This is the story of a girl who was teased about her hair.

So, she tried to fix it.

She did what all the cool kids in the 80’s did and she permed her already curly hair. Not only was it fried and more frizzy than before, but her hair now smelled like a chemical factory. And it was slightly green.

Somewhere in the 90’s, when she was in high school, people started ironing their hair. Like with an actual iron.

And then, come the 2000’s, every time she went to a salon to get a quick hair cut, the stylist would try to convince her to get an expensive all-day hair straightening treatment to strip away any sign of her curls. She didn’t ever get one, but she considered it.

Apparently, curly hair was something to hide, so she did. Unknowingly, along with hiding her hair, she hid a part of who she was created to be.

Until one day when she came undone.

She is me.

I woke up one day, in the middle of a very challenging season (the whole story is in my upcoming book, Cultivate) and felt tired of fixing my hair. Always putting it up or straightening it. Trying to control my curls, which was a mirror to trying–fruitlessly–to control my life.

That morning, I washed it and just let go.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/sweetlarafeb2017Photos by my amazing friend, Gina. We had so much fun making these together!

Grace played with my hair that night, wrapping my curls around her fingers, putting bows in my locks, and simply wanting to touch my hair. Something clicked. I woke up and let it go again. And again. Each day, I felt more free. It wasn’t about a hairstyle, it was about letting go of what years of feeling imperfect had done to me. It was about finally expressing gratitude for the way God created me. If I wanted Grace to live loved, I was going to have to show her how, and live it myself.

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Embracing my curls has been life-changing for me. Apparently, I’m not alone in this desire to embrace what God has given us. It’s not about hair; it’s about our hearts.

Soon after letting my hair down, I discovered Scott Musgrave, a curly hair artist who happened to live right down the street from me. I emailed Scott to see if he might be able to give me a curly cut, and it turned into an amazing friendship. I asked Scott to share some of his best advice, and I think you’ll be inspired!

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First, what would you say to curly girls who are afraid to let their hair down?

Scott: Our whole lives we’ve been mistreated and misinformed by the hair industry. So we are skeptical. These feelings are understandable. Most stylists have a ‘fix it’ mentality that they pass on to us. When someone says they know how to work with curly hair, that often means, “I know how to fix, flat iron, and Brazilian blowout your curly hair.” So, I recommend you find a curly hair artist. Take a faith step and make the trip to see someone who has great training. The esteem and confidence you get when you are correctly informed and treated properly can be life-changing. When you experience an ‘embrace it’ service experience – that helps you embrace who God made you to be –  it’s a shift in dignity that goes deep into your Spirit. Call most salons and THEY ALL say they know how to work with curly hair. So your next question should be, “Where did you get your training and what method do you use?”Listen to see if they will embrace your hair or if they want to fix your hair. Another option is to go in for a curly set, an appointment where a trained stylist will teach you about your hair and how to make it look nice curly. THEN set up an appointment for a cut if you like what you learned. Read reviews, read testimonies, look at their before and after photos, and research their hair philosophy on their website and social media platforms.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/sweetlarafeb2017

What products are best for curly hair, and how do you apply them?

Scott: Ingredients in a product tell me a story of your hair getting worse over time or getting better over time. My method works with any product line, but good ingredients will improve your hair over time. Bad ingredients dry out hair, create breakage and thin hair out over time. If this has happened to you from using bad ingredients then:

1) First, detox your hair and remove the build up.

2) Conditioner is the most important product for hydration and to reduce frizz.

There is no need for shampoo. Harsh detergents are harmful to hair. You can cleanse with conditioner (called “co-washing”), and get rid of build up every few months with some vitamin c powder (detox) massaged into your hair in the shower (if you are using bad ingredients). Go to my website and do a word search for ‘Detox’ for how to do this. Once you learn about water soluble products, you will no longer need to detox after that. 

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So, what products should you use? It depends on where you live and your hair type. Dryer climates might cause you to need a cream-based product. Humid climates might call for glycerine and aloe-based products.

In general, here is what I recommend:

Cleanser: Innersense, Jessicurl and Long Hair Don’t Care*

Conditioner (hydrates to reduce frizz): Innersense*, Jessicurl

Filler (fills porosity to reduce “halo”):  Innersense Quiet Calm Curl Control*. 

Sealer: Foam or Gel (creates curl formations): Innersense, Mop Top, Jessicurl, DevaCurl*. 

* marks the products I (Lara) use!

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Filler and Sealer application: Instead of towel-drying your hair when you get out of the shower, leave it sopping wet or somewhat drippy – experiment with both. And instead of scrunching product into your hair, do what’s called ‘roping’. Flip your head over and use a small quantity on your fingers and palms as you run your hands down your hair like you are flattening out ropes AND by squeezing product into your hair instead of coating your hair. This creates even product application, which creates dependability and manageability. Wait till hair is completely dry before you scrunch it out–hair is not supposed to live crunchy but nice and soft.

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How in the world do people go multiple days without having to wash their curly hair?

Scott: Don’t touch your hair much or when you do and it may create a bit of expanded frizz. If you are using water soluble products, you can learn to reactivate products in your hair with water and a spray bottle with a bit of conditioner left in. It takes some practice to learn this but it is so worth it. Silicone and oil based products do not respond well to water – but water soluble products do reactive nicely with practice. Spray bottle misting and then putting your hair up in a Pineapple at night reforms your (long enough to go up) waves and curls to then take out of Pineapple and tweak in the morning (or after working out or in the garden) with a bit of water or conditioner – or both- to reactivate hair to go another day. Squeezing water into your hair to reactivate with a little bit of water or a lot of water the next day is key to working with water-soluble products to reactivate your hair. This is the hardest part of the journey to get used to but, with practice and proper ingredients, success is possible for most with wavy and curly hair.

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This is just a start as there is so much more in the full “MAP” method that Scott teaches privately and in his upcoming online course.

Here are some basics suggestions to try:

– Stop using traditional shampoo and “co-wash” with a moisturizing product instead
– Detox your hair if you’ve been using harsh ingredients
– Get rid of silicone-based products and choose water-soluble products
– Don’t towel-dry your hair with a regular bath towel – apply products to sopping wet hair
– Let your hair air-dry or use a diffuser (wait till you see the giveaway at the end of this post!)  on a low setting for a few minutes and let air dry the rest of the way if you can
– Try not to touch your hair until it’s completely dry
– Once it’s dry, scrunch lightly to break the gel cast so your hair is soft and bouncy
– No need to wash every day! Use a spray bottle filled with water and few drops of filler and sealer to dampen your hair before bed. Put your hair on top of your head with a scrunchie (yep!) and then simply moisten the hair lightly in a steaming shower or with your spray bottle in the morning to freshen. Voila! I go 2-4 days at a time without having to wash my hair.

665 LaraMarch2017_0002.JPG 2Scott recently gave me a shorter cut for spring, and I love it!

Thanks, Scott, for sharing your wisdom and heart! Scott is working on an online video course for curly hair, sharing all of his secrets and the full MAP method. It will release in May and I’ll be sure to tell you when it does! I can’t wait to watch the videos myself! For more info and Scott’s MagiCurly Blog go to www.scottmusgravehair.comTo find a curly hair artist near you – go to the Stylist Locator at the top of the page www.curlyhairartistry.com.

Friends, I want to hear your hair story! Whether you wear your hair natural or straighten it every day, you do you. There’s no right or wrong way to do you hair. And it’s just hair ; ) But, if you feel like you’ve been hiding the pain of the past or you just have no idea what to do with the head of hair God gave you, lean in. It might take some time and learning. It took me a good three months to get into a routine with my curly hair, and it took several months for my hair to bounce back from all the damage I had unknowingly done to it. But, it was worth it!

And now for an AMAZING giveaway thanks to the generous teams at DevaCurl and Innersense!

gardening-giveaway-+-curls

Enter to win one of these amazing collections (there will be one winner for each collection!):

The Innersense Collection: 
The Empower Hair Ceremony from Innersense, which includes:
Color Radiance Daily Conditioner
I Create Hold
Awakening Hairbath
Quiet Calm Curl Control

The DevaCurl Collection:
The DevaCurl How to Quit Shampoo Kit
The DevaDryer AND the DevaFuser!
DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel

Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Your turn! Are you a curly girl? What’s your hair story? Any favorite tips or products? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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When I started the process of creating my first book, Make it HappenI knew nothing about writing books! But, with my magazine publishing background, I knew that I’d likely have some knowledge (and strong opinions) about covers.

People often judge actual books by their covers, and a great cover is one that matches the heart of the inside pages. A great cover is an honest one, like a genuine introduction from a new friend that leads to a meaningful connection.

View More: http://ginazeidler.pass.us/sweetlarafeb2017Photo by amazing friend Gina Zeidler

We went through many rounds of designs to get to the right fit for Make it Happen, and just as many for my upcoming book, Cultivate.

The thing is, a book stays with you. Our lives evolve and grow over time, but books rarely, if ever, get updated or altered once they are published. As a writer, this can carry with it a lot of pressure. Every few years I update my website a bit to reflect the growth that has happened in my life (we even changed our company name recently). I get to share updates on what God is teaching me here on the blog over time. I get to change my words and photographs based on what’s new and where we are in our story. A book, however, remains unchanged.

So, when I began dreaming about the cover for Cultivate, I thought about the longevity I hoped it would have over time. I wanted the cover to feel like my garden: colorful, joyful, and alive. These are the same qualities I hope my garden, and my life, have many years from now, too.

After several rounds of cover designs, some of you loyal readers may remember we came up with this design below. I painted the background like I had for Make it Happen, and my publisher even released this cover to retailers (it’s still floating around on the interwebs in a few spots!). It’s beautiful, and it matched Make it Happen well.

cultivate-cover-lara-casey-3

This was a great fit… until I started over on my book.

As my life drastically changed in the season after our adoption, so did the pages of Cultivate. A new book took shape, and it needed a new home for the story that was unfolding.

I hesitantly emailed my editor with a new design I had mocked up, and told her that this book was shaping up to be so different from Make It Happen. It needed a cover that reflected this new story God was writing in my life.

This is what I sent her.

lara-casey-cultivate-book

She loved it.

I love it.

We all love it!

And although it’s just the cover, it so accurately and beautifully reflects the heart of this book. The four sections of the pattern represent the four seasons. And the pattern itself reminds me of seeds, changing leaves, and little-by-little progress. It reminds me to cultivate. In every season, in the mess, in the thick of it–right where I am. The suede brown letters for the title are the color of new branches and of soil–the sustainer and nourisher of life. The foundation on which we grow new life.

Readers may not pick up on these subtleties when they first encounter the book. They may only experience the feeling of joy and a colorful life like my garden. But, as they dig in, I hope these intentional design choices make the experience of reading these pages even richer. This is a book about growing a meaningful life right where you are–in every season.

I’m so grateful to also share with you a special film I’ve been working on with Anna and Phil from Twenty-One Films for over a year now. They’ve filmed me, our family, and the garden in every season, and I cry every time I watch this. I hope it encourages you!

Cultivate from Twenty-One Films on Vimeo.

Friends, thank you so much for encouraging me along this book writing (and rewriting!) journey. I’m so grateful!

Book Cover Slide

Pre-order your copy of Cultivate (releases June 27th) here!

P.S. Catch the replay of my live broadcast on Facebook today  for more behind-the-scenes of the book!

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Get this: a garden, by definition, is a planned space set aside for the display, cultivation, and enjoyment of plants and other forms of nature. And a gardener, by definition, is someone who tends and cultivates a garden. So, if you are growing plants, whether in a raised bed or a couple pots of herbs, guess what?

You’re a gardener!

Whether this is your first year or your fiftieth, you are a gardener, my friend. You don’t need to have a perfect horticultural record (I don’t) or know everything about plants (I don’t), and you don’t need to have a huge “planned space.” This is the beautiful thing about gardening and our lives: you don’t need to be an expert or have a flawless growing history or be greatly experienced to cultivate good things. (I have an entire two pages in my upcoming book about all the plants I’ve killed as proof!)

So, hello my fellow gardener. It’s nice to have you here.

Lara Casey garden(Go, ahead… say it a few times to let it sink in: I’m a gardener. I’m a gardener. I am an imperfect excited plant-loving GARDENER. 🙂 )

Welcome back for part 2 of Gardening 101! In case you’re wondering, it’s not too late to start your garden. In fact, it’s way too early to plant things in most parts of the country. You’re right on time. Here are the first two posts in this three-part series, if you’re just joining us:

Part 1: The Story of an Unlikely Gardener

Part 2: Seeds, Supplies, Soil, and Sunlight

In part 1 we made our dream garden lists, and in part 2, we considered several factors that helped us to pare down those dream lists. Here’s my final roster of garden goodies for 2017. The circled items are new for us this year (I’m excited about trying peanuts and cotton!).

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Okay, so you know what you want plant, but where do you plant it all in your garden space? First, take a look at the different heights and sizes of each plant when they reach maturity. You’ll find the height information for each plant on the seed packets and in garden catalogs.

If I were to put all the tall things in the front, the tall plants might shade the shorter ones–and I wouldn’t be able to see the shorter things. If I planted something that grows on a vine, like cucumbers, in a tiny space with lots of other things, those cucumbers are no doubt gonna take over the space.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 5Our garden planning sketch from a couple years ago. Love that book on the top there!

So, when I am sketching out my garden, I think about space and size of what I want to grow. A great garden structure is not only essential for plants to have room to flourish, it’s visually appealing, helping you to enjoy the space more.

Make a list of the sizes and structures of what’s on your list. Here an example from my garden plans.

Tall stuff: tomatoes, corn, tall varieties of zinnias
Medium: peppers, carrots, peanuts
Short and sweet: marigolds, small varieties of zinnias
Vines: cantaloupe, watermelon, and pumpkins need a spot in which I know they will be able to spread
Space suckers: zucchini (our zucchini plant took over almost an entire 4′ x 4′ garden bed last year).

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 7A peek inside my Joyful Garden Planner – I clip the pics of each thing I’m growing from various seed catalogs.

A note on herbs: I keep all of my herbs in pots because some of them like to grow big and fast, and who needs more than a few sprigs of oregano every season? I also like having them as close to my kitchen door as possible for rainy or cold days when I need to clip something for dinner!

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 8

Our garden plan for 2017: While the babies were napping this past weekend (I know they are both 1 now, but I’ll forever call them the babies), Grace and I broke the colored pencils out and sketched our garden plan. Remember, don’t compare your garden space to mine right off the bat! I have a lot of space (that expanded over time) and I’ve allocated time for tending to this space. Grow whatever is right for you in this season of life.

Now, if you are like me, it’s entirely possible your plans will change once you start planting. Many times, I get all my seedlings and seeds together and I end up shifting things around as I go. But, this plan helps me to prepare well and have an idea of what it might look like.

FullSizeRender

Companion planting: If you want to get fancy, look up companion planting (here’s one simple article and another list that’s helpful). Companion planting is like putting two great friends together to work for a common goal–two are better than one and can help each other to be more fruitful. I plant marigolds at the base of my tomatoes and peppers to keep pests away (and because they are so pretty!). I also pair carrots and tomatoes together.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 2Look at those sweet “married” carrots near my feet!

If I was starting from scratch and had one 4′ x 4′ raised bed (or two larger trough planters), here’s what I would grow and how I would arrange it. I hope this sample starter veggie garden plan helps to get your garden wheels turning. (If you grow this particular arrangement, be sure and email me a pic–I’d love to see it!)

sample-garden-veggie-plan-lara-casey-gardening-101

I chose these plants because they grow well together (and taste great together too!), the shorter items are in the front with the taller items in the back, and this is a great garden plan to try if you have kids! The tomato spot in the back left would be great to fill with Sungold’s or Sweet 100’s (Josh and Grace looooove to pick these off the vine and snack on them). Be sure to give your tomato something to climb like this.

nrp-olivia-designmom-1057We love our Gardener’s Supply tomato ladders! Photo by Olivia from Nancy Ray.

If you choose the cucumber option for the back right, be sure to give it something to climb on too. Here’s a great structure, but even three bamboo poles put together like a teepee would be a welcome climbing gym for some pickling cucumbers.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 3Our lemon cucumbers made for great pickles a couple years ago!

What I love most about this sample garden plan is that it’s packed with flowers too! Marigolds are a great companion to peppers and tomatoes, and they come in beautiful colors. You have an option in the center for either marigolds (I usually buy mine at a local nursery–they are very inexpensive), shorter varieties of zinnias (like this favorite of mine or this beautiful mix), or chives (if you like them). If it were me, I’d probably go for the zinnias because I just can’t get enough of them. And if you do the zucchini, give him some space to spread. As previously mentioned, one small zucchini seed grows fast and wide!

Now that I’ve written about this sample garden design, I’m tempted to do this in one of my beds too! I’ll keep you posted.

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Gardening with kids is one of my greatest joys. Grace has learned so much from the garden! One of the best ways to create a kid-friendly garden is to think on their level (literally). What can you grow that will be easy for them to pick? What would you not mind them touching or plucking often (rose and raspberry bushes, for instance, are not a good idea)? What would they most enjoy nibbling on? We have a mint garden just for Grace to munch on, and it grows with zero maintenance. But, a word of caution: don’t plant mint in your vegetable garden. It will take over and you will never be able to get rid of it! We have ours planted at the base of a tree in the front yard where it can spread out as it pleases.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1

Our tomatoes and pepper crop one year. So pretty and yummy!

I purposely choose to grow what I call “snacking tomatoes” like Sweet 100’s so Grace and Josh can pick and eat them. Herbs are also fun and totally harmless if your little one sticks a fistful of basil in her mouth! But, don’t do hot peppers within reach of little fingers and mouths. This all seems like common sense but it does take some forethought. If you want to get your kids to enjoy the gift of gardening, create a garden in which they can fully immerse their five senses–with nothing off limits.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 6

Grace loves picking marigold petals to throw in the air in celebration, and I don’t hinder her from doing it. Grace also has a little “fairy garden” in one of the flower beds where she plays make believe, and Josh has a dirt patch that he loves to dig in. I let her water the plants, prune with her little craft scissors, pick, pluck, eat and dig as she pleases. And this is growing something wonderful in her–a love and gratitude for cultivating. This garden was meant to be a place of nourishment, play, and wonder!

garden-robynvandyke-5 copyPhoto by Robyn Van Dyke when Josh was still growing in my belly.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, my friend. I have so enjoyed writing this for you, and now for an amazing giveaway! The fine folks at these great companies graciously agreed to give these items away to one lucky winner, and I wish I could enter myself.

Are you ready for this?

gardening-giveaway-lara-casey

This is everything you need to start your own garden–or bless someone else with one!

— Greenes 4′ x 4′ cedar raised bed kit (how cool is this!?)
— A collection of best-selling Burpee vegetable seeds:
Tomato, Gladiator F1
Eggplant, Meatball F1
Tomato, Madame Marmande F1
Pepper, Sweet Bell, Gold Standard F1
Pepper, Sweet Thunderbolt F1
— Gardener’s Supply Company tomato ladders (2) and cages (4) (the ladders are a long-time favorite here!)
— Floret’s Cut Flower Garden book
— Park Seed seeds
— A Joyful Garden Planner from my friend and co-worker, Amber! Amber was kind enough to donate this planner, and give you 25% your order with code “LARA” if you can’t wait for the giveaway results! The code is good through March 31.

Thank you Greenes, Burpee, Gardener’s Supply, Floret, Park Seed, and Amber for being so generous! I love you from my head tomatoes. 🙂

Enter below. Giveaway ends April 1st!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’d love to hear what you are planning to grow this year. Are you excited to give this gardening thing a try? I hope so! Remember, no perfection required, my gardener friend. Get growing!

Lara

P.S. Keep up with our gardening adventures here on the blog, on my Instagram account, and on the Gracie’s Garden Instagram.

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I’m so pumped about this series, I wrote you a poem!

Oh, friends, today is gonna be fun!
Welcome to part 2 of Gardening 101.
Here’s part 1 if you’re just digging in.
Today we’re gonna talk seeds, supplies, and sources for your garden.

Well, I may not be the greatest poet, but I sure do love this gardening thing! Today we’re going to tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on basic garden supplies, fun with seed starting, and how to make your own raised beds if you’re interested. I have some great–and simple–info for you!

IMG_6714.fullGarden planning with my mom and Grace.

In part 1, you made your Garden dreaming list of all the things you want to grow. Grab that list, and let’s work through it to decide what to plant this season.

We’re going to consider these five key things: money, time, space, sun, and soil.

1. Money. You could buy a seed packet for less than a dollar and plant in the soil you’ve got if it’s good soil. Or you could go with a few small containers to start. Or you could try your hand at a raised bed or two, which requires a bit more resources. Decide on a gardening budget that’s comfortable for you. If you need to start small, that’s okay! A little goes a long way, and you can always do more later! Gracie’s Garden started with a few containers and grew over the course of five years. We now have over 40 feet of raised veggie bed space and lots of flower beds. Our garden space and plantings expanded over time, and over that time we learned to care for it all. Choose what works for you in this season of your life.

E087E807-C399-4A48-B8A8-095168AC8B6AA great place to find plants is at the local farmer’s market if you have one!

2. Time. Growing a garden isn’t just about planting things once and never having to touch them again. Depending on what you grow, there’s a lot of ongoing tending that happens–which to me is the fun part! Planting our garden takes a few days, and tending and watering takes me about 15-30 minutes a day. Sometimes it takes much less time during a week when it rains, but there are also times it takes a lot longer, like when I need to prune. Consider the maintenance needed for certain plants. Tomatoes generally require staking and pruning, but they give you fruit over time. Carrots, however, grow, get pulled out of the ground once, and that’s it!

BAFA2723-3DC3-4BD1-BFF6-7F8BED508E96My little gardener giving the plants a drink.

3. Soil. The soil is what sustains the life of the plant, providing nutrients, and allowing deep roots to grow. Good soil is a gardener’s gold. But, let me tell you right now, that “perfect” soil is not required. Here’s a shortcut: call your local garden shop or garden extension service. First, ask them about the general soil in your area. Here in North Carolina, we have clay soil, which means that it doesn’t drain or allow plants to root well. So, raised beds are a must for us. In areas of our yard where I’ve done in-ground planting, I’ve had to dig out mass amounts of clay first to replace it with looser “loamy” soil.

74D94038-A552-4BD0-AA5B-FE5A40EBD0FATomatoes love marigolds and I love them both.

Whether you are planting in pots, or raised beds, or in-ground, you’re likely wondering what kind of soil to use. A reminder: I’m no expert here, and that’s why this series is titled Gardening 101!

Here are some soil basics. Plants need nutrients in the soil to grow, and when you grow lots of veggies and flowers, they suck the nutrients out of your soil. So, each growing season, you’ll need to add nutrients back to the soil to keep everything happy. This is called “amending the soil.” But, how do you know what nutrients to add? My farmer/gardener friends may cringe at this, but I don’t test my soil every year. It’s the only way to know what your soil needs, though. I found this test kit that I may use this year. Once you know what your soil is lacking, take a look at what you’re growing and see what nutrients each plant needs (Do a quick internet search to find that info. For instance, here’s a simple article on soil needs for tomatoes!).

25037B79-9485-4EBD-8A24-202418ADF135Dirt, beautiful dirt! Actually, that’s bags of vermiculite, peat moss, and mushroom compost.

Okay, let’s talk dirt. If you are starting from scratch, what kind of soil should you use? A couple years ago, we tried making Mel’s mix (read about it here) which was super labor-intensive and did not work well in the end for us. We had one raised bed with Mel’s Mix and one right next to it with another combination. Mel’s mix didn’t seem to make our plants as happy. We’ve also used bagged MiracleGrow vegetable bed soil and lots of other bagged soils.

FullSizeRender-10Tilling up the garden beds last year with a baby on my chest. : ) 

But here are our two favorites:

1. A local grower’s mix of organic mushroom compost, crushed shells and vermiculite (helps our soil to drain well), and organic topsoil. Lots of local nurseries and landscape supply places mix their own soil, so do a little research and ask around to find the best! This is the soil mix we started with in most of our raised beds.

2. Black Kow mixed with organic mushroom compost. Grace lovingly calls the Black Kow, “poopy cow,” because…. well, that’s what it is. And it just plain works. Every year, we (meaning me with Grace playing in the dirt while I do this) till up our existing soil with a big shovel and mix a few bags of poopy cow and mushroom compost into our raised beds for added nutrients. So far so good!

557B051B-A71D-465D-94AD-94D9C39784DDHusband of the year here, mixing soil for me and helping construct new garden beds.

What about fertilizer? I haven’t gotten into composting yet, so for now, I’m using traditional fertilizers. I sprinkle some ‘MaterMagic in with my veggie plantings once they have had some time to root. I use Dr. Earth’s fruit tree fertilizer for all the trees a few times a year, too, but the Black Kow mixed into the pots works just as well. For our bulbs, I use Jobe’s Organics bone meal. If we plant beans, I use a nitrogen booster. This all sounds very complex, but so much of what you need to know is easy to Google and, many times, written on the seed packets! : )

17A6D77E-883E-4267-8626-863BA21CEEACThe year we tried Square Foot Gardening.

4. Sun. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of direct sun. My vegetable garden actually only gets about 5 hours of full sun, but somehow it still does well. One end of the raised bed area gets a bit more sun than the other, though, so I purposely plant the more sun-loving veggies there like tomatoes and peppers. On the shadier end, I have some part-sun flowers and creeping vines that like a little respite from the heat every now and then. If your garden spot doesn’t get much light, you can still grow many leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach, but in general, the sunnier the better.

DB388171-E2BB-4ED3-BC44-8CBFA1027BEACarrots, corn, oregano, rosemary, tomatoes and a marigold living together. There might be a couple onions in there too.

5. Space. You don’t need a ton of space to grow a garden. If you follow the Square Foot Gardening method, you’ll be able to pack a lot in a tiny space. But, plants do need room to root and spread out. I made the mistake of planting too much in a small space my first year of gardening, and most of my tomatoes ended up pretty tasteless. Just like our lives, if you grow too much in one space, you won’t have enough nutrients to go around. So, consider your space. Like I mentioned in Part 1, gardens come in all shapes, types, and sizes!

FullSizeRenderI love Gracie’s sweet handwriting. : ) 

So, what are you going to grow?  Let’s look at that garden dreaming list you made from part 1. Considering the five keys we just discussed (money, time, soil, sun, and space), what on your garden dreaming list is a must-keep, and what needs to get crossed off for now? Another way to pair down your list is to do a little research to find out what will grow well in your zone and season, like we talked about in Part 1. This is very helpful info to have! I am purposely holding off on planting a few things till later in the season because they need more heat to grow (watermelons for instance). So, till then, I’ve got an open space in my garden that I can fill for a few months with carrots!

Widdle that list down to what works best for your particular garden, your season of life, and what you will enjoy most. Don’t have enough sunny space for all those veggies on your list? Grow what you have space for. Don’t have time to deadhead cosmos all summer (I learned this the hard way last year)? Don’t plant many–or consider cutting them off your list altogether. Don’t have the budget for raised beds this season? Start with a few pots! Or get creative and try these unusual garden planter ideas. My best advice is to start small. You can always add more later in the season–or in future years!

FullSizeRender-2All of our seeds spread across the dining room table!

Now, let’s dig into some seed and supply sources. This is not an exhaustive list, and you may have great sources I haven’t discovered yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts too! : )

Some of my favorite garden supplies and sources:

Numero uno on my list are the magical garden beings called Master Gardeners! Have you heard of Master Gardener’s before? I did not know this service existed until just a few years ago when I was trying to figure out how to deal with the hornworms on my tomato plants, and I met one at a garden shop. Master Gardener programs (also known as Extension Master Gardener Programs) are volunteer programs that train individuals in the science and art of gardening. These individuals pass on the information they learned during their training, as volunteers who advise and educate the public on gardening and horticulture. Do a quick Google search to see if your area has this program–they likely do! I’ve met several Master Gardeners at garden fairs and local events, and they are a wealth of knowledge.

6A9C634C-BF18-4714-88D0-3FB9DDABD3BFI store my seeds in the bottom of our refrigerator in Mason jars to help them last a little longer.

Seeds: 
Burpee (I have often ordered a few weird wildcard veggies from them like On-Deck Corn. We’ve grown it three years in a row and love it!)
Floret Flower Seeds (my favorite flower seeds and bulbs)
Park Seed (another favorite for flower seeds)
David’s Garden
Renee’s Garden
Botanical Interests (lots of heirloom seeds)
Southern Seed Exchange Catalog (You must get a printed version of this catalog. It’s so beautiful and informative!)

IMG_6744Mail-order veggies from Burpee above. They always arrive in great shape.

Supply sources:

First, I love local garden stores! I do shop at some of the big box stores that carry locally grown plants (Lowes often has lots of local growers highlighted!), but there’s something magical about going to the smaller garden shops. One of our favorites here, For Garden’s Sake, even has goats, chickens, and alpacas that you can visit. Local garden shops are often run by passionate gardeners who get excited when someone asks a question or needs advice. Use the resources in your area–you might even make a new friend or two!

A few supplies we use and love:
Greenes raised bed kits — We have several of these and they come in all different sizes. SO fast and easy to assemble!
Tomato ladders – These things are the best!
Tomato cages
Nitrile-coated garden gloves – Great if you have roses or pokey veggies like cucumbers.
My Joyful Garden planner

I do have a few trowels and clippers, but I often end up using soup spoons, Grace’s craft scissors, and my bare hands! You don’t need fancy tools to grow a garden. And larger sticks from your yard make great tomato supports too!

IMG_6603At our local garden shop getting some perennials for the front yard. Grace is more excited about the rocks!

Gardening books I own and love:
Cut Flower Garden
Square Foot Gardening
Carrots Love Tomatoes, an excellent resource for companion planting
The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
A favorite children’s book I read when I was a child, and now read to Grace, The Reason for a Flower.
And I haven’t purchased this book yet, but I’ve had my eye on this one.

And here’s a great post about trellis ideas!

Do you have a favorite gardening book or resource? I’d love to hear!

IMG_9857A peek at our seeds today! Big Max is getting BIG!

Seed starting. Depending on where you live, starting seeds indoors can help extend the length of the growing season for many plants. If you have hot summers like we do, it can give you a headstart on growing things that don’t love the heat. And, it’s just fun! We didn’t start any seeds indoors last year because we were a little busy caring for two little new babies. But, this year, we jumped back in! This year, we started tomatoes, peppers, some zinnias, sweet peas, and pumpkins. After trying unsuccessfully year after year, we are determined to grow a pumpkin in 2017!

To start seeds indoors, you mimic the conditions needed for a seed to germinate and sprout outdoors: warmth, water, darkness, and once the seed sprouts, light!

FullSizeRender-8Following Erin’s instructions for starting sweet pea seeds. So excited about these!

You don’t need a grow light like we have (we purchased this one several years ago and it easily stores away in our front hall closet when we’re not using it) to start seeds indoors. You can simply use empty egg cartons, some plastic wrap, and a bright window. See this tutorial for more. And be sure to read this awesome post for more seed starting basics.

69D04D97-C7F0-48B5-AC1E-E9923BCAE89CTomato seedlings in paper cups.

How to make your own raised garden beds. I built two new garden beds last year that still look great–and all for about $40 each. I went to Lowes and picked out a couple untreated cedar planks, had the nice gentleman there cut them for me into eight sections – four 2′ sections and four 4′ sections. I got a small roll of landscape fabric, a box of 2″ long nails, and I already had a 1″ x 2″ board at home that I sawed into eight sections to bolster the inside corners of my garden beds. I built the boxes in a similar way to this tutorial, then used a staple gun and attached the landscape fabric (helps keep weeds and critters out) to the bottom of each bed before placing them where I wanted them. I filled them all with soil, and that was that! These two beds took about an hour to construct.

IMG_9228Our new garden bed, and my cute little gardener in her PJ’s!

There you have it! Like I said, this is Gardening 101. There’s so much more I could share, but I hope this gives you a great start in growing some fun things this year.

In the next and final post of this series, I’ll share our own garden plans with you, a sample starter veggie garden plan for those of you who want a great place to begin, as well as a few tips on houseplants and gardening with kids! (And there may be a huge gardening giveaway too!)

Your turn! I’d love to hear what you are planning to grow this year. What supplies or seeds you are considering? Feel free to ask any questions you have, too!

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Spring doesn’t officially start until March 20th, but it has been unseasonably warm here in North Carolina. Lots of things are blooming a full month early. We are likely getting snow over the weekend, so you may see me out with blankets and a hair dryer trying to protect all my early-blooming plants. Seriously. My peach tree is in full bloom and I just might have to run a portable heater out there and put a tent over it. (You guys, I have become a crazy garden lady! I do love my plants, and I especially love our Elberta peaches.)

I couldn’t wait to share this month’s edition of Little by Little with you. In these monthly posts, I share 10 things to help you make little-by-little progress on what matters. I hope these encourage and refresh you.

spring is almost here sign lara casey blogThis sign from Ashley at Under the Sycamore makes me giggle every time I read it!

1. Start your garden! If you haven’t always had a green thumb, or don’t think you could ever have one, part 1 of my Gardening 101 series is for you! Plus, get the first peek inside my upcoming book, Cultivate.

2. Watch an inspiring story unfold. If you haven’t been following my friend Millie’s foster care and adoption story, you must follow along. This was a big week for a very special little girl named Wren.

3. Step into my house. Besides both books, I’ve never prayed more over something I’ve written than this Living with Kids feature on Design Mom. I was grateful to share the story of our marriage ups and downs, thoughts on adoption, cultivating a life-giving home, and our first-ever home tour.

FullSizeRender-6Breakfast on the back porch with my loves and some dinosaurs.

4. Dig into March. I made progress on my PowerSheets goals in February, but some things needed to get shaken up a bit! Read about my February progress and my March goals here. I crossed off my first monthly goal last week!

5. Grow in the wait. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of two special books this week. First up, When God Says Wait by my friend Elizabeth Thompson. I got to read an advance copy and it’s just so good. Download two chapters for free here.

6. Step into the garden with Erin. Next up, I’ve been counting the days till my friend Erin’s book, Cut Flower Garden, released. And wow did it have a great first day! Before this week’s launch, they were already on their fourth reprint just with pre-order sales. That’s huge! But really, it’s no surprise. This book is stunningly beautiful, practical, and well-written. Erin has been a huge encouragement to me the last several years as an intentional business owner, mama, educator, and gardener. Get the book here, and take a tour of Erin’s flower farm here.

7. Read good words to your little ones. This has been a great week for books! I got three books in the mail for Grace from two creative and kind gentlemen. The first is When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner. Such a great message in this book and the artwork is colorful and fun. The second two are The Lion’s Pride and The Fox Hole by a local author, J.S. Davey. These are longer picture books and both are beautifully written and illustrated. Thank you, Matthew and J.S.!

8. Celebrate little Sarah alongside us. Sarah turned one a couple weeks ago, and I finally shared some thoughts on our adoption story. I love this photo that Gina took of us a couple weeks ago. 

IMG_9822Photo by Gina Zeidler.

9. Retreat. I got together with 10 friends a couple weeks ago for a faith retreat–a time to step away from our normal rhythms and grow in our faith and friendships. Read more about it here (and how you can host one yourself!), and there’s a HUGE giveaway we put together for you!

10.  Mark your calendars for March 22! I’ll be posting a special post here with my book cover and film release, and I will be live on my Facebook page that day at noon EST to give you the behind-the-scenes of the cover and the film. I can’t wait to see you there! Till then, I have lots more coming for you here on the blog. Gardening 101 Part 2 goes live on Monday!

IMG_9679Photo by Gina Zeidler at the NC Botanical Garden–we love this place!

I hope these links encourage you! I also shared lots of updates on life lately, and a peek at the new Write the Word journals, in my live broadcast this week.

Cultivating what matters with you, little by little,

Lara Casey signature

P.S. Many of you have asked, so here’s my daily #RunLiftPraise workout playlist. Enjoy!

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