Finally. FINALLY. I think the day has come. Our 10 day forecast is showing temperatures ranging from the 60s to the (wait, can it be?!) mid-80s with lots and lots of rain. These are happy conditions for newly planted fruits and veggies and so, today, one day after the recorded "last frost date" for my area of Pennsylvania, my little guys are getting their permanent home in the wild outdoor soil. 

For weeks I have been nurturing tomatoes, squash, cucumber, melon and sunflower plants indoors. They've been growing and waiting and growing some more, spread out across a sunny windowsill and slowly taking over my living room, patiently awaiting this day. Meanwhile, I have been waiting a little more impatiently

I have to wonder how many people were duped by the flash of warm days we were graced with early on in the season. It proved to be a false sense of planting security, as cold temperatures moved back into the area, bringing with them a few nights with frost warnings. I hope the local garden centers are stocked with plenty of extra plants! 

I am happy to report, though, that my lettuce, kale, beets and carrots that were planted early handled the cold weather well (they are little troopers, aren't they?) and are coming in nicely. 

Happy planting, friends!
With temperatures near 60º the past few days, I must admit I'm getting a bit of Spring Fever.  Every morning when I take the dogs out, I look at the weed covered garden plot, wondering if it's too early start tilling the soil. After all, we've had such a mild winter. It's practically been Spring since December. I'll be patient. 

While I'll let the garden stay as is, this year I'm on a roll to start my seeds indoors - on time, for once. I hope the ever-fickle Mother Nature doesn't come around with a late cold snap to bite me in the butt...the one time I am proactive in my planning. 

I have never tested the soil where I plant my vegetable garden, but I know it's an important part of the process. Just like for us, the right nutrients are essential to the growth and development of your vegetable garden. For under $4, I bought an at-home kit to test the nitrogen, phosphorus, pH and potassium of the soil. It contains 4 test tubes for the soil, and a capsule to break into each tube. Then add distilled water and wait for the color to adjust. The kit comes with a color coded chart so that you can match your results and know the levels of your soil. Pretty cool. There are certainly more thorough tests that can be done if you are worried about lead and other heavy metals - in Pennsylvania we are able to send them off to a local university, something I learned through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Garden Tenders workshop I participated in a couple of years ago. 

I also purchased a self-watering seed tray for 36 plants. I've decided to go for quality over quantity this year. I always purchase heirloom seeds, so there's no issue with quality there, but I have been known to let my garden get a tad...unruly. There. I said it. In fact, last year it was complete chaos. My dinosaur kale was enormous and there was way too much of it. My lettuce was in a perfect spot to be constantly pooped on my the lovely resident mourning doves. My tomatoes were akin to Goliath and were coming up not only where I planted them, but where tomatoes fell into the garden last year and were never pulled out for composting. Oh and I can't forget the forgotten squash, which I didn't check on until they were the size of a caveman's club, at which time they became dog toys. What a mess. 

This year, I will keep things simple. Only the varieties of tomatoes I know I will eat in abundance - which means mostly cherry and pear tomatoes. Move the lettuce away from the favorite bird perch, go easy on the kale seeding and cut back the number of squash plants, which will allow a little more room to plant more beans. This will make a more manageable garden, and won't allow for as much waste. Despite the constant picking and sharing of garden bounty, it seemed as if there were always vegetables being missed, and then rotting. 

I'm always daydreaming about the day I can have my own yard, complete with an abundant seasonal vegetable garden, chickens and the like, but for now I must remind myself to take advantage of and appreciate what is available. There aren't many renters out there who are fortunate enough to have as cool of a backyard and I do, and especially not in a city. 

So with that, my friends, I leave you with thoughts of gratitude and a little hop in your step as we get another day closer to Spring. 
This Sunday (May 2), spend your day strolling up and down Germantown Avenue in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia. Why? The streets will be packed with representatives from area businesses, food vendors from local restaurants, live bands, fun activities for kids and a whole lot more, all for the Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival!

If you're late starting seeds for your summer vegetable garden, you'll be able to choose from a wide assortment of local, sustainably grown and organic starter plants from area farms and nurseries. You can also bring a little spring cheer to your yard or home with hanging baskets and other beautiful, flowering plants.

New this year is Eco Alley, a section of the festival with 20 vendors offering lots of great, sustainable products and services. What better way to get all the information you need to live a more locally, sustainable lifestyle?!

Also very exciting for the community is the approaching opening of the Chestnut Hill location of Weavers Way Co-op. While the store will not yet be open by the date of the festival, curious visitors are invited to take a sneak-peek at the inside of the store. For those who have hesitated becoming a member due to the crowded Mt. Airy location, be sure to get your membership information when visiting the new store. Co-op memberships are another great way to incorporate more sustainability into your current lifestyle.

The Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival is sponsored by Subaru and B101.
For the average citizen to get more in-depth information on environmental issues, reading books and watching documentaries is a great starting point. Below you will find a list of some great examples of both. I have read and watched much of what's on this list, and highly recommend them. If I had to pick a favorite of each, Go Further is my top documentary and In Defense of Food is my number one reading choice. If you have read any of these novels, watched any of these documentaries or have further recommendations, please leave a comment to share your thoughts with others!

Movies/TV Series

  • No Impact Man: The Documentary (2009)
  • Go Further (2004)
  • Food, Inc. (2008)
  • King Corn (2007)
  • The Beautiful Truth (2008)
  • Eco Trip Series – Sundance Channel (2009)
  • The Garden (2008)
  • The Lazy Environmentalist Series – Sundance Channel (2009)
  • The Future of Food (2004)
  • Fast Food Nation (2006)
  • Super Size Me (2004)
  • An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
  • When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
Non-Fiction Books

  • Cradle to Cradle – William McDonough and Michael Braungart
  • Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of our Environmental Future – Mark Hertsgaard
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond
  • Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment – James Gustav Speth
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals – Michael Pollan
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – Michael Pollan
  • Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser
  • Food PoliticsMarion Nestle
  • Poisons on our Plates: The Real Food Safety Problem in the United States – Michele Morrone
  • Troubled Waters: Religion, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis – Dr. Gary L. Chamberlain
  • Boiling Point: How How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled a Climate Crisis--And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster – Ross Gelbspan
  • Diet for a New America – John Robbins
  • Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating – Jane Goodall
  • The Ten Trusts: What we must do to Care for the Animals we Love – Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff
  • The Environmental Predicament: Four Issues for Critical Analysis – Carol F. Verburg
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
Classic Non-Fiction Books

  • Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold
  • Silent Spring – Rachel Carson

The first day of spring has come and gone, inviting our sleepy world to start blooming once again.

For anyone planning a vegetable garden this season, it's time to start the seeds. With so much concern for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) ending up in our produce aisles and on the grocery shelves, this is where you can take control. Choose a seed company that is reputable and aware of the issues. Companies that sell heirloom seeds are often good choices because they are preserving the diversity of the plants. Rather than selling 5 popular tomato choices, they may offer 15 varieties of seeds. A little searching can go a long way when it comes to choosing your seed company. I have personally chosen Happy Cat Organics this year - a company local to my area and dedicated to sustainable heirloom seed production. More on Happy Cat later!

Starting seeds can be a tricky task. Go into any garden supply store and you will find all sorts of trays and heaters and watering systems promising a successful start to your seeds. Buy those, reuse items at home (egg cartons are great) or find something creative in the middle.
A trip to the hardware and garden store resulted in two 1-square-foot tiles and a seed starting kit. This is the simple version - no heating pad or self-watering tray. Just 72 peat pellets, a tray and a lid. With a large enough radiator in front of a sunny window in the living room, I created my own heated base. The tiles provide a level surface on top of the radiator while still conducting the heat to the tray. The peat pellets are clean and simple, and with 72 spaces, there is room for lots of seeds!

Not only is this innovative set-up saving space, it's also sparing the budget. Together, the tiles and starter kit were less than $9 and can be reused for many years.
Spring is right around the corner and I am so excited! I really loved the record-breaking snowfall Philadelphia experienced this winter, but a couple weeks ago I swear if I saw one more snowflake fall from the sky, I would scream.

For the past two summers, neighbors have shared a nice garden space in the backyard. It's yielded a bounty of squash, tomatoes, herbs, pumpkins and other veggies in that time. To prepare for this season, I will be attending the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Spring Garden Tenders Basic Training - a free(!), eight-part course for groups interested in community gardening. Since I've only been involved with gardening at a hobby level, I'm excited to learn more skills and tips for gardening and for sharing the space with community members.

Growing your own food can be such a rewarding experience. It involves careful planning, labor, care and finally, enjoying the delicious produce. When I think of veggie gardens and summertime, I remember summer evenings at my grandparents' house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As we prepared dinner, my grandma would send me to the backyard to pick the ripe tomatoes and peppers for our salad. Nothing tastes quite as good as when it comes just steps from your door and has grown as a result of your own hard work. You control the quality and types of produce, and can choose to grow them in an environmentally safe way.

This training course has seven sessions once a week through the end of April, each of them three-hours long. An eighth session will be a workday. Be sure to check back as I update about the progress of the workshop and the garden. Once the training workshop has been completed, be sure to visit the Reviews page to read about my experience.