5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Garden Right Now.

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Reflections and Inspiration for Taking a Sabbatical Year

photo from a hike while taking a year off

Gorgeous view from a hike in Chile.

When you decide to take a chance and go on a big life adventure, it can be scary to veer off the safe route you’ve been traveling.  For the last several months since we declared our intention to take a sabbatical year, I’ve been experiencing the whole range of human emotions – anxiety, excitement, nervousness, anticipation, impatience, elation, doubt, fear, and confidence. It’s been a wild ride and we haven’t even left yet!

One thing that’s helped me navigate this confusing time is to seek out the voices, stories, and experiences of other people who have taken the leap and gone before me on their own adventures. Listening to their interviews, reading their memoirs, and exploring their blogs has helped me feel less alone during this transition time of life and has encouraged me to carve out time to cultivate excitement and anticipation for our upcoming year of travel.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of taking your own sabbatical or just love to hear about people who have adventurous spirits, I’m highlighting some of the resources I’ve been using to help me in preparing for my own journey.

In the second part of this post, I’ll share some of my own personal reflections on what it feels like to prepare for our sabbatical year.

15 Incredibly Useful Garden Tools You Need Right Now

gardener using tool to harvest peppers

Simple and elegant garden solutions.

This phrase is featured on one of my workshop slides when I teach classes to passionate gardeners all around the US. It helps me introduce the philosophy behind The Creative Vegetable Gardener and how I personally approach gardening. I’m a minimalist with most things in my life, and especially with gardening. I always try the easiest thing first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try the next easiest thing.

I always strive to keep things simple in the garden.

I don’t like complicated systems or impractical garden supplies. In fact, I don’t think there are many things you actually “need” to start growing your own food. When I was hired to start a vegetable garden installation business for a non-profit 10 years ago I went to the home improvement store with a short list of tools and supplies to purchase.

As a garden educator, I’ve been sent in the mail lots of different tools and supplies to try out over the years. A few of them have become indispensable, but many of them have been given away. This past fall we cleaned out our garage and a lot of items got put on the curb. I trimmed the fat and streamlined things so I’m only keeping what I use on a daily or weekly basis.

In this post, I thought I’d share what I think are the best garden tools every gardener should have in her shed or garage. None of these companies are sponsoring this post. I’m sharing these tools because they’re what I personally use in my own garden.

My Top Recommended Books of the Year

good books to read from library

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Some of my fondest memories from growing up revolve around books. My mom has always loved to read and we started making weekly trips to the library when I was very young. In fact, we not only went to our local library in Northeast Philadelphia, but we also traveled to nearby neighborhoods to visit their libraries.

I can still close my eyes and conjure up the details of at least four different library buildings that were in our rotation.

My mom always had a stack of books in the dining room she was working her way through, and she read out loud to us every night. We had a big old wooden barrel in the living room that was filled with kids books and we could pick out anything we wanted for my mom to read to us. We were always surrounded by books!

As I got older I developed my own relationship with books and reading. I have a very vivid memory of standing in front of the library stacks in the young adult section of the library and thinking to myself in despair, “I’ve already read all of these books.” (Which wasn’t really true!)

When I was particularly engrossed in a book during middle and high school I would set myself up in a cozy chair in our front room and read in the almost dark house until way past the time everyone else went to bed. I’ve always had trouble putting down a good book!

If you walked into my living room today you might immediately notice my coffee table. It’s currently covered in stacks of books. A few of them are my own, but the majority of the books I read come from my neighborhood library. I make a visit there at least once or twice a week to pick up my holds. Luckily, it’s within a five-minute stroll from my house.

The fact that I can walk into a public building and check out any book I want, for free, never ceases to amaze me. What a gift it is to live in this ridiculously rich country of ours.

All of this means I read a lot of books! It’s the way I relax and unwind, seek inspiration and new ideas, visit other worlds, and learn about the innumerable ways people exist in this world.

As we head into winter, the season of more reading hours (yay!), I thought I’d share some of my top recommended books that have passed through my hands this past year in the hopes of introducing you to something you might want to put on your reading list!

Plant your garlic like this for a spectacular harvest

woman holding garlic in garden how to plant

Fall garlic planting is a symbolic act in my opinion. You’re declaring to Mother Nature that you’re coming back next year and are already planning for the harvest. The cyclical nature of the gardening season is beautifully represented in your garlic crop’s progression throughout the year – planting in fall, hibernating in winter, sprouting in spring, and the harvest in summer.

In my northern garden in Wisconsin there aren’t too many things that can survive the harsh winters here, so garlic is a super vegetable in my book!

Planting garlic is one task that should definitely be on every cold climate gardener’s to-do list in fall. I’ve already covered the reasons why you should be planting garlic, so I’m going to assume my persuasive powers have succeeded and you’re ready to start planting.

I now plant my garlic 3-4 weeks later than I used to due to the warming climate in my region. I don’t like my garlic to sprout in the fall, so I generally plant it during the first two weeks in November in zone 5a. Clearing out your garden beds as part of your fall clean up should be first on your list. Then, you can celebrate all of that hard work by planting your last crop of the season.

In this post and accompanying video, I’ll show you step-by-step how to plant garlic in your garden this season.

5 No-Fail Fermented Food Recipes for Beginners

fermented foods for beginners

At first glance, fermentation may seem complicated and mysterious. How do you turn fresh vegetables into delectable fermented foods without magic? Well, I’m here to reassure you that no special powers are needed to understand and master the art of fermentation.

In fact, once you’re familiar with the process and try a recipe or two you’ll be shocked at how easy and foolproof it can be. I was a newbie about 18 months ago and now I’m obsessed with all things fermentation. For proof, come over and take a look at my kitchen counter right now, which has no less than five jars of vegetables in various stages of fermentation. Yum!

Once you start looking around the internet it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of recipes out there. How do you choose? Luckily, I have a few shortcuts for you!

How to Start Fermenting Vegetables from Your Garden

fermented vegetables

Fermented foods are all the rage these days. You can find them everywhere – farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurant menus, and even on your friend’s kitchen countertop (that is if you’re friends with me!).

If you eat and drink wine, beer, sauerkraut, vinegar, or miso I have news for you — you’re already eating fermented vegetables (and fruits)!

The good news is that fermented foods are extremely healthy for you, but the bad news is some of the specialty fermented foods can be pretty pricey at the store. Luckily, even though fermentation might sound like a fancy and difficult process, it’s actually incredibly simple to make your own fermented vegetables at home. In fact, I’ve found it to be more straightforward and quicker than canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

Let’s talk about the easy process of fermentation and then learn how to make fermented vegetables at home.

Warning: These Vegetables Will Not Survive a Frost

frost hardy spinach from the garden

The two most important dates to know about your garden is when your average first and last frosts occur. (If you don’t know, you can enter your zip code here to find out.

Why is this important?

Well, there are two big categories of vegetable plants – the ones that can survive a frost in the garden (frost tolerant vegetables) and the ones that will get killed by a frost.

In spring, if you plant the vegetables that aren’t frost tolerant too early and you get a late frost, well, you might come out to your garden one morning to find a bunch of dead seedlings. (Ouch!)

As our gardens head into fall, many of our hot weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, are pumping out lots of fruit for our dinner tables. Unfortunately,these three vegetables are all in the category of not frost hardy, so if the temperatures dip to around 32 F one night, you can expect to find lots of dead plants in your garden the next morning.

If you’re like me and get tired of all of the food coming out of your garden in fall, you might be secretly wishing for an early frost. (I know, it’s terrible.)

Or, you might just be getting into the groove of eating and cooking with your hot weather vegetables. Either way, it’s important to know your frost tolerant vegetables from the ones that are as good as gone once the frost hits your garden.

Is it Possible to Live a Plastic Free Life?

woman with bag of plastic for plastic free living

In today’s modern world, plastic is everywhere. It’s in the clothes we wear, around the food products we buy from the grocery store, and it packages the items that show up in our mailbox when we order online.

Even for those of us who try to be conscious of our plastic use, it’s difficult to live a plastic-free life.

When I heard about the concept of Plastic Free July from some eco-conscious travel bloggers I follow, I was intrigued. The idea was hatched in Australia in 2011 in an attempt to challenge people to be more aware of their plastic use with the aim of encouraging changes in habit and behavior.

Participants commit to a 30-day period during the month of July during which they try to use as little plastic as possible. The campaign focuses specifically on single-use plastic like straws, water bottles, and takeout containers, but also encourages you to try to do without plastic for the entire month.

In the past few years, I’ve followed several different 30-day eating challenges (elmination diets, Whole30, Clean Diet) in order to look more closely at what I was eating and how it was affecting my body. I’ve found that focusing a limited amount of time on a very specific area of my life has been a really fun and successful way to break habits, take pauses, and form new behaviors.

I can’t help it, I love a challenge, and my husband was willing to play along, so we were in!

Why you should be fertilizing your organic garden

healthy vegetable garden soil

When you’re out and about working in your garden, do any of these questions enter your mind?

How can I grow more healthy vegetable plants?

Should I fertilize my garden before I plant?

How often should I fertilize my garden and what should I use?

There’s a lot of confusion in the vegetable gardening world about fertilizing. It’s one of the most common questions other gardeners ask me when I’m traveling around speaking and teaching each season.

Most gardeners are wondering what they should be doing, if anything, and if the actions they already are taking to build their soil fertility are the right ones.

I’m guessing you’re probably unclear about this topic, too. (Don’t worry, so was I, until a few years ago.)

In this post, we’re going to clear up any questions and doubts you have about fertilizing your garden and learn about which products you should be using to build healthy soil and grow lots of delicious and nutritious produce in your garden.

How to Grow More Food with a Custom Planting Schedule

In Wisconsin where I live and garden, my average last frost is around the second week in May. It’s very common for me to hear other gardeners say, “I just go out and plant my whole garden in May.”

Boom! Done. Don’t have to plant anything after that. Just need to sit back and wait for the harvests to start rolling in.

This is not the way I recommend you approach your garden – planting everything at once. If you do, you’re going to grow a lot less food than you could with a better plan.

This way of planting is representative of two big mistakes a lot of gardeners make.

Mistake #1 is waiting too long to plant seeds and plants in spring.

There are many cool season vegetables that can be planted before your average last frost date. They can withstand the light frosts of the early weeks of the growing season, and in fact, these vegetables often thrive in the cooler temperatures.

If you’ve ever had trouble with your arugula, cilantro, spinach, or lettuce bolting within a few weeks of planting them in your garden, it may be because you’re planting too late.

Mistakes #2 is not continuing to plant throughout the season. A technique that’s commonly called succession planting.

In my garden, I usually start planting in my cold frames and low tunnels in early March, continue planting outside in my uncovered garden in mid-April and don’t stop until the beginning of September. That’s about six months of planting both seeds and plants.

This continual planting, or succession planting, will ensure you have a steady harvest of delicious vegetables for as many weeks of the season as possible. I start harvesting in March (from last year’s overwintered spinach) and continue filling my harvest baskets and bowls throughout the spring, summer, and fall, all the way up until the beginning of December. That’s 10 months of harvests!

Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Especially if you create a planting schedule for yourself that easily leads you through what to do each week of the spring and early summer.

5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Garden Right Now.

Discover these very common mistakes and start receiving my best advice for free!
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