Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Tools & Tips: Moisture Meter

Dear Folks,

Here is the low desert when summer temps can be in the 108+ range and the monsoon season (a change in winds which affects humidity--not necessarily a lot of rain) is in full swing, it is actually possible to over water the garden.

One of my all-time favorite garden tools is a moisture meter (I sometimes refer to it as a water meter) which instantly reads the moisture of the soil 6-8 inches down.

You can't always go by the way a plant looks unless you are observing it first thing in the morning. Drooping in the afternoon is the way many plants conserve moisture.

For most herbs, using the meter as a guide, water when the indicator is between 2-3 on the dry side. Water mint when it is 4-5 on the scale. Veggies and fruit plants should be watered at about the same range as mint. Trees should be watered less frequently once established.

The purpose of watering 'after' the surface soil dries is to encourage deep root growth. In the desert the soil surface temps, asphalt, concrete, and the sides of containers can be approximately 180 degrees F on a typical hot summer afternoon.

This year we are in a record-breaking string of 110+ degree days, and once the humidity rises the temps will fall back down, BUT, that is where the possibility of over watering is going to occur.

Meters come in simple -- just the moisture reader -- and more 'bells-and-whistles" -- adding a light and pH indicator. They cost from $7 to $12 bucks, can be found at most nursery stores and departments or on the Internet, and are worth their weight in gold and plants.

Use a meter and it will become one of your favorite garden tools, too!

Happy gardening!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bringing My Blog Back Up

Dear Folks,

When I first put the blog up several years ago I thought I would be able to keep it going on a regular basis. But with life being what it is and was, I found some of the things I wanted to do with the Blog too time consuming versus putting out some internet newsletters and writing for local papers.

Now that posting to the blog is easier (for me anyway) and I have re-structured some of my writing I want to use this blog for my frequent thoughts, concepts and opinions on all things edible from the garden to the table, and greening up your life suggestions with an emphasis on helping you become a locavore.

A little bit about being a locavore and bringing buying decisions nearer to your home -- makes even more sense now that so many folks are having to adjust to a less-far-ranging errand running and lifestyle use of vehicles.

A locavore is both a person and a life-choice option. Being a locavore in essence means buying choices which are not only physically closer to you, but which also focus on where the 'thing' is made or grown.

If family and community are important parts of your life, then supporting local farmers, crafters, and the good old fashioned (now in again) mom-and-pop (M&Ps-for reference) stores -- you know, the ones owned and operated by your friends and neighbors -- is now more important than ever.

Does shopping locally guarantee you will always be happy with what you have? No, of course not.

But, for example, if you purchase locally grown, "seasonally available" fruits and vegetables, you are purchasing food which is picked at its prime, the most nutritious it will ever be, minimizing use of fuels, and supporting a local farmer.

If you shop at a M&P store, more money goes back into the local (your community) economy.

This is not about putting chain retailer or chain grocers out of business. This is about taking back control over not only your buying options, but also making choices which will result in benefits to you, your family and your community.

If your city or town prefers to deal with chain retailers and not the the M&Ps, think about whether your city or town is a cookie-cutter-found-anywhere type of town or does it stand out as a place to call "home town."

You know who has the power to support M&Ps and make chain stores really competitive? YOU!

If you always choose price over quality, are you producing your own self-inflicted injury, i.e., if all the chains take over all the cities and towns, where will your buying choices be?

There will always be a need for chain retailers and grocers, unless you want to create your own mini-self-sustaining life in your own back yard.

But like customers of mine at the farmers market who buy my fresh herbs -- many of them do not have the skills, time, or space to grow what I do. Likewise, I have not decided to grow my own cotton and weave my own cloth, etc. so I buy clothing from some chain stores and some M&Ps.

Here's a short to-do suggestion for you: Use the internet and find suppliers in your neighborhood. Go to to find food producers near you (all the USA and many countries). In Arizona you can find M&P stores offering many types of goods at

Find a local farmers market by zip code or state at the USDA site at:

And finally an important 'greening' tip for you and the health of your family. Do whatever it takes to ditch any food product containing 'high fructose corn syrup' HFCS from your and your family's meals including school food programs. The science about the health consequences and addictive nature of HFCS is still rolling in and overwhelming. It is about how our bodies react to this artificially manipulated sugar product. You and your family are far better off using cane sugar, honey, molasses and agave nectar.

And if the kids are addicted to sodas and you have a challenge getting them off the commercial sodas - make homemade sodas using unsweetened concentrated frozen juices (they are naturally sweet). Easy, they will like them and you get to control the ingredients: 1/4 cup of thawed juice concentrate to 3/4 sparkling water, seltzer or club soda (check the sodium contents of those 'fizzies' for choosing the right ones for your family). It is easy to teach even small children to make their own orange, pineapple, cranberry or raspberry soda using a marked measuring cup handy. Fill the cup to the 2 ounce level (1/4 cup) and add chilled fizzy water to near the top, transfer to a drinking glass, add ice if desired and enjoy.

Commercial options are out there - check out Hansens Natural Sodas, now available in most stores.

Have a wonderful day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady