Memorial Day is a day to remember…..

 

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“That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863

Memorial Day is when we place a flower on the grave of those that died defending our country. It is a day of remembrance. I give a flower from my garden; to all that gave their life for this country…..

 

Do you know about The American Humane Certified program?

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I live in an urban area, and there is one fact we all have to accept; We can’t grow all our food in the city. Many people try, but it comes down to making choices. You have to select what you can grow best on your city lot. Most city dwellers have small growing areas, no outdoor area but a balcony or small patio out their condo/apartment, so the idea of growing all their food in an urban area is not realistic.

If we do have land, it is not acreage that we can produce all the different foods we need, for example, our grains for organic home baking. Our homes are lots with closely placed buildings, cemented walkways/driveways, privacy walls, or neighbors that don’t want to see your urban farm over their fence. We have to be good neighbors and learn how to work with what we have to grow and live peacefully with the people we share our city streets.

I want to practice living organically in the city, and I do try to make the changes necessary to make that happen, for example, I do grow all of my salad makings on our city lot. We eat seasonally so when the weather dips in the single digits for weeks, and our salad greens that are not protected don’t grow or just give up we do not eat salad greens from the big boxed stores. This past week they had salad greens in bags that were recalled for making people sick. If I do try to purchase salad greens at the local grocery store they are usually grown in Mexico and packaged in the USA. I figure if I can’t keep my lettuce growing under cover than it is time to live on our kale which does great in the single digits.

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I do not grow any animal protein on our city lot. I tend to live mostly on a plant based diet, but occasionally I do purchase humanely raised eggs/chicken. It is not legal to have chickens in our city. Some urban areas allow chickens; Ours is not one of those communities. Some people do risk having chickens on their city lot, but I don’t have the space to raise chickens. I don’t eat chicken every day, but when I do eat chickens or eggs, I want to purchase it humanely raised.

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garlic is one crop  easily grown on a city lot

I have watched all the horrible documentaries about our factory farms and how cruel we are to animals in the USA. I can’t even watch the entire video often turning away, and when I do shop at the grocery store, I pay attention to where my food is grown, how it is taken care of, and how it is processed. It does make a difference when you take the time to support farmers that are committed to the humane rearing of animals.

I feel Organic living in the city must embrace this attitude. We can’t continue to raise animals in the cruel way we have forever. It needs to stop. When I spend my hard earned money on any animal protein, it needs to be given to those companies that do it the right way. I found the label “American Humane Certified ” on a chicken I purchased. This stamp ensures the chicken I purchased was humanely raised!

I purchased my first BARE (brand) raised chicken that was American Humane Certified. I realize our family does eat a plant-based diet most of the time, but we do occasionally incorporate some animal protein. If we do, I am grateful I have the reassurance that the chicken I purchased, at least, was treated well.

onions, carrots and garlic grown on our city lot

onions, carrots and garlic grown on our city lot

I live in the breadbasket of the USA, and I grew up eating fish from Lake Michigan. I never thought twice about eating fish for it was part of our Scandanavian life-style. My great grandparents were from those countries. I have to admit, I never got used to our Norwegian Pickled Herring on the table! I did love the salmon my father would catch from Lake Michigan on the weekends, fish boils, smoked salmon or fresh smelt from Lake Michigan! It was just a way of life. We did not eat that much red meat, but we did eat a lot of fish and chicken. I am bringing this up since I now live away from the Chicago suburbs and a bit closer to the Farms in the central part of Illinois.You go outside our large cities, and it is farmland for miles and miles!

Many of the local people in our city grew up on farms and raised their animals for food. The younger generation moved away from the farms and closer to urban areas for their schooling or careers. They remember grandparents that raised all their food on the farm. They did not have grocery stores supplying all their food. I compare their feelings about eating farm animals the way I saw fish. It was a way of life and just how we ate. The animals were treated humanely.

The problem today with our factory farms is how awful the animals are treated and what they pump into the animals. I don’t need to share the gory details for you can just check out youtube and find several documentaries to observe these practices. It is enough to make you never want to purchase an animal protein again in your life from the local grocery store!

Since we can’t raise all our food living organically in the city, we have to trust others to watch over the animals. The American Humane Association has created a program to help us city dwellers make wise choices when purchasing our animal protein at the local food store. Organic Living in the City means taking the time to care about how the animals are treated.

homemade lovage soup from our garden

homemade lovage soup from our garden

Today when I purchased a chicken I felt better knowing that I supported a farmer that was doing the right thing. It does matter. If you do want to live more organically in the city, please make the effort to care for our animals. Buy only food with their stamp of approval!The American Humane Association developed  the first welfare certification program in the United States which ensures all our farm animals are treated properly.The American Humane Certified™ program provides third-party, independent verification that certified producers’ care and handling of farm animals meet the science-based animal welfare standards of American Humane Association. The program provides ongoing outreach to farmers in the implementation of the best humane practices for animals. American Humane Association is working on a new educational curriculum for children on farm animals to help educate our children about where our food comes from and ensure future generations are invested in the humane treatment of farm animals.”(read more about their progams)

If you need a steril medium I suggest using coir to germinate seed

In the early days of learning how to grow organic food, I would purchase most of my seedlings in the spring at the local garden center. I did that a few timIMG_7690cypress-march-2015es until I realized they spray a lot of chemicals on the seedlings in the big box stores. As I searched for seedlings in other locations, it was apparent that many were shipped to our local nurseries from growers that utilized the same pesticide and synthetic fertilizers. There is no guarantee your vegetable seedlings are not sprayed with pesticides or grown with synthetic fertilizers unless you know the grower. I am beginning to see more “USDA” organically grown plants in garden centers, but often they are too highly priced to make it worth your effort to purchase. It is much easier to learn how to grow your vegetables starts without all the chemicals at home. That way you control what the young plants are grown in from day one. It also saves you quite a bit of money!

There are more peppers out there than just Green Bell Peppers or Big Boy tomatoes that are sold at the local nursery. There is a world of heirloom vegetables and herbs with an incredible range of flavors, but they won’t taste so amazing if you don’t start with a good seed starting soil mix. When growing your vegetables, it is advised to start you seeds in a sterile medium which ensures that your seedlings will be healthy and disease-free from day one. Most of the seed starting combinations at the local garden centers include a mix of vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss. These seed starting mixes will work fine, but if you care about the environment, you may want to make sure the company that you are purchasing from is harvesting the peat at a sustainable rate.

Did you know our peat bogs are in trouble, and some companies do not harvest peat in a sustainable manner?Most people do not realize that it takes a hundred years to form a peat bog. Peat is not an excellent choice for those wishing to create a sustainable garden for it is not considered a renewable resource.This past year, I decided to try and not use as much peat moss on our city lot. Ecologists are warning us that some peat is being harvested at non-sustainable rates. Did you know that our peat bogs are in as much trouble as our rain forests now?

If you care about the environment, you may want to purchase from companies that make a commitment to sustainable practices. This information is often not on the package, so you need to do a bit of research on your own. One place to start would be to look for companies that have the OMRI stamp of approval. OMRI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that reviews products to be used in organic growing to make sure the product is safe for you and the environment. Often, I have found some products that are used in organic growing but are not listed on the OMRI list which mean you may need to read about the company and find out how they produce their products. I use Espoma products in my organic growing, and they are not stamped with OMRI or USDA, but they are an excellent company that cares about the environment. I guess the bottom line; check out a product before you use it while learning to grow your vegetables.

In 2015, I decided to reduce my use of peat moss in our garden throughout the year.There are times where I do purchase products that utilize peat in their mixes, but I try to make sure the peat is harvested at a sustainable rate. I have found that peat moss is not my favorite seed starting mix. The various peat products, I have tried for seed starting would remain too soggy; seeds did not germinate as well, and I found too many sticks, rocks, and bulkiness in the medium which hindered the development of the young seedlings.

I do want to mention that after you germinate your seeds and they start getting their first true leaves you need to put them in a growing medium, for example, one with food for your young plants. I have found over the years Espoma or Black Gold soils to be great ones to use. I have been using their potting soil for the last few years, and those are two that I can count on to help me grow healthy seedlings transplants to use in our succession plantings throughout our Urban Potager.

I made the decision only to use Cocotek/Coir to start all my seeds in for our gardens. Coir or Cocotek (an organic brand I used this growing season ) is a natural fiber from the husk of the coconut. It is often used to make a variety of products such as rugs, ropes, floor mats, doormats, mattress filling and upholstery to name a few. Coir is considered a renewable resource. It is so easy to use, and it makes a difference in germination success with all my seeds.

 

Salad making is an art form from the ground up!

Let’s face it there are “salads” and then there are “SALADS” which means it is more than just putting a few greens in a bowl, stir, + top with dressing, Some people describe it as a vegetable sundae which I think is a creative way to look at salads! I think of my salads as a collage of color, texture + of course flavor.
There is a level of “skill” + “art” in creating a perfect salad, and it starts with the ground. You need to feed the soil and make sure it is nourishing your salad greens.I rotate crops in our small Urban Potager to keep our soil healthy and only use organic practices throughout the growing seasons. I tell people all the time, “There is an art to making a perfect salad.” I am talking about a fresh salad from the garden. It is one that is carefully grown from seed and cared for by a gardener. We gardeners pick the leaves at just the right time to put them all together in just the right “balance” of color, texture, flavor, and visually because who doesn’t “awe” at a beautifully created salad.It is an art form!

I need to pick just the right types of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) to grow, for example, some lettuce leaves increase their color + flavor in cool weather, and there are some that “tolerate” heat a bit better by not getting bitter. I believe everyone needs to grow their lettuce seeds out + make a decision as to what they prefer.I practice succession planting in our small urban potager, so I only use “loose-leaf” types of lettuce which are “cut + come again.” There are many kinds to choose from so just pick up some seed and try a few to see which ones you prefer in your salads each season.

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   We have VERY humid weather early in the season and late summer/early fall, so lettuce greens have to hold up to our difficult growing environment. I review after each growing season which “seeds” germinated best, grew in our climate by not bolting quickly, did not develop a bitter taste early, were beautiful and held up to “cut-and-come-again” practices, and how they looked after they were washed.

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I also like to incorporate with lettuce a variety of vegetables + fruits which I feel are “contrast elements” to add to the beauty and visual interest of the foundation of a great salad.Our spring salads, summer salads, and fall/winter salads all incorporate, different, contrasting elements. It depends on what is available, for example, edible flowers, baby kale, arugula, spinach, snow peas, corn mache, radishes, swiss chard, pak choi, sorrel, mustards, and strawberries might be some of our first for the season. When our season turns late, summer/early fall new additions may enter the mix such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, tatsoi, carrots, beans, berries, onions, radicchio/chicory, kale,chervil, smallage, currants, raspberries, blackberries, etc. If you grow it, and it works in a salad, well, the list is endless!

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                                     Bronze Arrow one of my favorite lettuce for all seasons growing in a container

Those of us living in the city deal with limited space, but our area is large enough to grow fresh salad mixes all season long. If you have a small balcony or porch, you can grow salad greens. Once you work from the ground up to create a great salad mix from your own growing space, you will no longer need to purchase a salad mix from the local store chain.

 

Do you ever find life repeats itself?

I am busy right now potting up plants for people, germinating native plants, putting in Purple Passion Asparagus, Red Haven Peach, American Plum, Elderberry, Aronia Berries, Brazel Berry Blueberry, Triple Crown + Chester Blackberries, strawberries, Honey Berries, and Hinnomaki Red Gooseberry. I have not had any time to sit down to write a post or even enjoy our spring tulips. 2016 is the year; I plan to finish the edible part of our landscape in our back area. I am still pondering our front yard, but we have a problem with deer in our urban area. They jump fences and live in the ravines. One day, I saw a group of them running down the middle of our city road. People were hanging out in their backyard, and they were unable to maneuver the small path between their houses.

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My spring blooms are the same as last year, but I have to admit they don’t look as nice as they did last year for we had a week of hot, weather here in the midwest with no rain for a week and a half. This weekend it was in the 80’s two days! My spring blooms don’t look that good, so I decided to share my post of my spring flowers from last year. They look much better with April showers. I heard someone’s air conditioner turn on the other day when I was in the garden. Yep, in April an air conditioner running. It has been that hot. Looking back at 2015, I noticed my 2016 spring is a carbon copy….seasons are something we can count on each year and our plants, like clockwork, come back to greet us each new season. They get older just like us.

IMG_8089I added more tulips to our Urban Potager this past fall. The orange and pink “Young Royal Tulip Duet” from Brecks are a delightful surprise this spring. This is their first year blooming. I call them my fun plants since they are not much for the pollinators, but they are “eye-candy” for me to enjoy as  I work in the early spring garden. I have chicken wire all over my vegetable garden, and I am busy hardening and growing many of my spring/early summer vegetables. I know they don’t do much for nature but they sure….

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Lift my spirits! I am so busy adding MORE dwarf fruit trees, varieties of blueberry, and strawberry plants. This spring, I added another section to my asparagus bed. I have finally finished all my perennial fruit plants ( looks like I found some more places to squeeze some in!). They are small but in a few years will be producing enough fruit to keep us supplied throughout the winter. I finished my frozen raspberries, a few weeks ago. Yum, in yogurt! Organic fruit is just too expensive when you try to purchase it at the store. Growing “organic” fruit on your property is one way to keep yourself healthy and save money.

IMG_8086I wasn’t sure I liked these peony type tulips (Pink Star Tulip from Breck’s), but now I am enjoying them as they flop all over in the garden on top.I don’t know what is up with me this year and the color pink + orange!

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When they first came out, I thought they were a bit unattractive, but boy did they sure catch my eye after they filled out a few days later.

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As you can see from my photo above, I am all CHICKEN WIRED in for spring! I have had a tough time with some of my spring seedlings in years past. Most of them were eaten to the ground by our resident critters. Usually by this time of year; I have lost more than half of my cole crops. I put them out late March to early April when not much else is in the garden. Not this year! Nothing has been eaten. This next week, I will be taking most of the chicken wire down. As I work in our Urban Potager/Modern Day Kitchen Garden, I will enjoy my new tulips as they fill my day with beauty! I will be adding some more this fall in my garden beds, for me to enjoy each spring!

Do you know about battling stress with Lemon Balm Tea?

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After I had been diagnosed with cancer in 2000, I started having issues with “stress and anxiety” in my life. I mentioned this to my doctor years ago, and she prescribed a drug called Zoloft. I tried it for a few weeks, and it did make me feel better, but the thought of having to be dependent on this medication bothered me a great deal. It was in a pill form and often I try to find something that is less synthetic and more natural in my approaches to battling health issues.

My anxiety issues were something new and were not a life long struggle. My heart goes out to people who live with anxiety issues from their early teen years and on into adulthood. Mine was triggered by illness in my adult life. Having adult “anxiety issues” made me more compassionate to others that deal with “anxiety disorders” on a daily basis. I had no idea, before my NHL what it was to have a hard time completing tasks when an anxiety attack put a halt to my daily activities, for example, work or family errands. It is not as easy as learning to “relax” and “slow down” in life. It may be psychological, but the symptoms are very physical and real. I have known several people who have had to go to the emergency room with their anxiety symptoms for they were sure they were having a heart-attack. They were sent home with the information they were experiencing a panic attack. It seems; living in our fast paced world today, more and more people are dealing with these stress-related illnesses.

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                                  Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) It grows about 25 to 36 inches tall but I use mine often, so it does not get that tall. It also provides good lemony flavor to salads, fruit dishes, or fish.

For many years, I used the herb Tulsi or Holy Basil, which I drank as a tea, and it worked wonders for me initially. I grew it in my garden several times, and it was a lovely plant, but after I was prescribed a high dose of prednisone this past summer (to cure my severe poison ivy ), I struggled with anxiety issues again. It was not a pleasant experience, and Holy Basil no longer was providing the relief, as it did in the past. It seems high doses of prednisone may trigger anxiety issues in some people. Well, it did in me! Since Tulsi tea was no longer giving me the relief, I pondered what I would do to deal with the return of my anxiety issues. I decided to try Lemon Balm, which is abundant in my garden and also ideal for insomnia. I had read it is used for anxiety or help in relieving stress, so I decided to give it a try. It worked!!!!IMG_0374

I tried a few Lemon Balm herbal teas from an online company this past winter and found they were bland, with no lemon flavor compared to my fresh lemon balm from the garden. When you grow your own, it is disappointing what they sell on the market for tea. I am freezing this herb this summer for later use in the winter when I don’t have it growing outside. It is one of the first perennial herbs with lovage that shows up in our garden early spring and one of the last to disappear in the fall before the cold weather arrives.

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It is “green medicine” and one that I feel will be beneficial in our urban potager for many years. I’ll let you know how it does when I try it this winter after freezing it! Please be safe using any herbs for they do interact with other medication. I would check with your doctor or read the side effects and interaction of Lemon Balm with other drugs.(read more here about Lemon Balm at Web Med)

Lemon Balm may help

  • digestive problems
  • upset stomach
  • bloating
  • intestinal gas
  • vomiting
  • colic
  • pain
  • menstral cramps
  • menstrual cramps
  • headache
  • toothache
  • anxiety
  • insomia
  • restlessness
  • alzheimer disease
  • attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder
  • high blood pressure
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My original patch of Lemon Balm still comes back every year. I just uncovered it from a pile of leaves today in the garden.

I started my lemon balm from seed which I got from Seed Savers Exchange about 5 years ago. My small patch has spread in my garden. I would sow it in early spring and keep it moist throughout the first season. It is one of the easiest herbs to grow in your garden. It does spread so keep it in check. It makes a lovely plant that provides for beneficial insects in your organic garden. Did I mention it tastes good too! Yep, it sure does, and if you like lemon flavor, you will love this little herb, and I have no doubt you will find other uses for this in your life!

 

 

Grow your own from seed

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Red Veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) which is perennial in our zone 5 garden

When you learn to grow from seed your plants, you are no longer dependent on what the local nursery/garden center sells each season. A whole new variety of annual/perennial edible foods can be grown right where you live in the city. I grow all my annual vegetables, herbs and flowers from seed and do not use any chemicals in the process from start to finish. My seed does not need to be labelled organic if the seed savers do not use any pesticides in the life-cycle of their plants. The important thing is to know the companies you decide to purchase from online.

Most companies have a website that has an about page and if you take the time to research them you will know how your seed is grown. I also look for the Safe Seed Pledge which was created in 1999. Their logo is usually placed somewhere on their website. The Safe Seed  Pledge allows  seed businesses to declare that they “do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds.”

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Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) a native herb that is easy to grow and useful in our Urban Potager

I have created a list of some of the companies that I have found had high germination! You can visit their sites from this page. If you use safe seed pledge seeds you will find they grow well with organic growing methods. These companies are not in any particular order and occasionally I may add  a new company to the list.

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Growing your vegetables, herbs and flowers from seed will be one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. Trust me, once you start growing you will not be able to stop! It can become addictive for you will start reading all the interesting stories behind each plant and wanting to try them ALL in your garden. I have been growing my own edible annuals/perennials for the past ten years and each year, I find a new one I just have to try.

For the past decade, I have grown a variety of Swiss Chards in our urban potager (a potager-French name for vegetables, herbs and flowers growing together) each season.I have enjoyed all of the Swiss Chard I have grown over the years, but eventually, you will find when you grow your vegetables that particular ones do better in your gardens. When you prefer one over another; it seems pointless to have six varieties of one plant when you only use one type in all your cooking.

Macgregor's favorite Beet ( seed sold by Wild Garden Seed)

Macgregor’s favorite Beet ( seed sold by Wild Garden Seed)

My favorite is an heirloom from Scotland called MacGregor’s Favorite Beet. I just love this little beauty! It has the most striking red leaves( filled with flavonoids good for your health!), and it is tender. Swiss Chard is an excellent annual vegetable and this little chard is easy to grow in containers or to edge a garden bed.

I can’t find this heirloom grown by anyone locally. I know it is not sold at the local big box garden centers, so when you learn to grow your organic vegetables from seed you can discover new edible vegetables, herbs, and flowers that no one else will have in your urban area. You also open up your world to new edibles that can help you live an organic life right in the heart of the city!

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