Teach a Man to Fish

We all know the old saying: “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” But what happens when the corporations take that one step too far, fishing the oceans and rivers to near extinction? And what does any of it have to do with gardening?

Two things, actually. The first, is that the big fishing question is just one more component of a much larger food security coin that growing our own food at home can help to address. The second, is the growing movement known as aquaponics.

Aquaponics is basically a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics, comprised of fish tanks and garden troughs. The waste from the fish fertilizes the plants. The plants purify the water for the fish. And because it all happens in a closed, water-conserving system, aquaponics is especially interesting for low-rain areas such as our high-desert. I hope to be learning and posting a lot more about aquaponics in the near future, but in the mean time, check out these videos from two companies dedicated to growing aquaponic culture, Friendly Aquaponics in Hawaii and Colorado Aquaponics in Denver.

You can also get a basic overview at the Growing Power website.

Grow an Avocado Tree

Thanks to the communications miracle that is Facebook and GardenBookstore.net, I found this great blog entry on how to grow an avocado tree from a left-over pit (especially fun for kids).

Now I will admit, I have tried on many occasions to do just that, but I’ve had very little luck. Turns out I left out one very important step — drying the pit before putting it in the water. But now that I know, I will definitely give it another try (and post the pictures here)

And do share your adventures in indoor avocado propagation as your projects progress.

Memorial Day Gardening Challenge

Whether you’re remembering current or past soldiers, a lost loved one or an important occasion from your past, plant something in their honor this weekend. Here are a few thoughts to get you started.

If you’re planting for a person:
– Plant their favorite fruit or vegetable; if you have the space, try a dwarf fruit tree which can give you decades of memories
– Make a mini-garden of ingredients from their favorite type of cuisine
– Plant their favorite flower
– Choose another flower or plant that has meaning — lilies for your Aunt Lily, a palm tree for the grandfather who loved the tropics, a World War II Memorial rose for a veteran of that war

If you’re remembering a special event, consider the following questions to help you decide what to plant:
– Were there flowers or other foliage used as backdrop or decoration? If so, you can plant one of those.
– Did the event take place in a special or unique location? Plant something either related to or from that place.
-Was there a special meal associated with the event? Plant an ingredient.

Whenever possible, try to plant evergreen or perennial plants. Unless you want to create an annual memorial planting tradition, you’ll want something that will come back year after year to keep the memories alive.

Build a Raised Gardening Bed

There are many reasons to build a raised bed for your vegetable garden. Inhospitable soil, a gardener’s special needs and digging pets are just a few. Recently my mother decided to build a raised vegetable bed against the back wall of her house, so we spent Mother’s Day doing just that. The bed she designed was 16 feet long by 27 inches long by 16 inches high.

We used:

  • Cement blocks (24)
  • Half blocks (4)
  • Cap stones (13)
  • Sand (10 – 60 lb. bags)
  • Rebar (30 – 24″ bars)
  • Concrete adhesive


  • Level
  • Rubber mallet
  • Sledge hammer
  • Stakes and string

Begin by deciding where you’d like to place your raised bed and how big you’d like it to be. Measure carefully then use those measurements to calculate how many blocks, half-blocks and cap-stones you will need. We used approximately 1 60 lb. bag of sand for every 3 blocks. Rebar should be at least 6″ longer than the height of your wall. The longer it is, the more sturdy it will be. Make sure there are no pipes or drains directly below where your wall will be so you don’t risk damaging them when you install the rebar.

Once you’ve done the math and picked up your supplies, you can get to work. First, clear away all weeds and debris. It also helps to loosen the soil approximately 6 inches below the surface. Once that’s done, level the bed — especially the area where you will be building your walls. The more level you can get it now, the quicker the wall building will go later.

If you are building your bed against a wall or fence, you will need to install some sort of water barrier to protect the structure from rot and/or pests (dirt against exposed wood is a termite’s dream). For easiest installation, use a water barrier with an adhesive on one side. It costs a little more, but the time savings and ease of installation are worth it.

If weeds are a problem in your garden-to-be, cover the bed with weed blocking fabric. Newspaper is another way to suppress weeds, but because it breaks down over time you may want to use something more permanent under the wall itself. If you are growing vegetables with deep root systems, leave the center of the bed free of weed block so the roots can pass freely. This is especially important for root vegetables.

Once the fabric is down, pour a layer of sand on top of it. This will make it easier to level the blocks as you install them. Install one block at a time working from one corner to another, leveling as you go. Tapping the blocks with a rubber mallet can help. For best results, tie a string between two stakes as a guide to keep the wall straight.

Fill holes in cement blocks with sand to help stabilize them. Insert rebar (rebar should be at least 6 inches longer than the height of your wall) into the outside corners of each hole along the side closest to where the dirt will be. This will help support the weight of the dirt and make sure the wall does get pushed outward over time.

Hammer rebar down into the blocks using a sledge or other heavy hammer. Note that the rebar may stop when it hits the weed cloth, but another hit or two should push it through. If that doesn’t work, you may have hit a rock. Reposition the rebar and try again. For maximum strength, make sure you always place the rebar along the side of the block that will be supporting the dirt.

Once the wall is complete, and the blocks are filled, wet the sand thoroughly. This will help the sand settle down into the blocks and stabilize the wall. When it dries, add cement cap-stones to the top the wall using a cement adhesive to keep them in place. Once the wall is complete, cement blocks can be painted or brushed with white-wash for a more professional (or more colorful) look.

Once your walls are finished, just add soil and plant. The number of blocks and quantity of other materials you’ll need will depend on the size and height of your bed and the materials you choose. Be sure to do the math ahead of time to avoid installation problems and multiple trips to the store.

Plant a Hanging Salad Basket

Here’s a quick, easy way to have fresh greens all summer long (or year-round if you live in a mild-winter area). All you need are a few simple, inexpensive items:

  • Hanging planter
  • Potting soil or soiless potting mix
  • Lettuce or mixed greens seeds
  • A shady location to hang your basket
  • Wire screen (optional)

I selected a plastic self-watering container because it needs to be watered less often than other hanging baskets, but just about any hanging container with good drainage will do. Once you select your container, just:

  • Add soil
  • Sprinkle the seeds on top
  • Water gently so the seeds don’t get washed away
  • Hang the basket in a lightly shaded spot — tree branches work great because they allow some sun to pass through their leaves while protecting the tender lettuce from the worst afternoon heat

If you have birds or squirrels in your area, you may want to cover the basket with wire screen to protect the seedlings from getting snapped up before they are big enough for your plate.

After that, just keep the soil evenly moist and you’re on your way to delicious gourmet greens at a fraction of their store-bought price. For best results and to keep the goodness coming:

  • Snip only a few leaves from each plant at a time
  • When a plant is done producing, pull it out and sprinkle in more seeds


Grow a Salsa Garden

This year, give your Cinco de Mayo celebration a gardener’s twist by planting a salsa garden. It’s a great way to add fresh latin flavor to any meal.

For my salsa garden I chose:

  • 1 Cherokee Purple tomato
  • 1 Garden Salsa chili pepper
  • 1 Jalapeno peper
  • Several onions (I purchased a small six-pack and shared it with friends)
  • 1 cilantro

You’ll need:


  • A large pot and potting soil or clear planting area in your garden that receives at least six full hours of sun per day
  • One tomato cage per tomato plant
  • Mulch
  • A variety of salsa vegetable and herb plants


To plant your salsa garden:

  • Clear your planting bed of any rocks and weeds (find container planting instructions and tips here)
  • Leaving your plants in their pots, arrange them on the soil to decide where each plant will go–put the tallest plants in the back so they don’t block the sun from reaching the smaller plants
  • Dig a hole for each plant slightly wider and deeper than its current pot
  • Plant each plant
  • Water thouroughly
  • Mulch

Be sure to water regularly throughout the season and by early august, you should have all the makings of the perfect fiesta.

Have more space? Consider planting a dwarf lime tree or an indoor avocado for even more options.

Dig deeper:
A Salsa Garden with Everything but Nachos

Do-It-Yourself Gutter Garden

Looking for more space in a small garden? Consider this clever idea: Create a vertical garden using low-cost or salvaged rain gutters.

Suzanne Forsling of Juneau, Alaska attached gutters to the side of her house creating not only additional space, but a planting area that helped alleviate some of the problems associated with the difficult Alaska climate (cold ground, low light levels, etc.).

Of course because the gutters are relatively shallow, you’ll need to choose carefully what you’ll plant there. Salad greens are a great choice, but Suzanne also had good luck with radishes.

One Garden tip: If you don’t have a wall or fence available, consider mounting the gutters to free-standing posts. Add locking casters to create a movable living wall that can be used to divide your outdoor space into separate rooms.

Dig deeper:

Create a “Greenhouse” Window

Here is a great project from blogger Kelly Tirman. Originally built to hide an unsightly view, it’s also a perfect way to maximize sun exposure for indoor plants. Imagine each pot filled with a different herb, perched right above the kitchen sink. It would make cooking with the freshest ingredients a breeze.

Here are Kelly’s instructions.

Here is what you will need:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdriver
  • L brackets (four brackets for each shelf)
  • 1/4 inch thick glass cut to fix your window (one for each shelf)
  • Small potted plants and/or collectibles

Prep: Measure your window to determine the size of your shelves and how many shelves you would like in your window. Consult your local glass company for the pieces of glass (I use Theisen Glass).

Installation: Secure your L brackets in place with a screwdriver and place your pieces of glass on top. Once the shelves are in place add your potted plants and/or collectibles.

I love this idea, especially for apartment dwellers who want to maximize their planting space. One note, if you rent you may want to check your rental agreement or talk to your landlord to make sure you won’t be charged for removal when you move out.

For more great money-saving ideas visit KellyTirman.com.

Plant an Heirloom Victory Garden

If you’re looking for great taste, want to save your seeds to replant next year, hope to help preserve historic vegetable varieties, or just love plants with a sense of history, an heirloom vegetable garden may be just what you’re looking for.

For my heritage victory garden I chose an assortment of historic American favorites including:

  • 1 Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Buster tomato (Tip: If you have enough space, consider planting an assortment of heirloom tomatoes in a range of sizes, colors, and flavors.)
  • 1 Bull’s Blood beet
  • 1 packet Blue Lake bean seeds
  • 1 packet Danvers carrot seeds (Tip: If you’re planting carrots or other root vegetables in a container, select a dwarf variety to avoid mishapen roots.)
  • 1 packet Pink Beauty radish seeds

If you you have trouble finding heirloom seeds in your local nursery, try buying online. Seed Savers Exchage offers a wide variety of heritage vegetable seeds and has recently started shipping transplants as well.

You’ll need:

  • A large pot and potting soil or clear planting area in your garden that receives at least six full hours of sun per day
  • One tomato cage per tomato plant
  • Hooks and garden twine or a small trellis for beans to climb
  • Mulch
  • A variety of heirloom vegetable and herb plants

Plant your heirloom victory garden:

  • Leaving your plants in their pots, arrange them on the soil to decide where each plant will go–put the tallest plants in the back so they don’t block the sun from reaching the smaller plants, be sure to pay close attention to the spacing requirements, especially with seeds (Tip: In containers, plant seeds approximately 1/3 closer together than in a traditional garden to maximize space. Find container planting instructions and tips here.)
  • Dig a hole for each plant slightly wider and deeper than its current pot
  • Plant each plant
  • Water thouroughly
  • Mulch

Be sure to water regularly throughout the season and by late summer, you’ll be ready to declare victory over bland store-bought tomatoes and other long-distance produce.