Hey, I know this is a blog about the great outdoors so you're probably thinking about camping, fishing, hiking, and even maybe mountain biking. If you're a true outdoors enthusiast, then you're also thinking about your back yard. More specifically, most outdoors enthusiasts (whom I know of) consider an overall healthy living as part of their "outdoorsmanship" - let's face it, not everybody who hunts and goes fishing uses the outdoors as an excuse to drink a few beers and get away from everyday life (or their significant other). Many of us promote a healthy living style.
Near the Pocono Mountains (where I reside) and places north of the region in the continental United States, homeowners are thinking about a hobby that can raise produce as well as save money on their food bill: the vegetable garden. Late May and early-to-mid-June is an ideal time to start thinking about planting an abundant harvest of vegetables and herbs that will yield more vitamins that you can pack in a GNC supplement.
This weekend, I began tilling my garden to plant a variety of vegetables and herbs that my family enjoys consuming. This year, however, I expanded the garden and moved the herb garden to a more strategic location: next to the entry door by the kitchen. I figured it would be better to plant herbs that I use for cooking (yes, I prefer fresh grown herbs to store bought brands) right next to the back door of my house instead of hiking it to the garden (located near the rear of the back yard). I had a spot next to the bilco doors to my basement that was pretty much covered in grass. Rather than mowing it every week or hitting it with the weed-whacker, I decided to cultivate this small area for a few choice herbs I use when I cook: oregano, basil, thyme, and cilantro.
Thinking that it was a great idea to use a small useless space of my yard for an herb garden, I decided to share my technique with other gardening and/or outdoor enthusiasts for the purpose of maybe giving someone an idea to raise an herb garden of their own (especially those people who have the stereotype that an herb garden requires an abundance of space).
Before I dive into the preparation aspect, I want to make mention that if space is an issue, you should first consider which herbs you use most often and limit your choice to those herbs. Secondly, please make note that it doesn't take a green thumb to grow herbs - just a little bit of Miracle Grow (or generic alternative) and water. You'll find that herb gardens are relatively low maintenance. Once your garden is planted and you're plucking herbs, you'll notice a more savory and distinct flavor in your cooking.
The next preliminary step is buying the herbs themselves. As a small business owner, I prefer going to local nurseries for herbs. However, Lowe's has an edge over the local retailers in that they generally sell their herbs in bio-degradable containers. All you need to do is rip off the bottom of the pot and plant the herb. the bottom of the pot can be thrown into a compost pile or some section of your back yard where is can degrade without being thrown in a landfill.
Once you select the herbs of your choice, pay attention to the spacing requirements on the little plastic tags that accompany the herbs. Generally, most herbs require a spacing of 18", which means that plants need to be spaced 18" from each other and 9- 18" from the edge of your garden (if you're pressed for space use the smaller of the two). WARNING: if you choose mint, keep it in a pot - mint grows like a weed. all you have to do next is choose a spot in your yard to plant.
I have several suggestions as how to go about breaking the ground for your new herb garden. These depend on the location of your yard (which will require at least a half day of sunshine). If the location already has been tilled and had garden plants growing in it, all you need to do is use a tiller or a shovel to break the ground by turning over the soil. However, if you're dealing with "fresh" garden soil (meaning that there was no existing garden bed), then you have a little work to do. Fresh garden soil will require that you use a shovel (or preferably a pitch fork) to remove all existing grass and/or weeds). A pitch fork is preferable simply because you can remove the roots from existing vegetation and start your garden immediately. Just drive the fork into the ground and dispose of the top growth into a wheel barrel, box, or other container. If you do not have access to a pitch fork, you will need to use a shovel (which requires more time and a greater deal of work). Using a shovel also means that you have to wait 24-48 hours before progressing to the next step: tilling. when you use a shovel, you often break roots and vegetation that remain on or in the soil. This basically means that you left nitrates in the ground which can kill fresh plants.
Once the ground has been broken (and you waited a day or two for the nitrates to dissipate if you used a shovel), you need to till the soil. If you use a shovel or pitch fork, simply dig 6-8" and turnover the soil. A garden tiller will be quicker. A second tilling will require a bit of topsoil. Add some topsoil, and till the garden area once more. When tilled, the soil is soft and your herbs can be planted.
For those of you who are novices to planting gardens, simply dig the freshly tilled soil with a garden spade, pour water in the hole until the hole is at least halfway flooded, put the plant in the watered hole, and cover the hole with dirt. Afterward, use a fertilizer mixture (such as Miracle Grow) to water the plants.
I recommend watering the garden with a fertilizer mixture daily (on the entire garden - soil and plant) for the first two weeks, pulling any weeds that may come up in the meantime, to ensure a good harvest. After the first two weeks, water the garden daily and just use fertilizer once a week.
I hope this info helps. Here's a pic of my small herb garden.
If you're a serious hunter, you probably already scoped out the areas you hunted in the past, strategically hung your tree stands, and dusted off your guns like a million times. For those of you who only hunt once a year, here are a few pointers to make your hunting trip a safe and enjoyable one:
Take the time to get to know the woods that you plan to hunt in. This will help you get more familiar with the areas where deer feed and travel, and it will lower your chances of getting lost (especially if you're going to hike to your tree stand at night).
Exercise. Hit the gym and work the elyptical machine for 20-30 minutes a day, take a daily hike in the woods, take a few spin classes, etc. Being in shape will hep you carry that deer if you get one, or track one down for hours if you get a gut shot.
Inspect your gun. Make sure it's functioning properly. Clean and grease it up well.
Take a few practice shots. Any avid hunter will tell you that you should practice your aim before heading off into the woods. Yes, we kill animals when we hunt, but we want to make sure that our kill is as humane as possible. Why force an animal to suffer? Make the kill quick by hitting the right part of the body (heart or head).
Let others know where you plan to hunt. Accidents happen, and if you don't let a friend or a loved one know where you're going they may get worried if you don't come home that afternoon.
Cell phone. If you're lucky enough to hunt an area where you get reception, bring a cell phone with you (keep it turned off) in case of an emergency.
Pack a first aid kid with you.
Remember firearm safety and read up on the hunting laws. If you're a little rusty on either or both, you may want to take a hunter safety course. There's no shame being an adult and taking the free class with a bunch of 12 year olds. You're setting a good example for them.
Leave the beer at home. Alcohol and guns don't mix.
If you have any other tips you'd like to share, feel free to add them in the comments below.