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Hellstrip Transformation

The Hellstrip Transformation

Once upon a time there was a sad, sad hellstrip. You know what I’m talking about – that lonely space between the sidewalk and the street that is usually only frequented by local dogs on their neighborhood rounds who are only doing their part in trying to keep the area well-fertilized.

While my focus this year will be on cultivating a sustainable food forest in the back garden, I just couldn’t stand knowing that my neighbors might drive by the house every day judging me. They’re totally within their rights to do so…they know I’m a professional gardener, and yet the front yard looks like the space that time forgot.

Well I’ll show them! I’ll clean up that hellstrip, get rid of the overgrown grass and weeds, and make it a space that is beautiful and easy to maintain.

The Hellstrip TransformationI started at the end that connects to the driveway, because I wanted to be able to get rid of an overgrowth of high grass and weeds around the mailbox and utility pole.

On the first day, I made it this far. No, it doesn’t look like much but let me tell you, this was work. To arrive at the product you see in the photo above, I had to dig and remove 3 large buckets full of grass, weeds, and soil, then carry the same large bucket full of wood chip mulch from the back garden to cover the newly-exposed (and amazingly earthworm-rich) soil.

The Hellstrip Transformation

The photo above was just after I filled the third bucket on Day 2. The photo below, was bucket #4. In the majority of the space, I am removing as much as five inches of soil and grass.The Hellstrip Transformation

In order to stay true to my permaculture-centered focus, I am redistributing all of the removed dirt and debris to the back garden for another project. More on that later.

Below, you see the end of Day 2. I have removed the grass and weeds from about 35-40% of the hellstrip and covered it with a thick layer of local wood chip mulch. I did not remove my beloved co-gardener Sadie from the yard. She stays.

Hellstrip 4

The next update will show all of the grass and weeds gone, the foundation plants in place, and the low-maintenance hellstrip completed.

What plants would you use in a space like this?

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Review: The Barebones Hori Hori Knife

Hori Hori Knife from Barebones Garden

As a professional gardener and garden writer I am often approached to try out and review new products, but spring is high season for that sort of thing. I turn down many such offers, unless the product meets a few basic criteria:

  1. It is relevant and applicable to the work I do.
  2. It is morally and ethically in line with what I believe and teach.
  3. It is something that I honestly believe I might purchase and use.

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California Drought and The Water Buffalo in the Room

The topic of almonds came up in conversation with a friend yesterday.

almonds

His point was that if we care about California (the country’s largest producer of almonds), we should lay off the almond consumption, as the almond industry accounts for ten percent of the state’s water usage. I immediately agreed, thinking of the almond milk iced lattes I enjoy a couple of times a week with my vegan doughnuts from Revolution Doughnuts.

Then I thought about the topic for most of the night and realized that giving up almonds was probably not the best choice for me. Instead, I want to explain a bit about industrial agriculture in California and where all of that water is really going. First, I should tell you that 80 percent of California’s water is used by industrial agriculture, not the residents and businesses who have been ordered to reduce their water use by 25 percent.

The industry that uses the overwhelming majority of the state’s water has no restrictions on water use.

Read that again.

drought

In reaction to what has been noted as an inordinately high percentage of water usage by some agriculture crops like almonds and chickpeas, several groups, websites, and well-meaning individuals have called for people to stop using the products altogether.

I understand, but I want them to understand something as well. I want them to understand that 47 percent of California’s water supply is used by the meat and dairy industries. That’s nearly half of the water consumption of a parched and brittle land.

Now this is where I’m going to get some feathers ruffled, because I’m going to hit Americans where it really hurts – not in their almond milk lattes, but in their burgers and steaks. That’s right, I’m saying without hesitation or qualification that if you really want to help to reduce water consumption in California in time to save it from some pretty dire consequences, you should reduce the amount of beef and dairy you consume – like now. It’s the Water Buffalo in the room, and it is high time we start talking about it.

It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef.

Let’s go back to the almonds for a minute. I mentioned previously that they drink up 10 percent of California’s water, right? Did you know that alfalfa – a crop that is grown only as animal feed – uses 15 percent, and most of the alfalfa is shipped overseas? Where’s the outrage there?

I gave up meat and dairy last June for several reason, not the least of which is what raising it on an industrial scale is doing to our environment. I didn’t make that decision lightly, and I’m not writing this in a flippant way either. You don’t have to give up meat and dairy entirely to consume less, and consuming less is better for the environment and for your health.

For more info, I recommend these links:

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FOOD CAMP: Plant-Based Boot Camp

I am so freaking happy to finally announce that the next installment in my FOOD CAMP cooking instruction series is now in development. This second digital book will be called PLANT-BASED BOOT CAMP, and this time, I’m going big.

Food Camp 2 - Plant Based Boot Camp

PBBC will be a complete 30-day guidebook to taking control of your life. Not only will the book be packed with great tasting, nutritionally complete recipes, those recipes will be 100% plant-based. No meat, no dairy. I’m taking you back to the basics to show you how paying attention to the way your body reacts to food can change your life for the better.

With this book, I’m going to be with you from Day 1 of a brand new life. You will be guided through every meal for 30 days, and along the way I will give you my own tips for healthier living without giving up the things you love. So relax, that means you can go back to eating meat and dairy after you finish PBBC, with a better understanding of how to balance what you eat and when.

A 30-day meal plan, complete with shopping lists, every recipe you need, and the information you need to begin changing your life immediately. This one’s going to be a lot of work, but it will be worth it. For years, so many of you have told me that you want to be healthier, to lose weight, to have more energy. Now I’m ready to do something about it.

So get ready for FOOD CAMP: Plant-Based Boot Camp!

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Creamy Cauliflower Wild Rice with Roasted Vegetables

Creamy Cauliflower Wild Rice with Roasted Vegetables

Since I returned to a plant-based diet last year, I have been spending a lot of time recreating my favorite foods in a healthier way, and this meal was no exception.

Let me just get it out there that I am a huge fan of creamy foods. Like huge. So when I saw a basic recipe for making a creamy sauce that was made up primarily of cauliflower, I knew I was going to have to go there.

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Vegan Arugula Pesto with Zucchini Noodles

I’ve been wanting to make something new for dinner for a while now, but I wanted it to have a comfort food feel. When I can’t quite decide what I want to do, I usually look through my photo database that contains years of images from meals (good and bad) long since forgotten. That’s when I saw a photo of an old favorite, and I knew what had to be done.

arugula pesto with zucchini noodles - fork

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It’s Time to Talk About Bees

honey bee

Throughout much of our lives, we are taught to fear, even despise bees. In reality, we owe more to the hardworking bee than most of us realize.

The mystery plague known as Colony Collapse Disorder has been in the news for several years now. For reasons still unknown, CCD occurs when the adult worker bee population of a hive disappears, leaving the queen and even honey behind. This has lead to a decided upswing in the number of backyard beekeepers across North America who are enjoying the benefit of increased pollinator activity in their communities, and some tasty honey to boot.

Keeping honey bees isn’t easy. It requires expensive equipment and quite a bit of monitoring and maintenance that can be daunting and even off-putting for a novice. Now before you think I’m warning you against home beekeeping, I should tell you that I intend on introducing a hive into my back garden a little later in the year. That said, I want to tell you about some other bees that get less of a spotlight, but do just as much work pollinating our food crops. What’s more, they’re not susceptible to Colony Collapse Disorder!

mason bee habitat

Check out those awesome little birdhouses… oh, waitaminute! Those are bee habitats! That’s right, habitats for mason bees, to be exact.

Mason bees are incredibly hard workers, but unlike honey bees, there are over 130 species of mason bees that are native to North America. What’s more, mason bees are homebodies in the strictest sense; they don’t ever travel more than 300 feet from their tiny little home to forage. What does this mean to a home garden?

  • It means that when you have a mason bee habitat in your yard or garden, you’re kinda guaranteed to increase the pollinator activity in your yard, whereas honey bees commonly travel 4 miles away from home to seek out food.
  • It means that you can increase pollinator activity at home without the expense or potential risk of raising honey bees.
  • It means that you can help to alleviate the pressure on the honeybee population by increasing the population of other beneficials, like mason bees.

Added bonus? Mason bees hardly ever sting!

mason bees on hand

Now you’re probably asking yourself why I am telling you about these awesome bees, and I’m glad you asked. I wanted to let you know about masons because I want to introduce you to my friends at Crown Bees and their incredible effort to protect our endangered food supply.

Save The Bees comes at a critical time, when the foods (even beer) we love are at a higher risk than ever before because the number of pollinators is shrinking too fast to keep up with demand. Take a look at this quick video that explains the campaign far better than I could:

 

Bee BoosterNow I want to ask you to join me in supporting the Save The Bees campaign by becoming a Bee Booster. You can do this by donating outright and by adding mason bees to your own back yard or garden. I am planning a big habitat for my own space and I’ll share the entire process with you here, as well as answer any questions you have about the process or the bees. Don’t worry, if I’m ever stumped, Crown Bees are always ready to give you the answers you need.

There’s also a brand new community that I know you’re going to want to take part in. Check it all out by clicking here, or on the Native Bee Booster logo above.

The bees and our beloved food crops need our help, so let’s do it, ya’ll! If you have any questions at all, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll make sure they get answered quickly.

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Time to Spring Ahead with Plants from Longfield Gardens

Longfield Plants

It’s here! It’s here! Tomorrow is the first day of spring 2015 and I’m so excited I can’t stand it! Yesterday I received my order from Longfield Gardens that contains 50 strawberry plants for a special installation surrounding a gazing ball that I picked up from a local friend a couple of weeks ago.

The order also has some ornamental plants that may surprise folks who have been following me for a long time, as I have historically been almost exclusively edible-centric in my plantings. Even though my new garden design is going to be focused on permaculture principles, I wanted to add plenty of color, interest, and diversity to the space, and the gorgeous hostas and cannas will be just the ticket. Here’s what the order contained:

As you can see from the photo above, these plants are shipped bare root, sealed in plastic bags. I have inspected every plant in every bag, and I can say without hesitation that the plant health and quality is top shelf.

I arranged my schedule so that I can spend the majority of 3/20/15 – The First Day of Spring – in the garden as it should be. The cultivator will be breaking the ground, plants will be introduced to their new home, and there will be much dirt under my fingernails when the day is done. I do all of this knowing full well the distinct probability of another frost in the new 2-3 weeks, but I have everything in place to protect my new babies should it become necessary. Until then, it’s time to spring ahead.

Are you planting anything new this year? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

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Hey Spring! Let’s Get Going!

bonnie plants

Just like that, without any fanfare, the spring 2015 planting season has begun in my new garden space. Four days before the official beginning of spring, the sun is shining, temperatures are tipping the 80 degree mark and I just can’t help myself – I’ve got to plant something!

Lucky for me, there are several retailers within a few miles that carry the wonderful products from my friends at Bonnie Plants, so all that was left was to exercise a bit of restraint when choosing what I would do today. Because I will be purchasing seedlings from a local source in support of neighborhood gardening projects, I decided on two tomatoes today: Super Sweet 100 and German Johnson. I also grabbed a bundle of Georgia Sweet onions, as I didn’t manage to plant any last fall.

For the first time all year, I have dirt under my fingernails again, and a new back garden space to build out this season. It will be largely permaculture-inspired, with the overwhelming majority of plantings being edible.

potatoes

After quite a few years without them, I plan to include potatoes in this year’s garden lineup, though I am still on the fence about which variety to grow. I love fingerlings and Yukon Gold and have had great success with both in zone 7, but I’m open to other options if someone can convince me that they will be a better choice.

What kind of potatoes are you growing this year? Leave a comment below and tell me about your experience!

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Cheezy Mexican Chili Mac (It’s Vegan!)

While convenience foods are often not good for us, there’s something about them that draws us in time and time again. Not only are they easy to prepare, they often trigger fond and comforting memories of childhood. I have wanted to create a meat and dairy-free version of my Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni for a while now, but the recent discovery of an impressive nacho cheese replacement recipe told me that last night was the night.

Cheezy Chili Mac

The brilliance of this meal was absolutely found in the Nacho Cheese recipe from a blog called Hot for Food. It comes together in minutes and has a brilliant flavor. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. If you look at the recipe and it intimidates you, just replace the arrowroot starch it calls for with non-GMO corn starch and you’ll never know the difference.

Simple Truth CrumblesIn place of the ground meat, I am using a soy-based product from Kroger’s Simple Truth line called Meatless Crumbles. The texture and flavor is impressive, and it is as flexible as the meat it replaces. I have to admit that I have been really impressed with the extensive organic and health-forward offerings I have seen in many of the Kroger stores in my area.

 

Cheezy Mexican Chili Mac (It's Vegan!)
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Mexican
Ingredients
  • 2 cups macaroni noodles
  • 2 cups Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles (or other similar product)
  • 2 Tablespoons Homemade Taco Seasoning
  • ⅛ cup water
  • Nacho Cheese from Hot for Food Blog (link above)
  • Olive oil
Instructions
  1. Cook macaroni according to package instructions and drain.
  2. Saute crumbles over medium high heat in a little oil for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add taco seasoning and water, stir, and continue to cook over medium heat until the liquid reduces.
  4. Add cooked macaroni and nacho cheese and stir. Cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

 

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