Celebrate a Special Day or a Special Person By Planting a Tree

treeMany individuals are familiar with the Arbor Day tradition of planting a tree, but trees can be planted anytime in the spring, summer, and fall season.  Planting a tree is a great way of celebrating a special occasion such as a special birthday, anniversary, or creating a living memorial to a loved one.

How to Plant a Tree

The first step to planting a tree can also be the downfall of the process if not done correctly.  First, pick the correct tree for the desired location, not the other way around. Things to consider when shopping for trees include hardiness zone, height and spread of tree once the tree matures, sun exposure of the planned area, and soil conditions.

Once a variety of tree has been decide upon, the next choice the gardener will have to make is whether they want to purchase a bare root tree, balled and burlapped tree, or container-grown tree. A bare root tree needs to be planted shortly after purchasing and needs to have moist and fibrous roots. Deciduous seedlings should have roots about the same length as the stem length.  Balled and burlapped trees should have a firm root ball especially near the trunk. The root ball should be a good size compared to the size of the tree. Trees sold in containers should have no circling roots and no roots wider than a finger.  The soil and roots in the container should be joined tightly together in the container.

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Stir the Garden Up with a Stir-Fry Vegetable Garden

stirfryA garden dedicated to growing vegetables for a stir-fry is not as difficult as one may think.  Many of the vegetables used in oriental cooking are what is considered cool-season and some are considered Cole crops. If the garden is planned accordingly, a three-season garden can be designed in certain areas.

Early Spring and/or Fall Stir-Fry Garden

The easiest plants to start with in the spring garden are the greens.  These include pak choi, pei tsai, won bok, Chinese mustard, Chinese cabbage, tatsoi, bok choy, kale, and chihli (celery cabbage).  All of these plants have very similar growth requirements and can be planted the same way.

The first step to creating the spring stir-fry garden is to do a soil test and follow the recommendations.  If a soil test is not done, apply 3 pounds of 5-10-10 per 100 square feet of garden space.  Mix the fertilizer completely into the soil to prevent root burn.  Once this is done, sow the seeds directly into the garden soil spacing the rows 12 to 15 inches apart.

Water the spring stir-fry garden in the morning before the sun comes up. This will allow the leaves to dry completely prior to nightfall.  Never give greens a spurt of water.  This creates a shallow root system, but instead water the garden to a 6-inch depth.  To conserve soil moisture, mulch the garden area.

Other vegetables that can be planted in the spring and/or fall stir-fry garden include snow peas, Chinese broccoli, and Chinese radish.

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Endless Summer…


I get a real kick out of the first day of fall weather. Everyone fawns over the crisp air, the crystal blue skies, the mums and straw this ‘n’ that for sale all over town. If I could, I would turn back the clock to June and replay summer all over again! After a double dose of summer, I might embrace fall as readily as others do.

Fortunately, just because the calendar says September doesn’t mean that you have to give up the best of summer. You can ensure an endless summer by starting at the beginning of the season to preserve summer and keep it going until it rolls around again next year.

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Visit Outdora at the 26th Annual San Francisco Flower and Garden Show

photoGet your garden ready for spring at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show starting this Wednesday, March 23rd through Sunday, March 27th. This year, the event explores the theme “Life in the California Garden” with a special focus on greener living through vegetable gardening, local vegetation, and the scrumptious local food products that epitomize California culture.

Months of preparation go into the creation of San Francisco’s largest, world-class Flower & Garden expo. From the 1,200 cubic yards of sawdust and mulch put down for the gardens, to the days of cultivation and creativity each gardener puts into their works of art, no detail is overlooked in preparation for the anticipated 50,000 guests.

This year, Outdora is proud to partner with Sonoma landscape architect, Regina Rollins. She started her landscape architecture and design firm, Rollin Design, in 2003, but her love of gardening, design and the California landscape bloomed much earlier.

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Creating a Living Game Board for the Backyard Environment

MB005002Playing games outside in the summer has been an old standby for many youth growing up before the invention of the Internet and electronic games.   A great way of reintroducing backyard games to the youth of today is to create a living game board.

A living game board consists of using a combination of living plant material and/or hardscape that is built into the lawn.  Many different kinds of games can be created through this method and includes chess and/or checkerboard, matching game, tic-tac-toe, and twister.

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How to Grow Mint for Your Very Own Hyper-local Mint Julep

Mint-JulepMint is a very beautiful and fragrant herb that has a nasty habit. This habit is it is very invasive. It spreads through runners under the ground and through stem cuttings. The best approach when it comes to mint is to control it by a barrier placed in the ground, growing it in a container or creating a system that incorporates the best of both worlds. The later approach that is referred to is to grow it in the ground in a simple but stylish way. This is accomplished by making your own mint container.

This container is made of a clay flue liner that is cut into several different lengths that range from 6 inches to 12 inches.  Once the clay flue liner is cut, add any desired decorations such as paint to the flue container.  Also paint the name of each type of mint that will be planted in these flues.

Move the prepared flues to the desired garden space where the mint will be planted.  Fill the flue containers 3/4 full with half good potting soil and half compost mix.  Mix the soil with a hand spade.

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Create a Cat Friendly Garden with Catnip

sadecatnipEvery animal lover knows how important it is to keep the family cat happy.  Many cats enjoy playing with cat toys and scratch posts but they really enjoy a little nip of catnip. To provide a constant supply of catnip, why not grow your own.

Catnip or Nepeta cataria and catmint or Nepeta mussini are used interchangeably but they are really two different plants. If one really does not want to attract a lot of cats to the garden space then plant catmint.  If, on the other hand, the gardener really wants to drive their cats crazy, then plant catnip.   This plant produces a stronger fragrance and many cats will even eat it down to the ground.

Catnip and catmint is a hardy perennial herb that belongs to the mint family.  It grows 3 to 4 feet in height and presents the gardener with light green leaves on stems that produce small lavender flowers on 5-inch long spikes.  This plant is very flexible in its environmental requirements.  It will grow in any soil but really likes a moderately rich loam soil.  If the fragrance of the plant is not very strong, mix a little sand into the soil and keep the pH in the range of 6.1-7.8.  This plant can grow in full sun but finds shade just fine.

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The Art of Asian Tea Smoking on your Grille or Barbecue/Smoker

looseleaf_teaMost of us have grown accustomed to smoking with our favorite wood, but for something truly different, I highly recommend the Asian technique of smoking with loose tea.  The tea provides a relatively mellow, herbaceous taste, and has the advantage of working with any style of outdoor cooker from a covered hibachi or bullet-style grille to a large smoker.  It works best if you set your grille for direct heat.  Temperature and times will be the same as you would use when smoking with wood.  You have two options here, either sprinkling loose tea directly onto your coals or heat source, or you may concoct your own tea-spice blend to wrap in a perforated foil packet.  Virtually any full-flavored black or green tea will work here.  If your palate is reasonably good, you WILL be able to taste the difference.   Use a good quality tea, one that you would want to drink on its own, much like cooking with wine.   It’s fun to experiment with different varieties of tea  for subtle differences in results. Because it is a surprisingly delicate flavor that the tea imparts in the smoking, I find that this technique works best for smoking poultry , fish or pork, rather than red meats.  Working with direct heat, with a quicker cooking time, you have the option of choosing leaner, as well as more marbled meats.   Also, because of the relative delicacy, this technique can work well in a small smoke chamber.   One of my favorite recipes utilizing  this technique is for tea-smoked chicken thighs, which I then dip in a ginger-sesame-soy sauce.   Have your grille preheated and ready to go.  The preparation goes as follows:

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Growing Your Own Herbal Tea

kraueterteeNothing beats a soothing cup of herbal tea in the morning as a non-caffeinated pick me up or at night as a bedtime treat.  What makes herbal tea even better is that it is easy to grow and helps keep an individual living a Locavore lifestyle.

Herbal teas have a vast history that encompasses a full realm of uses.  It has been used as a medical treatment for disorders such as depression and upset stomach.  They have also been used as a substitute for Camellia sinensis. This was done when traditional tea was scarce or to make a statement about taxes. The colonists used Beebalm or bergamot after the Boston Tea Party and the early settlers used it to boycott the tax on tea.

Growing herbs for herbal tea is not a difficult task and even the beginning gardener can be successful at this undertaking.  The first consideration that the gardener needs to think about is what type of garden they want to construct.  Herbs do great in a flowerbed or vegetable garden and also thrive in container gardens.

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Smoking Hot! Turning your home grill into a smoker.

smoker_1Smoking has long been used as a preservation method for food. However, it is the flavor it brings, rather than the acidic protection it offers that has made smoked meat a treat the world over.

Traditional materials for smoking include woods like alder and oak, hickory and mesquite, and all varieties of fruit trees. Uncooked rice, tea leaves and even corn cobs can also be used, depending on the flavor you are trying to achieve. Most North Americans are familiar with the robust flavor of hickory smoke, but should not discount the subtleties of cherry wood or maple. Once you are confident with a standard smoking recipe, why not change the fuel and see how it affects the finished product? Whatever material you decide to smoke with, please be sure it is clean and free of paint or preservative products. You wouldn’t eat paint chips, no sense smoking your meat with them.

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