Discover the Joy of
Gardening

"For all things produced in a garden whether of salads or fruits, a poor
man will eat better that has one of his own, than a rich man that has
none."
– John Claudius Lourdes, Scottish Botanist 1783-1843

There is nothing quite like working in the garden with the sun on your shoulders and your hands in the dirt as you
mind a patch of land you have taken into your care. The act of working with the earth, under the blue sky and
helping something grow is very therapeutic. To witness the seed that you planted, peek through the soil as it
becomes a young sprout is a joy everyone should experience. Tending a garden as your plants grow, flower, fruit
and seed, is a way to forge a connection with nature that allows us to become grounded in the turning of the
seasons.

Indeed gardening is a timeless art. The act of keeping a garden brings great joy, not only to those who work it,
but also to those that merely walk through, or lounge in it. Plants not only add color and beauty to a space but
calm the psyche, stabilize humidity levels and clean the air. Gardening is therapy for stress related aliments.  
Working with the soil provides a cure. A study in the Neuroscience Journal from 2007 found that exposure to the
bacteria found in dirt boosts Serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects sleep
cycles, moods and memory. Low levels of serotonin are linked to aggression, anxiety and depression. Many
gardeners already know that running their naked finger through the soil not only makes their spirits soar but
grounds them in the shifting of the seasons.

Even if you only have a small space, a few well-planted pots can yield a bountiful harvest. The space on a patio,
deck, balcony or doorstep can be utilized to produce a multitude of fruits, vegetables and herbs to eat and enjoy.
All you need is a place with adequate sunlight and water. And what better way to know what is in your food than
growing it yourself?

Start Easy
For the beginning gardener, tomatoes, peppers and squash are good candidates to learn with. These popular
garden plants are easy to grow from seed and the fruit grows rapidly rewarding the gardener with a fruit that is
ready to pick shortly after pollination. Healthy plants require fertile, well-drained soil, full sun and sufficient
moisture. Tomatoes, peppers and squash seeds take 7 to 14 days to days to germinate. They thrive in a warm 70
to 80 degree environment and require about two inches of water per week. In areas with higher temperatures
more frequent watering may be necessary. In cooler areas with frequent rain, avoid planting early and make sure
your soil has been amended to allow adequate drainage. Healthy vegetable plants require fertile, well-draining
soil to grow.

Amend Your Soil with Organic Matter
Soil is made up of organic and mineral compounds and amounts of air and water, all of which are essential to a
plant's growth. Soil will lose its structure if it does not have enough organic matter. A well-composed soil retains
a stable pore space that allows for adequate water retention and drainage. Having a stable pore space also
means the soil retains air storage for root growth, which is essential for healthy plants. Amending your soil
before planting will alleviate many gardening dilemmas and the easiest way to amend is by adding organic
matter. Simply choose an amendment and incorporate it into the soil to a depth of about 8 inches. Compost and
leaf mold, green plant material and animal manures are especially good for improving soil conditions. Your local
nursery is an invaluable resource for information on gardening in your area and can supply you with the soil
amendments.

Adding a mixed fertilizer is a great way to help your plants grow big and strong, especially if your soil is
unbalanced or nutrient-poor. Mixed fertilizers are formulated to mix with water or come as time-released
granules. Both forms are easy ways to add nutrients that will aid the growth of roots, stem and leaves in your
plants. Mixed fertilizers are composed of three elements and the percentage of these elements are denoted on
each and ever package as 0 - 0 - 0 with the basic being 10 - 10 - 10. The first number is the nitrogen content.
Plants use this for leaf growth, adding this will producer lusher greener leaves. The second number is the
phosphorus. Add this to strengthen the plants root system and to increase fruit yield. The third number is the
potassium (potash) content. Potassium helps the plants flower and will strengthen the whole plant, leaf, flower
and root.

Warning- Used in moderation, fertilizer is a great thing. However overuse can burn your plants and even kill the
roots systems.

Hardiness Zones
Every gardening catalog and gardening manual refers to climate zones. By applying this information, gardeners
can judge whether a plant or plant group will survive the climate in their area. The information provided by zone
maps is invaluable when planning a garden. If plants are chosen according to zone, the gardener can expect a
much higher success rate. Conditions such as the lowest and highest temperatures and the amount and of rain
must be considered to determined whether a perennial, bush or tree will survive in any given area.
Finding Your Plant Hardiness Zone Planting zones are meant to help gardeners know what plants and plant
groups will successfully grow in their gardens. To find your hardiness zone, use the chart below. Find out your
area's lowest temperatures and use the corresponding information to find your zone.

Zone 1:  below minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit
Zone 2:  minus 50 to minus 40
Zone 3:  minus 40 to minus 30
Zone 4:  minus 30 to minus 20
Zone 5:  minus 20 to minus 10
Zone 6:  minus 10 to zero
Zone 7:  zero to 10
Zone 8:  10 to 20
Zone 9:  20 to 30
Zone 10: 30 to 40

The Delight of Fresh Herbs

Herbs need good soil, lots of sun, frequent watering and a pot with adequate drainage. Plant your seedlings and
let them grow. Do not attempt to use them until they are established. Most herbs are easy to grow and will add
a boost of beauty and fragrance of your garden and scent and flavor to your food. And since herbs can be used
fresh right out of the garden, all you have to do is clip the ends and leave the plant to keep on growing.

When harvesting, simply snip off the healthy ends and wash. Only snip the portion you need at the time of use.
Prune with clean clippers. This will deduce risk to the plant. Not only will pruning give you trimmings to use, the
act of pruning encourages the plant to spread and grow, allowing the same plant to be harvested, again and
again, throughout the growing season. Pruning not only encourages growth, it keeps the plant from flowering
which ends the growing cycle.

Note - Routinely remove old leaves. This is a good way to control diseases and keep plants healthy.

There are many herbs to choose from and most are easy to grow. Sage, Rosemary, Lemon verbena, Lemon Balm,
Mint, Thyme, Cilantro and Basil are herbs I keep on hand. And while Rosemary and some Sages will winter-over,
Cilantro and Basil will not tolerate cold.  

A whiskey barrel on a sunny doorstep is an ideal place to begin a spring herb garden. It is pest-resistant, easy to
cover on cold nights, and the proximity makes harvesting convenient.

While I like fresh herbs best. *Remember 1 teaspoon of dried leaves  is equivalent to a tablespoon of fresh herb.
Homegrown herbs can be put up for later use just like fruit and veggies.

Tips on Storing Herbs
Drying is the most common way to store your herbs for year round use. For best results choose an herb with a
low moisture content such as: Bay leaves, Cilantro, Dill, Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Summer Savory or
Thyme.

Harvest before your plant begins to flower. Trim by cutting healthy branches from your herb plant. Then wash the
trimmings by rinsing with cool water and pat them dry. Tie into bundles and hang upside down in a cool, airy
apace.

Store your dried herbs whole in airtight containers such as Zip-locked bags or small jars. Your herbs will retain
more flavor if you wait to crush them when you are ready to use them. And don't forget to label and date the
contents. Store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Immediately discard any dried herbs that show the
slightest sign of mold. Note-Mold can be deadly!

Some herbs with a higher moisture content such as Basil, Chives, Lemon balm and Mint are prone to mold and
are easier to store by freezing.

Tips on Freezing
Simply take your rinsed trimmings and pat them dry before you slip them into an air-tight container such as a
plastic bag and freeze. If you have space you can make herbal ice-cubes. Just mince your washed herbs. Then
pack into an ice cube tray. Fill the tray with boiling water (this will blanch the herbs before freezing and will help
them retain their flavor and color). Once the ice cubes have frozen, remove from tray and store in airtight freezer
bags.

Add Oil
Make an herbal paste by mixing 1/3 cup of olive oil with 2 cups of fresh herbs and blending until smooth. Store in
a sealed jar and keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze in ice cube trays and store in an airtight bag to
keep for later use. This paste freezes beautifully.

There is great satisfaction in reaching for your own herbs knowing exactly where it came from because you
prepared the soil and cared for the seedling until it matured and produced this bounty!

Each day seems to bring more disconcerting news about our food-chain spurring the interest in urban farming as
more become aware of the dangers lurking in store-bought produce.

You are not helpless. You can take action and embrace alternatives. Families across the country are utilizing
yards, patios and balconies for family veggie plots growing their own peppers, squash, herbs and tomatoes as
even a few potted plants can create a high yield and what a better way to know what is in your food than
growing it yourself? Join the movement 'eat organic, buy local and grow your own!' Start your own garden today.
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