Saturday, February 28, 2015

Troubleshooting your compost pile

Tumbling style insulated composter, Joraform


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Having problems with your compost pile?  Here are some common issues and tips for getting ‘em fixed and back on the road to beautiful black gold for the garden.

My compost pile never heats up
-Is it dry?  Sprinkle some water over it.
-Is it really wet and smelly?  See bad smells below.
-Is it really cold outside?  For the tumbler types, put a hot water bottle or two in the heap to get it jump started.  Next time you take out some compost, make sure to leave some behind.  Your finished compost has all the good microbes in it to keep the compost a comin’.  In winter, it is good to have your composter out of the wind and where it can get good sun.

I have maggots!  
-Is it really wet?  Add some “browns” like wood pellets, dried leaves, or sawdust and mix well to get your pile at the right moisture level.  If it is cold outside, you can add a hot water bottle to get the heap cooking again.
-Is the pile chilly?  See above.

I am growing mushrooms.  Is this okay?
-Mushrooms are a natural occurrence.  No need to worry.

I have big lumps.
-Your scraps are too wet.  Add “browns”, break up the clumps, and mix well.

My compost pile smells like ammonia.  Phew!
-The pH of your heap is too high.  Add “browns” and mix well.
Compost "heap" contained with chicken wire

It smells like something is dead in there.
-Scraps are too wet or there is too little “browns”.  Add more “browns” and mix well.

It smells like cheese or acidy.
-Not enough air getting in to let the microbes do their thing.  Can be caused by stuffing too much in your composter.  Remove some material, add “browns” and mix well.  If you are using the heap method, add browns and mix well.
-Scraps are too wet.  Add “browns” and mix well.
-If a new batch of scraps, add some finished compost or compost starter and mix well.

How do I tell if my compost has the right moisture in it?
-If you squeeze a handful together and it doesn’t stick, it is too dry.
-If you squeeze it and nasty liquid runs between your fingers, it is too dry.
-If you squeeze it and you can only wring out a few drops of liquid out, it is just right.
Electric composter, Naturemill

“Browns” are dried leaves, hay, straw, wood shavings, grains, crackers, corn chips, bread, wood pellets, sawdust or coir.  “Greens” are the rest-manure, food scraps, fresh grass clippings, fresh plant trimmings, coffee grinds, meat, fish bones, cheese, eggs.  For good nitrogen, if you don’t have manure, meats or coffee grinds, add another organic nitrogen source like blood meal.  

If you are using wood pellets, you should have about 1 cup of pellets to 10 cups of food scraps.  Sawdust or coir should be used in a ratio of 1 cup of coir to 3 cups of food scraps or other “green” materials.


For more on composter opens, see my earlier blog:  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How much to plant?



Sunday, February 22, 2015


If you are thinking of starting your first garden and are wondering “How many plants of what do I need?”, there are a couple of ways to go about it.  You can do it the more scientific way and track what you eat to scale up for the year.  Or you can just plant a basic garden that you can expand upon next year after learning the basics.

For the more scientific approach, track what you buy for a couple of weeks.  This will give you a good idea of what you like to eat and how much of it your family is eating.  You can then plan your garden around your favorite eats.  

This table gives you the number of plants or seeds you need per pounds of produce you want to get from your garden:  

If you want a rule of thumb based on your family size and don’t want to track exactly what you have purchased, just use the table for how much to grow per person in your household as a rule of thumb.  You can adjust after the gardening season is over.

There are also many programs and app’s out there today that can help you know what to grow, when to plant, and will give you growing tips on each fruit or vegetable.  I like Mother Earth News app because it shows when to plant seeds, transplant plants and harvest time for each type of veggie.  when to plant app

The biggest watch out for starting a new garden is starting too big.  Start small with what you use the most in the kitchen.  Herbs, lettuce, carrots, radishes, peppers, or tomatoes are great ones to start with.

Here is the basic garden I grow every year:
Herbs (1 each)-chives, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)
3 tomato plants-1 cherry tomato type and 2 slicer types
3 pepper plants-2 sweet peppers and 1 spicy pepper
1 bush zucchini
1 bush or vine cucumber
1 eggplant
1 Egyptian walking onion (a perennial)
8 garlic plants (you can buy cloves for planting at any big box store)

Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sown in self watering pots and between garden plants.

If you eat a lot of salads, greens with complimentary veggies and herbs would be a great first garden.  To keep yourself in lettuce, sow seed about every 3-4 weeks.  In early spring, any type of lettuce and spinach is good.  Once you head into May, use varieties that withstand the hot temps of summer like:
Leaf lettuce-”New Red Fire”, “Simpson Elite”
Butterhead-”Optima”, “Winter Density:
Romaine-”Jericho”, ”Green Towers”
Batavian-”Magenta”, “Nevada”


Starting with a basic garden to learn from is a smart approach.  If you don’t think you have much time to devote to a first garden, do herbs which are completely carefree and maybe a couple of America’s favorite tomato plants.  This summer, you can go to farmers markets and try out what looks interesting to trial run them for next season.  Don’t forget to save the seeds from your purchases to use in your own garden!

WWII victory garden poster

Saturday, February 21, 2015

How to know what to grow



Saturday, February 21, 2015

So you are thinking of starting a garden but have no idea what to plant?  You should grow what you like to eat, but how do you figure out what that is and how much to plant?  I like this idea I ran across a couple of months ago-a two week journal!

Just keep a detailed log of what you eat for two weeks.  You can scale up the amount from 2 weeks to 52 weeks.

Then, think about what you like to eat in season, like fresh tomatoes, America’s favorite garden vegetable.  A single tomato plant will give you a large tomato about every 2 days.  A tomato plant for small tomatoes will give you a few daily.  Add these to the list.

Remember it is so easy to freeze things like tomatoes, peppers, fruit and greens so you can have fresh from the garden year round.

Now you are ready to figure out how many plants of each you need for your family.  You can go here to get the info:  http://growingvegetablegardens.com/planHowMany.html

Next step-go purchase your seeds or plants!  For your first garden, I would recommend buying plants as seed starting can be hit or miss for some in the beginning.  You can look on Craig’s list for those who grow plants all natural, organically or visit a local organic nursery.  The big box stores have a wide selection as well.

Nurseries can tell you the best time to plant what you are wanting to grow in your garden and give you information on how large the plant grows, and tips for growing them.  They can also recommend an all natural complete fertilizer to use.  The bag will tell you how much to add for each plant.

If you have the space, most herbs are perennials and all are easy to grow.  You can add your favorite herbs to your garden for cooking.  Plants give tons of leaves that are so easy to use fresh or dry in a paper bag for use later.

I plant my veggies and fruits in my flower garden bed.  It has been mulched for years so has lots of organic matter and rich soil.  The flowers attract pollinators that give higher yields and they look great together!


Another wonderful benefit to growing your own is getting the kids involved.  If the little one grows it, they will want to eat it.  A perfect remedy for the picker eater!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

5 Tips for a More Productive Garden



Sunday, February 15, 2015

To maximize the production in your garden space, there are few things you can do to make the most of your time, energy, garden space and money.  Even if you have oodles of space, maximizing your production per square foot saves time and money.  Less to weed, less to fertilize, less to mulch.

5 Tips for a Productive Garden

1.  Healthy soil.  It all starts with the soil.  You need nutrient and microbe rich soil.  Chemical herbicide, pesticides and fertilizers all kill microbes and worms scatter when chemicals are applied.  For alive soil, use organic, natural fertilizers and compost.  Apply both in early spring so the nutrition can seep into the soil, ready to nourish the seeds and plants you put in the ground.  For more details on creating healthy soil, see this blog:  next step in garden production

2.  Smart garden plan.  You can maximize the production of the plants you put in your garden with a well thought out plan.  Divide out what you like to eat into the seasons they thrive in.  Plant your veggies in the right season and you will be rewarded with healthy plants and bountiful harvests.  Before you plant, check the heights and sun requirements.  Plant the tallest plants in the back so they don’t shade out the shorter sun loving plants.  Using trellis for vertical gardening of cucumbers, beans, and peas is a great use of space at the back of the garden bed.  For those that appreciate some shade, interplant between taller varieties.  Look for those that help each other out.  This is called companion planting.  For more information on companion planting, see this blog:  companion planting

3.  Choose wisely.  Choose the most productive varieties to maximize the production per square foot of space.  Dwarfs are a great choice for small spaces and containers.  You can get the same production from many dwarfs as you can the full size varieties.  Look for those that have “abundant”, “prolific”, and “heavy yields” in the descriptions.  Some great choices are cucumbers, pole beans and peas, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and many varieties of greens.

4.  Think 4 season gardening.  Use as much of all 4 seasons as possible.  Start seeds indoors in late winter to get an early start on spring and summer.  You can plant out as soon as the weather is willing.  Help heat up the soil so your plants or seeds get a jump start when planted.  You can put down plastic or cloches where you want to plant to help get the soil warm.  Your seedlings will appreciate it!  You can also cover your seedlings with a row cover or cloche after planting to keep the warmth of the sun past sundown.  Be careful with cloche’s as they can get really hot and fry your plants.  A good choice is one with vents.  Also look for varieties that are adapted to the season.  There are tomatoes adapted to cooler temperatures to get a jump on summer and lettuces that are heat tolerant so you can continue to have salads into summer.  For more on 4 season gardening, see this blog:  garden year round


5.  Eliminate competition.  Weeds and pests take away from the vigor of your veggies.  Use mulch to keep weeds suppressed.  Mulch does triple duty as a fresh coat of mulch in the spring can help warm the soil, helps keep moisture from evaporating during the summer, adds organic matter while suppressing weeds.  There are good bugs and bad bugs.  Attract the good bugs by interplanting your veggies with flowers like marigolds and calendula.  Good bugs help pollinate your veggies, increasing yields.  They also eat bad bugs.  Be careful using sprays as a spray doesn’t know a good bug from a bad bug.  If you are just starting your organic garden, it may take a couple of seasons for the garden to come in balance.  For more on pests, see this blog:  controlling bugs naturally

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Most nutritious heirloom tomatoes




Saturday, February 14, 2015

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company sent out several heirloom tomatoes to be analyzed for nutritional value.  On average, the heirlooms has 30% of daily recommended vitamin C, 25% of the daily recommended vitamin A, 10% of your potassium, with the red and black varieties providing good amounts of lycopene.  The most nutritious was the dark chocolate and black varieties.

Black Krim, Black Icicle, Cherokee Purple and Indigo Apple were the winners in this contest, but any black, purple or chocolate variety will be loaded with nutrition.  We tried a few this past summer and the flavor was wonderful.

Try a few this year in your garden! 

Here is the chart from their analysis:




Sunday, February 8, 2015

This year's garden plan



Saturday, February 8, 2015

Oh, the possibilities!  The choices seem endless these days.  All those beautiful seed and plant catalogues.  So many heirloom, hybrid and new varieties available these days.  What about the grafted options?  Grafting has been around for centuries.  Use a really strong, robust root stock that you graft the tasty variety on top.  This gives you a hardy plant that produces lots of the tasty fruit you love.  How about all the dwarf varieties?  All the great flavor on plants of a diminutive size that fits perfectly in your small space or container.  So many choices!

How do I choose?  
Plant what you love:  I always plant what we love to eat.  
Pick varieties that give you the most for your space:  I want to maximize the harvest in the space I have.  This results in less space, less water, less care required for the same amount of food.  I look for the most productive varieties.  Look for key words that tell you that the variety you are looking at is a strong producer.  “Prolific” is what I like to hear in descriptions.
Leverage dwarfs and bush varieties:  I look at how much I need from a plant.  For slicer tomatoes, a dwarf is a great option because it gives a few tomatoes each week which is all we need for burgers.  I look for bush types for zucchinis and cucumbers.  These bush varieties can be grown in the garden or a container.  They stay compact and give us just the right amount we need.
Grow what likes your garden:  As you try different varieties, you find that some do better in your garden than others.  Saving seed from the best tasting, best producing is just a smart thing to do.  This is what our ancestors did.  It saves money and develops plants that are perfectly suited to your climate and soil.  You can get a head start by using seeds from neighbors or veggies you buy from your local farmers market.
Grow the number of plants for what you eat:  This can take some trial and error to figure out how many of each type meets your consumption.  There are charts that can help.  Just estimate how much you eat and then you can look up tables that tell you the number of plants you need.  Here is a link to one:  planHowMany

Here is what I have decided to grow this year:  
Herbs.  I have a new garden this year so the first order of business is making sure all my perennial herbs I planted in the fall make it to spring-savory, lavender, thyme, rosemary, salad burnet, marjoram, oregano, bay.  I will plant annuals too-chervil, cilantro, culantro (a more heat tolerant type of cilantro), basil, and parsley.
Broccoli.  I am going to grow sprouting, 9 Star and Sea Kale (both perennials), Apollo and Rudolph for 9 months of harvesting.
Flowers.  Gem marigolds, calendula, zinnias, loves lies bleeding, dwarf sunflowers, nasturtiums, and moonflower.  Flowers play an important part in garden beyond just beauty.  They attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  They can significantly increase your garden’s production.
Fruits.  I planted strawberries last year which are perennials.  This year I am going to plant goji berry vine.  My hubby wants to plant some berry bushes.  
Nuts.  My husband is going to replace our Bradford pear trees with pecan trees.  I have been supporting the Arbor Day hazelnut project and will have 5 hazelnuts bushes arriving this spring to plant.
Peppers.  I love green peppers and humus.  This year I am going to go with red and yellow banana peppers and a yellow heirloom pepper.  For the spicier peppers, we’ll plant Pimento, Jalapeño, Cayenne, and Ancho peppers.  The Pimento is for salads.  The Jalapeño and Cayenne is for salsa and hot sauce.  The Ancho for chili powder.
Zucchini.  Since I discovered new ways to use zucchini, I think we will plant 2 zucchini plants.  I really loved making zucchini into pasta.  I’ll freeze it for use throughout next winter and spring.  Zucchini typically wears out about the middle of summer.  I’ll do two plantings to keep the harvest going through fall.
Eggplant.  I am going for a white variety like Casper and Turkish Orange.  Casper doesn’t get bitter during hot, dry weather.  Turkish Orange had great taste all season long and looks great.
Legumes.  Will go for snap peas in the spring.  Romano type pole and bush beans for green beans.  Will also throw in some runner beans on trellis’.  They have pretty flowers and the beans can be used as green beans or dried beans.
Cucumbers.  I think I will do 2 vining types.  I will plant on decorative trellis so they will have a very small foot print in the garden.  One will be for fresh cucumbers in salads and the other for pickles.
Greens.  Lettuce, orach, and kale.  Arugula is a perennial so it will come back year after year.  Chard is also a tender perennial so if the fall planted chard did not make it through the winter, I will replant.  Will do succession planting for lettuce about every 3 weeks.  Starting out with cold tolerant varieties, move to heat tolerant varieties at the beginning of May, and switch back to cold tolerant varieties in July for fall harvests.  Kale can be planted in spring and fall.
Cabbage.  Thinking of doing Napa to use as wraps in the place of bread.
Tomatoes.  My plan is 1 large fruiting variety (Cherokee Purple), 2 small fruiting varieties, (Chocolate, Chocolate Pear) 1 early variety like the 4th of July or Summer Girl, and 1 winter storage variety like Red October.  This will give plenty for eating on burgers and salads, enough to make sauce, enough to freeze for salsa, and a variety that is a long keeper indoors for tomatoes through December.  I am going to go for the chocolate and black varieties for the large and small fruiting types that I saved seed from last year’s crop.
Tea.  Will plant a tea bush this year.  It is hardy in Zone 7 which should work in our Kentucky garden with generous winter mulch.  Otherwise, you can grow in a pot and bring into the garage or house for the winter.


This is my plan.  Of course, I will see things I just can’t live without and buy.  I’ll look through my refrigerated seed collection and run across varieties I just have to plant.  There will be great successes and a few that don’t do well.  It is all part of the gardening adventure!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Indoor Seed Starting Calendar

Starting seeds in a biodegradable pot


Saturday, February 7, 2015

I know it seems spring is far, far away this time of year.  Luckily for us gardeners we get to start spring early!  End of January into February is prime seed starting time indoors.  I have outlined by month the plant seeds to start indoors between now and April for our Zone 6 garden.  It is wonderful to see the little green sprouts shooting up with promise of a bountiful gardening season right around the corner.

Many big box stores will begin getting in their seeds as soon as the end of January.  The variety available in big box stores continues to grow as more and more of us are growing our own food.  If you are wanting something unique, try on line seed companies. Some of my favorites with a good selection of organic vegetables, garden fruits, and herbs-Abundant Life Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed Company, Cook’s Garden, Seeds from Italy, Botanical Interest.  If you are looking for a specific variety, Mother Earth News has a seed search engine that does a great job:  Find a Seed or Plant

Using seeds is a great way to accelerate your harvest by up to two months.  Seed packets tell you how far in advance of your last frost date to start your seeds indoors.  Just look on the back.  It will say how far in advance of your last frost date to plant indoors or outdoors.  Here is a web page to look up your last frost date: Frost dates

January and February are cold season crops seed starting time.  Cold season crops include your greens, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries and peas.

March and April is the time for warm season veggie and herbs to get their indoor start.  Summer veggies include beans, tomatoes, beans, basil, eggplant, peppers and squash.

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6 garden)
Artichokes
Arugula
Bay
Broccoli
Cabbage
Catnip
Celery
Chives
Edamame
Endive 
Escarole
Fennel
Fenu
Horseradish
Leek
Lettuce
Mache
Mint
Mizuna
Onions, if starting from seed
Parsley
Peas
Rhubarb
Shallots, if starting from seed
Strawberries
Summer savory
Sorrel

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)
Bee balm
Celeriac
Eggplant
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lavender
Lovage
Marjoram
Mustard
Oregano
Rosemary
Scallions, if starting from seed
Spinach
Thyme
Turnips

Seedlings started in an Aerogarden hydroponic system

March
Artichokes
Broccoli
Chamomile
Chard
Cilantro
Comfrey
Fennel
Lemon verbena
Okra
Peppers
Raddichio
Sage
Summer squash
Tarragon
Tomatoes

April
Basil
Beans
Cucumber
Melon
Winter squash
Stevia


Another trick is to do succession seed starting.  For continuous harvests of veggies like broccoli, spinach and lettuce, start new seedlings every 3 weeks and plant out in succession in the garden.  For the early seedlings, use varieties that are described as cold hardy.  When you get to April, start seedlings that are heat tolerant.  Heat tolerant varieties will resist bolting and bitterness at the first sign of summer.

You can also start perennial flowers indoors as well.  For any plant, look at the seed packet for when to plant outdoors according to your frost date.  Then back up the time from there on when to start indoors.  Typical seed starting is 6-8 weeks prior to the plant out date.