Sunday, January 27, 2019

You can garden year round in small space

Sunday, January 27, 2019

You can garden year round in a small space or container garden.  This is called four season gardening.  You need to grow the right vegetables for the season and use some season extender strategies.

4 Season Garden Explained
You hear people talk about a four season garden.  This just means growing a garden that you can harvest from in all four season-spring, summer, fall and winter.

Crops fall into 2 categories-cold season crops and warm season crops.  Cold season crops are those that prefer when temperatures are cool.  When warm temperatures hit (80’s), the cold crops “bolt” which is simply sending up a flower stalk to make seeds.

Warm season crops are those that abhor frost or getting their feet chilly.  Most of the warm season crops are killed by frost and won’t grow unless the soil is nice and warm. 

As you can guess, cold season crops are grown in the spring and fall.  The really cold (and freeze) hardy ones are also grown in the winter garden.  Warm season crops are put out after all danger of frost is passed and the soil has warmed.  A rule of thumb is that if you eat the tuber, leaf or flower, it is typically a cold season crop.  If you eat the fruit or seed, it is a warm season crop.

Cold crops-Arugula, Broccoli, Cabbage, Celery, Fennel, Leek, Lettuce, Marjoram, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Summer Savory, Sorrel, Cilantro, Spinach.  

Cold season greens for spring, fall and winter

Warm season crops-Basil, Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, Squash, Basil and Beans.
Warm season veggies-basil, peppers and tomatoes

So, when you go to plant in the spring, you will start with the cold season crops.  March 2018 Edible Garden Planner  Once the danger of frost has passed, you can then add in your warm season crops.  It's summer veggie planting time!

For fall gardening, you actually start your seeds in July.  These will be the same type of veggies you planted for your spring garden.  You may have to start them indoors as some seeds will not germinate in the hot temps of summer.  You can extend the fall harvest by covering your veggies with crop fabric when chilly temperatures arrive in late October.  The nice thing about fall and winter gardening is that pests are generally not an issue like they are in the summer.  Plant a last minute edible fall/winter garden

For winter gardening, you need to look for varieties specially bred for winter.  These will have descriptors like winter hardy, freeze hardy, bred for winter.  There is not much growth that happens from October through January so you have to get your winter crops to full size by the end of October.  Look at the seed packet (or seed catalog) for the days to harvest and add 2 weeks.  Back up from October 31st and this will give you the date for starting your seeds. 

Like fall crops, winter crops benefit from extra protection.  Using a fabric cloth will help raise the effective temperature around the plants and protect them from hard freezes.  As you get into the mid 20’s and below, a portable green house will keep your plants nice and toasty.  Be careful on sunny days as the temp inside a greenhouse can skyrocket if not cracked open.  Extend the season with protection for plants

Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials and can be planted spring, summer or fall.  You can plant oregano, thyme, lavender, sorrel, winter savory, ARP rosemary, chives, tarragon and sage once and have them year after year.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Most of your warm season crops are actually subtropical perennials and can be brought indoors in the fall like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  You can dig up your favorite, bring inside for the winter and replant in spring to get a big head start on the season.  They will continue to bear fruit during the winter months as well with good southern exposure in front of a window.

Don't be afraid to interplant your veggies with your flowers.  Flowers not only look great, but they also attract pollinators, increasing your yields, and insects that take care of the dreaded veggie eating insects.  It is a win-win all the way around.  Many flowers are also edible and are a pretty touch to salads.  Growing and using edible flowers

I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch.  Day lilies are edible and marigolds are a great pest deterrent.

Seed catalogs that have 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 just starting out, choose a catalog that also gives growing instructions for each vegetable and fruit type.  Ones that I have that do a nice job are Abundant Life, Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Territorial Seed gives a month by month planting guide along with detailed growing guide.  Johnny’s gives a seed germination temperature guide.  They will send you free catalogs or you can go on-line to visit their web page.  High Mowing is offering free shipping this season.

The most adapted crops to your garden will be those that are grown near you.  Choosing a seed company you trust is even more important than where they were grown.  Just look in the descriptor for key words that describe your growing conditions.  You can save seeds from your best producers of any heirloom or open pollinated varieties to have crops that are perfectly adapted to your garden.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Don't overlook the option of saving your own seed from your best producers or your neighbors.  Your neighbors and the farmers at your farmers markets have much experience in the varieties that grow well in your area.  Check local for a listing of farmers markets, many are year round now.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  The force of life is amazing.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Make your own organic potting soil

Saturday, January 26, 2019

There are just a few ingredients in potting soil so you can easily make your own.
Here is the recipe:
1 part composted or sterilized garden soil
1 part coir (coconut dust) or leaf mold (composted leaves)
1 part perlite or clean sand

To sterilize soil, you can put it in a cake or roasting pan and bake it at 200 degrees F for 50 minutes or put in a glass container in a microwave oven for 15-20 seconds.  Be sure to cover to keep the soil moist.

The compost is the best choice as it has microbial activity already happening.  Sterilizing kills not only the bad bugs and fungi but also the good microbes.  The microbes in the soil help the plant uptake nutrients. 
Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

Add in the homemade fertilizer and you have potting soil!
Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

For an extra boost, you can add worm castings and biochar.  Castings have tons of microbial activity and nutrients while biochar helps the soil retain moisture.

Biochar pellets
For seed starting mix, do a 50/50 blend of coir or composted leaves and clean sand with some worm castings thrown in for good measure if you have them.  Sterilize the composted leaves to be on the safe side.  I like to add Azomite as well.  Azomite is the abbreviation for "A to Z of minerals including trace minerals".  It comes from an all natural source.  Not only do plants grow and produce up to 30% more, but you are also getting those minerals in your food.  For more about minerals in gardening see The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

The best thing to do with soil in the pots you used last year is to re-energize it each year by adding compost and fertilizer.    No need to dump it out.  If you had pest or fungal problems last season, sterilize the old soil first before adding compost and fertilizer.  Adding compost will create more potting soil for other pots, too.
Re-energize your potting soil!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What is permaculture?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

You may have heard something about permaculture.  The book “Gaia’s Garden” brought this type of gardening to many.  What is it?

Permaculture is creating a synergistic garden; one that is symbiotic and supporting.  It includes enriching the soil, planting for nutrients, planting for shade, planting for food, landscaping for water, planting to attract beneficial insects, planting to repel bad bugs, planting to optimize your harvests.  It is all of this combined.

You need to look at your site to determine what it needs.  You can go big and do it all or start small and work your way into more of a self-sustaining garden.  The ultimate goal is that your garden is layered making the most efficient and productive use of your space and fully self-sustaining.

As you go to plan your garden, place plants based on the amount of care they will need.  Plant those that need daily care or harvesting closest to the house.  For those that need the least care, put furthest out.  Permaculture promotes 6 total zones.  Lay out your garden in these 6 zones and then think through what makes sense to be closest to the house, like herbs and lettuce, you would use daily and those that would be furthest away like nut and fruit trees.
For prepping the soil, start with sheet mulching Put in a new garden bed the easy way-really   You are basically composting in place, building incredible rich soil, alive with microbial and worm activity, which provide all the nourishment plants need to thrive.  The great thing about this technique is that no tilling is required!  Prepare in the fall and by spring, the bed is ready for planting.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds
Before I heard about permaculture, I started by doing a soil test, adding the nutrients it indicated, and composting.  I added first herbs, then vegetables amongst my flowers.  Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  I am a big fan of interplanting in the mulched flower beds.   
A good thing to do is to look at how your water drains.  Create small swells/berms to move the water to where you want it to go-like your vegetables.  This will significantly reduce your watering needs.  Mulch also helps keep moisture in the soil while adding organic matter.  Summer garden tips
Add shade to reduce your utility bills and give relief to your plants.  In the spring, all of your vegetables love the sun.  Come summer, many appreciate some shade and cooler temperatures, particularly greens.  Even peppers get sunburned when temps get in the 90’s in full sun all day.  Some relief from afternoon sun is appreciated.  A key cornerstone of permaculture is to plant trees and shrubs that also give you food like nut and fruits.  Fruit for small spaces
The beneficial, pollinating insects love the herbal flowers and the ornamental flowers.  The pollinators insure the vegetable flowers are pollinated to produce their fruits.  If the flowers are not pollinated, they will just fall off.  Growing and using edible flowers  We garden organically and only use organic insecticides in dire times.  Insecticides don’t know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug; it kills them all.  If you can wait, the bad bugs will attract the good bugs that eat them.  Then, you will have balance.  The first year, I bought insects that feed on the bad insects (lady bugs, parasitic wasps, and preying mantis).  It takes them a year or two to get established.  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

You can plant flowers that naturally repel the bad bugs like nasturtium and wild marigold (tagetes minuta).  I put nasturtium in pots and circle the bed with marigolds.   Mosquito repellant plants & natural trap
Planting trees and bushes provide shelter for birds that love to eat insects.  Look for trees and bushes that provide food for the birds, including winter berries.  Birds help to keep the garden in balance.  Don’t forget a water source so they can get a drink.  Make sure the water stays clean or the birds can get sick.

You can also add perennial vegetables, fruits and herbs to bolster the self sustaining garden.  Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden
Also interplanting vegetables and herbs that support others is a win-win.  An example is placing “nitrogen fixers” next to plants that love nitrogen.  You can also place nitrogen lovers in the spot the nitrogen fixers were.  Well known nitrogen fixers are peas and beans.  Clover also does the job and it is edible.  Companion planting
A couple of common plants that bring an assortment of nutrients up from deep in the soil is mustard and dandelions.  If you want a larger leaf dandelion, the French or Italian dandelion is the ticket.  You get great salad greens even in the heat of summer and an auto nutrient fertilizer.  Grow Cultivated Dandelions
There are even plants that are good for breaking up your soil.  These are ones that go deep, like daikon, chicory, dandelion, and mustard.  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

This is just some of the highlights of “permaculture” to give you an idea of what it is about.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Secrets of healthy garden soil

Spring garden bed and pots
Sunday, January 13, 2019

Soil is a living thing.  It has millions of microbes, worms, and insects making their home in the dirt.  Plants need nutrition, water, and living soil to bring the nutrients to the plants and keep the soil structure optimal.  Like people who need more than just carbs, fats and protein for good health, plants need more than just NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). 

There are 5 major things to look at for support of plant health and growth in your garden:
pH-significant effect on what nutrients are available in the soil for the plant to access
NPK-the major three for soil fertility on a macro scale
Minerals-plants need a variety of minerals just like people do for optimal health
Soil tilth-everyone talks about loamy soil, one that is light with lots of organic matter
Soil microbes and worms-healthy living soil support

The "ideal" pH for most garden vegetables is 6.5, slightly acidic.  A pH test is always good to do.  Most vegetables grow well in a pH of 6.5, which is slightly acidic.  Anything below 6 is so acidic that it binds the minerals like phosphorous, potassium and calcium.  Much higher than 6.5, the soil ties up iron and zinc.  You can get a pH tester at any big box store or local nursery.  They are super simple to do.

There are a few plants that require a more acidic soil to really flourish like blueberries and blackberries.  Crop pH tolerances

In general, gardens in rainy climates have acidic soil and those in arid are alkaline.  To raise pH, lime is used.  To lower pH, add organic matter. 

The major nutrients that we are all most familiar with when it comes to fertilizing is NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium).  These three elements are foundational to plant growth.  They are the numbers you see in any bag of fertilizer, ie, 10-5-8 will be 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorous, and 8% potassium.  

Nitrogen supports green, leafy growth.  Potassium supports strong stems, root development and seed and fruit development.  Phosphorous encourages flower blooms and movement of water in the plant.  Different plants require different amounts of each of these nutrients depending on if they are mainly grown for their foliage (like lettuce) or fruits (like tomatoes).   Greens will use more nitrogen while fruiting vegetables need more phosphorous and potassium.
Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive

You can get an easy tester at any garden center or big box store to test your pH.  You can also take a soil sample in to your local extension office and they'll test it for you.
County agriculture extension office locator

Just like protein, carbs and fat are not the whole story of nutrition for us, NPK is not the whole story for plant health.  Plants need a variety of minerals for optimal growth and resiliency against pests and drought conditions.  I either use kelp meal when fertilizing or Azomite to get minerals in the soil.  I make sure I am adding minerals in the spring and at least once in the summer.  When the soil has more minerals, so the plants, and then so do our harvests and what we eat.  

For more details on analysis of your garden soil and links to sites to help you get your garden in balance, see this blog:
The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals      

Soil tilth/type
The "ideal" soil is one that is light and fluffy, but not sandy.  You want soil that water doesn't just run through (like sand) or so dense that roots can't grow easily and water can't escape (like clay).  If plant roots stay in water logged soils, they can't breathe and will rot.  The way to get the optimal soil density is to add organic matter through mulch and compost.  I do both.  

I add mulch to keep the weeds down, keep the soil temperature steady, keep the soil moist in summer, and to add organic matter.  Over the course of a 2-3 years, you will have a nice thick black layer of organic material plants love.  Mulch also encourages earthworms which both till the soil making it loose for plant roots and adding nitrogen
Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

I also add compost.  Before I was composting myself, I would buy compost and add a layer in the spring, then put down fertilizer and top with mulch to keep all the nutrients in the soil  I now compost, but also buy composted horse manure from a nearby horse farm every other year.

Soil microbes and worms
You want a soil that is teeming with microbes and worms.  Microbial diversity helps bring the nutrition to the plant, similar to the microbes in our digestive system.  Good microbial population is helped by using compost and staying away from chemical fertilizers.

Worms are great for burrowing in the soil to make it nice and loose as well as fertilizing.  One way to attract earth worms is to lay cardboard on the soil, then top with compost, fertilizer and mulch. 

Getting good harvests depends on first having healthy, living, nutrient rich soils to support robust plants.  The healthier the plants, the healthier the food we get from them.  It is a win-win all the way around.
You really are what you eat! 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Why grow your own food?

Victory Garden poster from WWII
Saturday, January 12, 2019

I have fond memories of long summer days at my Granny’s. She had a BIG garden. My sister and I were always Granny’s little helpers. Of course, she was also a wonderful cook.  Having all her ingredients at the back door, made everything super fresh and nutritious. 

Every gardener has their own story on how or why they got started gardening:
-Growing your own was how your Mom and Dad did it.
-Wanting the freshest produce that gives your family the most nutrients.
-An intensively planted edible garden in the ornamental garden looks great.  Get the most from your space-plant intensively!
-Little Joey or Angel is a picky eater; if the little one helps plant it and grow it, they will want to eat it.   Children's edible garden
-Knowing that what you feed your family has no chemicals in it and contains no genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?
-Enjoying the variety of what is in season.
-Keeping Grandma or Grandpa’s favorites alive from seeds that have been passed down for generations.
-Just love watching things grow and digging in the dirt (it is great exercise to boot).
-Ability to snip the freshest herbs to add to your latest culinary masterpiece.
The list goes on........

I migrated from flowers to herbs and then to veggies. I love fragrance and ran across a clearance herb book. It listed many herbs that could be grown indoors. I thought that would be a great idea to grow good smelling herbs to freshen the house over the winter. When spring came, I transplanted them outdoors.  They did great!  Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow.  Most are also perennials which means you plant once and they come back every year on their own.  If you are afraid you can't grow things, give herbs a try.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

I toyed with adding veggies, but wasn’t sure how that would work out because our house was on a golf course!  I decided to try it out, incorporating them into my flower bed. Our concerns evaporated when the golfers began complementing us on our “flowers.” It is amazing how much you can grow in very little space and how great it can look.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

Nowadays, there is infinite variety in what you can grow in small spaces like the flower garden or on the patio.  There are so many new varieties that come out every year for small spaces.  These are referred to as patio, compact, or dwarf types.  Burpee’s seed packets display a terra cotta pot with a check mark in it for those that are good for growing in pots, which also work great in small spaces..  Using compact varieties just makes it easier and faster to take care of by having a smaller garden.  Veggies for small spaces  and Fruit for small spaces

Intersperse your vegetables and herbs with your flowers.  Not only does it look beautiful, but the flowers attract the pollinators that increase the amount your vegetables produce.  I plant my peppers with petunias in pots that we use on the patio and line the border of my vegetable garden with day lilies and marigolds.  Flowers that are edible

You can grow healthy plants without chemicals, referred to as all natural or organic gardening practices.  Your plants need beneficial insects to pollinate your fruiting plants (like tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers).  Insecticides don’t know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug.  There are organically approved insecticides that can be used, but should only be sprayed cautiously.  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

Herbs are so easy to grow.  Many of our favorites (oregano, rosemary, thyme, savory, basil, chives) are from the Mediterranean region that has little rainfall and poor soil.  You actually get the most flavor from herbs that are kept on the dry side; it concentrates the oils in the leaves.  You can harvest from them nearly year round as they are also perennials.  Cut back your herbs a few times during the growing season to keep them looking nice and for dried herbs.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

I named my gardening blog after the gardens our grandparents and great grandparents started to help support the World War I and II efforts, called “Victory Gardens."  Gardening in your back yard also reduces your footprint and absorbs carbon dioxide.  Besides just being fun and a cost saver.

Whatever is your reason for thinking about growing a garden, right now is a great time to plan what you are going to grow this spring!  How to know what to grow

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Grow veggies from store bought produce leftovers

Seed starting in garage
Saturday, January 5, 2019

Surprisingly, you can grow veggies from pieces of produce you buy along with seeds from store or farmers market produce.  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.  Save the seeds from the best tasting produce.

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.  Any advertised as heirloom will come up like its parents.  Hybrids may or may not be the same as the parent.  It's worth a try!  I have gotten some plants that give me even better fruits than what I bought at the store.  
What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?    

Best chance for success is with heirloom, 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.  
Seeds from store bought acorn squash
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. 
Growing avocado from seed 

You can also use the pieces and parts of some 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.  Everything to know about growing onions  I have kept celery in the garage over winter for several years with great luck.  Give celery a try, an easy to grow garden staple
*Save the “heart” or stem portion of lettuce to replant. Everything you need to know about growing lettuce 
*Breaking your garlic into cloves and planting them can work.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......
*Same with the eyes of potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Choose the eye that is already sprouting.  Time to plant potatoes, even if you only have a patio
*Replant or place in water the top portion of carrots.  The carrot top greens are great for salads.  All you need to know about growing carrots
*Any rhizomes (roots) will also grow when planted like ginger and horseradish.  I potted ginger that was sprouting into a pot last month and it is doing just fine.

Sprouting ginger
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 and it so nice to see things growing this time of year!