Saturday, November 22, 2014

Crop rotation made easy for small gardens



Saturday, November 22, 2014

Smart rotating of your vegetables can break the pest and disease cycle while at the same time utilizing the nutrients that the previous season’s vegetables left behind.  Studies have shown that your harvest increases by 10-25%.

Most have heard that crop rotation is important for your vegetables.  This is for a variety of reasons.  Many pests are specific to a vegetable type so when they overwinter and come up hungry, their favorite meal is no where to be found.  Different vegetables take different nutrients out of the ground while others give back nutrients.  Diseases are also many times specific to certain vegetables.

The traditional crop rotations I have seen had your crops divided into 8 groups.  For small gardens, this is unmanageable; just too complicated for the space.  Recently, I have read about crop rotations on a simpler scale that make a lot of sense.  

Divide your garden, or pots, into these 4 groups:
Group 1-Legumes (beans and peas).  The soil builders are beans and peas because of the nitrogen they add to the soil. 
Group 2-Leaf Plants-the ones you eat the leaves of like lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.  These need high amounts of nitrogen.
Group 3-Fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, squash, potatoes (part of the tomato family) and cucumbers.  These need high amounts of phosphorous for fruiting.
Group 4-Root plants like garlic, onions, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, sweet potatoes.  They are great for loosening the soil. These need high amounts of potassium.

By keeping the groups together, you can boost nutrient addition to the soil that each group needs without negatively affecting the production of the others.  For instance, the leafy group needs lots of nitrogen, but if you give large amounts of nitrogen to the fruiting plants, they will produce lots of greenery and no fruit.

Mark down on a piece of paper where you planted each group.  Next year, just rotate them around with Group 2 going into Group 1’s spot, Group 3 going into Group 2’s spot, etc.  Just keep moving them in that order each year and write it down each year so you don’t forget!

This applies to your pots as well.  Make sure you rotate the vegetable you put in each of your pots.  I keep my vegetable marker in my pots from the previous year so in the spring, I know exactly what I grew in the pot the previous year.

Don’t worry if you can’t keep them all exactly in these 4 groups.  Just make sure you don’t have the same type of plant going into the same spot or pot every year.  Interplant with companion plants to keep each strong if you don’t have the space to do full blown crop rotation.


Just add your other veggies in with one of the other groups to balance out the area each uses in the garden so you can just move the whole group from one section of the garden to the next easily.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

Hummus rich garden soil

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ever wonder why we need added vitamins and minerals beyond what we get through our food?  Over the decades, the food we eat has gone down in nutritional value as the soil has gone down in fertility.  Truly, we are what we eat.  The nutritional value of what we grow is part the type of vegetable it is and a whole lot of what the plant is “fed” from the soil in which it grows.

It really all starts with the soil.  Plants grow to the lowest constraint.  Like people, plants need a balanced diet with beneficial microbes, minerals and nutrition.  

Saying all a vibrant, robust vegetable plant needs is NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) is like saying all a person needs is carbs, fat, and protein.  Those things are needed to survive, but you need much more to thrive.  Life is much more complex than three compounds!

When we think of the bouquet of the vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy, where do we think this comes from?  We can’t get it from osmosis!  We have to get these from what we consume.

I read a book recently by Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer called “The Intelligent Gardener; Growing Nutrient-Dense Food” that does a nice job of giving all the details about how minerals affect the tilth of the soil and the ability of the soil to support healthy, robust plants.  Steve is the guy that founded Territorial Seed Company.  

The minerals and nutrients we should be concerned about are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), sodium (Na), phosphorous (P), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), boron (B), Zinc (Zn), cobalt (Co), selenium (Se), silicon (Si) and molybdenum (Mo).  There are also other trace minerals that plants and our body needs.  It is a good idea to include Azomite or kelp to your garden each year to supply the additional trace minerals.

Steve recommends getting a detailed soil analysis at the get-go.  For those just beginning to work with re-mineralization of the soil, he recommends Logan Labs for the testing.  You can get all the information you need on collecting the sample and sending off to the lab at      http://www.loganlabs.com/get-started.html.  Steve recommends the standard sample test.  At the moment the cost is $25.

When you get the results, Steve has posted a worksheet that you put your results from Logan Labs and it calculates for you what you need for amendments to get your soil super charged for growth and nutrition.  Here is the link:  http://soilanalyst.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/WorksheetRevision-03.pdf  It uses an acre as the basis.  For those of us doing small space gardening, just divide the number of square feet in your garden by 43560.  This will give you the pounds you need to add to your garden for each mineral on the spreadsheet.

It gives a summary of how to put your soil in balance with a worksheet at the end to enter the results from Logan Labs to calculate exactly what you need to add to your garden to get minerals at optimum levels.  He recommends going slow so as to not get any minerals in excess in your garden.  It is a lot easier to add minerals than take them away!
Victory Garden Poster from WWII

I also liked this spreadsheet from Logan Labs that gives by vegetable type their mineral needs:  http://www.loganlabs.com/doc/General-Guidelines-Vegetable-Crops.pdf  This can be handy if you are focused on one type of crop that you want to maximize your yield.

For most of us backyard/flower bed veggie gardeners that grow a variety, Steve’s spreadsheet is the way to go.  You can also do side dressings of amendments specific to certain veggies to give them a boost.  I do this for my fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  

If the whole spreadsheet thing is just more complicated than you want to worry about, Logan Labs provides a service for giving you what you need to add to your garden.  There is also a listing on the SoilAnalyst web page:  http://soilanalyst.org  You can use an on line calculator from Erica that costs $9.50/year unlimited usage.  Here is the link:  http://growabundant.com/membership-account/membership-levels/  All you have to do is input the numbers from Logan Labs and it spits out the amendments you need.

As you prepare your bed in the spring, you should add fertilizer.  For a balanced organic fertilizer, here is what Steve recommends from his book for 100 square feet of garden space:
2 quarts oilseedmeal (soybean, cottonseed, or canolaseed meal)
1 pint feathermeal 
1 pint fishmeal
1 quart soft/collodial rock phosphate or bonemeal
1 quart kelp meal or 1 pint Azomite
1 quart agricultural gypsum

Once you get your soil in balance, you can keep it that way by recycling back what you take out by composting and using a balanced fertilizer.


We get a NutraEval test done yearly that gives a report where your body’s nutritional deficits are.  After getting our garden soil supercharged for peak production and optimum nutritional value, I’ll be tracking my NutraEval results to see the improvement in my body's overall nutrition.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What’s happening in the mid-November garden?

Lavender in late fall


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Well, the first hard freeze has swept through the Midwest, setting record low temps across the country for this time of year.  The summer veggies are done until next spring.  Does that mean the end of the kitchen garden?  Nope.  There is still much in the garden to enjoy!

The cold season crops have survived the first teens of the year.  Kale, lettuce, broccoli, onions, mustards, chard, and herbs are nice and green.  All cold season crops get sweeter when the mercury dips.

It is time, if you haven’t done so already, to pull up the old vines and give them to the compost heap.  Only compost those that were free from disease; you don’t want to re-introduce any diseases to your garden next season.  

If you are gardening in pots, move them up against a wall that gets southern exposure.  This will move your effective climate zone up a full zone.  If they are on stands or coaster, set them onto the ground.  They will stay much warmer on the ground than suspended off the ground.

Now is a fun time of year to experiment in the kitchen with all the fresh herbs that are available.  Parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, tarragon, bay, lavender, chives are all hardy herbs in November.  I have had many Christmas dinners with herbs fresh from the garden.

You can also take a look at all the tomatoes you have put up in freezer bags.  If you have more than you know you need, this is the perfect time of year to do some water bath canning.  

As even more freezing weather comes our way, you can extend the season for lettuce and greens through the winter by using a portable green house or making your own hoop house.

The biggest killer of veggies in greenhouses?  Getting too hot!  Make sure you crack open your green house when the temps get above freezing and the sun is shining.  

I have a little portable green house I put over my Earthboxes.  I will still have lettuce until spring.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Grow veggies from leftovers

Seeds from store bought acorn squash


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Granny always said to save the seeds from the best vegetable your plant grew.  You can apply this same principle to the veggies you buy from the store or farmers market.

You can grow any vegetable or fruit from its seed.  It is easy to save seeds from store bought fruit and vegetables.  Great candidates are any heirloom peppers, eggplants, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, apples, peaches, cucumbers, avocados and many more.  

Best chance for success is with organic as they have been treated with least toxic chemicals, are sure to be GMO free, and will not have been irradiated which basically kills the seed.

I have successfully grown peppers, tomatoes, oranges, sweet potatoes, onions, squash and avocados from seeds from organic produce I bought at the grocery store.  

The best success I have had with avocados is to use seeds from overly ripe avocados.  Remove the seed and look to see if there is a root starting to form on the flat side of the seed.  When I find these, I just place in a pot that I keep moist until it sprouts.  I have also sprouted them in water and then planted in a pot.  Then I back off the watering and let dry in between.  

You can also use the pieces and parts of other vegetables to grow new ones.  Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, heads of lettuce, garlic are all great candidates for this approach.  
*Cut off the bottom of onions and celery and replant them.  
*Save the “heart” or stem portion of lettuce to replant.  
*Breaking your garlic into cloves and planting them can work.  
*Same with the eyes of potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Choose the eye that is already sprouting.
*Replant or place in water the top portion of carrots.  The carrot top greens are great for salads.
*Any rhizomes (roots) will also grow when planted like ginger and horseradish.

Some veggies are treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting on the shelf so this approach may not work for all, but it is worth a try!  The will for propagation is very strong in nature.

If you do potatoes, plant them in a potato planting bag to be sure that you don’t accidentally transmit potato diseases into your soil.  The starters you buy from garden centers are certified to be disease free.


It doesn’t cost a thing to try!  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Planning for next year’s garden starts today!



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Early fall is a great time to look back over your gardening season to develop your plan for next year.  Do it now while it is fresh in your mind!

Jot down in a notebook what you learned and want to remember for next year’s garden:
*which veggies did best for you that you definitely want to include in your garden for next year.
*which ones did not do well in your garden and you don’t want to retry next year.
*which ones that did not do as well as you would have liked and you have ideas on what to do differently next season.
*lay out the timing of what you want to plant by month (did you get the spring greens in too late and they bolted or the zucchini too early and the vine borer got to it).
*the number of plants you want to grow for each variety (did you get swamped by too many peppers and not have enough cucumbers?).
*ask neighbors what varieties worked well for them and jot them down as some to try next year.
*if you haven’t done so already, draw out this year’s garden so you can remember where everything was planted; you will want to rotate locations for next year to boost harvests and reduce bugs.

I keep notes in a planner so I can review what varieties did best each month.  For those that did really well in the garden, I save the seeds and label them.  By saving the seeds of the plants that did well in your garden, you are creating plants that thrive in your ecosystem.

I keep them in ziplocks in our refrigerator crisper drawer.  I have seeds from 10 years ago and they are still germinating well.  You may think you will remember next year all the details, but you may not.  So, to be safe, label the baggie with the variety, date, where it did well (in the ground, pot, shade, sun), and when it produced.

You can also make a list of what you want to learn more about over the winter to be better prepared for spring gardening.  Did your peppers leaves turn yellow, your tomatoes not produce as much as you expected, your lettuce bolted early, what is the best fertilizing routine for the veggies you grow?

I also recommend keeping a diary over the winter of the produce you are eating.  This will give you a great idea on what you should plant and how many you should plant come next gardening season.


You can research over the dreary winter days and dream of the warm, green, growing days to come.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November garden planner

Marigolds and tomatoes

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November is a beautiful time of year as Mother Nature is getting prepared for the cold, wintry days ahead.  Late fall chores should include cleaning up your garden beds, reflecting on the gardening season completed, and preparing for the first freeze.

Garden bed clean up
To prepare your garden for its winter slumber, remove gardening debris from your beds.  For any diseased vegetation or seeds, be sure to throw these away. 

This is a good time to decide if you would like to make your own compost.  Compost is referred to by gardeners as “black gold.”  It provides nutrients, beneficial microbes, fertilizer and overall improves your soil’s condition.

I use an electric composter called NatureMill that we keep in the garage by the door.  It is easy to keep an odor free bucket made just for this purpose inside to collect fruit and vegetable scraps and empty weekly into the composter.  The small indoor buckets are called compost keepers or bins and come in a variety of decorative styles.  You get finished compost in a couple of weeks.  You can store the compost you are making in a trash bag to use when preparing your spring beds.  It is great for flowers and vegetables.

Reflection on the past garden season
While the past gardening season is still fresh in your mind, now is a great time to jot down some notes on what went well, what didn’t, and what you would like to research over the winter.  Make a list of the varieties that did great that you want to replant, which plants you want to be sure to have more of next year.

Gardening after the first frost
For Cincinnati, the average first frost date is October 27.  If you can cover your veggies with a portable green house or row cover to extend the season for many cool season crops.  With a portable green house, we have kept lettuce, kale, mustard greens, sorrel, and celery all the way through winter. 

If you are using pots, putting the pots on the south side and close to the house will keep them from getting frost bit.  It seems to extend the season for 2-4 weeks.

You can also divide a piece off your herbs, put them in a pot, and bring indoors on a sunny window to have fresh herbs readily available.  Chives, thyme, rosemary, savory, tarragon, salad burnet, and oregano can also be harvested into December from the outdoor garden.

Surprisingly, we found that peppers are great candidates from bringing in for the winter.  Our Jalapenos and Cayennes continued to fruit for weeks indoors and when put back out in the spring, had peppers a month earlier than when using new plants.

Be sure to use insecticidal soap on any plants you intend to bring indoors so you don’t bring in unintended guests.

For the herbs you cut back earlier in the season to dry, November is a great time to now strip the stems of the leaves, dry and put into jars for winter cooking.  You can make your own “Herbes De Provence”.  Thyme, oregano, rosemary, savory, basil, tarragon and lavender are common herbs used in this famous French seasoning.  I mix them up in about equal amounts and store in a sealed Mason jar.  It is great to add to just about anything-sauces, chicken, fish, potatoes, garlic bread.  Makes wonderful Christmas presents, too.

What's happening in the early November garden

Harvest from yesterday-peppers, tomatoes, eggplant

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Well, we had our first hard frost this week in our Zone 6 garden.  The temperature got down to 27 degrees F.  It was cold enough to bite the tomatoes, eggplant, dahlias, and pepper plants.  

I could have used a fabric cover to protect these cold sensitive veggies and they would have been fine for this temperature.

There was not enough damage to the tomatoes, eggplant or pepper plants to halt the fruit production.  The next 10 days do not show any temperatures down to freezing so I will leave them growing.  The next time the forecast has the temperatures going into the 20’s, I will harvest all the peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant fruits and call it a season for these summer veggies.


You could bring the pepper plants indoors and they will continue fruiting for weeks and put them back out in the spring to get a head start on summer.  I get enough hot peppers off each of the plants to freeze for the winter and spring that I don’t do this.  If I had a pepper, eggplant or tomato plant that was just superb, I would consider bringing it inside for the winter.  All are tender perennials. 

You could also put the potted tomatoes, eggplant and peppers in a greenhouse and lengthen the season for at least another 4 weeks. 

The cold season crops like lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cultivated dandelions, spinach, onions, mustard, sorrel are very happy.  The celery is still going strong.  It doesn’t seem to be affected by heat or cold.  We harvest from it year round.

The basil and stevia turned black with the first frost.  They are a very cold sensitive.  The rest of the herbs are doing very well-thyme, oregano, chives, dill, rosemary, sage, bay, parsley, mint, tarragon.  


Don't forget your local Farmers Market if you want local and freshest produce in season.  Many are open all winter long!