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52 Weeks Fresh: Preparing the Garden (While Watching Television)

I love to eat (and I eat a lot).  More than 20 years of gardening have shown me how to grow amazing, delicious, healthful food at a fraction of market prices — and how to preserve the surplus to use all year long.

My garden in Bedford, N.Y., (about an hour north of midtown Manhattan) isn’t huge — about 3,000 square feet (pictured below) — but it provides abundant sustenance year-round. Over the course of this growing season, I’ll share what’s popping up, provide recipes, and come up with gardening tips and ideas. Curious about quinoa? Come along. Interested in dry beans? Those are growing too. Herbs for tea? I’ll also cover those.

At the end of each post, I’ll include a produce report to update you on what’s going into the ground, as well as thoughts on what you can harvest now.

Let’s get started.


First up: my trick to cheap and easy potting. I hate to waste anything, which is good, because frugality serves a gardener well. Instead of buying pots for starting seeds indoors, I make my own out of old newspapers. It’s an easy project — I do it while watching my favorite TV shows, and in just two hourlong episodes I can make more than100 pots using simply a few weeks of discarded Sunday papers.

The bonus is that the entire pot goes into the ground, which eliminates any root disturbance and planting shock — and it makes planting easy. The newspaper will eventually break down as compost (it’s just wood and soy ink), allowing roots to break through.

To make a pot, take a typical broadsheet newspaper page and cut three strips lengthwise. Then, roll the strip around a can (preferably a full can, as its weight will help the process). Once the paper is rolled around itself, fold the bottom edges like a pinwheel over the can edge. The top edge can be folded over itself about a quarter inch. Don’t worry if the resulting pots appear imperfect. Once situated together in a tray, filled with soil and watered, they become stable. The pots are great for tomatoes and other kinds of plants.

PRODUCE REPORT: Tomato plants out at the end of the month. Air and soil temperatures in the northeast are mild enough now for planting young tomatoes.

EAT WITH THE SEASON: Make a spring salad with dandelion greens and spinach, topped with a sliced hard-boiled egg and vinaigrette dressing!

Self-taught gardener Michael Blakeney enjoys his Bedford, N.Y., garden all year: working in it, watching it grow and eating it through every season.  A visual artist and arts educator, Mike has been gardening for 25 years. You can find him at


Comments (51)

  1. sandra broas sirchia posted 05/16/2014

    Wow, how lucky for the readers to be able to learn from Michael. He's the real deal that's for sure. I was fortunate enough to have a tour one day of his glorious gardens and the information was as bountiful as his harvests. He makes you want to be a gardener/better gardener and live a more eco friendly life. Excited about this blog!!

  2. NY Rangers Fan posted 05/16/2014

    I love these newspaper pots. It keeps it so simple.
    I can't wait to see what's next!

  3. Jenn posted 05/16/2014

    Can't wait to try the spring salad! Michael always has good food ideas.

  4. linus posted 05/16/2014

    Love the newspaper pots! I used to save my recycled cardboard inserts from 'beer of the month' club (think over-sized cardboard egg cartons) but they were much thicker and took so long to break down.

  5. PJS posted 05/16/2014

    What a terrific blog, Michael!

  6. Wanna Be Gardener posted 05/16/2014

    Love the homemade pots! Would love to hear about herb gardening. Thanks, Michael for sharing your wisdom!

  7. Di. posted 05/16/2014

    Love the pots! Takes care of recycling at the same time. I wish I got some of those dandelion greens before they got sprayed..

  8. Elyse posted 05/16/2014

    I'm going to learn so much from you, Michael!

  9. Jacqueline Lucchese posted 05/16/2014

    Fantastic!!! As I like to say about Michael, "Martha Stewart is reading the book that he wrote" He is a genius and works with such passion in his gardens and cooking. The entire property outside is a beautiful treat. Everything from the hand woven outdoor shower curtain made from colorful plastic ties, (used to tie bails of hay on a friend's farm) to the stone fire pit he built by hand and the cozy and comfortable outdoor rooms with climbing vines for privacy. Oh! I could go on and on………………watch this space!!!

  10. Cristin Tierney posted 05/16/2014

    Fantastic, Michael! I cannot wait to read your next post!!

  11. Matt posted 05/16/2014

    We love the newspaper pots and can't wait to get the kids involved with making them. My kids love getting dirty and this sounds right up their alley.

  12. Don Denne posted 05/16/2014

    What an AWESOME and useful blog for gardeners everywhere! Looking at this amazing space has me energized to deal with the dead space in my yard just screaming to be cultivated.
    Michael is always coming up with new and creative ideas – not just projects, projects that produce results – like FOOD. those paper pots are GENIUS!

  13. garden newbie posted 05/16/2014

    those are some killer looking tomatoes!! how did you get them to be so healthy? how old are they?

    • Michael posted 05/28/2014

      I planted the seeds on March 26th in a very light soil mix so the roots would have an easy time growing. Then, I watered them daily (but not heavily).

  14. Kathy posted 05/17/2014

    Love this blog! It is great to hear how others put their gardens together. What a good idea to use old newspapers to make pots. Although I love the trees on my property I can't grow vegetables due to the overabundance of shade. It is nice to see what others can grow. Keep up the blog!

  15. Casey Car posted 05/17/2014

    Great idea to recycle the old newspapers! This is very inspiring! Can't wait to see what's next.

  16. Carter posted 05/17/2014

    Is there a way I can sign up to receive emails when there is a new post?

  17. orly posted 05/17/2014

    this is terrific! Would love to receive emails as well!

  18. Bonnie posted 05/17/2014

    Wow! I have had a vegetable for years but can already tell that I have a lot to learn. This blog is great even for the experienced gardener. The pots are so creative. Can't wait to see what's next.

  19. Tania posted 05/17/2014

    Any gardening while watching tv is music to my ears! The paper planting pots are an inspired idea. I can't wait to read your future blogs. Looking forward to some gardening and cocktail recommendations!

  20. MIchael posted 05/17/2014

    Love the newspaper idea. It's an easy one for the kids to do too. Very clever.

  21. Linda posted 05/17/2014

    Thank you Michael for starting this gardening blog for those of us who want to get our hands in the warm earth and share time with Mother Nature. As an old garden club girl I was so pleased to see you bring back the newspaper pots and not those ugly plastic grow containers that need to be washed and disinfected from seasonal use…let alone trying to find a storage area to keep them stacked! I have visited this beautiful and bountiful garden of Michael's when it was featured on the garden tour. I was gobsmacked with all that he is able to grow in one season. He is a true gardening master. I can't wait to read more from his blog and get my petite garden going with his help.

  22. Susan GT posted 05/17/2014

    Michael, This is fantastic! I will be following religiously since I know the depth of enthusiasm and knowledge you will bring to this blog that will prop me up when a myriad of enticing topics try to draw me away from what I love most and derive so much satisfaction….gardening fresh vegetables and then preparing and cooking them!!! I am most excited because I know I can now rely on your professorial brain to bring a wealth of knowledge to me in easily digestible pieces – I believe you are about to do for me what I just wish I had time to do for myself. I cannot thank you enough. I just need you to do the same for the PNW and Shanghai now.

  23. LAE posted 05/17/2014

    Love this approach and great tone! I could use a diagram (or video) for things like the cool foldy pot project ( genius idea btw ; )

  24. Michelle S. posted 05/17/2014

    Great idea on the pots especially when we get back into out condo. Not too much room for those ugly pots. Can't wait for next weeks blog. Sending this to my Brother in FL. He's gonna love it :)

  25. David posted 05/18/2014

    Cool gardens. I like all the different spaces. Looks like you have raised mounds and containers. My normal focus is on flavors and seeing veggies in full form, so its really nice to see the tomato seedlings at this early stage with leaves and roots trailing outside the paper containers. Curious to see more plants and growing tips.

  26. Doris posted 05/18/2014

    Lessons on creativity, environmental responsibility and good eating – thank you, Michael.

  27. Daryl posted 05/18/2014

    The paper pots are a real winner!

  28. Doug DeCandia posted 05/19/2014

    If more of us learn how to do this, and more for ourselves, we will always be well.
    Thank you, Michael, for reminding us how easy, and fun and fulfilling, the simple ways can be.

  29. Bobbi posted 05/19/2014

    Wow! Love reading about every step and seeing the cool containers. Evertything will vbe so fresh and healthy! Thanks Michael!

  30. dianehatz posted 05/19/2014

    What a great idea for pots! Can't wait to see your garden grow!

  31. Will posted 05/19/2014

    I'm so excited about this series! Eager to follow week-by-week. I love how it contains gardening,sustainability, cooking, and appreciation of the seasons and the world around us.

  32. FigTree posted 05/19/2014

    I'm a beginner gardener and I've been searching for this exact kind of information. I've been wanting to start a garden for years but have been too afraid as it takes so much work (at least I thought so). This is helpful, practical advice. I love the idea of reusing/recycling materials for the garden. Very helpful. I'm going to get my newspapers and begin rolling. I'm located in the northeast and have a climate that is similar but find this helpful in general. Will forward to my sister in North Carolina. Can't wait for the nest post.

  33. Liana posted 05/19/2014

    What a smart idea! I loved reading this post. Can't wait for more!

  34. Betsy posted 05/19/2014

    Looking forward to more posts! It's so refreshing to read about someone doing something they love with such sincere passion.

  35. Dean Silverman posted 05/20/2014

    So happy for you mike! this looks like a great way to kick off summer cocktail season with fresh herbs and simple small plates to complement.

  36. Michael Weinberg posted 05/20/2014

    I have sent this post to everyone that I know who has a garden. The newspaper pots are such a great method!!! Can't wait for more posts…

  37. Modelhands13 posted 05/20/2014

    What great ideas! Thanks, Michael. Easy enough for us non-gardeners to follow! Can't wait to read the next one!

  38. Meredith Riley posted 05/20/2014

    These are really cool gardening tricks that I probably wouldn't of learned without reading the article. At My7Lives we have been working to connect locals who have special knowledge, like gardening, with travelers who share the same interests. You could sell your experience for a small profit, and travelers will have a more fulfilling trip!! Check us out and tell us what you can offer!!

  39. darrell lorentzen posted 05/20/2014

    What a great blog. I love the newspaper pots and they make so much sense. . What's next, Michael?? Can't wait to see what other ideas you have.

  40. Patty B posted 05/21/2014

    This looks wonderful Michael and positively inspirational ! I have seen your amazing garden first hand and know the love, effort and experience that goes into it. I will look forward to this blog every week and happily share your gardening and cooking wisdom.

  41. Jenny posted 05/21/2014

    The newspaper pots just solved a huge problem for me! I am curious though…how does one know which newspapers to use in regards to the soy ink?

    • Michael posted 05/28/2014

      With today's printing methods and regulations, all newsprint should be safe for compost and mulch (which the paper pots become once planted). However, I suggest checking out your local newspaper's website or calling just to confirm.

  42. linda & victor posted 05/22/2014

    finally!!! everyone can now take in your wonderful garden and tips!! everytime i see michael's garden it is more wonderful then the last time. he had me smell fragrant chamomille, for homemade tea of course, to some senses blowing lemon balm. i couldn't smell that enough. i love the newspaper pots. eco friendly and so easy. i look forward to 52 weeks of amazing tips. michael you are a true inspiration!!

  43. Chris Burdick posted 05/23/2014

    What an incredible job these folks have done. It's a wonderful example of what can be accomplished in a relatively small space with imagination and spirit!

  44. Susan posted 05/24/2014

    Michael's blog combines his many talents: teaching, gardening, "making" and love of all things "food." And we're the lucky recipients…hurray!

  45. katethecook posted 05/28/2014

    Excellent post! Can't wait to see what else he grows in his garden and learn some new tips and tricks to improve my green thumb.

  46. Jayni Chase posted 06/10/2014

    This blog is SO inspiring! I've been half-heartedly tending my veggie garden the last few years but after reading this I'm excited to get out there and get more creative!

  47. Aaron posted 06/19/2014

    Creative gardening without fussiness…love it, and THANK you!

    More, please!

  48. Tom posted 06/19/2014

    Love the newspaper pots! So simple and smart! Look forward to more inspiration as you share throughout the year.

  49. Frances Genovese posted 07/05/2014

    Micahel's garden looks like heaven to me, esp. as he has made it deer proof. He is an endless source of ideas and enthusiasm. More Michael!!

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