Author: Spencer Brooks

5 Ways to Use Your Extra Garden Vegetables

If you grow your own vegetable garden, you’re likely familiar with end-of-season surplus. As harvest time approaches, you may find that you have more vegetables than you can use. 

It seems like a shame to throw away produce, especially when you’ve worked so hard to grow it. Fortunately, there are quite a few ways to make sure your extra garden vegetables don’t go to waste. 

1) Preserve Your Produce

Pickling is a simple (and delicious) way to keep your extra produce from going to waste. You can pickle your vegetables in a couple hours, and once sealed, they’ll last on your shelf for up to a year or more. There’s also a lot of room to get creative with flavors when you pickle. 

You can start pickling today with a few Mason jars and some basic herbs and spices. 

2) Vacuum Seal and Freeze

A vacuum sealer is an invaluable tool for the harvest season. If you vacuum seal and freeze your extra produce, it will be almost completely protected from moisture, oxygen, and heat. As a result, it will keep almost indefinitely. Vacuum-sealed, frozen produce stays good for years. 

You can find a vacuum sealer at your local home improvement or general retail store. All you have to do is wash and chop up your produce (if it’s larger, like squash; smaller produce like green beans can be frozen whole), put it in a bag, seal it, and place it in your freezer. That’s it!

3) Give Produce to Neighbors

Extra fruits and vegetables are also a great way to get closer to your neighbors and foster a stronger local community. 

Put together little bundles of fruits and vegetables and take them over to the houses in your neighborhood. It’s a great way to introduce yourself (and it may come in handy the next time you need help jumpstarting your car). 

4) Sell Your Veggies

Why not make some money off your extra produce? Many local farmer’s markets will rent out a booth for a nominal fee, giving you a chance to sell excess fruits and vegetables for profit. 

Most farmer’s markets will also let you sell homemade baked goods, preserves, and other food items, so if you’re handy in the kitchen, you can turn your surplus produce into premade goods and bring in more money. You may even find that you really enjoy selling your food, in which case a farmer’s market booth can turn into a nice little year-round side business. 

5) Make Your Own Compost

If all else fails and you find you have produce that’s no longer edible, your best bet is to make it into compost. 

Composting is a simple, low-effort, inexpensive way to ensure that next year’s garden is exceptional. Homemade compost is one of the best ways to enrich your soil and provide your plants with the nutrients they need to grow. 

You can compost in your backyard with minimal investment of time and money. You can also compost through winter if you start in autumn. You’ll have nutrient-dense compost ready by the time spring arrives — perfect to start off strong with the first crops of the year. 

Pickling and Preserving Your Fall Vegetables

Garden City Harvest

Spring and summer get the most love, but fall is a surprisingly good time to grow a vegetable garden. The cooling weather favors hearty root vegetables, including:

  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Radishes 
  • Parsnips
  • Yams
  • Sweet potatoes

 

Fall is also the ideal time to plant vegetables from the brassica family:

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Kohlrabi

 

When you finish harvesting your garden, you’ll likely have a surplus of vegetables. The good news is that many fall crops are ideal for pickling and preserving. Here’s how to make your fall vegetables last through the winter (and a couple recipes to get you started). 

 

A Simple 4-Step Guide to Pickling

Pickling means preserving something in a brine — a combination of salt and liquid. You’ve likely had pickled cucumbers before, but you can pickle all kinds of vegetables. 

Quick pickling will keep vegetables for about a month, but in this article, we’re going to focus on shelf-stable pickling. By following these steps, your vegetables should be preserved and good to eat for well over a year. 

There are a few short steps to pickling just about anything. You will need:

  • Mason jars (or other canning jars)
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Vinegar
  • Herbs, spices, or other flavorings

 

Step 1: Prepare Your Veggies

As a general rule, the firmer the flesh of a vegetable, the better it will stand up to long-term pickling. Leafy greens like kale are better eaten fresh, but beets, carrots, turnips, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all great choices for pickling. 

Chop your vegetables up into roughly 1-inch pieces and set them aside. You’ll also want to prepare any herbs and spices you plan to use. Good choices include:

  • Bay leaf (1 leaf per jar)
  • Whole black peppercorns (1-3 tsp per jar)
  • Celery seed (½ tsp per jar)
  • Whole dried chili peppers (1-3 per jar)
  • Cumin seed (½ tsp per jar)
  • Dill seed (½ tsp per jar)
  • Coriander seed (½ tsp per jar)
  • Caraway seed (½ tsp per jar)
  • Mustard seed (½ tsp per jar)
  • Fresh dill (2-4 sprigs per jar)
  • Habanero peppers (1 sliced pepper per jar; remove seeds for less heat)
  • Sliced garlic (1-2 cloves per jar)
  • Oregano (1 sprig per jar)
  • Sliced shallots (½ shallot per jar)

If you aren’t sure where to start, try the recipe at the end of this article!

 

Step 2: Sterilize Your Jars

Sterilizing is the most important step in pickling. You want to make sure that you kill bacteria and molds so your food doesn’t spoil while on the shelf. 

The easiest way to sterilize your mason jars is by boiling them. Submerge the jars and tops (both the lid and the screw collar) in boiling water on your stovetop for at least 10 minutes, then remove them to a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and let them dry. 

 

Step 3: Create a Brine and Fill Your Jars

Creating a brine is easy. You need:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt

Mix everything together in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Fill your jars with your vegetables and flavorings, then pour the brine into the jars so that it completely covers the vegetables. Wipe any residue off the rim of the jar, then put on the lid and screw the collar tight. 

 

Step 4: Boil Your Sealed Jars

The final step in preserving pickled vegetables is to boil your jars of veggies. Put them in boiling water for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat, let the jars sit in the water for another 10 minutes, and remove and dry them. 

This step forms an airtight seal, ensuring that your pickled vegetables will stay good for months. 

At this point, you can set your jars on a shelf in your pantry. Your veggies will keep at room temperature almost indefinitely — although they will get softer as the months go on, so if you like a snap to your pickled vegetables, you may want to eat them within the first three months or so. 

You can use this method to preserve all your fall vegetables and keep them throughout the winter. Looking for a place to start? Try these pickled carrots. 

 

Recipe: Pickled Dill Carrots 

Ingredients:

For the brine:

  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt

 

For the pickled veggies:

  • 4 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced or halved
  • 6 sprigs of fresh dill
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp dill seed
  • 1 tbsp coriander seed
  • 6 32-oz mason jars

 

Follow the steps outlined in the article above. Each mason jar should contain:

  • 1 sprig of fresh dill
  • 1 whole garlic clove
  • ½ tsp dill seed
  • ½ tsp coriander seed

Do Watering Needs Change During the Fall?

Fall is here, and with it come several changes to your garden. 

Fall is the perfect time to grow hearty late-season vegetables and compost autumn leaves for the upcoming spring season. 

That said, if you’re going to continue working in your garden throughout fall, you’ll have to change your approach a bit. As the weather cools off, it’s important to adjust your watering habits accordingly. 

 

Your Garden Needs Less Water During Fall

During summer, plentiful watering is one of the most important parts of a gardening routine. The summer heat means a lot of water will evaporate from the soil in your garden. In addition, plants are getting lots of sunlight, and you want to give them enough water to take advantage of that sunlight and grow. 

If you don’t water regularly during the summer (maybe every day, depending on your climate), your plants will go thirsty and their growth will be stunted. 

During fall, however, your plants’ watering needs change. Cooler weather means less water evaporates during the day. Your plants are also getting less sunlight and growing more slowly, so their roots will take up less water. 

If you don’t adjust your watering schedule accordingly, you risk overwatering your plants, which can rot the roots and cause fungal diseases to take hold. Both can be devastating to your garden. 

 

How Often Should You Water During Fall?

If you’re in a rainy climate and you get at least an inch of rainfall per week, you won’t have to water at all during autumn. 

Otherwise, you’ll want to keep watering your garden until the ground freezes. If the weather is warm (60) and you aren’t getting rainfall, water 2-4 times a week. 

As the temperature drops toward 40℉, you can reduce watering to once a week. 

The first hard frost in late autumn will likely kill most of your summer plants, but hearty fall plants like root vegetables can survive frosts. As long as the temperature is still above 32℉, you can continue watering once a week. When freezing temperatures arrive, it’s time to stop watering and begin winterizing your garden. 

 

Simplify Watering Year Round

If you want to make watering as simple as possible, we suggest using a B-hyve Sprinkler Timer.

B-hyve is a smart watering system that uses WeatherSense™ technology to deliver the perfect amount of water to your garden, based on local temperature and weather data. You can even check your water use and program B-hyve from your smartphone or computer. 

To date, B-hyve has saved more than 30 billion gallons of water nationwide. It’s not just good for the environment; it saves you money on your water bill every month and ensures that you never have to think about watering again. If you want to simplify your watering routine, give B-hyve a try.

Garden City Harvest: The Hidden Value of Community Gardening

Garden City Harvest

In 1996, the city of Missoula, Montana was facing a crisis.

For over a century, Missoula had been home to a thriving lumber industry. Work was plentiful, and aspiring foresters came to Missoula from across the country. Its population grew rapidly; before long, it was the second most populated city in Montana.

But in the 1990s, Missoula changed. The lumber industry, after a decade in decline, finally collapsed. Jobs dried up and prosperity went with them. Within a couple years, more than 20% of Missoulians were living in poverty. They had no work, no prospects –– and, when the government cut funding for food stamps in 1995, Missoula’s residents realized that they may soon have no food.

Josh Slotnick, a local farmer and aspiring teacher, thought he saw a solution. He reached out to the University of Montana and proposed a bold idea: large-scale community gardening, plus hands-on education to teach people how to grow their own food.

“I believed then,” Josh says, “that if we grew beautiful food, and I passed on little nuggets of wisdom around how to grow food, that this thing would be successful.”

Building a Garden City

Josh called his project Garden City Harvest. He started small –– two acres of farmland used to teach people how to grow crops, plus a community garden in the heart of town that anyone could join.

Garden City Harvest

Garden City Harvest offered fresh produce to the community at affordable prices, taught Missoula residents to grow their own food, and donated a large percentage of vegetables to the local food bank, so those struggling with food security would have good, real food to eat.

That was 25 years ago. Today Garden City Harvest is, by all accounts, an extraordinary success.

It runs four large farms in Missoula proper and more than 20 community gardens across the city, and it donates more than 100,000 pounds of produce to Missoula food banks every year.

But GCH has turned into something greater than a local farming cooperative. It’s become a pillar of the community.

GCH works with almost every elementary school in Missoula, teaching children how to grow their own food. It delivers food to the elderly, giving them fresh produce and fostering connection between the older generations and the younger ones.

GCH even has an agreement with the local courts system –– they take in at-risk youth off the street and give them a sense of purpose, an education in farming, and a loving, tight-knit community in which they can thrive.

More Than Just Farming

Over the years, Garden City Harvest has uncovered a truth that Josh didn’t expect.

“It’s not about the food,” he says. At first, it’s not clear what he means.

Jean Zosel, Garden City Harvest’s executive director, offers a similar sentiment. She’s thoughtful and sincere, with the quiet charisma of somebody who finds deep purpose in their work. When I ask her what the best part of her job is, she tells me to wait a moment and goes looking for a folder.

“Here we go,” she says. She begins reading a message sent to her by a GCH member.

“‘My husband and I got married last August,’” the message says. “‘Due to COVID, we didn’t have family here for our two-person wedding. 

“‘The week after our wedding, I was at the garden and shared our news with a fellow gardener. He gave us his first tomato of the season as a wedding present. So sweet. 

“‘We’re also relatively new to Missoula and were just beginning to meet more people when the pandemic hit. The garden has been such a nice place to say hello to friendly faces and feel a sense of community. Growing alongside other humans is a total gift.’”

Over the course of our conversation, Jean shares several other stories with me.

She talks about a young woman who delivered vegetables to seniors. The young woman had purple hair and piercings, and at first she was worried about what the seniors might think of her appearance.

But instead of judgment, she found unexpected warmth. The seniors looked forward to seeing her each week, purple hair and all. They would talk for a few minutes each week, and over time, they developed surprisingly deep (and perhaps unlikely) friendships.

Garden City Harvest LogoJean also talks about a 16-year-old boy who was living on the street.

He’d been abandoned when he was 12 and, with nobody to help him, his life had begun to go down a dark and desperate road. He was arrested, and the courts offered him a choice: he could go to juvenile detention, or he could learn to work on a farm.

He chose the farm. He struggled at first –– both physically and emotionally –– but after a few months, he found strength in the community and purpose in his work.

One day when he was selling produce, he saw a familiar face: a man whose property he had defaced a few years earlier. When they recognized each other, the boy walked up to the man, shook his hand, and apologized. The man smiled, accepted the apology, and said he was happy to see the boy doing well.

Today, that boy is 24 years old. He has an apartment, a good job, a tight-knit circle of friends he made on the farm, and –– Jean smiles when she tells me this –– a 401(k).

When Josh and Jean say “It’s not about the food,” this is what they mean.

The food is important, without a doubt. Every year, GCH ensures that Missoula’s at-risk residents can afford to feed themselves and their children.

But there’s a deeper value to Garden City Harvest. In a time when community –– real, meaningful community –– is increasingly rare, GCH has brought thousands of Missoulians together. Through local gardening and farming education, they’ve fostered connections between young and old, homeless and affluent, farmers and restaurants, students and locals. Their humble community gardens have changed the very landscape of Missoula, both physically and communally.

Garden City Harvest is an extraordinary organization, and we want to see them continue to grow. That’s why we’ll donate $5 to Garden City Harvest for every purchase in the Orbit Store during September.

Perhaps you’ll consider starting a garden of your own, or maybe you’ll join a local community garden. You never know where it might take you.

Do you have a local gardening or nature-based success story you want to share with us? Tell us about it in the comments below; we’d love to feature it here on the Orbit blog. 

    The Soil Your Undies Challenge: A New Way to Build Better Soil

    underwear decomposingIn late 2018, a handful of Oregon farmers went out onto their land, dug a hole, and buried a new pair of cotton underwear.

    The farmers call it the “Soil Your Undies” challenge. The idea is simple: if soil is healthy, the microbes it contains will dissolve a pair of underwear in about 60 days.

    Soil microbes are constantly decomposing organic matter into nutrients that enrich the soil, creating an ideal environment for crops to grow.

    Healthy soil is full of friendly microbes. If your soil is healthy, you should be able to bury a pair of cotton underwear, come back in two months, and dig up nothing but the elastic waistband (the microbes aren’t so keen on eating rubber, so the waistband stays behind).

    The Soil Your Undies challenge is a simple way to test your land’s soil quality –– and most of the farmers have been happy with their results.

    decomposed underwearCorey Miller, a wheat farmer in northeastern Oregon, is experimenting with a new style of no-till farming. The idea is that if you balance the ecosystem on your farm and then leave your soil alone, the undisturbed soil microbes will have a chance to work their magic, creating more nutrient-dense soil with less work on the part of the farmer.

    Corey wasn’t sure how well his new farming style was working –– until he dug up his undies and found that they were completely disintegrated, even though he’d had an unusually dry season. Now he’s sold on no-till farming. His wheat is healthy, his land is thriving, and he doesn’t have to spend his days churning up soil.

    Now, in 2021, the challenge has begun spreading outside Oregon. Middle school students in Missouri and Tennessee buried underwear all across their counties and returned to find them in various stages of decomposition. They used the results to figure out which parts of the county had healthy soil and which ones needed a little help.

    Kid burring underwearThe Soil Your Undies challenge is open to everyone. It’s a fun way to learn about your yard’s soil quality and strengthen your local land, and it’s growing rapidly.

    If you want to take part in the challenge, pick up a pair of new, 100% cotton underwear, grab a shovel (or a spoon –– that’s what the middle-schoolers used) and follow these simple instructions. Once you complete the challenge, you’ll get a photo and write-up on the USDA website, as well as a pin on the Soil Your Undies challenge tracker map.

    How Sustainable Farming Created One of the World’s Best Restaurants

    Blue Hill Sign

    Dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns is unusually simple. As you start your meal, a waiter brings out a line of small spikes set into a wooden block. They look like nails hammered into a 2”x4”.

    Speared on top, neatly in a row, is a flight of fresh, raw produce: a tomato, a radish, a baby cabbage, a carrot.Veggies on Spike

    “Vegetables from the farm,” the waiter says.

    There’s no sauce, no side –– really, no cooking of any kind.

    And yet, when diners pick the produce off the spikes and eat it, they’re blown away.

    Ruth Reichl, one of the most acclaimed food writers in the U.S., can tell you why.

    “You taste things that just taste better than any pea you’ve ever had before, any radish you’ve ever had before. A carrot that is, like, the carrotness of a carrot. [There’s] a moment where you go, ‘Oh! This is what this is supposed to taste like.’”

    Blue Hill doesn’t rely on fancy cooking or complicated flavor combinations. One of their most famous dishes is an egg and cheddar cheese on toast. But despite their humble menu, they’re consistently ranked one of the 50 best restaurants in the world (#28 in 2019).

    They owe their success to one single thing: sustainable, biodynamic farming. When you first see Blue Hill at Stone Barns –– driving through a rural town in Upstate New York –– you don’t think of a world-class restaurant. In fact, the place looks suspiciously like a working farm, because that’s exactly what it is.

    Their head chef and owner, Dan Barber, explains:

    “When you are chasing after the best flavor, you are chasing after the best ingredients –– and when you’re chasing after the best ingredients, you’re in search of great farming.”

    Barber began farming in a few small boxes on a New York City rooftop. His original Blue Hill restaurant was in the heart of Manhattan, which was good for business but bad for finding quality produce. One day, Barber and his team decided to take matters into their own hands. They began growing produce on the roof of the building, fitting in pots and grow beds wherever they could. When their dishes started tasting better, Barber became obsessed with farming.

    Stone FarmAfter a few years of success in his Manhattan restaurant, Barber bought some farmland. He wanted to make better-tasting food, and he quickly realized that traditional farming practices wouldn’t give him the ingredient quality he needed.

    Pesticides, monocropping, and other staples of industrial farming produced food that tasted flat and empty, so Barber chose to take a biodynamic approach. What if he could create a self-sustaining ecosystem, where every part balanced another and fed back into the overall quality of the farm?

    He started with the soil. Healthy soil needs nutrients from cow manure –– so Barber brought in dairy cows. Of course, healthy cows need high-quality grass to graze on –– so Barber began raising free-range chickens, to break up the cow manure and spread it as they walk around the fields. When harsh brush began to take over the grass, Barber brought in goats to eat the brush. When the animals needed shade in the summer heat, he planted fruit trees.

    With every new problem to solve, the farm’s biodiversity increased. And all the while, the soil got better. That made more nutritious grass for the cows, and better dairy for the restaurant. The soil quality also attracted more grubs to eat, which led to stronger chickens, and better eggs for the restaurant. Same for higher-quality brush, which the goats then ate –– leading to better goat milk and cheese for the restaurant.

    Blue Hill at Stone Barns proves that when you take care of the earth, it takes care of you back. Their farm produces much higher yield than industrial farms do, and the quality of ingredients is arguably the best in the world.

    Barber’s journey to become a world-class farmer and chef began with a few garden beds on a New York City rooftop. If you start a vegetable garden in your backyard, where could it lead you?

     

    How to Protect Your Lawn without Pesticides

    yard enforcer in grass

    If you’ve dealt with pests on your land before, we don’t have to tell you how irritating they can be. They can ruin your landscape or garden over the course of a few days, and depending on where you live, there may be quite a few of them.

    In early spring, birds fly in and eat the seeds you just distributed, causing patchy grass –– and at the end of the season, they’ll come back for any fruits or vegetables from your garden.

    Gophers, groundhogs, moles, and other underground mammals can burrow holes in your lawn and damage your root systems. Rabbits and rats will come out at night to strip your plants, and deer will trample your grass on their way to eat your flowers and shrubs.

    Whether you’re dealing with one pest during a specific season or multiple pests at different times of the year, the question is: how do you successfully protect your landscape from the animals that want to destroy it?

    3 Major Downsides to Pesticides and Poisons

    The standard approach to pest control is to lay out poison bait or spray pesticides on your grass and plants.

    However, there are four major shortcomings to the poison/pesticide approach:

    • Long-term effectiveness. Pesticides kill animals instead of deterring them. In addition to any ethical concerns you may have, killing animals doesn’t work for long-term pest control because you have to keep poisoning new animals as they show up.
    • Environmental damage. Many poisons and pesticides are damaging to the environment. They disrupt ecosystems, change soil composition, spread through groundwater, and can cause lasting damage to your local flora and fauna, especially if you use them on a regular basis.
    • Health concerns. Many common pesticides and poisons are toxic to humans as well as animals. If you spend a lot of time in your yard –– or you have pets or children –– you probably don’t want to be spreading poison around your property.
    • Protected species. If your unwelcome guest is a protected species, poisoning it will further endanger the population and can come with hefty. And even if you set out to poison something unprotected, like a rabbit or bird, your bait may attract endangered animals.

    Pesticides and poisons are not ideal for controlling pests. They’re risky for your health and the environment, and they don’t work well long-term. You’re better off using an alternative method to protect your lawn and garden.

    How to Get Rid of Pests Using Only Water

    At Orbit, we’ve designed a pest control solution that gets rid of all larger pests, from birds to gophers to deer. It’s called the Yard Enforcer and it works using only water –– no poisons or damaging chemicals.

    The Yard Enforcer’s motion-controlled sprinkler will protect your trees, plants, lawn, flowerbed, and veggie garden from uninvited guests like deer, rabbits, squirrels, mice, rats, birds, gophers, cats, and dogs.

    When the Yard Enforcer detects movement, it emits a noise to startle the intruder, followed by a targeted jet of water that will hit targets up to 70 feet away. The combination of the two scares off unwanted critters without harming them. It also conditions them to stay away from your land for good, taking care of your pest problem long-term.

    The Yard Enforcer is easy to set up –– you just stake it into the ground and connect it to a water source. You can program it to go off at night (when visitors are more likely to appear in your yard), only during the day, or both, so it’s on constant guard over your land.

    If you’re trying to get rid of pests and you don’t want to deal with poisons or other dangerous chemicals, we recommend the Yard Enforcer. It works with a wide variety of species and is a humane, effective way to protect your lawn and garden, all year long.

    6-Item Checklist: How to Get Your Garden Ready for Spring

    Spring Garden

    Spring is almost here, which means it’s time to get your garden ready for another bountiful growing season. 

    Whether you’re starting your first garden or your 50th, this checklist will help you make sure you set yourself up for success as your yard thaws out and the lushness of spring sets in.

    1. Pull Weeds

    The winter-spring transition is the ideal time to clear out weeds from your garden. The weeds haven’t had time to set deep roots yet, which means they’ll come up easily.

    Always pull weeds up from the base so that you get the entire root system. To make the job even easier, you can also wait until after you water so that the soil is soft and the roots come out with almost no resistance.

    If you pull weeds now, you’ll also get to them before they go to seed. That means you’ll have to deal with far fewer weeds in the summer and fall.

    Tools needed: gloves, trowel

    Pro tip: Toss your pulled weeds into a fresh compost bin to start this year’s compost. The sun’s heat will kill any seeds, so you don’t have to worry about the pulled weeds spreading.

    2. Clear Winter Debris

    Get your garden nice and tidy by clearing out dead leaves, fallen sticks and branches, and other debris that has accumulated over the winter months.

    Matted, built-up leaves from the previous autumn will prevent tender new plants from getting sunlight, causing them to die early in the season. Be especially sure that you get the leaves off your grass to avoid brown, dead patches on your lawn.

    Tools needed: rake, leaf container

    Pro tip: As long as there aren’t too many of them, you don’t have to worry about leaves that are under trees and shrubs. You can just mulch over them and they’ll decompose, enriching the soil.

    3. Edge Garden Beds While the Ground is Still Firm

    If you want crisp, magazine-worthy edges in your garden, early spring is the time to do your edging.

    Choose a cold morning when the ground is still firm and go around all the edges with an edging tool. You’ll end up with much cleaner lines than you would if you waited until the ground thaws fully.

    Tools needed: Edging tool

    Pro tip: If your backyard isn’t too big to manage by hand, a manual edging tool is inexpensive and will give you more control over your edging. It’s a great item to have for both beginners and long-time gardeners.

    4. Tidy Up Perennials

    Perennials are plants that survive winter and come back every season.

    Many perennials go to seed toward the end of their growing season, and as your garden unthaws in early spring, you may notice new perennial plants popping up next to old ones.

    To keep your garden neat, dig up new perennials at the start of spring and either compost them or replant them in a place where you want them to grow.

    Tools needed: trowel, bulb planter

    Pro tip: an adjustable bulb planter helps you plant all your perennial bulbs at the same depth, which will make them look neater as they bloom.

    5. Fertilize Garden Beds

    Once your garden beds are edged, it’s time to fertilize them and start building up rich, nutrient-dense soil.

    If you composted your autumn leaves, you should have plenty of high-quality compost ready for spring fertilizing. If not, consider a granular fertilizer from your local garden center.

    Once you’ve fertilized your garden beds, add a layer of mulch to return vital nutrients to the soil. Good choices include sphagnum moss and wood mulch, both of which are widely available.

    Tools needed: none

    Pro tip: you can also use fresh grass clippings as mulch. Just take them out of your mower and spread them evenly throughout your fertilized garden beds.

    6. Check Your Watering System

    A lot of watering systems suffer freezing damage over the winter season. Leftover water in your watering pipes can expand, causing the pipes to burst or dislodge from their intended position.

    This is especially true of PVC pipes because they’re rigid and become brittle when cold.

    When it’s time to water, turn on your system and check every sprinkler to make sure you’re getting steady, even water flow. If anything isn’t working properly, it’s time for a replacement.

    Blu-Lock pipes are made of flexible polyethylene, which makes them incredibly simple to install. You can also use an adapter to attach them to existing PVC pipes, cutting out a burst area and patching it with Blu-Lock instead of digging up a large stretch of PVC pipe and replacing the whole thing.

    Best of all, Blu-Lock is more resistant to winter damage, lasts longer than PVC, and is more environmentally friendly because it requires no glues, solvents, or other chemicals. You just screw it in and you’re ready to water.

    Tools needed: trowel or hoe, Blu-Lock pipe + adapters

    Pro tip: while you’re at it, upgrade your sprinkler timer to a B-hyve smart timer. B-hyve factors in local weather patterns and automatically delivers the perfect amount of water to your plants, every single day. A B-hyve timer can save you thousands of gallons of water a year, which is better for the environment and for your wallet.

    Enjoy the Spring Season

    Once you’ve squared away your lawn and garden with the above checklist, you’ll have a strong foundation for this year’s growing season.

    Want more nature in your life? Consider creating an indoor jungle with a few houseplants, or read up on 10 things gardeners often neglect to make sure this year’s garden is the most abundant you’ve ever grown.

    How To Grow An Indoor Herb Garden

    Herb Garden

    If you’re interested in gardening, love to cook, or want to add more greenery to your home, a fresh herb garden is an ideal place to start. 

    Herbs are great for a few reasons. 

    • They grow quickly. You can have a fully formed herb garden within a month of planting. 
    • They’re easy. Most herbs are resistant to pests and will thrive in normal indoor conditions, as long as you give them plenty of light. 
    • They improve your cooking. The moment an herb is picked, it begins to lose its potency. Fresh herbs that you pick right before cooking will taste better than anything you buy in a grocery store. 
    • They save money. Once your garden is ready to harvest, it becomes a renewable source of herbs. Anything you pick will grow back for at least a year, and some herbs grow back forever. Plus, you’ll be able to pick just the right amount; no more throwing away excess herbs that you buy at the store. 

    Here’s a simple guide to growing your own indoor herb garden. It has four steps:

    1. Find a good spot
    2. Choose your herbs
    3. Gather supplies
    4. Plant your garden

    1. Find A Good Spot In Your Home

    The most important thing your herb garden will need is sunlight. 

    As a rule of thumb, herbs do best with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. The more sunlight your herbs get, the better they’ll grow (and the more flavor they’ll have). 

    Find a spot in your home or apartment that’s right next to a window. A southern-facing window is best — that way the sun will shine on your herbs all day as it shifts from east to west — but any window should be fine. You can stick your potted herbs directly on a windowsill, or you can set up a table or shelf next to the window. 

    2. Choose Your Herbs

    Most common culinary herbs do well indoors and don’t take up much space (although you will want a separate pot for each herb). 

    Good herbs to choose include:

    • Basil
    • Oregano
    • Thyme
    • Rosemary
    • Mint
    • Sage
    • Dill
    • Parsley
    • Cilantro
    • Chives

    Additionally, you can choose to start your garden from one of three stages, depending on how soon you want to harvest:

    • From seeds (4-6 weeks). This is more challenging and takes the longest, but may also be the most rewarding if you want to learn about gardening. 
    • From seedlings (2-4 weeks). Most home improvement stores sell baby herb plants that have already started to sprout. They aren’t ready to harvest yet but will be soon. 
    • From full-grown plants (0 weeks). You can also buy full-grown herb plants and transfer them to your own pots. You’ll have a fresh herb garden immediately, and the plants will start to grow back as soon as you pick them. 

    3. Gather Supplies

    To plant your garden, you’ll need:

    • Seeds, seedlings, or full-grown plants
    • 5” plant pots (one for each herb) with saucers. Check the bottoms of the pots to make sure they have drainage holes.
    • Potting soil 
    • Liquid plant food (fish-based emulsions are a good choice) 
    • A watering can

    You can find everything you need at your local home improvement store.  

    4. Plant Your Garden

    Planting your garden is easy.

    1. Fill each pot three-quarters full with potting soil. You’ll plant one herb in each pot. 
    2. If using seeds, sprinkle them on top and cover them with a small amount of additional soil. For seedlings or full-grown plants, nestle them in the soil, then add additional soil on top so that the roots are covered. 
    3. Place in a sunny spot in your home, ideally where the herbs get 6-8 hours of full sunlight a day. 
    4. Water deeply once a week. The soil should be damp but not wet. It’s okay if the soil dries out a bit between waterings; most herbs like that. 
    5. Every other week, before watering, add the liquid plant food to the water according to the instructions on the package. 

    Within a few weeks, you’ll have a thriving collection of fresh herbs at your fingertips. 

    Final Thoughts

    An herb garden is the perfect way to learn about gardening and bring some fresh greenery into your home (and food). 

    And if you find that you love working with plants and you’re ready for a bigger project, try learning the basics of outdoor gardening. With some basic tools and a few simple steps, you can create a stunning landscape (or a bountiful food garden) in your own backyard.

    Better Gardening: How to Compost Autumn Leaves

    Fall Leaves

    Fall LeavesAutumn brings crisp air, holidays with family, delicious food, and stunning natural beauty.

    And when it comes to your garden, Autumn is a chance to relax. If you grow food, the very last of your summer crops should be ready to harvest by late October. The same goes for most flowers and trees.

    While you’ll still want to winterize your garden (and you may want to try your hand at growing fall vegetables), autumn tends to be the most laid back season for garden and lawn care.

    Of course, if you want to use some of your newly found free time to prepare for the next growing season, there’s plenty you can do. In fact, autumn provides one of the best opportunities to get high-quality compost for the coming year.

    Why Autumn Leaves Make Excellent (and Easy) Compost

    Autumn leaves are one of the best compost mediums you can find.

    Because they’re a mix of fresh and decomposing material, fall leaves create a natural nutrient balance that’s easy to maintain. You generally don’t have to worry about mixing in fertilizers or other store-bought compounds — as long as you combine a more-or-less even mix of freshly fallen leaves and more decomposed leaves, you’ll create a good balance of carbon and nitrogen, creating superb compost with almost no effort.

    4 Simple Steps to Composting Autumn Leaves

    Autumn leaves are free, they make great compost, and you’re probably going to rake them up and move them out of your yard anyway. You may as well turn them into compost that will nourish your garden in the coming year.

    Composting fall leaves takes four simple steps:

    1. Create an Enclosure

    Ideally, you want some kind of aerated enclosure for your leaf pile. Your enclosure should be at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep, to allow for proper moisture and air circulation.

    You can get a roll of chicken wire and wrap it into a circle, use a large trash can or barrel with a couple small holes cut in the side for aeration, or buy a premade compost bin from your local home improvement store.

    All three of the above options are simple and inexpensive. You can make your enclosure in about 10 minutes with few to no tools.

    2. Add Leaves

    This step is pretty self-explanatory. Gather up the leaves in your yard and dump them into your enclosure.

    The one thing to note is that you want a roughly 1:1 mix of freshly fallen leaves and already decomposing leaves, to maintain a balance of nitrogen and carbon.

    If you don’t have enough of either type, you can also add food scraps, grass clippings, and branches to balance out the dead leaves. Just make sure you don’t use animal products like grease, drippings, or bones. They take longer to decompose and may attract pests to your pile.

    3. Water and Maintain

    You want to water your compost pile every few days to keep it moist. It should be damp but not soaked.

    You should also mix the pile every few days to circulate air and ensure even breakdown of the leaves. A rake or shovel will do the trick.

    You can also continue to add fresh material each week — more leaves, grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and so on.

    After a week or two, the pile will begin to feel warm to the touch when you mix it. This is a good thing! It means your leaves are decomposing and generating heat, which is a sign that your compost is progressing nicely. After a few weeks, the leaves will really begin to break down and will start to look like dirt. At this point, you no longer need to add fresh material (although you can if you still have it).

    Continue watering and mixing your pile throughout winter and into early spring. Even when it’s freezing outside, the center of your compost pile will generate enough heat to prevent freezing.

    4. Use Your Compost in Spring

    As long as you maintain your compost pile throughout winter, it should be ready by mid-spring. The leaves will have broken down entirely and will look like dirt.

    At this point, you can use your compost to fertilize your spring garden. It will be packed with nutrients, pesticide-free, sustainable, and it won’t cost you a dime. You may be surprised by how well your garden grows, too — fall leaves are one of nature’s best types of compost.

    How Nature Makes You More Creative

    Camping

    Camping

    In 2011, Dr. David Strayer sent 56 people out into the American wilderness. 

    The locales varied — some people went to Alaska or Washington, others to Colorado — but the rules were the same for everyone: four days backpacking in the wild, disconnected from society. 

    The hikers spent their days walking through the trees, swimming in lakes, setting up campgrounds, and sitting around fires. 

    On the morning of day four, they took a cognitive test. To score well, they had to make unusual mental connections that required them to think outside the box — a measure of creativity. 

    The results were extraordinary. After just three days in nature, the hikers showed a 50% increase in creative thinking[*]. They were less rigid in their problem solving and were able to dream up connections that they normally couldn’t make. They were quantifiably more creative.

    How Nature Turns On Creativity

    When the results got back to Dr. Strayer, he was thrilled. Strayer is a cognitive neuroscientist, and a famous one at that. In 2010, his groundbreaking research on how your brain responds to texting while driving (hint: it’s not good) earned him a spot on Oprah’s couch. 

    In fact, most of Strayer’s research focuses on distracted driving and how the brain responds to multitasking. A study about nature and the brain was well outside his main field.

    But Strayer had always been a nature lover. He would go for hikes to clear his head, and he found that he got many of his best ideas after a few days of camping or backpacking. When a friend brought up similar experiences, Strayer decided to find out why nature might make people more creative. 

    Several years (and many studies) later, we have a fairly good answer. There are a few things about nature that turn on your brain’s creative side. 

    Your Rational Brain Gets A Break

    Your frontal cortex is the rational, goal-oriented part of your brain. It governs things like attention, planning, and organization.

    During the average workday, your frontal cortex gets quite a bit of exercise. It turns on when you plan your schedule, send emails, coordinate meetings, complete projects, and so on. For many of us, the rational part of the brain is often working overtime. 

    In order to stay on task, your frontal cortex needs order. It doesn’t like daydreaming or strange thoughts. It wants to keep you on the rails so you get things done — so when it’s active, it spends energy inhibiting the creative parts of your brain[*]. 

    Out in nature, there’s not much planning or scheduling to do. As a result, your frontal cortex can take a well-deserved break. 

    And when your frontal cortex powers down, the creative parts of your brain are free to turn on. After a couple days outdoors, your brain begins making connections that it might not have made in an office setting. Nature allows your brain to settle into more creative thinking. 

    Nature Offers Inspiration

    Albert Einstein famously said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” 

    The world’s greatest physicist is not alone. Throughout history, writers, painters, composers, scientists, and philosophers have credited nature as a source of inspiration. 

    Today, drawing creative ideas from nature has become a studied field. It’s called bioinspiration, and it’s a strategy used by bioengineers, architects, artists, and everyone in between[*]. 

    Nature is full of paradoxes. It’s both simple and complex, familiar and otherworldly, beautiful and terrifying. It seems to defy reason, yet functions in a perfectly rational way. 

    Observing the natural world can expand your mind and is often a wellspring of creative inspiration. 

    Final Thoughts

    Since his groundbreaking study, Dr. Strayer has seen several other labs replicate his results: a couple days in nature makes you about 50% more creative[*]. 

    Today, Strayer is doing more in-depth research into how our brains respond to the natural world. But it sounds like he’s already pretty convinced of nature’s benefits. In an interview after his first study published, he offered simple advice: “Go outside for three days and turn your phone off.” 

    If you’re looking for some creative inspiration, his advice may be worth taking.

    A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening

    Family in Garden

    In the last decade, a new hobby has taken hold in America: gardening. 

    More and more people are discovering the joys of keeping a garden. A recent study found that since 2009[*]:

    • 17% more Americans have started gardening
    • 63% more millennials have started gardening
    • 33% of households grow some of their own food

    Why the sudden upswing in gardening? It may be that people want to eat better produce. It could be a desire to spend more time outdoors in an increasingly indoor world. Or it could be the simple pursuit of beauty — the pleasure of seeing a marigold bloom or a sapling grow its first leaf. 

    Whatever the reason, gardening is a relaxing and productive hobby, and it’s becoming more popular than ever. 

    If you want to start gardening, this article has everything you need. It covers all the basics, including the following sections:

    1. Choose your plants
    2. Find your growing season
    3. What your plant needs to grow
    4. Basic gardening tools
    5. Plant your garden
    6. Water your garden

    Gardening may seem overwhelming at first. Just relax and take your time going through this guide. You’ll be growing your first plant in no time. 

    Step 1: Choose Your Plants

    The first step in gardening is choosing what plants you want to grow. In order to choose, you have to know your planting zone

    Plants are sensitive to their environment, especially when it comes to temperature. A palm tree won’t thrive in the arctic and a delicate spring flower will burn up in desert heat. 

    Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a planting zone tool that uses temperature data to help you figure out which plants will thrive in your area. You just put in your zip code and the tool tells you which planting zone (also called a hardiness zone) you live in, from 1-11. 

    Most seeds have ideal planting zones listed on the packet. You can also do a quick Google search to find good plants for your area. 

    Example

    Let’s say you live in Rowe, Massachusetts and you want to grow vegetables. 

    You put your zip code (01367) into the USDA planting zone tool and discover that you’re in planting zone 5b. 

    A quick Google search of “zone 5b vegetables” reveals that asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and a host of other plants will thrive in your garden. 

    Now you know what to grow. The next step is figuring out when to start planting. 

    Step 2: Find Your Growing Season

    Frosts — sudden freezes from a drop in temperature — can kill your plants before they’ve had a chance to grow. They happen throughout winter and usually end in spring.

    A growing season is the time between the last spring frost and the first autumn frost. During your growing season, plants will thrive because they’re safe from frosts (though some especially hardy plants, like pine trees and other evergreens, can survive year-round with no issues). 

    Again, there’s an easy tool to figure out your growing season. The Farmer’s Almanac growing tool will tell you first and last frost dates, as well as the length of time between them. As long as you plant in that window, your plants should be safe (unless there’s an unseasonably late or early frost). 

    Once you know your growing season, you have to figure out how long your plants take to grow. Arugula, for example, grows from a seed in 3-4 weeks, while celery takes a full 16 weeks. 

    You want to plan ahead to make sure your plants grow before the last frost of the year. Otherwise they may die before they bloom or are ready to harvest. 

    Example

    Let’s continue with the Rowe, Massachusetts example. You’re in planting zone 5b, and you’ve decided to grow beets. 

    First, you go to the Farmer’s Almanac growing tool and type in your zip code (01367). You see that the last spring frost of the year is May 16th, and the first autumn frost is September 24th. That leaves you with a growing season of 127 days in between. 

    A Google search of “beets growing time” reveals that beets take 45-60 days to grow, from seed to harvest. 

    That means the latest you can plant beets is 60 days before September 24th, the first autumn frost. You need to plant your beets by July 26th. 

    Step 3: What Your Plant Needs To Grow

    Every plant needs three things to grow: 

    • Sun 
    • Water
    • Soil nutrients

    Balancing these three elements is the key to gardening. Each plant is unique — some need lots of sun and not much water, while others are constantly thirsty but thrive in the shade. 

    Here’s how to harness sun, water, and soil to help your plants grow.

    Sun

    Plants absorb sunlight through a process called photosynthesis — they convert sunlight into energy that helps them grow. 

    Most plants fall into one of three categories:

    • Direct sunlight. This means 6+ hours per day of full, uninterrupted sunlight. Many fruits and vegetables fall into this category. 
    • Partial shade. Some sun, maybe from morning sunlight, with shade throughout the hottest parts of the day. Many spring flowers do best with partial shade. 
    • Full shade. Minimal sunlight, with protection from the sun for most of the day. Ferns, mosses, ivies, and delicate shrubs often thrive in the shade. 

    Does your yard get full, direct sunlight for most of the day? You’ll want to choose plants that thrive in sunlight, or make artificial shade by draping a shade cloth over plants that prefer sun protection. 

    Is your yard shady for most of the day? Look for plants that prefer cooler, darker climates. 

    Most plants and seeds list their sun requirements on their packaging. You can also always do some online research. 

    Water

    Plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide from the air, and hydrogen from water into sugar, their main source of energy. 

    Without water, your plants won’t be able to make food, and they won’t grow. 

    Just like with sunlight, different plants need different amounts of water. Some are quite thirsty and want water every day, while others can go days or even weeks without a watering. 

    You can find out a plant’s specific water needs by searching online. 

    Soil Nutrients

    All the other nutrients a plant needs come from soil. A plant lays down roots, and when you water the soil, essential minerals dissolve into the water. Then the roots drink up the water, nourishing the plant so it can grow.

    There are two main things to think about when it comes to soil:

    • Nutrients. Plants need 13 essential minerals to grow. If your soil doesn’t have certain nutrients (and many soils don’t), your plant will struggle to survive. For that reason, many gardeners add fertilizer like manure, compost, or packaged plant nutrients to make sure their plants have all the nutrients they need. You can find fertilizers at your local home improvement store, or you can order all-purpose fertilizer online. 
    • pH. This is a measure of a soil’s acidity. If soil is too acidic or too alkaline, your plants won’t be able to absorb nutrients, and they won’t grow. Most plants want a soil pH of between 6.0 and 7.0. 

    If you’re a new gardener, make life easy on yourself and get a soil testing kit. You take a sample of your soil, mail it in, and within a few days, you’ll get back a full report on your soil. 

    The report includes nutrients and pH, as well as exactly how much fertilizer and other compounds to add to make your soil fertile. 

    If you’re doing raised-bed planting (see below), you can also skip all this and just fill your garden beds with bags of soil from your local home improvement store. 

    Example

    It’s June in Rowe, Massachusetts, which means it’s time to plant your beets. You google “beets sun needs” and discover that beets do best in full sun. 

    Then you google “beets water needs” and see that beets need at least an inch of water every week — that’s one or two good, deep waterings. 

    Half your backyard has almost no shade — it’s bright and sunny all day. The other half is shaded by your neighbor’s trees. You choose an area in the sunny part and decide to plant your beets there. 

    Step 4: Basic Gardening Tools

    You’re almost ready to start planting! The last things you need are a few simple gardening tools. 

    A raised garden bed is a great way to start your first garden. It’s basically a box that you fill with soil, then use to plant your garden. You can buy raised garden beds at your local home improvement store, or you can make your own out of plywood and brackets

    Raised garden beds give you more control over your soil quality, but if you want to skip them, you can also plant directly into the ground. 

    Either way, you’ll need the following:

    • Trowel. Used for digging in soil by hand, and for harvesting vegetables. 
    • Watering can. Used to water plants by hand (unless you’re using a watering system discussed below). 
    • Shovel. Used to move large amounts of soil or fertilizer, or to dig holes for larger plants. 
    • Rake and Hoe. Used to remove weeds and till the soil, which prevents it from getting compacted so that water and oxygen can’t get through it.
    • Bulb planter (optional). If you’re planting flowers that grow from a bulb, a bulb planter will make your life much easier by digging a perfect, bulb-shaped hole for planting. 

    With these tools, you’ll have everything you need to start planting. 

    Step 5: Plant Your Garden

    Now that you have all the knowledge and tools you need, it’s time to start planting your garden. 

    Most people start their garden from seeds, which is a simple and affordable option. The majority of vegetables and flowers grow easily from seeds. 

    However, if you have a short growing season or you want your plants to mature faster, you can also buy small starter plants (or bulbs for flowers) that already have a few weeks of growth.

    You can find both seeds and starter plants at your local home improvement store.

    If you’re using a raised garden bed, fill it to the top with soil. If you’re planting right into the ground, use your hoe to till the soil — drag the hoe across the ground — until the soil is loose and easy to handle. 

    To plant from seeds, simply follow the directions on the seed packet. Different seeds prefer to be planted at different depths. Some like to be right on the surface, while others prefer to be planted a couple inches under the surface. Your seed packet will tell you what you need to know. 

    To plant a starter plant, dig out a hole using your trowel or shovel that’s big enough to fit the plant and its roots. Then remove the plant from its plastic pot, put it in the ground, and pack soil around it so it stands upright and is the same level above ground that it was in the container. The roots should be covered with soil. 

    You want to give your plants room to grow, so plant the seeds a few inches apart from one another in a neat row. That way they won’t get crowded as they sprout. 

    That’s it! Your plants are in the ground and are ready to start growing. All they need is water. 

    Example

    You have your beet seeds, you bought a raised garden bed, and you’ve chosen a sunny plot of land in your backyard. It’s time to plant. 

    You fill the garden bed with all-purpose soil you bought at your local home improvement store. Your beet seed packet says to plant the seeds ½-inch deep and 2 inches apart, in rows that are 1 foot apart from each other. 

    You sprinkle the seeds into appropriately spaced rows and cover them with about ½-inch of soil. You’ve done it; your beets are ready to start growing. 

    Step 6: Water Your Garden

    All the hard work is done. Now you just have to water your plants and watch them grow. 

    Each plant has different watering needs, and watering depends on a few different factors. If you live somewhere with intense heat and dry air (like a desert), you may need to water every day. If you get a lot of rain throughout your growing season, you may hardly need to water at all. 

    A good general rule is to keep the top 3-4 inches of your soil damp. Stick your finger into the soil all the way to the base of your knuckle. If the soil is damp, your plants are probably happy. If the soil is dry, it’s time to water. 

    Here are a couple basic tips for watering:

    • Water in the early morning or evening. If you water during the day, the sun will evaporate a lot of the water. It’s a waste of water, and it makes it hard for you to gauge how much water your plants are really getting. 
    • Do fewer, deeper waterings. You want water to make it all the way down to your plants’ roots. It’s better to do a couple deep waterings each week than to give your plants a shallow watering every day. The exception is if you’re in a very hot, dry place, like a desert. In that case, you may want to do deep watering every day. 

    You can water a few different ways:

    • Watering can. Classic, cheap, handheld. Watering cans are a good choice for beginners, although they’re the most time-consuming and labor-intensive way to water.
    • Hose and nozzle. Use your hose connection to spray water across your plants. Faster and more even than a watering can. 
    • Above-ground oscillating sprinkler. Hook it up to your hose connection and turn it on for a few minutes every day. It’ll water your whole garden automatically with minimal effort on your part. Just don’t forget to turn it off. 
    • In-ground sprinkler with B-hyve timer. The easiest and most environmentally friendly way to water. Just install the in-ground sprinkler system and set the B-hyve smart home water timer, and your plants will enjoy perfect watering, every time. The B-hyve connects to WiFi and uses weather conditions to predict exactly how much water your garden needs. You can control it from your smartphone or laptop, there’s minimal water waste, and you never have to worry about forgetting to water your plants again. 

    Final Thoughts

    Gardening is a relaxing and enjoyable way to get in touch with nature. With a few minutes of research, seeds, and some basic tools, you’ll have everything you need to start your garden today. 

    And if you don’t have a yard (or outdoor gardening seems intimidating), why not start an indoor garden? Growing houseplants or herbs is a great way to get familiar with plants from the comfort of your home.