Chaos noun, behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions, also known as the effects of spring weather on the garden.

The weather this spring has been hard to predict.  Cool at night to highs of 90+ during the day, multiple days reaching 80+ and then in the blink of an eye, drops to the 40’s at night and days that barely cross 50.  Up and down and up and down…stretches of a week or more with no rain for a somewhat dry April, to rain nearly every day for the first full week of May.   Seedlings that emerged and then dampened off or the seeds just rotted altogether.  Plants that did grow at all for weeks and instead, bolted.  Then, suddenly, rain and more rain.  The garden was transformed nearly over night and I am now enjoying fresh picked produce by the basket!


IMG_5793This part of the garden does not get much direct sunlight and once the crape myrtle, which is not in the photo, leafs out completely, it gets little filtered light as well.  Last spring I spent a week amending the soil and adding shade tolerant perennials to the bed.  This year, nearly all of them came back except for a bleeding heart plant and they have truly filled the space.IMG_5795The iris actually gets enough light because it blooms before the crape myrtle creates shade.  Also in bloom are azaleas, dianthus and phlox.

IMG_5800Remind me to tell you the story of the gnome sometime… He is watching over the sunny part of the garden.IMG_5806Love the little blossoms on the strawberry begonia.

IMG_5817While I have put a lot of work into the perennial beds near the front door of the house, none of that compares to the amount of work the vegetable garden has taken.  We began in late fall of 2014 by composting the leaves that fell from our trees with grass clippings from the lawn and bags of coffee grounds from Starbucks.  In spring of 2015, I topped each of the beds with that compost and placed 45 bales of straw on the beds in the garden.  Throughout the year, I attempted to grow vegetables in the bales with out a ton of success. In early winter, when the bales began to tip like drunkards, I broke them down and scattered the straw on top of the compost along with more coffee, ground egg shells, compost (that includes litter from our hens) and a topping of purchased garden soil.

In February, we hooped two beds and I seeded them with cold hardy greens and lettuces.  Some seeds germinated nicely, others not at all.  We filled a third bed with purchased starts for cold weather veggies.  Things moved very slowly.  The beds were a little hot for the plants and I was beginning to get discouraged.  Finally, in April we began to see growth and were able to begin picking greens for cooking and salads as well as radishes and turnips.  My collection of lettuces are doing very well and I am picking them regularly.

IMG_5818Peas were slow to get going but have finally come on board.  Gotta love the tendrils and the way they tie themselves into knots.

IMG_5819Everybody loves surprise potatoes!  Must have missed one when I harvested them last fall.  not sure what it is but I am thinking it is most likely a yukon gold but the alternative is red norland; either way works for me!

IMG_5820A lot of firsts this year.  Ailsa Craig onions along with some radishes from an 8 year old package of seeds I found lurking in the box!  We have lots of mushrooms coming up in the beds.  Did you know that is a good thing?  There is a relationship between plants and mushrooms and when some combinations are grown together, you can actually improve your yields-this pairing was random and not of my doing but my fingers are crossed that it helps.  Want to know more about it, pick up a copy of Mycelium Running and read about it!

IMG_5822Chinese cabbage is doing so well-and I grew this from seeds!

IMG_5823The way chard glows when backlit never gets old.

IMG_5828These rutabegas are taking off in the garden.  If you grow them, be sure to eat the greens too!  Cook them as you would collards and the plant will be doing double duty.

IMG_5829Another of the firsts in our garden, salsify.  Have no idea if we will enjoy it but I saw some plants in Colonial Williamsburg in the garden the the local master gardeners maintain and decided it was pretty and it needed to live in my garden too!

IMG_5831Speaking of pretty, these radicchio starts have been stealing the show for a while now.  We pull a few leaves off from the bottom and are letting the heads fill out.

IMG_5832More starts, celery is taking its time.

Welcome to my garden, my little slice of earth.  Feel free to wander through and admire the plants, dinner will be ready just as soon as I wash the lettuce.

making the most of your morning cuppa; starbucks grounds for gardens program


Our passion for gardening is no secret.  We joined the Master Gardener program in 2008 and became certified members in Nashville.  We quickly began transforming our yard into a small farm by adding fruit trees, herb plants, multiple vegetable beds and a beehive and all along, we were composting everything we could to help enrich the soil as well as improve the heavy clay structure.  It was a labor of love and at times, coffee.  Okay, I know that did not make sense, a labor of coffee???  Yes, coffee.  We discovered that a Starbucks store near our home in Nashville would segregate the coffee grinds and place them in a dedicated bin for composting.  Anyone who wanted to go around to the back of the store could take as many bags as they needed and then use them in the garden to help improve the soil.  It was a true win-win because as your garden flourished, Starbucks reduced the amount of trash from the store being land filled.  Then almost as suddenly as we discovered the source of grounds, the program was eliminated.  There was never a real explanation, we can only suspect that the property management did not care for the number of people rummaging through the trash in search of black gold.


Needless to say, we were disappointed and moved on to other sources of compostable items to support our growing need in the yard at home.  Over the years, we would see the occasional poster advertising that grounds were available while we were out and about in the Nashville area.  However, when we would question the employees about the actual availability, we were often met with blank stares, a clueless response or simply the declaration, “oh we don’t really do that here.”  On a rare occasion, an employee would inform us that if we wanted to, we could bring them a bucket, they would happily save them but we would have to come and get them that day or they would be thrown away along with the bucket.  Again, we moved on, it just did not seem like we could make it work without having to make multiple trips and phone calls and so on.

Then in September 2014, we relocated to Williamsburg, VA.  It was a bit traumatic to leave our garden behind.  All the work, the plants, the compost…Reality hit hard when we realized we would have to start all over again.  Even worse was the realization that our new yard, while smaller, square in shape and flatter (a big plus in our book) was built on solid clay.  The soil is so compacted that a small amount of rain turns the yard into a squishy mess that leaves you feeling as if you are walking on wet sponges.  There was no way we could build beds in this soil without massive amounts of soil amendments.  That was not only going to be a back-breaking amount of work, it was going to be expensive.  We quickly realized we would have to do what we could with what we already had; truckloads of leaves from the trees in the yard.  To prepare the beds, we first mulched the leaves by running them over with the lawn mower.  Bag by bag, we formed piles of leaves all over the front yard so that they could begin the process of composting.  Our front yard quickly began looking like it was covered in graves.  We actually considered making a few fake headstones for Halloween and I told more than one person that this was what we did to the neighbors we didn’t like…

However, leaves alone are not enough and despite the fact that we had more than 20 large piles of leaves, once fully composted, they would not provide enough material to work with.  To supplement the leaves, I began composting our kitchen scraps but in all honesty, two people do not generate that much to work with.  While out shopping one morning, we stopped at Starbucks for a cup of coffee and lo and behold, a bucket with bags of coffee grounds greeted us as we stood in line waiting to place our order.  Could it be that the program was not dead after all????  Apparently, it is not and we have been going back to this particular store on a regular basis for grounds.  Sometimes, they are in the mylar bag that the beans are shipped in but mostly, they are in 13 gallon trash bags.  The employees are quite used to gardeners coming in to retrieve the grounds and they have a small trash pail dedicated for the collection of used grounds.   Now that we have a source, we make 3 or 4 trips to the store each week to pick up bags and at this point, I estimate we have used about 300 pounds of them in our beds and compost pile.


And because I am not stupid, I expect some people to criticize me for using non-organic materials in my gardens.  Go ahead.  There is always someone waiting to rain on your parade and I am sure I will hear a few negative comments about this.  If not because of the conventional growing methods used in the coffee then it will be because I am giving a massive company free publicity.  So let me just say this, I am not getting paid to say this, no where in this article to I mention a love of their coffee, just the availability of free used coffee grinds.  As someone who is currently unemployed, I cannot afford to buy the amendments needed for the soil in our yard and I have to use what I can get for free.  We are not the only ones in town collecting the grounds.  On more than one occasion, another gardener has beat us to the store and we have walked away empty-handed which ultimately means that hundreds and hundreds of pounds of coffee grounds are going to be composted rather than land filled; that in itself is a big plus for the environment.  

The plus of coffee grounds added to compost is simple, they add nitrogen and nothing helps heat up a compost pile faster than nitrogen.  It doesn’t stop there, they also add much-needed minerals that can help your garden grow.  Sunset magazine did some research on using Starbucks coffee grounds in a garden and they actually had them tested.  It seems that adding them to the garden really is a good thing as long as they do not make up more than 35% of the soil content.  If you would like to read the article, here is a link.  
IMG_2409Since our garden is being built in our front yard, we are putting down sheets of cardboard to kill the lawn first.  The coffee is being spread over the cardboard and then it is topped off with a thick layer of leaves.  This first year, we will be using straw bales to garden in because the leaves are not yet composted.  To do this, we will simply place the bales on top of the leaves.  As the seasons progress, the leaves will continue to break down and by the time winter returns, the straw bales will also begin to degrade.  At that time, we will simply cut the cords off the bales, spread the rotting straw over the leaves and continue the process of layering on top of the clay soil. Eventually, we will have some beautiful compost that we can turn into the clay to lighten the structure and allow for better drainage.

Right now, we are planning for the arrival of our hens.  We ordered our pullets this week and will be purchasing the coop and the run next week.  Once the girls have matured enough to live outside, they will not only provide us with eggs, they will be supplying the garden with fresh manure.  But because the best compost has a variety of materials in it, coffee grounds from Starbucks will still be collected and added.  So, do your garden some good, ask your local coffeehouse  (whichever one you choose) to give you grounds for your garden and get out there and grow something!

If you are the least bit interested, read about Starbucks plan for sustainability and global responsibility here.  If nothing else, it is food for thought and perhaps the start of some meaningful conversations.

gardening from the ground up; starting a new garden


When we moved from our home in Nashville, we had to leave our garden behind.  It was difficult to leave it; we had worked so hard to establish beds and more importantly, spent so much time nurturing plants of all kinds.  From herbs to fruit trees and perennials to attract beneficial insects and butterflies, our garden was a work in progress and we were sad to leave it behind and there isn’t a day that goes by that I do not miss that garden.

When we began the process of searching for a new home in Williamsburg, the layout of the yard was just as important to us as the house itself.  We knew it had to be a space where we could grow a garden that included honeybees and hens.  Luckily for us, we were able to find a home with what we think will be the place for a beautiful garden that will provide us with plenty of space to grow what we need to feed ourselves.  And yes, that is quite a lofty goal, to feed ourselves but  in the grand scheme of things, if all of us made the move to grow something to consume rather than purchasing it all, surely it would make a difference.  Of course, that is  providing it was done organically, but that is a conversation for another day.

For some time now, I have wanted to grow at least 50% of the produce my husband and I can eat.  As urban dwellers, we are restricted by laws that do not allow livestock and we are okay with that, we have no desire to raise animals for meat.  But fresh eggs and honey-those we can produce in our neighborhood and that is a great start. However, unless we get a garden growing, we are going to be purchasing everything from the grocery store.  

For the time being, I have put aside a serious search for employment in the hope of working from home.  Knowing that we would have a reduction in income, we made the decision to build our garden from free materials as much as possible.  Luckily, we have a lot of large trees in our yard and having trees means having lots of leaves!  We gathered up as many as we could and made piles all over the front yard so that they could begin the important process of breaking down into soil.  Gardening naturally and inexpensively doesn’t get any easier than the lasagna method.  Building the beds from the ground up, layer by layer makes beds full of natural humus teeming with beneficial micro-organisms.  The only down side; quantity.  Since everything breaks down over time, you need large quantities to fill beds.  For now, we have leaves and cardboard and a supply of coffee grinds and in time, our own compost.


Recently, I sat down and designed the layout for our garden.  We made the decision to use the front yard for our beds since it gets the most sun.  Our choice of the front yard seems odd to some but in all honesty, what purpose does a beautiful lawn serve?  It is time-consuming, it has to be mowed, chemicals come into play and in the end, you cannot eat it!  We have a dog and she too needs space to run, so the back yard is being reserved for things like a dog run, a chicken coop, a bee yard and whatever else we want to do out there-a barbecue pit comes to mind.


On a recent afternoon, we discovered a bunch of bricks laid out in the front lawn.  It seems that previous residents had a bed in the front yard and over time, the lawn grew over the bed.  We grabbed a couple of shovels and began digging them out of the lawn.


It was an oddly shaped bed built from a random selection of bricks that were most likely left from another project.  They circled a crepe myrtle and looped around a corner of the yard.  Since we were preparing to build our garden, finding free bricks was a happy surprise.  They definitely fit the budget and will come in handy for outlining a bed.


The bricks were in the lawn for some time, the grasses and weeds were well established over the tops of each brick and it was fairly easy to scrape it away.  The unhappy surprise, our soil is mostly clay.

IMG_2409 So what do we have here?  The cardboard serves as a compostable weed stop layer.  It will slowly breakdown and as the process takes place, the plants growing in the lawn underneath it will die.  We have been stopping by a Starbucks regularly for coffee grinds-did you know that they have a “Grounds For Your Garden” program? Not every store participates which is sad but if your local shop does, grab some!  We have been using them in our new beds by pouring some on top of the cardboard and then topping it off with the leaves.  The high nitrogen content of the grounds will help the leaves compost. Even with the discovery of clay soil, we are confident that we can be successful gardening out front.  The truth is, as the leaves, coffee and everything we layer into the beds breaks down, we will have a beautiful, black layer of compost that we can turn into the soil to amend the structure.  While the coffee grounds may not be organic, we are not using any synthetic fertilizers and that in my opinion, is a huge plus!

Be sure to visit here often to see how the garden progresses!