Craft & Consumption

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Backyard Gardening How-To

I am so proud and psyched to have my Backyard Gardening How-To article published in the May 2014 issue of Berks County Living magazine. I grew up in my Mom's garden and starting one of my own has been a huge part of my adult life. My garden has served as a place of learning, a source of healthy eating, and a weekend/weeknight escape. Nurturing my flowers and veggies is a constant process, and I've loved the journey so far. Big thanks to Nikki Murry and Robyn Jones (editor and publisher of Berks County Living), and my boyfriend Mark for the amazing photos. You guys rock! 

Introduction to Backyard Botany

I owe my profound interest in gardening to the two DIY horticulturists in my life, my mother Lisa Oswald and the great Pamela Nester. When an orchid of mine is looking distressed, it goes to “rehab” at my mom’s. When I'm planning a new wildflower garden, Pam is there to walk me through the proper seed-sowing techniques. The nurturing I’ve received from these two expert gardeners has turned me into an amateur backyard botanist. I live for the gardening season, the blooming cycles, and the weekly harvests that happen right here in my own backyard. 
For those without a garden guru, I wanted to provide a little introduction to the best of gardening in Berks County. This how-to guide is nowhere near exhaustive; it’s just my tips and tricks from the last five years of my gardening tutelage, things like:

  • How to plant seeds properly
  • How to thin the baby seedlings and make room for bigger plants
  • Which cut flowers are the hardiest in our climate?
  • When can I plant lettuce and tomatoes?

Know Your Zone

The first thing you need to know as a backyard gardener here in Berks is that we’re in plant hardiness zone 6. In zone 6, our frost-free date is May 15. This means that only cold-tolerant crops can be planted prior to May 15. It also means that certain flowers just won’t work in our zone. The first step to successful gardening is knowing your hardiness zone.


What to Plant When?

Crop and flower timing in Zone 6 goes a little something like this: 

Cold-Tolerant Vegetables (plant outside in March/April):
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro *(I just learned that this is in fact cold-tolerant!)
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
Summer Vegetables (plant outside after May 15):
  • Basil
  • String beans
  • Cantaloupe
  • Chervil (a delightful, light herb similar to parsley)
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • More lettuce!
  • Parsley (I prefer flat Italian parsley.)
  • Bell peppers
  • JalapeƱo peppers
  • Rosemary
  • Strawberries
  • Thyme (I love French and lemon thyme.)
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini


What to Plant When?

In terms of flowers, I am a perennial devotee. Perennials (not to be confused with annuals) are the types of flowers that, once planted, come up year after year. They bloom during the spring, summer, or autumn (depending on the variety) and then die back and go into hibernation until the following year, when they bloom again. Their bulbs/roots stay in the ground and are hardy enough to withstand our winters. I tend to prefer flowers that work well in bouquets, since I love seeing my blooms indoors.
Here are some of my favorite flowers, their ideal planting times, and my "cut flower" rating. 

The bouquets below show off some of the beautiful blooms in my most favorite garden-sourced arrangements. Bouquet #1 is a mixture of dahlias and ageratum, and #2 is a few cut zinnias and one big dahlia, one of the easiest to throw together. Bouquet #3 is a mix of hydrangea, dahlias and sedum flowers. How gorgeous does the sturdy green sedum (actually a succulent plant) look amidst the pale pink hues? #4 is just two huge pink peonies with boxwood sprigs, and #5 is all white tulips, also accented with boxwood evergreen sprigs. 


How to Prepare

For gardeners here in Berks County, the season really begins in March. Preparation for the season starts with your soil. 
I keep my vegetables and delicate bulb flowers on a rotational schedule among four raised beds. Experts recommend that raised beds be built in 8-foot by 4-foot rectangles. You never want your raised bed to be wider than your arms can reach. A four foot width ensures that you can reach the middle of the bed from either side. You should always rotate your vegetables and flowers, if possible. This will ensure that the soil maintains even nutrients (and doesn’t get continually zapped from the same plant with the same nutrient needs, summer after summer).
Each spring I remove the top layer of straw from my beds and get rid of any pesky weeds that survived the winter. Then I fill each rectangle with two to three additional bags of organic gardening soil. You want to add back nutrients in March to give your plants a healthy boost before the growing season starts. To mix, use a shovel to bury some of the new soil in with the existing.


Now you’re ready to plant! First I use a piece of scrap wood to create rows for my seeds. Seeds generally need to be between 1/4”-1/2” below the surface of the soil, so check the back of your seed packet to estimate depth. I shimmy a piece of long thin wood into the soil to create the first row. Once the little row is indented, you’re ready to put your seeds in the ground. Pam taught me that the best way to plant seeds is with your bare hands. You don’t want to sprinkle the seeds directly from the packet into the ground, because this gives you less control over the seed placement. Once the seeds are in your cupped hand, sprinkle them evenly throughout the row, being careful not to get too many seeds “clumped” together in one spot. 
Use your thumb and forefinger to then gently pinch together the soil, covering the seeds in your entire row. Then use the palm of your hand to pat the soil down firmly. Now you’re ready for watering.


Watering is always the first step after planting seeds or transplanting almost any plant. I use a hose with a sprinkler attachment so that the entire raised bed gets an even application of water. I generally run the sprinkler for at least 10-15 minutes to ensure a good soak. Throughout the season you should proceed to water about once a week, especially during the first few weeks while the seeds are germinating. In the hottest days of summer, you might need to water your vegetables and flowers twice per week. You can easily check by inserting a finger into the soil, if it feels bone dry, hook up that sprinkler! If the ground feels moist, steer clear of the hose. Over-watering can be just as bad for plants as under-watering.


A few weeks after the initial sowing of the seeds, tiny seedlings will emerge. It’s important that you thin these seedlings (pull out the small plants) to make room for bigger plants to grow. If you don’t thin the rows, you’ll never get bigger veggies to mature. This is especially true for beets and radishes. 

After weeks of waiting, it’s time to harvest! For me, harvesting means enjoying whatever you’ve got. Whether that’s cutting tulips to make a bedside table bouquet or filling up a basket of fresh salsa ingredients. I find that I harvest vegetables in my garden when I need them and plan meals around the current crops. Salsa is one of my favorite go-tos in the summer. My girlfriend Christy introduced me to the simplest salsa recipe: just chop up tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro and jalapeƱos and throw them in a bowl together, then promptly devour with tortilla chips. There are so many amazing recipes to share. Happy gardening! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Currently Coveting: Summer 2013

Summer '13

I'm currently coveting this great striped dress. It's an Asos find and has a fun natural swing to it. The first day I wore it I got home from a long day at work and listened to my boyfriend practice his DJ set (he had an event the following night). I danced in our living room and the cut of the dress just encouraged more dancing. I felt like one of those 50's chics that you see in dance-instructing YouTube videos (like this). I say any dress that inspires that level of silliness is a closet YES.

I've been wearing mine with summer-appropriate gold and turquoise accessories from Sorrelli and my new wrap-leather Michael Kors watch (a gift from my extremely thoughtful colleagues). I also just got this great pair of 'Josephine' Michael Kors sandals which I've been wearing all summer long. Apparently it's been an MK summer in my household! The sandal find I owe to my shopping bud who tipped me off and introduced me to these simple, luxe gladiators! It's so nice to have a quality pair of sandalias that make any old outfit feel special. I've been trying to invest in quality pieces this year instead of buying cheap Target and Old Navy versions all year long. You'd be surprised how quickly $15 and $30 purchases add up to a few hundred dollars!

What are your summer staples? Striped dresses, turquoise jewels, some camel leather accents and I'm set. Can it be summer forever?

Monday, August 12, 2013

{DIY} Garden Veggie Markers

I was gifted this set of Tekton metal letter stamps and finally found a project for them! My sister brought over some strips of brass and we used a hammer to spell out the various veggies I have planted in my garden. We placed the brass strips on top of a steel jeweler's bench block (you can't hammer metal directly on a table or floor, unless you want hammer marks everywhere).

I'm pretty excited about these garden markers because I can use them year after year. I was using strips of wood and they really wear and fade each year in the outdoors. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Camping in our Geodesic Dome

My boyfriend has always been fascinated by geodesic domes. After studying them for years and building toothpick models of 2V and 3V constructions, we seized the opportunity this summer and built a real-life geodesic dome (and by that I mean he did. Did I say "we"???). A celebration ensued with friends, beer, and a campfire.

The 2V dome was assembled with EMT conduit that he cut and hammered by hand. This entire project was accomplished in a week's time, in the evenings after 5:00. When all of the rods were cut, ends flattened, angled, and holes drilled, the bolts were purchased. Then we drove to our campsite and assembled the dome on-location. I tried to help. Mostly Mark assembled it by himself. I took photos. 

We then covered the dome with a plastic tarp to keep the heat inside during the night.

Oh, and we thought this was a special enough event to commemorate via t-shirts. So Mark designed a graphic tee and this happened. Hooray for summer DIY projects and celebrating the great outdoors with friends.

Monday, August 5, 2013

NYC Neighborhood Hunt

Negroni at River Deli
My boyfriend and I recently went apartment hunting in NYC. We are making a big transition this fall! These are snapshots of our favorite haunts during the search. Out of all the neighborhoods in NYC that we looked at, the streets of Brooklyn won with their charming brick buildings, tree-lined streets, and quaint brunch locales. 

Oh Brooklyn, you had me at Clematis.

Huevos Rancheros at Iris Cafe

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cobalt Blue at Home

I think I've been nesting a little more than usual this summer. Not sure why. Maybe it's turning 27. Getting closer to 30 makes you want to decorate and cozy up in your house? I dunno... but I'm proud of our little home and love editing and modifying my surroundings so they feel like "us".

Graphic Ikea Pillow
I like the mix of bright blue, graphic black & white, and the colorful turquoise and indigo pillows my mom & dad brought me back from Bali years ago. 

Vintage lamp with Anthropologie Shade

I realize looking at this photo that almost everything in our house is vintage. The chair was a flea market find. The lamp was a flea market find with an Anthropologie shade on top. The yellow trunk is an antique that was refurbished as a gift for us. The only thing not vintage is the metal table (that serves up fresh hydrangeas) and the red painting (a portrait my dad made in the 80's.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

June & July Blooming Summer flowers (zone 6)

Tiger lilies from my mom's house that I scooped up for an indoor bouquet.

Cleome that re-seeded itself in my raised beds. I planted this last year and had no intention of planting it again. I was pleasantly surprised by these fuchsia blooms.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rabbits in my Garden {Fences and Gates Ed.}

I've been a little upset lately about my garden. I planted lots of cold weather vegetables back in March, including lettuce, spinach, kale, and beets. Unfortunately rabbits have invaded and found my bounty! They have eaten most of the veggies that I planted so far this summer.

We just purchased a garden gate and are working on a fence to keep the varmints out. It's not complete, but we're about 60% there! Here's the gate/arbor that we found. More info/photos to come. I am truly hoping this helps the rabbit infestation problem. Fingers crossed!!

Garden Arbor with Gate

Monday, July 22, 2013

Best (Cheapest, Cutest) Underwear

Ok, I had to share this. This summer I embarked on an underwear overhaul. It was time to grab some fresh new pairs, in bulk. I hate paying $5 or $8 or (gasp!) $12 for a pair of undies. I want to spend $3 or $4 - max. Right? Ok, I'm a cheap-o when it comes to undies. But why pay more when you can find a great pair for $3.50?

In looking for some new, affordable skivvies - my friend recommended I check out Aerie, the intimates division of American Eagle. Turns out my friend was right on the money (she is a shopping goddess after all). Aerie has a "7 pairs for $25" deal, in which each pair is only $3.57. You can mix and match any/all of their styles, including all of the ones you see below. 

I got beautiful lace and cotton pairs for $3.57 each. So worth it! My favorite styles from the overhaul are below. If you're in need (like I was!) for an underwear refresh, definitely go check out

Aerie Vintage Lace Tanga

Aerie Cotton & Lace Boyfriend Brief

Aerie "Vintage Lace" Boyfriend Brief

Thursday, July 18, 2013

April & May Blooming Spring Flowers (zone 6)

Purple Salvia

Lately I've been having some issues with my vegetable garden (read: rabbits). So I've focused my energies even more than usual on my flowers. Here's what happened this spring at our place that got me excited and happy. 

The salvia I planted a few years ago is strong and did well this year. I even had some seeds carry over into a second flower bed. We had little salvia transplants coming up and blooming! 

Creeping flox and Pink Rhododendron
The creeping flox was beautiful in April/May. It was super thick and healthy. I love the rhododendron we planted behind it because it works well with the flox, and it blooms early before the other rhododendron varieties bloom. This is one of my favorite parts of the art of gardening, timing all of the varieties so you have constant beauty throughout the spring-fall seasons. It's like a jigsaw puzzle of location, species, and climate that you have to figure out, constantly modifying as you go.