Bring a Little Nature Indoors with a Fairy Garden

Playing outdoors and getting dirty is great for kids and adults, contributing to health and creativity. But for those days when it’s just too hot, too cold, or too rainy to spend long periods outdoors, try another fun activity. A fairy garden can sprinkle fantasy into your home. 

It’s an easy and fun project for you and your little ones. Just be careful about how many fairies you invite into your home. They’re mischievous little creatures that are likely to take over every empty shelf if you let them.


Planning Your Fairy Garden

Look around your community or nearby hiking trails. If you’re lucky enough to live in a community surrounded by nature, like Aberlin Springs, you have plenty to choose from. Just be careful not to disturb private property or animals’ homes. This is a great opportunity to teach children about respecting nature. (Also note that many municipal parks and preserves prohibit the removal of ANYTHING from their sites.) Look for twigs, rocks, moss, empty snail shells, pieces of tree park, or wildflowers. Choose to stick entirely with natural objects or incorporate items from around the house, too.

Fairy gardens can take any shape or size. Most plants require full light or partial shade. If you plan on having the garden inside pick the sunniest spot. The size of a fairy garden is only limited to how much room you have.


Picking your Plants

If you can, try to choose native plants for your garden. As an alternative, succulents and cacti are easy to care for. These desert plants require less water. If you have small children and want to teach them about responsibility and how to care for gardens this is a great plant to start with.

Herbs are another great choice. Fresh herbs are also relatively low-maintenance and if you like to cook you always have a ready supply of basil and rosemary to pick. Flowers need more attention but even if you don’t have the greenest of thumbs it’s still a good option to beautify your home and freshen the air.


Choosing a Planter

Any home and garden store is going to have countless planters to choose from. You can also create your own planter by upcycling objects from home. Try an old wagon that your kids have outgrown. Some people like to use teacups.You can even use an old rainboot or a drawer from a discarded piece of furniture. So get creative with some of the unused objects lying around in your home.

If you use a planter made from organic matter such as wood make sure the bottom can drain and aerate. Otherwise, it will start molding and will cause wood rot.


Pick Your Theme

This is probably the most difficult decision you’ll have to make throughout the whole process. You can check out any craft store and they’ll have just about everything you can imagine. Don’t care for fairies so much? That’s alright, you can make a miniaturized version of your dream reading nook. You’ll find model toadstools, and dragons, and gnomes oh my! Let your imagination go wild!


Tips and Tricks for a Healthy Fairy Garden

Putting everything together is relatively easy. Arrange the plants the way you want them. Settle them in the dirt and place the accessories. To keep your garden growing strong and tall here are a few tips and tricks.


Pick the Right Soil

Different plants require different PH balances and different consistencies for the soil. Succulents do not require a lot of water to survive unlike, for instance, a tomato plant. It is important that you place them in a soil that does not retain water. Dirt with organic matter like manure and mulch is the surest way to quickly kill these plants. If you are helping your child to create a miniature version of your own backyard or community garden, use the same soil you use there. (Get permission first, if needed.)

Flowers like black-eyed susans and milkweed are native to Ohio. Since they are already well adapted to the soil they will grow hardy and will require less maintenance. As an added bonus there is less likelihood you will have to buy new flowers next year. Since the native flowers are adapted to our climate, perennials will likely keep coming back each year!


Too Big for Their Britches

If you only give your plants a small amount of room to grow they will stay relatively small. However, if you give them the chance to stretch their limbs, they will not hesitate to do so. Sometimes they need a little support. Stakes can help. Instead of using wood or metal stakes from the garden store, get creative! Rarely used chopsticks are a fun choice. Has your child outgrown their baby cutlery but you can’t seem to part with it? Those make great support systems for your plants too.

Enjoy building your own fairy garden and bring a little bit of the outdoors inside. Get your hands dirty, spend time with your kids, and make something you can enjoy every day.


PHOTO: Cassie Kohrs

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How to Make the Most of Your Homegrown Produce

Growing food at home or in your neighborhood community garden feels great. You sweat and nurture and hope for favorable weather, anticipating the delicious results. Maybe growing zucchini is your thing. You’re the queen or king of growing zucchini. You know all the recipes for turning it into sweet or savory creations. You show up at every dinner party and event bearing zucchini bread. Every. One. People smile and say they love it but maybe they’re just a teensy bit sick of it. You start giving out zucchini to everyone who visits you just to get rid of it. You have pounds and pounds of the stuff and if you don’t use it up soon, it will rot and that hard work will be wasted.

It’s the curse of the brilliant gardener: too much of a good thing. Here are three ways to put those gorgeous fruits and veggies to good use and make a difference in your community.


Help a Nearby Food Desert

If you live near Cincinnati, Dayton, or any major city, chances are there’s a food desert within a short drive. Your produce could help. A food desert is defined as a place where no supermarket exists for at least a mile radius and residents lack transportation to get there. They rely on convenience stores and fast food restaurants for nutrition. According to the Food Empowerment Project, those who live in food deserts are more at risk for heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

Suburban farming provides a potential solution. Search Food Pantries Near Me for local organizations. Then, check with them to make sure they accept fresh produce. You might also look into donating to schools, neighborhood centers, and community events.


Sell Homegrown Produce at a Farmers Market

Selling fresh produce at an Ohio farmers market typically does not require a license, according to Ohio State University‘s agricultural program. If you live in a different state, check the requirements there. If you want to turn your fruits and vegetables into baked goods you may need a license even in Ohio. The website Ohio Proud can help you find a farmers market near you. Visit one near you to see if you like it and, if so, apply to become a vendor.


Hold a Neighborhood Potluck

If you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with a shared garden, or if many of your neighbors have gardens, pool your resources. Hold a potluck or block party and invite everyone to share something. They can bring anything from fresh fruit to entrees they make from their harvest. You could even hold a contest to see who can create the most delicious or creative dish. Give a prize for the best zucchini bread!

These ideas should give you some great ways to put your excess food to good use. Remember to compost whatever you can’t use, along with any scraps. Composting reduces waste and, even better, gives you a rich source of nutrients to grow even more!

Photo: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

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Flowering Ohio Native Plants to Beautify Your Yard

It’s springtime! The birds are singing and the black-eyed Susans are blooming! Wait, you don’t have any blacked-eyed Susans? You don’t have Ohio spiderwort or wild petunias either? Well, that’s okay. Your garden looks lovely. But, if you live in Ohio, makes sure to include some Ohio native plants, which include many gorgeous flowers native to our lovely region.


Growing Native

Wherever you live, planting native flowers and other vegetation benefits the local ecosystem in many ways. Tulips and lavender may look and smell great in your yard but these non-native plants do little to benefit local wildlife. On the other hand, flowers like milkweed and butterfly weed provide food and shelter for indigenous pollinators.

Native flowers are great for planting whether you’ve been doing it for years or you’re new to gardening. Continue reading to learn how Ohio native plants can beautify your yard, benefitting you and the local wildlife.


Low Maintenance, Less Water

Native Ohio plants and flowers require little maintenance. Native plants are low maintenance because they have already adapted to the soil type in this area. This means that they grow more quickly and easily because they do not need to adapt to the soil’s pH. Plus, the soil provides all the nutrients they need. Better Homes and Gardens explains that native plants cover more ground to quickly choke out weeds. 

Native plants are adapted for the climate in Ohio, too. So once you introduce the flowers to your garden you don’t have to keep buying new plants year after year. Flowers like butterfly weed and gray goldenrod don’t need to be replaced year after year because they can survive the winter.

For that same reason, native plants require less watering. Native Ohio plants can withstand droughts and rainy seasons. They grow well in this area and can survive just about any weather mother nature throws at us. By watering flowers less in the garden, you not only save money but help conserve our most precious resource, water.


Weeds vs. Plants

Plants like honeysuckle may seem commonplace but that’s because they were introduced to the U.S. in the 1800’s. What many people don’t know is that these plants were brought here from Japan as an ornamental plant. Upkeep on these plants can be difficult. So many homeowners just them left to their own devices. As a result, they have taken over and stolen the resources of our native plants. These plants might look and smell pretty but in reality, they are invasive weeds.

Some gardeners overlook the huge difference between weeds and native plants. Weeds, as Hunker explains, “invade the habitats of other plants, causing damage and death… Invasive weeds appear in habitats that already belong to other plants, growing so well and so quickly that they overtake or otherwise compromise the existing ecosystem.” So some flowers we sometimes consider weeds, such as milkweed and butterfly weed, don’t fit the definition.

Native Ohio plants make great shelter and food supply for many native bugs and animals. By weeding them out landowners and commercial farmers actually damage the natural landscape and certain species of wildlife.

Did you know that the caterpillar of a monarch butterfly feeds solely on milkweed? This flowering plant grows all over the U.S. As monarchs migrate, they lay their eggs on milkweed leaves and then the caterpillars feed on them. To prevent their extinction organizations like The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden are creating programs to educate Ohioans on how milkweed can benefit our local environment and possibly prevent the extinction of this beautiful butterfly.

So before you weed those pesky flowers, research whether they’re really hurting or helping.



Ohio pollinators need native flora. Pollinators include far more than just bees and butterflies. Many other species help pollinate flowers and plants. Audubon states that pollinators also include hummingbirds, bats, and beetles. Different pollinators “specialize” in different native plants. Some of these–take bats, for example–keep away unwanted pests like biting insects. When you help them, they help you in turn.


You have many choices for flowers, trees, and shrubs to add to your garden this year. Sometimes they can be hard to find in big box stores because they are not popular among gardeners. You can, however, find them in many local greenhouses. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden even advises many area nurseries on what to stock. For a list of native Ohio plants, check out The Ohio Department of Natural Resources to find the best plants for your garden.

If you are considering adding flowering plants to your yard or garden, consider those that are native to this region. Not only will you add beautiful diversity to your garden but you will help the local ecosystem, which can always use some TLC.


PHOTO: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

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Give Your Fresh Veggies the Star Treatment

It’s an enriching experience to watch how the time and energy invested in seeds results in delicious, home-grown vegetables. Whether you use them as side dishes, snacks, or the main components of a plant-based diet, fresh veggies from a CSA (community supported agriculture) garden are delightful. They have a richer taste than many grocery store selections and inspire recipes that take full advantage of their nutrients and flavor.



The Benefits of Farm-to-Table Vegetables

It’s more than taste that makes farm-to-table vegetables more appealing than supermarket ones. You know everything about how the ground where it’s grown is treated, and how the plants have been cared for. The vegetables sprout naturally because they’re not grown too quickly or at inopportune times, or harvested before full maturation, to accommodate sales demands. Ever notice certain spring and summertime fruits and vegetables still available in the winter? Grocery stores import produce from out of the country, which also means higher costs and more potential for exposure to toxins while in transit. It also upsets seasonal cycles, part of the reason why we crave comfort foods in the colder months, and lighter meals when it’s warm.

There’s also a stronger personal tie between farmers and consumers when vegetables are grown through a CSA. You’re supporting local commerce, can receive direct advice about cooking ingredients, and eliminate packaging costs. You may find unusual or imperfect shapes because there’s been no interference to create flawless produce, or discover interesting varieties that you never knew of beforehand. Additionally, you’re encouraged to try your own backyard gardening, which has influenced how homeowners design the ultimate outdoor living space, and deepens neighbor connections.


Appreciate Seasonal Produce

Successful harvests and availability may vary according to the region, temperatures, precipitation, maintenance, and wildlife getting at the vegetables. However, asparagus, morels, spinach, and rhubarb should be cropping up now (mid-spring) in Ohio. May and June should see the following:

    • Arugula
    • Beets
    • Broccoli
    • Cabbage
    • Chard
    • Cilantro
    • Endive
    • Mustard greens
    • Scallions
    • Kale
    • Parsley
    • Peas
    • Sweet peppers
    • Radishes
    • Zucchini



Cooking Tips that Maximize the Flavor of Fresh Veggies

The nutrients in fresh vegetables are sensitive and start to decrease once the food is cut, peeled, or even washed. So prepare and eat them as soon as possible afterward. Fat and citrus boost nutritional absorption. So sautée fresh veggies in healthy oils (coconut, avocado, sesame, and olive), or in butter, or add juice and/or zest to dishes. Keep cuts to similar sizes for even cooking. You might try steaming or roasting them for maximum flavor. In addition to making salads and snack trays, there are endless ways to incorporate fresh veggies, including:

  • Stir-fries
  • Pizza
  • Soups, curries, and stews
  • Salsas, sauces, pesto, and chimichurri
  • Dips and hummus
  • Nachos
  • Burrito, taco, and enchilada fillings
  • Burgers
  • Fritters
  • Juices and smoothies
  • Omelettes and quiches
  • Stuffings, or stuffed into another vegetable
  • Rice, quinoa, couscous, and other grains
  • Desserts such as carrot cake and zucchini bread

Nothing needs to go waste when preparing farm-to-table veggies. Turn peels into seasoned crisps, and add carrot and radish tops to stir-fries, sauces, or pesto. Shred stalks into slaws, blend into dips, or freeze for later use in making stock. Add cooking water to soups and mashed potatoes, or use for natural food dyes.



Ideas for Surplus Vegetables

Many freshly picked vegetables will last about 1-2 weeks, depending upon storage methods, indoor temperatures, and exposure to sunlight. If properly tended to, carrots and radishes may last a few months. If you cannot store excess vegetables in the basement or other ideal environment, consider:

    • Donating vegetables to fire departments, homeless shelters, and food banks (check rules first)
    • Giving them to family, friends, or co-workers
    • Offering them for free to the public
    • Canning and pickling
    • Adding pet-friendly veggies to meals and treats
    • Using decaying vegetables for composting (then use the compost to grow more!)




Fresh Veggies Year-Round through Home and Community Gardening

Backyard gardens and CSAs give you the means to enjoy fresh veggies that are natural to the region, and grow during the seasons they are best adapted for. It’s rewarding, and yields scrumptious vegetables all year long!

PHOTO: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

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5 Reasons to Let Kids Get Dirty

Do you remember making mud pies as a kid? What about rolling down a hill full speed only to find there was a great big puddle at the end? Do you remember how much fun you had? Sadly, fewer children these days get to experience that fun because parents are afraid of the germs when kids get dirty.

Of course, we want to keep our kids healthy and safe. But research shows that this abundance of caution could be detrimental to our future generations. Getting dirty and being exposed to the microbes in nature is a good way to prevent poor health in the future. Besides, kids enjoy it! The mess might be annoying to clean up but read on for five reasons a little extra laundry detergent is worth it.


5. Improves Motor Skills

One of the greatest benefits of playing outside is that it teaches children motor skills. This is especially important or infants. For instance, according to research done by Eastern Connecticut State University, by 10 months of age children already have a preference to what textures they like and dislike.

In that same article, the author goes on to explain that playing is a requirement for children to learn regulating behaviors and emotions. Children who play less are more likely show aggressive and antisocial behaviors. The outdoors encourage play, particularly unstructured play.

Babies that are introduced to the great outdoors while learning how to walk also have a great advantage. Most children learn how to walk on flat surfaces. While this is a fine way to teach them, it doesn’t expose them to all the different surfaces they will experience. A sandy beach or a grassy hill can improve balance and coordination.


4. Teaches Kids About Nature

When children play outside they tend not to notice they’re learning. As they play in the mud they discover different worms, insects, and roly-polies. Then learn what type of environment those different species prefer. They hear birds and other creatures that communicate through sound. They even learn different smells, which helps in learning about plants and decomposition.

Gardening also provides a great learning tool for children. That’s why Mercy Montessori has introduced a garden on the 5th floor of their school. “It gives students the foundation they need to be contributing members of society,” says Lisa Klus, assistant principal, and director of the microeconomy program.

For this same reason, families find their way to farm-to-table communities like Aberlin Springs. Children here are exposed to a lifestyle that they would have otherwise never experienced. By interacting with plants and animals they learn science, critical thinking, and even empathy.


3. Gets Kids Away From the Computer

In 2014 NPR talked about how too much exposure to electronic media affects the way children are developing. They cited a study that showed how children that don’t get enough time away from their screens are less likely to recognize human emotions.

Linking back the previous research done by Eastern Connecticut State University they say that “A sedentary play style in the early years is likely to become an overall sedentary lifestyle: inactive preschoolers are highly likely to become inactive adults.” (Reilly &Jackson, 2004).

Few will argue that playing on a computer or tablet is fun. After a long day of learning it’s nice to just plop down and play a game for a while. However, by limiting screen time you do your child a favor. You prepare them for an active healthy lifestyle as adults. Not only that but you are also teaching them human relations.


2. Relieves Stress

If you notice that your child is suffering from anxiety and depression due to stress, take them outside. (Do it for yourself, too.) Prevention described how being outside can reduce stress levels. “When it comes to alleviating stress, there’s just something about being in our natural element that’s hard to beat,” says Catharine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

When pressures from school add up, take this opportunity to bond with your child. Take them to a park with a hiking path and let them talk about their feelings. You’re not only building a relationship with your child but you’re also putting them in a relaxing environment where they can be one with nature and alleviate some of the stress.


1. Introduces Healthy Microbes to the Body

The number one reason you should let your kids go outside, play in the mud, and just get dirty is that it introduces their body to essential microorganisms. The fear of dirt and germs is a trend that is now starting to reverse among parents. WebMD hypothesized that early exposure to dirt and germs could potentially prevent ailments like asthma and allergies as the child matures.

Children have a natural tendency to put things in their mouth that we feel they shouldn’t. The truth is that as long as it’s not a harmful chemical they should be fine. It’s true that they could get sick from not washing their hands after playing on the playground, but this is also exposing them to microorganisms that can help create natural antibodies.

According to the Huffington Post, scientists have discovered that our bodies are starting to miss microbes that were more common in previous generations. Scientists believe that the cause of this is twofold. First, children are not getting the essential exposure to good bacteria. Second, we are increasing the number of antibiotics we give children. This is detrimental because antibiotics kill not only the bad germs but the good ones. By doing so we are lowering our resistance to harmful bacterias.

You might cringe at the suggestion, but the next time your child goes out to play, leave the hand sanitizer at home. While you’re at it, if you have a family dog, or visit a friend with pets, don’t prevent the dog from licking your child’s face. Pets can also give microbial exposure to children that they wouldn’t otherwise have. 

You want what everyone wants for your child: a long, happy, and healthy life. So consider whether it’s time to let them get dirty and have a blast. And don’t just watch them have fun, join them! You could find it has some positive effects on your own life. If you’re looking for suggestions on how to get your children outside more checkout suggestions from The Children and Nature Network.


IMAGE: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

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