How Does Your Garden Grow?

Pea shoots in the garden


Our garden is getting a slow but promising start this year. Here in Colorado we had snow on Mother’s Day weekend, a big wet spring storm that bent trees here but didn’t break branches.

Spring Snowstorm in Colorado


“We need the moisture” is what we Coloradans always say when this happens in May, and that moisture really did jump-start the peas we planted the weekend before.

Garden peas


The leeks are about the diameter of a pencil right now. Just ignore those dandelions.

Growing leeks in the garden


Hoping that the snow is over (dare I even say those words), we planted heirloom Amish Pie pumpkin seeds in the sunniest raised bed. I’ve never grown this type of pumpkin before, but I was won over by the charming seed packet.

heirloom pumpkin seeds


We harvested a little spring spinach last week, too.

Fresh spinach from the garden


A pretty viola that Mom gave us seems very happy in a partially shaded area of the front garden. Last year a gardening expert I interviewed suggested pine needles for mulch, and since we have an ample supply I’ve been using them quite a bit with good success.

Viola plant


Still to get in the ground:  tomato plants, basil seeds, bell and jalapeno pepper plants, and several BrazelBerries blueberry bushes I’m excited to try this year.

How about you? What have you planted, and what’s popping up in your yard? May your gardens grow exceedingly well this season.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. From the archives, you might enjoy 11 Frugal Gardening Ideas and 11 Easy-To-Grow Seeds You Can Direct Sow.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Planting Peas and Hoping for the Best

Planting Peas

I planted peas last week, so the 2015 summer garden is officially underway.

I probably should have gotten them in the ground earlier, but we had heavy, wet snow last weekend and I was ensconced inside with a good book and hot tea.

With our changing weather patterns it’s hard to know exactly when to sow seeds and how our plants will respond to temperature extremes, but we do our best and keep trying.

Gardening always has been, at its heart, an act of faith.


How to plant peas


These are organic Oregon Sugar Pod snow pea seeds. They soaked in filtered water inside for 24 hours before planting, so they were nice and plump. I planted half of the packet, and will save the other half for a fall crop. The seeds are planted about an inch apart — twice as dense as the recommended 2-inch separation. When the plants emerge I’ll thin them and we’ll enjoy the tender pea shoots on pasta.

Close up of peas before planting


To give the vines something to climb on, I planted them around a cone-shaped support woven of willow:

Willow support for peas


How about you? Have you started planting your summer garden yet? What do you hope to grow this year? I’d love to hear about your plans.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Nepal-childP.S. My heart is heavy this morning, mourning for the people of Nepal. So far away, all I know to do is offer the two things that can help — prayers and support. Organizations like Mercy Corps and American Red Cross are on the ground right now providing assistance, and we are grateful.

Photo: Mercy Corps


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day #26 – Plan Your Garden

Plan your garden during the January Money Diet

Don’t you love to daydream in January about planting a garden in the spring? Now is the perfect time to begin making plans and sketching out some ideas for your ideal plot. Even if you have a small yard or a balcony for containers, you can grow a surprising amount of food by choosing plants that grow well in your climate and exploring innovative ways to stretch space. My friend Jerry grows cherry tomatoes year ’round from a pot in a sunny window in his downtown Denver apartment. You may want to check out the book “Square Foot Gardening” for more ideas about maximizing your yield from a small space.

I love perusing the new seed catalogs each year to see what new varieties have been introduced, and these are some of my favorite companies:

The site has a wealth of information about growing your own food — including tips for how to sell what you grow as an extra revenue source. You may also want to check out the Happy Simple Gardening Pinterest board, where I collect photos and ideas for growing good food and flowers (with a minimum amount of labor, naturally).

This week’s challenge is to start planning your garden. Peruse some gardening sites, sketch out ideas, and make a list of the seed varieties you want to plant this year. If you don’t have a garden, daydream about what you’d like to grow someday.

How About You?

Will you be growing any vegetables this summer? What are some varieties you’ve grown successfully in the past? If you have favorite gardening sites and sources, we’d love to hear about those, too.

Happy daydreaming,

The signature for Eliza Cross


P.S.  You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo:   Elspeth Briscoe

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Tomato Countdown and a Garden Update

Holy cow, how did it get to be August already? Summer is speeding along, but the good news is that it’s almost time for garden tomatoes. This year I tried mulching the tomato plants with pine needles, and despite five hail storms and not a lot of attention from me, the plants seem quite happy.

cherry tomatoes

The cherry tomatoes are almost ripe!


Early girl tomato

Some of the Early Girls have just begun to change color. We should be enjoying this one in a matter of days!


green tomatoes

The Better Boys are looking fat and happy.


Green roma tomatoes

The Romas should be red in about ten days. Pasta time!


Baby leeks

I thinned the leeks last week, so that they can have room to grow. (Just ignore those little weeds.)


Tomato garden

The tomatoes have started to look a little wild, and they haven’t stayed tucked in their cages at all. Where in the world did they learn those rebellious tendencies, I wonder?


Black-eyed Susan

Just when some of the other flowers start to fade from the heat, the Black-Eyed Susans open their faces to the sun. So pretty.

How about you? Have you harvested tomatoes yet, or other produce? I’d love to hear what’s happening in your garden. Meanwhile, let’s savor these glorious summer days of August while we can…


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Pine Needles for Mulch and a Garden Experiment

Tomatoes mulched with pine needles

I recently had the opportunity to speak with David Salman, Founder & Chief Horticulturist of High Country Gardens, for a short gardening article I wrote for Sunset. Being the opportunist that I am, I couldn’t resist asking him an off-topic question about my own garden. “What do you recommend for mulch?” I asked. I was curious because I’d tried grass clippings, leaves and wood chips and none really seemed to keep the plants happy and cool while fending off weeds.

“Pine needles,” he said, without hesitation. I was surprised, having always thought that pine needles (also known as “pine straw”) were too acidic for mulch. But he thought they were fine (he suggested pecan shells, too), and my research confirmed that the needles’ high acidity is a misconception and generally isn’t an issue. We have a large Ponderosa Pine in the corner of the yard, so I have a ready supply of pine needles that have been rained and snowed on for several seasons.

So this summer, I’ve mulched the tomato plants with pine needles and we’ll see how they do. This is our kitchen garden, which is right off the back patio:

Mulch tomato plants with pine needles

In addition to six types of tomatoes, plus basil and thyme, we have an aromatic section with chives, onions, shallots, garlic and leeks:

Onions, garlic, chives and leeks

I don’t mulch these plants because they’re pretty tough. Don’t you appreciate tough, hardy plants?

I’ve been working on this garden for nine seasons. When we bought the house, the space was filled with two huge dying fitzer bushes, myrtle and gravel. For years I’ve been digging in compost to improve the soil, and clearing out rocks, myrtle shoots, fitzer roots and hard, packed clay. I kept some of the myrtle along one edge, and it grows like Jack’s beanstalk in the summer so I’m constantly cutting it back. It’s so pretty in the spring.

Garden with tomatoes

The bamboo and fencing are to keep rabbits out, although they can still squeeze through sometimes. How about you? Have you planted your summer garden? Do you have a favorite mulch? Have you ever tried pine needles? We’d all love to hear your experiences.

Here’s to a happy summer, and good gardens this season for all!


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Tulips, Dandelions and Other Obsessions of Spring

Fringed tulip up close

Perhaps like me, you’ve read about the “Tulip Mania” that swept The Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age, an obsession with tulip bulbs that left families bankrupt and had people paying ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman just for a single rare bulb in 1637. Perhaps you’ve wondered how a people could become so nutty about a simple plant. Good thing we’re not that obsessive, right?

The other morning, I looked out the kitchen window at our back yard and was seized with shame because so many dandelions were suddenly blooming everywhere in the grass.

Dandelions and grass

I couldn’t see the inherent beauty in a field of yellow flowers with their faces turned to the sun. Instead, I saw work—endless hours of fruitless work ahead.

Since I’m an organic gardener, I have dug up thousands of dandelions. I have paid the kids to pick the flowers, which only seems to encourage the dandelions to bloom more. I have tried a dandelion killer made from organic corn gluten meal that costs $50 a bag, and I’ve never noticed any difference at all.

Having a small front yard makes it a little easier to keep the forward-facing lawn looking okay, but our back yard is big. We live in a neighborhood of nice lawns, and more than once I’ve fantasized about how much simpler it would be to replace the lawn with artificial turf—or volcanic rock, perhaps. I feel terrible that my dandelion seeds are blowing into the neighbors’ yards, too.

When I crouched down to shoot a photo of the yellow “weeds,” I saw the bumblebees buzzing about.

Dandelions attract bumblebees

And here is what I wondered, my friends:  Why have we, as a society, decided that dandelions are so very wrong?

Aren’t we in the middle of a bee colony collapse emergency? And yet, at least in my yard, dandelions attract all manner of bees. (When I pulled this photo up on my computer screen, I fell so in love with this little guy!)

A bee pauses above a dandelion

I’ve read that the reason dandelions and crabgrass and clover pop us amidst the grass is because our lawns naturally try to diversify. In other words, Mother Nature didn’t intend for us to have these large swaths of one single plant. Diversified plantings are hardier and less prone to disease. Why, then, have we decided that we must do whatever it takes to fight this natural order?


Terrible, rotten weed must be destroyed at all costs!

Five hundred years from now, will the history books say something like this?

“In the twenty-first century, the people had devastating weather events and clear signs of global climate change, the bee population was dying, and the earth’s groundwater supply was getting polluted from sources like lawn chemical run-off. Yet they continued to douse their turf with herbicides, and used precious, expensive water to maintain large areas of non-native grass, purely for decoration.”

Am I just trying to justify our less-than-perfect lawn? Maybe I am. Or does our country’s obsession with dandelion-free grass seem kind of nutty to you, too?

I’d love to reduce our lawn area and plant native, drought-resistant flowers someday. In the mean time, I do what I can. How about you—how do you deal with dandelions? I would so welcome your thoughts and suggestions.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.