Early Springtime Observations

April 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Outdoor Fun


Nature (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Getting back in touch with nature is an enjoyable, healthy activity for children and adults. Children are usually fascinated by nature, and enjoy being outside. Adults often find observing nature to be a healing and peaceful activity. With spring right around the corner, now is a good time to teach your children some of the interesting changes that are taking place this time of year.

Spring is brief – there is a rather short window in which to observe spring’s changes, so some planning is required to capture these changes. Here are some ideas to get you started in your nature observations this spring.

* Find a spot to observe. This can be done in your own yard, and it does not have to be a large area. It can be just one square foot or a whole garden, but it should be a low-traffic area so that you are observing nature and not someone’s gardening efforts. You also don’t want people walking over your natural area.

* Once you choose the spot, note how it looks the day you begin your observations. Use a digital camera or garden journal (or a combination of the two) to record details about what you see. If you enjoy drawing, you and your children can make sketches of the area. Some questions to ask as you begin your observations are:

-Is the soil muddy, dry, sandy, etc.?
-Are there moss or rocks present?
-Are there any plants present at all, such as grass or weeds?

* Visit your area daily. If you like, set up a chair or bench nearby. Using your recording methods, sketch, photograph, and take notes on any changes you observe. If birds or other animals visit the area, note that as well as any changes in plants or soil. (Don’t be tempted to put out food to attract animals, however – you are just observing, not interfering.) Even if you don’t note any changes, write that down as well.

* Consider getting a field guide to the plants and wildflowers in your area, and identify the various plants as they grow. If the plants bloom, note when they bloom and for how long, and write down the species if you and your children identify it.

Your children will become attuned to small details in their special spot, a skill that is applicable in other areas of life. You will all be surprised at how much change occurs in nature over a short period of time, even though it is gradual.

When spring turns to summer, go over your observations and see how much the original spot has changed. The beauty of observing carefully is that you are making note of details not discerned in just random, passing glances. You will see the gradual greening of the spot, the blooming of flowers, and changes in the soil from dry to wet, or from packed to loose. This can be a special, annual activity for your whole family.

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How to Choose the Right Composting System for Your Home

February 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Gardening


Compost (Photo credit: nancybeetoo)

It’s the middle of winter but that doesn’t mean it’s too early or not a good time to think about your spring gardening chores.  Composting is an excellent practice for young and old alike and easy for kids of almost all ages to help with at various levels.

There are as many composting systems as there are gardeners out there! From small space to large farms, gardeners have all sorts of creative ways to compost their waste. Which system is right for you and your family?

Here are some questions to ask yourself before starting your compost project, and a list of some of the more common systems. This should help you determine what the best system is for your situation.

How much do you compost?

Do you have a lot of acreage? Do you mow and rake a large area and end up with a lot of lawn waste? Or do you basically want a system to compost kitchen scraps? Consider how much waste you generate before deciding on a system.

How big an area do you want to enrich with compost?

Whether you have a small garden, an indoor garden, or multiple, large gardens, they all need compost. Take a moment to calculate how much area you are going to be enriching with compost before beginning, so you don’t end up with too much or too little compost (although your neighbors may appreciate any extra you have!).

Here are some of the compost systems available:

1. Pile it up
The least complicated compost system is simply a pile on the ground in a location that receives a balance of sun and shade. Simply start with yard clippings and add kitchen scraps, and use a pitchfork or shovel to keep it heaped so that it will decompose. This kind of compost will need to be turned by hand. The open pile system may be a problem in certain cities or neighborhoods, so check with your local zoning officials to find out if this kind of system is allowed.

2. An open bin
Also a fairly simple method, an open bin can be constructed with wood and wire netting. This is a good way to use scrap wood such as old packing pallets. Such a bin can have a slatted wood bottom, or simply sit on the ground surrounded by the wood and wire structure. You don’t even need wood scraps; an open bin can consist of a cross section of perforated metal sheeting, or an upright, cylindrical loop of wire. Again, this is a potentially problematic system for those who live in cities or suburbs with close neighbors.

3. A closed compost bin
These look like large, plastic barrels, and that is essentially what they are. Most municipalities accept this kind of composting system, and your local waste management authority should have information about where to obtain such a bin. In fact, some waste management authorities have such bins available for sale. There are quite of few styles and varieties of commercial bins available, including some that can be turned from the outside. Generally speaking, those offered by municipalities are less expensive that those sold at garden centers or online.

4. A worm bin
This is a method of compost that can be done indoors in a garage or basement. Sometimes called vermicomposting, a worm bin uses the natural habits of worms to break down kitchen and yard waste into usable compost. You can purchase a worm bin or make your own – just be sure it is waterproof, has air holes and is opaque (worms like it dark).



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Vegetable Gardening This Summer – What You Should Do Now

April 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Articles

vegetable garden, detail

Image via Wikipedia

Anyone planning a vegetable garden knows that what you do before summer can have a big effect on how your garden grows. There are many things you can do now to ensure your vegetable gardening this summer is productive. Try these tips and watch your garden prosper.

If you haven’t already done so, spring is the perfect time to till your garden spot. Make sure the soil is not too wet. An easy way to determine this is to grab a clump of dirt in your hand and try to make it into a ball. If it crumbles apart when you open your hand, your soil can be tilled. If it still sticks together or feels very wet, you’ll want to wait for it to dry out a bit.

Determine how large you want the garden to be and mark it off. Run the tiller in the garden to incorporate plant matter from the last year.

You may also want to test your soil to see if it has the proper nutrients needed for a vegetable garden. Soil tests can be purchased from most plant nurseries or other stores which sell gardening supplies. Local colleges may provide testing free of charge if they have degrees related to farming.

Plan what you’ll plant. You may already know what vegetables you want to grow but chances are you’ll change your mind at least once before the plants are in the ground. Think about the vegetables your family loves the most. Corn, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are common plants in a family vegetable garden.

Consider whether you’ll start seeds or purchase the plants partially grown. Of course, there’s nothing quite like watching seedlings as they sprout and grow, but buying pre-grown seedlings makes getting the plants in the garden much quicker. Which plants can you start from seed and which ones will you purchase?

Once you know what you’ll plant, think about where you’ll place each one. Some plants are best planted close to others. These are called companion plants. They may either provide natural pest resistance or nutrients the other plant needs. Take time to research which plants can benefit the others in your garden.

Determine how you’re going to deal with weeds in your garden. Will you rely solely upon chemicals to avoid having to weed, or is there another method you can use? Consider using newspaper covered by black landscaping fabric or black plastic sheeting between rows. This will greatly reduce the amount of weeding you’ll have to do. You can also use the black landscaping fabric in the rows themselves by cutting an ‘x’ where the plants will go. This fabric allows the rain to get through and yet blocks much of the sunlight so the weeds can’t grow.

What will you do about pests? Some gardeners are content to use chemical pesticides. If you’re considering a ‘greener’ approach, you may want to add beneficial insects to your garden. These would include ladybugs, praying mantis and earthworms.

Don’t forget to check your garden tools. Give your tiller and other mechanical equipment a spring-time tune-up. Ensure your rakes, hoes and other hand tools don’t have loose handles. You’ll also want to ensure they aren’t rusty.

Think about other items you may need for your vegetable garden this year. Do you have a large-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face and neck? What about something to sit or kneel on while you’re planting? Do you have a place to sit back and enjoy your garden after the work is done?

There’s so much involved in planting a summer garden you’ll want to get started as soon as you can. You can check your tools to ensure they’re in good working order, plan your garden and start your seeds. Before you know it, the time will be here to begin your garden in earnest and you can look forward to summer with home-grown vegetables.

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Why Gardening Is Good for Your Health and Life

June 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Articles

Part of a parterre in an English garden. Photo...
Image via Wikipedia

Gardening is a fantastic activity in many ways. It’s a great form of exercise, stress reliever, creative outlet, and just plain old good fun. Studies have shown that regular exposure to nature and fresh air is good for us. Not only will you feel energized and refreshed after a gardening session, but you’ll also feel a great sense of achievement.

Here are a few other reasons why gardening is a great all-around exercise:

#1 – Stress relief. Many of us lead very stressful lives. Gardening is a good way of relieving that stress. It’s a quiet, gentle activity that also helps you connect with nature and clear your mind. There’s something very nurturing about getting close the earth and having a part in helping something grow.

#2 – Great for joints and flexibility. As we get older, so do our joints and mobility. Gardening is a great option for keeping your joints supple and flexible without too much pressure. Simple exercises like bending, lifting and light digging will help your flexibility and muscle tone. All of this will lead to improved health and quality of life.

#3 – Keeps you busy. If you already have a busy schedule then gardening may be something you fit in on the weekends or in short spurts. However, if you’re out of work or retired, keeping a garden is a great way of staying active, fit and healthy. You’ll also feel a wonderful sense of achievement when you see the fruit of your labor.

#4 – Great social activity. Gardening is becoming increasingly popular. Many people are joining community garden projects and schemes. This is a great way to bond with your community. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for swapping home-grown produce and teaching your kids and family about healthy eating. Gardening is a great link for friendships. It’s a good way to meet like-minded people doing something you enjoy.

#5 – Great for children. Children are naturally geared to love gardening. They have an inbuilt instinct for connecting with the earth around them. Give a young child a small shovel and a vegetable patch and they may happily dig for hours. Exposure to gardening also shows kids the importance of food and healthy eating, as well as caring for their environment. Many schools now have gardening clubs and projects to help children get involved as gardeners too.

On the surface gardening seems like a great health activity, and it is, but there are also many other wonderful benefits. Along with getting plenty of fresh air and exercise you can relieve stress, make new friends, show your kids the importance of our environment and keep your joints and muscles supple. It’s a fantastic all-around activity to enjoy.

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Spring Cleaning Your Backyard

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Articles

MTD Yard Machines Lawn Mower 4.
Image via Wikipedia

If you’re like most people, you have been waiting for the warm spring weather so you can get outside and enjoy!. You may be thinking about spring cleaning your backyard to get it ready for the sunshine and summer. Here are some ways you can do that and enjoy being outdoors at the same time.

Gather the family together so everyone is pitching in with the work. Although it might seem overwhelming, working together in the yard is one of the best family relationship building activities you can do. It’s a wonderful way to work together as a team and have fun at the same time. Of course, you’ll want to be sure to have people work to their abilities, but everyone can contribute.

Decide what needs the most attention. Undoubtedly there will be a build-up of leaves regardless if you raked during the fall. There may also be limbs which have fallen from the tree due to ice or wind. Check out the garden; what attention does it need? Do you have flower gardens which are about to burst forth with blooms? They’ll need consideration as well.

Try to make the tasks fun. Instead of acting like a drill sergeant, let the children toss leaves while they’re raking. They may even want to make a pile to jump into if there are enough of them. After they’ve had some fun they may be more willing to get back to work and get the leaves cleaned up.

Let the air in! Take time to aerate your lawn. This is important to breathe fresh air into the root system which will allow water and fertilizer to reach the roots. There are many methods to do this: use shoes with spikes on them, a hand tool specifically designed for aeration, or rent a power aerator.

Get your hands dirty. Weed the flower beds and along the sidewalks. Of course, you can also remove dandelions and broadleaf weeds with an ergonomic weeding tool. The point is to remove the weeds, roots and all, from your lawn as early in the season as possible so they don’t grow or possibly spread.

Repair your lawn. It’s almost inevitable that your lawn will have bare or brown patches. Remove the dead or discolored grass and sprinkle in some grass seeds. Then you can add fertilizer. Keep the area moist until the seed sprout and you can see new growth.

Take care of yard tools. You may want to take your lawnmower in for a tune-up. Check the hand tools to ensure they’re not rusted or broken. Replace anything you feel is unsafe or past the point of repair.

Decide what new plants you want to add to a flower garden or if you’ll have a vegetable garden this year. Mark off where the garden will be if you haven’t had one, and then choose what you’ll plant. Spring is the perfect time to lay weed barriers and mulch so you’ll have to do less weeding.

Don’t forget any play items in your yard. Decide if there are other pieces you’ll want to add this year and where you will put them. Check the chains and seats on swing sets. Replace them if necessary. You want your children to enjoy the equipment but you also want them to be safe.

By taking a weekend in the early spring, you can get your yard and garden ready for whatever the spring and summer may have in store. Spring clean your backyard with the help of your family. Once the biggest tasks are done you’ll be glad knowing your yard and garden are ready to enjoy.

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Aerogarden Classic (black) with Gourmet Herb Seed Kit

March 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Parent Product Reviews

Where to buy: www.amazon.com

The Aerogarden is an aeroponic device that allows you to grow plants in water using nutrients and air. No mess or dirt and no need to be an experienced gardener to succeed in growing your own plants. The Aerogarden is fully automated and comes with built-in grow lights. The included 2 grow bulbs provide the ideal amount of light for continued and strong growing. It is recommended that the bulbs be replaced every six months.

The included Gourmet Herb Seed Kit contains seeds to grow market fresh herbs right in your kitchen, such as thyme, chives, Italian basil, purple basil, dill, mint and parsley. The herbs should be ready to be harvested in about three to four weeks and last for up to five months. Turn your everyday meals into something special by using home-grown fresh herbs.

The Aerogarden measures 21”H x 18.5”W x 10”D and looks stylish on any kitchen window.

For more information on this fantastic NASA tested Aerogarden, go to www.amazon.com.

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