Unique Garden Gifts For Passionate Gardeners

unique garden gifts

The easiest people to have on your gift-buying list are those who have a clear obsession passion. You know who I’m talking about, those friends and relatives who are totally in love with a particular hobby, theme, or pastime.

Zealous coffee drinkers, fervent cat people, adventurous world travelers, and… (my personal favorite) impassioned gardeners. You know what they care deeply about in this world, and you love them dearly for it. 

We gardeners can be a little intense about our gardens. As soon as the garden season is over we’re already curled up in our cozy reading chairs salivating over the seed catalogs and counting down the days until spring.

That’s why gardeners are one of the easiest groups of people to buy gifts for! We love anything and everything that reminds us of our favorite pastime – vegetables, flowers, nature, insects, chickens, bees, butterflies. 

Recently, I looked around my house at all of the amazing garden-themed items I’ve bought myself over the years and realized that many of them would make unique garden gifts for other gardeners as well.

So, if you have a dear friend in your life who’d adore an unusual garden gift, here are my absolute favorites.

Soil Testing for Home Gardeners: What You Need to Know

woman with raised beds garden

Most gardeners know that the quality of their garden soil is important, but aren’t sure how to evaluate the condition of what’s in their yard. Often I’m asked, “Should I get some kind of soil test?

The health of your soil is is one of the main factors that affects the success of your garden each season. 

When your soil contains all of the nutrients the plants need they’ll grow larger and be more productive, the fruit and vegetables they produce will be a higher quality, and the plants can better resist disease and pest pressure.

Also, when we eat vegetables our bodies absorb the nutrients we need from the food. If your soil is lacking nutrients then your food will as well.

So, basically, if you don’t have healthy soil, all of your other efforts will be wasted. You simply cannot have a well-performing garden with unhealthy soil.

In this article you’ll learn all about soil, what plants need to grow, options for NPK tests, when and how to send away for a soil test, and what to do with the results.

Ultimate Guide to Compost for Your Vegetable Garden

composting vegetables

When I visit peoples’ gardens for in person consultations some of the most common questions I get revolve around soil health. Most gardeners are aware that soil is an important factor in growing a garden, but aren’t sure what they should be doing to help build healthy soil. Often I get asked, “What about compost for the vegetable garden? Should I be using it?

The answer isn’t a straight yes or no. I do think if you have a yard it’s a good idea to start composting food and garden waste so you can use it on your vegetable garden. But, compost alone won’t solve all of the problems in your garden or create amazingly nutrient-rich soil by itself.

In this guide I’m breaking down (ha ha!) the composting process and sharing everything you need to know to do it simply and successfully.

Quick & Healthy Replacement for Canned Beans in the Kitchen

cooking chickpeas in a pressure cooker

How to cook chickpeas in a pressure cooker, and freeze them, so you have the convenience of canned beans.

In our house we primarily cook vegan and vegetarian recipes with the occasional chicken or fish added in for variety. I was a vegetarian for over 20 years, so I’m very versed in cooking tasty, meatless meals.

And most vegetable-focused cooking calls for the use of a lot of beans! Chickpeas are my favorite, and I think the most versatile, bean out there, so that’s what we use the most often.

I like to buy my beans dry from the bulk section of the food co-op, not in cans. I think they taste a lot better, I don’t have to worry about potentially harmful chemicals from the cans, and I create less waste.

But, the drawback of using dry beans is that you need to plan ahead in order to have them ready for a recipe. They need to be soaked for 8 hours for stovetop cooking and they take a look time to cook once they’re on the stove.

So, I can see why a lot of people opt for canned beans – you can just pop open the can and use them right away.

But, over the years I’ve devised an easy method that allows me cook beans quickly and have plenty left over to use as an alternative to canned beans.

If you’re a bean lover who would prefer to cook your own beans quickly and easily, this post is for you! Let’s dive in.

Easily Freezing Swiss Chard: No-Cook Method

peppermint stick swiss chard

If you’re a chard lover you’ll definitely want to put “freezing swiss chard” on your fall to do list!  

There’s no doubt about it, chard is one of the most colorful vegetables you’ll grow in your garden. It comes in a rainbow of hues that aren’t found in many other vegetables – reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, and even the stripes of the Peppermint Stick variety.

And because chard is incredibly easy to grow, you many find yourself with more than you can possibly eat fresh. After you drop off a few bundles to favorite neighbors and friends, it’s time to start turning your attention to preserving some for the deep dark winter.

If you’ve already perused my article on how to quickly freeze kale, the method for freezing swiss chard will be very familiar.

Two Quick No-Dig Ways to Make a Flower Bed

woman harvesting from a flower bed

 

Learn how to make a flower bed in a way that saves you time, energy, and the headache of ripping up and getting rid of grass.

We purchased our second house from an elderly woman who hadn’t done much maintenance in the years leading up to the sale. But, it was in the exact neighborhood where we wanted to live, the lot had enough sun for a large vegetable garden, and the price was darn good!

As soon as we finished addressing some of the immediate house to-do’s – new roof, asbestos flooring and water damaged paneling removed from the basement, wood floors installed in the living room – we set to work on the yard.

When moved into our house you couldn’t see the front of it from the street – overgrown trees and shrubs obscured it from view. There also wasn’t much landscaping around the actual house, just a few lonely plants in a sea of grass.

Since it was early June when we moved in, our first order of business was building the vegetable garden. I wrote a long post sharing all the details and plenty of photos of how we created easy raised garden beds.

In front of the vegetable garden, between it and the street, we created a quick and dirty flower garden bed at the same time we were building rest. (More about that below.)

That was phase one of our garden plan. Phase two didn’t occur until fall since we were busy getting unpacked and settled. I definitely wanted a perennial garden along the south side of the house because it got plenty of sun and was in a highly visible area.

I knew from experience that it’s easier to prepare a planting area the season before you plan on buying trees, shrubs and flowers, so that’s exactly what I set out to do that fall.

The second area I wanted to plant was filled with grass, and because I’m not a big fan of stripping away grass with a machine or my own muscles and shovel, I opted for the easy way out.

In this article I’ll share how to make a flower bed with two easy, no-dig ways that will save you a lot of sweat and tears.  

Freeze garden fresh raspberries in a few simple steps

harvested raspberries from garden

Learn several easy options for how to freeze raspberries fresh from the garden or farmers market to use in favorite recipes all year long.

If you’re berry lover you know that fresh raspberries from the grocery store (especially organic) can be very expensive. And even frozen raspberries aren’t cheap. Luckily, it’s incredibly simple to freeze raspberries for use in lots of favorite recipes throughout the year.

I eat a lot of smoothies and raspberries are one of my favorite ingredients. I was buying big bags of them from my local food co-op, but it was bothering me that all of the raspberries I was eating were from very faraway places, not where I live in Wisconsin. And, the plastic bags they came in generated a lot of trash that went straight to the landfill.

I eventually set the goal of trying to grow and pick all of the raspberries I would need for an entire year. No small feat! I planted two rows in my yard and also visited some u-pick farms. 

If you’re ready to freeze raspberries you’ve either grown, picked or bought, the process is simple and there are several options depending on how you want to use the berries later. Let’s get started!

Best ways to preserve the summer basil harvest

basil harvest from garden

The best options for how to preserve basil from the summer garden so when the season’s over you’ll still have plenty to use in the kitchen.

Basil is one of the most popular herbs grown by gardeners everywhere. Even people without yards can be found tucking basil into pots on their patios and porches. And what’s not to love about it?

The aroma of basil is the smell of summertime and this beloved herb pairs exceptionally well with other summer vegetables – think caprese salads, pesto pasta with fresh vegetables, and happy hour drinks with muddled basil.  

Basil plants are so prolific that it’s easy to grow more than you can use fresh in your favorite recipes. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to preserve fresh basil from the garden so when the season’s over and your basil has succumbed to the first frost of fall you’ll still have plenty of basil to use during the off season.

Simple ways to successfully preserve garden fresh cilantro

cilantro growing in garden

If you’ve grown a bumper crop in your garden here are some favorite recipes and tips for how to preserve cilantro so it tastes great and is easy to use in delicious dishes all season long.

One of the joys of planting your own herbs is that it’s easy to grow more than you can possibly eat fresh. Especially since most recipes only call for a pinch of fresh herbs to finish the dish. That definitely won’t help you utilize the garden bed bursting full of culinary herbs out in your yard!

Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to use up large amounts of herbs that result in tasty meals and even a freezer full of fresh sauces and pesto that can make cooking in the off season super easy and incredibly delicious.

 

 

Fall Spinach: Why It’s the Most Amazing Vegetable to Grow

harvesting fall spinach

Did you know that fall spinach is a gateway vegetable?

Well, at least according to me.

Fall spinach is the vegetable that first got me hooked on cold weather gardening.

The first season I planted it for fall growing I got lots of big, delicious harvests throughout September, October, and November. I was pretty pleased.

Then it got cold over the winter (okay, that’s an understatement, I do live in Wisconsin) and the spinach was covered in snow and I forgot all about it.

Then, in spring, when the ground started to thaw and the sun returned and started getting me in the gardening mood, I went out to my garden to do a little clean up. Imagine my surprise when I realized that not only was the fall spinach from the previous year still alive, it was actually growing again.

It totally blew my mind.

I had no idea a vegetable in my garden could survive the harsh winter of Wisconsin (something I can barely manage to do myself!).

Thus began my love affair with the toughest vegetable I know – fall spinach.

This is a very different vegetable than the persnickety one known as spring spinach. That plant can barely produce more than one harvest during the spring months before going to seed. It’s barely worth planting.

But, fall planted spinach, be still my heart! One planting can provide as many as eight months worth of spinach harvests.

Take that, you delicate spring planted spinach.

Let me use some photos from my garden to illustrate why you, too, should fall in love with planting spinach in fall. Then we’ll get into the specifics of how, when and what varieties to plant.

 

 

9 quick steps for storing fresh carrots from the garden

colorful carrots harvested from the garden

If you’ve successfully mastered the art of growing carrots you may find yourself with a surplus at some point during the season. That’s why it’s important to know how to store carrots from the garden so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for many weeks and months.

Carrots are one of the most fun vegetables to grow! Kids and adults both love to eat them, they’re super satisfying to harvest, they can be eaten raw or cooked, and they come in many colors of the rainbow. 

And because carrots store quickly and easily for a long time, there really isn’t such a thing as too many carrots. At least in our house!

I’ve harvested carrots from my garden up until December in zone 5, stored them using the method I describe below, and was still using them fresh the next April and May.

That’s over 6 months of storage!

If you find yourself with a bumper crop this season, rest assured that you don’t have to give all of those beautiful carrots away (unless you want to…), you can follow the steps below for how to store carrots from the garden. 

You’ll never have to say, “I grew too many carrots.” again.

What to plant in autumn: the best 8 vegetables!

woman holding spinach leaf

Me with a leaf of Giant Winter spinach. The name is no joke!

During the summer season, no matter how much we love gardening, many of us start to get tired of our gardens.

Maybe it’s hot and humid and buggy where you live. Maybe you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by the big harvests coming in. (I’m looking at you zucchini, cucumber, and tomato plants…) Or maybe you went away for a vacation and came back to an out of control garden that needs a lot of work.

The summer gardening season ain’t easy, that’s for sure!

But, what if I told you that the fall gardening season is so, so, so much easier?

It is, I swear!

That’s because many of our biggest struggles in the summer are nearly non-existent in the fall: there’s little to no insect and disease pressure, weed growth slows down considerably, and some vegetables like arugula and cilantro are WAY easier to grow in the fall than in spring.

The thing that is a big challenge with fall gardening is that if you live in a cold climate like I do in Wisconsin zone 5, you have to plant your fall vegetables in the summer.

If you wait until fall it’s usually too late (unless you live in a hot climate).

And, as we just talked about, we’re tired in the summer. It’s likely you’re feeling less than enthusiastic about planting a fall garden.

I’m an avid and passionate gardener, and even I have a tough time getting myself into the garden to plant at the end of summer.

The thing that motivates me? The knowledge that cooler weather is coming, and when it does, I’ll be excited to work in my garden again.

And I know my future self, the one who really wants to eat fresh spinach salads throughout October and November, isn’t going to be happy with me if I don’t get my butt out to my garden and plant some fall garden vegetables.

That’s one of the greatest things about having a fall garden. You can extend your harvests beyond your first frost into November and possibly even December!

Can you tell I’m trying my darnedest to convince you to try planting a fall garden? It’s SO worth it!

You’ll experience the joyful pleasure of harvesting lots of food in November. It’s such an amazing feeling of accomplishment.

You’ll feel like you’ve cheated the weather somehow! Everyone else has retired their gardens for the season, but you’re still getting plenty of food each week.

So, if I’ve done my job so far, you’re getting excited about planting some vegetables for autumn. Not convinced yet, check out four reasons why growing a fall garden is SO easy.

In the remainder of this article, I’m sharing my top picks for what to plant in autumn in your vegetable garden to guarantee abundant harvests way past your first frost and into the holiday season.

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