Tag: Winter

Stretching the Season: 4 Season Gardening Workshop @ Raleigh City Farm

Stretching the Season: 4 Season Gardening Workshop@ Raleigh City Farm | Saturday, September 10, 9-11 AM


Reserve your spot here for a place in our Stretching the Season: 4 Season Vegetable Gardening Workshop at Raleigh City Farm!

Saturday, September 10, 9-11 AM
800 S Blount St.

Stretch the harvest and get the most out of your garden by growing in all four seasons!  Learn lessons from a time in history when stretching the harvest was critical – WWII victory gardens.  Go home with everything you need to know to grow for fall and into winter AND with a free September planting guide and container garden to get you started.

Reserve your spot here!

Be sure to check out the Raleigh City Farm Stand (open 9-12) before you go!

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Monthly Planting Guide: March in the Piedmont

March is an exciting time for the garden as we transition from winter into spring!  As our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series continues until the first day of spring, see how much you can actually get planted even while it’s still winter!



Did you catch our February Planting Guide?

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Peel, pith, and pips! Piedmont Picnic talks marmalade

The count is neither sad nor sick nor cheerful nor well—

he’s just civil, as Seville as an orange,

with the same jealous-yellow complexion.

-Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing

This week, our citrus peels continue on their wheel of reincarnation, being made into one of the stars of citrus peel confectionery delights:  marmalade.  While reading extensively about marmalade of late, I must say the “jam porn” (as I like to call it) is taken to a whole new level as authors talk about the shining, citrusy, decadent, classic, perfect balance of bitter, sweet, and sour that is marmalade.  It brings out the anglophile in all of us, I think.

Our marmalade can be made with fresh citrus, saved peels (from fruit that has already been juiced or eaten), or from your peels after they’ve been soaked to infuse alcohol, such as in our Tale of Two Vins post.  Marmalade is a great addition to our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series, using up every last bit of your citrus.  As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, we are attempting to place ourselves in the mindset of a time when citrus would have been such a special commodity that we would have tried to hold on to every last bit of its flavor for as long as possible, seeing the peel as a valuable resource rather than a waste product.  Marmalade not only makes use of the peel, but showcases it.



Many of us probably associated marmalade with the British – as something you have on your crumpets with your tea.  Enough British stereotypes yet?  Throw in a “Cheerio!” for good measure.

Today we think of marmalade as referring exclusively to citrus jam – a sweet, tart, and slightly bitter combination of jellied citrus juice and tender peel.  The word marmalade comes from the Portuguese word marmelada, for quince jam.  Yet Seville oranges came to be known as the quintessential marmalade fruit.

Advert for 'Nell Gwyn' Marmalade, 1943.

American canning books will often differentiate between “quick” and “traditional” marmalade.  Quick marmalade has added pectin.  However, I prefer the long method, as the citrus peel is chock-full of pectin, making added pectin unnecessary if you are willing to take a little more time.  This utilizes an existing resource while saving you a little money and using fewer processed additives.


The peels.  As mentioned above, you can use fresh citrus, with all of the pulp and juice intact.  However we are using peels from citrus that has already had the flesh eaten or juiced (and then possibly soaked in alcohol).  If using juiced citrus, I leave the remaining pulp attached.  You can make a one-fruit marmalade out of any one citrus peel type, or mix and match.  Note that the classic Seville oranges are higher in pectin than much of the citrus we commonly use, and that freezing the peels can reduce pectin content.  This may mean you’ll need to cook your marmalade down further to get the consistency you are looking for without adding pectin.


The pips.  Many people recommend saving the pips, or seeds, from the fruit to soak or boil in a muslin bag to release further pectin.  However, many sources say that most of the pectin is really in the peels and pith, and the seeds don’t much matter.  I find with our more common citrus fruits, there are too few seeds to bother with, contrary to Seville oranges which are full of seeds.

The liquid.  For the liquid that makes the gelled portion of your marmalade, you can use water or citrus juice.  Alternatively, you can use wine, leftover cocktail or punch (whatever that is), or a combination of these things.  Note the significant color difference in the two jars in the picture at the top – one made with wine and the other with water.

Additional flavors.  Classic marmalade often does not include any added flavors, but rather, lets the taste of the citrus shine.  I am a big fan of the classics, but if you have a lot of peels, some variation is nice too.  Add fall spices to a marmalade of orange and red wine.  Add lots of fresh ginger to a classic orange marmalade to spice it up.  Add rosemary and peppercorns to grapefruit marmalade to mimic the flavors in our Vin d’ Pamplemousse.  Throw in a 1/4 cup of bourbon right before canning.  This is where there is some room for experimentation.


1 1/4 lbs citrus fruit/peels, quartered, seeded, and sliced very thinly

Liquid, enough to cover peels by about 1 inch (water, juice, wine, or a combination)

2 1/2 lbs sugar

2 lemons, juiced

Optional spices

Grease the bottom of a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (large enough that all contents do not come more than halfway up the side) with butter or oil.  This will help prevent scorching later.

Combine citrus fruit/peels and enough liquid to cover them in your large saucepan.  At this point, I like to cook the peels covered until they are soft (as long as 1-2 hours) and then let them sit in the liquid overnight to release more of the pectin.  But you can also just cook them covered until they are your desired softness, and then move on.


Note:  Test a peel’s softness by eating one.  If it is not to the softness you would desire it to be on your morning toast at this point, cook or allow to soak longer until it is.  The peels will NOT continue to soften once the sugar is added.

Optional: At this point, if you want to be extra sure of your ratio, you can strain the peels from the liquid and measure how much liquid you have.  You want to have an equal weight of liquid as you had peels when you started (so 1 1/4 lbs).  If you have less than this, add liquid; if you have more, cook the liquid down further.


Add any spices you wish at this stage.  For whole spices that you want removed before eating, place in a tied-up bag of cheese cloth to be easily removed later.

Warm the mixture over medium-high heat.


Stir in sugar and lemon juice before contents come to a boil.  The sugar will not dissolve as well if you add it to boiling liquid.

Bring mixture to a hard boil.   Sources disagree on whether you should stir or not during this stage, some saying not at all, others saying occasionally, still others saying constantly.  All have risks.  Stirring a pot of boiling marmalade sometimes seems it should require a welding mask due to the risk of popping, splattering hot sugar.  Yet, I have also had to chisel a scorched layer of jam off one too many pots to trust not stirring at all.  I’ll let you decide.

Begin testing the marmalade for thickness once it starts looking shiny and syrupy.  You need to chill a dollop to see what the consistency will look like once the marmalade has cooled.  I prefer to use the cold saucer “gel stage” test rather than looking for a specific temperature.  Furthermore, I like my marmalade to be about the consistency of thick syrup rather than “crinkle” when I do the saucer test.  I find taking the marmalade all the way to the “gel stage” is difficult with lower-pectin peels and puts you at a high risk of scorching.  It seems to still firm up nicely after cooling in the jars.

Allow to sit for 10 minutes once marmalade has reached the gel stage.  This allows it to thicken slightly, which means the peels will stay suspended in the liquid when you stir it, rather than all fall to the bottom.  This give you even peel suspension in your final jarred product.

You may notice foam on top.  You can either scoop any foam that has appeared on top off with a spoon, or simply stir it back in after the cooling period.  It’s just bubbles, so it won’t hurt anything.

Ladle the marmalade into clean jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace at the top of the jar.  If you want to store jars in the refrigerator, you can just put lids on and allow to cool before refrigerating.  If you plan to can the jars for long-term storage, see our instructions on water bath canning, and process at a boil for 10 minutes.


Enjoy your marmalade for months to come on toast (or crumpets)… on or in sponge or pound cake…. added to marinades, barbecue or stir fry sauces…  or smothered over pork or chicken.  If you eat (and drink!) as much citrus as I do all winter, you’ll certainly have the peels to make enough to last till next winter!


Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook

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Wild Winter Teas: aka Scurvy Prevention Strategy

I can’t seem to get enough hot liquid during the winter.  Whether it’s coffee, tea, or cider, I seem to have a hot mug of something in my hands at all times.  This may be in part due to our extreme energy-saving heat regimen at my house or maybe just the enjoyment of looking out into the cold day while sipping something warm and feeling it warm you through.

Of course, there are many herbs you can dry during the spring and summer months to be used as tea when winter comes, but there are also still things you could harvest now in the wild to be brewed into tea.  These winter treasures fall neatly into our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.  Many of these wild things are also high in vitamin C, something that can be hard to come by locally in winter months.  The three winter teas below are all excellent sources of vitamin C and can add color to an otherwise dreary cup!  Drink them down to prevent scurvy or just to have a tasty, wintry treat!

Wild Rose Hips

Description and Habitat:  Rose Hips, the fruit of the rose plant, are often still on the plant throughout the winter.  Look for a thorny bramble, with a few leaves still attached holding on to a round, red berry or hip.  The rose hip will have a brown, leaf-like, five-part calyx at the top (see picture below).  The leaves of the plant will much resemble your garden rose variety.  The plants can be found along roadsides, at field or waterway edges, or along greenways (as this one was).  Of course, you can also collect hips from your garden roses if they have them (some hybrid varieties these days do not).

Wild Rose

Harvest:  Rose hips are available from summer through late winter.  Harvest is easy here!  Just pull or cut the hip off the end of the stem.  You can then dry them or use them fresh.

Rose Hip

Flavor and Use:  Rose hips are very tart.  The longer they are on the plant, the softer and less tart they will be.  This tartness is a good indicator of their vitamin C content.  They can be used to make candies, syrups, jellies, or teas.  See below for a full description of making tea from all three of our wild winter edibles.

Pine Needles

Description and Habitat:  Several long-needled pine trees are common to our area, including Loblolly, White, Virginia, and Longleaf.  These are each cone-bearing evergreens very similar in appearance, starting as a small sapling like the one pictured below, growing into huge, towering trees.  Smaller trees are preferable, as they are easier to reach.  😉  Look for clusters of long, green needles and a pine scent.  They grow in forests, along roadsides, and along greenways in our area (as well as in people’s yards).

White Pine Growing

Harvest:   The lighter green needles at the tips that come out in early spring are preferable to the darker ones, but both will work just fine for tea.  Cut or break off the tips.  At this point you can dry them or use fresh.

Flavor and Use:  Pine needles taste much the same way they smell…  that fresh pine scent.  They are also high in vitamins A and C.  There are many uses for various parts of the pine tree, but the primary use for the needles is to infuse their flavor in other things.  Our post today is on making teas (see below), but they could also be infused in spirits or used in beer brewing.  They could be used to smoke fish or meat.  Get creative with them for anything you want that piney flavor!

White Pine Needles

Staghorn Sumac

Description and Habitat:  Staghorn Sumac can often be seen growing along roadsides and is also found at field edges and along greenways.  The silhouette is rather distinctive in the winter, as you can see below, because each of its branches is tipped with a clump of berries.  The berries are reddish in color and furry.  These berry clumps can be found from late summer, through the end of winter.  They will have more flavor earlier in the season before much of it gets washed out by rain, but even now, they will still brew a tasty, yet weaker, tea.  Staghorn Sumac Silhouette

WARNING: You may have heard of Staghorn Sumac’s less-desirable cousin, Poison Sumac.  Poison Sumac will give you an extreme version of what poison ivy can do to you if you come into contact with it.  Luckily, the berries of the two look nothing alike, with poison sumac berries being white and smooth-skinned (very unlike the red, furry ones pictured below).

Harvest:  The entire cluster of berries can be snapped off the end of the branch and either used immediately or dried and stored.  You can see the cluster below has been through a long winter, as much of the red color has already been washed out of it.  Earlier in the season, the entire berry cluster would be red.

Staghorn Sumac

Flavor and Use:  Staghorn Sumac is most often brewed into a tea and drunk hot or cold.  It has a very tart flavor and a red color, so it is often used to make “wild pink lemonade” with no lemons needed.  This tartness is an indicator of its high vitamin C content.  This liquid could also be made into a syrup concentrate or jelly.  Some people also crush the dried berries and use as a seasoning.  See tea brewing instructions below.

Brewing Tea for All Three

We’re using photos of the Staghorn Sumac for this (because, let’s be honest, it looks the coolest), but these instructions apply to any of the three wild edibles above.

Tear apart or crush the plant roughly and place wild herb in a heat-safe jar or mug.

Staghorn Sumac Jar

Bring a kettle of water to the point of steaming, but not boiling.

Pour contents over wild herb.  If you like a stronger-tasting tea, pour less; a weaker tea, pour more.  Cover and allow to steep about 3-5 minutes.  A longer steep may result in a slightly stronger, but also often more bitter flavor.

Staghorn Sumac Steep

Strain the tea through a fine-mesh strainer (a very fine mesh is particularly important with the Staghorn Sumac, to remove its tiny hairs).

Staghorn Sumac Strained

Staghorn Sumac Strainer

Feel free to sweeten to your liking with honey at this point, and enjoy hot this winter, or cold this coming summer!

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: This is a good point to stress that (although this plant is very easy to identify) you should NOT eat any plant before you have positively identified it with a good plant guide (we recommend A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides)).  The first time you eat it, it is best to only have a small amount so that you can be sure you do not have any adverse effects from it (which is probably a good idea with any food you are trying for the first time, even off a grocery store shelf!).

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In Honor of our Founding Fathers: A New Spin on the French 75

Drink this new twist on an old favorite tonight for Presidents’ Day in honor of one of our founding fathers, James Madison, who said of champagne:

“was the most delightful wine when drank in moderation, but more than a few glasses always produced a headache the next day.”


Use a candied citrus peel instead of the classic sugar cube if you were following along with our candied peels recipe post earlier this month.   Some candied ginger would also be delicious in this!

New French 75

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Candied Citrus Peel: Vin Reincarnated

Candied citrus peel is another tasty and relatively easy way to use up a “trash food” that is still full of flavor, and that is why we’re featuring this yummy confection in our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.  Again, if we think back to a time when citrus would have been harder to get your hands on and therefore a very special treat when you had it…  then it makes sense to use every bit!  And the best way to make a special treat even more special is to turn it into the candied jewels below.  Better yet, if you followed along with our Tale of Two Vins post, you can put your peels from that to work, yet again, reincarnating them into their third life!

Candied Peel _ Drying

The recipe below will work for virgin citrus peels, but it is even better with the ones that have been sitting in and absorbing that sweet, boozy slurry for a few weeks.  Much of the bitterness will have already left them, and they’ll have picked up other flavors.  Added Bonus: you don’t have to “waste” the alcohol they absorbed by just tossing them in the compost because it will all be part of the finished product here.

You can do this recipe with peels from any citrus fruit, but it is particularly tasty with the thicker peels of oranges and grapefruit (my personal favorite).

Candied Citrus Peel

citrus peels (soaked or unsoaked previously in booze, with or without pulp attached)



superfine sugar

Slice the peels into thin strips or “smiley faces” roughly 1/4-1/2-inch wide.  If you prefer a thinner or less-bitter peel, you can scrape out some of the white pith at this stage.  I generally like a meatier, slightly bitter candied peel, so I don’t scrape out much of the white pith.  Particularly if you are using peels that have been previously used to  infuse alcohol, much of that bitterness will already be gone anyway.

Place peels in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.

If you are using virgin peels (not pre-soaked in alcohol), cover peels with water and bring to a low simmer for about 5 minutes.  Dump off water, and repeat until the bitterness is reduced to a palatable level for you when you taste a peel.  Then proceed to the next step.  If you are using peels that have already been soaked in alcohol, you can skip this entire pre-boiling step.

Fill sauce pan with water until peels are covered about one inch, measuring how much water you add.  Then add an equal amount of sugar (i.e., if you needed 4 cups of water to cover the peels, add 4 cups of sugar for a 1:1 ratio).

Bring to a very low simmer, and continue to simmer until peels are translucent.  If at any point the syrup becomes too thick or caramelizes to be darker than the color of straw, add water.  This will take about an hour.  To test if peel is done, remove one, allow it to cool, and see if you can bite through it easily.  You will notice a visible change in the appearance of the peels and liquid when they are ready, with both becoming very glossy.


Remove the peels from the syrup and allow to dry on a wire rack overnight or until no longer sticky.  Look at these fatties below – this is why I leave my pith in for maximum absorption potential.  Be sure to put a pan or wax paper under the rack, or you will have some tough-to-clean counters!


TIP: Reserve the syrup for later use as a citrus-flavored simple syrup.

Citrus Syrup

The next day, toss the peels in superfine sugar until coated.  Some sources recommend to even let the peels sit in the sugar overnight or even indefinitely to dry out further and allow any remaining gooeyness to fully absorb the sugar.  If you plan to store them more long-term, this may be a good idea.  As a bonus, it will give you some citrus-scented sugar to use in the future.  If you plan to store them directly in your belly, this is less necessary.


Store in an air-tight container in the pantry.  Peels will keep indefinitely if allowed to dry properly (but they may mold if not completely dry before storing).  If in doubt, eat within a couple of weeks or store in the refrigerator.


Now that you have them, how can you use them?

  • Dip one end of the peels in chocolate and serve with coffee or dessert.
  • Give a box of them as a gift.
  • Mince peels and add to fruit pies, pound cake, shortbread cookies, or ice cream.
  • Use as a garnish on almost anything, especially citrus cocktails, like the one at the end of this post or the one here Throw in some of that leftover citrus syrup as a bonus!
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Reinventing Citrus: A Tale of Two Vins

Stop!  Don’t throw that citrus peel in the trash!  No, not even in the compost.  It still has so many lives left to live…


As you may have noticed from the low prices at the grocery store or the band boosters selling cases of them, citrus fruits are in season now.  By “in season,” we unfortunately don’t mean that they are growing locally here in North Carolina, but rather that this is the time when citrus fruits ripen in our southern neighbor-state, Florida, and therefore are available in fresh abundance here!  Normally, this local-food-obsessed lady tries to stick to local fruits, even in the winter – pulling my peaches out of my freezer, jams out of my pantry, or stockpiling farmers’ market apples in the fridge…  But, if I’m being honest, citrus is a non-local downfall of mine.  I LOVE citrus.  Especially in the dreary days of winter.  Grapefruit cocktails, lemon poppy seed cake, salsa with extra lime.  These are a few of my favorite things!  Ok, coming back down to earth now.

I’ve tried local substitutions, like gathering local-growing bitter oranges to add to our hot cider or making our lovely Wood Sorrel Lemonade featured this summer.  But even with how delicious that “lemon”ade is, I can’t help but think, this would be even better with a squeeze of lemon!

So, along with chocolate and coffee, citrus is one of those things I have surrendered to allowing in my usually mostly-local kitchen.  Yet, I try not to truly gorge on citrus until this time of year.  The time of year when it is at least regionally in season and when it tastes its very best.  This just so happens to also be the time it is at its cheapest and most abundant, making it part of our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.

Even so, I can’t help feeling like throwing away even one bit of that citrus fruit is a waste, particularly that fragrant, brightly colored peel!  To remedy this, I decided to look back at times past…  What did people do when citrus fruits really were a special luxury – special enough to give and receive excitedly as Christmas gifts?  They would never have just thrown away that fragrant, beautiful peel, right?

As I looked into it further, I found a wealth of uses for that peel!  Household cleaners, flavored salts, flavored sugars, candied peel, marmalade, homemade pectin, and finally…  citrus-infused liqueurs.

Today I am sharing one of my favorite ways to reinvent citrus peels – citrus-infused fortified wines.  Just toss those peels in the refrigerator or freezer until you have enough for this recipe.  This is also only the second life of at least one more use, which I’ll get to in future posts.

And so you have, a Tale of Two Vins

These two fortified citrus-infused wines are based off of similar French aperitif traditions you find in the stores such as Lillet blanc.  You can use “empty” peels or those with the pulp still attached (of which I have many from juicing them for cocktails).  The spices and sweeteners can be interchanged or played with to your liking.  They take a lot of resting time, but not much time to prepare, and they’ll keep indefinitely once complete.  Infusing a fruit’s flavor in alcohol is one great way to hold onto it for months to come!


Vin d’ Orangeorange peels (with or without pulp inside)

peels of 2 lemons

15-18 peppercorns

6-9 bay leaves

1/2 vanilla bean, cut in quarters

6 Tbsp honey

2 bottles white wine

1/2 one fifth of vodka

1/2 c to 1 c bourbon

Vin d’ Pamplemoussegrapefruit peels (with or without pulp inside)

peels of two lemons

15-18 peppercorns

3 rosemary sprigs

1/2 vanilla bean, cut in quarters

6 Tbsp sugar

2 bottles white wine

1/2 one fifth of vodka

1/2 c to 1 c brandy

Wash a large glass container with a wide mouth with hot soapy water.

Slice peels in “smiley faces” and then in half again so each slice is about 1/8 of a peel.


Layer peels to fill the container approximately 1/4 of the way full.

Add 1/3 of each of your herbs/spices, vanilla, and sweetener.


Alternate peels one quarter of the container at a time with the added spices and sweetener until the container is full.


Pour over liquors and two bottles of wine until peels are entirely covered.  Save any extra wine.


Let sit for at least 4 weeks (or as many as 8) in a cool, dark place, shaking occasionally.  If liquid level decreases (from being absorbed in peels), top off with reserved wine until all peels are completely covered.


Strain out the peels and spices when the 4 weeks is through.  Set peels aside for a future project.  Decant vin into clean glass bottles, labeled with the contents and date.  At this point you can drink immediately, or let it sit again for another 2 weeks or so to improve flavor even further.

Serve straight as an aperitif over ice with a twist of lemon or use in cocktails, like the deliciously fresh one below.

Citrus Shaker Cocktail

1.5 oz Vin d’ Orange

1.5 oz Bourbon

juice of 1 orange

3 splashes bitters


Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker.

Shake until contents are ice cold and well mixed.

Pour strained into a martini glass.

Garnish with a curl of orange zest.

Don’t forget to throw that juiced orange peel in the freezer for your next batch of vin d’ orange!  And there you have the closed-loop cocktail.

UPDATE:  This year’s Vins are complete, and delicious!  Here they are…

Vin d' Orange Vin d' Pamplemousse


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Winter Gardening: A great time for lasagna

For those who garden or want to garden, winter can seem like a stagnant time when one cuddles up inside and dreams about spring.  Yet, there are lots of ways to grow things in winter or to prepare your garden for spring, even now!  Starting a lasagna garden bed is one of those ways…  You can start one at any time of the year, but winter can actually be one of the best times!  This makes it a great topic for our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series.

What is Lasagna Gardening?  

  • Similar to no-till, no-dig, sheet mulching, forest gardening (permaculture)
  • Rather than dig a vegetable bed, you simply layer organic materials over your existing lawn/weeds to kill the grass and decompose into nutrient-rich garden soil.

Why Lasagna Garden?  

  • It’s easy.  No digging and no weeding!  Avoid two of the most laborious and tedious parts of gardening.
  • It uses up waste materials.  You can use your kitchen scraps, yard waste, old cardboard and newspapers…  even pick up waste from local coffee shops or breweries!
  • It’s cheap.  If you take the time to collect various organic waste materials from your kitchen, yard, or around town, you can do this for free!  If you are in a hurry, you can spend a little money on store-bought materials to speed things along.
  • It’s sustainable.  You use up organic waste materials that might have ended up in the landfill, while reducing soil erosion and nutrient loss, and start growing hyper-local food!
  • It’s scalable.  Use whatever you have when you have it and layer as you go!  No need to run out and buy large quantities of organic materials all at once.  Use it on any size bed!

How do I start a Lasagna Garden?  

Join us for a FREE DEMO this Saturday, January 16th at 2 PM as Piedmont Picnic’s co-founder, Elizabeth, acts as a guinea pig for learning about and building an lasagna garden!  Find details HERE.  

LasagnaAdvertNot able to make it this weekend but still want to learn more?  

See our CLASSES page for information on how YOU can host your own Lasagna Gardening Workshop for you and your friends!  

UPDATE:  See how it all turned out here!


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