Lean on These 10 Essential Tools to Help You Find Success in Your Garden

When I first started gardening, I bought one of those ubiquitous garden sets with the standard five tools in a pouch; I had no idea of the inadequacy of my purchase. Over the years, I’ve learned which tools are important and which ones are just a big waste of money. The following is a list of my favorite gardening tools that go beyond just hand spades.

Vivosun Grow Bags

Vivosun Grow Bags

I’m a big fan of using grow bags in my garden. Besides being better for a plant’s root system, they allow me to move my crops to different part of the garden with ease. Buy now

Fiskars Garden Snips

Fiskars Multipurpose Garden Snips

This tiny, multipurpose pruner is my all-time favorite garden tool. This tool, which is a pruner on one side and a serrated knife on the other, is small enough to wield confidently in my small hands. I use it for harvesting, pruning, cutting wire and rope, and more. It’s the best tool, ever, and I highly recommend it. I also really like the Fiskars Micro-Tip Pruner. Buy now

Felco Pruner for small hands

Felco Pruner F-6 -Small Hands

Many garden tools are a little too big for my hands. That’s why I like this pruner; it’s designed for small hands. When you need pruners for a bigger job than the Fiskars Snips can handle, try this quality pruner. Buy now

Nitrile gardening gloves

Nitrile Gardening Gloves

I really hate those fancy leather garden gloves—it’s hard to move your fingers around freely and they are difficult to wash. I understand needing heavy-duty work gloves like that if you’re a farmer, but they’re a little much for backyard/balcony gardeners. I really like the lightweight nitrile gloves, which are less constricting and more easily washable. You can usually find them at any big box store or Buy now.

Marathon Yard Rover Wheelbarrow

Marathon Yard Rover

If you’re a backyard gardener with more space than a balcony, a wheelbarrow will be vital. I waited years before getting a one and I wish I hadn’t. Buy now

TomCare Gardening Chair

Gardening Chair

I might have a house with a backyard, but it’s still in the city, which means it’s not that big. I have to maximize my space and don’t have room for big things like potting benches. That’s where my gardening chair comes in. It saves my back from a lot of bending and, often, I sit right in the middle of the backyard to pot my plants. Buy now

Long, wood-handle rake hand Craftsman cultivator

Craftsman Rake Hand Cultivator

This is one of my most-used garden tools; I use it more than a spade! Use the long rake for raised beds and the short handheld tool for your containers. Buy now

Cobrahead Mini Weeder

Cobrahead Mini Weeder

This tool makes short work of weeds—even those prickly thistles with deep taproots. This is the mini version of the tool, which, IMO, is ideal for container gardeners. Buy now

hundreds of wicker baskets

Wicker Baskets

Head down to your local secondhand shop and load up on inexpensive wicker baskets. They come in handy when you are harvesting your crops. If you don’t have a thrift store nearby, try one of these.

Black Zip Ties

Zip Ties

Zip ties may be good for is organizing cords and wires, but they have multiple uses in the garden. From securing your vining plants on a trellis or pole to using them to help construct your own trellis or tomato cage, zip ties are indispensable in the garden. Buy now

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Urban Foraging: Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe

If you live in the city, eating local may be as simple as taking a walk around your neighborhood. That’s what I was doing when I spied the bountiful stalks of garlic scapes right outside my garage. So, my neighbor and I set to foraging, but left a few to flower so they continue their spread next year.

I made a delightful Garlic Scape Pesto with my foraged find!

How to Prepare Garlic Scapes

Unless you have experience with them, you probably have no idea what to do with scapes. When I first saw them at my farmers market years ago, I definitely had to do some research. After trimming the flower, you want to snap off the end where it begins to get woody—like you would do with asparagus. (See above.)

You should use the tender middle part for your scape pesto. (See above.) If you want to tame the bite of the garlic a bit, you can always blanch them first to mellow out the scapes.

Garlic Scape Pesto

tequiaburt
You can use this yummy pesto as a spread for bread and sandwiches, for pasta and even as a marinade. Tonight, I’m going to use as a sauce for delicious chicken breasts. Bon Appetit!
Prep Time 15 mins

Equipment

  • Food Processor

Ingredients
  

  • 10-12 Garlic Scapes
  • 1/4 cup Pine Nuts
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan or Asiago Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Basil Leaves
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 tsp Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Put chopped up scapes, basil, nuts and cheese in food processor. Pulse for about 30secs in short bursts.
  • While blending, slowly drizzle in first olive oil and then the juice of one lemon. Blend to desired consistency.
  • Add salt to taste.
<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Celebrate Juneteenth By Planting These Traditional African American Heirloom Seeds

After the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Louisville, Kentucky, respectively, I pressed the pause button on this blog; posting about gardening as people stood up for black lives across the country felt, well, trivial.

But as the civil unrest around me grew, I turned to my garden for succor. Putting my hands in the earth, nurturing new life has comforted me these past few weeks.

Every year in my garden, I try to grow at least one African-American heirloom crop. So, in honor of Juneteenth, which marks the liberation of our ancestors held as slaves, I offer this list of African American heirloom seeds that you can try in your garden today.

Tree Collard

Although the actual origin of tree collards is unknown, it is said to have originated in Africa and have been passed down through generations of black farmers. They are perennial in warm climates and can grow up to 10 ft tall, though they are usually a more manageable 4-5 ft. They are hardy to 20-degrees, but gardeners in chilly climates like me can bring them inside the garage or basement.

I grew tree collards last year and it is going to seed in my garden right now. This is exciting because they rarely go to seed and I can’t wait to collect them. Generally, since they rarely go to seed, they are grown through propagation. They used to be hard to find unless you knew a gardener that shared, but now you can find cuttings or plants from multiple Etsy sellers or from Project Tree Collard.

Fish Pepper

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Arriving in North America via the Caribbean, fish peppers have historically been popular among the African-American community in Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay region. A beautiful striped pepper that has traditionally been used in seafood dishes, it nearly went extinct but has been rescued by several seed savers. Baker Heirloom Creek gives us a rundown of this unique pepper’s history:

“This one-of-a-kind pepper would be lost to us if not for an unusual exchange. Horace Pippin was a black folk painter who served during World War I in the 369th Infantry called the ‘Harlem Hellfighters.’ He lost the use of his right arm after being shot by a sniper, and this left him with arthritic pain. Searching for some relief, he resorted to an old folk remedy that called for bee stings. Horace began giving seeds to a bee-keeper named H. Ralph Weaver. Horace’s seeds sometimes came from his far-flung old-time gardening friends, who sent wonderful and rare varieties. H. Ralph Weaver saved the seed in his private seed collection, where it remained until 1995 when his grandson William Woys Weaver released it to the public.”

Though you can purchase seeds via Baker Heirloom Creek next year, it’s a little late in the season to be starting pepper seeds. Never fear; this Etsy seller still has some plants for sale.

Jamaican Burr Gherkin

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Originating in West Africa and brought to the Caribbean via the Transatlantic slave trade in the 1500s, this small gherkin tastes like a cucumber. It can be eaten raw, pickled, or cooked like squash.

The burr gherkins are still popular in the Caribbean—in the Bahia region of Brazil, Afro-Brazilians call them maxixe (mah-SHEE-shay) and use them in a traditional dish called maxixada (mah-shee-SHAH-dah). I grow a similar plant called the Sour Mexican Gherkin, and I can’t WAIT to grow this plant! You can find the seeds from Etsy Seller Plants With A Purpose.

Plate de Haiti Tomato

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According to Food Historian William Woys Weaver, African American heirloom tomatoes are difficult to find and document. Dr. Carolyn Male shared this creole variety with him in 1992, and he, in turn, offered them through Seed Savers Exchange.

In his book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, he writes: “The earliest record of this tomato is a botanical drawing in Konrad Gessner’s Historia Plantarum (1561). Gessner’s specimens were doubtless grown from seed only recently brought from the Caribbean. Whatever its true origin, the tomato has been associated since the 1550s with the island now home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is known to have entered North America in 1793 with the Creole refugees who fled the slave uprising in Haiti. Beyond this, documentation of the tomato has remained elusive; little effort was made in the nineteenth century to investigate the plant varieties grown in the kitchen gardens of American blacks.” You can find this variety at True Love Seeds.

Roselle

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One of the crops I’m most enthusiastic about growing this year is Roselle, which is native to West Africa. Also known as Sorrel, Florida Cranberry, and Flor de Jamaica, most people in the U.S. know it as Hibiscus tea, popularized as Celestial Seasonings “Red Zinger.” In the Caribbean, it is best known as the main ingredient in the holiday drink Sorrel.

Although a perennial in tropical climates (hardy in zones 8-11), it’s best grown as an annual in colder climates. Roselle produces big, beautiful blooms in the summertime, and, after the flowers fade, you can harvest the calyxes for jellies, teas, and Agua de Jamaica. (Find a recipe for Agua de Jamaica here.) It is definitely too late to grow Roselle from seeds this year because they have to be started indoors a couple of months before your frost date. But purchase them next year from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Coronavirus Gardening: 5 Plants to Grow in Your Urban Victory Garden

When I started my first garden, I picked all sort of vegetables without really thinking about how much space they took up, whether they thrived in a Chicago climate, or whether I actually even liked the taste enough to invest in growing them. Sadly, my first garden was not that successful. But that first year didn’t stop me, and by now, in my sixth year of gardening, I’ve learned which veggies thrive in my small, backyard plot.

The following is a list of vegetables that any starter garden should have. They thrive in MOST climates, taste better than store-bought, and are easy to grow in containers in tight spots or in raised beds.

Tomatoes

Of all the veggies on this list, tomatoes take up the most space and require the most care—some varieties can grow up to 12 ft tall (!) and the plants require staking, pruning and fertilizing. However, once you taste your own sweet home-grown tomatoes, you’ll never want to buy a grocery-store tomato again.

When to Plant: In Chicago and other locations in this region, plant tomatoes in mid-May to June. In warmer climates, gardeners can plant them earlier in the season—just be sure to plant them well after your last frost.

Growing Requirements: Many resources will tell you that you can grow tomatoes in three- to five-gallon containers—don’t believe them. Personally, I grow my tomatoes in 15-gallon grow bags, but you can get away with using a 10-gallon container per tomato plant. If you’re growing in a raised bed, limt to just a couple of seedlings and plant them at least 2-3 ft apart because they take up a lot of room. Tomatoes also need to grow in a space that gets FULL sun. If your back porch, balcony or yard is shaded in the least, your tomatoes won’t flourish; the plants need at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day. However, if you live in a super-hot and sunny environment, tomatoes may struggle in the heat so try planting them in shadier spots.

Varieties: One of the most important things to know about tomatoes is that there are two varieties: determinate and indeterminate. Though both are suitable for containers, determinate tomatoes, which include most kinds of Roma, Early Girl, and Celebrity, are more compact than indeterminate varieties. Referred to as bush tomatoes, determinates grow to about 4-5 ft tall and require less staking and pruning of “suckers” than indeterminate varieties. The fruit also ripen all at once, so you’ll get one harvest over a period of about two weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes are less bushy and more vining, require staking and pruning and need bigger containers because they are larger than determinate varieties. You can taste all that tender-loving-care in the final product, though, which is reminiscent of that old-fashioned tomato flavor that your grandparents wax poetic about. On average, the plants reach 6 ft tall and include heirlooms such as Purple Cherokee, Brandywine, Beefsteak and Sweet Million. Once they ripen, they will continue to produce fruit over the season until killed by frost.

Leafy Greens

Greens such as lettuce, mustards, kale and collards are the easy to care for and don’t take up a lot of space, which is always a premium for urban gardeners. Plus, the more you cut and eat them, the more they will produce for you.

When to Plant: Ideally a couple of weeks before the last frost. But in Chicago, who knows when that could be? It snowed in late April this year—should this have stopped you from planting greens before then? Heck no! Most greens are cool-weather crops, so I would suggest starting them in March in places with Chicago-like temperatures. This would be even earlier for gardeners who live in less-tundra-like environments. It’s still not too late to plant some greens; I just planted baby collards, which tolerate the heat more than other leafy greens like lettuce.

Growing Requirements: The best thing about greens is that most of them don’t need much space because they have shallow roots. There are exceptions (hello, Lacinato, aka Dinosaur Kale, and collards), but for the most part you can choose small pots—I like to use those long rail planters for lettuce, for example. They do like sunny spots in cool weather, but to extend the life of your leafy greens move them to a shadier, cooler spot in your garden once the summer heats up. This will help them to resist bolting, which means the plant has begun to flower and has given the signal to reproduce and stop growing. Some leafy greens are easier to grow than others (I’m really terrible at growing spinach, for example, and avoid it at all costs), but for the most part they are pretty idiot-proof.

Varieties: The other great thing about leafy greens is that they are best direct sown, which means you can plant seeds directly in a pot outside. This means you aren’t limited to whatever plant that your local nursery is offering. There are so many varieties of seeds for each kind of leafy green—you cannot even begin to imagine how many types of lettuce there are in the world!

Peppers

Like tomatoes, peppers like it hot and sunny. There are so many different types of peppers with so many different flavors from candy sweet to fiery hot, you’re sure to find ones that all your family members can enjoy.

When to Plant: Chicagoland gardeners, don’t gamble with your peppers’ lives—wait and don’t plant them until at least June. The soil must be warm and the days sunny. I have learned my lesson.

Growing requirements: Again, most resources will say that you need smaller pots than you actually do for peppers. While it does depend on the type of pepper—sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers, and spicy Thai Chiles, for example, are small and can fit multiple to a pot—most peppers need a substantial size container if you want a good yield. I tend to use 10-gallon grow bags for each of my pepper plants, notwithstanding the smaller varieties. Just be sure to look up space requirements for the pepper you have; it won’t always tell you on the pot it comes in.

Varieties: If you like sweet or mild peppers, Shishito, pimentos, banana or bell peppers are good choices. If you like medium heat, try Anaheim, Poblano or Hatch chiles. If you like it roof-scorching hot, then Scotch Bonnets, Habaneros and Carolina Reapers are for you.

Bush Beans

For container gardens, I recommend growing bush beans rather than vining types, which requires a trellis and can take up a good amount of space in an urban garden.

When to plant: I like to direct sow peas—the seeds are cheap, growing them inside is more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s less expensive than buying plants at the nursery. In Chicago, planting seeds directly in your pot outside in late May-early June is perfectly good timing.

Growing requirements: The thing to know about bush beans is that you’re going to need more plants than you think—a lot more. A good rule of thumb is to grow four to eight plants per person. Thankfully, beans don’t take up too much space, so you can get about five to six plants in a 10-gallon container. Beans don’t require much fertilizing because they produce their own in a process called nitrogen fixing. Though bush beans perform better in full sun, you can also grow them in partial shade.

Varieties: My favorite green bean is called Calima. It’s a slender, stringless French bean that gets pretty high yields. Other popular bush bean varieties include Contender, Dragon’s Tongue (LOVE these; plus, they are beautiful!), Kentucky Wonder and Provider.

Herbs

Whenever I see the tiny, sad plastic packages of herbs at the grocery store, I smugly pat myself on the back because I am getting a great bang for my buck by growing lots of different kinds.

When to Plant: Some tender herbs like basil like it when it’s warmer out, so don’t plant those until late May early June. Other herbs such as chives, like it cooler, so plant them earlier in the year. It really depends on the herb.

Growing requirements: The cool thing about herbs is that you can usually tuck them into corners of pots that you’ve already planted other vegetables in. For example, I often grown basil plants along with my tomatoes in the same container. Otherwise, plant them in small pots that you can move around. Find out the lighting your herbs like best by testing out different spots in the garden.

Varieties: Once you’ve gotten growing basic grocery store herbs like basil, parsley, and thyme down, try fancier herbs. I’m growing multiple types of basil this year and experimenting with growing various herbs for medicinal purposes.

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<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

So, You’re Starting Your First Garden: 5 Things to Think About Before Digging In

When we bought our house six years ago, the first thing I decided to do was to grow a garden. My granny had a green thumb and passed it on to me. She grew up on a farm and, despite living in cramped quarters in our southside Chicago apartment, I grew up surrounding by all of her plants. She’d always talk, wistfully, about moving home to Mississippi, back to the family farm where she could grow her own food and do plenty of fishing.

As COVID-19 spreads and stay-at-home orders threw us in lockdown across the country, many of you began to think about taking up gardening. (That and making sourdough starters.) I began to notice that gardening supplies were sold out everywhere and friends were on social media posting about tilling their first gardens. I also realized that many of you are making the same mistakes I did when I begin gardening. When I took the plunge, I basically knew nothing. For the past five years, I’ve essentially learned how to garden through trial-and-error and research; YouTube videos became my best friend. Now that I’ve learned a few things, I thought I’d share them with you.

Before you dig that first hole, here are a few questions you might consider.

1. Why are you gardening?

Are you doing it as a way to relax and relieve anxiety? Are you attempting to become more sustainable? Is the spread of coronavirus creating food anxiety and your answer is to start a garden? Are you trying to supplement your diet with fresh veggies? Do you plan to do it for the long-term? Figuring out why you want to garden can help you determine what to actually grow and how much time, effort, and money you want to spend.

2. What’s your space like?

This may be the single most important consideration. Maybe you live in a tiny apartment with only a back porch or balcony rather than in a house with a backyard. Never fear—you can grow a garden in the tightest of spaces. Greens like lettuce and herbs like basil can be tucked in small out-of-the-way spots. If you only get filtered rather than full sunlight, you will have to pick plants that can tolerate partial shade like, for example, greens like collards, spinach, and lettuce. Veggies like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers thrive in full sun, and need at least eight hours a day.

3. How long is the growing season?

One of the banes of my gardening existence is the shortness of Chicago’s growing season. If you live in a similar climate, it’s too late to grow many plants from seeds. Peppers, some herbs, and some flowers have months-long growing seasons. If you want to start them from seed, you have to do so in February and March, inside under grow lights; your best bet is to source plants from local nurseries instead. However, you still have time to plant some seeds inside and direct sow seeds outside. I planted six different varieties of tomato seeds about a week ago, but your time for starting seeds indoors is running out.

4. What do you actually eat?

I wanted to grow everything under the sun when I first started gardening. I grew watermelons that never really ripened because of Chicago’s short growing season. The butternut squash grew out of control, taking over the whole plot, and no one in my household really liked butternut squash except for me. I didn’t realize that to get a decent amount of some crops, like beans or strawberries, for example, you have to sow WAY MORE than the two seedlings you planted. I didn’t have a true plan for my garden, and you could tell from my haphazard results. I began to think about the veggies that my family frequently eats, and from those, which veggies were inexpensive and easily obtained from the grocery store. I designed my garden around my family needs and have had a much better outcome.

5. How much do you want to invest?

Growing a garden is a commitment—nurturing seedlings, pulling never-ending weeds, regular watering and pruning, and spending lots of $$$. In fact, until you get the hang of it, it’ll probably be more expensive to grow your veggies than buying them from the store. But, the rewards of growing your own food is worth it—it’s a hobby that encourages you to be healthier, have a more sustainable relationship with the earth, and is a fantastic stress reliever. I wish you a happy gardening journey!

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

So, It’s Not Just a Weed: 3 Ways to Use Common Comfrey

One of my garden’s most resilient and beneficial perennial plants is comfrey. Long dismissed as an invasive weed, gardeners are giving it a second look because of its powerful fertilizing and healing capabilities. According to clinical herbalist Kathleen Wildwood, who founded the Verona, Wisc.-based Wildwood Institute, comfrey leaves, and especially the roots, contain a hefty amount of allantoin, a phytochemical, or plant chemical, that speeds up cell repair.

“Comfrey is so good at repairing bones that it is known as ‘knitbone,’ so the bone needs to be set correctly before you start using it,” she says. “Comfrey also has uses for the respiratory system, and can treat, for example, bronchitis and sore throats; colitis, stomach inflammation, and ulcers; and interstitial cystitis and overactive bladder.”

Benefits of Comfrey

It spreads vigorously and can grow almost anywhere—prolifically, so I keep it controlled in a pot. Gardeners primarily grow the container friendly cultivar Russian Bocking 14, which can be identified by its purple flowers. Often, it is used as a green mulch to feed other plants; I plan to till the leaves and flowers into the soil to enrich it for next year’s crop. I also intend to use comfrey to help me extend my garden’s vitality well into the winter by drying the herb and then using it make a salve for cuts and scrapes, as well as for long infusions to drink throughout the season.

Comfrey can be applied externally as a salve, ointment, compress—or even just its leaves—to treat, for example, joint inflammatory disorders, wounds, bone fractures, and gout, according to Wildwood.

“An infused oil or ointment made of comfrey leaves or root speeds healing of wounds so effectively that one caution is that you cannot use it on a deep cut, because it will heal the top over so quickly that you can end up with an infection underneath,” she says. “But if it is not a deep wound, it will heal wounds and strengthen skin. You can even just rehydrate a large leaf with hot water, wrap it around a twisted ankle, then cover with plastic wrap or a towel.”

Precautions

Wildwoods cautions that before you make any kind of infusion, however, you should be sure you’re using the correct species of comfrey, Symphytum uplandica x. She says the best way to identify safe comfrey is by the color of the flowers. “The one with the purple or blue flowers is safe internally or externally because they have been bred to eliminate toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids,” Wildwood explains, which can damage the liver.

Internally, Wildwood says comfrey can be ingested as an herbal tea or infusion to treat, for example, gastric ulcers, rheumatic pain, arthritis, bronchitis, and colitis, and it’s her favorite way to use the dried leaves.

“Clients who have torn muscles, popped tendons, twisted ankles or who have fragile skin are all helped by using comfrey leaf long infusion internally for several months, allowing those body parts to be less fragile, more-stretchy, and resilient,” she says. “For this reason, it is also helpful for women older than 40 who want to become pregnant. In addition, the amino acids in comfrey are useful for brain development in a fetus.”

Are you ready to make your own ointment and long infusions? Check out the following recipes.

Recipe: How to Make a Long Herbal Oil Infusion

  1. Fill a one-pint jar with a tight-fitting lid about halfway to two-thirds full with dried comfrey leaves. Cover leaves with preferred carrier oil (such as olive, avocado, coconut, or grapeseed).
  2. To make a long oil infusion, leave for six weeks and shake the jar a couple of times a day. After six weeks, strain the oil through cheesecloth.
  3. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of vitamin E to help preserve the oil. You can also add a few drops of essential oils like rosemary, lavender, or chamomile to make your oil even more beneficial.

Recipe: How to Make an Herbal Salve

  1. Melt 1/3 cup beeswax pastilles in a double-boiler.
  2. Add about 1 1/2 cups of infused comfrey oil to the melted beeswax.
  3. Pour into jar or metal tins and cool.

Recipe: How to Make a Long Herbal Infusion

  1. Take one ounce of chosen dried herb, such as comfrey.
  2. Place in a canning jar. Use a one-quart jar for leaves (such as comfrey), or hardy flowers (such as red clover), one-pint jar for roots, barks, or berries (such as burdock root or rose hips).
  3. Cover completely with boiling water, stir with chopstick or knife and add more water until full.
  4. Place lid on and let sit four-to-eight hours for leaves or hardy flowers, eight hours for roots. Many people make their infusions in the evening and then strain them in the morning.
  5. When done brewing, strain and refrigerate. Infusion will keep for 48 hours in the refrigerator. (After that, the proteins start to break down and the brew will taste off.)
  6. Infusions may be reheated (preferably do not boil, but it is still OK to drink if it does), iced, sweetened, milk added, etc. Some do well with salt or tamari, such as nettle.

Recipe courtesy Kathleen Raven Wildwood, © 2015.

Story originally published at Spirituality & Health.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

4 Super Greens to Grow in Your Spring or Fall Garden

By Tequia Burt

Greens are not just for salads. With different kinds grown all over the world, greens can taste sweet, bitter, spicy, or earthy and can be used in a wide variety of stir fries, soups, pasta, smoothies, and more.

Not only are they delicious, but greens pack a powerful health punch. They are an important part of a healthy diet and are usually abundant in a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eating a diet rich in greens can help you improve your blood pressure, boost your immune system, enhance your cardiovascular health, and even sharpen your mental capabilities.

Greens are easy to grow in the early days of spring and don’t take up much space. If you’ve missed the spring window, which is easy to do in Chicago, you can plan these as fall crops. Whether you have a garden in your back yard, a deck, or patio, you can grow greens. With shelter in place orders cropping up across the country as the coronavirus spreads, it’s never been a better time to focus on your garden. Try growing these four super greens to both support your health (mental and physical) and stock your larder.

Orach

Orach

Orach is an ancient green experiencing a comeback after 4,000 years. Though its origins are difficult to pinpoint, it has been mentioned in the texts of ancient Roman philosophers and held the honor of being the most popular leafy green in Eurasia before spinach even appeared on the scene, according to the Baker Creek Heirloom Whole Seed Catalog.

Containing twice as much vitamin C as lemon, Orach is jam-packed with vitamins, including magnesium, anthocyanins, phosphorous, iron, protein, zinc, selenium, tryptophan, vitamin K, carotenes, and dietary fiber. An immune boosting powerhouse, orach may improve digestion, heart health and is a potent anti-inflammatory.

Orach can be eaten raw or substituted in any recipe requiring spinach or chard. This Thai Green Curry with Red Orach recipe showcases the green’s versatility. It comes in a dazzling array of colors, so not only will you get a vitamin-packed green, but it also looks lovely in the garden or in a planter on the back porch. Orach is adapted to both heat and cold and even grows in poor soil. Start seeds in the spring as early as the soil can be worked. Though it is slower to bolt than spinach in summertime heat, try to sow seeds in a place that gets partial shade. With germination temps of between 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, seeds should sprout within seven to 14 days. Buy seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Mache

Mache

Just one ounce of mache, aka corn salad, contains 18 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A, almost as much vitamin C as an orange, and as much iron as spinach. It’s strong antioxidant effect helps improve immune function and can be a powerful aid in fighting colds and flus. It may also help lower blood pressure, improve eye health and brain function, and ease osteoporosis.

With its slightly nutty flavor and buttery soft texture, mache is a versatile salad green that is popular with foodies and chefs across the country. Try this Mache and Herb Power Salad to take advantage of the deeply nutritious greens and spring herbs.

This tender green is an excellent cold weather crop and doesn’t require much care. It is so cold hardy that it can even be grown in winter and can even withstand temperature below zero. Though it often grows wild in corn fields and can be foraged, mache can also be grown in your garden or in a container. Since warmer temps can slow germination, it’s best to sow mache seeds in the ground as soon as you can work the soil. Since it is commonly grown in the U.S., seeds aren’t hard to find in local garden centers or from online vendors.

Molokhia

Molokhia

Molokhia—or Mulukhiyah, molohiya, mloukhiya, Egyptian Spinach, or Jute depending on where you are in the world—is a highly nutritious green common in Middle Eastern and Egyptian cuisine. It provides loads of fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and selenium, as well as vitamins C, E, K, A, B6, and niacin. This supergreen reportedly lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, digestion, sleep, bone health, and eyesight, as well as boosts the immune system and reduces inflammation.

With a texture akin to okra, molokhia is usually made into a soup or stew and can be eaten alone or with a protein. Though it is a perfect for planting in cool springtime temperatures, unlike most other greens, it thrives in the summer heat! The seeds can be sown directly in the ground in the spring after all chance of frost has passed and after 60 days harvested throughout the summer. When cold fall weather arrives, the green begins producing small yellow flowers and starts to bolt.

Molokhia is not commonly grown in the U.S, however, you can find seeds on Etsy. Try this recipe for Jute Mallow Soup to get all the benefits of this supergreen.

Mizuna

Mizuna

Mizuna—or Japanese mustard greens, spider mustard, water greens, or kyona—is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Cultivated for centuries in Kyoto, Japan, mizuna is a cornerstone of Japanese and Buddhist culinary traditions.

Rich in vitamins A, C, and K, mizuna is a highly nourishing green. It contains multiple antioxidants, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer kaempferol and quercetin. What’s more, mizuna’s high levels of beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin can improve eye health by fighting cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and protecting your retina from oxidative damage and age-related macular degeneration.

With its slightly bitter and spicy flavor, mizuna can be used raw in salads or cooked or pickled.  The fresh peppery flavor complements a variety of other greens and salads, and it is delicious in soups, stir fries, pasta, and even on top of pizza. For a vegetarian pasta dish, try this Mizuna Pesto recipe.

One of the most bolt-resistant brassicas, mizuna is an excellent cold weather crop and should be sowed early in spring. Find mizuna seeds at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Originally published at Spirituality & Health.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Urban Gardeners Can Save the World, One Butterfly Garden at a Time

You may have heard as a child that old saw that a butterfly landing on you brings good fortune. A symbol of metamorphosis and transformation throughout the ages, butterflies hold deep spiritual significance across many cultures; there is a good chance that children worldwide have heard the equivalent of that saying.

For Christians, butterflies represent resurrection. In North American Native mythology, butterflies symbolize the soul or human spirit. In the Jewish community, butterfly imagery is profoundly connected to remembrance of the Holocaust.

The Monarch is especially prized, particularly in Mexico. Each year, hundreds of millions of Monarch butterflies make their way to Mexico to overwinter in the oyamel fir forest in the mountains of Central Mexico. Residents believe the butterflies hold the spirits of their deceased loved ones returning home and are celebrated during the multiday holiday Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, which takes place Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

Butterflies are not just spiritually important, however—they are significant contributors to the health of our planet. Not only are these butterflies an essential source of food for other insects, birds, and small animals, but Monarchs are also pollinators. The same kinds of habitats that support them support other pollinators such as bees, which are critical for creating and maintaining the ecosystem that we and other animals rely on for food and shelter.

But populations of Monarch butterflies have declined more than 80 percent over the past 20 years. The massive decline can be attributed mainly to climate change and the deforestation of natural habitats, but another big reason for the plummet is the steady loss of milkweed, the only plant on which Monarchs lay their eggs.

Since 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been assessing whether to add the Monarch butterfly to the endangered species list. So, the agency approached ecologists at Chicago’s Field Museum to estimate the amount of habitat available to Monarchs and other pollinators.

The loss of milkweed in urban areas, where the plants are often treated as weeds, has been particularly devastating, according to Conservation Ecologist Erika Hasle, one of the study’s lead researchers. The results, which were released in June 2019, show that one of the most important things we can do to save the Monarchs is to plant milkweed in cities.

“We know that people in cities need nature, but does nature needs cities? Our findings say the answer is yes,” says Hasle, who works in the museum’s Keller Science Action Center. “As a country, 90 percent of us live in urban areas, so having habitat there that can support pollinators is really very important. This is particularly important for Midwestern cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. As agriculture has become more monoculture, we’ve lost vital habitat to bigger and bigger cornfields.”

For city-dwelling gardeners like me, the answer is obvious: Plant a butterfly garden and save the world! (And boost my yield with more pollinators buzzing in the garden.)

I use my garden to help center, calm, and inspire me. But I also try to get my kids, 9-year-old Caleb and 7-year-old Molly, excited about gardening because it helps me show them the value of sustainability and of living your values. Now that it’s fall, leaves have withered and my garden is spent; there’s not much to do in terms of planting. But it is the perfect time to plant a butterfly garden with the kids. Milkweed seeds need a period of freezing and unthawing to be viable so fall—and even winter—planting is ideal.

During March and April, Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants, which then, after about four days, hatch into caterpillars. The milkweed nourishes and feeds the baby caterpillar for about two weeks until it transforms into a chrysalis. After 10 days, the Monarch emerges from the chrysalis, a beautiful butterfly.

I have a raised bed in the back corner of my yard, right next to the alley and garbage cans—a great spot for milkweed and other native wildflowers. You don’t need to live out on the prairie to grow wildflowers like milkweed—a large container or raised bed will do just fine. Most people tend to think of milkweed as an unattractive weed but there are 12 native species of milkweed on which Monarchs thrive, and most are quite lovely.

I know that planting a little butterfly garden in my backyard victory patch won’t actually save the world. But it helps me know that I am doing my part.

“People who live in cities think we are so far removed from nature that there’s not a lot we can do to help our planet,” says the Field Museum’s Hasle. “But this is one way that cities can make a really meaningful contribution to protecting wildlife that’s on the brink of being listed as an endangered species.”

Photo credit: The Field Mueseum, Abigail Derby Lewis
Originally published at Spirituality & Health.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.