Get The Gardening Glow

 

With almost 67 per cent of Australians living in our capital cities, we’re one of the most highly urbanised countries in the world. Considering the day-to-day stresses or urban living, traffic, overcrowding and simply not enough time – this means up to 16 million of us could benefit from the physical and mental advantages provided by gardening.

Whether it’s a sprawling veggie patch in the backyard, a flowerbed in a small courtyard, a window box or even a community garden space, almost anyone can achieve a gardening glow. 

Gardening is a great workout, It not only works all those major muscle groups, it burns calories as well. Also, gardening improves the mood almost instantly, so it’s fantastic for the soul.

The Fitness Factor

Forget about working hard in the gym or building up a sweat on the treadmill, gardening is just as good as a workout, if not better. Prolonged light exercise such as gardening can burn more calories than a gym session, despite being much easier to do.

Stress Relief

Gardening can increase life satisfaction, reduce and promote recovery from stress, enhance self-esteem and reduce feelings of depression and fatigue. Ask any gardener and almost all will insist that they feel better after getting their hands dirty in the soil. An activity like gardening gives you something to celebrate and care about. When you’ve tended and grown something it gives you a sense of purpose and pride, which in turn make you feel good about yourself.

Mood Enchasing

Having flowers in and around your home not only looks beautiful, they also have amazing health benefits, such as reducing stress and depression. Flowers increase positive energies and soothe and relax the soul. Plants in the home also increase energy levels and vitality. 

Immunity Boost

We often avoid getting our hands dirty but there are health benefits to be gained from exposure to soil. We need to be 100 per cent hygienic but we don’t need to be 100 per cent dirt or germ-free because our immune system needs something to spar with.

Air Quality

Plants have been shown to absorb and degrade all types of urban air pollutants, thereby reducing air pollutants, thereby reducing air pollution levels. We have a vital need for constant connections with plants for cleaner air, so gardening time is vital. Spending just 15 to 20 minutes each day in the garden can also improve sleep quality because breathing fresh air stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system in the brain, which is responsible for relaxation.

 

Grow Your Winter Herb Garden Indoors

 

I’ts officially winter out there and the coming of winter is a not always the most exciting or activity packed time in most gardens. During this season of short, dark days, indoor herb gardens offer welcome greenery and fragrance. You can easily bring herbs indoors for the nippy months even if you have little experience with plants or very little space to work with.

Some herbs naturally lend themselves better to indoor growing conditions. Parsley, basil, sage and thyme are known to hold up stronger inside. Extra perk is they are all perfect herb solutions for winter stews, casseroles and roasts. Isn’t it great when those things work out?

To bring your herb garden indoors for winter you need to find a table or shelf with sufficient fluorescent light (you must remember that to a plant, light is food) this will guarantee that your herb plants obtain all the necessary light and will also prevent them from die-back that occurs from being against a cold window. In warmer months, you can move your herbs to a sunny window or a shady balcony that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day so that they thrive.

The easiest way to start your indoor winter herb garden is to buy established plants especially if you’re only a novice gardener. There are several types of containers you can use for the plants, but terracotta planters are very popular and can me the modest option if you’re only starting out. Make sure the pots and container you select have drainage holes in the bottom Whatever container you select it should be deep enough to promote proper root development. You can plant multiple herbs in one container or select individual pots for each herb plant. You should also make sure that your herbs are not to overcrowded as this, too can lead to fungal problems that may kill your plants.

When repotting It’s a good idea to go with a store-bought potting mix. Be sure the mix is lightweight and will drain well. Pour a 5cm layer of potting soil into the bottom of your container and place your plant gently in its location. Finish filling it with potting mix, pressing it firmly around the plants. Leave about an 3cm of space at the top to make room for watering.

Remember that too much love can kill your herbs by watering too often: Excess water is harmful to the roots and causes rotting. Fertilize your herbs once a month with an organic fertilizer. Once you start to see new growth, you can begin to use your herbs for cooking.

Here are a few herbs that are particularly well suited for indoor growth:

  1. Parsley: Parsley needs at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. If you can’t provide enough natural sunlight, grow the plants under fluorescent lights.

  2. Basil: Requires bright light and warm temperatures.

  3. Sage: Appreciates a manicure (prune back spindly branches) and drier conditions.

  4. Chives: Member of the onion family is best used fresh. Chives like bright light and cool temperatures.

  5. Dill: Choose a dwarf variety. You’ll need to make successive plantings to ensure a continuous crop since dill doesn’t grow back after harvesting.

  6. Lemon balm: This is easy to grow from seed and its fresh fragrance can be enjoyed in salads and drinks.

  7. Oregano: The soil must need to be loose and well-drained to prevent over-watering. The plant requires partial to full sun light either in a well-lit window seal or under a florescent light for at least 6 – 8+ hours per day

  8. Rosemary: Soil needs to be well drained, but don’t let it dry out completely.

  9. Thyme: Many varieties of thyme are available. Very well-drained, or gravelly soil is especially important for woolly or creeping thymes. Keep the plants moist by misting until you see new growth.

 

Growing Garlic At Home

 

There is no requirement at being a seasoned gardener or farmer to grow your very own garlic at home. It’s also very achievable and easy to harvest your own good quality garlic with a little patience due to its long growing time and by just following a few steps and keeping track of the seasons.

Soil Preparation

Garlic is luckily easily grown in almost types of soil with a preferred pH of 6-7, but to grow larger sized garlic bulbs it’s recommended that your soil is fertile and high in organic matter which can also be mixed in to the top layer of soil where you will be planting, also make sure you soil has good drainage or you will end up with rotted garlic.

Getting you Cloves

Sourcing your garlic is at the utmost importance as you don’t want failed garlic after nine months of looking after them, hence why you will need to be patient with garlic. Avoid using garlic heads bought from the supermarket unless you can source certified organic bulbs or some from your local organic farmers market. 

Once you have sourced heads your happy with, then start to break up your garlic head into cloves, as the cloves are what your will be planting. If everything goes well, every planted garlic clove will produce a lovely garlic head, fantastic!

Planting Garlic

Planting garlic is typically done in the autumn after the first frost sets in, so now is the perfect time to start preparing and selecting those garlic heads for planting in the next few weeks.

Just before planting and after you have separated your cloves soak the cloves in water for 10-12 hours, this makes sure you give your cloves the best start, try to also plan out planting area with a clove spaced every 10cm-15cm. 

Ensure you plant the cloves standing upright, so the tip facing upwards, this is where the sprout will shoot. Bury each clove about 6cm-10cm deep and give them a good soaking with a fish emulsion, seaweed fertiliser or homemade worm tea. In colder climates mulching is critical to keep the garlic from freezing and it’s also a great idea to keep those weeds at bay.

On Going Care

The cloves should sprout within a month from planting and the wait begins. Keep the newly planted cloves well hydrated in the warmer autumn months, watering every few days; expect for days with rain. Soils that are sandy may have to be watered more regularly to compensate for the faster water loss.

Feed the garlic with liquid seaweed fertiliser every month, and in midwinter, as the bulbs begin to form, apply a fertiliser high in phosphorous to help them swell and grow into lovely large bulbs.

Harvesting

Garlic is typically harvested in summer, but that can certainly change depending on where you are at in the country and warmer spring conditions. Reduce regular water into allow the bulbs to mature in the ground, checking their progress by digging with your fingers along the stem. The key indicator to know when the garlic is ready to harvest is the colour of the leaves, which will turn yellow and tanned when ready.

To harvest, loosen the soil surrounding the garlic without damaging the garlic heads and gently pull on the foliage. You can always select one as a test and determine by looking at it if the head and inspecting for well-developed cloves.

Once harvested hang your garlic in a cool, dry place. This not only helps the garlic keep for many months but you will also have access to new cloves to be planted once again in autumn.

 

Herbs And Medical Plants

 

In the middle ages, early gardens where typically filled with medical plants and were generally attached to temples or sacred grounds. Attended by monks and nuns which roles developed to physicians and nurses. This association between medicine, religion and gardens continued throughout history, with herbal and medical gardens planted in large numbers and within confined spaces, such garden where later referred to as physic gardens.

Medical treatments were heavily based on herbal remedies accompanied with superstitions, prayer and meditations, the treatments where heavily based and influenced by theories that man’s health depended on the balance maintained within the body and in correspondence with the four elements, air, water, fire and earth, with strong correlation with the two essences of yin and yang.

Once the modern system of medicine developed, the active principles in plants were isolated, tested, synthesised and incorporated into pharmaceuticals, with over 40 per cent of modern medicines having origins from nature. In eastern world both modern and herbal medicine still coexists and have also remained in use, unlike Britain, North American and Australia where traditions of herbal plants or physic garden barely survive. Luckily things are changing and until recently where interest has grown to take a much more holistic approach to our health with the help of our gardens and mother nature.

The best way to get started is to go shopping for some healthy, established culinary herbs which can also be easily grown from seed.  Don’t take the a chance on being confused over which herb or plant is which as its best to start with what you know and slowly growing your garden and collection of herbal and medical plants.

So lets start with some easy and commonly grown herbs and plants and there uses.

Rosemary, are great with foot-baths, a quick and easy way to relax the muscles and ease tension, by crushing and running a few fragrant leaves in hot water and letting it rest until a comfortable temperature for the skin. I cannot get enough of this herb and I just about incorporate it into most of my meals.

Chamomile, Basil & Geranium, are known to aid with sleep and insomnia and can be used by either adding a few drops of essential oils on your pillow or diffuser. You can also incorporate the dried flowers and leaves from the above herbs and plants in your very own blend of tea which will aid in its affect. The added bonus is that they all smell wonderful and will make your home feel soothing and comfy.

Lemon Verbena leaves are also great for digestive issues and as a sedative herb, with soothing, sleep-inducing properties. It’s also a lovely and fresh tasting herb which can also be added to your daily drinking water or most commonly used as a tea.

Lavender, best known of the headache herbs, with the diluted oil being used on temples and forehead or with the dried leaves socked in water and used as a lovely face rinse. These plant not only adds so much to your life, but also helps invite those much needed bees into our gardens.

Ginseng, grown for the root and can be grown in the home garden, used as a invigorating and energy boosting tea, Ginseng had a reputation in the East as the ultimate tonic medicine, strengthening all part of the body and prolonging life. The root can be purchased from health shops as a powder or already prepared in teabags.

Garlic, used and known to have amazing antiseptic properties, can be used to discourage infection from spreading. If your already incorporating Garlic into your life, then great and if the taste offends you then you could great a garlic vinegar which makes a stinging but cleansing wash.

The above ideas are a great way to start using accessible herbs in your daily routine. Remember, everything in moderation! Always consult a medical professional before adding it to your regular diet or supplement regimen. Incorporating your garden and plants into creating a much more holistic approach to dealing with the stresses of life and sicknesses we encounter is simple and a fascinating process, the more you get to know about medical plant and herbs the more absorbing they become.

 

Growing Lettuce At Home

 

Before I started growing our home grown food, I spent a fortune on organically grown salad ingredients. It wasn’t just the lettuce that cost so much. There were the tomatoes, herbs, specialty greens, radish, cucumbers, and more that went into making my lush salads healthy, beautiful, and satisfying.

When I finally did start growing, at first, it was hard to produce all the ingredients required for a salad at the same time. My radishes and lettuce heads would be ready before everything else. Then they’d bolt before I had a tomato ready to even pick.

How Long Does It Take Lettuce Seedlings to Sprout?

If you’re only starting out, lettuce is a great choice and vegetable to practice your green thumb skills and it’s also an easy way to add wonderful flavour to your meals as nothing tastes as good or as satisfying as home grown and fresh picked lettuce.

Since lettuce is a fast growing vegetable, it’s easy to start from seed as they also rapidly-germinate with not much effort and within a few weeks. Lettuce is also great for container-gardening as well as in-ground planting. An added bonus is that they look very ornamental in large terracotta pots. The goal is just to begin Including lettuce in your garden, and watch your family’s enthusiasm for salads increase as you bring this versatile vegetable to harvest. If all the right conditions are present — sunny, mild days, cool nights, sufficient water and good soil fertility — lettuce can go from seed to salad bowl in about under 2 months. Most full-head varieties take 45 to 60 days to reach maturity.

Germination

In good growing conditions, lettuce seed will germinate within 7 to 12 days, depending on variety. Loose-head varieties may sprout more quickly than heading types, but all seeds need similar soil, moisture and light conditions to support germination. Growers vary in their estimate of the percentage of lettuce seeds that will germinate per packet, but you can expect 75 to 80 percent of seeds packed for the current growing season to sprout. Rates decline each year, and a packet of lettuce seeds is usually viable for three years so make sure your continue planting all year round if your climate and weather permits.

Soil Temperature

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an annual vegetable with many varieties able to be grown all year round, but if you’re from colder climates than the Lettuce is defiantly a spring grower. Lettuce requires soil temperatures between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius for seed germination (germination rates decline markedly above 30 degrees) and seeds are best planted outdoors two weeks after your local climates last frost date. If you are uncertain about soil temperature, many garden centers and nurseries carry inexpensive thermometers to take guesswork out of planting.

Soil Quality

Lettuce grows best in neutral to slightly acidic soil, as do many other garden vegetables. Because lettuce seeds are small and fragile, the most important feature of planting soil is texture. Raking and screening soil before you plant lettuce ensures successful sprouting of these delicate seeds (one way to get around this is by making sure your soil is high in composted organic material). One to two inches of fine soil in the bottom of your lettuce furrow and a 1/4-inch to cover your seeds create prime sprouting conditions or just cover your seeds with vermiculite. If your soil is heavy clay or drains poorly, dig in well composted organic matter, coco peat or sand to improve drainage before planting. If you’re planning on starting your lettuce seed indoors, standard potting soil or seed raising potting mixtures have the texture that let seeds sprout and root in your seedling containers.

Moisture

Soil for sprouting lettuce seeds needs constant and consistent moisture. With good drainage, soil will remain moist rather than wet. Regular watering will keep the top of the soil from crusting, which can become too hard for seed sprouts to penetrate. A fast grower, lettuce will absorb a lot of water, but standing water can rot seeds. Do not let the soil dry out, but avoid keeping the surface soil constantly wet. In hot weather or dry conditions, lettuce may require watering every day. Keep growing beds weed free; cultivate shallowly to avoid disturbing lettuce roots.

Light

Lettuce seed needs light to germinate and grow successfully. If you start seeds inside, you will need a sunny window that receives direct light or a grow-light. It’s preferable to grow lettuce in full sun when the growing season is cool. In very warm to hot growing regions, grow lettuce in partial shade–between taller crops or trees. Lettuce requires a minimum of 4 hours of sun each day.

Planting

Lettuce can be planted in the garden as early as 4 weeks before the last expected frost in spring. For a continuous supply, plant lettuce every couple of weeks until about 4 weeks before the average daytime temperature exceeds 28 degrees or the lettuce will just go to flower (after that plant lettuce in the shade). Begin sowing lettuce again towards the end of the growing season, about 8 weeks before the first expected frost in autumn. If you’re lucky and don’t experience frost in your microclimate than you will be planting and growing these gems all year round. Lucky You! More than any other crop, lettuce works best with succession planting because it turns bitter as it matures, especially in warm weather.

Sprouting Stages

When lettuce and many other seeds sprout, the first foliage is a pair of small rounded leaves called cotyledon leaves, or seed-leaves. Cotyledon leaves are the plant’s first food-source and enable the growth of roots and real leaves, but they sustain the plant for only a week to 10 days. Seeds started indoors will need to grow for between four and six weeks to sprout enough leaves to sustain plants in the garden.

Harvesting

One of the keys to having tender lettuce is rapid growth, which is why spring-grown lettuce tastes so good. An exciting thing about lettuce harvest time is that it can be a repeat performance. Pick lettuce on a cut-and-come-again basis; pick the outside leaves as soon as they are big enough to eat. You can harvest loose-leaf varieties twice — and sometimes three times — before the quality of the leaves declines. For heading lettuce–crisphead and Romaine varieties–cut heads as soon as they are solid and firm.

Note: The greatest menace to lettuce is neither slugs nor veggie-hungry aliens, but the heat. When temperatures exceed 30 degrees, lettuce seeds don’t germinate well and mature plants tend to bolt (meaning they stop producing leaves and go to seed). Regular watering, using shade cloths or tall, shade-making companion plants, and planting heat-tolerant varieties can help, but extreme heat over time ultimately takes a toll on lettuce’s flavour and texture.