Gardening Outlook 2015

I’m approaching my organic garden with a good deal of optimism this year! Last year I had several plants do very well. Specifically, the tomatoes and bell peppers and EVERY herb that I planted in our community garden plot.

We have two plots again this year: the community garden plot up at the elementary school where my children will attend and one in our backyard.

The community garden plot is small, probably 4 feet by 4 feet. Raised bed. The soil was put there by a master gardener who set up the community garden. It is MAGICAL soil. Everything I have planted there has grown huge quickly. No pesticides or non-organic fertilizers are allowed. It gets full sun and we take turns watering so that it is watered every other day in the summer months. I have had no problems with pests aside from some beetles that took out the lettuce at the end of it’s growing season last year. But they didn’t touch anything else, and those plants were finished producing anyway.

Our backyard plot is 4 feet by 8 feet. This is our third year to attempt to plant things in it. It is also a raised bed, the soil came from a local composting plant that uses city scraps for compost. Everything I put into this soil has done poorly, if not immediately died. We also have terrible infestations of squash bugs, caterpillars, and extremely aggressive roly polys. I did not even know roly polys were aggressive until I got this garden. Those roly polys eat ALL the baby plants from the ground up. They never make it to full grown plants. Those that do make it to medium size never get any bigger, and the tomatoes do not produce much. I spent all of last year amending the soil with a number of different soil additives (organic) and spraying with garrett juice (compost juice). The soil failed all soil tests, showing that it has basically no nutrients at all. Kale grows well consistently, but it’s pretty difficult to kill kale. I planted a lavender plant in the fall and it’s not dead either, but it hasn’t grown. The broccoli I planted over the winter produced a few times. I also trapped thousands of roly polys by setting traps of tuna cans full of (cheap) beer. Roly Polys LOVE beer! But they get drunk and drown in it. It’s pretty awesome.

I spoke with another friend who is a master gardener about my raised bed in the backyard and she suggested mushroom compost. I have added 3 bags to the backyard bed and attempted to mix it in. I will also continue to add the soil amendments I added before, as well as the garrett juice. Hopefully this will be enough to allow some things to grow.

This morning it was our turn to water the community garden, so we stopped by a local gardening store and bought some small plants. Another way I am attempting to improve our results is to buy from local gardening stores rather than Home Depot, as I have in the past. I am hoping that the quality will be better.

Today we bought:

cilantro
tomatoes (I do not even understand the types of tomatoes, who knows what I bought? My 4 year old daughter picked it out)
dill
bell pepper
salad mix

Garden Plants 2015 - starting plants | Living Consciously Blog

We already had seeds for:

carrots
marigolds (to repel harmful insects)
sunflowers
green leaf lettuce

In addition:

an onion from my pantry sprouted and I have planted it in the community garden plot, it’s already huge!
a “volunteer” squash from last year has started re-growing in the community garden plot

I have a lovely little herb garden going at the community garden now! I am hoping that soon I won’t have to buy fresh herbs at all. The thyme and oregano from last year made it through the winter and are already so large that I had to trim them back. I even dug up some offshoots of the thyme and am going to try to plant them in our backyard garden.

Garden plants 2015 - herb garden at community garden | Living Consciously Blog

I think the only thing I might be missing is basil. Not sure why I forgot to buy that!

What are you planting? Do you have any recommendations for soil improvement?

Really organic rosemary kale chips from our fledgling garden

This post brought to you by Organic Choice by Miracle-Gro. All opinions are 100% mine.

It’s been a few weeks now since we started back on our organic gardening efforts, and I’ve killed a lot of poor, defenseless seedlings since then. I have watched my dreams of tomato and basil bruschetta curl up and blow away. Fortunately, there are two plants nearly impossible to kill: rosemary and kale.

My kale hung on through the single-digit freezing, ice, and snow of the winter — with it’s leaves still green. It looks even better now that the weather has warmed, and I couldn’t wait to eat it!

Kale in garden 2014 | Conscientious Confusion

The rosemary has done equally well in the past, but this year’s low winter temperatures left more than half of it brown and withered. I love my rosemary in the giant galvanized steel pot, so I had to find a way to revive it without any dangerious chemicals, keeping it safe and healthy to eat.

Here’s how it looked when we started:

Rosemary bush BEFORE organic fertilizer | Conscientious Confusion

The good folks at Miracle-Gro Organic Choice sent me a bag of Organic Choice potting soil and organic fertilizer, which I also noticed is sold at Target in the gardening section (in case I need more later!). I decided to give the fertilizer a try in reviving my rosemary.

My son volunteered to be my little helper. All he had to do was sprinkle the appropriate amount of fertilizer around the base of the rosemary and then water it.

Little Sir helps add organic fertilizer to our rosemary bush | Conscientious Confusion

We also added additional Miracle-Gro Organic Choice soil to the rosemary’s pot, which was low on soil.

We fertilized on March 27.

On April 11, I took this picture of the rosemary bush.

Rosemary bush AFTER organic fertilizer | Conscientious Confusion

What a difference! I was truly surprised. I realize that fertilizer helps encourage growth, but this is really neat, right?!

Since the kale and rosemary are our only fully grown plants worthy of harvesting right now, I created a Pinterest board of Garden Recipes that contained kale and rosemary. Kale chips were one of the kids’ favorites from last year’s garden, so I found a rosemary kale chip recipe that utilized rosemary-infused olive oil. Perfect!

Making Kale Rosemary Chips from our garden! | Conscientious Confusion

The chips were approved by both of my kids (3 and 4 years old)! We’ve tried the kale chips from the store in the past, but they were never fans. I think the key to getting children to grow up eating healthy, fresh foods is really to involve them in the process. They have been so excited to be participating in our gardening this year.

I haven’t given up on the rest of our garden! We have some spinach, bell pepper, lettuce, swiss chard, and strawberries that seem to be doing quite well. I am particularly hopeful about the bell peppers, and I have actually Pinned a few articles from the Miracle-Gro Learn And Grow web site that has helped me toward a successful harvest. According to this bell pepper article, last year I probably let the bell peppers get too dry. This year I have a new hose system that I am very optimistic about, and a new resolve not to get so lazy with my watering.

Stay tuned for continued progress reports! I’d love to hear about your gardening efforts, and your favorite rosemary and kale recipes in the meantime!

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It’s (organic) gardening time again!

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Miracle-Gro Organic Choice. All opinions are 100% mine.

I think we’ve seen the last of our 16 degree days here in Dallas, and just this week one of our chickens started laying again! I’m so excited to be doing yoga outside and cleaning the chicken coop (ok, maybe not the coop…), that I’ve also forgotten my past failures and I’m gearing up to start another organic garden.
In fact, I’ve already planted some seeds in biodegradeable seed cups. I have actually been keeping them in our downstairs bathroom because it’s the only window with a wide ledge inaccessible to children and the cat. Classy. The seedlings need to be watered several times a day to stay moist, so at least it is convenient!
This weekend, we went on a road trip. We had the cat’s autofeeder on, a weekend tablet for the fish, and plenty of food for the chickens. But the seedlings needed constant watering. So we took them with us!
Taking our organic seedlings with us!
You don’t pack your seedlings with your beach towels and cooler, too?
What am I planting? Right now, the seedling cups contain:
tomatoes
cucumbers
basil
bell peppers
spinach
I have more seeds for growing kale, swiss chard, and dill which will be planted directly into the ground as soon as I’m sure it won’t freeze again. There is also a bunch of rooted basil in a cup of water on my windowsill waiting to be transplanted into the ground.
I have this vision of being able to create freshly picked, organic bruschetta from my garden this year, on my own homemade bread. Yum!
Of course, it’s very important for me to keep my garden organic. Organic veggies are expensive, so if I can grow even a few, it is a great savings. And what could be more yummy than fresh organic veggies? The raised bed we built two years ago is low on soil, so I’m adding additional organic soil this year from Miracle-Gro Organic Choice before transplanting the seedlings. It is easy to find, available at the Home Depot down the street. If you’re looking for it at your local store, here’s what the bag looks like:
Organic Soil photo 72859510_22_zps758b34b4.jpg
If you’re a novice gardener like me, I recommend visiting the Growing Something Greater site, they had a lot of great posts with tips for successful growing.
Is it warming up where you are? Have you starting planting or sprouting indoors?

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2013 To Do List: How Did I Do?

I don’t make resolutions, I make To Do Lists. Here is 2012. Here is 2013.

How did I do this year? Let us review

  1. Finally make those reusable snack bags.
    I am going to cross this one off simply because I bought reusable snack bags. Well, when I say “I”, what I mean is that my BFF found a bunch on sale and mailed them to me. So yay! No sewing. I still have the fabric for the bags I didn’t actually make. Maybe I will make them before my kids are in high school.
  2. Print family blog books.
    Done, and now I have to do 2013. Which means I have to actually update our family blog that I haven’t touched since October.
    2014 To Do List, here I come.
  3. Meal planning.
    TheFresh20.com solved this whole issue for me. I seriously love them. I should get commission for recommending them. That, by the way, is NOT an affiliate link. Oh, how I wish it were.
  4. Patch some giant holes in our walls.
    Um, no. I did buy a patch kit at Home Depot last week in a frantic effort to make it by the end of the year, but I am going to have to admit now that it’s just not going to happen before midnight tomorrow.
  5. Repaint other messed up paint…or do something about it.
     I totally did this! At least, in the living room. The downstairs bath still needs help. I partially did the living room because we got this awesome Nest smart thermostat and removing the old thermostat exposed some unpainted wall.
  6. Do something about the front yard.
    We started this. We removed the bushes and created flower beds lined by bricks. However, all the mulch we filled them with has sunken in or washed away, and I never planted anything in them. So it looks weird. But at least we removed the bushes? So, kinda done?
  7. Go to the dentist.
    I never did. Again, tried to figure out a way to get this done in the last 2 weeks but with the kids not in preschool over the holiday there was no way. I really do need to do this, my teeth need whitening and I want to try peroxide but not until I get my teeth cleaned. Now it’s been 3 whole years since I’ve been to the dentist. Whee!
  8. Take Little Sir to the dentist.
    Yep, he has actually been twice! We found a great pediatric dentist just down the street from our house and both kids LOVE her and her office. They are actually sad to leave because she has so many neat toys there and the visits are so quick that they don’t get to play as long as they want!
  9. Try again with the garden.
    I did try. I got a lot of kale and swiss chard, so that was awesome. I pretty much killed everything else. Even the bell peppers, which were doing so well right before Thanksgiving. It must have frozen while we were gone because when we got back they had shriveled up, never to recover.

I feel like I actually did really well this year, if I could only stop fixating on that dentist failure. I really want to get my teeth cleaned. I know that is a weird thing to say.

Stay tuned for the 2014 To Do List, coming soon!

Update on the 2013 To Do List

It’s June already, what?! Where does the time go? I think it goes here:

Kids swimming

Still, I remember that back in January I made a To Do List for 2013. How am I doing halfway through the year?

1. Finally make those reusable snack bags.

Nope. Have not done this. Once, I took all the fabric out and looked at it for 15 minutes. That is the farthest I’ve gotten. I keep buying plastic baggies for snacks and I feel extremely guilty EVERY TIME.

2. Print family blog books.

I did this! Almost immediately after making the To Do list. It was super easy, as it always is (I use Blog2Print, this is not an ad, I don’t get anything from mentioning the site. Every year I pay for a book. I don’t even have coupon codes!). Unfortunately, I am doing a crappy job of keeping up with our family blog again this year so next year will be a depressingly sparse blog book. Or I will be staying up until 2am one night publishing 15 blog posts at one time.

3. Meal planning.

I am doing so much better with this since discovering The Fresh 20. This is NOT an ad, I did not get paid or compensated or receive anything free to say that. I heard about The Fresh 20 meal planning program from OneStarryMom when there was a Groupon running, which I then purchased with my very own money. I just found out a few weeks ago that the founder of The Fresh 20 will be my co-panelist at BlogHer this year! I was so excited I nearly peed myself. It might not bode well for me to be such a ridiculous fan girl. But I love her product SO MUCH. Everything made from scratch, all whole foods, super easy shopping lists, and the meals themselves take very little time to prepare. Recommend!

4. Patch some giant holes in our walls.

Nope, the holes are still there. Home Depot scares me.

5. Repaint other messed up paint…or do something about it.

Nope, the paint is getting worse. My children have applied stickers to the wall and ripped additional paint off of it.

Sticker wall art
Sticker wall art, the unprofessional kind

Procrastination on this one has to do with my fear of the 100 paint cans in our garage. I just can’t bring myself to try to figure out which one is the correct one for the living room.

6. Do something about the front yard.

We kinda started this.

bush destruction
Ripping out the bushes

We took a chainsaw to the giant shrubs, got rid of them, and created flower beds. However, I neglected to line the beds with newspaper for a weed barrier and we didn’t use enough mulch, so the grass is growing back up through the beds. It looks pretty ghetto.

Front yard: An "after", of sorts
An “after” picture, but before the weeds came back

A solicitor (who did NOT see my Do Not Solicit sign, I suppose) commented yesterday on whether we were going to do anything about that. No, young-single-guy-without-kids-who-doesn’t-even-live-in-this-area-and-can’t-read-signs, I have not gotten around to “doing something about that”.

7. Go to the dentist.

I looked up some Groupons but I did not do this in enough time before school got out. Now preschool is out for the summer and there is no way for me to go to the dentist because I have a 2 and 3 year old with me at all times. This will have to happen in the fall when I have 2-3 hours per week kid-free.

8. Take Little Sir to the dentist.

I did this! It was super easy! He loved it! And the dentist taught him to spit out his toothpaste, which he is doing like a Big Boy. He has great teeth. Hooray!

9. Try again with the garden.

My garden is doing surprisingly well considering how little effort I have made.

Garden June 2013

Most of the plants came from seeds I forgot that I planted last fall or scraps from our compost heap. It’s very scientific.

How are you doing on your To Do list or resolutions? If you posted a list at the beginning of 2013, I’d love to see a link to an update in the comments!

March Against Monsanto with me in Dallas, Texas

March Against Monsanto, May 25, Everywhere
March Against Monsanto, May 25, Everywhere

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO’s. What do you know about them? Should we be eating genetically altered variations of what-used-to-be-food when the results of that genetic modification have not been tested on humans? Did you know that we are eating plants that are actually classified by the FDA as pesticides themselves (not covered in pesticides – they are the pesticides!)? Is it OK for a super-company to create and patent seeds that grow our food and sue everyone who isn’t using them? What about the super-bugs that have evolved in response to these unnatural plant formulations? Most of all, is it OK to hide GMO’s in all the foods we eat and deny us the right to even know what is going into our own mouths? Did you know that even China labels food containing GMO’s, but not the United States?

First of all, I recommend watching Food, Inc. if you haven’t already. In that documentary, you will meet farmers who have been sued for planting their own seeds rather than buying genetically altered seeds from super-company Monsanto. And Monsanto won. Monsanto won again earlier this month in a similar case.

Think you aren’t affected because you eat pretty healthy? How about these facts:

Up to 90% of U.S. soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets are now genetically engineered and routinely inserted into human and animal foods with no labels or safety testing.

Approximately 80% of current grocery food items contain GMOs; while according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the majority of beef, pork, poultry, dairy, and eggs come from CAFOs.

Considering the growing concern over GMOs and CAFOs, all food packaging should clearly identify all non-organic ingredients containing soy, corn, cottonseed oil, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa or GM growth hormones with a label or shelf sign that says “May Contain GMOs” and identify all meat, dairy, and eggs that come from CAFOs with a label or shelf sign that says “CAFO.”

I’d like to say that there is a political party who stands with us against Monsanto, but unfortunately there isn’t. Monsanto executives are now in nearly every branch of the government, successfully blocking legislation that would stop this company’s monopoly. The only thing that is left is the voice of regular people like you and me.

If you’ve read my blog long, you know that I strive to be balanced and moderate in my recommendations of action. I have never marched in a protest before, but this weekend I will. All across the country, people like you and I will be participating in the peaceful March Against Monsanto in Dallas, TX to protest Monsanto’s shameful disregard of our personal rights and ask that those in power in our government take notice.

Here are the details about the Dallas March Against Monsanto:

Where: Dallas City Hall – 1500 Marilla Street

When: promptly at 1:00 PM (CST)

What: A peaceful 2 mile walk

If you can’t walk with us, please consider signing the Millions Against Monsanto petition stating that we have the right to know what is in the food we eat.

My Garden: planting from compost sprouts

It’s spring again in Texas, and I’ve clearly learned nothing from the failure of my garden last year. The only thing I grew successfully was a few good bell pepper plants and a whole lot of mint. Mint, mint, mint. I mean, I love mint in my green tea in the summer (it’s one of the natural coolants that I recommend if you are giving up antiperspirant), but the amount of mint I have had in the last year is ridiculous. After I planted it initially, I had a lot of people warn me that I never should have planted it in a garden because it would take over. They were not kidding. That stuff pops up in the weirdest places. Like growing out of the side of the raised bed:

Mint growing from side of raised bedWeird.

Most of my herbs came back: parsley and two kinds of mint, as well as the strawberries from last year which are now putting out little flowers.

The minute it got warm outside about a month ago, I was out there planting seeds and watering things again just like I hadn’t killed nearly a dozen plants last year. Some time last November I planted kale and swiss chard seeds by haphazardly throwing them into the ground willy-nilly, because they were supposed to bloom in the cooler weather (it doesn’t get cold here until late December/early January — this year it was February). I thought the seeds had died, but suddenly sprouts appeared a few weeks ago and now I have some pretty decent sized plants!

Swiss Chard April 2013
The thin little shoots are leek sproutlings that I got from a neighbor, they were initially sprouted for our elementary school’s community garden and there were extras.

Leeks April 2013

The rest of the garden has evolved from another odd spot: compost sprouts.

First of all, my compost bin is not so much a bin as it is a circle of chicken wire at the side of the house that I dump things into and turn with a shovel every 10 days or 2 weeks. More accurately: I do it when I remember.

I add things to it, but it’s more of a random compilation than a science. Because I do tend to, um, leave it alone a bit too long, when I do turn it I often find little sprouts in the mishmash. For example, some kind of root vegetable that had gone bad and was tossed into the compost bin had a full 6-7 inch plant growing from it. A head of garlic that sprouted was also almost 4 inches tall in there. My mother was visiting one day and found a huge collection of squash sprouts. Unfortunately, the squash died when I tried to transplant it to the garden. But the mysterious root vegetable is now nearly a foot tall!

Sprout from compost

And the garlic is looking pretty healthy too:

Garlic from compost

Just yesterday I found some other tiny thing in the compost and planted it as well.

I have no idea what that thing is either. I guess we’ll see when it starts sprouting something!

If I don’t kill it first.

How about you? Have you planted anything yet? Do you also raid your compost for sprouts, or is that just me?

Last minute teacher Christmas gift

I just wanted to do a quick post on my favorite teacher “thank you” gift, since I know we all love to thank our childrens’ teachers at the holidays. Instead of some trinket that might break or sweets that they might otherwise try to avoid (my son’s preschool teacher is gluten-free so I wanted to avoid anything that she couldn’t eat anyway) — how about flowers?

My favorite place to get beautiful, unique, and inexpensive flowers is Whole Foods or Central Market. In fact, I got the flowers for my wedding bouquet at Central Market!

Since my son’s teacher spends more time with him than my daughters’ once-a-week Mother’s Day Out teachers, I also added a personalized May Books lined notebook to her gift. May Books are hand-sewn without using plastic or synthetic glue with nasty chemicals. The covers are cloth-based so that they wear to a soft finish.

It’s not too late to buy some fresh flowers today!
What is your favorite teacher gift to give or receive (if you are a teacher)?

NOTE: I did not receive any compensation or product for the mention of May Books, although the owner is a personal friend of mine. I just love her products, and I pay for them just like everyone else!

My Garden: A tragic update

Well, it’s been around 3 months since I did an official garden update. What happened during those, supposedly the most productive months? Nothing. Nothing at all. Which is why I didn’t update: there was nothing to say.

The tomato plants got huge, around 7 feet tall/long, but never produced anything. NOT ANYTHING AT ALL.
Crazy unproductive overgrowth

Finally, the vines started dying out and I got sick of looking at the brown leaves and cut them all down.

There was one bright spot, one hope in my heart that I would have a single product for all my labor. Behold, one bell pepper as it began to grow:

First and only real harvest from 2012!

It ripened and started turning red…

The pepper turns red

Close up of the pepper turning redder

(Sorry for the blurriness, my iPhone didn’t know how to focus on the pepper instead of the leaves and no, I still don’t know how to use our DSLR.)

In this picture, you can even see it almost at it’s full-red glory:

You can see the pepper here, still alive

(That’s also a good shot of after I cut down most of the tomato plants. I left one, thinking it had a bud. I was wrong, it didn’t. I cut it down this week.)

What became of the Red Bell Pepper 2012? See, that’s the thing. I couldn’t tell when I should pick it. Was it going to get bigger? I didn’t want to pick it if it was going to get bigger. I left it on a long time, while we were in California. When we got back, it had a horrible black spot. This is what had happened:

The pepper didn't make it :'-(

As you can see, it apparently rotted on the vine. The only thing I successfully grew, and it was inedible, it died before it had a chance to live. It’s a metaphor for life. Or something.

I also had one other thing die on the vine: a squash. Here it is before it died – it had grown on the outside of our chicken barrier, it’s vines pushing through to make it possible. It was planning to grow into adulthood.

The squash that didn't make it

But, no. The vine itself actually shriveled and died from inside the garden, leaving the poor undeveloped squash with no nourishment outside the barrier. Weird. Also probably a metaphor for life.

As you can see, I have a truly terrible black thumb. I thought I could overcome this tendency with information from the internets, but that was a mistake.

Having lost all faith in SproutRobot.com, I have no idea where to turn now if I want to try to kill other varieties of plants over the fall months. What other things can I plant in the ground and then watch falter and die? Should I just plant dollar bills because that is a more direct way to accomplish what is truly happening here?

However, my unreasonable hope springs eternal. My bell pepper plants are still alive & kicking, although I have no idea why since I have mentally given up on them. Some of them have buds. Will they ever grow into actual peppers? Will they all suffer the terrible fate of Red Bell Pepper 2012? I will let you know. I’m sure it’s a metaphor for life.

My garden: more things dying and some things getting huge

I promised a garden update on Saturday, but I lied. I should stop promising to update on Saturdays, that is insanity.

Well, the kale is dead. It looked good for about a week but then just gave up, plant by plant.

The tomatoes and bell pepper plants are HUGE but producing nothing. Wha? Is that supposed to happen?

Tomatoes around June 8ish

Bell pepper plants - are these buds?

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In case you cannot tell, these tomatoes come up to my nose when I’m standing next to them.

The mint and chocolate mint, and parsley and basil are GOING CRAZY. I don’t even know what to do with them, they are so huge. Anybody need some mint??

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The fennel…what the heck is fennel for, anyway?

There is a beet plant that is pretty darn huge-looking but I am not sure how big it actually is underneath the leaves so I am afraid to harvest it. How do I know when to harvest it?

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Here is the one tiny strawberry that grew from my strawberry plants.

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This post has far more questions than answers.