Everyday Gardeners

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The following is a guest blog post from You Grow Girl: Gayla Trail, a Canadian gardener, blogger, author, and photographer. 

Both spring and summer have been unseasonably cool in my neck of the woods, and unfortunately the tomatoes have suffered.  I lost a few straight out of the gate and fear that some of the late season indeterminate varieties will not ripen in time for the fall frost. Fortunately, I tend to over-plant so there will be tomatoes regardless.  A few indeterminate plants are filling up with fruit and many of the fruit in my patch of dwarf and determinate varieties are starting to show their colour.

One way I like to use up the bounty is in making homemade tomato juice. I know it sounds like a chore when you can just buy tomato juice in a can, but wait until you try it. The difference between the store-bought product and this one made with seasonal ingredients is incomparable, and I mean that without an ounce of sentimentality or exaggeration. It’s a scientific fact!

The following recipe is the one I use at home, reprinted from my book, “Drinking the Summer Garden: Homegrown Thirst Quenchers, Concoctions, Sips, and Nibbles.”



Homegrown Tomato Juice


  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1⁄2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh parsley (stems and leaves), roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • Pickled green tomatoes, for garnish (found on page 17 of Drinking the Summer Garden)


  • Place the tomatoes, onion, celery, bell pepper, parsley, oregano, and salt in a large pot and simmer on medium-low heat until the vegetables are cooked through and soft, about 20 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent sticking.
  • Press through a food mill or old-fashioned chinois and discard solids.
  • Stir in the honey and lemon juice and season with black pepper and/or more sea salt to taste.
  • Serve in a frosty glass on ice, garnished with skewered cherry tomatoes, pickled onion, or sliced cucumber.
  • Store the juice in the fridge for a couple of days.

Variations: There are countless ways to turn this healthy drink into a fun afternoon mocktail. Before serving, wet the rim of each glass with a slice of lemon and dip into celery or lovage salt (instructions for how to make these are included in my book, Drinking the Summer Garden.”  Shake or stir in a dash of Worcestershire sauce or balsamic vinegar to taste. Season with dried or finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, marjoram, or thyme. Spice it up with a hot pickled pepper. Drink it through a hollow lovage stem made into an edible straw.

GAYLA TRAIL is the creator of YouGrowGirl.com, where she has been sharing her experiences gardening in difficult urban spaces for 13 years. Gayla is the author/photographer of four books on urban gardening: You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces (translated into three additional languages), Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces and Drinking the Summer Garden: Homegrown Thirst Quenchers, Concoctions, Sips, and Nibbles.” She lives, cooks, and gardens in Toronto with her partner Davin and their sweet pup Molly.

Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden

Eleven years ago I was a “traditional gardener”, meaning I used the traditionally advertised products on the market that were filled with chemicals to treat my garden. This led to over-fertilizing and using chemical pesticides regularly. Bottom line: I wantonly abandoned the idea of doing healthy things for my garden in favor of what the media told me I should do. At that time I would consider my garden an average garden even with all of my chemical efforts. Then one season a friend of mine suggested I grow in an environmentally healthy fashion and stop listening to the hype. I thoroughly researched the importance of how to go chemical free and gradually converted my entire property over to about 98.9% organic and natural. An amazing and surprising thing happened in response to that changeover – my garden grew more beautiful, astounding, and lush than it had ever been when I used all those chemical solutions.

The secret for using less chemicals and pesticides in your garden is this: good soil grows healthy plant roots. With healthy plant roots you have strong plants that can survive tough conditions. Over the last ten years I have discovered what type of amendments work best in gardens nationwide and in my own garden. I have my favorite list of five all natural products and organic matter that really work well in my front lawn vegetable garden (seen in the photo above) and in gardens all across the country.

5 Amazing Soil Additives

Rotted Manure

Without a doubt, rotted manure is an important organic amendment for your soil because of its nutrient rich content which is the basis for building a strong structure of carbon compounds within the soil. Be sure that the manure is well rotted or it will burn your plants. You can get it in bagged form at your local garden center or find a farmer nearby. Be advised that manure from a farmer sometimes contains grass and weed seed. I add a generous amount of well rotted manure to the garden soil before I plant a garden, then again annually as a top dressing around plants.

Worm castings

Worm castings is worm poop – that’s right – worm poop. Like rotted manure, worm castings create a strong soil structure and add beneficial biology to the root zone of your plants. Worm castings help hold moisture so you water less. Mix ¼ cup of worm castings into the soil planting hole for each plant. I use Organic Mechanics worm castings which are OMRI and Organic certified (below you see a mix of rotted manure and worm castings added to my spring front lawn vegetable garden).

Spring rotted manure application on Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden


Soil Amendment Actino-Iron 2Actino-Iron is an all natural OMRI certified granular soil additive that combines the Actinovate organic fungicide with organic iron and humates. Actino-Iron is a product that is already used in many of the soil mixes you find professionally in the market because it helps control root diseases and keep your plants greener. I have used it for three years in a row and found it works very well to strengthen the root systems of my plants. Last year I had a drought and the plants stayed green and healthier because Actino-Iron builds a relationship between the root zone and soil microbes, strengthening the roots by growing more root hairs. I had a couple tablespoons in the root zone of each plant (see photo below).

Soil amendment Actino-Iron

Pure Elements SoilSuccess

Soil Amendment Pure Elements SoilSuccessPure Elements has several gypsum based products that are great soil amendments for all types of growing such as grass renewal, perennial beds, annual flower gardens, and vegetable gardening. My favorite is Pure Elements SoilSuccess Renew + Transform because it adds humates to the soil and helps reduce tomato bottom end rot. This is a good product to increase soil microbial activity and improve germination, shoot, and root growth in all your garden beds, particularly your vegetable beds. My plants are crazy huge this season and I applied about one pound of SoilSuccess per 100 feet of garden.

Homemade Compost

#1 rule of healthy organic gardening – make your own compost. Below is a photo of my overly stuffed composter doing its happy work in my garden. While there are many ways to make your own compost, the fact that it is absolutely free for you to build makes it one of the best ideas ever. Using grass clippings, kitchen scraps, dry leaves, and all types of natural things from your home like coffee grounds, you can create “black gold” for your garden beds. Compost has amazing nutrients in it which helps your garden soil be the perfect place for microbes to interact with root hairs. In other words, by adding compost, you are building stronger roots. I add compost to the soil in new gardens and also use it as a top dressing to smother weeds around healthy plants.

Shawna Coronado Soil Amendment Compost Bin

According the FTC, you need to know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.

Lady Fern and Halcyon Hosta

When I was young I loved visiting my grandmother’s shady perennial beds in central Indiana. They were filled with every leafy shape the mind could imagine, yet rarely a flower could be found. My grandmother taught me that there are other beautiful options that can bring just as much joy to your gardening heart. Both foliage and decorative glass offer colorful alternatives to the traditional blooming beds and I use them as much as I can in my own garden.


Planning your foliage garden well means your garden can stay beautiful year round without flowers. Mixing leaf structures and plant heights adds interest. At the top you see Fern ‘lady fern’ mixed with Hosta ‘halcyon’ in my side garden at home. I love the blue of the hosta because it contrasts marvelously with the bright green of the soft, feathery-leaved ferns.

A favorite combination is to mix some coleus love into my shade vegetable containers. Lacinto Kale from Bonnie Plants and Coleus from Hort Couture’s ‘Under the Sea’ line make a fabulous color splash together. No flowers can be seen, but the foliage color is astounding and really adds to a shade patio container arrangement (see below).

Lacinto Kale with Coleus

Heuchera and Hosta

Mixing Heuchera and Hosta together can be a brilliant foliage combination. In the garden bed above you see a random bed plan of Heuchera ‘snow angel’ and Heuchera ‘beaujolais’ mixed with Hosta ‘krossa regal’, Hosta ‘gold standard’, and Hosta ‘half and half’.

wine bottle border


Bottle Tree along pathWant to keep your perennials in place while adding color and interest with glass? Bring whimsical glass accessories in to the garden beds. I have endless wine bottle paths (photo above) draped with ground cover and a fantastic bottle tree (photo right) I found at Carolee’s Herb Farm, a favorite stop whenever I am in central Indiana.

Bottle trees are a remarkably cool folk art brought from Africa and the Middle East centuries ago and were originally used to capture bad spirits. Now they capture color and light and bring a bit of joy to my suburban shade garden.

Below are two books I recommend to help you study up on filling your garden with color not found in a flower; Fine Foliage by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz is a delightful full color book which brings wonderful ideas for foliage color combinations, and Bottle trees.. and the Whimsical Art of Garden Glass by Felder Rushing is an outstanding full color celebration of creative glass-in-the-garden creations.

Bottle Trees Book and Fine Foliage Book

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.

Wall of Coleus

Every year I am faced with the oh-so-dramatic container flower decisions. I like to call it the Annual Container Plant Choice Invitational. Much like I did as a teenager while trying to get up enough courage to jump off the high-dive; I will stand for hours at my local garden center with a look ofLantana and Beets in Garden terror on my face as I try to decide which plant is the perfect one to combine with the others. Inevitably it’s an impossible decision: What child are you going to plant? Who’s going to walk the plank? Which plant is going to be the best mixer at the container party?

In the end, my choices always come down to two determining questions:

1. Which plant is the easiest to care for?

2. What color combinations am I going with this year?

When I think of easy annuals to grow there are two spectacularly colorful plants that make my top-of-the-top favorite plant list: coleus and lantana. Each make an amazing splash in the Annual Container Plant Choice Invitational in either the sun or shade category. These plants are fantastic mixers and can function as a either a feature plant or a blender plant in an urban container, planting bed, or vertical wall garden. Both types of plants have multiple varieties and plenty of color selections for the casual gardener at your local garden center.

To the right you see Luscious Berry Blend Lantana rocking the socks off my full sun vegetable garden as a border plant. Lantana is a great sunny spot solution and is perfect for attracting butterflies. Below is a photo of the lantana layered in a gorgeous pink and green container display with multiple annuals.

 Lantana in Plant Container Design

Have a shady spot? There is nothing better than a coleus to brighten up a dark corner. At the top of this page is a magnificent vertical wall garden done up with Emotions Inspired Coleus and impatiens. Lantana mixes well with leafy vegetables in a mixed vegetable container as well as annual flowers. Below is an equally bold display of mixed variety coleus, impatiens, and sweet potato vine at a restaurant on an urban street.

Need a simple solution for your containers that will add a punch of color? Lantana and coleus are two great, easy-to-grow plants that mix well with most annuals in your container party.

Coleus and Impatiens in Shade

Don’t get me wrong. I like turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy as much as anyone. My expanding waistline is weighty evidence. But this year for Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll stray from the bland beige foods of my Midwest upbringing by adding to the holiday table a rainbow of fruits and vegetables from my garden. Red and yellow will come from heirloom tomatoes still ripening on the workbench in my garage, despite a killing freeze almost a month ago. Baked ‘Georgia Jet’ sweet potatoes from the root cellar provide a splash of orange. Green will come from parsley and ‘Panther’ cauliflower. I harvested the last of the ‘Panther’ cauliflower (more chartreuse green than forest green) and purple ‘Graffiti Hybrid’ cauliflowers a week ago, but they’re holding well in the fridge. Blue was the most difficult color to introduce, and I’ll admit that I’m stretching it a bit by using frozen black chokeberries harvested earlier this fall. (Blueberries and blue/black raspberries never made it to the freezer. They were devoured as soon as they were harvested!)

Will colorful fruits and veggies will grace your Thanksgiving table? If not, consider planting some next year to perk up your plate with diverse hues. After all, the first seed catalogs arrived this week. It will soon be time to place seed orders for next year’s colorful feast.

By harvesting green mature tomatoes and ripening them in the dark, I often have fresh tomatoes well into December.

'Furry Yellow Hog' is a blocky yellow heirloom tomato with fuzzy skin and mild flavor.

'Georgia Jet' sweet potatoes have reddish skin and deep orange flesh.

Curled parsley is a decorative garnish that also works well to cleanse the palate.

'Graffiti Hybrid' cauliflower is a gorgeous lavender purple alternative to plain white cauliflower.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) looks like blueberries, and has some of the same tang as cranberries.

Tomatoes in vegetable gardenI admit that I’m a follow-the-rules kind of guy. I was raised with the belief that rules largely exist to help us know what kind of decision to make when we’re confused, to keep the world in order, and to prevent us from falling into deep, inescapable chaos.

But when I read the story of Julie Bass in Oak Park, Michigan, I silently gave her a thumbs up.

Julie Bass’ story is an interesting one: According to what I’ve read, she’s being threatened with a misdemeanor crime for violating city code and having a front yard vegetable garden instead of more traditional lawn and shrubbery.

Personally, I don’t find the pictures I’ve seen (view for yourself here) particularly unattractive. It’s not the most traditional approach to front yard landscape design, but it’s certainly not bare earth. And it’s not the first time I’ve heard of growing vegetables out front; in fact, you can see a picture of a front yard that incorporates herbs and vegetables in a front yard right here on BHG.com.

So what do you think? Is this brouhaha over nothing — should she be fined and forced to move her vegetable garden out back and replace it with lawn? Or should she be cheered for doing something a little different? Share your comments!

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