How low can they go?

IMG_6363May is lovely- but can be wild too.  As we have seen this weekend in Santa Fe- a foot of snow!!IMG_6364

It is such a transitional time, the last burst of winter before it finally passes.  I looked back on my calendars and it does usually snow every year in the first week of May, so though odd, it is actually to be expected.

IMG_6360But the good news is no harm done over here.  All the little cool season greens and seeds were tucked under row cover and only seemed to perk up from crisp air all the moisture gifted to them.  If you are wondering how cold CAN your cold season crops get…wellIMG_6383

How low can they go?

IMG_6377The hardiest of the winter vegetables are Kale, Collards, Peas and Spinach which can take Temps as low as low 20’s and in the high teens.

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Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens, Parsley, Radish, Parsnip, Turnip can all take temps 28-25 degrees.

All of these can survive under thick row cover all winter, though they may not show many signs of growth, they will start to spring new leaves in February.

Other semi-hardy vegetables are Beets, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Radicchio, Rutabega, Salsify, Bok Choy, Tatsoi and Swiss Chard, tolerant of Temps from 32-29degrees.  These can usually be harvested till Christmas under heavy row cover, but will need to be replanted in the spring under row cover as well. (with the exception of Swiss Chard, this patch was almost invisible all winter under no row cover… but is coming back just fine!)

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So not to worry, the storm has passed, we have gathered the moisture and now we prepare for hardening off and the planting out process… More on that to come.

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The Extended Garden Tour

What an honor to have our little 1/5acre of paradise featured on Soule Mama’s Blog this weekend.  I was shocked at how many visitors this little blog of mine got and since a few of you asked to see more, I am so happy to share.  You may have noticed I love taking pictures of my garden just about as much as I love taking pictures of my kids, so I have a lot of images to share.  I put together an extended garden tour from photos I have taken over the past 5 years when I started this blog of mine, so it was also a good reflection for me to see how far we have come in seven years… so with no further ado, Welcome to our humble abode…

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My husband is kind of a twisty wood collector, before we got married I think he thought he would retire early and set up a twisty wood furniture company… well, no early retirement for this papa of three, and now our gardens are all hemmed in with twisty wood creations…lucky me! He also built that ladder out of a single black locust log up to a tree nook in the box elder where he wove the branches together so it feels super cozy for the little birds who hang out up there.

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When you enter you will inevitably be greeted by a curious small person.  This very small person helped my weave these low garden fences out of willow we gathered together and hauled up the lane from the river.  They keep the babies out of the garden and the constant layers of leaf mulch in. ( mulch is a must in a desert garden)

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As you can see, I never remove weeds from the yard, I simply pull and lay them down in place.  In the desert they dry up in a day or two and act as mulch, skips the step of buying mulch. My husband has been working for years, slowly surrounding the growing spaces with bricks he finds on craigslist.  They are great water catchment, thermal mass and of course great for playing with trucks, riding bikes and learning to walk on.

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Another masterpiece built brick by brick by my husband. Every nook ans cranny is utilized, horno under the shed roof, cradle on the freezer, etc… we use every inch we can!

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Shade is key in the desert, now we have grapes vines that are almost covering it, but those grass mat fencing things work great for shade in the summer.   In the winter we remove them and have a super sunny spot to warm ourselves on cold days.

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Our first dinner party in the outdoor kitchen….followed by many many more!!

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The boys built our Horno a couple of summers back which we now spark up every May for our annual boy birthday pizza party and every November for the Thanksgiving Turkey.

 

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The garden studio craft shack was actually built for food storage, but I quickly took it over with all my crafting supplies, a girl needs a place to put all her yarn right?!

 

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It was built out of old shipping pallets and mud and straw…there is a whole blog post about the shed here, check it out, it is awesome!

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Another genius of my husband!! He said he had that antique O’Keeffe Merritt stove under a tarp for almost ten years before I came along.  Now I got that baby canning and baking all summer long, I barely even turn on the oven inside for months!

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Our washing station where of course the water runs right out to the peach tree behind the sink. And yes that is a very large salad spinner that was worth every penny!  I haven’t had a turn yet, the kids always want to do the spinning!!

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Step through another twisty garden gate and follow the red brick path….to your right vertical growing on the south side of the greenhouse is usually covered with tomatoes.  To your left is a vegetative hedge of Currants, Nanking Cherries, Wild Plums, Wild Roses,  and Hops all that started as twigs from the national forest service that help buffer between us and our neighbors and feed the wildlife.

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The grandma tree beckons you back to discover more around the bend, my husband always says it was this tree that sold him on the house.  When he moved in 15 years ago the lot was completely barren and the house in a state of disarray.

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A sharp turn to the north and you will find hundreds of gallons of rainwater being collected for dry days ahead.  And yes that is a Chicago fig gifted to me from my friends mom, but it dies back every year and only produces a few figs, but it’s cool so we keep it around, who knows, maybe someday the climate will change so much it will thrive year round ( the bright side right?)

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Peek over the garden gate and the prize vegetable await!

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Yep, another twisty wood gate!

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And here it is from the other side- twisty wood arches everywhere, I told you!! We decided to fence in the garden last year so that I could let the chickens free in the rest of the yard.  They are too messy to come into my tidy happy place!

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My desert maiden Amanda enjoying the Japanese knot weed ‘lawn’ while the kids enjoy her gift, “The Imaginarium“! What a great Aunty!!

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Kid, chicken, bunny zone

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Someday I would like to see a nice blue grama grass lawn here, someday!

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The little garden that could all hemmed in.

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Along the north side of the house is the drive way and a 4ft wide strip of dirt that once was the vegetable zone but now home to 20 espalier apple trees.  They act as a living fence and this is the first year they gave fruit and they are pretty as a picture!

 

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The north strip garden is now home to a ton of plants gone wild.. tomatoes parnips, amaranth, arugula zinnias and whatever else has naturalize and perrenialized itself there.

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Our hops monster eating the porch

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And back to the beginning, the front garden is mostly flowers, herbs and medicinals that are cycling through at different times of the year, mostly a spring garden but it gets lots of action all through the year with the sand box right in it.

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AHHH the  Greenhouse in the high season, But I will save that for another day… next time I will invite you inside for tea and a look around!

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Five years ago

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Us today, my how we have grow!!

Thanks again Soule Mama for encouraging me to share and thanks to all of you who know small is beautiful and there is no place like home!

Cucumbers on the clothesline

Just as simple as that … Out trellising cucumbers this evening and I was looking for what I had in the yard to get them up off the ground.  I found an old plastic coated wire clothesline lying around and of course, clothespins.  It turned out to be the perfect materials for cucumbers to latch onto and climb.  IMG_2540

I hate to buy stuff I really can’t use for a million different things and re-use a million times, so there is no guilt when I buy even more clothesline and clothes pins to finish the job.  I mean really can you have too many clothes pins? Never!IMG_2538So there is my clever garden invention for the day and with the evening backlight on my little cucs, I couldn’t help but share!

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So up and away the garden grows!!

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Garden Transitions- The Fall Flip

I plan my garden very strategically so that there isn’t much work to do in June and July… For many reasons… Maybe first because I was a garden teacher for so many years that I planned spring and fall gardens with very little summer maintenance.  Even though I am not running a school garden this year, I now have a tiny baby and can’t really garden much at all…so it is convenient that I don’t have much to do but harvest in the high heat.  It is also convenient for leaving town during the hottest, driest time of year which we all want to do.

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Yeah for harvest help from our good friends from Ampersand, love you guys!!

And probably the biggest reason I plan so much for spring and fall gardening is that is when gardening in the high desert is at it’s best!  There is cool air, cooler soils and real water falling from the sky!  I start things outside as early as February (my pea crop was started then and yielded my best crop yet!)  and am eating out of the garden till Christmas eve.  Summer is for being lazy anyways right!?

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So though I am still being very lazy, I am starting to think about the transitions about to happen out there, the good old ‘fall flip’.  This is when I pull out all the lettuce and peas that have stopped yielding and bolted into pure bitterness that may still remain and I plant a whole new slew of cool season crops.  IMG_0273

Because it is only the 9th  of  July I can still plant a nice beet & carrot crop.  Later in the month I will plant more lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and whatever other cool season greens I wish.  I also have started planting big beautiful marigolds this time of year to have for autumn garlands.  IMG_9387

High summer I hear a lot of people say, ‘oh I am too late to have a garden this year’…but you are not!  Autumn harvest is within reach.  Plant now and you will abundance you will reap!!

Hardening off & planting out

I am sure many of you spent Mother’s Day weekend filling shopping baskets with new baby plants to bring home and fill your garden with, it is a Mother’s Day tradition,  (and it may be the only day of the year you can get the whole family to help you in the garden without complaint).  I received the wonderful gift of my son and mother planting a brand new climbing rose for me while I took a nap!! Heaven!!

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However around these parts Mother’s Day week and weekend is also famous for snow storms, which is why the last frost date is in fact May 15th- not May 5th!  Transitioning things outside and toughening them up enough to go from lush nursery conditions to exposed windy high desert gardens is an important step to protecting your investments.

IMG_3382Here is a post from years back that talks about the hardening off process and why it is important.

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IMG_1946And lastly one about transplanting tomatoes, which is what I will be doing this weekend… and for many days to come until these babies are tucked cozy in the ground!  If you are planting according to the Bio-dynamic Calendar, Friday and Saturday are not only fruit days but (specially good!!) So hope you are hardened off and ready to go!

 

 

Spring Greens

IMG_1658What a spring we have had! Erratic whether, moisture, crisp cool air, and really spring greens like nothing better!  I have begun harvesting multiple pounds of Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Chard and Chinese Cabbage every week and just wish I had more garden space to plant more.

IMG_1666If you are doing succession planting in your garden planning, timing and leaving space for the future is everything!!  You have to think about how long it will take for a head of lettuce to produce,(about 60 days in the spring) and then plan what you will pop in its place once harvested.  In these pictures above and below you can see I planted Cabbage babies among the cut and come again Lettuce, so that by the time the Lettuce is bitter the Cabbage will take over.

IMG_1799I usually plant a lot of cut and come again varieties of Lettuce, Spinach and Kale and Chard so I don’t have to keep planting…but this year I knew I could sneak in a bunch of head Lettuce before the warm season crops needed the square footage, so now the garden is full of butterhead and romaine varieties so I can remove the whole plant and put in warm season crops the same day…..lots of salad ahead for Mama’s Mini Farm CSA!

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The next three days are leaf days, so in go the last of my greenhouse Romaine starts and I will be sowing directly more Cilantro, Spinach, Arugula and Lettuce.  Possibly for the last time till mid July, as once my attention and garden space goes towards the warm season crops I simply don’t have enough room or time for greens…not to mention when the weather heats up many of these spring babies go bitter or bolt quickly.  Luckily my Chard and Kale keep pumping through the heat and I may not even need to replant them if I care for them right…

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Which is to say I have found that if you shade cool season greens in the high summer they really like it and last longer.  As you already know I am a huge fan of row cover for a long list of reasons… but when it gets too hot and plants don’t get enough fresh air they can get very flimsy and over succulent.  So much so that they couldn’t survive one day in full exposure and they will just turn to mush before your eyes, so I try to gradually remove the row covers for more and more hours at a time to toughen them up to the real world.

IMG_1810I often raise the row cover so wind and beneficial insects can find their way in on the ends, because another set back of having your crops under constant cover is pests, namely good old aphids can take over while you aren’t watching.

At some point when cool spring breezy days shift to hot summer days, Often around June 1st.  I take the row cover off all together and replace it with shade screen.  This lets light, water, and beneficials in, but it takes the edge off those sweltering afternoons that will cause a cilantro to bolt in one day!

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I have found in full sun gardens these shades are very helpful for almost all crops even warm season crops, throughout the whole summer. I have learned my lesson with more than one June hail storm destroying my precious babes!  More info on what to use is in  this previous post.

So if you aren’t out there already….get sowing!! You can plant pretty much any cool season crops, flowers and roots right now and in a few short weeks it will be tomato time!! Hooray! IMG_1670

 

 

 

Easter Sprouts

IMG_1081 (1)I have written many times about growing sprouts at home cause it is just so darn easy and rewarding.  I have lots of friends out there who simply can’t start vegetables indoors but sprouts only require attention for 10 days or so and really only need heat and water and a little sunshine.

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You can grow them with kids and they just love it and you could just keep that going and forgo a garden altogether and still get a constant supply of yummy fresh food for your table.

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Field Peas Day 1

Here is last years link on growing sprouts and Micro greens. But seeing as today and tomorrow are leaf days I thought I would remind you to sow some sprouts indoors.

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If you do they may just be ready for Easter salads, and Easter baskets for that matter.  Why not grow peas shoots or sunflower sprouts this year instead of grass and when the thrill of Easter morning has worn off, snip the sprouts into salad and get double your money…

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Field Peas Day 13

Happy Spring everyone and Happy Sprouting!!

 

Time for sun screen!

The sun is up and the cool has gone, welcome but rough transition for some of us in the garden world.  In fact last Friday, I boldly removed my covers from my garden at SFCC, which is highly exposed to sun and wind.  Everyone was delighted to ‘finally see what was hiding under there’, but was nervous.  I was in a rush and just went for it, crossing my fingers the rain would be light & gentle and the gray skies would protect my newly transplanted babies…..Alas no such luck!!  The weather at my house is extremely different than at SFCC and it turned out the ‘rain’ there was actually hail, damaging all my newly exposed plants and even killing some newly planted ones.

 

The ones that had been uncovered weeks ago had a chance to toughen up so they weathered the storm just fine.  IMG_3924

But the ones that had been babied under row cover got deeply scarred by the rough weather.

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So what is a gardener to do?  Because row cover and custom covers are somewhat sensitive to sun and wind, I like to store them in the summer, so I can really use them when I need them in the colder months, and get the most life out of them possible.  However, a totally exposed garden in the high desert sun can really suffer from sun and wind and yes, summer hail storms…. So here is my solution, actually it is not mine, it is my husband’s idea, he is the brains behind most of our operations.IMG_6889

We bought these grass mats at Lowes that are used for fencing out your neighbors view of your yard.  We cut them into 5 ft pieces and laid them over our cattle panel hooped beds last year.  They provide great shade to a very hot part of our garden and made it useable all season.  So this season I did the same at the SFCC garden.

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Since these beds have hoops built-in, I just wired the mats to the middle bar, the sides are just clipped down so I can unclip and roll them back for easy access to harvest.   They work like a charm and look nice too, since hundreds of people walk through this garden every day, that matters!

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At home, I put them over my greens so they last just a little bit longer into the summer.  Crazy shadows make things taste better too!!

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They also work really well to shade things right after transplanting.  After a week or so they can be removed, but transplanting can be quite and shock, so protection really helps those little guys adapt.  So, since I already have had 4 people ask me, “Where do I get those”, here you go……

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This ‘Natural Reed Fencing’ is found in the way back right corner of he Lowe’s garden section with the fencing stuff.  I tried big Joe’s on Siler and they DO NOT carry them, so don’t try there.  These cost me $24.97 each and since I cut them into 3 5ft pieces, that means $8.32 per piece.  They will last me many years if I store them well when I am not using them….so I say totally worth it, especially if one is investing cash into baby plants this year.  You can of course use other things for the same effect, like old window blinds or how about loosely woven coffee sacks?  Anything that let’s rain, wind, bugs and some sun through is good.

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Whatever you choose, do consider a little sun screen for you and your plants this summer, you will all weather the weather better that way.

PS– Just a footnote on a big lesson learned (or reiterated) to me this week:

Trust you instincts

Make transitions slowly and

Don’t be afraid to protect your little ones so they can get well established before toughing up to the bright, windy, wild world.

 

What are the top ten ways to simplify your gardening?

Christina, over at Tumbleweeds and Seeds posed this question to me the very same day I mixed up a fresh load of potting soil, filled my homemade wooden flats and sowed seeds to be pampered in my greenhouse till it is warm enough to transplant them outside under row cover…..All this to say- -my gardening style is hardy simple.  Because I love it and love to do it all myself it is totally worth all the effort, but simple it is not.  So as I worked, I thought of all the ways you (or I if I so choose) could make gardening simpler.

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The first would be simply Don’t garden.  NO seriously I am not kidding, yes I am a garden teacher and yes I would love to teach you how, but seriously like any hobby, life-giving or not, one must consider the time, skills, costs, resources and water, that go into any new endeavor.  Gardening can help take you out of an industrialized food system, it can get you out into nature more, it just might address pressing personal and global shifts, but consider if it is the right fit for you and your time and resources because honestly it may not be worth doing if you can’t do it well.

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I worked as the school gardener a couple of years back and I had a co-worker who told me a great story.

She rode her bike to work, shopped locally, she did all she could to reduce her carbon footprint and contribute to her community.  One summer she decided to add growing her own food to her good green efforts.  She built a raised bed, bought fancy soil, invested in little plants from the greenhouse and watered like crazy.  She worked so hard that summer and got very little return that ended up losing money & time, but she did gain the realization of how much effort it really took to grow your own food here in the high desert.  She concluded her tale with,

“After all that, now I happily shop at farmers market and I will never scoff at a $3 bunch of Carrots again.  Those farmers know what they are doing, have the appropriate resources to grow beautiful food, and man, the earn every penny!!”

Did you know that one of the biggest problems with the Santa Fe Farmer market is that the farmers CAN’T SELL all their beautiful food!! So much effort, water, land, money, highly precious resources here in the high desert all gone to waste….So if you can, just buy your food from the local pros and save your water bill and spare time for something else.  Gift your local farmers with the value and respect you give any professional.

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Now if you are continuing to read, it is probably because you love to garden, can’t afford market or have some other very good reason you are set on growing, or like me, you simply MUST, so my dear gardeners, here are a few more tips for you.

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1-Starts

If simple is what you are truly looking for, the first advice I would give would be don’t make your own flats, soil or even grow your own starts.  Though a wonderful and pleasurable task, it is not simple and not always easy to do all the pre-growing yourself.  I would recommend buying starts from your local Nursery, Aqua Fria always has a good selection, and of course plenty of folks at Farmers Market.

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2-Choose your crops wisely

Grow only what you eat constantly, what costs a lot and doesn’t travel well.

Like greens, salad, or herbs.  I say make good friends with Swiss Chard, it can be eaten raw of cooked, grows almost year round, bugs don’t like it, it is truly a loyal pal.  I also recommend people start with potted herbs that come come inside in the winter.  This way you always have them on hand and start to really save money and those darn plastic containers most herbs in the supermarket come in.  Dark leafy greens like Kale & Chard are always giving and take require very little attention and really you can’t eat enough of them!

Grow crops that will supply for your needs all year.

Garlic is super easy, low maintenance and you can grow a whole years worth in your backyard.

Skip field crops

If you have a small yard and are trying to grow some of your own food, skip crops like Onions, Winter Squash, Corn, and Potatoes unless of course you have really great success with them.  You can buy all those in bulk locally and cheaply from farmers at market and store them all winter long.  There is no way I could produce all that I consume, so I save my garden space for things I consume daily.

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3-Consolidate Resources- Small is Beautiful

Plant intensively one area, don’t spread your gardening all over the yard.  Choose a small are and really love it up, water it well, spoil it with compost and mulch and wind protection.  Even use containers on your porch that have great soil and are convenient to water, but make sure this precious area is well cared for.  Your work is a resource too, so make sure you are using your time and energy as wisely as well as your water and nutrients.  A small intensive area that is well cared for will sing, rather than over doing it and spreading you and your garden too thin.

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4-Mulch like crazy & STOP Weeding!!

Mulch suppresses weeds so you don’t have to worry about them.  It keeps in moisture so you water much less and builds up organic material in your soil.  If you do have weeds, let them be if they aren’t encroaching in precious vegetables.  Just change how you see them , call them cover crops, call them water catchment, call them green in the desert.  If they are getting in your veggies way, pull them up and lay them down right where they are and call them mulch.  They will just dry up and look like straw anyway!!

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5-Plan well

I have found good gardening really is good planning.  Sow succession crops so as you harvest you are continually adding more seeds.  This makes so you are always harvesting something, so no time, water or space is wasted.  If you need help, here is my handy planting calendar to help guide your way.

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6-Low till to No till

Build up the soil with constant additions of organic material.  You are building up an ecology that does not need to be disturbed every season.  Once you dig deep the first couple of seasons, a light fluffing of the top soil should do the trick for sowing seeds and transplanting.

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7- Chicken tractors

Have you ever had chickens loss in your yard?  Then you have seen them scratch, pick and rake your garden to a nice fine tilth.  Build a little cage that fits over you beds and put the chickens in there before you sow.  They will do the work for you in day!  No chickens?  I guarantee you have a friend who will lend you a few for a day.  They of course eat bug and weeds too, you don’t need to be the only one working out there!

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8-Swap and share

Your friends have chickens and you have Chard- just trade, we don’t all need to do it all the time!  Things are only worth the value we put on them.  Create your own little underground swapper market.

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9-Perrenialize

You can plant your whole yard in edible berries, trees, herbs and shrubs and have a lot less work to do weekly.  You may have bumper crops one year creating a lot of work at one time, but I am sure you will have tons of friends all of a sudden who want to come over and help pick.  Also Perrenialize annuals too.  Let things go to seed and they will be sure to sprout up in odd places next year.  You can wild harvest out of your own yard if you let things naturalize and learn to eat your weeds! Generally perennials take less water too and you can use grey water on them more easily.  All our dish water goes onto our perennial front yard.

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10- Only garden if you love it!!

Forgive your self if you don’t love gardening and use your precious time and energy on some other righteous earth healing soul nourishing endeavor, I am sure you can think of one that is calling to you right now!

THE GARDENERS YEAR 2014 Calendar is here!!

They finally came in the mail, I was so hoping they would come before the Waldorf Faire and they did, though I must admit, the jewelry took the spotlight that day, but I did sell a few to my lovely gardeny friends.

They are big, beautiful and very user-friendly, and frankly make me proud!!

Here is the write-up I put up on Etsy where they are for sale now and with this secret- not so secret code- Shipfree- you can get free shipping anywhere in the the US until Jan 1 2014!!

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THE GARDENERS YEAR – Planning your Plantings for 2014

This Calendar is 12 months of garden goodness, designed to make planning what to do in your garden simple and easy.

As a garden educator I often get the same question from my clients and students–
“WHAT TO PLANT WHEN?”
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I made this Calendar based off years of experience gardening in the High Desert of New Mexico, which is Zone 6 for gardeners in other areas.

I garden organically and learned what I know from a few local farms in New Mexico & abroad, but most of what I teach comes from my apprenticeship in Agroecology at the University of Santa Cruz, CA in 2002.  Many of my techniques and tricks are inspired by French intensive gardening, permaculture and bio dynamics.  This calendar especially reflects the Maria Thun & Stella Natura Biodynamic Planting Calendar in regards to following the recommendations of planting roots crops, fruits crops, leaf crops and flowers crops when the moon is traveling in correlated signs.  This is only a guide, but I like the idea of not only flowing with the seen, but unseen forces of our earth and planets as well.
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My calendar takes you through each month guiding you on what to plant, when and where.

I start many seeds inside as well as use cold frames and mini hoop houses for season extension and do all my gardening in the ground, all of which I provide guidance for within.
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Along with what to plant when, each month includes a brief tutorial on what to be doing in the garden that month, how to make your own planting flats, how to make your own soil mix, growing tips for Carrots, Garlic, Squash and much more.

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THE GARDENERS YEAR CALENDAR also includes the New Moon and Full Moon dates for 2014 as well as solstices, equinoxes and important seasonal holidays.

All the full color photography is my own from my own gardens here in Northern New Mexico.

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The Calendar Measures 11.5 x 14inches and is spiral bound, making perfect not only for reading, but recording what is happening in your own garden.

This is has been a huge help to new gardeners and seasoned gardeners alike and simply helps you get the most out of your timing, which in gardening is key to productivity.

Get Yours Here.

Use the coupon code- Shipfree for free shipping now till Dec 25th!!

Hope you enjoy it!!

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