There’s No Such Thing as a Black Thumb

By Angelina Williamson

There’s no such thing as a black or green thumb. I’ve never met a gardener who said “I have a green thumb”, because they know that success in gardening isn’t some magical ability one is either born with or not. It’s something you learn as you go along, and never stop learning. People who claim to have a “black thumb” are people who gave up too fast to experience the success they were hoping for or they really never cared that much about growing plants to begin with. They think that because they killed a few plants they lack the talent for growing things.

I have killed off thousands of plants in the eighteen years I’ve been a serious gardener. Certainly I killed more plants as a beginner than I do now, and yet at this very moment my garden is host to: a half dead mimulus, the blackened skeleton of a tulsi plant, a crispy brown hollyhock, a sickly Abraham Darby rose, and the ghosts of fifty other plants that didn’t make it through the wet spring. Losing plants is a normal part of gardening, it’s not evidence of a black thumb.

Angelinas-Garden

Have you tried growing plants but concluded that you just can’t do it? If you got discouraged but still really want to garden, I promise that you can succeed at gardening. You may need to shift how you think about it and approach it, but anyone who truly wants to garden can do it. I want to tell you the truth about gardening. I want to tell you what I’ve learned about growing that may encourage you not to give up yet.

Plants Are Living Beings

To succeed at gardening the most important thing to understand is that plants are living beings. They aren’t inanimate objects. Whether you believe they’re sentient or not isn’t important but you need to know that they have vascular systems, they breathe, they drink, and they eat much like you do. They respond to care similarly too. The more you pay attention to your plants’ needs, the more they’ll thrive. Plants need to become part of your regular routine. You’ve got to notice them in order to keep them alive.

Forget-me-nots

All Gardeners Kill Plants

No matter how experienced you are at gardening there’s a part of you that will always be a novice because everything you learn opens the door to new things to learn. Every garden you work in has different conditions, from broad obvious conditions like light levels to all the things you can’t see like microbes specific to that patch of earth. This means that an experienced gardener can move to a new garden and find that things they used to grow with ease now give them exquisite trouble. This is normal. Learn your garden. Understand that every plant you lose can teach you more about what works and doesn’t work in your peculiar spot of soil. It’s not a pass/fail test. It’s about having the tenacity to keep trying, keep experimenting, and discover what plants thrive where you are, and which ones you have an affinity for. Just remember that you’re going to lose a hell of a lot of plants on your gardening journey.

Plant-Based Bête Noires

For every gardener I’ve ever met there are plants that simply won’t do well for them, regardless of how much special care they give them or how many different gardens they’ve tried to grow them in. Sometimes these are plants that are considered universally easy to grow. So don’t get hung up on what people say “everyone” can grow. You may meet your plant-based bête noire early on in your efforts or after you become very experienced, but at some point you’ll meet a plant you can’t grow that the books tell you is easy. This is normal and I’m not even envious of the very rare gardener this has never happened to.

My plant-based bête noires are basil and asparagus. Note that basil is considered one of the easiest unfussy herbs for beginners to grow. It’s okay, I don’t take it personally. I suspect there’s some understanding I’ve failed to reach with them.

Tomato

Sometimes There’s Nothing You Could Have Done

Sometimes plants you buy were destined to die young long before you brought them home. This is a true story. You need to know this because sometimes a plant’s failure to thrive is already written in its cells. Plants get diseases and fungal infections just like people do. For a beginner it feels like personal failure. No matter how much you care for a plant it suddenly blackens, wilts, and dies and there was nothing you could have done about it. Some ways you can reduce the risk of this is to only buy plants, seeds, and bulbs from companies that are scrupulous about keeping their plant stock virus-free.

Sometimes it isn’t about viruses but about individual unexpected plant traits. Plants, like people, even when grown in the best and most even growing conditions, are all individuals and can respond out of character to the rest of its family. You can grow one hundred of the same cultivar of tomato that’s known to be vigorous, bushy, prolific, and delicious and some of those plants are going to grow up a little straggly and pale, or perhaps have more bitter tasting fruit, or die of bacterial wilt. Sometimes a plant’s individual wild traits will turn out to be a happy discovery like an uncharacteristically vigorous and delicious tomato. This is all just part of the adventure.

Growing a garden is about developing a relationship with an environment and all the life living in it. The better you communicate with it, and the more you listen to it, the better your results will be.

7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

If you’re cultivating edible plants this summer, you might also like to add some medicinal herbs in amongst your vegetables. Having the ingredients at hand to treat minor health issues is of the utmost importance when it comes to self sufficiency, and these plants tend to pull double duty as pollinator attractors to your garden as well.

Calendula

Calendula

The bright, sunny heads of calendula flowers are well known to most people, but few realise just how healing Calendula officinalis really is. Most people just grow these marigolds as decorative plants, but they’re actually invaluable as a medicinal herb. Calendula-infused oil or salve is ideal for burns and various skin irritations like rashes, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites/stings.

Echinacea

Echinacea

I prefer Echinacea purpurea to angustifolia because the former can be taken once illness has set it, whereas the latter is better as a preventative. Wild patches of echinacea have been over-harvested by people, so planting your own is preferable to wildcrafting it. As an added bonus, it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.

Milk-thistle

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle seed powder is excellent for cleansing the liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and is exceptionally effective at treating gallstones and kidney stones. The powder can be taken in tincture or decoction form, or can even be added to smoothies, but it takes a lot of seeds to make even a small amount of powder: although you can gather the seed heads in autumn after they’ve dried out and stopped flowering, it might be better to purchase the powder or extract from a retailer instead.

Mullein

Mullein

Although this grows wild around my area, I’ve also sown patches of it in the sandy areas on the edge of my property. It’s a biennial plant, so it only flowers every other year, but both its leaves and flowers have very healing properties. Steep the flowers in honey to make a potent
A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Smoking dried mullein leaf can also alleviate asthma, and oil in which the flowers have been steeped is ideal for treating ear infections. The entire plant is anti-inflammatory, and a tincture of the leaves and flowers can bring great relief from joint pain, arthritis, and even lymphatic congestion.

Stinging-nettle

Stinging Nettle

Although it’s difficult to harvest because its hairlike stingy bits hurt like the nine hells if they touch you, this plant’s medicinal properties are well worth the effort. It’s an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, does wonders for urinary issues, can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and other joint pain, and can ease allergy symptoms. It’s also quite delicious when cooked and used like spinach,

Just suit up, wear heavy gloves when harvesting it, and blanch the plant with boiling water to neutralize the stingers before using it.

Thyme

Thyme

Not just a delicious aromatic herb, Thymus vulgaris is a wonderful herb that has countless medicinal uses. Its antispasmodic properties help to alleviate stomach cramping and colic, while its antiseptic properties are incredibly helpful for topical applications. The crushed leaves can also be used as an impromptu insect repellent to keep mosquitoes and black flies away, especially behind the ears and along the hairline.

Yarrow

Yarrow

Also known as “soldier’s woundwort”, Achillea millefolium has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is invaluable for any healer’s garden. Yarrow flowers and frilly leaves have many medicinal properties, and are worth delving into if you’re interested in building up an apothecary’s cabinet of your own. Additionally, this lovely plant attracts all manner of pollinators, and is an ideal landing pad for migrating butterflies.

 

NOTE: Please remember that herbs are medicines, and their effects can vary from person to person. A remedy that works well for you might not work for your child, partner, or neighbour, and some people may have allergies to certain plants. For example, people with ragweed allergies may react badly to chamomile, and those who are allergic to latex should stay away from birch. No herbal remedy is guaranteed to cure a complaint, and it’s important to do your research properly before brewing up and drinking an infusion. It’s usually a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider to make sure that the herbs you’re interested in taking don’t have contraindications with any medicines you’re on, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.

In addition, if you’re gathering herbs from the wild, it’s extremely important that you learn to recognise them properly. A lot of plant allies have toxic lookalikes, so if there’s any doubt about what you may be harvesting, don’t do it. Just buy a tea, tincture, or dried herb in bulk from an apothecary company like Mountain Rose Herbs instead.

wilted plants, dead plants, frosty plants

Learning from Failure

By Catherine Winter

My basil plant died.

It was a beautiful, healthy pot of basil that I had been nurturing on my kitchen counter for nearly two months, and now it’s dead. I’d been diligent about keeping the dove from trying to nest in there (she loves basil), coaxing it to healthy vibrance in the weak late winter/early spring light, and then I went and did something unbelievably stupid, and now it’s dead.

Springtime in my zone (Quebec, 4b) is nothing short of bipolar: outdoor temperatures can shift and change a hundred times a day, and it’s not unusual to have searing heat one day and a snow flurry the next. This is exactly what happened this past week: temperatures reached 36C (97F) in the sunshine a couple of days ago, so in addition to getting sunburnt just by stepping outside for a moment, I also took the opportunity to put Sir Basil out on the porch for some merry sunbathing.

The problem is that I forgot to bring him back inside, so when the mercury dipped below freezing last night, guess what happened?

Sir Basil expired.

dead basil, dead herbs, wilted herbs, herbs, basil, culinary herbs, wilted herb

…there was much swearing, let me tell you.

So, here’s the thing: stuff like this happens all the time, to all of us. It’s frustrating and discouraging because so much time and effort are put into coaxing those little seeds into plants, but Mother Nature will occasionally sideswipe us and decimate a crop or three, so it’s best to brace for that inevitability.

There are always more seeds available, and plants can be started anew, with greater awareness, foresight, and dedication to their care. For my part, my basil might be wilted and half dead, but it’s still delicious enough to be used in pesto and soup stock. Nothing need ever go to waste, right?

Don’t let a setback like this make you give up—just learn from it, and keep growing.

 

Low-Maintenance Food Plants for Novice (or Reluctant) Gardeners

By Catherine Winter

Are you interested in growing your own food plants, but you’re intimidated by the prospect of doing so? Or is it something you’re reluctant to do but feel that you should be doing for health, wellbeing, and planet-saving? Well, don’t worry: there are some delicious, easy-to-grow plants you can try out that won’t break your spirit, and might just encourage you to keep at it.

lettuce, leaf lettuce, cut-and-come-again lettuce, salad greens, organic lettuce, heirloom lettuce

Cut-and-Come Again Lettuce

Lettuces are pretty easy to grow anyway, but the kind that will re-grow after it’s been snipped is ideal for newbie gardeners. Most lettuces’ leaves will happily spring back after you’ve snipped them for salad, so you won’t have to fuss over re-sowing over the course of the growing season: just trim off a few leaves now and then (sparsely, so you don’t take more than 30 percent of the plant at a time), and your salad bar will re-stock itself in no time.

Iceberg, arugula, mizuna, tender mustard greens, and most loose-leaf varieties are ideal for this method, and since lettuce grows really well in the shade, you can grow it on a small balcony or patio, or even indoors.

cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, currant tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Tomatoes are considered the gateway to gardening, as just about every gardener out there started with a tomato plant, even if it was just a teensy potted one on a balcony. Cherry (or grape, or currant) varieties ripen much earlier than full-size ones, so you have earlier gratification for your gardening efforts.

If you have the space, get yourself a few different plants to see which ones you like best. Maybe an orange or black cherry, grape, or currant, etc. Each one has a unique flavour, and since they’re so easy to grow, you can expand your palate while revelling in the joy of being a new gardener. (And honestly, who doesn’t love tomatoes?)

potted herbs, culinary herbs, basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, savory, cooking herbs, pot herbs, potted herbs, kitchen herbs

Herbs

Culinary herbs are wonderful for small spaces, as you can grow them on a sunny windowsill or patio and just trim off bits here and there when you’d like to cook with them. Hardy aromatics like thyme, sage, and savory thrive on neglect, and will survive if you forget to water them as regularly as you should. Leafy herbs like parsley and basil are a bit more high maintenance, and both chives and oregano are stubborn survivors, and perennials to boot: they’ll come back year after year.

If you’re more interested in medicinal plants, calendula is really hardy, as is chamomile. Lavender thrives in sunny spots, yarrow can do quite well with neglect, and if you really are terrified of killing your plants, get a pot of mint. That stuff is damn near indestructible.

You can do this! If you need any help or advice about which plants would do best for your space and your skill level, don’t hesitate to contact us for help: just leave a note in the comments section below, or drop us an email at farmtheworldorg AT gmail.com

Photos by Dan Gold, Dwight Sipler, and Patty Mitchell via Unsplash and Foter creative commons.

spring, spring flowers, spring flower, spring gardening, zone 5a, Ontario gardening, spring garden canada, bee, pollinators

Spring.

By MK Martin

I have yet to perfect Hygge. For those of you who didn’t see the ubiquitous feed post concerning this ‘art’, it is all about enjoying winter. Enjoying the books by cozy fires, the spiced drinks, the rich food, the cheer and the togetherness. I love books, but reading by the fire makes me overheat. Hot drinks for me are coffee or Earl Grey. Do not offer me other things, I am not interested in a spice cabinet-filled wine cup. Rich food is lovely, for the feast days, the days after the harvest and in the middle of lining up food for winter. Cheer is something that wanes after a day or so, and togetherness becomes cloying once all the baubles of holiday have been packed away. I will take some turns tromping through the deepening snow, to capture rare moments of crystalline rainbow refraction through the ice, to feel the far away sun on my face and to clean my lungs with deep, hidden breaths.

Pink-flower

After a few turns, though, give me spring. Give me melting snow and ephemeral ice on the trails, turning into puddly poo ponds: the stuff that will give us trout lily, ramps, and morels in what seems like the blink of an eye. Give me blustery, moorish mornings with ruffled robin feathers and lost umbrellas. Give me birdsong. The cacophonous cackle of the grackle, the invisible staccato of the chickadee, the crooning cry or startled whinny of the mourning dove all blending together into beauty, even though the songs themselves are territorial. Give me rain. Fat bullet drops hurtling toward the earth and spitting in my eye, or fine, hazy mist, covering the awakening green with eye catching droplets, curling my hair and surrounding my skin with negative ions. Paint me in dirt and line my pockets with seeds.

Ants

For me, getting through winter isn’t about enjoying it for what it is. It’s all about The Dream. Every year at Imbolc (St. Brigid’s, February 1st), for the past 8 years, I begin The Dream for the gardening season. This year’s dream is the most photogenic yet, with lovingly put together brown paper Jardiniere journals (no lines!) and handmade ceramic receptacles filled with pens, pre-season clay pot sales and piles of heirloom seed catalogues.

Planting-seeds

Arranged, just so, I feel that Martha glow. If you didn’t know, Martha has her garden planning calendar available for all to see, where we can discover there is no time off when it comes to gardening. As soon as your dirt is frozen and slumbering, you should be scouring your resources, planning your rotation, and penciling in your sow by dates.

Lily-of-the-valley

We began in zone 4b eight years ago and had three, charmed, food-filled years, free of pesticides and glorious weather. And then, things began to change. We are now considered zone 5a, and the weather has been confused for awhile. We are still trying to clean our groundwater from the two years neighbours poured roundup onto their ancient chestnut tree, so, this year will see pots of salad and steaming greens, herbs and carrots, while I work toward making our main beds home to flowers. The initial journey was about food security, but over the years, one’s eye begins to focus closer upon the intricacies and smallness of garden workings.

Hummingbird

As the collective mind shifts, and access to quality CSA produce increases, the food security that becomes most important right now is that of the bee, the bird, the bat, insects of all kinds and the worm. We’ve even attracted a fox this far up, to set after the bunchy bunnies that have moved in. Our ‘sleepy’ town has begun to burst at the seams in the name of progress, destroying long standing habitats, flushing creatures out. The community complains a fox can be see in plain sight during the day, rather than all stopping together, to admire it and send it on its way. These are creatures for whom time has no
meaning, as life is the clearest meaning of all, and they never question their purpose. Freedom is in their function.

Frog

My hope is to create a symbiotic space, more than just feeding out of hand. To be a haven for plants long slandered as weeds, brush the native seeds of wildflower-lined trails from my clothes into the grass, and see what else we can invite.

Green-plant