A Jade to Cuddle With

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Houseplants are easy to love and especially dear in the winter. When endless rains lead to more days of damp and gray, a trip to the plant store can really brighten your mood.

I found this, my latest crush while poking around my favorite micro-garden store. The dealer…ahem…plant lady told me that it’s called a “Spoon Jade”

Note the “Snork“-like leaves in deep green tipped with red and dappled with little white spots. A plant this glorious needed a suitable container. So I hied myself to the local thrift store and found the perfect pot. With one caveat…no drainage hole.

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Now I know that planting a succulent in a pot with no drainage is generally considered a bad idea, but I thought might be able to get away with it as I’ve seen others do with pebbles in the bottom.

What do you think? Is this jade doomed or does it have a chance? I plan to water quite sparingly, so I’m hoping that it will thrive as long as it has enough light.

Have you acquired any new houseplants this winter? So far besides this jade, I’ve taken on an orchid, an echeveria, and a fuzzy-leaved kalanchoe. It’s so nice to have green growing things in your home this time of year, isn’t it?

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Book Crush: Your Farm in the City

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This week’s Book Crush takes place at Lake Samish in Bellingham on a chilly morning. I don’t know about you, but in the winter, I appreciate these little moments with nature even more.

The leaves at the water’s edge were crispy and rimed with frost. Songbirds were busy in the trees looking for berries and seeds. And a heron flew over the lake, its broad wings outspread and luminous in the early morning light.

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Just in time for the holidays, I’m here to tell you about one of my favorite gardening books published in recent years. “Your Farm in the City: An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals” is a beautiful paean to the joys of growing and harvesting your own food, as well as extremely useful how-to guide for old and new gardeners alike.

you farm in city 2Written collaboratively by Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth ( a wonderful organic gardening association out of Seattle), this book is well organized into helpful topics like “Building Healthy Soil”, pest management or “Loving your Enemies” and “Extending the Harvest”. There’s also an entire chapter on animal husbandry featuring city-friendly farm animals like chickens, ducks, bees and even goats.

Published by Black Dog and Leventhal out of New York, the physical book is beautiful in its own right. Printed in natural muted tones of green, ivory and brown with gorgeous graphics of vegetables, insects and various garden dwellers, it is an absolute pleasure to page through. I also appreciated the budget friendly tips sprinkled throughout such as how to make your own paper pots, the actual essentials for canning and how to build your own rabbit hutch. Taylor’s writing is at once straightforward and charming, a wonderful read on a cold winter’s night with a hot cup of tea in hand.

 

 

 

 

Evergreen Wreath D.I.Y.

WreathintroThis morning my husband woke up to “Christmas with the Rat Pack” playing at full blast and our kitchen table covered in fir boughs, holly and other forest gleanings. Was this some sort of mad holiday bacchanalia?

Naw, it was just me finishing up our new wreath for the front door. While he gave me his sleepy thoughts on twig placement over morning coffee, I reflected that making evergreen wreaths is probably one of my favorite random skills I’ve picked up over the years.

All it takes is a frame from the craft store (which only costs a few dollars) and some evergreen boughs (easily gathered after a winter storm).
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What You’ll Need:

  • Wire Wreath Frame
  • Evergreen Boughs
  • Pruners
  • Pliers
  • Wire
  • Wirecutters
  • Decor: Ribbons, bows, twigs, berries etc.

To Start:

Make a small bouquet of evergreen sprigs. I use about four or five. You can trim them now for more uniformity or leave them long for a wild, woodsy look.

IMG_20141203_120838023Now lay your bouquet between two spikes, then fold them over with the pliers. Try to get them fairly tight, but don’t hurt yourself. You’re going to overlap all your succeeding bouquets of greens and by the time you’re finished, you’ll find that it’s quite sturdy.

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It comes together pretty quickly. And once you’ve laid your base, you can begin to wire on fun things like bits of holly and twig.

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Before long you’ll have your own homemade wreath to hang on the front door, over the mantel or wherever you choose to show off your mad crafting skills.

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This wreath was primarily based on found woodland bits and bobs, but remember you can go so many directions….sparkly ornaments, gingerbread people, robots….basically a wreath can reflect whatever your current interests might be.

Have fun with it. Happy holidays guys!

Hello Garden: Weeding and Winterizing

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This one picture is pretty indicative of where our garden is at right now. With a busy September, that involved some harvesting but very little weeding, our little patch was definitely ready for some TLC.

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One of my main tasks was to weed the rows between beds which had been taken over by dock, buttercup and other familiar “enthusiastic” volunteers. I also wanted to put down some cover crop and a little straw mulch, to keep the rains at bay and help create good soil tilth for next spring.

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As you can see, I definitely had my work cut out for me. I pulled out the last of our beets and carrots, as well as a little garlic. One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that I’m definitely not a winter gardener. Or at least not at this point in my life. Maybe, if I was gardening at home or I got an office job and really, really missed being outside, that might change. But for now, I am happy to put my garden to bed come winter and save the rainy garden days for my clients’ yards.

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Here’s a couple shots of the cover crop seeds I planted. This year I’m trying a mixture with peas and rye among other things. I’m excited to see how it affects the soil nutrition next spring. And of course, am leaving a “control” space of my garden cover crop free. That area I plan to just mulch. It will be interesting to compare soil profiles next spring, I hope to do a mail-in soil test with one of our local labs then.

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Here’s the finished work. You can see a few leeks, and our pruned back raspberries in the background but not a whole lot else. Ahhh, it feels good. Now for the other half of the garden….

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Ah well, next week! With any luck, this gardener will have things wrapped up before December….

Grow Love: The Pepper King with Dave Ledoux

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A little while back I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Ledoux, a garden blogger out of southwestern Ontario. Dave is a heck of a nice guy and a phenomenal gardener. He and his wife grow an abundant garden rich with edibles, flowers and herbs every year. He writes about his passion for growing on his blog “Back to My Garden” and even hosts a top-rated podcast that features many of his fellow garden bloggers.

We chatted via e-mail, and I learned a lot about peppers, the importance of soil amendment and how jiu jitsu makes for better gardeners. You can read more about Dave and his garden adventures below!

What zone or climate do you garden in?

I’m on the shores of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario, midway between Detroit and Toronto.  They say its zone 5b, but here’s what I do know.  We get the last frost in early May, and first frost in early October. There is a constant breeze off the big lake, making it important to harden the seedlings in the spring.  July is crazy hot, and we often get warm Octobers.  And snow.  Lots of snow.

Does it have any special advantages?

There are a lot of old farming communities in my area.  The local Farmer’s Markets are quite exceptional.  There are numerous roadside stands with great produce and flowers and even some herbs.  Most of the old tobacco farms have gone to ginseng, garlic, and vegetables, so its quite a productive area.

When were you bit by the gardening bug?

My first memory of having a job was around age 4 or 5.  We had a half acre vegetable garden in sandy soil.  My job was to walk the rows of potatoes with a jar, picking the potato bugs by hand.  I grew up picking raspberries, tons and tons of raspberries!  But I didn’t really get into gardening as an adult until well into my forties.  I always tried to help my wife for the past 17 years as she gardened but it was always her thing, not my thing.  It wasn’t until I first grew my own hot pepper that I caught the passion. Funny how 1.3 million Scoville units can have that effect.

 Are you Hans Solo in the garden or an Ewok? …(Pardon the Star Wars reference, but I AM that age, so it couldn’t be helped;)

My wife is the General, I’m at best a Lieutenant.  I take her direction.  I’m at that phase where I still have emotional attachments to stuff I plant, and I’m sure I would kill half of it with too much fertilizer if she wasn’t guiding me.

What’s your favorite season in the garden?

In late June you really get the feeling like “wow, look at this green stuff!  All those little seedlings from April turned into THIS!  TREMENDOUS!”

 How much planning/design do you do in your garden? What’s your process?

In the “offseason” it’s like my wife is planning a NASA space mission.  Graph paper.  Everywhere!  We have a dozen raised beds for the vegetables, and when you factor in crop and bed rotation it gets complicated.  She keeps excellent records.  Then you add in a dozen beds for flowers, herbs and exotics and WOW!

 Where do you draw garden inspiration from?

I’m a HUGE fan of the EATING!  Cooking and canning drives the plan, along with sitting on the couch by the fire going through online seed catalogs.  We go page by page through Baker Creek and we get carried away.  Last summer we grew 23 varieties of heirloom tomatoes!  This coming season I think we’re up to a half dozen new types of peppers.  Its endless, and fun as heck!

Most of our seeds comes from online companies like Baker Creek, Harvest Heritage, West Coast Seeds and Incredible Seeds. We are part of the Seeds of Diversity program.  There are shows where gardeners trade seeds.  It feels a little bit like being a Star Trek fan at Comicon.  Lots of enthusiasm and fun people!

We did a lot of seed saving this year.  Part of the fun was eating all these varieties of tomatoes, then deciding which ones to save.  Same for the peppers.  Just a whole lot trickier.  HINT: wear gloves. Ghost peppers are no joke.

Naga Viper October 2014 DavidwithPepperandTomato

 What do you really LOVE to grow?

I have become transformed as a pepper head.  It started with a chile variety called a “Red Rocket” and became a dangerous obsession from there.  My little Naga Viper in a pot has become like a pet.  I move it around in the yard, and recently brought him indoors under the grow lights.  We made an extreme hot sauce this autumn, I call it “Zeus”.  You add it by the thimblefull to salsa or meat, and its FYHA!  Next season I’m stepping up in weight class with the Trinidad Scorpion.

How much cooking do you do from your garden?

Eating and canning are a huge part of us finding joy in the garden.  We roast our own sunflowers seeds in October (if the blue jays don’t eat them all first!). Carrots, multi-color dragon carrots, sliced and wrapped in tinfoil with butter on the bbq for 30 minutes.  3 kinds of beets.  Eggplants, sliced thin brushed with oil on the bbq.

I get nearly a pint of fresh raspberries every 2-3 days from my patch. Malabar spinach, watercress, Bronze Arrowhead lettuce, lots of salads all summer.  Radishes the minute the ground warms up.  23 types of tomatoes, peppers, and a alarming amount of green beans!  Next season sqash, melons, and a couple of new surprises.

That all sounds delicious! Have you ventured into canning?

YES – Over 100 jars for the 2 of us this season!  This is where having a General and a Lieutenant that work well together comes in handy.  I am a whiz at peeling apples, slicing onions, chopping garlic and peppers while my wife runs the big picture.  We made salsa, pickled beets, pickled beans, pickled peppers, peach hot sauce, Zeus hot sauce, pickled carrots, homemade chutney, and about 40 pounds of apple crisp.

To any of the men that read this…my big takeaway has been my attitude towards food.  When you grow it and then can it, you have invested a lot of physical energy into it.  I find I value it way more, am conscious of it and enjoy it.  The repetitive actions to produce it have almost a meditative effect.  I really understand the health benefits that gardening provides.

Which plants have been hard to grow? Any garden “fails”?

The big failures have been the most educational.  One of our beds has been killing our zucchini plants for 3 straight seasons.  This year 4 plants, no fruit, only male flowers.  We bought the soil testing kit and our levels were dismal!  This AH-HA moment got us into serious amending.  Our arsenal includes sulfur pellets, bone meal, egg shells, mushroom compost and Annie Haven’s Manure Tea.

 How do you prep your garden for the winter? Do you grow anything in the winter?

YUUUP!  We converted an old pool table in the basement to a winter garden.  We have some fluorescent grow lights on a timer, and my Naga Viper is there, along with a Jalapeno and soon a salad garden experiment.

Our municipality has a brown garden waste bag program, so the garden gets ripped up and bagged when we put it to bed.  Canadian Thanksgiving is the second week of October, and its a good marker on the calendar.

This season I moved 2 yards of mushroom compost wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow from my driveway to the backyard and aggressively amended all the beds and containers.  Our new fig tree is moved from the container garden to the heated garage, the strawberries get covered, coriander seeds get picked, its a very unique time of the year in the garden.

I find myself conscious now of seasons and the calendar, it’s fascinating.

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 What brought you to garden blogging?

I started my first web site in 1995.  Back then we called the internet “The Information Super Highway”.  I’ve taught blogging as a profession for many years, both as a coach and as an advisor.  Garden blogging is unique in that we get to document and share such an interesting passion with others who are enthusiastic about it as well.

Flower fanatics are very different in their approach and interest than vegetable or herb fans.  Gardening is such a diverse and enormous world that there is never a dull moment with a ton of personality and opinions.  The message and mission is extremely important – GROW SOMETHING!

And how did you get into podcasting? What do you enjoy most about it?

I LOVE podcasting!   I get to entertain, educate and inspire gardeners during their rush hour commutes.  Why listen to a boring radio when you can get tips from gardening royalty like Shawna Coronado, Joe Lamp’l, Annie Haven and British gardening rockstars like Michael Perry and Andy McIndoe?  Erin, you did a brilliant interview on the podcast!  Every single episode I learn something, and I hope the listeners do as well.

What do you do when you’re NOT gardening?

My wife and I are members of our local opera guild, and we love going to the opera.  She is actively involved in her pottery guild, and loves smooshing her hands in the clay.  I am still participating in combat sports, and go to jiu jitsu 3 days a week.

It’s like human chess.  There is a certain satisfaction with tapping out a kid 40 pounds heavier and 20 years younger.  The meditative effects of working with clay, gardening and jiu jitsu are all related.  When a 190 pounds athlete is kneeling on my chest squeezing my head, I am not thinking about bills, world events or politics.  The mind is blank, the inner critic is quieted, and stress is reduced.

What has gardening brought to your life?

We live in fast paced times.  Gardening helps people to reconnect with a primal part of ourselves.  The therapeutic benefits of gardening are undisputed.  For the next generation it is even more important to get that awareness of where food actually comes from.  It was a startling moment when I realized I had been eating my wife’s produce and canning for 15 years without thinking about how much work she put into it.

When I started to participate and contribute I started to VALUE the entire process.

Crystal ball time: What do you see in your “garden future”?

For me, the fascinating aspect of creating new gardeners is the progression.  In my case it started with 1 pepper plant of my own, and a great teacher in my wife.  Gardeners are like golfers.  No one wakes up one day with the goal of spending a thousand dollars on sticks to dress funny and hit a ball around a field.  Every passionate golfer was introduced to the sport by an experienced golfer.  Every passionate gardener was first “encouraged” by a mentor in the garden.  I hope I can encourage an entire new generation of gardeners.  I feel the podcast can bring the passionate gardener closer to the novice, connect them, inspire them and then set them off on their own path.

Wouldn’t it be cool to touch a million brand new gardeners in the next decade?  And all because we all blog about our gardens, share our pictures on social media, encourage people to plant milkweed and pollinator gardens, and share the message.  The best is yet to come!

Well said Dave!

If you want to hear more from Dave, check out his blog www.backtomygarden.com or connect with him via Twitter.

Gardening with Kitty: Grow Your Own Garlic

IMG_20141029_101636Garlic is a pretty low-maintenance crop. It chills in the ground for ten months or so and then rewards you with pungent, juicy cloves that you’ll be tempted to snack on right out of the ground. They smell that good. And they taste even better…

Notice the paws in the picture above? This post was meant to be about planting garlic in a container. But when I went out to my porch, my cat followed me outside to see what sort of hijinks I was up to. And then she proceeded to poke her adorable kitty nose into every shot.

So now this post is about planting garlic in a container and entertaining your cat in the process. For our cat, a morning spent on the porch planting funny, smelly things was great entertainment. If you have a cat, may I suggest including him or her in the fun?

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Garlic can be planted from early October to early November. And for those of you in apartments or condos like me, you don’t have to forgo this succulent allium, it’s all in the soil prep.

Alliums can be susceptible to fungal issues. However, if you provide sufficient drainage and healthy soil, you will be in good shape. Don’t be tempted to dig up some soil from outside. Regular garden soil will compact in a container and hold too much water.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • A container apx. 1 foot wide and 1.5 feet tall, with holes in the bottom for drainage
  • A good lightweight potting mix, if you can find one with coco coir- it is an excellent ingredient that won’t hold too much moisture
  • Seed garlic from a reputable nursery or online seed source- Yes, you can buy it at a grocery store, but it may very likely harbor disease. Also you will need to choose between hardneck or softneck garlic. (I like the hardneck varieties because they tend have larger cloves and be a bit more flavorful. However, the softneck varieties store better and braid nicely.)
  • A good even-numbered organic fertilizer. You don’t want to push too much growth early on here, but garlic likes fertile soil, so you want it to be there when your garlic needs it. And YES please use a complete organic fertilizer. It provides micro-nutrients and secondary macro-nutrients besides the big 3 (Nitrogen-Phosporus-Potassium).

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Planting:

Fill your container to 2″ from the top. Then poke little holes in the soil about 4″ apart, and a couple inches from the edge of the container.

Take apart your cloves, and try to preserve the papery covering. This will help protect the cloves from rot. Now place them in the soil about 3″ down, and cover back up. Remember, pointy side up!

At this point, following the application rates on the container, you can mix some fertilizer in. And, if your container is somewhere under cover, you want to water a little and keep it evenly moist. (Moist not wet) For those containers on open decks/patios, you will probably have plenty of rain to keep your garlic happy.

And now you’re finished until Spring…

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On Fertilizing and Be-Heading:

In the spring, you can start feeding your garlic with a high-nitrogen liquid organic fertilizer every few weeks. I like to side-dress it with a little blood meal or bat guano as well. If you’re growing hardneck garlic, be sure to cut off the scapes when they form. This will re-direct energy back down to the bulb. And besides, scapes are delicious! Around this time, early summer is when I lay off with the fertilizer.

When Do I Make Pesto?

Okay, how to know when the garlic is ready. This is important, if you leave the cloves in the ground too long, they will lose that awesome papery covering that’s so great for storage. But you don’t want to pick too early, or your cloves will be too small. When the leaves start to turn brown, contain your excitement. Wait until there are oh, about six or so green leaves left on the plant. Then you can dig up your garlic and enjoy!

Any questions? Have you grown garlic in containers before? Any hot tips? I’d love to hear about them. Please do leave your thoughts in the comments below…

 

The Mysterious Mr. Fox

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Now that the season’s winding down,  I wanted to send my gardening clients a little thank-you note. And of course, since Halloween is my absolute, number one favorite holiday, it just had to be a Halloween card!

I’ve had foxes on the brain ever since our little excursion here. With that in mind, I thought what about a fox dressed up for All Hallows Eve in a mysterious mask? Oh yeah, I’m all about the adorable critters.

IMG_20141023_140813416 IMG_20141022_125707581_HDR IMG_20141022_132305215_HDR IMG_20141023_140921052A couple years ago I made some Valentine’s cards with potato stamps, and had a lot of fun doing it. So I wanted to give it another go. Here’s my process.  To make these I simply did some trial sketches, then outlined them on my potato. I made a few different fox faces and ended up with this one. After the fox had dried, I carved a little mask, and dipped that in black acrylic paint. Voila! Foxes! I added the eyes and nose with a black gel pen.

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On the inside, I wrote, “Thanks for a Boo-tiful 2014”. Because, you know, the only thing awesomer than Halloween is a Halloween pun. How about you? Are you making any Halloween cards or crafts this year?

Apple Cake and Roasted Chicken

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IMG_20141018_130956492 This weekend we indulged ourselves in a long, leisurely lunch with family. For most of September and part of October, I’ve been finishing up my hours to become a Master Gardener volunteer (yay!). And while it’s been a whole lot of fun, it sure feels good to slow down a bit.

This type of get-together is one of my favorite things about autumn. Leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping and it’s time enjoy the fruits of the harvest.

For our luncheon, we had sauteed green beans, couscous, parsnips and roasted chicken. We also had the apple cake from Deb Perelman’s cookbook. And yes, it really is as good as she says (and easy to make too!). So much fruitiness in one delicious pound-cake-like confection.

We were also pretty happy with how the roast chicken turned out. It’s one of our favorite dishes, and we’ve accumulated lots of tips from various sources over the years….

Super Moist Roast Chicken

For starters, we’ve learned to dry it thoroughly before putting it in the roasting dish, breast-side down. This helps with the moisture. We also pour off the juices about halfway through to make it a dry roast. We like to lightly salt it on the outside and on the inside. We prefer the flavor and it still comes out just as moist as when it’s more heavily salted. We roast it for about an hour on high heat and then turn it down before taking off the lid for the final brown. We also use a ceramic roasting pan, which really keeps a consistent heat.

Any other roast chicken fans out there? Got some tips for us? We are always trying to improve this dish, like I said, it’s one of our favorites!

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Oh the apple cake! Really, you should make this like today. Happy Monday folks!

A Box of September

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TestOur late summer vegetable patch

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2014-09-04 12.40.37A glorious maidenhair fern- same client

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If I could make a box full of September in the northwest for you…I would. I’d put in cool, clear days laced with sunshine, sparkling blue ocean water, a latte from my local, hometown coffee shop, a dash of heat for those days when summer returns to grant us one more swim in our favorite lake, musicians in the park, a bounty of beets, carrots and cherry tomatoes, and lots of sweet-smelling green grass to lay on.

This is the time of year when being a gardener makes you feel kind of—blessed. While other folks toil over their computers, it’s hard not to feel a bit guilty as you unload your tools from your car and prepare to dig, mulch, prune and all those other things that keep you employed outdoors in the glorious autumn sunshine.

Don’t get me wrong, there are rainy days, times when your muscles are sore and the odd, unexpected yellow jackets’ nest. Being a gardener certainly isn’t always a picnic.

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That said, I still feel pretty lucky most days. This morning I got to transplant a lovely little maple tree. Doesn’t it look happy in its new home?

 

On Tomatoes and Garden “Fails” – A Podcast

Welcome Autumn!

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It’s time for harvesting tomatoes and canning and all that good autumn fun. I don’t know about you but despite the recent heat wave all I can think about lately is blackberry pie, spiced cider and warm sweaters.

As a fun way to kick off the season, I’m very excited to share the FIRST podcast I’ve ever been part of. Recently, I was interviewed by Dave of Back to My Garden. If you haven’t read this outstanding garden blog yet, be sure to check it out. It’s one of my favorites. Gardeners from all walks of life can relate to Dave’s fun and passionate take on gardening.

Back to My Garden

You can find this podcast on Dave’s site or on itunes. I had a lot of fun chatting with Dave about our garden triumphs and tragedies as well as how we got bit by the gardening bug. Hope you enjoy it!

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