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Incorporate a Fruit Tree into your Yard

April 14, 2014
Apple Trees at Dawson's Orchard. Photo Credit: Paul g Weigman

                      Photo Credit: Paul g. Wiegman

What could be better than picking a fresh peach off a tree that you planted only a few feet from your back door? Fruit trees can add a new layer to your ever-evolving vegetable garden. You may already have established fruit trees in your yard, or you may want to go to the local garden center and pick up a fruit tree of your choice.

To get started with a fruit tree, consider the location. Most fruit trees will need a sunny location with a little breathing room, to allow them to grow over the years. With pruning, you can keep most fruit trees at 10 feet wide and control their vertical growth.

Pollination is another factor in choosing a location. Are there any other trees of that species in the neighborhood to help pollinate your new tree? If yours is the first, you can purchase a self-fertile tree or plant multiple trees. Apples and pears will need more than one variety to cross-pollinate and bear fruit. Peaches and plums are usually self-fertile and only need one tree to bear fruit.

Pruning should be minimal for the first year or two, until the tree gets established. In later years, the tree will need more pruning to remain at a manageable size. There are reference books and websites explaining specific techniques for different types of trees. It can be very rewarding to help sculpt a tree that will provide you with fruit.

With proper planning and care, you can enjoy years and years of fresh fruit right in your own back yard.

Square Foot Gardening

April 7, 2014

Planning to garden in raised beds this year? If so, consider planning a Square Foot Garden! There are different methods for spacing plants in a garden, but especially for raised beds this is a great option. Making a garden plan before starting to plant is a good idea no matter what method you use. Planning helps you make the most of your garden- to use space effectively, buy or grow only what you need, and properly place and space vegetables for maximum growth.

Photo Credit: Charity Bauman

Photo Credit: Charity Bauman

Square Foot Gardening was developed in the late 1970’s by Mel Bartholomew, to produce a greater harvest in less space. It’s a straight forward method, and easy to understand. Instead of planting in the traditional rows, the garden is divided into blocks, each one square foot in size. Then, one type of vegetable is planted in each square; the number of seeds or plants that go in a square depend on how large each plant gets, and how much space it needs to properly develop. Using this method, no space is wasted!

You can find lots of guides on the web; The Food Project has a great visual guide to use (see pages 9-15 for spacing guides). To make sure your spacing is correct when planting, you’ll need to mark off a grid on your raised beds. This can be done a variety of ways, and can be either permanent or just temporary for planting. Try marking off a grid with nails and string, laying stakes on top of the bed, or just by drawing a grid in the soil.

To plan your square foot garden, draw an outline of your garden beds to scale with a grid, then follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of all the things you want to grow and eat.
  2. Determine how many plants of each type to plant per square foot, and the plants’ height (short, medium, or tall).
  3. Mark off the North side of your raised bed.
  4. If you’re going to use a trellis, mark where it will go. A trellis should go on the North or West side of the bed.
  5. Fill in the squares on your grid with the vegetables you want to grow, according to plant height. Write plants that are marked as “short” into the squares on the south side of your garden, plants that are of medium height into the center squares, and tall plants into the squares on the north side. (This planning keeps the taller plants from shading shorter plants).
  6. Write how many individual plants can be planted in each square on the map, next to the name of the plant (example: 4 plants for lettuce, 16 for beets).
  7. Once your grid is filled in, use this as a map to plant your garden!

For more on raised beds, see Raised Beds, Make a Raised Bed, and Build Your Own Raised Bed


March 13, 2014

“Worms are more powerful than the African elephant, and more important to the economy than the cow.” –Charles Darwin

Earthworms have been working in the soil for as long as 120 million years! All over the world, they naturally recycle plant debris into nutrient rich soil. They are constantly burrowing deep into the ground, allowing air to get down to the roots of plants.

Weeding and digging in the garden with children is a lot more exciting when they uncover a small wiggling creature! This discovery does not have to be a scary one (worms don’t bite!) rather an opportunity to admire a species we often overlook. WormsTry holding an earthworm in your hand or place it in your child’s hand. Questions you can ask are: What color is it? Check out the lines that run horizontally down the length of its body, separating it into rings, or segments. Does it have a slightly lighter colored band at one end? Can you tell which end has a mouth?

Without eyes, ears, arms, legs, or a nose worms are primitive and depend on its skin to not only absorb oxygen, but sense light.  Sensing light is especially important because their skin is extra sensitive to ultraviolet rays, so exposure to sunlight can be harmful. Garden worms and night crawlers, which live in deep burrows, prefer cooler temperatures. Red worms, commonly referred to as red wigglers, are happy at 55-75 ⁰F.

Worms are not only effective in the garden but can be a great help with composting. Worms, particularly red wigglers, are great at recycling organic material in a process called Vermicomposting! When in a closed container, they will eat your trash (food waste) and produce a great fertilizer for your garden.

Create a worm bin at home! Contained with relatively little maintenance, vermicomposting is a useful and fun way to experience worms, and it can be used all year round!  Here is what you will need:

  • A flat-bottomed container, at least 8 in. deep, with a lid! (A lid is crucial to keeping it dark inside-also for this reason use a dark, plastic container)
  • Old newspaper, fallen leaves and soil, or any combination of these materials for bedding
  • Spray bottle, or mister (optional)
  • Worms! Experts recommend using red wrigglers (native to Europe). You can order them online or pick  them up at a local bait shop
  • Worm diet (see below)

Prepare their home!

  1. Small holes at the bottom of the bin are necessary for drainage. These should not be more than ¼ in. across, and spaced evenly. Be sure to lift the container on a tray or platform to allow drainage.
  2. Small holes around the sides are necessary for ventilation. Worms need air! A plastic mesh or wire screening can be added over the holes to prevent worms from escaping.
  3. Fill the bin half way with bedding. Moisten throughout with a spray bottle mister or other method so long as the bedding is not soggy.
  4. Add worms!
  5. Cover with a lid and place in a shady spot or cool basement where curious critters cannot reach it.
  6. Feed your worms a healthy worm diet!

Good Worm Food

Bad Worm Food


Vegetable peels


Tea bags

Crushed egg shells

Coffee grinds

Stale bread

Apple cores

Meat scraps


Dairy products

Animal   fat


Bury food deep into the bedding. Especially if your container is outdoors, this will keep fruit flies from laying eggs and reproducing in your compost bin.

Depending on how big the container, it helps to keep track of which area you are placing food. Also, marking this on a calendar will help you to gauge how much food the worms are eating.

Check on your worms periodically. Mist or water accordingly if you see that the top dries out. The bedding will be replaced in three to six months by rich crumbly worm castings. You can choose to separate the worms from the compost or keep them along with the material you will be using. Either way, refresh the bedding in the bin for future worms. Use the fresh compost in your garden or start an indoor herb garden. Your plants will love the improved soil!

Windowsill Herb Garden

March 3, 2014
Lemon Balm Photo Credit: Charity Bauman

Lemon Balm Photo Credit: Charity Bauman

Fresh herbs add unmatched flavor to many dishes, and what better way to make sure you always have some on hand than to grow your own?  Growing herbs indoors is a great way to grow edibles even if you don’t have outdoor space, to have convenient access all year round, and to add greenery and fragrance to your home.

All you need is a few plants, containers, potting mix, and a sunny windowsill.  Herbs you can grow indoors include basil, parsley, chives, mint, rosemary and thyme.  You can purchase plants from a garden center, online, or even sometimes at the grocery store.  Annual herbs such as basil and cilantro can be also be started from seed, but perennials such as rosemary and thyme can be difficult to start.

There are planters sold specifically for small herbs, but any kind of pot you like will work.  Use at least a 4”-6” pot for each plant, and make sure it has holes for drainage and a saucer to catch runoff water.  Fill your pots with a clean, moistened potting mix.  Once your herbs are planted, place them in a sunny windowsill that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.  Water as necessary to keep the soil moist but not soggy, about once a week.

Once plants are at least 6 inches tall, you can start using them!  Regular harvesting encourages growth, so do so regularly, but never harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at once.

To read more, see our posts on Herbs and Herbal Tea.

Starting a Garden (a compendium of links)

March 3, 2014

Whether you have a large backyard or just a windowsill, you can grow food!  If you’re not sure how to get started or you’re looking for advice and new ideas, you’ve come to the right place.  This is the time to think about getting set up for spring planting, and Phipps’ Porchside Gardening blog has a wealth of information on edible gardening of all sizes.  Check out the links below to find posts on getting started in-ground, with raised beds, containers, or even indoors.  Happy gardening!


Begin a Container Garden! (part one)- Pre-Planting

Begin a Container Garden! (part two)- Preparing the Container

Begin a Container Garden! (part three)- Planting and Care

Indoor Growing

Windowsill Herb Garden

Sprouts or Microgreens

In-Ground Gardening

Soil testing

Keyhole Garden

Fruit Trees

Raised Beds

Benefits of Raised Beds

Raised Bed Blueprint

Prepare Your Raised Beds for Spring

General Garden Info

Garden Resources- where to get soil, compost, lumber, seeds and seedlings

April Challenge: Try Something New

March 3, 2014

Are you new to Homegrown Challenges?  If so, click here for more information.

Photo Credit: Gabe Tilove

Photo Credit: Gabe Tilove

This first month, we challenge you to try something new!  As both eaters and gardeners, we can get stuck in routines of eating or growing the same things.  While it’s great to have our favorites, there are so many varieties of plants, fruits and vegetables to try and enjoy!  In trying new foods we may discover new flavors, have fun exploring, or add a new healthy food to our cooking routines.  Come summer you can find unique varieties of vegetables at your local farmer’s market, but for even more options, plant your own!

Follow the April challenges below to try something new.  When you do, snap a photo* and let us know.  Submitted challenges count towards admission to a free celebration at Phipps Conservatory, and entry into this month’s drawing!  This month you could win four free passes to Phipps, or a Cooking with Kids cookbook.

TASTE: Buy and prepare a fruit or vegetable you (or your children) haven’t tasted before.

Look at the market for in season produce.  Have you ever tried arugula, asparagus, fava beans, or fennel?

GARDEN: Plant a variety of vegetable you haven’t grown before.

Look into heirloom varieties, or visit a local seed library.  Check out our Garden Resources for more sources of seeds and seedlings

VISIT: Go to a garden center or plant nursery.

These are great places to find inspiration for your garden, pick up a few new plants, and find any tools or supplies you need for the growing season.  Click here for a list of Phipps recommended nurseries.

MAKE: Start (or expand) a garden! 

If you have lots of space or just a windowsill, you can grow food: build a raised bed, set up containers, grow herbs, or plant a fruit tree.  Find tips on starting a garden of any size here.

Have another idea?  If you have an idea for a different activity, or you want to take it a step further, go ahead!  Just send us a description and photo, and if it relates to the theme we’ll count it.

All submissions should be sent to, and include a photo*, your name, and the challenge(s) you completed.

*By submitting an image, each user agrees Phipps shall have a non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the image submitted (including all rights embodied therein) and that Phipps, and their respective designees may edit, modify, post, creative derivatives work of and distribute the image and all elements of such image, including, without limitation, the names and likenesses of any persons or locations embodied therein, in any and all media now known or hereafter devised, including for advertising and marketing, without compensation or notification to, or permission from, entrant or any third party. Credit to photographers will be printed in any and all use cases. Phipps does not guarantee the posting of any image and reserves the right to take down any image at any time.

Build Your Own Raised Bed

February 26, 2014

Raised Bed Blueprint

To download this blueprint, click here


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