Sunday, March 17, 2019

Outdoor seed starting times

Garden bed ready for outdoor sowing
Sunday, March 17, 2019

If indoor seed starting is not your thing, but you still want to have the variety and cost effectiveness of seeds, you can direct sow your seeds directly into the garden.  If you are planting in mulch, be sure to open a hole in the mulch, plant the seed to the depth on the seed packet and cover with potting soil.  Mulch can form a hard crust that only the strongest seedling (like beans and squash) can break through.

I would prepare the beds first with fertilizer and mulch before starting seeds.  You can do a soil test yourself or send off for one if you want to create a fertilizer specific to your needs.   See this post for details The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals  If this is over the top for you, just use a good organic fertilizer at the recommended rate, an inch of compost, and cover with mulch.  You want to make sure your fertilizer is covered or you will lose a good portion of the nitrogen to the atmosphere.  I love gardening in mulch for many reasons that you can read about here:  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

Here is the by month seed sowing calendar for a Zone 6 or 7 garden.  There are so many early and late varieties available that you should consult the seed packet on the best outdoor sowing times (always listed as the weeks before your last frost date Frost date look up) as you may be able to sow the seeds even sooner outdoors than has been typical in the past.

You can plant either in a garden bed or pot.  Lately, I have really liked sowing seeds in a pot I leave on the deck so I can keep them moist and watch them more closely.  I also like to start cold season crops like lettuce and spinach super early in a pot under a portable greenhouse.  This gives a quick start to growing.  When the seedlings have sprouted and have at least a second set of leaves, I transplant into the garden bed or long term pot.  Outdoor seed starting tips

You can also practice succession planting which means planting a few seeds of the same crop every 2-3 weeks so that you get a continuous harvest, like lettuce and spinach.  Want continuous harvests? Succession planting!  Another option is to plant early, mid or late types of the same veggie all at the same time so you have them ready for harvest for a longer period of time.

February (as soon as soil can be worked)
Fruit trees and bushes

Fava beans
Fruit bushes
Lettuce (sow every 2 weeks if you are a salad lover for continuous salads)
Mache (corn salad)
Spinach (sow every 2 weeks through early May)

Beans (snap-bush & pole)
Bee balm (monarda)
Brussels sprouts
Fruit bushes
Lemon balm
Summer squash (like zucchini)

Beans (dry & lima)
Lemon verbena
Melons (cantaloupe, watermelons)
Malabar & New Zealand spinach
Sweet potato
Winter squash (like pumpkins and butternut squash)

Bush beans
Summer Squash (like Zucchini)
Sweet Potatoes

Bush beans
Brussels Sprouts

Bush Beans

Winter Onions

White Onions

Winter Onions

You can plant later than is shown above; just not earlier for risk of it being too cold for the seed sprout and the seed may rot.  The warm season crops, ones planted in May, don't like getting their feet cold so a little later can actually help them to grow faster.  Ideal soil temperatures for seed starting

Most of the sowing in July and later is for fall and winter harvesting.  There are exceptions like tomatoes, beans, corn and summer squash.  These are planted so that you continue to get a robust harvest well into fall.  For more on fall and winter edible garden planting see  Time to plant for fall and winter harvests!  Plant a last minute edible fall/winter garden

For other tips on warming the soil and keeping warm season crops protected for early planting, see Extend the season with protection for plants

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Quick tip-Time for lawn pre-emergent

Forsythia bushes in bloom on right
Saturday, March 16, 2019

When the forsythia blooms, it is time to use corn gluten on your lawn to keep weed seeds from sprouting!

Corn gluten is the all natural way to control weeds, no chemicals required.  Corn gluten is also a fertilizer and will green up your lawn.  Be sure to apply corn gluten every year to keep your weeds in check.  The trick to not using herbicides is to not let the weeds get going.  Using corn gluten every spring is a foundation to keeping those pesky weeds from gaining a stronghold in your lawn..  

One watch out, corn gluten will keep all seeds from sprouting, so do not use on any area where you want to plant seeds, like your garden beds.  On the other hand, if you have self seeders you want to control, corn gluten is perfect.

For more on all natural, chemical free lawn care  Organic, all natural lawn

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Time to get your spring garden bed ready for planting

Spring edible and decorative garden
Sunday, March 10, 2018

Mid-March is the time to get your beds ready for spring!  Add compost, fertilizer and mulch before planting your spring veggies, herbs and fruits.  

It's a good idea to go ahead and get your bed prepared with all the nutrition your plants will need before planting and mulching.  This also avoids damaging your plants while mulching around them or planting them too deep.  You want to wait until it is starting to warm up so the soil under the mulch is not too cold.  I like to mulch right before I plant, providing some supplemental heat to my new transplants.  I mulch my edible garden to keep weeds down, provide organic material to the garden bed, moderate the soil temperature for the entire growing season, and keep moisture in the soil during the summer.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

Ideally, you would test your soil to determine what nutrients your bed needs.  If you take your soil samples to your local county Co-op Extension office, you can get your soil tested for free in many counties or you can send off for a more thorough analysis.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals    You can also buy a do it yourself kit at the big box stores or your local nursery.  A do it yourself kit will give you the basics of pH, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK).

This spring, we will put down an organic fertilizer Re-Vita Pro 5-4-4 or Espoma for the vegetable garden.    You can also make your own fertilizer that is less expensive.  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive   Then, we add a layer of compost and top with mulch.  We used to buy our compost, but have been making our own over the last couple of years.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors 

The local CSA gardener told me a couple of years ago that it is important to not let your fertilizer just lay on top of the ground as many of the nutrients will be lost, especially the nitrogen.

Planting time is here!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Starting an edible garden

Edibles in the flower bed
Saturday, March 9, 2019

Spring brings visions of blooming flowers and fresh vegetables at their peak flavor.  If you are thinking of starting an edible garden, you don't need much space to get a lot of fresh produce and even fruits.  Here are the steps to get started.     

Step 1  I think the best way is to make a list of what you like to eat, then see which of your favorites are best to start in your garden for each season.  There is no time like the present to get moving on your gardening dreams!  For an overview of plants by season, Planning for a four season garden  If you want to start with the easiest plants to grow, do what I did and start a kitchen herb garden.  Herbs thrive under neglect.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

The biggest mistake beginners make is starting too big.  For your first garden, herbs and 5-7  of your favorite veggies are plenty to get your feet wet, are easy to manage, and will give you a good start.  How do you decide what to grow?

Step 2  Now that you have your list, take a look at your flower garden, patio, deck, porch, front yard to see how much space you have that gets 6 hours of sun a day.  There are so many dwarf varieties of every kind of vegetable to grow in pots or small spaces that you should not be put off thinking you don’t have enough space!  Surprising veggies that can be grown in pots  Plus growing compact varieties significantly lessens the work by using less space that you have to care for.  A real win-win.  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

Potted veggies with flowers in foreground, herb and veggie garden in flower bed in background
Step 3  Buy your supplies for your garden bed or pot.  Pots are easy-just buy some organic potting soil and the decorative pot.  Most potting soils come with fertilizer already mixed in.   You do not want to use garden soil as it is too dense for pots.  Make sure you buy the right size pot for the vegetable you are growing.  I highly recommend using self-watering pots as they cut down significantly on how often you have to water in the summer.  For the size of pot needed by veggie type, check out this blog  Decorative container gardening for edibles

If you are going to plant in your garden bed, your mulched flower bed is a great choice to add veggies, too!  If planting in your flower bed or garden, the best thing to do is a soil test (you can buy a kit or take it to your local co-op extension office).  If this just seems too much trouble, buy an organic balanced fertilizer and compost.  Apply a 2” thick layer of compost, top with the fertilizer (following the label’s directions), cover with fresh mulch and you are ready to plant. 

For more on preparing your garden bed for planting, Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds for a deep dive or for a quick overview Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed

Step 4  Buy your plants.  I prefer to buy plants that are raised without chemicals so I look for an organic nursery to see if they have what I want.  Your local farmers market usually has plants for sell, too, in the spring and early summer.  My next stop is my local nursery or big box hardware store.  Bonnie plants that most big box stores carry starting offering organic veggies last year.

Choose the plants that are green and look sturdy.  If they already have blooms, be sure to remove them.  You want all the energy of your plants going into good roots initially.
Potted veggies and fruit trees with flowers on patio
Step 5  Plant!  Water each plant well before planting.  In the spring, I like to look for a cloudy, warm spell.   Gives the plants a little time to get their roots jump started.  Spring edible garden

For potted veggie or herbs, fill the pot with organic potting soil, water to get the potting soil settled, plant the veggie, and water again.  You can top with mulch to keep lengthen the time between waterings.  I also plant flowers in my pots to add color and attract beneficial insects.  Make your own organic potting soil

I like to put a handful of worm castings into each hole with the new plant.  Worm castings have lots of beneficial microbes in them that helps the plants absorb nutrients from the soil.  You can also make your own fertilizer if you want to; it's very cost effective and easy.  Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

Step 6  Monitor and water.  Keep an eye on your plants.  They may look sad the first week if it is really hot when they first go into the ground.  Consistent water is the key for success.  Like a lawn or flowers, the best time to water is in the mornings.  When you water your flowers, water your veggies and herbs.  Remember, the biggest cause of plant death is overwatering.  If the soil is moist a couple of inches down, your plants are fine.  I usually don't start watering in our Zone 6/7 garden until sometime in later June.   You may need to start watering pots sooner.

One watch out on watering, many summer crops are susceptible to leaf fungus, like cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes.  Be sure to water at the base of the plant and not the leaves.  Summer garden tips

Sunday, March 3, 2019

What crops give you the biggest bang for your time?

Chard, a salad green or great steamed, and beautiful to boot
Sunday, March 3, 2018

If you don’t have much time and want to plant what gets you the most payback, these are the crops for you:
Cilantro ($21 per square foot).  An herb that likes cool temperatures.
Arugula-Roquette ($21 per square foot).  A perennial salad green.  Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden
Green salad mix ($17 per square foot).  Growing summer salads
Chives ($16 per square foot).  A perennial herb.  Add chives to your garden
Dill ($16 per square foot).  A self-seeding herb.  Start a kitchen herb garden!
Lettuce ($16 per square foot).  Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
Cherry tomatoes ($15 per square foot).  Choosing which tomatoes to grow
Turnips ($10 per square foot).  All about turnips
Winter squash ($8 per square foot).  The wonderful world of squash

All can be grown in pots if you are pressed for space, even the slicer type tomatoes.  Decorative container gardening for edibles
Potted lettuce with petunias
A packet of seeds is anywhere from $1-$5.  You can grown many square feet from one packet of seeds.  A packet of seeds can last for years if you are planting for just 2-4 family members.  I keep my seed packets in a freezer bag in the crisper.  I have seeds from more than 5 years ago that are still viable.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

A great way to save money is to preserve what you can't eat fresh.  Even if you don't have a huge freezer, you can preserve your garden bounty.  Harvest and preserve your herbs  Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies  If you do have some space in the freezer, freezing is an excellent choice.  Freezing the extras for winter 

Now make sure that you plant the things you love to eat.  How to know what to grow  It won’t be worth a thing if it sits in the garden and is never eaten!  

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Container Gardening for Edibles

Spring lettuce with petunias in a pot
Saturday, March 2, 2019

There are so many new varieties out every year.  There are ones that are more resistant to disease.  Ones that have higher nutritional value.  Ones that produce more.  Ones that have improved taste.  Ones that are developed for their small size and big harvests for those of us who have limited space or just want to get more for the effort.  It is amazing what can now be grown in pots!  Space, or lack thereof, is not a barrier to growing your own veggies these days.

We hear a lot about Monsanto and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) and crop breeding can seem a bad thing.  The difference between GMO’s and other types of crop breeding is that GMO’s bring in genetic material from other organisms in a lab, like bacteria and even viruses.  The plants are engineered so that they kill insects that try to eat it.

That is only one side of the plant breeding story.  There are many other natural breeding of crops today.  It can be as simple as saving of seeds from the best producer of last year that many back yard gardeners do.  There are also hybrids which take the best traits of two different parents into seeds.  These hybrids will not produce seed that you can reuse next year and get the same vegetable as the parent.

Heirlooms and open pollinated vegetables will produce “true” to seed.  The offspring will be like its parent.  It isn't just the old varieties that you can save and use seeds from year to year.  It is any "open pollinated", non-GMO, non-hybrid.  If you find a veggie you really like at the store, it doesn't hurt a thing to save the seed and try growing it in your garden.

Through the centuries, farmers have chosen the traits they like and have built on them from season to season.  This has given us Brandywine tomatoes, Vidalia onions and JalapeƱo peppers.  Yum!

Today's breeding has had more focus on urban and small space gardening; growing great tasting fruits and vegetables in small spaces and containers.  There are lots of new compact, dwarf, bush, patio, container varieties available every year.  Today, you can grow almost anything you like in a pot, even corn and watermelons!  

Just be sure to match the right edible with the size of pot you have.  Check the seed packet description for words like "compact", "dwarf", "container" or "patio" to know if the plant is bred to grow well in a pot.  Add flowers, too.  This not only adds pizazz to the container, but attracts beneficial pollinators that increase yields.  A real win-win.   Vegetables you can grow in pots

When growing veggies and fruit in containers, they will require more watering and more liquid fertilizer than if they were in the ground.  In the summer, you may have to water some water lovers every day.  Summer garden tips

To reduce watering, purchase or make pots that have a water reservoir in the bottom.  A couple on the market today are “Earthbox” and “Grow Box”.  With these type of pots, you can water weekly.  I always put mulch on top of the soil to help keep the moisture in.

You can make your own self-watering containers using 5 gallon buckets or other plastic containers or you can buy a self watering kit to convert your existing container to a self watering pot.

Be sure to have good soil in your pots.  Make sure your soil is ready to get your new veggies going as soon as you put them in the pot.  If you are re-using a pot, you will need to  Re-energize your potting soil!  Having fertile soil with lots of minerals is not only good for the plant, but also gives you veggies with better nutritional value.  You really are what you eat!

Pepper plant in a pot
There are a few veggies I always grow in containers.  Some, like peppers and eggplant, I grow because they seem to do better in a pot than they do in the ground.  Others, like lettuce, kale, spinach, Egyptian walking onions, sprouting broccoli, beets and peas, I grow in pots because it makes it easy to harvest on a frequent basis.  I can also move the greens to a cooler spot in the garden as the heat of summer moves in.  I always try a compact tomato plant in a pot just for fun.  They do quite well in a pot.  Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots

In Summary
1.  Decide what you would like to have fresh, growing right outside your door.  How to know what to grow
2.  Look for dwarf, patio, compact, container seeds or plants.
3.  Determine size of pot needed to support the veggie, fruit or herb.   Vegetables you can grow in pots
4.  Either re-energize the soil if using an existing pot or purchase organic potting soil, and add amendments as needed (fertilizer and minerals).  Re-energize your potting soil! 
5.  Use flowers as companion plants with your veggie to make it pretty as well as more productive.  Many flowers are also edible.  Flowers that are edible
6.  Cover soil with mulch, after plants are growing.  
7.  Water as needed.  A self-watering pot can really cut down on the amount of watering needed.
8.  Fertilize biweekly.  Summer garden tips

With all the colors and varieties out there, beautiful container combinations can expand and beautify your garden space.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

March 2019 Edible Garden Planner

Daffodils in bloom in the edible garden
Sunday, February 24, 2019

Feels like spring is getting close!  The hyacinths and daylilies are sprouting with daffodil flower buds showing their heads.  Now is the time to test your soil, get your garden beds ready for planting, and finish the plan for your spring garden.  

Soil Preparation
You can take a soil sample to our local county co-op extension office to have it tested or buy a do it yourself kit at any big box store or local nursery.  You can do a more extensive soil test by sending your soil sample off.  Here is a link to my blog on soil nutrition:  The next step in garden production and your nutrit...  There is a great analysis web site that will provide a specialized fertilizer designed just for your garden deficiencies that you can make yourself.  Well fed plants grow better and are more nutritious for you, too.  A win-win.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of testing, a sure way to enrich your soil is to use a balanced organic fertilizer and compost.  I add organic material every spring with a layer of compost and hardwood mulch in the garden beds, building the soil’s fertility and its ability to hold water.

A local CSA farmer and organic gardener told me a few years ago that it is important to not let your fertilizer just lay on top of the ground as many of the nutrients will be lost, especially nitrogen.  This spring, we will put down an organic fertilizer by Espoma, a layer of homemade compost with any additional horse manure compost needed and top with mulch.  You can make your own balanced fertilizer, too, which is pretty inexpensive  Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

If this is your first time gardening, here is a how to get started.  It is super easy to buy plants and put in pots or in your already established flower beds.  Easy kitchen garden

Ideas of what to plant in March:
There are already plants available at the big box stores in our area.  This is a good place to look for what will grow well in your area.  The types that are already out are cabbage, spinach, lettuce, onion sets, potato sets.  Wait until the soil has dried out somewhat if you are getting the amount of rain we are this year before planting potatoes.  

I'm not planting any crops from the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower this year to reduce the pest problems I have been seeing with these crops in my garden.  I'll pick them up at the farmers market.  I say that every year, but I have a hard time resisting sprouting broccoli.  It gives small broccoli florets and broccoli tasting leaves for salads spring, summer and fall.  Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav

The greens I will plant in our mini greenhouse to keep them warmer that helps encourage growth so we get fresh salads as soon as possible.  I just love spring salads!
Mid March garden
Green Oakleaf Lettuce-ready to harvest in 45 days  Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
Wild Garden Kales-ready to harvest in 30 days Grow one of the super greens this year-kale
Mesclun Valentine Lettuce mix (red tinted lettuce and greens)-ready to harvest in 30-55 days
Marvel of Four Seasons Butterhead Lettuce (I love the sweet taste of butterheads)-ready to harvest in 55 days Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
Red Sails Lettuce (a ruffled red and green, stays sweet even after bolting)-ready to harvest in 45 days
Space Hybrid Spinach-ready to harvest in 38 days  Grow spinach-a super nutritious, easy green
Gourmet Blend Lettuce (Prizeleaf, Royal Oak Leaf, Salad Bowl, Ashley)-ready to harvest in 45 days
Sugar snap peas-ready to harvest in 70 days Time to plant peas!
All kinds of broccoli or cauliflower-ready to harvest in 50-80 days (leaves are great in salads) Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips
Cabbage-ready to harvest in 68 days.  Cabbage is nutritious and easy to grow
Carrots-ready to harvest in 50-75 days  Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round
Parsley-70 days to harvest  
Potatoes-ready to begin harvest in 70 days  Time to plant potatoes, even if you only have a patio

The above can be companion planted with radishes, beets, chives, garlic, and onions.  Since they are shallow rooted, they grow well with root crops.  Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

When I plant in pots, I plant with a handful of worm compost and water in with fish emulsion.  Germination should take anywhere from 4-15 days., depending on how warm the soil is.  I am sure I will be out there looking for little green shoots daily.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

Important tip-if planting seeds in a mulched bed, be sure to cover the seed with only soil; seedlings are too weak to push through mulch.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds 

Potato box

Zone 6/7 Spring Garden Roadmap

Planting your seedlings outdoors:
Now (or as soon as the soil can be worked)-fruit trees and vines, nut trees, asparagus, garlic, peas
End March-cabbage, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions, mustards, spinach
Beginning of April-lettuce, lemon balm, parsley
Mid-April-broccoli, cauliflower, thyme
End April-sage
First of May-basil, chives, cucumbers, tomatoes
Mid-May-cantaloupe, eggplant, marigolds, pepper

Starting your seeds outdoors:
Now (or as soon as the soil can be worked): peas, spinach, lettuce
Mid-March: arugula, bok choy, cabbage, carrot, collards, leeks, lettuce, mache, onion. rhubarb, cultivated dandelions, spinach
End March:  fava beans, beets, broccoli, carrot, Chinese cabbage, cress, kale, kohlrabi, leek, mizuna, parsley, parsnip, early potatoes, turnip

One watch out is planting seeds too soon.  Seeds have to have a certain soil temperature to sprout.  Plant too soon and the seed will rot and not sprout.  Here are some soil temp guidelines.  Temps to plant seeds outdoors

Starting your seeds indoors for summer planting:
Now-chives, leeks, lemon balm, onions, parsley, sage, thyme, lettuce, cress, mustard, chard, spinach
Mid-March-basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, marigolds, eggplant
End of March-cantaloupe, cucumber, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes

These dates are just guidelines.  You can start your seedlings later and plant your transplants later as well.  Be sure to read the seed packet for what you are starting.  They make all kinds of varieties that are cold hardy and can be planted sooner than what I outlined above.  If you get a cold snap, there are things you can do to protect your early crops.  Extend the season with protection for plants

The big box stores and local nurseries are good sources of plants too.  If you are just getting started, purchasing from a local nursery or farmers market will get you started with varieties that do well in your area.

Happy gardening!