fixed nutrient ratio, more water retention, and absorbs more soluble nutrients than other biochar derived from wood, straw, or manure.  Delicate beneficial fungi are difficult to keep in the soil, but biochar can build fungal qualities in all types of soil.

Touring Michael Wittman’s Thousand Oaks garden, Organic Garden Club members learned how to make biochar from wood burning in a small kiln. To keep gophers, squirrels, birds, and bunnies out of the veggies, Michael built a wire house under and around his raised bed garden and hung his tomatoes from the roof. He grows strawberries and herbs in satellite dishes for easy reach with a fire pit cover to keep out the critters. To harvest the rain water, he has two large 350 gallon tanks connected to the rain gutters from his roof with a hose at the side of the tanks to water the garden. He keeps his compost in a wire house, where he mixes it with biochar to provide a home for the growing bacteria and fungi.

The process of making biochar pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and returns it to enrich the soil and grow plants that breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen.  With biochar you can as Michael said, “Leave your carbon footprint in the garden…”

Kids make Pesto

Pesto is a classic Italian sauce made with fresh basil, organic extra virgin olive oil, and organic garlic that can dress up a simple plate of pasta or top a flatbread. Kids can use countless kinds of greens from their organic garden to make a pesto and add fresh flavors to their dish. Some greens are more watery and will give a different texture to the sauce. Bitter greens can work well when balanced with the fat and acid. Kids can add fresh organic lemon juice or vinegar for brightness.  Parsley mixed with the basil gives the pesto a vibrant green color. Add crunch and texture to the sauce with walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, croutons, or pistachios. To make a pesto, first roast the nuts to bring out their flavor; kids can also roast the garlic to tame its fiery raw flavor. For a wonderful burst of flavor, kids can combine 2 tbsp organic nuts, 1 garlic clove, and ¼ tsp sea salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add 1 cup of greens, 3 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil and continue to pulse, scraping the sides occasionally with a rubber spatula, until the greens are coarsely chopped. Add any remaining ingredients, such as tomatoes, lemon juice, chilies, or capers, and pulse and scrape until the mixture is finely chopped but not pureed.  The sauce should hold together without being runny. To store, transfer to an airtight container and drizzle a little oil over the top to prevent browning. Kids can use it fresh, refrigerate for 4 days, or freeze for a couple of months and thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using. Kids love this versatile sauce, especially when they grow the greens in their own organic garden.

Kids Garden Notebook

Kids can learn something about math, science, nature, art, and music when they grow an organic garden in their backyard, patio, or balcony. Keeping a garden notebook is a fun way to discover clue after clue about how nature works and how all living things are connected. Kids can have lots of fun in a backyard veggie garden, digging in the dirt, discovering insects and animals, and eating food they have grown themselves. Kids can find a shady place to put a seat where they can wonder at the beauty of their garden. Sitting in their special place, kids can make a map for their notebook and measure the garden area by making an inch on paper represent a foot of garden. Kids can record in their notebook the date, time, and weather and note what animals, birds, insects, or flowers they see, hear, and smell. Kids can draw pictures of spiders spinning webs and caterpillars nibbling leaves. Kids can glue the seeds, beans and dried flowers they find in their notebook. Kids can plot the sun on the map and find where to place their raised beds, planters, and pots in the best sunlight for their veggie plants to thrive and grow. Kids can make a colorful garden plan in their notebook to choose what veggies, herbs, flowers, and fruits to plant and where to plant them, putting the low growing plants in front and the tall plants in the back. Different parts of the county have different growing seasons. As their organic veggies garden grows, kids can keep track of when to start seeds indoors, when to plant and when to harvest in their notebook.  Kids can have lots of fun with their notebook in their shady spot in the garden, discovering worms, bees, butterflies, birds, and toads, and growing their favorite fruits and veggies for dinner.

Kids Patio Lime Tree

Lime trees make a lovely addition to the patio with their evergreen leaves and the delightful aroma from their flowers and fruit. The lime tree pictured here in my patio is nestled between a fig tree and an avocado tree, and all three are fruiting.  Limes like the sheltered area of a sunny patio and grow well in large containers of rich organic soil. They flower and fruit all year and produce an abundance of fruit that can take six months to ripen. Although the fruit is ripe when it is still green, limes turn yellow when fully matured.  All lime trees are self fertile with small white flowers that are richly fragrant. Kids can attract beneficial insects to keep the lime tree healthy by planting cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, and catmint nearby. In cold climates, lime trees grow well inside a greenhouse or a sunroom. Put a wheeled caddy on the bottom of the tree’s container and grow it outside during the summer and wheel it inside for the winter. Kids can feed their tree organic compost every other month spring to fall. Lime trees need little pruning, only to remove any deadwood and let more light into the center of the tree. Kids can make a refreshing drink by squeezing a lime into a quart of water and adding a sprig of mint or some grated fresh ginger and maple syrup.

Kids Vertical Garden

Kids can make the best use of their small space organic veggie garden and available light by growing vertically: terracing, trellising, and using hanging planters. Kids can terrace their veggie plants to capture the most sun and grow a bigger harvest by putting the tallest ones in the back and the shorter ones in front. Kids can arrange containers of herbs and veggies on three or four steps so that each plant gets plenty of light.  Kids can design the garden itself at layered heights, using raised beds, planter boxes, and cinderblock boosters, so that plants of the same height will get enough light.

Another vertical garden technique is to use trellises, arbors, and lattices on walls. Many veggies love to climb up a trellis, such as cucumbers, peas, beans, and melons. Kids can grow fruits and berries on arched trellises, which support growth upward, across, and outward, producing more fruit. A sunny wall with a lattice is another way to grow veggies and maximize space. Trellising enables kids to keep their veggie plants clean with good air circulation.

Hanging planters from the eaves, window ledge, railing, gazebo, pergola, and the ceiling of a sunny room is another way to use vertical space. Hanging planters are usually limited in size so kids can choose smaller veggie varieties with a trailing habit. Strawberries, cherry tomatoes, herbs, lettuces, and bush beans grow beautifully over the edges of hanging planters. Kids can grow a vertical organic fruit and veggie garden anywhere and provide fresh organic food for the table right where they live.

Kids grow Peas

Kids love to eat peas bursting with sweetness fresh from the garden. Peas are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Kids can plant pea seeds in late fall in mild climates, winter or early spring and three weeks later sow again for an extended harvest. Peas have delicate vines that love to climb a trellis. Kids can attach a 2 – 6 foot trellis to their raised bed garden depending on which pea variety they choose.  Peas are legumes that enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen from the air in a special relationship with various bacteria that live in their roots. There are many types of peas and two different species: 1) garden peas, which are removed from the pod for eating, 2) snap peas, like in the picture above, and snow peas, which are eaten in the pods. Garden peas need to be harvested before their sugars turn to starch. Kids can pick a full sized pod at the bottom of the vine and eat a raw pea to test before harvesting the bottom pods. Three days later the middle pods are ready for harvest, and in another three days the top pods are ready. Within three hours after harvest, kids can have them for dinner or freeze the abundance as the moment they are picked they start to turn to starch.