Thursday Odds and Ends

Stinging Nettle in your garden is a sign you have nitrogen rich soil.  (Who knew?)
What a week. Given the climate out there (and I don't mean the weather) it makes me wonder if a group of herb hating zealots are going through my phone records or arranging to have my taxes audited as I'm writing this. Just when I start to recover from one shocker, another one rears its ugly head. I'm pretty apolitical, but yikes. My cousin refuses to follow the news, and this has been her policy for over a decade now. I'm beginning to appreciate her sentiments.

Well, as odd as all this big brother political news has been, I have some more garden specific tidbits to share:

Spanish herbs - The cuisine of Spain is rich in flavor and full of healthy ingredients often promoted by proponents of the Mediterranean diet. I was commissioned to write an article about Spanish food (it's going through editorial review now), but wanted to share a list of the premier herbs and spices used frequently in Spanish cooking. Just reading the names will make you hungry: coriander, cumin, garlic, paprika, cinnamon, saffron, rosemary, thyme, parsley, cilantro, bay leaf, sage, tarragon, nutmeg, mint, marjoram and oregano. You can grow the herbs (but not the spices) listed here in your backyard, and many will even thrive as houseplants. Now that's home cooking.

Test your garden soil - I've mentioned this in a number places, like on Twitter and Pinterest, but it bears repeating here. If you'd like to test your garden soil fast to determine if it's acidic or alkaline, there's an easy way to get the dirty secret without the aid of an expensive test kit. You can complete the test in less than five minutes with garden dirt and simple household ingredients. I think I first saw this in Organic Gardening magazine, but since then it's made the rounds online. This is how it works:

  • In a non-reactive container (glass, stainless steel), add half cup soil to half cup baking soda.
  • Now add a half cup of water.
  • If the dirt cocktail fizzes, your soil is acidic.

  • If it doesn't fizz, empty and wash the container.
  • Now, add a half cup soil, a couple of tablespoons water and a half cup vinegar.
  • If it fizzes, your soil is alkaline.

  • No reaction means your soil is relatively neutral.

 There's no right or wrong.  It just depends on what you want to grow.

It's a good idea to test multiple areas in your garden to get a comprehensive picture of the soil you're dealing with.

Weed wisdom - If you like mystery novels, you'll love this. The weeds in your landscape tell a fascinating tale of attraction, betrayal, loss and redemption. What am I talking about? The weeds that love your garden reveal a lot about the organic composition of your soil -- and its potential. Identifying the common weeds you encounter regularly will help you provide the best environment for your invited plants, this season and beyond. You can learn more about this gripping tale at Sierra Worm Compost: Soil Fertility and What Weeds Can Tell Us  

Keep a garden journal - It seems to me that writing notes about garden tasks while you're elbow deep in potting mix (or worse) calls for two very different skill sets. I worked in sales once and felt the same way about the creative process involved in selling. Changing gears to produce the follow up paperwork always seemed so hard -- a tougher mental challenge than it should have been.

There are adorable little gardening diaries that may help you stay current with gardening projects -- but, honestly, none of them ever helped me much. My gardening wisdom, such as it is, is usually part leisurely reflection and a healthy abundance of unlovely scribbled shorthand notes that look like something you'd find on the wall of a pyramid.

If you're more into gardening than writing about it, please make the effort to document your efforts in some orderly but convenient way, though. You'll thank yourself later. Really. I use a small spiral notebook to take "field" notes and transfer the information into Microsoft OneNote later -- if I can decipher what I've written. (I'm being honest.) I keep one notebook per season. It gets dirty, water stained and sometimes a little buggy, too, but the information inside is pure gold.

A little field documentation can be invaluable when determining:

  • The last likely frost date in your area
  • Specific plant cultivars that do well in of your garden
  • When to rotate your crops or provide additional soil amendments
  • What pest control measures work best on certain plants
  • When to start successive plantings of crops like lettuce
  • When to transplant, prune and fertilize
  • Harvesting schedules
  • Yields (like: How many pounds of grape tomatoes -- approximately -- can you expect from a Topsy Turvy planter as opposed to a standard self-watering pot.)
  • The first fall frost date in your area
  • What plants should be overwintered indoors, mulched, cut back severely or just left alone

These are just a few things you can track. There are hundreds if not thousands more. Taking lots and lots of photos is nice, too. It may not seem important this year or next, but in five or six years, those photos will bestir some wonderful garden memories.

Photo Courtesy of JPPI at


  1. I do love the odds and ends posts and often share them with a friend. They are fun & informative and are not a waste of your time in my opinion. Actually I love reading all your posts and share often. Thanks.

  2. Much appreciated post - especially about Spanish herbs as I live in Spain on the Costa del Sol (I'm a retired British ex-pat). I grow most of the herbs you mentioned: parsley, mint, rosemary, oregano, basil, bay leaf, thyme, cilantro and sage. However, it's difficult to find seeds for marjoram - will have to wait until I visit UK again.
    We never have a frost here as I live near the coast, so lucky! We also have two planting seasons April and October...almost like two Springs :)
    I do keep a diary but not so much about my garden, more about what wild flowers grow in the campo (country-side) each year. Last year wild irises and purple vetchling proliferated; this year it's toad flax and purple buglos. So fascinating to watch what comes up each year!


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