HOW TO :: Grow Your Own Fig Tree | Propagating Figs

This is a great fall project as we move into winter. Be sure to position the cutting in a sunny spot so it can put on growth before winter really sets in. It will go dormant over winter (keep the soil moisture consistently JUST damp) and pick up growth as we turn into the new year.figs_food52 copy I think you'll be surprised at how simple this is, but for anyone interested, here are the instructions if you want to DIY it:

  1. Find a fig tree! Maybe your neighbor has one or maybe you're in a local park.
  2. Using pruning shears, cut a 4- to 10-inch long piece of soft wood new growth, just above a plant node.
  3. Fill a large pot with potting soil (a simple plastic pot that shrubs come in is perfect) and stick the fig cutting in, cut side down. Don't worry about stripping the bark, spacing or anything. You just need to place the cutting in a well-drained medium with space to grow.
  4. Water, water, water! Moisture is key. Eventually, your cutting will grow smaller little leaves and develop a root system. You know it is ready for replanting or repotting when you give the plant a slight tug and it resists.

Five Container Plants For Fall

It's hard to believe, but fall is on its way. Here, a quick guide on what to plant now for the perfect patio harvest come cold weather. plantingIt doesn’t necessarily feel like it, but sadly summer is waning. Our days are shorter and while temperatures may remain hot (you lucky ducks!), shorter days means less light for growing plants. In many states across the country this means it’s time to get the winter garden going, if you haven’t already. Late summer begs for cool loving crops that are quick to grow. For anyone starting now, smaller leafy greens are your friend.

By nature, leafy greens require less direct sunlight, prefer it when it’s a bit cooler, and can be grown in both a proper garden bed and a smaller container. Most greens germinate quickly and many can be found as starts. Following is a list of five plants to grow right now – some can be harvested before winter sets in, and others can be left to overwinter in regions with mild temperatures. Be sure to get planting straight away though. Mother Nature is moving fast and I can tell you from experience...she usually wins the race.

Getting Started You’ll need a pot filled to the brim with potting soil. Feel free to use an old pot; just refresh the soil and make sure you remove all old root hairs. If you’re using seed, you can direct sow, which is a method in which you sow a seed directly into the soil.

You can also broadcast sow seeds for loose leaves: you do this by taking a handful of seeds and scattering them evenly over a designated area, sort of like salting meat. These seeds fall on the soil haphazardly and lack any spacing. (I'm showing the technique in a garden bed here, but it also works for containers!)

Of course, you can also use a start when planting this fall. Plant starts are a bit easier as they give you a jump on the season and don’t require you to nurture seeds through germination. When transplanting a plant start into a pot, you need only provide enough space for the plant to grow. Loosen up the transplants root system and be sure to separate out individual plants so you allow them room to come to full maturity.

raddichio copy

1. Lettuce Many lettuces will grow and mature in less than two months. These are wonderful immediate gratification kind of plants, as they germinate and grow quickly and are easily harvested. Lettuces come in assorted sizes and colors, allowing for a nice salad bowl mix, but be sure to choose varieties that will do well late in the season – I really love Green Deer Tongue lettuce for winter and have heard great things about Arctic King, a butterhead for anyone wanting a traditional green lettuce leaf.

Where and When to Plant • Sow lettuce seed or plant starts through the month of September.

Pot Size • Sow seeds in a long, shallow, pale-colored plastic container -- lettuces are shallow-rooted, and plastic containers hold water a bit longer than clay ones. • If using seeds, be sure to keep the seedbed moist until seeds germinate, which typically happens in five to seven days.

How to Harvest • To harvest lettuce, try to remove the larger outer leaves first. Using a small pair of scissors, cut the individual leaf stems as close to the base of the main stem as possible, leaving some interior leaves behind.

planting2. Chervil Chervil has tender fernlike leaves, it is extremely dainty and delicate. The flavor is not unlike dill, but it is sharper and more crisp. It doesn’t linger on your palate as dill can, and it won’t overpower a dish. Chervil is a great match for eggs, light broths, and with white fish of any kind. (Editor's Note: The chervil hasn't popped up in Amy's garden yet, so you get a photo of sowing in action! Chervil looks like this.)

Where and When to Plant • Sow in late summer.

Pot Size • Chervil can be grown in a medium-depth pot, about eight to twelve inches deep. The wider the pot, the more thickly the plant will fill in, so keep that in mind when choosing.

How to Harvest • Cut the entire stem of chervil and use both leaves and stem. • The plant will quickly fill back in, so harvest often!

greenonion copy3. Green Onions Scallions, chives, green onions – they are all in the same family of allium and are quick producing. You can grow for greens or the whole plant.

Where and When to Plant • Green onions can be sown in late summer for a fall harvest.

Pot Size • A shallow container works well. Try these in a gutter garden!

How to Harvest • Pull the entire scallion from the soil, if you’d like to use the white. • For greens only, trim the stems leaving a few inches of the green onion behind so it can re-grow.

arugula_sprouts copy4. Arugula Arugula is a leafy green that produces long flat leaves with a distinct peppery flavor. Each seed produces one thin stem, which leaves grow out from. You can further your harvest by cutting them back often.

Where and When to Plant • Sow arugula seeds in the top layer of potting soil from late August through October.

Pot Size • If given the room, arugula plants may grow to well over two feet! In a small to medium container, however, leaves grow the perfect size for salad.

How to Harvest • Cut arugula at the base of each leaf off the main stem. • You can decide for yourself when the leaf is big enough, but larger leaves are much more peppery.

escaroleinbed copy5. Chicories Chicories are essentially bitter salad greens that can be eaten raw or take well to grilling. Chicories such as escaroles and endives are good choices for fall.

Where and When to Plant • Sow seed or plant starts now through the first week of September.

Pot Size • Sow seeds in a long, shallow, pale-colored plastic container, as chicories are also shallow rooted plants.

How to Harvest • To harvest, remove the larger outer leaves first. Like for lettuce, using a small pair of scissors, cut the individual leaf stems as close to the base of the main stem as possible, leaving some interior leaves behind.

Chamomile and Coconut Granola Recipe

chamomile granolaOriginally published in my book Apartment Gardening, this is one of my all time favorite recipes. This is also the recipe that was highlighted in this fun interview I did for the Wall Street Journal. (And YES, I still feel the same way about bacon.) With all that recipe sharing, I figured I should probably offer it here, too - right?! I often have a jar of this granola on the shelves of my pantry. It's a nutritious and filling topping for non-fat yogurt, making it an excellent choice for anyone trying to eat healthy or commit to a morning routine.

My friend Lynda worked as a cheese maker at a goat dairy. A few summers ago I got to spend a few days out in farm country with her, and every morning for breakfast I had a deep bowl of her perfect goat milk yogurt topped with spoonfuls of her homemade granola and a drizzle of honey. Her granola has no added butter or sugar, so it’s not gooey-crunchy like most granola, but it does have toasty, flaky bits like coconut, oats, and almonds. The flavor is intensified with some chamomile buds and sesame seeds. After trying this, you’ll never think of granola in the same way again.

Chamomile & Coconut Granola

Makes 6 servings

1 cup rolled oats 1 cup sliced almonds 1 cup raw, unsweetened coconut flakes 1⁄4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon crushed dried chamomile buds 1 tablespoon untoasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal

Preheat the oven to 350 ̊F. Place all ingredients on a sheet pan and stir to combine. Place in the oven and toast for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and toss, redistributing granola into a single layer. Toast until the coconut flakes are golden brown, another 3 to
4 minutes. Serve by the handful over a bowl of plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey and some fresh fruit. Cooled leftover granola can be stored in the pantry, in a sealed container, for about 3 weeks. For MORE recipes using chamomile, check out my Chamomile Cordial recipe here.

For TIPS on harvesting and drying chamomile for recipes or medicinals, check out my How-To guide here.

Best Trellis Ideas

pea trellisIf you haven't planted your Sugar Snap, English or Snow peas by now, it's time to get them in the garden! These springtime plants grow quickly and can be used in a vertical garden, thereby freeing up precious space on the ground. I use all sorts of different trellises in the garden and no one exhibits these better than Lily over at Rake & Make. This is her favorite pea trellis, and I'd have to agree. We use string in all of our gardens, but a staple gun and netting is a fine idea - you can roll it up when the season ends. I also love her version of a cucumber trellis - it's a great way to get those heavy fruits up and off the ground and makes them easy to harvest.

Incidentally, both peas and cucumbers can be grown in pots, making them a great choice for anyone with limited space or a small balcony. These tall pea vines would provide temporary (and delicious) privacy between neighbors.

Lily and I met in 2007 when we both attended an intensive organic gardening series. She had just bought a home and I was researching an article for Edible Seattle. Since then, she has become and urban farming master and a wonderful homemaker as well. She made her own wedding dress, knits her own sweaters and grows her own food. Marry ME, Lily! Her blog is an amazing resource full of great information.

Check out her site for more awesome vertical garden tips and best trellis ideas, along with crafty DIY projects. I highly recommend!



Black & Blue SalviaI've been growing food for people in their backyards since 2004 and while my breadth of knowledge for edibles is deep, I've only just scratched the surface of all other plants. Landscape plants, bushes, annual flowers and trees remain a mystery to me. Solution? Write a column! Introducing PLANT SPOTLIGHT.

Salvia's are a large genus of plants that include all sage. Everything from the commonly known varieties, like Common Sage (aka Salvia Officinalis) that we use to cook with, to more showy ornamental plants like this Salvia Black & Blue. Woody and fragrant, salvia's add both color and productivity to any garden. Most importantly, perhaps, they are powerful pollinator magnets - attracting hummingbirds and insects to the garden. With blooms ranging from red to purple and heavily scented leaves, salvias are a hardy plant and will last for years in your garden. (Note that for hard winters, you must definitely mulch!)

I've grown Tangerine Sage in my gardens for years and love it. It does well in a large pot on my patio and absolutely explodes if given the space in a garden bed. I use the leaves in sun tea infusions or add them to tomato salads. Plus, the blooms can't be beat for attracting hummingbirds to a space.

All plants have different growing needs, but salvias do well in full sun or partly shaded areas of the garden. They are off-putting to most pests, so you shouldn't have to worry about deer or bunnies. And they are drought tolerant, so a great choice for any apartment dwellers that are adding containers (which tend to dry out quickly) or a garden bed that does not have regular irrigation.

Swanson's Nursery put together this amazing collection of salvia plants - a great resource for anyone wanting to add herbs, color and attract pollinators to the garden. In honor of National Pollinator Week, let me also add that an edible garden is only prolific when insects, bugs and birds spend time there. These pollinators play crucial roles in our ecosystem and help to disperse pollen and seed. While bees are most easily thought of as pollinators, flies, butterflies, beetles, moths and even bats are help this natural lifecycle. With a foundational role in our ecosystem, it is thought that pollinators contribute to 80% of the planet's plant life. So, it is VERY IMPORTANT that we all do our part and support this process. Swanson's also put together a great pollinator resource, for a quick reference tool. If you live in the city, go nab yourself a plant today!

And if you need MORE help, don't forget to check out Swanson's Grow With Us Project - they offer advice and give you a discount on plants. Total win. AND, and, and……stay tuned for details on a great promotional give away they are hosting next week! We are collecting awesome garden ideas on Pinterest and would love to hear from YOU. I'll have details here - stay tuned.

All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. This is a sponsored post. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

How To :: Building Potato Cages

Potatoes, diggin upPotatoes are one of the most often requested vegetables when I first meet with clients, and they're a great crop to grow if you have limited space. Potatoes are a 'tuber', an underground, fleshy stem bearing buds that eventually turn into the potato. (Jerusalem artichokes aka sunchokes are tubers, too.) Dahlias are also tubers, but those roots are simply food-storing roots for the plant. Once the potato seed is planted (check out this detailed post with pics for details), the seed (which is a small cut piece of a potato with a sprouted 'eye') will put on top growth - a leafy part of the plant that develops in about 4 weeks after planting. This leafy bit produces leaves and flowers. As the plant stem grows, they produce too much energy for the plant and this energy is then stored in the 'tubers', which we call potatoes. Get it? Good.

The trick with growing potatoes then, is to cultivate a healthy environment so that each stem produces as many tubers as possible. To do this, after some stem and leaves develop, we slowly mulch the beds with hay which helps to hold in moisture and also creates a growing medium for the tubers. When mulching, aim to leave about 3 to 4 inches of stem exposed and add hay as needed.

NOW - how to actually GROW potatoes? There are several techniques, and I've tried them all over the years. The most common is called "hilling" - dig a 6-8" trench, drop in cut & sprouted potato seeds and fill the trench halfway with soil. As the plant grows its vine, you continue covering the trench, leaving about 8" of covered seed - all the more volume to grow in. This is the old school farm-y way, but can be difficult for urban farmers with limited space.'ve successfully grown potatoes in a soil bag on my apartment garden deck, in burlap bags at Volunteer Park Cafe and in trenches when I have the space. This year, I came across a post by Erica over at Northwest Edible Life, wherein she built potato 'cages' - tall planters made from cementing mesh and landscape fabric. You essentially make circular beds with the fencing and line them with landscape fabric to hold in the soil. Building tomato cages is cheap and easy to do, so I added some to Volunteer Park Cafe this year. One roll of 5 foot tall, 100' long concrete mesh cost me $35 at Stoneway Hardware. I had saved up some cool looking vintage feed bags a few years ago, and lined the beds with this instead, but landscaping fabric also works well and looks decent. Erica has a long, detailed How To post that I highly recommend you read. And she posted her results after trying this new potato-making project, which are also great food for thought.

To check out side by side growth, I encourage all of you to head up to Volunteer Park Cafe one afternoon soon (Agnes, my gardner cohort is there on Wednesday afternoons and I'm there one day a week, too - say hi!) and check out both the NW Edible-style planters aka potato cages and our burlap bag planters. Two different techniques side by side makes for a nice afternoon conversation! And don't forget to grab a pastry - that obviously makes the visit sweeter.

Potato Cages

ps - You can plant potatoes (in the Pac NW) from TODAY through mid-June, so get crackin' and feel free to email me your project pics so I can share!! amy AT amy DASH pennington DOT com.

pps - I'll write a follow up post on How & When To Harvest potatoes, what to plant next in the cages and some other techniques for potato-growing 2015. Stay tuned!

How to Harvest & Eat Dandelions

Poor dandelions, always getting a bad rap for wreaking havoc on lawns and in general being a ruthless weed. It’s true that dandelions are a deeply rooted “weed” that are a real nightmare to dig out, but it’s also true that they taste pretty good and are literally everywhere. One need not look very far to find a bed of dandelions fit for eating; they are easily identifiable. Dandelion greens turn bitter and woody quite quickly, so very early spring is the best time to harvest them. To harvest and eat dandelions, try to clip the small leaves from the plant before the plant flowers. How to Harvest & Eat Dandelions

Once the yellow flower has bloomed, taste the dandelion greens first to see if you find the flavor too off-putting. Harvest by picking off the small leaves and eating straight away. Be sure to wash dandelion greens well, and steer clear of picking them out of public lawns. Those areas are too heavily sprayed with chemicals to warrant
eating. Use dandelion greens in salads, or
cook them in a sauté. I like my greens
wilted with a little bacon and an egg
in the morning. You may also use the
flower petals in recipes. I roll chopped
 petals into cracker or pie dough, for their 
bright yellow color, but the taste will not
shine through unless you use an exorbitant
amount of petals. If you're really brave, you can try this recipe for Dandelion Jelly & Pectin.

Lemon Trout with Dandelion Greens

Whole fish can sometimes be intimidating, but trout cooks quickly and tastes great. No need to clean anything—commercial trout comes scaled and gutted already. I learned this wholesome and healthy recipe from my friend Jaime years ago; it has been a standard of mine ever since.

Whole trout is cooked quickly under the broiler and served topped with a salad of dandelion greens and almonds. The dandelion greens are quite bitter, but work well with the subtle fish. They are also very healthy for you; ounce for ounce, they have more vitamin A, iron, and calcium than broccoli.

Harvest new dandelion growth in spring; older, bigger leaves are too tough and woody, and their flavor is harsh.

Dandelion Greens

Serves 2

1 garlic clove, peeled 1 handful sliced almonds 2 handfuls dandelion greens, coarsely chopped 1 lemon, zested, then sliced 1 tablespoon olive oil Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 whole trout

Preheat the broiler and raise a rack to the highest position in your oven.

In the bowl of a mortar and pestle, mash and grind the garlic clove. When the oils have covered the walls of the mortar, remove and discard the garlic flesh. Add the almonds to the bowl and grind until they are broken up into smaller pieces. Add the dandelion greens and lemon zest and mash all the ingredients together until com- bined. The mixture will look a little bit like a salad and a little bit like a pesto. Inconsistency in the size of the leafy bits is perfect. Add the olive oil and a pinch of salt and give it one last stir with the pestle. Set aside.

Meanwhile, season the trout on both sides and inside the belly with salt and pepper. Insert several lemon slices into the belly of the trout. Place on a sheet pan and lightly coat the trout with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking. Place the sheet pan directly under the broiler, and broil on one side until the skin starts to shrivel and char, 4 to 5 minutes. Take out the pan and flip the trout with a spatula. Return to the broiler and broil the other side until charred and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.

Place the broiled trout on a platter and spoon the dandelion salad over it. Serve immediately.

More Garden Recipes: Dandelions are a great green for adding to your salad, but use them sparingly so they don’t overpower the other flavors. Try making a dandelion pesto with crushed garlic and pine nuts. Dandelion greens can also be used as a filling for the Pea Vine Dumplings, which are in my book Apartment Gardening

Small Plants for Small Pots

Small pots, illustrationYou might think choosing pots would be the easiest part of container gardening, but interestingly, it is not. Containers and pots come in many sizes and seemingly just as many materials. You can look at your planting vessel in one of two ways—you can choose the pot first and then pick the best-suited plant, or buy the plant and then choose the best-suited pot. Most plants need a little legroom to stretch their roots. Try to plant in a pot that’s a bit bigger than the plant will actually need. It is better to leave a little wiggle room than to have plant roots mashing up against the container walls. If you allow for some growth, you increase the odds of your plant growing to full maturity. The end goal is for the plant to produce as much as possible.

That said, I find myself consistently drawn to the cutest little pots with the brightest colors, but they end up being fairly useless. There are lots of adorable small ceramic vessels and even compressed bamboo pots in bright and festive colors. (A nice counterpart to all that green, I say!)

In my own garden, the smallest pot I have used is about four inches deep and about that wide—I treat it as an experiment. Nothing really grows well in such a small space, and the plants are typically root-bound. Even lettuces, which are pretty tolerant, suffer in such tight confines. Their leaves never get bigger than baby lettuce size. The smallest pot I recommend is about six inches deep and about the same width.

There are a few plants that work reasonably well in small pots. Shallow-rooted plants work best, as do plants that you will not harvest from often. Lemon balm, for instance, is quite hardy and will survive the tight conditions, though its leaves will be much smaller than those of a plant given room to reach its full potential. This doesn’t matter so much for lemon balm, as it is a strong herb that you will likely use only occasionally.

Keep in mind, also, that small pots need lots of watering on hot days— likely at least twice a day.

Following is a list of some good plant options for smaller pots—as either they are shallow-rooted, or a kind of plant you will not use in large quantities and can harvest in smaller batches.

.Lemon Balm .Microgreens: arugula, radish
 or amaranth grow quickly .Mint & Scented Mints - chocolate, pineapple or apple .Strawberries - one plant per pot!

Setting Up Your Container Garden - Tips for Apartment Dwellers and Small Spaces

Many moons ago, I tried to convince a boyfriend to let me grow food in his yard, tearing out existing landscape. (He declined and now has a vegetable bed in the worst place, which I secretly love.) I have a habit of sizing up random yards searching for the perfect place to grow food because sadly, I don’t have a yard or garden of my own. I’m relegated to planting any food I want in pots. It's honestly not my preference, but still, I like to think that I’ve perfected the art of growing in my microclimate. I know I share circumstances with many of you: without some pots on a patio, balcony, or windowsill, we would be plant-less. No fun. So, here, I am covering container basics for the urbanite looking to supply their kitchen with some garden goodness. Filling pots

You should know from the onset that not all vegetables grow well in containers. By planting in a contained environment, you are inhibiting the plant’s growth to some extent. Think about it — plants can send out roots and root hairs only as far as the walls of the pot allow. Restricted by the pot, not all plants will come to full maturity and produce food. This presents the biggest challenge of growing food in small spaces.

Deciding What to Grow The ultimate goal is for your garden to be productive. I aim for a constant supply of ingredients for the kitchen, so I nurture plants that can be continually harvested. I suggest growing plants that will be used frequently, but in small amounts. This gives plants time to regrow between cuttings — no sense in planting a crop that you’ll wipe out in one go. (I figure it’s better to have something available over a long course of time.)

• I rely heavily on herbs in my garden. Herbs will single-handedly change the flavor of most recipes and are often pricey at the grocery; many are not commercially available.

• Plants that produce abundant quantities of ingredients that I know I’ll use often are also a favorite. Lettuces, for example: these are wonderful to grow at home. They take up little space, produce (and reproduce!) quickly, and offer fresh greens for salads, or for a nice leafy garnish. I use lettuce in large amounts, and their fast growing cycle makes them highly productive, economical, and worthwhile.

• Plan on mixing it up to make sure there is always something new and different to harvest. Choose plants that will run through their life cycle in one season (annuals) as well as plants that continue to come back year after year in the same pot (perennials).

• Make the most of what you grow by considering its uses beyond the kitchen. Lavender makes a subtle herb rub for seared duck breast and can also be used as a herbal stuffing for an eye pillow. Scented geranium leaves can be chopped and used in sweet recipes, infused into water for a facial toner, or steeped to make teas.

• A container garden should ebb and flow, just like a large garden. Some plants are grown for their leaves, some for their seeds, and some for their fruits. I try to round out my garden plan so there is always something ready to harvest. Today, as I write this, I have marjoram, thyme, and scented geraniums that survived the winter. Arugula and mache are just popping up, too, having reseeded themselves from last year (at the end of the season I stopped harvesting their leaves and let them "go to seed" — the matured plant grows seed pods that fall into the soil and regrow). Within three weeks, the lovage should be starting to show (the same plants I’ve had for four years) and I’ll be planting a second crop of arugula.


Getting Started To start a garden in containers, at a bare minimum you’ll need pots, soil, and a low-level organic fertilizer. A bag of compost is also a great addition. Access to water is an important consideration. In my own garden, I fill eight old water bottles and carry them back and forth from my kitchen sink. Just make sure you have some way to water your plants, as containers require a diligent watering schedule.

Most plants need a little legroom to stretch their roots. Try to plant in a pot that’s a bit bigger than the plant will actually need. It is better to leave a little wiggle room than to have plant roots mashing up against the container walls. If you allow for some growth, you increase the odds of your plant growing to full maturity.

Planting in Pots

Materials Plastic pots are the least expensive container option, so they’re great for anyone on a budget. It’s true that they are usually the least attractive option, but they hold their moisture longer than clay or ceramic pots and are lighter and easier to move around.

Clay pots are porous, so air moves easily through their walls. This is helpful in that it allows roots to breathe and keeps them out of direct water, but it’s not helpful in that the soil tends to dry out quickly. In hot weather you’ll need to closely monitor the moisture in your clay pots. They are a fairly inexpensive option for the home gardener after plastic, and they come in myriad shapes and sizes. If you choose clay pots, be sure to purchase a saucer or plate to sit under the pot. This works in two ways — to keep moisture off the surface of your deck or patio and to hold in moisture for the plant.

I won't be discussing it here, but making your own pots is super rewarding, too!

Soil You must use potting soil in your containers — soil mixes are formulated to maintain a certain level of lightness so that plants are able to breathe, drain well, and still hold in some moisture. (Air is right up there with sun and water in importance to healthy, thriving plants!) Look for organic potting soil mixes from smaller regional companies rather than the national brands you’ll find in big-box stores. Choose a potting soil that has no added fertilizer or nutrients. It is best to add those on your own as needed for the particular plants you will grow.

Remove all Roots

If you are adding new plants to previously used containers, do not rely on simply digging a small hole in the soil and stuffing in a plant start. Old soils often contain dead roots from previous plants (see above). These roots will impede the new plant’s roots and constrict air as the new plant tries to grow into the same small space. For that reason, just as you would in a garden bed, it’s best to rework your soil before planting. As on the farm, till your soil using a fork or your hands. Loosen it up, remove the root hairs, then gently work in some compost and a spoonful of a low-level organic fertilizer before adding a new plant start.

We will cover more container plant topics like feeding your plant, tending for plants, and more in upcoming articles, but for now these are the basics you need to get growing. As ever, I’m looking forward to all of your questions in the comments!

Up next, seed starting: big things come in tiny packages.

Photos by Della Chen

DIY Drying Racks - How to Build a Drying Rack for Food Preservation

Drying ChamomileMy friend Patric is a regular Mr. Fix-It. He taught me how to use an electric drill and build raised beds when I first starting my gardening business. He also happens to be a restaurateur, and his first restau- rant was this beautiful Italian place that he practically built by hand. One afternoon, I was in the basement where all the prep tables are for the kitchen. Behind the table where cooks were filling ravioli was an entire rack of screens used for drying the pasta. I took one look at them and immediately thought they would make awesome drying racks for leaves and seeds. 

Drying out herbs and seeds is a fairly easy process, but it takes time and is more successful when you use drying racks. Air circu- lates around all sides of the plant, so they dry out faster and more evenly. Handmade drying racks can also be used for drying out tomatoes or fruits. And in the winter, you can use racks for laying out handmade pasta.

Although Patric made me my first set of racks, they are quite simple to make, and you can gather most materials from a quick trip to the hardware store. You can also keep your eyes open for salvaged wood. You will need to purchase a small length of screen, however. A densely woven chicken wire (1⁄4-inch) or length of fine mesh screen will work well. Chicken wire works great for herbs (and pasta.), whereas a screen (because it’s woven so tightly) is best for drying out seeds. Both materials can be purchased at your local hardware store. Ask for chicken wire or window screen.


I like a large rack so I can spread out multiple stems simulta- neously and not have them overlap. You can, of course, adjust the dimensions to fit your space.

For this project you are basically building two picture frames and sandwiching chicken wire between them. The two frames will have opposing joints, which will offer more support to the overall construction.

drying nettlesMaterials

- Electric drill - Staple gun - Two 8-foot lengths of 1-by-2-inch furring strip—this is an untreat- ed piece of timber available at any hardware store - Eight 1.75-inch coarse-thread drywall screws - Eight 2.5-inch coarse-thread drywall screws - Chicken wire cut to 23.5 by 17.5 inches. Use a good pair of scissors and be sure that you cut rough edges from the chicken wire. You do not want any jagged edges, so cut as close as you can to the outside wire, leaving a smooth edge.



- Cut the following lengths from the furring strip using a handsaw or electric saw (you can also ask a salesperson at the hardware store to cut this for you):a. For the first frame, two 24-inch lengths of furring and two 16.5-inch lengths.b. For the second frame, two 22.5-inch lengths and two 18- inch lengths.

- Assemble the frames: take both 24-inch furring strips and stand them up so they are on their narrow edge and sitting tall. Fit both the 16.5-inch pieces in between the 24-inch pieces, completing a frame-like shape. The overall dimension of your frame will be 24 by 18 inches.

- Screw the frame together on all four corners, using the 13⁄4- inch screws. I recommend that you first drill a pilot hole, using a 3⁄32-inch drill bit. You should now have one completed rectangular frame.

- Repeat the same process using the 22.5-inch and 18-inch lengths. Make sure the
8-inch pieces are the outside pieces of your frame. (Slip the 22.5-inch pieces between the 18-inch pieces.) You will now have two frames of equal size.

- Lay the chicken wire on screen across the back of one of the frames and anchor to the back of the frame with a staple gun in several places.

- Sandwich the second frame on top of the chicken wire so the sides are stacked and perfectly even.

- Using the 2.5-inch screws, screw the two frames together; be sure to make pilot holes first. Evenly space the screws, using two on each side of the frame.


If you're not up for building anything, there are two other excellent options for a drying rack frame. One is shabby chic and will look rad. The other is the laziest version imaginable, but it will work. The shabby chic option makes use of old salvaged windows. Salvage yards have stacks of these, and they are typically pretty cheap. Choose a frame that is light and easy to lift and move around. I always opt for a brightly colored wooden frame with chipped paint. I love the look. Yes, old paint does tend to have lead in it, but you’re not collecting or using the frame in any way conducive to ingesting paint chips. If you’re genuinely concerned, it’s best to build your own. Be sure to choose a frame made of a material that can be pierced with a staple gun—no ugly metal window frames!

Über-Chic Drying Screen

You can use a salvaged window frame or a picture frame for this project. With either, remove the glass pane. (You can use as a cold frame for another garden project.) If using a picture frame, remove the cardboard backing, as well. Stretch a length of screen taut across the back of the frame, leaving an inch of overhang. Starting in one corner, staple gun the screen to the back of the frame. Be sure to continue pulling the screen taut as you work. Trim any excess screen with a pair of sturdy scissors. To use as a drying rack, set the screen on top of four blocks, bricks, books, and so on. Raising it slightly allows for proper ventilation.

Über-Lazy Drying Screen

Drying rackYou can also use an old salvaged window screen. Salvaged goods depots often have these by the truckload. They are not the prettiest things, and you will need to set them up on blocks or bricks so air circulates underneath them, but they will work. If you go this route, be sure to wash your screen very, very well in hot soapy water fol- lowed by a dip in a bleach bath. Use one capful of bleach for every gallon of water. Screens used in construction are often quite dirty and may contain trace amounts of lead or other not-good-for-you ele- ments. Know, also, that these thin screens can tear easily. Patric didn’t think I should use them at all, due to their flimsiness, but they are completely functional. Just make sure not to bang them around too much. Use blocks or bricks to prop up the four corners. This allows for proper air circulation, which aids in more even drying and helps to prevent mold growing from moisture.

How to Propagate Your herbs

apartment garden bouquetTaking a Cutting: Cloning Your PlantsSome plants root out from the stem, making them excellent candidates for cuttings. Examples include Figs -- like the one my friend Sarah clipped -- Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Scented Geraniums, Tarragon, Sage, Lemon Verbena, and Oregano. (Yes, many plants can be propagated in both ways -- use the one most convenient for you.)

As a general rule of thumb, take a cutting from new plant growth. This is best done in late spring or early summer -- cuttings prosper in warm conditions. This also allows enough time for the cutting to put on some new growth without the stress and cold of winter.

1. On some plants, new growth comes in the form of a side shoot; in others it grows from the top of the plant's branches. Choose the newest growth and cut about a five inch length just below a set of leaves.

2. Remove the lowest leaves from the cutting, as well as any buds or blossoms on the stem. (If left, these will take energy away from the plant by producing seed.)


3. Place the cutting directly into a small pot of potting soil (leave it unfertilized for now), being sure to bury the lowest leaf node (the node is the area below the lowest leaves that you just removed) and water well. This leaf node is where the bulk of the plant's hormones are located, and they will aid in root development. Keep the cutting watered until the plant begins to put on new growth.

You will know it's ready when the cutting does not pull out of the soil with a gentle tug, indicating the new growth is sufficient for transplanting to a bigger pot. This generally takes from four to six weeks.

There are many, many edible plants that you can propagate easily (including tomatoes!), so share in the comments if you have some great tips! For the next City Dirt, schedule some time for a weekend project. We'll be covering garden DIY – salvaged containers and clever (read: free!) materials to use in your garden, no matter the size.

All pictures (except bouquet) from Della Chen Photography and originally published on

Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP + Apartment Gardening

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Two years ago this week, gPal included Apartment Gardening on her spring garden round up. At the time, I was over the moon and then of course, promptly forgot about it. In digging through her site today for clean-eating recipes, I came across this post and was reminded of the endorsement. Bragging rights? You betcha. I'm happy to say, this IS a great book full of basic gardening principles. If you really want to know why you're not successful with your container garden, it's here, along with some of my favorite garden-inspired recipes.

HOW TO :: Grow Potatoes in a Bag

cutting seeds Growing potatoes is a pretty mysterious undertaking. All of the harvestable bits of the plant grow underground, making it hard to keep track of progress. Even though I've grown potatoes in the past, I'm consistently amazed when baby potatoes appear in the soil at harvest time.

To grow a potato, you basically cut a small piece off of a seed potato (a potato specifically designated as seed for planting, versus a potato you buy in the store) and bury it under a few inches of soil. The plant will eventually send up a stem and leaves, and as the plant grows we cover them (always leaving a little bit of leaf showing) in order for the plant to produce more potatoes. Pretty simple. This process, when done in a field, is called "hilling up" potatoes, as farmers will form hills of soil around the potato stem to maximize production.

In small urban gardens, this task becomes difficult as we often don't have much space to begin with. Or maybe, like me, you only have a small balcony. Fortunately for all of us, potatoes can be grown in bags — or boxes or garbage cans for that matter. Essentially, any container in which potatoes can grow vertically while we cover their stems and roots will work.

Before we get started, a few quick notes about potatoes:


• Potatoes do not like super hot weather -- for Northern gardeners, now is a great time to get started. For Southern gardeners, you'll have to wait until the heat of summer begins to wane, or try putting your potato bags in a cool, shaded spot that only gets morning sun, such as the north side of a garage or a north-facing balcony.

• Sweet potatoes and potatoes are different plants, but can be grown in the same manner. (Remember that they take longer, about 3 months.)

• Choose a quick-growing potato variety for your bag. Here are some great seed resources: Fedco Seed & Irish Eyes.

• Finally, for this plant-in-a-bag project I prefer a better-looking bag. Burlap sacks and plastic woven feed bags are a bit more shabby-chic than the bag your soil is sold in. Try your local coffee roaster or country feed store; these often have the added benefit of vintage-looking logos — a great way to add character to your urban garden.

For more potato info and how they're grown, check out this post.

URBAN FORAGE :: ROSE HIPS & Anna's Rose Hip Sherry

Rosehips are easily foraged in fall and make awesome jams, purees and tinctures. I was recently reminded rosehip season is upon us, when I read Johanna Kindvall's blog, kokblog, which I've been reading for yeeeeeears. She is a one-woman illustrative dynamo (check out my homepage illo) and I love her recipes and ideas. Her sister, Anna Kindvall (who curates electronic art), makes this amazing-sounding sherry that I think we should all attempt this year. Anna likes to use rosehips before the frost (more acidic), but I've always picked them after Seattle's first frost - in early November. Check out kokblog for the recipe and notes on making and storing your foraged sherry. And for more rosehip info, here is an earlier piece of writing on rosehips from my second book, Apartment Gardening.

"Rosehips are the seed buds that follow the rose bloom in July. Rosa Rugosa plants make hips somewhere between late July and September. They tend to grow along coast lines and water which is likely why some people call them rock roses. You can identify these bushes when in bloom by their strong rose-scented flowers which bloom in white and pinks all the way through bright fuchsia. Make note of their location and head back in four weeks to collect the rosehips. The rosehips themselves look like little tomatoes hanging off the plant. They are often orange-red and have shiny skins. They are more round than long, and are about the size of a red globe grape. Harvest rosehips by snapping the stem from the plant. They are strong enough that you can toss them in a plastic bag and then a backpack without doing too much damage. Use them within a day of bringing them home. Rosehip puree can be made and frozen and used at a later time in recipes."

Propagating Herbs

Repotting Geranium CuttingLast week I met up with my friend Sarah, a farmer. Sarah has been farming for years and she's an absolute pro, so I asked her to meet me out at a new space to help me devise the perfect garden plan. (She's a genius that way - indispensible knowledge.) We met up and walked to the garden. On the way, she spotted a old, prolific fig tree and stopped in her tracks. "Oh - I need that," she exclaimed, and simultaneously reached into her back pocket as she crossed the street. With at quick snip, she cut a couple inches length from the fig plant, looked at me, and whispered, "You want one?"

And of course... I took one! Continue reading Sharing is Caring-Propagating Herbs-my bi-weekly article via my City Dirt column over at one of my favorite sites, Food52.

Growing Lettuce in Pots

forellenschluss startsI will be the first to admit I'm actually not thrilled about growing edibles in containers. Or really anything in containers! I much prefer to till fields (no matter how small and unfield-sy they can be) and work to create healthy soil over the long term. But I live in a small apartment and I have only my deck. My east-facing deck, I might add, where sun ducks behind the building by noon at the latest. That said, I can't not try (I mean, it's my job to grow food) and over the years, I have learned to adapt. Now, my deck is cluttered with pots and containers full of great-to-grow edibles that supply my kitchen and my pantry with produce for my meals. Lettuces, are one of the easiest most rewarding of plants to grow and I grow as many as I can in abundance. Here are some pics from a spring sowing that I am now offiicially harvesting the last of - sow'd from seed in early April and it's now end of June. From seed to harvest was just about six weeks. From there, I cut from each plant for the better part of a month. They are only now just beginning to falter and turn bitter in the heat.

June forellenschlussIf you sow lettuces this month, be sure to choose varieities that won't bolt in the summer heat. I like the heirloom Deer Tongue, Little Gem (a small-headed romaine) and Rogue d'Hiver - a red-tipped leaf that has a nice crisp leaf and rib, but also has tender leaves. Perfect.