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This time of year my phone blows up…why? Lots of friends and colleagues get the spring fever and want to start their own garden. ¬†LOVE IT!

Instead of emailing or telling them on the phone, I thought I would write a post for all.

It’s really quite easy, but it does take a little investment and some sweat equity. Get your garden gloves, it’s going to be dirty ūüėČ

Fastest I have ever put in my veggies, all due to my Mantis!

Here is my garden bed. ¬†It’s a picture from last year..I will put my baby plants in next weekend after fear of frost is gone.

Here are the 7 steps to starting your own vegetable garden this year.

  1. Raised bed – You need to create a raised bed for your plants. ¬†Why? Usually in this area you have 1 of 2 types of soil and they are all bad ūüėČ It’s Clay or Sandy depending on if you are more east or west. ¬†Again, it’s all bad. While we may be an agrarian state, our soil honestly wasn’t blessed with the best conditions. ¬†Raised beds, not only give you some room to add the right nutrient-rich soil, but also it helps keep about your grass and other weeds from encroaching.

You can usually buy a kit, or you can go and get some 2X4s and make your own.  How big? It depends on how          much time you have to take care of it. Height matters, you want at least 1 foot above ground.

  1. Nutrient rich soil – the best investment you can ever make in your garden isn’t the sexy stuff…no, it’s the soil. That’s the foundation and really the secret to being successful. ¬†You can go to your local nursery or big box home improvement store. It’s usually labeled on the package – soil for veggies. ¬†You don’t have to get the name brand, the generic will do.
  2. Compost – If you have your own, awesome! If not, you can buy some. I usually get 1 of the expensive Black Cow and then one of the generic.
  3. Fertilizer – you can go organic or not…up to your philosophy. ¬†Try to get a slow release fertilizer.
  4. Mix Рjust like a good DJ, mixing matters.  I do 2-1 soil to compost.  Then I add the fertilizer in according to the instructions on the bottle or box.
  5. Plants – add¬†plants. Here in the south tomatoes are a must. ¬†Other vegetables I have had luck with in the summer are cucumbers, squash, zucchini, eggplant and herbs like parsley and basil. ¬†There are others, but those are the staples, and I would say the easiest to manage if you are starting out. <There may still be time to grow your lettuce, kail and spinach…they usually like a few cooler nights to do really well. I like to put a few of these in pots near my house, so I can cut and eat easily.>

Plants or seeds?  That depends.  I find if you are just starting out, you will usually have far more success with           baby plants than seeds, but they are more expensive.  If you are going the seed route, make sure you look at           the germination and growth times and plant accordingly.

6. Water – it sounds so simple, just add water. ¬†After you plant your crop, remember you must water them…almost over water them that first time you transferred them from pot to bed. ¬†I think of it like this…those plants just ran a marathon and are super thirsty and need some water to rest and get settled. ¬†After the initial watering, you will need to keep an eye out for them. ¬†The first few weeks are critical. ¬†Make sure the soil doesn’t get too dry, i.e. cracked, etc. ¬†Don’t drown them…they aren’t trying to swim.

Voila – your first garden. ¬†Kids love them, because they get tp see the magic of something growing. It’s a good lesson for us all in patience too.

NOTE – if you are eager to do this now, beware of the danger of frost. ¬†Usually in NC we wait until after tax day. These summer plants aren’t up for any winter shenanigans. ¬†Have no fear, if you have already done it. ¬†Just keep an eye on the news and if the weather folks say it will frost, get some sheets and cover over night. ¬†Enjoy! Go out there and get dirty!

Happy Gardening.

Melissa

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Prepare yourself…it’s a long one, but it does have a happy ending and a great life lesson.

First I must apologize to all of our loyal readers for my absence from the blog. ¬†My absence turns out to be a life lesson that perhaps you all can learn from me. ¬†Plus, I must say thanks for my dearest friend and co-blog writer for rocking it during my sabbatical…Thank you Chris!

Busy to Bust and then the rise of the Phoenix ¬†—

Don’t let life get in the way of gardening…It is the ultimate healer and reminder of Life’s beauty…

Many of you may know I left my big corporate job to start a business – that business has evolved over the years and like most entrepreneurs, it has consumed me. ¬†I will spare you the details — maybe leave those for a book one day ūüėČ — But suffice it to say, I was busy. Too busy to work my garden…too busy to hang out with my friends and family…too busy to do anything but work. Certainly not the life I had in mind when I left corporate America.

Unfortunately, life had to give me a huge sucker punch to get me to literally stop from being so busy.  This past summer my life was filled with death.

First my dear cat Sanford died of early onset heart disease. ¬†You may be saying, it’s just a cat, but he had become one of the most loving things in my life among my busy-a-palooza. And even more tragic he was the first of many unexpected deaths this past summer.

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Next my business partner, kindred spirit, travel buddy and peer female entrepreneur, Susie Steiner, unexpectedly took her own life. I was beyond shocked. We had just signed a deal to partner on not one but two ventures:¬†48 Innovate¬†and Smarty Pants Productions. ¬†She was my future, at least I thought. She had shown me a new way of life, post divorce and quitting my job. She was my Hillary in that movie Beaches, and I was her CC. We traveled the world in our brief friendship…it was a plot ripe for a Sundance movie.

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We met in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil at a Startup Weekend Summit, then Paris for her big 40th birthday. Then a big adventure pitching an overnight made-up product on a Shark-Tank knock off pilot TV show for “As Seen On TV,” in her hometown Tampa, FL. ¬†Then 3 weeks in New Zealand where we barely survived this epic ferry ride in a BIG tropical storm (I am so proud I didn’t hurl — meanwhile Susie read a book the whole time as we endured 20-30 foot swells on a big ferry boat).

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We had just won second place at Startup Weekend Coca Cola.

Startup Weekend Coca Cola

You couldn’t imagine a more adventurous, supporting friendship. Susie Steiner¬†was a force, sassy with a side of positive, masterful flirt, vegetarian, animal lover and rescuer, guardian ad litem, casual fashionista, accomplished entrepreneur, lover, friend, mom and one of my best friends. I thought she and I would grow old together, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Then I wasn’t busy with work anymore, no I was busy grieving and certainly couldn’t endure the outrageous heat of July to work it out in my garden.

In true rule of threes manner, a final blow for the summer. A long-time friend and Bonnaroo buddy, Kevin Cunningham, took his life in August. I was in the middle of one of these 48 Innovate sessions in Atlanta when I got the call from a friend. She was hoping I wouldn’t see it on Facebook first…stunned, heart-broken.¬†Kevin used to call me¬†“South” because I was one of the only southerners on the Bonnaroo Concessions¬†team.

Kevin and I

He was a passionate gardener who lived in Vermont. We used to always chat about what was growing in our gardens – sometimes it turned competitive…my tomatoes are better than yours <insert friendly raspberry sound>. ¬†In my mad-busy state, I didn’t even take the time to call him all spring or summer to ask what was growing in his garden. Why? Because I was too busy to notice what was in mine, too busy to stop and share with a friend.

Kevin Cunningham was an avid skier, lover of good cold beer, music fan, husband, dad and popularly faux-elected as Centeroo Mayor (Centeroo in the marketplace and center of the Bonnaroo music festival and area I worked in for almost 10 years every summer) living the seemingly carefree rockstar lifestyle, until it was over.

That was officially the final straw…I went BUST.¬†I think I cried the whole month of October. ¬†I turned down work. I withdrew. I was lost.

I find that my life is epic…I win big and I lose big. ¬†I think the universe was trying to tell me something…I guess I was too busy to listen the first or second time.

Fall came around and co-blog writer Chris, forced me to order bulbs.  I did. I planted them but in this obligatory numb, I-better-or-they-will-go-to-waste-sorta-way.

That was the start. 

That bulb planting was the first step into my garden since my workaholic-too-busy-to-notice-breathing-through-a-straw period.

Then I had some trees cut down (they were dying), and the crew left this 9 foot pile ‘O wood chips in my driveway. ¬†I guarantee you the neighbors were talking smack about that (I do live in the south, so that’s considered normal here). It took me 6 weeks¬†to move all that mulch. I did about an hour or 2 a day. It was strangely healing. ¬†Working out my sorrow, my grief, my groundlessness….with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow. <That sounds like the beginning of a great George Jones country song, #justsaying.>

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Then another nudge from my co-blog writer and friend. She gave me the support and courage to write this post. It’s a post about healing. It’s a post to remind you all that spring does come back around. It’s a post to toast new beginnings. Welcome spring. The garden heals in all sorts of ways. Thanks to my garden that reminds me of hope and love and life. I will forever miss my friends. They have taught me an enormous lesson about the tragedy of busyness. They have taught me to focus on my own self care. They have taught me the value of the constant reminder of all of life’s beauty that unfolds with every blossom, every leaf falling, even every snowflake that accumulates and every pile of mulch spread.

I can honestly say, I am a Phoenix rising from the ashes filled with grief and loss.

The lesson of all this…¬†is to be careful with being busy. It’s a seemingly birthright if you are an American. But it isn’t necessarily the best use of your time. Be careful with over-comitting and under-caring for yourself. Let your garden remind you of hope and all the seasons that create the perfect environment to grow incredible things. Your garden has to rest and so do you.

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Your garden can be a source of inspiration from the work you put in it, to the bounty you get out of it. ¬†Don’t let it go, it will save you. Take it from me…It has saved me over and over.

Thanks for being a part of this amazing community. Thanks for making it through this super long post.

Go out there and get dirty….it’s spring and it’s time for new beginnings.

Happy Gardening!

melissa

In loving memory of Sanford, Susie Steiner and Kevin Cunningham. You will be missed, forever. Cheers to your incredible lives!


The last of summer from the garden is always precious and bitter sweet.

harvest_robert2

Pal Robert sent this photo from his Clayton (NC) garden a few days ago. I like the fact that Robert always includes flowers for the table in his pickings.

Last week, friend Margie emailed to say they were still getting tomatoes and peppers in her Douglasville, Georgia garden.

About the same time, I made my last harvest and pulled out the scraggly plants.

harvest_chris

This bounty was followed by a few busy days in the kitchen.

harvest_peppers

I roasted the peppers, made chili, and froze the rest of my roasted peppers in ziplocks.

harvest_canponatabk

With the eggplant and few tomatoes, I cooked a big pan of caponata, the sweet and sour Sicilian relish. My favorite recipe comes from Martha Rose Schuman’s Very Best Recipes for Health. This is the book I reach for most often when I’m cooking fresh veg-

The leftover caponata is in the freezer, making me feel very RICH. What a nice way to transition from summer into fall.

Have you picked your final harvest yet?


Coleus are great mixers. Who can’t use more. So when my little sister gave me these cuttings last month, I couldn’t wait to root them.

coleus1

The cuttings will keep in water for a few days. In fact, they’ll even sprout roots in water. But when it comes time to transition them to soil, I always have too many causalities. That’s why I like to root all my cuttings in professional growers medium. It should be moist, but not soggy. Pack it in pots and use a stick to make a deep hole for each cutting. Don’t crowd. The leaves shouldn’t touch.

coleus2

Rotting hormone speeds the process. Just remember, dump the power out and roll stems. Dipping stems in the container will contaminate your powder.

Note (in the photo below) that I’ve stripped off many lower leaves. Those spots on the stem are where new roots will grow.

coleus3

Next I’m going to knock off the excess power and put the stem in the pot. Press the soil around it well so there are no air pockets.

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Finally, I put my cuttings in pots to protect them, and put my pots in a shady place. These are under a large, open shrub. Don’t let them dry out and in a few weeks, voila–free plants!

colues5

This is also a great method for rooting begonias, hydrangeas and other soft stems. Just remember to take more cuttings than you think you’ll need. Even the greenest thumbs lose some cuttings along the way.

So what’s up with your green thumb these days????


Well, I finally did it.  I pulled out my tomatoes.  It is bittersweet.  Whenever you rip out those summer veggies, you are saying goodbye to that season.

Before: End of the season 2013 Tomatoes

http://www.scotts.com/smg/goprod/osmocote-outdoor-indoor-plant-food/prod70362/

After: A couple of hours of taking out tomato plants and cages

aftertomatoes

While this year wasn’t particularly fabulous because of the massive amount of rain <I swore I would never complain about rain, but this summer was tough….a colleague had a great description of the last couple of years of NC weather: “From Drought to Drench”>, I am grateful for the vegetables I did harvest.

The seasons are changing and that means you need to change your veggies too. ¬†I call it the Great Fall Veggie Transformation — it sounds so epic, but really so simple.

Here are the 5 Steps to Transform your Summer Vegetable Garden into a Fall One:

1)Remove your summer vegetables – take your tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant and others out. ¬†I usually put this out for the city to pick up, so I don’t contaminate my compost pile.

2)Shop and pick out your fall veggies. ¬†I love fall because it makes me think of greens, autumn squash, and other grand root vegetables. I choose lots of kale, cabbage, swiss chard and threw in a few lettuces for fun. ¬†I am going to try to do broccoli and butternut squash – though I haven’t had luck in the past. ¬†But it’s a new season.

3)Collect your good planting soil, Osmocote fertilizer and a trowel and you are ready to plant. BTW-I usually do my major fertilizing in the spring, but of course your little seedlings need to eat.  The slow release Osmocote does the trickРlook for the pink top.

Look for the pink cap! Osmocote fertilizer rocks!

Look for the pink cap! Osmocote fertilizer rocks!

4) Plant your little plugs according to the package.  I usually do it at least 6 inches apart so they have room to grow.  Throw in a sprinkle of Osmocote, the plant plug and cover with good soil.

5) Water. ¬†That’s the final step. ¬†Remember transferring plants can be extremely stressful, so almost over-watering is best to help relieve the stress. Just think after you do strenuous exercise how water can be so healing.

Fall Veggies

My fall vegetables ready to grow. I see collards, kale, swiss chard and other tasty fall vegetables in my future.

Now, just keep up with the rainfall, watering when needed and watch it grow.

That’s it! 5 steps to the Great Fall Veggie Transformation.

Go on…get out there and get dirty!

Happy gardening.

m

A long-time gardener and a passionate beginner share the dirt on their NC gardens-

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