How to Make an Outdoor Hanging Day Bed

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By Susan Patterson

An outdoor hanging daybed is a great place to take a nap, read a book, or even spend a night under the stars. With a little time and carpentry experience, a beautiful day bed can be created using 2-by-4-inch lumber.

Materials
• 2-by-4-inch lumber
• Measuring tape
• Circular saw
• 3-inch wood screws
• Drill
• Sander
• Wood stain or paint
• Paintbrush
• Four 4-inch lag screws with an eye
• Heavy-duty Nylon Rope
• Heavy duty Chain and s hooks
• Outdoor cushion or mattress

Instructions
1. Measure and cut six 2-by-4-inch boards to measuring 43-inch long. These will be the short sides of the support.
2. Measure and cut two 2-by-4-inch boards to measure 83-inches long. These will be the long sides of the support.
3. Measure and cut 12 2-by-4-inch boards to measure 85-inches long. These are the slats for the daybed.
4. Arrange two of the short supports and the two long support boards on a flat surface to form a rectangle. The longer boards should come over the ends of the shorter boards. All four of the boards need to be resting on their sides.
5. Screw the support rectangle together using two 3-inch wood screws at each corner. Screw through the long boards and into the ends of the short boards for the tightest hold.
6. Place the remaining four short supports inside the support rectangle evenly spaced. Screw them in place the same way you did the other support boards.
7. Place a slat across the support frame. The slat should overhang equally on both ends, and 1-inch over the long edge. Screw the board in place using one screw in each of the short supports.
8. Install the remaining slats the same way you did the first, leaving a 1/2-inch gap between each one.
9. Sand the edges of the daybed smooth and apply a paint or stain to protect it from the weather.
10. Drill a pilot hole and screw a lag bolt into each corner of the day bed. This will be for attaching rope.
11. Cut two 10-foot lengths of heavy-duty nylon rope. Thread the first piece of rope through the two lag bolts on one side of the bed then tie the ends together with two overhand knots. Repeat on the other side of the bed.
12. To hang the bed, find a sturdy tree branch that is about 10-20 feet off the ground. Put two large lengths of chain around the branch about 6-feet apart. Place an "S" hook at the end of the chain and hang the bed to the hooks using the nylon loops. The bed can also be hung from a sturdy deck or even a screened porch.
13. Check the rope regularly for signs of wear and replace as needed.
14. Place an outdoor cushion or mattress on the daybed.


Susan is a Master Gardener and a sustainable living researcher. With a background in nutrition and extensive knowledge of whole foods and wellness, Susan incorporates sustainable living practices that will improve the health of her family while reducing their carbon footprint. Follow her on Google+

What My Dead Peas Taught Me

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By Sarah Mooney

As a novice gardener, one technique I have adopted to help me learn is to just go for it. My peppers, chives, and pumpkin plants are thriving on one side of my garden, while on the other side the sugar snap peas hang browned and shriveled, with only subtle hints of life. While some might view this as a setback, I am seeing it as an opportunity to learn about what is going wrong.

With a little research I discovered that my timing is all wrong. Temperatures have reached into the 90s this summer, and for a plant that thrives in cool weather this is detrimental. In order for me to have successful pea production, I should have planted the seeds as early as Saint Patrick's Day. A good guide for starting peas is to identify your last frost date, and plant a month before that. Your pea plants will even be able to survive snow fall. This is not to say that your peas will not survive in the summer heat; I have read that this is possible. Some varieties actually prefer warm weather, however my sugar snap peas clearly do not.

Luckily, despite my huge miscalculations with my peas, I will still have a chance at success. Starting in August, seeds can be sewn and nursed through the end of the summer heat to yield results in the fall.

What should I do to prepare my soil for planting peas?

It is important to note that peas do not need an excess of fertilizer, since they do not do well with an abundance of nitrogen. Peas do like phosphorus, which can be added by scattering bone meal onto your beds.

Make sure you have good soil drainage. This can be determined by creating a hole about a foot deep into the ground and filling it with water. Once it drains completely, fill it a second time and measure the amount of liquid that is able to drain over the course of an hour. If your water is draining at a rate greater than two inches per hour, your soil drainage is adequate.

Add organic material such as grass clippings, dead leaves, compost, etc. to enhance the quality of your soil. Doing this in the fall allows an ample amount of time for your organic material to break down for the next growing season.

Adding wood ash to your soil can also enhance your pea crop because it contains potassium, which is necessary for the success of many plant varieties.

It is good to get in the habit of checking your soil pH every couple of years. Your local garden store should have kits, or you can find them online. You could also seek the assistance of a professional. Peas prefer a pH that is close to neutral, in the 6.0-7.0 range.

Always refer to your seed packet before planting. This will provide you with great information about your specific pea variety, such as when you should plant, seed spacing, sun requirement, and even recipes. No two pea cultivars are the same, so paying attention to detail can offer insight into the personality of the type you have chosen. If you do make mistakes, do not be discouraged. You can choose to look at your dying plants as failures, or you can see them as a valuable teacher.

Growing Ginger

By Mary Frucelli

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I heard you can grow your own ginger from a piece of supermarket ginger so I decided to give it a try. When purchasing ginger you need to look for a piece that has fresh buds on it. Sometimes you have to look through the entire pile of ginger to find fresh pieces. Don't choose a piece that looks old and dried up or you will not have success.

Next, bury the piece of ginger buds facing up, in a pot filled with good quality potting soil. Keep the soil evenly moist and get ready to be patient. It will take quite a few weeks for the ginger plant to pop up out of the soil. After planting, I placed my pot in a south facing window where it would get some sun. Once the plant was growing I moved the pot to my garden where it would get sun most of the day. Over the summer months my ginger plant has grown into a nice plant about two feet tall and it appears to be multiplying.

Since ginger is an Asian tropical plant it will need to be moved inside when the weather gets cold, probably below 50 degrees. Ginger can go dormant in the cold weather depending on the variety you have. It would be best to just water the plant a little during the colder months until you determine if your variety will continue to grow in the winter or if it wants to go dormant. You can harvest your ginger at this point, start new plants, and use some of it for recipes.

There are many ways to use fresh ginger. Ginger can be used raw in hot or cold beverages and smoothies or sautéed in stir-frys or used in cooked dishes. One way to use ginger is to drop a few slices in a cup of hot water and add some lemon and honey. The longer you leave the ginger pieces in the water the stronger it will be. It is a wonderful drink to aid digestion and satisfy your craving for a spicy hot drink in the colder weather. It will also make you feel better if you have a cold or are not feeling well. In warmer months I add fresh ginger slices to my water bottle. It adds a slight ginger flavor to my water and the result is a very refreshing drink. Ginger also adds a wonderful flavor to salad dressings and marinades for grilling meats and vegetables.

Your health can really benefit from drinking or eating ginger. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and can boost your immune system. You can store unpeeled ginger in your refrigerator for a few weeks and it can be kept in your freezer up to 6 months. If you like the flavor of ginger I would recommend growing it yourself. You can easily grow an attractive plant and keep a supply of ginger growing for whenever you would like to use it.

Expert Tips: Gardening Made Simple

By Diana Mackie

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With all that you juggle during the week, it might seem impossible to add "manage a vegetable garden" to the list. However, if you follow these efficient tips and tricks from the gardening pros at Hometalk.com, you'll find that you can easily incorporate gardening into your normal routine.

Location is key when it comes to ensuring follow-through with your garden. It will be most effective to place your garden as close to your back door as you can manage. Ideally, the garden's location will also be in clear view of a window or door you often use, like the kitchen sink window or the door you let the dogs out from. With such clear visual reminders, it will be easier to remember to water the garden, or move it into the sun.

It's also quite wise to start out with a modest garden - just to get your sea legs.

My favorite way to start gardening is to use a small, moveable, container garden. You can reuse an old crate or wine bottle box. Even if you are unsure of where the best sun spots are at first, Hometalk expert Anne of The Micro Gardener recommends "rotating your container garden on a portable trolley to where it gets more sun during the day."

To cut down on the time spent watering and checking the soil, layer your crate garden in the following order, drill 4-5 holes at the bottom, layer with rocks, straw/hay/ then soil mixed with composite. The straw will help the soil remain moist.

To reduce the time you spend weeding, cover the top most layer of your box garden with mulch. "Mulching over bare soil and around your plants can nearly eliminate most of your weeds right from the start," says popular Hometalk gardener Jim, from Old World Gardens Farms.

For overall ease of gardening, you should begin with hardy, low maintenance vegetable plants like tomatoes, peppers, onions, chard, basil, and bush beans.

"I recommend easy-to-grow veggies. Lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes can grow almost anywhere," explains Leslie of The Seasoned Homemaker, also a well-known Hometalk gardener.

If you begin from seeds, give them a hearty soaking with damp paper towels before planting them.

Tip: Save your seed packets to refer back to for watering instructions, and to remember what variety worked or didn't work.

With these tips, gardening can easily be incorporated into your lifestyle and your family will benefit from healthier and tastier vegetables!

Christmas Tree Hunting 101

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Having a Christmas tree is a holiday tradition. Before you head out this season in search of the perfect tree for your family, here are the basics on the various types available. Happy tree hunting!

Balsam Fir

Balsam Firs have needles ¾-1 ½ inch long, and have flat, long-lasting needles that are rounded at the tip. They are a nice, dark green with a silvery cast. People enjoy their dark-green appearance, long-lasting needles and shape. They also retain their pleasing fragrance.

Douglas Fir

Douglas Firs also have a good fragrance. They range from blueish to dark green in color, with 1-1 ½ inch needles that are soft to the touch and radiate out through the branches. Douglas fir needles give off one of the best aromas when crushed. This is a popular type of Christmas tree used in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and Guam.

Fraser Fir

Fraser Firs have dark green, flattened needles that are usually ½-1 inch long. The tree has good needle retention; a nice scent; and strong, pyramid-shaped branches, which turn upward.

Grand Fir

Grand Firs have needles that are 1-1 ½ inch long with glossy, dark green tops and two highly visible, white lines of stomata on the undersides. When the needles are crushed, they give off a citrus smell.

Leland Cypress

A hybrid of Monterey Cypress and Alaskan Cedar, this is one of the most sought-after Christmas trees in the southeastern United States. Its foliage is a dark green to gray color with upright branches and a feathery appearance. Because of its light scent, many people with allergies prefer it to other types of Christmas trees.

Noble Fir

Noble Firs have 4-sided needles that are over 1 inch long; they are bluish green but appear silver because of two white rows of stomata on the underside and one or two rows on the upper surface. The tree's short, stiff branches are great for heavier ornaments, making it a popular Christmas tree in the Pacific Northwest. It is also used to make wreaths, door swags, and garland.

White Fir

White Firs, or Concolor Firs, have blue-green needles that are ½-1 ½ inches long. The needles are nicely shaped and give off an aroma of citrus. White fir is an excellent ornamental tree and is widely planted in the eastern United States and Canada.

Afghan Pine

Mostly grown in Texas, these trees have soft, short needles with sturdy branches. The Afghan Pine also boasts an open appearance, mild fragrance, and long indoor lifespan.

Scotch Pines

Introduced in the United States by European settlers, Scotch Pines are the most common Christmas tree. Their branches as well as their dark green needles are stiff, and the latter are around 1 inch long. This tree and its characteristic scent can last about four weeks. Its needles will stay on even when dry and its open structure leaves plenty of room for ornaments.

Virginia Pine

These have dark green needles that are 1 ½-3 inches long in twisted pairs. Their strong branches enable them to hold heavy ornaments. The aromatic scent of the Virginia Pine makes it a very popular Southern Christmas tree.

White Pine

The largest pine in the U.S. and native to Michigan and Maine, the white pine has little or no fragrance. Its blue-green needles are around 2-5 inches long and come in bundles that give the tree a full appearance. Its slender branches support fewer and smaller decorations compared with Scotch Pines.

Carolina Sapphire

This tree has a steely blue color; dense, lacy foliage with tiny yellow flowers; and an aroma that is a cross between lemon and mint. It's a popular tree in the South.

Black Hills Spruce

The Black Hills Spruce is very dense and pyramidal looking. It has green to blue-green needles, which are about ½-¾ inch long. The branches are stiff and will hold many ornaments. The needles are prickly, though, and may not be suitable for families with young children.

Blue Spruce

The Blue Spruce is the official state tree of Colorado and Utah. Due to its stiff needles, pyramidal shape, and cone-shaped crown, it's very popular as a Christmas tree or an ornamental. Its needles are usually a dull bluish gray to silvery blue but sometimes silvery white. They emit a resinous odor when crushed and are around ¾-1 ½ inch long.

White Spruce

This medium-sized conifer is popular for its shape and color in the United States and Canada. It is the state tree of South Dakota. Needles are usually ½ to ¾ inch long, blunt at the tip, and green to bluish green in color. Needles are four-sided and grow from short, twig-like structures on the stem. When the needles are crushed, they give off an unpleasant odor.

Poinsettia Care

By Mary Frucelli

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Every winter season I enjoy seeing the Poinsettias in stores. Their vivid colors brighten our homes in the cold weather. They are one of the few winter plants you can purchase this time of the year. Poinsettias are now available in many shades of red, pink, white and variegated varieties. It is hard to decide which I like best, but I usually choose the traditional red. The closer to December, most stores begin to discount their price for Poinsettias and this is the time I usually buy them. Poinsettias are a beautiful decoration for your home and are a wonderful gift for friends and family.

Every year I try to keep growing my Poinsettias throughout the year. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. When I bring my Poinsettia home, I keep it in a bright south or east facing window. Because my house is so dry this time of the year, I water it well a couple times a week. You can easily tell when your plant needs water because the leaves will hang. Watering the plant thoroughly will bring it right back to life. Using a general purpose liquid fertilizer once every few weeks also benefits your plant.

Tips for picking a healthy Poinsettia plant:

  • Choose a plant with dark green leaves with no signs of damage or curling.
  • Look for bright colored flowers with no insects.

Care for your Poinsettia plant includes:

  • Keep your Poinsettia near a window that gets bright direct or indirect light.
  • Remove the decorative plastic or foil wrap from around the pot to increase air circulation.
  • Keep the plant away from drafts.
  • Check the soil and water only when it feels dry. Too much water can promote root rot. When you do water, do it until the plant is thoroughly wet.
  • Fertilize every two to four weeks.

Care after December includes:

  • Spring care includes trimming the old flower stems back to 6 inches, leaving a few leaves on the stem. This should promote plant growth.
  • Summer care includes repotting in a larger pot if the plant appears too small for its pot.
  • If summer temperatures are above 50 degrees, the Poinsettia can be placed outside. Remember Poinsettias are tropical plants and they do need light and warmth.
  • If your Poinsettia is outdoors, it may need to be watered more often.
  • In the fall, you need to bring your Poinsettia indoors well before the first frost. Keep the plant near a bright sunny window in the day, and it should be in a dark area every night.
  • If the Poinsettia is kept in a temperature between 60-70 degrees consistently, it should flower by the end of December.
  • Remember to keep fertilizing the plant every two to four weeks.

Poinsettias are inexpensive and beautiful plants. If you are careful and can continue to grow your plant all year long, you will be rewarded with wonderful color the following winter season.



Pumpkin Carving Tips and Tricks

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Nothing says it's Halloween like a carved pumpkin glowing in the dark. Whether you're a novice pumpkin-carver or a seasoned pro, here are some tips, tricks, and ideas to spark your creativity and ensure a gorgeous creation, while making sure you don't hurt yourself in the process.

Choosing a Pumpkin

Before you create your pumpkin masterpiece, you'll want to put some thought into the size and shape you'll want to work with. Tall and thin or short and stout, big or small, perfectly round or lumpy and unusual - there are all kinds of pumpkins!

No matter the size or shape, look for a solid pumpkin that is free of bruises, blemishes, or soft spots. Make sure that it will stand up straight at the angle you want to display it. Wobbly jack o' lanterns with candles inside can be a fire hazard. Avoid carrying it by the stem, as the stem could break and your pumpkin will bruise or crack in a fall.

Tools of the Trade

Before the carving begins, gather your supplies and make sure your work space is clean and free of clutter. Wipe down the outside of the pumpkin with a damp cloth before cutting into it.

Basic supplies include several sheets of newspaper, a long sharp knife, a damp cloth, a bowl or bucket to put the seeds in, a large metal spoon or pumpkin scraper, a pencil or marker to trace or draw with (or a pumpkin pattern and masking tape), a small knife for detail, and something to hold the pumpkin scraps in.

If you're creating your own design, you can draw it freehand right on the pumpkin and cut it out. You can also buy or download pumpkin patterns that will give your finished product a professional look. Many department and hardware stores carry pumpkin carving kits that include patterns and tools to create gorgeous jack o' lanterns, or do an online search for "pumpkin carving patterns" for hundreds of free patterns that you can download and print at home.

If you choose to use a pattern, you'll also need a small tool to poke holes through the pattern and into the pumpkin. An ice pick or a nail will work well for this task.

Preparing the Pumpkin

To keep your work area clean, carve your pumpkin over several layers of newspaper or use a plastic tablecloth. Using a large sharp knife, cut out the top of the pumpkin, angling the knife towards the center to create an angled cut that will support the lid when you replace it on top. Remove lid and cut off any seeds or membranes that are attached to it. Make a small cut out in the lid to allow smoke from the candle to escape.

Using a large spoon, ice cream scoop, or pumpkin scraper, scrape down the inside walls of the pumpkin. Remove seeds and membranes, and set the seeds aside for roasting if desired. Make sure the inside of the pumpkin is scraped clean. To make carving easier, you can also scrape away some of the pumpkin "meat" on the side where you will be cutting out your design. Do not make this side less than half an inch thick, however, or the heat from the candle flame could warp your finished design.

Draw your face or design on the pumpkin, or line up and fasten your pattern using masking tape. It helps to trim the pattern a bit to keep it flat against the pumpkin.

Carving Your Pumpkin

If using a pattern, use the poking tool (kits will come with these, or use a nail or ice pick) to poke small holes into the pumpkin about one-eighth of an inch apart along the cut lines in the pattern. Once you've poked the holes, remove the tape and pattern.

Using a small knife or mini saw, cut very carefully along your drawn lines, or along the holes you poked through the pattern. Cut from the center of the design outwards, removing the knife and reinserting it at corners. Remove and discard cut out pieces as you work.

When all pieces have been cut and removed, go over your design with the knife and clean up any jagged edges or corners that don't look clean.

Finishing Up

Pumpkins shouldn't be carved too far in advance of when they will be displayed; they are a vegetable, and will rot if opened and left out. To help keep your cuts looking fresh for a couple of days, dip a cotton ball in some lemon juice and rub it over the cuts. You can also rub the cuts with Vaseline to preserve a fresh look.

Place a tea light or votive candle inside your pumpkin, unlit, to see if it will stand up straight. If the candle leans or is unstable, place a glass or heat-resistant ceramic saucer in the bottom of the pumpkin and place the candle on top. Light your candle with long fireplace matches to avoid burning yourself.

For a bit of extra seasonal flair, rub a bit of pumpkin pie spice onto the bottom of the pumpkin lid before lighting your candle. When the candle is burning and the lid is in place, the heat from the flame will warm the spices and give off a wonderful fall scent.



The Indoor Garden: Let There Be Lights

The Indoor Garden: Let There Be Lights

With the right lighting, you can achieve a bounty of blooms with the flick of a switch. You can outwit Mother Nature all year long if need be.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Water, fertilize, and prune your artificial-light plants exactly the same as you would plants under natural-light conditions."

Uses

Artificial lighting for your plants can be arranged anywhere--from a living room that gets morning sun to a basement that gets no sun at all. Anywhere you can install lights and keep your temperature above 65 degrees is a good enough place to grow plants. In fact, gardeners have revamped old bomb shelters into greenhouses with the help of artificial lighting.

Indoor lighting will even allow you to grow tropical plants providing you can keep the temperature above 80 degrees. Consider an indoor herb garden for all your kitchen's needs. Artificial light is wonderful for delicate plants that aren't quite ready for the challenge of life in the outdoor garden. Many gardeners begin their flowers and vegetables from seeds indoors before it is warm enough to transfer them outside. Indoor lighting will allow them to thrive.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Reduce the number of hours of daily light in the winter for those plants that go dormant in the cold. These plants will be accustomed to having less light in the winter."

Lighting Types

Generally, you should be able to find the lighting you need at any housewares store, but online garden stores and specialty garden centers may have more tips about using artificial lighting. You need to purchase either cool white and warm white fluorescent tubes. Most plants will grow fine under either type of tube. Warm and cool refers to the color of the light waves (red or blue), not to the amount of heat produced. Special fluorescent bulbs have been developed specifically for growing plants indoors. They are a combination of red and blue light that provides an all around, even growth that encourages blooming.

TIP: Rachel advises, "When using artificial light, it is very important to keep your fluorescent tubes clean and dust-free. Replace burned out bulbs immediately."

The shape of fluorescent tubes also sheds light uniformly. Of course, you can makeover your whole basement as a plant haven and purchase more industrial type fluorescent lighting. There are even lighting systems with built in timers you can set to suit your plants needs. These are extremely beneficial because turning the lights on and off at the same time each day simulates a normal growing cycle, which can encourage healthy growth.

There are alternative plant lights that can also be purchased. In places where a fluorescent light fixture might detract from the stylish decor such as a foyer or living room, an incandescent bulb could be used above a large foliage plant.

TIP: Rachel adds, "However, incandescent bulbs used as the sole light source for a plant typically do not work well. They are more effective when used in conjunction with a south facing window or supplemental fluorescent lighting."

Fluorescent bulbs generate more than six times the light of incandesceant, making them more practical for indoor garden usage. Metal halide and sodium-vapor lamps are great for illuminating plants in large areas. Also called "high pressure discharge lamps", the strong white glow may not be applicable for standard homes, but is best for lighting up open areas like halls and atriums, as well as greenhouses.

TIP: Racjel recommends, "If you're worried about not being able to provide enough artificial light for high-light plants, consider using reflective surfaces to maximize the light your plants get. White paint or aluminum foil underneath your plants are effective and basic methods. Some fluorescent bulbs come with self-contained reflectors. Otherwise, porcelain-coated reflectors are excellent and require little maintenance. Keep reflectors clean and free of rust or dust."

Location

With the proper lighting, you can put your indoor plantings almost anywhere. How about in an old television cabinet. Mount two 20-watt fluorescent light fixtures to the top of the inside shelf and place your plants beneath. You can even mount a two-tube 24 inch fluorescent fixture on the underside of a kitchen cabinet and place your herbal plants beneath it. Lights can be suspended by chains from the basement ceiling and add a valance to protect yourself from glare. There are many places around the house you can transform into a garden center from a closet to an unused fireplace, wherever the gardener chooses.

Once you find a place for your plants indoors and install the light fixtures, you'll need to learn how much light and at what intensity specific plants require. Plants need darkness too in order to form their buds and bloom. The type of plant will determine the distance it needs from the light and the length of time it must remain under it.

Setup

While beginning indoor gardeners may face a period of trial and error when placing their plants under the lights, there are a few general tips that may prove helpful. For one, the length of your fluorescent tubes should correspond to the length of your garden. A good rule of thumb is to provide 20 watts of light per square foot.

TIP: Rachel adds, "The human eye is a poor judge of light intensity, making it hard to measure the exact amount of light needed by your plants at a glance. Some signs that you are not providing enough light include pale green or yellow foliage, no growth, legginess, and small leaves. Light meters can be bought at home and garden centers, and are also very helpful. Fluorescent lights are brighter in the center than on the ends of the tube. Therefore, the best and brightest spot for high-light plants is directly below the center of the tube. Most plants should be located with the tips of the plants 6 to 12 inches from the light source. The intensity of artificial light drops rapidly as the distance from the light source increases."

Initially, try to grow plants which will not exceed 12 inches in height; tall plants may need additional light accommodations.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "If you are intent on growing a taller plant inside, consider using fluorescent bulbs in spotlights aimed at the base and lower leaves of the plant. Also, fluorescent tubes mounted vertically make for great side-lighting."

Plants

Finally, there are several types of plants that are known to do exceedingly well under fluorescent lighting. Beginners may wish to try some of these in order to get the hang of gardening under artificial lighting. Some wonderful foliage plants to try include Swedish ivy, bush basil and coleus. Some great flowering plants include African violets, impatiens and wax begonias.

TIP: Rachel adds, "More experienced gardeners will have great results growing orchids, African violets, and leopard plants in artificial lighting."

The Multi-Vitamin Veggie: Kale

By Orion Darkwood

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Background

Kale is a vegetable in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms. Since it's a cabbage, it can be eaten as such, or cooked like collards. Kale can be differentiated between varieties according to the low, intermediate, or high length of the stem, with varying leaf types--curly, smooth, light green to dark green, violet green or violet brown. In addition, it can be eaten raw, mixed in a salad, used to wrap meats, used in a soup or stew, and juiced. Many recipes and ways to cook this multi-use plant are online.

Kale was one of the most common vegetables in many places of Europe and Middle East during the Middle Ages. It was introduced to Canada and the rest of North America in the 19th century by Russian traders.

Kale also has many health benefits. Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and rich in calcium. It's also very high in iron and has a highoverall nutritional value. It is also a great body detoxifying food. Kale lowers blood pressure and improves eyesight.

Growing It

Kale is very easy to grow and maintain. The key is to plant late in the winter and late fall. Kale will turn bitter in high heat (above 85F), however, it is still edible. Kale can endure temperatures as low as 20F. The growing time from seed to plate is around 60 days (read the label on the seed package or research online for specific growing times of the different varieties). Kale can be grown in tight areas only requiring about 6 square inches and can grow to a foot or more in height depending on variety.

Kale prefers loamy, well-drained, moist (but not soggy) soil of average fertility. Surprisingly, it isn't a fan of soil that is too rich in nitrogen, so it will do best in slightly acidic soil with a pH range of 5.5 to 6.8. Light, sandy soils and very heavy clay soils will affect the flavor of kale, but it will still be edible.

Kale requires some shade, but is otherwise a very easy to maintain plant. Kale completes its life cycle in two years (produces seed) if you are looking to collect heirloom seeds. Kale grows best with certain types of other vegetables and herbs. Its companion plants include basil, beans, dill, garlic, hyssop, lettuce, marigold, mint, onion, radish, rosemary, sage, thyme, and tomato.

Picking It

Harvest Kale when the plant is approximately 8 to 10 inches high, starting with the outside leaves first. If you decide to harvest the entire plant, cut the stock two inches above the soil. The plant will sprout new leaves in 1 to 2 weeks.

Kale is a crop that can provide you with an abundance of nutrients spring and winter depending on your location. You could say that having kale growing is like having a multi-vitamin in your garden.

Orion Darkwood (pen name of William Bradford) is an avid gardener, self-reliance instructor, writer, poet and small business owner. To learn more about Orion go to www.crossedswordsus.com.

Growing Cabbage in the Fall

By Mary Frucelli

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Driving around I see everyone's gardens withered and brown. Their harvests were over, not to be seen again till next year. I knew there had to be more fall gardening to do and more vegetables that I could grow. I researched and found that cabbage is a good fall and winter crop to grow in North Carolina. I took a trip to my local garden center in October and sure enough they had cabbage seeds. The ideal planting time is mid to late October so I decided to give it a try.

I began by enriching a couple rows in my raised bed with some good compost and old straw from the straw bales I grew my tomatoes in. The soil was still in pretty good condition so it really didn't need that much. I planted the seeds as directed on the package and kept it moist. It wasn't long before seedlings emerged and were growing well. In the beginning I did notice quite a few holes in some of the early cabbage plant leaves, but I never saw what was actually eating the leaves. Those that were severely damaged I pulled out, making room for the stronger, healthier plants. Cabbage needs a lot of room to grow so the plants shouldn't be too close together.

It is now November and the plants are growing well. We haven't had many freezing nights but these plants are hardy enough to take it and keep growing. I have heard of cabbage growing in snow up North so we shall see if this is true. I am giving the plants a good watering once a week and that seems as though it is all they need. I am just waiting for the cabbage heads to emerge and start growing.

What will I do with the cabbage I grow? Cabbage is one of the most versatile vegetables you can use. It is a delicious and very healthy addition to soup, chopped raw in coleslaw or a salad, steamed with potatoes or you can stuff it with ground meat and rice and bake it with the sauce of your choice.

One of my favorite and most healthy ways to prepare cabbage is to ferment it. You can easily do this yourself and create a vegetable that will provide you with the natural fermented bacteria that is good for your digestive system. To begin, thoroughly wash and dry a jar and lid about the size of a Mason jar. Next, wash your cabbage and thinly slice it almost shredding it and place it in a bowl. Lightly sprinkle the cabbage with salt, mix it and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. The salt will help to draw the moisture out of the cabbage. Next, pack the cabbage in the jar pressing it to the bottom of the jar as hard as you can. As you pack the cabbage you should see juice coming out and the more you pack it down the more juice you will see. Pack the jar to about a couple inches from the opening and push the cabbage down so that it is submerged in the juice. Then place the lid on the jar and let the jar sit on your counter in an average 70 degree temperature for a week or two. You should see a little bubbling and the cabbage should start to look like sauerkraut. The longer you let it ferment,  the stronger it will be. At any point you can put it in the refrigerator and it will keep for a few months.

I have never had a batch go bad, but if for any reason you believe your cabbage has spoiled, do not eat it. If prepared properly it will look like sauerkraut. I usually add a little to salads but you can put it in almost any dish. You only need to use a little to reap the health benefits from fermented cabbage.

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