Friday, December 26, 2008

Easy Hydroponic Seed Starting Factory

Patti Moreno's super awesome Hydroponic Seed Starting Factory.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

December Ezine

November Urban Sustainable Living Cover
From the Sustainable Home Front

I am super proud to bring you issue two of Urban Sustainable Living, it is probably too long for a traditional email, but will be a great resource later, on the website. This issue is jam packed with information from planning next year's garden to delicious holiday recipes. In my garden, my Asian greens and Four Season lettuce is doing great under my hoop houses and I have started to prepare for Mel of Square Foot Gardening's arrival and our three day shoot together.

Check out my new video with Mark Highland where we use a soil test kit over on the Fine Gardening blog here. Please leave a comment and show your support for sustainable living.

I am also super busy launching my retail line of products. My products are only available at stores, as I do my part to support local, family owned garden centers. If you live in the Dallas Area, you can by my DVDs and other great stuff at North Haven Garden Center, and if you live in Vermont go to Gardener's Supply in Burlington. If your local Garden Center doesn't carry my products ask them to check out my line and contact me.

Have a happy holiday season this year and come and share your thoughts with all of us at

Thank you and enjoy! Patti Moreno the Garden Girl

Cover Photo Fred Dunn

Welcome to the Ezine!
The Sustainable Home Front
A brand new garden
Alternative Energy
Staying Balanced through the Holidays
Little House in the Suburbs
Pumpkin Pie
The Chicken
A Real Estate Lender Plants a Garden!!!

I'm a 36 year old commercial real estate lender in the Seattle area with two young boys and a stay-at-home wife. Growing up, my mother had two raised beds in our small back yard where she grew tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, among other things. But I was never into gardening. I have a ¼ acre lot that I hated to mow, let alone landscape and I can't even keep houseplants alive. So how did a black thumb turn into an avid gardener? My garden all started from a discussion with my older brother.

A year ago I had a 250 SF area of my yard that used to be a dog run. In the decade since we owned our home, we never really went back there and it became blighted with foot tall and deep weeds, a crab apple tree and morning glories galore! Talking it over with my brother, who had picked up the gardening bug and had three raised beds in his yard, he suggested I turn the area into a garden.The area had a perfect southern exposure and was already fenced in. At first I laughed at him, but the idea kind of grew on me.

About that same time, I was speaking to my best friends from
college about starting a garden. My buddy recommended that I read Mel's Square Foot Gardening book. My brother was very skeptical, but I read it anyway and was hooked! It was so easy, anyone could do it.
Finally, as if I needed further encouragement, I had enrolled in a blood pressure reduction program at work. The health counselor went through all the standard litany of methods to reduce blood pressure, but I was already doing them all. It ended up boiling down to stress reduction. With a stressful job and a young family, I had no time for stress relieving hobbies. So when I suggested gardening, the counselor was very excited. Gardening is a great stress relief and the byproduct is nutritious fruits and vegetables.

BlueberrysSo I turned to the internet to research gardening. I've found that I'm really good at research, and I am a quick learner. That and I love helping people, so I try to answer questions on various gardening forums whenever I can, of course while I'm learning from others.I write about my mistakes, my challenges, and how I overcome them. I've made more mistakes in my first season gardening than I can count. The funny thing is, the garden grew anyway! Mostly though, along the way this season I've made lasting friends, dozens of them. Gardeners are the friendliest, most helpful people on the planet. It's not a competition, it's a camaraderie.
By Sinfonian Barelytone
Talk to him over at the message board!
Alternative Energy Projects for the Homestead
My wife and I became interested in alt. energy in 1995 when we first got access to the internet at home. I had seen solar panels installed at some buildings here in West Virginia, and was fascinated by the idea of self generated power that I knew was clean and green. After researching solar and wind power over the years we finally decided to try solar power first. Having a little working knowledge of electricity also helped. We watched videos of self installations and gained enough confidence to try it. We started small with one 80 watt panel and two 12v batteries and had success!

Once we were successful with this project, it gave us encouragement to try some other projects including a small wind generator and a bicycle powered generator. I don't know how best to explain it but once we saw the working end result of our labor we were quickly enticed to do more. There is just something wonderful and gratifying about generating some of your own power, especially when you did the installation yourself.

Saving money was also an incentive for all of our alternative energy projects. Initially we realized a small savings on our power bill but were able to capitalize on the Federal tax break of 30% on the purchase price of our solar panels. The savings have became larger as we expanded the system and began practicing reduced consumption methods such as compact fluorescent lighting and reducing "Phantom Loads".

The whole experience has taught us self confidence and a much greater working knowledge of alternative energy, and how to be more self reliant. We have some alt. energy projects still on the drawing board and are looking forward to 2009.

Have fun and enjoy!

Ron and Pam Smith

Staying Balanced Through
The Holidays

By Cynthia McKenna

The holidays are coming! There are usually lots of opportunities to gather, see friends and family, eat great food, and generally celebrate. However, the holidays can also bring on added stress and grief if we lose sight of our goals and get swept up in the many demands that come our way. Navigating through this season can be tough. Here are some steps to help you maintain a sense of balance and hopefully have more space for delight and joy.

This is a season for eating. There are special meals, extravagant desserts, and lots of snack
foods to enjoy. The downside is that it is not uncommon for people to gain 5 or even 10 pounds during the holidays.

Here are some ways to avoid the gift of extra weight this season:
  1. Plan what you want to eat before you get to the food. Think about what foods really appeal to you, and how much you want to have. It might even help to tell your partner or companion what you are planning to eat.

  2. Eat slowly. Take the time to really savor each bite. Pay attention to the colors, textures, and aromas that make foods special.

  3. Concentrate on conversation. If you are at a party or similar event, allow yourself to indulge in the company of others. Take the opportunity to get to know someone new. Introduce yourself and perhaps make a new friend or rekindle an old friendship. When you are having a good time, you might not be so tempted to overeat.

  4. Alcohol has a lot of calories and carbohydrates. Try alternatives like juice or sparkling water. Put good things into your body as often as possible.

  5. Keep exercising through the holidays. Exercise burns calories, helps you release stress and brings oxygen into your body. Make your self-care a priority, even during this busy time.

For many of us, this is a gift giving season. If your family traditions include gifts during the season, these ideas can help.

  1. Talk with your partner about what you both want to spend and can afford to spend this season. Gift buying is easier to manage when you start with your goal in mind.

  2. Recognize that advertisers and the media really want you to spend - that is their goal. If you have children, you can use the media blitz as an opportunity to teach them about media pressure. You can make a game out of identifying what the commercials are telling you to buy or do. Older kids can identify what advertisers are promising you with their products (happiness, love, etc).

  3. In some families, there is a myth that the size or cost of a gift represents how much you love the person you are gifting. This can be a trap for over-spending. If you recognize this in yourself, or in your family, perhaps you can begin to think about gifts as tokens of affection rather than symbols of how much a person means to us. If you stop to think about it, we can't ever really give someone a gift that is equal to our love for them. A gift is a chance to say, "I am thinking about you and celebrating our relationship." This is a good time to celebrate the gifts we give daily: love, kindness, compassion, and laughter.

  4. Consider using food from your garden as gifts. Make a compound butter combining one stick of butter and fresh or dried herbs (try basil, oregano, thyme, or even lemon juice and capers) put butter mixture on wax paper and roll into a tube, refrigerate or freeze.

  5. Look for locally grown foods for gifts. I live just down the road from a pecan orchard and family and friends now look forward to getting their pecans for the holidays. My mom always sends my sister and I roasted and peeled green chili from New Mexico. Simple gifts, but they bring a lot of joy (and good flavors!)
Some people have great relationships with their families and cannot wait to get together for the holidays. For others, families are both a source of joy and stress. Navigating the family demands during the holidays can be tricky.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Begin by talking with your partner about what the holidays mean to each of you. What are your own desires and expectations? What foods or activities are really important and which ones don't mean so much? In answering these questions, you begin to get a vision of how you two would like to spend the holidays. With this understanding and vision in mind, you can make better decisions with regards to family expectations.
  2. If your family always gets into arguments during the holidays, there is every reason to expect arguing this year, too. It is easy to get caught up in wishing that the family were different, or somehow better, or... This wishing is okay, but it can ruin our holidays if we are focusing on the ways people don't measure up. Recognize (and maybe say out loud) that no family is perfect. You might try saying to yourself, "Yes, that is how Grandpa always is," or even sigh with relief that you have moved out of the dysfunction and now are only a visitor.
  3. Plan some time for you and your partner to be alone. Actually schedule it on the calendar. Get a babysitter and take time for yourselves. It is so easy to get caught up in trying to see all the family members or attend all the parties and forget to nurture ourselves. Check in with each other, enjoy each other and celebrate the life you are building together.
Here is a wish for you and your family to have safe and happy holidays.

Cynthia McKenna, LPC, NCC, is a gardener and writer who lives in South Texas. Cynthia is also a therapist who helps women reduce anxiety and depression and find ways to live their fullest lives. You can visit her on the web at
Little House in the Suburbs
By Luci Fernandez

I get plenty of quizzical looks from neighbors as they walk past my house in an older neighborhood in North Carolina, "What is she doing with her front yard?" I didn't really have a well-thought plan when I started on my urban homestead venture a couple of years ago. Over the past few years, I have sought to get a deeper connection to where our food comes from and to teach my children that an awareness of what we eat and how we live are very important things to know and understand. My work in the energy field has given me awareness into how much energy we use to get our food from the farm to the table in this country. I wanted to take action, producing at least some of your own food is key factor in reducing one's carbon footprint. Replacing the front lawn was a top priority because lawns represent a tremendous amount of waste - high water and chemical usage on potentially usable land for growing food. This step would definitely make an impact and get other folks thinking, 'hmm, why is she doing that?".....

One of my first projects was to plant Provence lavender alongside the front walk leading to the front door. I planted 2 dozen of these in the early spring. The lavender took wonderfully to the very sunny spot and sandy soil. I harvested my first lavender harvest that summer to use in sachets. The heady aroma as you come up the walk is most enticing-my own little piece of Provence in the burbs! I also planted a small herb garden near the kitchen door; I included thyme, mint, dill, basil and rosemary. I now have fresh herbs throughout the year for my cooking.
Chickens were the next project. I got two chickens from my college roommate, who was on the same path as me, learning to become more self-sufficient. These are good egg layers with a good temperament. I haven't had store-bought eggs in over a year. I had a combination chicken coop/garden shed built in the shady backyard. Our ordinances allow up to 10 fowl within city limits. I added two more chickens to my flock this past summer, a white Orpington and a Sussex. I have convinced a few neighbors that backyard chickens are a great way to have local food and they are great for the kids to learn about (I end up giving impromptu tours of the chickens!).

In the backyard, in addition to the chickens, I have established my compost area. All my kitchen waste goes to one of 4 zones: the regular compost bin, the chickens, the red-wriggler worms or the Solar Cone in the front yard (only meat goes in here). I will use the compost to amend the soil in the raised beds I have built in the front yard.

This past spring, my husband and I built raised beds for the front yard. I planted tomatoes, beans, lettuce, watermelon, green beans, peppers and eggplants. My soil in these beds will benefit from the compost that includes the chicken poop - next year I expect a bumper crop!

Summer, I added my first bee-hive. I have yet to harvest the honey. The honey bees loved the lavender blossoms in the front yard. My plant selection for the flower beds includes plants that are attractive to insects. I have seen many butterflies, hummingbirds and bumble bees all enjoying the flowers over the summer. This fall I am growing cabbage and fall lettuce. My tomato plant, eggplant and peppers are still producing fruit. I will plant two fruit trees and blueberry bushes this fall to increase my fruit production.

Having had very little gardening experience prior to this, I am happy that I have been able to incorporate so much of what I have learned from others. If I can inspire others to incorporate producing their own food into their daily life and leading a more eco-conscious life, then I have been successful!

Holiday Treat
By Dana Wright

Pumpkin Pie


9 inch pie

1/2 cup pumpkin
2 eggs
2/3 cups milk
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ginger
1/4 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1/8 t cloves

50 min bake time.

To Prepare Pie Crust
Evenly brush sides, then bottom of a graham cracker crust with 1 beaten egg yolk. Bake crust for 5 minutes at 375 degrees and remove from oven. (Put the leftover egg white plus any leftover egg yolk in pumpkin pie filling).

To Prepare the Pumpkin
Use any firm pumpkin flesh scraped from your pumpkin. Don't use the skin or seeds. Boil until soft (like you would potatoes). Drain and mash. Firmly pack pumpkin when measuring, being sure to drain off any excess liquid.

To Prepare Pie Filling
Combine pumpkin, eggs, milk, sugar, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves in blender or mixer. Blend until smooth. Pour into prepared crust and bank at 375 degrees F.

10 inch Pie
1 1/2 c pumpkin
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
3/8 t salt
3/8 t ginger
3/8 t nutmeg
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves

65 min bake time.

(Photo courtesy of

Check out more Recipe's on our message board and if you have questions, leave them for Dana aka Garden Green
Tale of a New Garden or, My Fun With Excel

We moved to a new house this year, so my gardening plans had to change. I had experience with container gardening in Florida (note to self: use an automatic watering system next time or the plants will die again). Here, I have a Backyard. In case you city types aren't familiar with these incredible spaces, a Backyard is an outdoor expanse of ground, all in one place, usually covered with a green substance called grass. It is not green-colored substrate like the running track at the gym. As soon as I saw my new Backyard, ideas started swirling in my head-swingsets, kiddie pools, fancy-schmancy multi-level decks.....

Forget big, space-hogging decks. No swingset, that's what the park around the corner is for. Kiddie pool? Only if it'll fit in the space left when I'm done with my new Idea. I want raised beds, chickens, rabbits and lots of other things I don't know about yet. I want a new garage-but that's a whole separate story.

We moved in April, so it was difficult to get seeds started and into the ground at the right times, but we managed to have a little garden. I couldn't do it Patti-style yet due to time and budget constraints, so we decided to just do something. We put in a plot in the ground, out of which we were able to get a pretty decent amount of veggies. In an attempt to utilize every bit of space in our yard, we tried some crazy things just to see if they would work, as shown by this picture to the right.

Yes, that is corn growing in the one-inch space between the driveway and the chain link fence, true urban style! We also used the fence on the other side of the yard for snap peas and melon.

I wasn't happy, though. I started playing with Microsoft's Excel program, toying with square foot gardening spacings, filling up the eight raised beds I plan to have next year. I believe I have found a pretty good mix of tried-and-true vegetables that my family likes as well as some new ones that sound intriguing. I came up with something like the chart to the left. I'm in NE Ohio (zone 5/6), so I had to be creative with placing some of the specific vegetables since some of my beds will be partially shaded for the latter part of the day (until I can get this great big tree out of the way). I have lots of asparagus-we love asparagus-in bed 1 and pole beans in bed 2. Along the left sides of beds 3, 5 & 7 are summer squash & zucchini, which will be trellised up to the edge of the neighbor's garage. The rest of those beds contain peppers (sweet and hot), bush beans (green and wax), brussels sprouts, eggplant, cucumbers and cantaloupe. Beds 4, 6 and 8 have more tomatoes, okra, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, onions, beets, pumpkin, winter squash, watermelon, snap peas, parsnips, garlic and carrots. I also have 3 separate, smaller boxes that will contain lettuces, greens and Junior's garden. Phew!

It's impossible to see the details with the picture so small, but I am very excited to see this jungle growing!

Please follow this link to our message board where I posted a more readable link!

The Chicken
Woven into the human experience throughout modern history.

By Frederick J. Dunn w

A source of science, social observation, inspiring to poets like Robert Frost, a nutritional necessity or merely a pet that produces, this is gallus domesticus. The modest chicken, historically so common in the door yard, has been, is, and should continue to be, commonplace in neighborhoods throughout the world.

Take any period movie from the shelf or video rental store. how often are chickens seen just getting out of the way of the wagon wheel, picking through trash on the streets of old England, moving aside from the broom of a 12th century hand maiden? The chicken has been at arms length in many households around the world. Their availability for immediate observation has been the source for human/chicken comparisons and deep thinkers watch at length, contemplating the origins of such a useful bird. Any scholar would be hard pressed, to truly pin down the first domestication of this diverse and often stunningly beautiful bird. They are written into documents as a domesticated animal, extending back as far as 3000 B.C.!

Modern science and efficient mass management, have made the egg protein, among the most beneficial and affordable foods to occupy a grocery cooler shelf. Thus, successfully removing this long domesticated bird, from the warm hands of our children and daily lives. Today, many people have never even seen a chicken in the flesh, save that it be already dressed and packaged in the meat department.

So, what is it about the domestic chicken, which makes it such a wonderful companion bird on the human homestead? Why is it tailor made for urban settings? For these answers, we simply go the chicken's inherent behavior.

What's a chicken in the first place? Don't worry, you won't receive a genetic history here, I leave that to Darwin and other genetic researchers of days gone by... A chicken is originally jungle fowl and was probably first observed by hunters. The chicken was easy to find, because, unlike most of our native wild birds today, chickens are gallinaceous, which means, among other things, that chickens are resident birds. They could be found in the same nesting area time and again, where their eggs and even offspring could be harvested/collected, with relative ease. This fundamental instinct in the chicken, makes the domesticated version, easy to keep and manage in nearly any homestead (city or country). People like to keep their animals, chickens included, in predictable and easy to maintain domiciles, convenient to their own living quarters. In some cultures, the chicken even occupies the same living space as its owner.

People and chickens are symbiotic, people cast off uneaten food and other waste material, which the chicken thrives on. In return, the chicken, being highly prolific and predictable, produces eggs or chicks in great numbers. Chickens were among the first homestead recycling systems. Many people enjoy the company of a bird which is not only useful for utility, but also fills a need for companionship in many cases. Chickens have specific vocabularies, the hen more than the rooster, and do murmur, cluck and chatter away at their keepers. In turn, some keepers talk frequently to their birds. The rooster is an alarm clock and would crow with great regularity. Chickens in all their adaptability, even come to tolerate being held and some actually insist on lap sitting, or perching on the arm of someone snapping beans on the porch. Put up a small chicken residence (coop) and chickens would return to the building they were raised in, even if given free range, the birds returned unaided, to their home by night fall. Birds, so easily conditioned and so hearty in their ability to subsist on forage, were bound to be a part of the human homestead from the start.

Today, there is a breed of chicken for virtually any environment and a personality tailored to that of its potential keeper/owner. From the Jersey Giant, to the tiny Serama, people have bred the chicken to nearly every foreseeable form and disposition suited to a particular end use.
I would suggest, that bringing back this meaningful and indeed, beautiful bird, to our backyards and into the joyful care of our children, will serve to enhance and indeed improve, the overall life experience once known to virtually everyone. Every person should know the joyful shriek of a child, gathering a fresh egg, still warm from the hen and carefully delivering the same to your kitchen counter. Few pets are so inexpensively kept, so easily reared, so responsive to human interaction and ever so adaptable to virtually any climate. From the Great Wall of China to the Pyramids of Giza, all were built with domesticated chickens in their shadow and eggs in their stomachs of those who did the work.
The Last Word: Organic Soil
by Mark Highland

Creating rich, living soil that crumbles like chocolate cake may sound like the most daunting task to undertake in any garden. It reality, it is not that hard. Anywhere new home construction takes place, you can be almost certain you do not have good garden soil. There are exceptions to this rule, but how many of you actually measured the inches of soil before you bought the house. ;-) Rehabilitating soil takes a few weekends, some elbow grease, and usually, lots and lots of compost. You can make compost yourself at home, or for larger projects find bagged goods at your local independent garden center.

Soils are influenced by the parent material, so in college I gardened in sandy soils in Florida. I moved onto the volcanic soils of Oregon, then moved back to the east coast to the clay soils of Pennsylvania. While these soils are fundamentally different,
they all equalize in the vegetable garden. Adding organic matter or compost enhances soil food web productivity and gives life to the garden. To begin understanding your soil, get out there and grab a small handful, 4 Tablespoons for you techies, put a splash of water on the soil and ball it up in your hand. Now try to make a ribbon with it. If you get lots of cracks, you have lots of sand. Smooth ribbons, no cracks, you have clay soils. Now rub your fingers together, feel like flour? It means you likely have a good bit of silt as well. This test gives a measure of soil texture. Texture describes the soils ability to provide water and oxygen for roots. That "garden-of-eden" soil I described would not form ribbons too well because of the high organic matter content desirable in a vegetable garden. Highly organic, living soils have excellent soil texture since they hold moisture well yet allow air into soils for roots to breathe.

Soil testing shows a profile of the soil's nutrient reserves and provides advice on adding soil amendments and minerals to balance soil nutrition.
Soil tests are available through your local land-grant university, which involves sending about two cups in for testing. Search online to find sample or submission forms for cooperative extension programs in your county. Those who favor instant gratification can head down to the local garden center and pick up small rapid test kits for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. pH tells you about nutrient availability in soils. Plants like azaleas or blueberries prefer acidic soils (5.0); however, the vast majority of plants are happy in soils closer to neutral (7.0). Knowing pH tells you how much lime to add if any is needed. Lime raises pH of soil, a perennial problem since rain in North America is on the acidic side. Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) are the big three nutrients found on any bag of fertilizer. These nutrients help plants grow and produce fruit. "N for shoots, P for fruits, and K for roots" is the easy way to remember what fertilizers to use at different stages in a plant's life. Organic nutrients will always have low numbers as compared to chemical nutrients - but organics pack a bigger punch in the long run.

My hands-on test for soil quality involves seeing how far a trowel sinks into the soil with nothing but dead weight pushing it down. Do this test in early spring, as the ground gets harder naturally as summer begins to dry things up. Just an inch is hard-pan soil, needing amendment. If it sinks to the hilt easily, that's good garden soil.

DIY soil warriors can start by getting two indispensable tools, a shovel and a digging fork. Now is not the time to skimp on quality as these tools do the work in soil. Drop forged steel makes long lasting tools. Plunge the shovel one length deep, make a circle and turn over the shovel of earth. The next plunge should be about 5 inches away, making a half-moon shape of soil to turn over. Continue this process along the edge of your new garden bed. Go back and slice through each clump of turned over soil to begin breaking it up in rough chunks. Continue this process in strips until the entire garden bed area has been turned over once. Now add compost over top. Add three to six inches at once, then plunge digging fork to maximum depth, turn over forkful of soil to mix compost with native soil, and repeat across entire garden bed. Sounds like a lot but only takes a few hours to finish about 100 square feet. You can do it! Get a soil test, get a good digging shovel, get lots of compost, and get started making great garden soil!

Don't forget to check out the new videos Mark and I made here:

How to test your garden soil:

How to make compost tea:

Please continue to share my videos and website with everyone. Thank you all again, from the sustainable home front. And don't forget it all started in a garden...

Urban Sustainable Living

Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl

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Saturday, December 06, 2008