Tag Archives: featured

Making Soap with Soapwort


It’s possible to grow your own soap source through a fantastic herbal plant called Soapwort. Soapwort is one of those little blessings in nature. It is drought tolerant, an easy keeper and yes, it can even be used to make soap.

Soapwort – Saponaria officinalis


Soapwort can produce a nice liquid soap suitable for washing delicate fabrics and can even be a shampoo.

Here is a link worth saving for your own DIY soap making needs: http://theherbgardener.blogspot.mx/2010/03/how-to-make-organic-soap-using-soapwort.html
And here is one of many sources available to get your Soapwort seeds: https://www.seedman.com/soapwort.htm


OSU Video on Soil

Soil is the unsung hero in the circle of life, and in terms of gardening, it is the essential foundation on which to grow everything we need and want.

I had the privilege of participating in a Master Gardener meet-up, where James Cassidy of Information Society talked about aspects of soil that I hadn’t known about before.

For example, he delved into the unique characteristics of clay and how, on a chemistry level, it delivers nutrients to the rest of the soil in a way silt and sand cannot. Clay is a vital component.

The underlying message was that it is important to give priority care to soil and that it helps to cover the major percentage of the work that goes into gardening.

This video is long, but it is a wealth of knowledge coming from Oregon State University. If you have the time to fire it up and go about your chores or just want something to listen to while you work, this is a great opportunity to glean important principles.


The Monkey Puzzle Tree


Years ago, I used to walk my neighborhood route on a regular basis.  I always passed by two of the funniest looking trees I had ever encountered. At the time, there were no smartphones or apps that I could use to snap a photo of these intriguing and funny trees.

Every so often, I would ask anyone with a fair knowledge of tree varieties if they knew of the tree that looked like a cross between an evergreen pine tree and a pineapple top. (That was my best description, but didn’t quite do the tree justice.)

A few short years ago, I finally did track it down to its known name, Monkey Puzzle Tree, and its proper name, Araucaria araucana. *Clutches the name tightly.*

Then I found a great blog post dedicated to this tree and my affection for the Monkey Puzzle has only grown stronger.  It can be used in stacking functions by providing shelter for wildlife, food from nuts, truly permanent agriculture (rumored to live 1000 years!), and a conversation starter.

Major Monkey Puzzle Traits:

They take “forever” to grow up, but they can live to a thousand years!

The female produces cones that hold edible nuts.

It originates from Chile and Argentina.

The tree just stands out. It’s interesting to look at and only gets more odd as the years go on.

It is an evergreen.

Read this great and thorough blog post for more information about the Monkey Puzzle Tree : Permaculture Plants: Monkey Puzzle Tree


A Bushel of Apple Varieties


TL;DR Version:  I found a mega apple directory here: Orange Pippin


In case you ever get tired of the same few apple options available to you at your local grocer, there is an entire directory, Orange Pippin, dedicated to numerous apple varieties spanning from A – Z.

Feast your eyes and get hungry for the crisp sweet deliciousness of these unique types of apples. The variations in apple flavors, textures and visuals can be reminiscent of wine tasting. For instance,  you might pick up notes and textures, with some apples being better suited toward cooking versus eating fresh.

Studying this apple directory is almost like reading a breeding pedigree as the description touches on the parentage, the species and place of origin.

Here is a sample some apple decriptions that may seem unusual:

Allington Pippin – “..a strong pineapple-like flavour..”

Blacktwig – “The ultimate in a tart apple… …adds kick to sweet or hard cider.”

Fortune – “A very good Northern American eating apple with a “spicy” flavor.”

Peasgood’s Nonsuch – “Highly esteemed culinary apple.”

Uttwiler Spätlauber – “..enjoying new-found popularity because of its alleged anti-aging properties.”

Zuccalmaglio’s Reinette (Can you imagine requesting this apple by name?) – “Flavored with tones of wild strawberry, quince, pineapple, ripe pear and a fine floral touch.”

This directory can prove helpful if you would like to find your perfect apple match, should you wish to grow your own apple tree:  


The GardenFrame


The more raised garden beds and planters, the merrier. Any practical, intuitive and beautiful creation that promotes easier ways to build more raised beds, and essentially, more ways to grow plants, is a brilliant win!

The GardenFrame is such a innovative invention. The system is simplicity and elegance. Just choose your preferred design(s) in Garden Steel, Harvest Copper,  or Organic Black and decide what size of a planter/raised bed you want.

Easy 4 step process to build an elegant raised bed.


Get your wood panels from your local hardware store, and slide them right into place. With a bit of securing and anchoring, you have yourself a beautiful gardening container in no time.

Learn more about TheGardenFrame through the website and their Prefundia project site:


The versatility and elegance of The GardenFrame
The versatility and elegance of The GardenFrame



Staple Crops to Grow

What are staple crops?

Staple crops provide a high percentage of calories in your diet and technically take less calories to grow than what they yield.

If you are looking to cultivate staple crops, or simply expand into different crop varieties for the next growing season, here are some staples to consider:

winter-squashWinter Squash – this is a versatile crop and a very easy keeper. It stores for a long time, yielding delicious squash “meat” that can be incorporated into all sorts of hearty, scrumptious dishes.

There are a lot of varieties of winter squash to choose from as a gardener. Seed companies generally offer an array of winter squash cultivars to choose from. You may already be remembering your favorite meals using butternut, acorn or a “sweet meat” variety.

Perhaps you bought or harvested squash recently and can’t wait to incorporate them into your meals. Here’s a recipe we spotted that looks exceptionally delicious: http://www.inspiredtaste.net/25065/cinnamon-roasted-butternut-squash-recipe/ 

corn-staple-crop1Corn – For many of us, when we think corn, we think of that amazing fresh sweet corn, dabbed with butter and perfect for summer barbecue.

There are a lot of amazing varieties of corn that make for an excellent staple crop for making corn flour (masa harina).  Homemade masa harina is the base for corn tortillas and chips. Corn is also used to make polenta, grits and cornbread.

There is a reason why you see corn listed in so many products, because it is highly diverse. Farmers know that its best to use every part of the plant, which is how its byproducts have become a staple in several of today’s favorite items. You can use corn in the same way. With some precautions in mind, corn stalks, for instance, can be used as animal feed.

If flint/maize corn sounds like a good staple, you can have a lot of fun perusing seed companies to choose a corn variety that fits your tastes and growing needs.

amaranth-stapleAmaranth – This is a highly versatile crop that can be used for many functions.  It is a low maintenance plant that offers high yield in edible product.

Sow Amaranth heavily and densely.  You can thin it out, using the young, vibrant colored leaves like you would cook spinach.

Once Amaranth has fully grown, you can feed the leaves to sheep, goats or other livestock. If you keep the leaf sets in tact, they also provide beautiful filler decoration for florists!

What many know Amaranth for though, is the rich bounty of alternative grain it provides.

To invigorate your creative Amaranth cooking, I’m including a really fun Pinterest board for your enjoyment:


taters-staplePotatoes – The tried and true spud variety of the Nightshade family. There’s so much more to this crop than a Russet (no knocking a good Russet).

Potatoes come in an amazing assortment of types, flavors, colors and even growing times. This means with a little planning, you can open up a world of variety and pace them throughout the year.

Keep them in a well aerated, moisture-free, and dark storage space and they will last a long time after harvest.

When you grow your own, fresh from your own garden or crop field, you’re getting the most nutrition from your potato. Incorporate blue and red potatoes to get the extra benefits of anthocyanins and lycopene.

There are many, many more staple crop options to incorporate. It all depends on your tastes and growing situation. If you have the space and growing conditions, tree nuts are another great consideration.


I encourage you to read through this forum thread for more ideas and tips: https://permies.com/t/51692/Staple-crops

Craft your seedling pots


As  the months get darker and cooler, a great project to engage in is crafting seedling pots from newspaper. If you dedicate a couple evenings a week for making a handful of pots, they would stack up to a lot of upcycled growing containers that are ready to go.

Priticious, a blog that combines my favorite subjects (crafting and gardening) offers a handy tutorial with step-by-step photos to demonstrate how the process works.

When it’s time to start seedlings, you’ll get to enjoy your work all over again as you fill them with starting mix.

See how to make newspaper pots here:  http://priticious.com/category/gardening/page/7/


Showing soil some love

Most gardeners already know that soil is really important.  We test it for ph levels, turn it in early spring, amend it, and mulch it. Even as we engage symbiotically with it throughout the year, it is important to remember to show soil your appreciation by giving back whenever possible and in as many ways as possible.

Healthier soil means a better planet. When we all care for what we have on our own scale, we make a big impact on the globe.

Food52 recently published a fantastic and inspiring article which addresses 4 ways that we can support good soil:  https://food52.com/blog/18103-4-ways-we-can-support-good-soil-the-source-of-good-food

Maximize Minimal Space


Got limited ground space for gardening? Are you confined to balconies and patios?

Things to consider:

Grow summer squash and cucumbers vertically- same for tomatoes. They can be trained!

Consider different root depths and spans. The right combination can keep vegetables tightly grown together without cramping healthy growth space. This can also make it difficult for weeds to find soil to land on.

Think of plant placement in a 3D way. Trellis, hanging plants, vertical gardens, and herb spirals can give you extra ‘cube’ footage.

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds

Here are three helpful blog posts with more ideas:

1. The Balance shares 10 high yield veggie ideas that fit the bill: https://www.thebalance.com/high-yield-vegetable-plants-for-small-garden-spaces-1388683

2. Here’s a great post with tips on balcony and small space gardening. They touch on making sure your plants are suited to your sun exposure and space limitations:  http://www.surrey.ca/community/5974.aspx

3. This post from She Knows gives some extra creative suggestions from growing herbs indoors to design strategies:  http://www.sheknows.com/home-and-gardening/articles/957533/edible-gardens-in-small-spaces