Showing posts with label Gardening 101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gardening 101. Show all posts

Jan 16, 2015

Gardening From Scratch, Part II: Choosing a Garden Site

Aside from the bit of research you did in part I of this series, choosing a location for your garden is the most critical aspect of having well producing plants. Taking a little time to think through your garden location can make the difference between a garden that produces abundantly and one that barely produces anything.



Sunlight

Your new garden needs sunlight. While there are some leafy green vegetables that grow in part shade, almost all vegetables and fruits are far more productive if they get at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Ideally, those 6 hours happen in the morning and/or early afternoon; afternoon sun is the hottest and therefore sucks more water from the soil. So how do you determine if a potential garden site gets that much sun? By observation.

The old fashioned way of doing this is, in my opinion, the best. First thing when the sun comes up, go out into the garden, and sprinkle any shaded areas with flour. Then go out into the garden at noon and do the same thing. And finally, at around 3 pm, do this again. To make things more clear, use something to differentiate between the three different markings; for example, divide each area with an inch wide "line" where no flour falls, or use a hose to mark off the different area. Now you should have a clear idea of the sunniest spot in your yard; plant your garden there.
From The New Garden Encyclopedia, 1943

A similar method is to draw a rough map of your potential garden area (or whole yard) on a piece of paper. Beginning when the sun rises, go out in the garden and note where it is shady. Lightly color in corresponding areas on your map. Go out again every hour (or at the very least, at noon and about 3 pm) and do the same thing. Make sure the shade on your map is a different color, according to the time of day represented. (At Get Busy Gardening, they use a slightly different notation method. Choose whatever makes most sense to you.) From your map, you should be able to easily tell how much sun any given area receives.

A newfangled way to test a spot for sunlight is to use an electronic sunlight meter. Stick the meter into the soil first thing in the morning (just before sunrise), and remove when night falls. The meter will tell you whether or not the location gets full sun. The only problem with a meter like this is that it only reads the specific location where it's put. To read an entire garden site requires many days of moving the meter around.

Now a word of caution: Sun exposure changes according to season, so don't expect that a shade map made in winter will accurately represent the shade in summer.

Water

Naturally, water is essential for a garden. While some areas generally get enough rainfall to support a vegetable garden, drought will be a huge problem unless your garden has reasonable access to irrigation water. I recommend having your garden near enough a water spigot that a hose can reach all part of your garden with ease.

Soil

Certainly, soil health is a vital aspect of a productive garden - but as long as you're willing to bring in decent soil, poor soil in your chosen garden location isn't detrimental. To learn more about what type of soil you have, click here. If, after testing your soil, you determine it's not very healthy, be sure to read up on how to combat the situation.


Next week, we'll talk about the nitty gritty of getting the garden ready for planting.

Jan 9, 2015

Gardening From Scratch, Part I: Do Your Research

It's no secret that, God willing, we'll be putting our house on the market in a few months. So while I have the itch to start winter sowing, that's something I just won't be doing this year. (Wah! We're really going to miss garden fresh produce, that's for sure.) If the house sells quickly, I might be able to plant a winter garden at our new location. And, yes, I'm anxious to get started.

Are you like me, starting a veggie garden from scratch? Then this series of posts will guide you through the entire process - from planning to getting the plants in the ground. Today, we'll start with the most important part of getting in a brand new garden.

First, Know Your Zone

The first important step is to know your USDA gardening zone. Just go to this USDA website, click on your state, find your city, and see what color it is. Every color on the map coincides with a USDA gardening zone number. (Another name for this number is your "plant hardiness zone.') Be sure to jot this number down - and use the number when you're researching which plants will grow in your area. When purchasing seeds, always be certain they are appropriate for your zone. Seed catalogs will say something along the lines of "Grows in zones 10 - 12." If your number is within that range, you should be able to grow the plant. If it's not, you won't be able to grow it.

Now, Know Your Frost Dates

You also need to know when your area usually gets it's first and last frost of the year. The Victory Seeds website has a handy list with this information. Again, be sure to write down the dates. This information will help you determine when to plant seeds or seedlings. Generally speaking, you'll want to wait to put seedlings out in the garden until the last likely frost of spring has passed. (With winter sowing, you don't have to worry about this date.) You also need the date of the first likely frost of winter so you know when to expect most plants to stop producing (unless you have them in some sort of greenhouse).

Next, Find Your Local Cooperative Extension

The Cooperative Extension System is a national network of experts who disseminate research on many topics, including gardening. Every state has at least one Cooperative Extension office - and most have several. They are a gold mine for gardeners! Look up your local Extension by using this Cooperative Extension map. Just click on your state and a list of extension offices comes up. Choose the one nearest your location.

Your state's Extension Office(s) will have an informative website, with lots of gardening articles - many of which are specific to your gardening zone. In addition, you can call your Cooperative Extension and ask specific questions that a gardening expert familiar with your area will answer.

Finally, Read Books About Gardening in Your Area

In addition, I recommend finding books that are specifically about gardening in your zone. A good first place to look is your closest library, but a search online will often turn up even more books.


With all this information in hand, you are well on your way to understanding your local growing conditions. It won't take long, and it will save you lots of time, heartbreak, and money!


Jul 16, 2014

Attracting Bees to Your Garden - and Dispelling Some Bee Myths

I know everyone keeps talking about the decline of bees - but if you could come visit my garden, I think you'd believe they've all come to live here! The truth is, there are a lot of misconceptions about bees. But the good news is, it is very, very easy to encourage bees to come to your yard - which benefits not only the country's bee populations, but also how productive your plants are.


  
Misconceptions about Bees, Pollination, and Colony Collapse

When you mention pollination to most people, they think of honeybees. But there are other pollinators (ants, bats, birds, butterflies, wasps, and more) - and honeybees aren't the only type of bees that pollinate. In fact, honeybees aren't even native to North America! Honeybees don't even know how to pollinate certain plants, like tomatoes and eggplant, and are really bad at pollinating others, like blueberries, pumpkins, and cranberries. To top it off, honeybees have a long history of illness and death in North America. They are just not designed for this environment, and are quite delicate compared to native bees.

And not only are our native bees much more hearty, they generally don't live in colonies - and they aren't suffering colony collapse. This is a great thing in general, but it will require commercial farmers to think in more old fashioned terms; instead of trucking in colonies of honeybees for pollination, they will have to consider how to attract native bees to their farms. (For more information about honeybee colony collapse and native bees as pollinators, please read "As Honeybee Colonies Collapse, Can Native Bees Handle Pollination?" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison website and "Are Native Bees Suffering the Same Colony Collapse Disorder as Honeybees?" at BayNature.)

From No Bees to Bees Galore!

So now you know the world isn't coming to an end because all bees (or pollinators) are dying. But there are still good reasons to encourage bees (native and honeybees) in your yard.

When my husband and I first moved into our house, we had virtually no beneficial insects and very few bees. Some of this was surely because there were very few plants to attract them. But once I started gardening, things didn't get much better. I was using chemicals in the garden - making it a place that wasn't hospitable to bees and other beneficials. But as soon as I stopped using chemicals (see below for more info on this), I noticed a change within about six months. Ladybugs began staying in our garden, for example, and bees started appearing regularly. Today, the beneficial insects are at an all time high in my garden - and there are bees everywhere! Here's what I do:

* I no longer use any chemicals in the garden - with the rare exception of a carefully controlled use of Roundup on invasive weeds that will completely overtake the garden if I don't spray them. I always try old fashioned methods of eradicating weeds first, and I treat all diseases (extremely rare in my garden) and pest infestations organically, usually with manual methods.
Borage
* I make sure to feed the soil with compost and organic mulch. Healthy soil makes healthy plants, which results in plants that resist disease and pests - and attract bees and other beneficials.

* I try to rotate crops. This is extremely difficult in a small garden, but I do my best because I know it helps keep plants healthy.

* I plant things just for the bees and other beneficials. Borage has made a tremendous difference in my garden. It's very pretty, can be eaten by people (I don't eat it, though), self-sows itself every year - and the bees absolutely flock to it. Other plants the bees really love include butterfly bush (though this is invasive in some parts of the U.S., so be sure to contact your local extension office before planting), lavender, and sedum. Other plants bees love include: basil, sage, thyme, chives, and oregano that are allowed to flower, sunflowers, asters, dandelions, clover, lilac, cosmos, black-eyed Susans, goldenrod, bachelor buttons, bee balm, honeysuckle, wildflowers native to your area - and of course they will love all your flowering edibles, too. Give them lots of variety.
Sedum "Autumn Joy"
* You can also create a place for bees to drink. A bird bath with stones in it is a nice choice.

Bee Killing Plants?

You may have seen something online about plants from Lowe's testing 51% positive for bee-killing pesticides. This is a bit unfair to Lowe's, because they get their plants at the same places almost every store gets their plants. But you can avoid buying chemical laden plants by shopping at local nurseries where you can ask - and get knowledgeable answers about - growing methods. Or just grow your plants from seed. Check out Starting Seeds - which is free - for instructions on how to do this.

Butterfly bush
Worried About Getting Stung?

Yes, I think about this; we have bee sting allergies at our house. But even with all the bees in my yard, I don't get stung. I am mindful of the bees - for example, I don't push past the borage to look for fruit on the squash plants. But I weed and water and so on - and the bees are so busy doing their work, they don't pay me any mind. Maybe they even see me as a collaborator in the making of the garden...who knows?

Jun 9, 2014

8 Tips for Transplanting Seedlings and Plants Successfully

Beginning gardeners often have trouble transplanting seedlings and other plants. Their seedlings may die, or larger plants might shows signs of shock, looking as though they may die at any moment. But here are some easy ways to ensure your plants survive - and thrive - whether you're a novice or an intermediate gardener.
1. If transplanting a seedling, make sure the plant has it's true leaves. (Seedlings will at first have a set of very small leaves; after that, larger leaves appear, which are called "true leaves. See the photo, above, for an example.)

2. If transplanting a seedling, make sure it's been hardened off first. (Not sure how to do that? Download my free ebook, Starting Seeds, for a full explanation.)

3. Water the plant the day before transplanting. This ensures the plant is well hydrated.

4. Choose the cool of morning or an overcast day to transplant. Lots of sun or hot weather are just too harsh for a plant that's been transplanted.

5. Water the plant thoroughly before transplanting. It's important the soil already around the roots be good and wet.

6. Disturb the roots as little as possible - and make sure all the roots are covered with soil (not explosed to the air and sun).

7. Once the plant is in the hole, fill in soil around it - then be sure to pat the soil down firmly.

8. Water thoroughly after transplanting to encourage roots to spread.

May 12, 2014

Free Online Films for Garden Inspiration

Sometimes we all need a little inspiration to get us out into the garden. If that's you, or if you simply want a better idea of how much food you can grow in a small space or how easy it really can be, you've come to the right place. I have two fun-to-watch, inspiring, and FREE online films for you.

The first is called "My Urban Garden." It's an older, short documentary about a mother who jammed her backyard with an amazing variety of vegetables to feed her family.

The second film is newer and longer, but well worth carving out some time to watch. It's called "Back to Eden" and features a gardener who, while he talked (and sometimes ranted) to God in the garden, learned that growing his family's food needn't be as hard as we often make it.

Enjoy!

May 7, 2014

Top 10 Tips for New Vegetable Gardeners

There is a growing movement in the United States - and a good one, too. More and more people are interested in growing their own food. But if you've never gardened before, growing food can seem like a HUGE undertaking. It's really tough to know where to start. If that's you, here are my top 10 best tips for starting your first garden:

1. Start small. I know you're excited and dreaming of an enormous garden, but if you're new to gardening, a small garden allows you to experiment - and fail - without big losses. Plus, a huge garden can be completely overwhelming to take care of if you're a newbie. Keep it small and sweet and you'll enjoy learning to garden far more.

2. Consider using containers. Container gardens require more water (because the soil dries out much more quickly), and can be costly once you buy proper potting soil and planters. To trim costs, you can use recycled containers. Just make sure they are actually big enough for whatever you are growing. Always err on the side of a pot that's too big, or you run the risk of a plant that is sickly or dies. The tricky thing here is that different plants require more or less "leg" room. Tomatoes, for example, have roots that reach way, way down - as much as 24 inches or more. Give them at least a 24 inch pot or 5 gallon bucket. Lettuce, on the other hand, doesn't send it's roots very far at all, so a 14 inch pot or Tupperware container only 4 inches deep will work fine. For more specific advice on what sized container to use for special plants, Google "what size pot for [plant name here]." For more valuable tips on growing food in containers, click here.

3. Test it. If you'll be planting directly into your yard's soil, it's very important to test your garden soil. Buy an inexpensive soil testing kit and follow the instructions that come with it. Read more about soil types here.

4. If your soil isn't good, you can buy garden soil and have it delivered to your house. For a very small garden, you might be able to buy soil in bags and bring it home yourself. Be aware, though, that quality varies a lot. Since soil is the most important element in gardening, research your soil options well.

Berms in my garden.
5. If you want to plant directly in the ground, I recommend using a raised bed or berm for your first, small garden. You don't have to spend a lot of money on this. Berms are by far the cheapest - they are really just raised beds without sides. (I know; you'd think the soil would erode terribly...but it doesn't.) If you want sides on your raised bed, choose an inexpensive material - hopefully one you already have laying around or can buy cheap on Craigslist, such as used wood planks or bricks.

6. Know your hardiness zone. This is absolutely must know information because it will tell you what plants you can grow (all seeds and seedlings are marked with information about what zones the plant grows in) and when you should plant it. To find your zone, click over to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

7. I'll give you a pass on starting things from seed for your first garden. If you want to go buy read here about choosing seeds here. Download my free ebook on how to start seeds, too. It includes lots of ideas for starting seeds on the cheap, without special equipment.
seedlings, do so. Ideally, buy them from a source that actually starts and grows them in your area - otherwise you may end up with a plant that doesn't grow well where you live. Be sure to read up on the seedlings you buy, though. Google the specific variety and learn when it should be planted and how it should be cared for. (Next year, plan on starting your own seeds. You can

8. Learn how to water plants. Hand watering is okay if your garden is really small, but you still have to know how long to water. Generally, plants with deep roots (like tomatoes) like deep, infrequent watering. In fact, a lot of gardeners give their tomatoes a good water when initially planted, then don't water them again until the tomato leaves start drooping. Lettuce, on the other hand, with it's shallow roots, needs much more frequent watering. A good general rule of thiumb is this: If you can stick your finger in the soil and it's dry 1 - 2 inches down, it's time to water. Also remember: Raised beds and containers will require more watering than most in-the-ground gardens.

9. Don't be afraid to start harvesting. Plants shut down and stop producing food if you put off harvesting, so frequent picking is a must!

10. Plant some flowers, too. Not only will they make your garden prettier, but they will help attract bees that will pollinate your plants and make your garden more abundant! Some easy to grow, bee-attracting choices include borage, goldenrod, lemon balm, tansy, butterfly weed and bush, lantana, and sweet alyssum)

Bonus Tip: Know that gardening is something that's learned through years or reading and experience. Truly, people who've been gardening all their lives are still learning in the garden. So don't expect that after one season of growing, you'll know exactly what you're doing. You'll have learned a lot, no doubt, but expect to learn more each year.

Got a gardening question - or two or three? Send them my way, and I'll help!
 

Mar 24, 2014

Identifying Beneficial Insects in the Garden

Recently, a novice gardener who'd read my post "Good Bugs vs. Bad Bugs" asked how to recognize beneficial insects before they are full grown. I think that's an excellent question! While I do recommend gardeners leave all bugs alone unless they are certain they are attacking plants, it can be helpful to know what "good bugs" look like when they are young so you can be extra careful not to disturb them

Now, there are quite a few beneficial insects - those that don't harm plants, and feed on insects that do harm gardens. They vary, depending upon where you live. But here are a few of the most common ones, plus a great source for looking up more. Please note that slight differences in color or shape are possible.


Ladybugs: We all know what cute little ladybugs (or lady beetles, as they are sometimes called) look like. But their young look very, very different! All ladybugs, but especially the young, feast on aphids and other small, soft bodied insects. You can help attract ladybugs to your garden by planting things that have yellow pollen and nectar, like squash and mustard. Also, don't immediately kill aphids when they appear in your garden. (But watch aphids carefully or they will literally drain the life out of your plants.) You may also consider making a ladybug feeder for your garden.
Adult ladybug, courtesy Jacopo Werther/Wikipedia Commons.
Ladybug larvae, courtesy Dûrzan cîrano/Wikipedia Commons.
Ladybug pupa, courtesy Pudding4brains/Wikipedia Commons.

Lacewings: Lacewing larvae eat aphids, thrips, scales, moth eggs, small caterpillars, and mites. To attract lacewings to your garden, don't immediately kill aphids when they appear. Also, consider planting dill, angelica, and fennel, and allow some dandelions and Queen Anne's lace to grow nearby.

Adult lacewing, courtesy Charlesjsharp/Wikipedia Commons
Lacewig larvae, courtesy Ellmist /Wikipedia Commons
Just hatched lacewing larvae, courtesy Staticd/Wikipedia Commons

Aphid Midge: Aphid Midge larvae eat - not surprisingly - lots of aphids. The best way to attract them is to not immediately kill aphids when you see them in the garden. You can also trying planting sweet alyssum, yarrow, mustard, dill, parsley, and cilantro.

Aphid midge larvae, courtesy Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University/Wikipedia Commons.
Courtesy UC IPM.

Damsel Bugs: Damsel bugs eat aphids, small caterpillars, leafhoppers, thrips, and more. Attract them to your garden with caraway, cosmos, fennel, spearmint, goldenrod, and marigold.

Courtesy UC IPM.

Praying Mantis: This interesting insect feasts on caterpillars, butterflies, flies, bees, wasps, and moths. Praying mantis are considered difficult to attract to the garden, but cosmos, raspberry, and flowering shrubs are considered plants they like.You can also purchase praying mantis at gardening centers.

Adult praying mantis, courtesy Shiva shankar/Wikipedia Commons
Praying mantis egg case, courtesy Lykaestria/Wikipedia Commons

Assassin Bugs: These insects love to eat hornworms, Mexican bean beetles, Colorado potato beetles, leafhoppers, cucumber beetles, aphids, lygus bugs, and caterpillars. To help attract assassin bugs, allow some Queen Ann’s lace to grow in your yard, and consider planting some daisies, goldenrod, and oleander.
Adult assassin bug, courtesy Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikipedia Commons.
Assassin bug nymph, courtesy Riechvaugen/Wikipedia Commons.
Assassin bug larvae, courtesy M. Purves/Wikipedia Commons.

Mealybug Destroyers: These bugs - a member of the ladybug family - are imported from Australia. The larvae feast on insect eggs. Adults eat lots of mealybugs, aphids, and other soft bodied insects. Having aphids and mealybugs in your garden will attract mealybug destroyers, but in most cases, you'll need to purchase these "good bugs" at a gardening center.
Adult mealybug destroyer, courtesy gbohne/Wikipedia Commons.
Mealybug destroyer larvae, courtesy Jagrob/Wikipedia Commons.

Minute Pirate Bug: This bug eats lots of thrips, aphids, mites, scales, whiteflies and other soft bodied insects. They are attracted to marigolds, cosmos, spearmint, goldenrod, and fennel.

Minute pirate bugs, courtesy UC IPM.


Other Beneficial Insects: Many flying things, including wasps and certain flies, kill "bad bugs" in the garden (as do spiders). In addition, most beetles eat pesky bugs. For more information on these creatures, plus other beneficial insects, please see the University of California's Agricultural and Natural Resources website, which includes photographs of insects at various stages of life.


Mar 12, 2014

17 Upcycled Seed Starter Pots - and how to use them

How much do you spend on seed starting supplies? If you are buying anything more than seeds and soil, you're wasting money! That's because it's so easy to start seeds using materials you already have on hand:

Salad container turned seed starting container.
1. Salad containers. If you buy greens or salads in plastic containers with lids, these are perfect seed
starting containers. (In fact, they are my favorite!)

2. Cookie, donuts, and other sweet containers. The kind that are plastic with a lid. Again, these are ideal for seed sowing.

3. Toilet paper and paper towel tubes. If you fold the ends under, they make perfect little pots that are biodegradable. (Learn how to make these pots in my free ebook Starting Seeds.)

4. Newspaper. It's easy to fold these into individual seed starting pots. (Learn how my free ebook Starting Seeds.)

5. Plastic soda pop and water jars. Just cut off the tops of plastic jars to make them a suitable height. If you like, duct tape the tops back on, to make a mini greenhouse.

6. Milk and juice jugs and cartons. Treat the plastic jugs just like soda jars. Cut cartons down to height -
Seed pot from a toilet paper tube.
even the single serving cartons work!

7. Yogurt tubs. Also tubs from cottage cheese, Cool Whip, ricotta cheese, and so on.

8. Aluminum soda pop and beer cans. These can be tricky to cut in half (Use caution! The cut edges will be sharp!), but they do work as nice little seed pots.

9. Styrofoam, plastic, and wax-coated paper disposable cups. The kind with domed plastic lids are perfect for making little greenhouses, but even lid-less types work.

10. Aluminum cans from canned food.

11. Aluminum roasting pans. Cheap ones from the Dollar Tree are just fine - or, if you buy rotisserie chicken, the pans they come in work great, too. Ideally, use the type with clear plastic lids.

12. Coffee cans.

Seed pot from newspaper. No special tools needed!
13. CD/DVD cases. The type you buy blanks in.

14. Chinese takeout boxes.

15. Plastic or Styrofoam takeout boxes.

16. Old Tupperware-style containers.

17. Cereal boxes. Just cut down their height.


And a few containers I don't recommend:

* Egg cartons. They aren't deep enough for seedlings to develop healthy roots.

* Ice cube trays. Again, unless they are unusually deep, the seedlings won't develop good root systems.

* Egg shells. Again, the problem is no room for roots.

* Citrus halves. No room for roots!

* Plastic berry boxes. These may seem ideal, but they have holes all over them, and this defeats the wonderful mini greenhouses effect of boxes with lids. If you have plastic berry boxes, go ahead and use them, but plan on using something else to create a greenhouse effect

* Glass jars. All seed starting containers need to have drainage holes...and you can't put drainage holes in glass.


How to Use Upcycled Materials for Seed Starting Pots:

1. Make sure the container has good drainage. Unless the container is paper (like a toilet paper tube), that means poking some holes in the bottom. At least 3 will work for a very small container, like a yogurt cup. For larger containers, like a salad greens box, use 5 - 8. If the material of the container is thin, you may be able to carefully poke drainage holes using one blade of a pair of scissors. Be careful! And make sure you're creating a hole, not just a slit. Otherwise, I recommend using either a hammer and fat nail or an electric drill.

2. Make sure the container is clean.

3. Add new soil - not soil from the garden and not soil that's been used before (unless you know how to sterilze old potting soil). You can use soil designed just for seed starting, but I have great success using plain old potting soil.

4.  Thoroughly dampen the soil. Make sure it's wet all the way to the bottom of the container.

5. Plant the seeds, according to seed packet directions.

You can now leave the containers as is, but you'll have better success if you create mini greenhouses that hold in moisture and heat:

6. If the container came with a clear plastic lid, make a few slits in the lid carefully using a pair of scissors or Exacto knife. Place the lid securely on top of the container. Within a few minutes, the container should fog up. If it doesn't, either the lid isn't a tight enough fit or the soil is too dry. As the seedlings grow, gradually cut away more and more of the lid until the plant is ready to go into the garden.

7. If the container has no lid, you can still create a greenhouse effect by putting a plastic Ziplock-style bag
over the top of the container, open end down. (Stiff freezer bags are easiest to use; if the bag wants to sag and not stand upright, place a few sticks in the seed pot to hold the plastic up.)

8. If you have many small seed pots (for example, toilet paper tube pots), you can put them in a plastic tub, old Tupperware-style container, roasting pan, or a plastic greens box from the gocery store. Make sure the larger container has some drainage holes and use the container lid (with air circulation slits) to cover the seedlings. Or, cover the large container with plastic wrap, loosely placed on top.

For more information on how to gradually acclimate seedlings to the outdoors, and how to use winter sowing or grow lights to create healthier seedlings, download the FREE ebook "Seed Starting."

Mar 10, 2014

The #1 Biggest Mistake When Growing Vegetables

You know those gorgeous vegetable gardens you see in books and magazines? Here's a little secret: They aren't as productive as they should be.

Why? Because photographers want the gardens to look lush and full...which means the gardener must put off harvesting her crops until after the photo shoot. And putting off harvesting is the #1 Biggest Mistake you can make when growing vegetables. 

Last year, I explained that failure to harvest herbs often leads to declining harvests. The same is true with vegetables. Often, gardeners get a few peas or cucumbers on, for example, and think, "I'll wait to harvest those until I have enough to serve for lunch." Or enough to freeze. Or to can. But when vegetables sit on the plant, ripe and ready to harvest, the plant thinks it should start going to seed - so it stops producing food and focuses its energy on making seeds. This naturally results in small crops and plants that go to seed early. (Besides, vegetables that sit on the plant for very long quickly loose their flavor and nutrition.)

But the fix is easy: Pick veggies as soon as they are ripe! Instead of letting those peas or cucumbers stay on the vine, pick them. (Eat 'em fresh, or add them to a salad.) If you do this, you will get the most from your plants.

Dec 30, 2013

Getting More from This Year's Garden

Did you know you can begin sowing seeds as early as late December? I rarely mention it until after Christmas because few of us have time to sow seeds in the midst of Advent and Christmas - but getting going on your garden NOW will make your garden all that much more productive. And no, it doesn't matter if you have huge snow drifts in your yard.

So if you want to get the most from your garden this year, please check out these archived posts. They will teach you how to sow seeds earlier than you ever imagined, and how to get growing as soon as possible in 2014, and how to solve some problems you may have had with last year's garden.

* How to Winter Sow (aka, get your seeds started even if it's snowing!)  You can also learn how to winter sow, start seeds indoors, and start seeds directly in your garden soil in my Starting Seeds ebook. It's free in .PDF format, or you can buy it in Kindle format for only 99 cents.

* Total Beginner's Guide to Growing Vegetables.

* All about types of seeds - including heirloom, hybrid, and GMO.

* How to Plan a Small Vegetable Garden. Planning makes a huge difference in garden productivity.

* Easiest Vegetables & Fruits to Grow.  If you're a new gardener, it's usually wise to stick to the easier-to-grow stuff.

* How to Start Your Garden as Early as Possible - it's all about soil temperature and how to manipulate it.

* How Many Vegetables to Plant?

* Storing, Sorting, and Testing Seeds. Last year's seeds, that is.

* How I Choose my Garden Seeds. Sound advice on picking seeds that will grow well in YOUR garden.

* The Vegetable Garden: Location, Location, Location.

* Conserving Water in the Garden. For many of you, the high cost of tap water is a big concern; here are some ideas on using less water in the garden.

* Growing Your Own Kitchen Herbs. As you can see from my breakdown of money saved by growing my family's food, one of the easiest ways to save money at the grocery store is to grow your own herbs. And the best part is, you need very little space to have a productive herb garden!

* The #1 Biggest Mistaken When Growing Herbs. Herbs are very easy to grow, but here is a common mistake to avoid.

* The Organic, Pest Free Garden - Part I: Bugs.

* The Organic, Pest Free Garden - Part II: Critters.

* The World's Easiest, Safest, and Best DIY Weed Killers.

See all the Proverbs 31 Woman's gardening posts here.

Dec 11, 2013

How Much Money Can You Save Gardening and Homesteading?

Have you ever wondered if you're saving money by growing your own food? While saving money isn't the only reason for gardening and homesteading, I still like to keep track of expenses. A great many people are under the impression that gardening and homesteading cost more than buying food at the grocery store. And while I've proven before that both chicken keeping and vegetable gardening are frugal, I haven't checked costs in a few years. So this year, I kept a careful record of the food we produced.

But before you read on, you should know:

* My estimates are conservative. Quite conservative. Although the food we produce is organic and ultra-fresh, whenever possible, I compared the cost of our produce with prices at our local chain grocery store. Yes, it would be more accurate to compare what we produce with farm fresh, organic produce (or even grocery store organic produce), but frankly, we can't afford to buy organic. But if I did use farm fresh organic or grocery store organic with what we produce, this would greatly increase the value of our home grown food.

* When I couldn't find a particular food locally, I looked for a price online - always trying to choose the lowest price I could find. I did not include the cost of shipping I would have to pay if I chose to buy these items online.

* My garden is small: The main bed is 12 x 14 ft. with wide pathways; I also have a bed about 33 x 3 ft.) (To see how I laid out the garden this year, click here.)

* My garden is still producing! I still have carrots, parsnips, collards, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, in the ground. And, of course, the chickens are still laying eggs. I used totals from December 8, 2013 for my calculations.

* I didn't harvest as much of certain things (like herbs) as I could have, simply because I couldn't use as much as I grew.

* I had to exclude the value of certain items that I can't buy locally and couldn't find online.

2013 TOTALS:


Total Pounds of Food Produced: 538.12 lbs.

Total Estimated Cost of Purchasing that Food: $1,770.89

Total Cost of Producing our Food: $278.00

Money Saved: $1,492.89

BREAKDOWN OF COSTS:

Seeds: $75
Seed starting containers: free
Seed starting soil: $10
Fertilizer: $10
Compost: free
Water: $80

Chicks: $9
Chicken Bedding: $10
Chicken Feed: $84 

BREAKDOWN OF PRODUCE:


Eggs, 815 = $163
Chicken meat, 20 ½ lbs. = $40.79

Apples, 13 1/4  lbs. = $25.00
Basil, 3/4 lb. = $7.44
Beets, 1 lb. = $2.49
Blackberries, 3 lbs. = $15.84
Blueberries, 7 1/2 lb. = $79.20
Buttercup squash, 2 1/2 lbs. = $2.22 (I can't find this type of squash locally, so I used the average price for summer squash)
Butternut squash, 44 1/2 lbs. = $39.60
Cabbage, 6 lb. = $2.94
Calendula flowers, 8 lb. = $48.00 (online price)
Carrots, 4 1/2 lb. = $8.37
Chives, 6 1/2 lbs. = $64.48
Cilantro, 1 1/8 lb. = $4.74
Collards, 14 1/2 lbs. = $144.42
Dandelion flowers, ½ lb. (I could not find these locally or online)
Dandelion greens, 35 lb. = $52.15 (online price of fresh leaves)
Dandelion Root, 2 1/8 lb. = $17.50 (online price)
Garlic, ½ lb. scapes + 1 lb. heads = $3.00 scapes (online price listed by local farmers);$3.49 heads
Green onions, 1 lb. = $2.36
Ground nuts, 1 lb. = $50.00 (online price)
Kale, 17 lbs. = $169.32
Kohlrabi, 1 lb. (I couldn't find a local or online price)
Kiwi, 1 lb. = $3.99 (for common kiwi, not the Arctic kiwi I grow)
Leeks, 5 lbs. = $25.00
Lettuce, 11 lb. = $36.19
Mint, 3/4 lb. = $7.44
Oregano, 1 1/2 lb. = $14.88
Pattypan squash, 44  lbs. = $39.16 (I couldn't find these locally or online, so I used the average price for summer squash)
Parsnips, 2 lbs. = $1.99
Passion vine, 1 lb. = $6.00 (online price)
Peas, 5 1/2 lbs. = $13.69
Potatoes, 11 1/4 lbs. = $11.14
Radishes, 8 lb. = $9.44
Rosemary, 1/2 lb. = $4.96
Sage, 1 1/2 lb. = $14.88
Spinach, 1 1/4 lb. = $1.98
Squash blossoms, 3 1/2 lbs. (I couldn't find these locally or online)
Sunchokes, 40 lbs. = $360.00 (online price)
Strawberry, 3 1/2 lbs. = $12.32
Tomato, 38 3/4  lbs. + 28.25 lbs. green = $96.49 red, $70.34 green
Wild onion, 2 lb. (I couldn't find these locally or online)
Wonderberries, 1 lb. = $16.60 (I couldn't find these locally or online, so I compared them to the online price of huckleberries - a close relative)
Zucchini, 60 1/2 lbs. = $78.05


This post featured at Crafty Garden Mama.

Jul 17, 2013

How to Use Manure in the Garden

Once upon a time, manure was abundant and every garden was fertilized with it. But these days, we drive cars, not horse-drawn wagons and carriages, so many of us have lost touch with just how awesome a resource manure really is. It's still among the best things you can put in your garden to increase soil health and plant production - so whether you live in the city of the country, here are some tips for finding and using manure to it's best advantage.

First, Know This
All commercially sold fertilizer is analyzed for the stuff it brings to the soil, which is expressed with an NPK rating. For example, Miracle Grow's all purpose (non-organic) fertilizer has an NPK rating of 24-8-16. The first number represents the amount of nitrogen in the fertilizer; the second number, the phosphorus; and the third, the potassium.

Nitrogen helps leaves and stems develop and is ideal for leafy vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, kale, and collards. Too much nitrogen inhibits flower and fruit growth, however. Phosphorus helps develop root systems, flowers, and fruit. Potassium increases plant health, making the roots more hardy and helping the plant fight disease. It also helps develop fruit.

Manure also has NPK ratings, which you'll learn below, but know that because you're dealing with an organic product, actual numbers may vary.

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Horse Manure
Many people consider the gold standard in manure is horse manure. In the old days, horse manure was carefully collected and rarely was wasted. Even city families without horses swept the street in front of their home in order to collect this valuable stuff. Today, if you don't have horses of your own, you might be able to get some horse manure for free just by asking friends who own horses. Otherwise, you can purchase manure from nearby stables and truck it back to your house.

Horse manure, however, must be aged before it can be placed in the garden. As with most manures, applying it in the garden before it's sat around and decomposed will "burn" your plants, probably killing them. Fresh manure may also contain E.coli, making it a threat to your health.

If you're buying horse manure, only buy "aged manure." If you're getting the manure for free, you might have to take it while it's still "hot;" if that's the case, you'll need an out of the way corner to mound the manure until it ages. Just how long does it need to age? That depends upon how it's composted. (Is the pile turned or not? How hot is the weather? How large is the pile?) You'll know it's done when it's "crumbly, evenly textured, earthy-smelling, dark material that looks like a commercial potting soil mixture. It will probably take about one to three months for each pile to compost during the summer and about three to six months in the winter...[horse manure] compost should 'cure' for at least a couple of weeks before use," according to WSU Cooperative Extension.

Horse manure has a 1.5–1.0–1.5 N-P-K rating.

Caution: Recently, some gardeners have reported some horse manure as toxic. Apparently, horses who eat hay or grass sprayed with herbicides are producing manure that still has enough herbicide in it that - once it's applied to the garden - kills plants. So before you bring manure home, it pays to bring up this topic with the horse owner. (Learn more here.)

Chicken & Other Bird Manure
Now that many people are raising backyard hens, chicken manure is gaining in popularity. Chickens poop a lot. Why not use that poop to improve your garden? If you don't have chickens, some industrious  homesteaders now sell the manure at farmer's markets and feed stores - or you can buy commercially bagged chicken manure at many gardening centers.

Again, chicken manure must be aged before you put it into your garden. Putting fresh manure in the soil may harm plants - and it might make you sick, too. Expert advice varies on how long to age chicken manure; some say 6 months, others say a year. I would err on the side of caution and age it for a year...although I have used 6 month old chicken manure in the garden, but only in autumn garden beds that will remain inactive until spring.

How to compost your own chicken's manure is a matter of preference. If you have enough land, you can just make a pile somewhere out of the way. But if you live in the suburbs, this can get pretty stinky. Dedicating a compost bin to chicken manure is a non-smelly, safe way to go.

Chicken manure rates at about 1.7-2.4-1.7. If it's mixed with bedding materials, it's more like 2.8-2.3-1.7

Turkey manure is about 1.4-1.0-0.9. Pigeon: 4.2-3-1.4. Duck: 5-23-17. All must be composted before being used in the garden.

Rabbit Manure
As you may remember, last month we brought home a pet rabbit. He's a miniature, and not full grown, but oh my, is he a manure-making machine! I don't mind, though, because rabbit manure is a valuable fertilizer. And, unlike other manures, rabbit manure can go directly into the garden without aging. (That's because rabbits are herbivores.)

To give you an idea of how much manure one rabbit produces, our little bunny produces enough pellets to fertilize about 4 plants each week. (By the by, I figure that our rabbit more than pays for himself. I would be hard pressed to purchase as good an organic fertilizer for the cost of his feed.)

If you don't have rabbits (learn more here about raising them for meat on your homestead) but know someone else who does, they may be willing to give you pellets for free. Otherwise, you may begin to see rabbit manure sold by enterprising homesteaders at farmer's markets and feed stores.

Rabbit manure comes in at about 3.5-1.0–1.8.

Cow, Sheep, and Goat Manure
Cow manure isn't as great as many other manures, but it's still good enough you may find it at gardening centers. If you know a local farmer, you may be able to buy cow manure from him, too. It does have to be aged for about a year, however, and is only 0.5-0.5-0.5.

Sheep and goats produce better manure for the garden, coming in at about 1.5–1.0–1.8. Because these animals are herbivores, their manure doesn't have to age before going into the garden.

Manures You Should Never Use
Cat and dog manure should never be used in the garden because they can contain parasites and pathogens that attack humans. Most modern sources recommend avoiding pig manure for the same reason.

Humanure
Yes, that's right. Manure from humans can go into the garden, too. In fact, it's done all around the world; even here in the U.S., farmers often get "sludge" (dried up human poop) from local cities. I won't go into the details of safely using human manure, since I'm pretty sure most of us would only resort to it if we had no other fertilizers to use, but you can learn all about it in the The Humanure Handbook, a free .PDF book.

What About Weeds?
Manure may contain weed seeds, especially if it's not composted using a "hot system" (where the pile reaches at least 155 degrees F.). But according to Cornell University, even hot composted manure may contain persistent weed seeds, so it's smart to plan ahead and know how you're going to deal with weeds in the garden. (Two easy methods are laying cardboard down on top of the soil and using thick organic mulches.)

How to Use Manure in the Garden
For added safety, the University of Main's Cooperative Extension says manure should be added to the garden at least 120 days before harvesting crops that may touch the soil. This includes root crops and leafy greens. Otherwise, apply 90 days before harvest. Very often, gardeners and farmers apply manure in the fall, after harvest - but if you'll have a winter garden, you may have to rotate areas of your garden for active growing and for "active feeding" (or manure-ing) the soil.

To get the most from manure, it's best to dig it into the soil. The general recommendation is to use about 40 lbs. of manure per 100 square feet, dug down 6 to 9 inches. With herbivore manure, I'm not quite so exacting. For example, when I empty out the rabbit's manure tray (which is located directly under his wire-bottomed hutch), I simply dig a trench around a plant I want to fertilize, sprinkle his manure pellets in pretty liberally, cover, and then water well.

Always water deeply after applying any manure. 

Also remember it's true you can have too much of a good thing. Over-applying manure of any type can actually throw the balance of nutrients in the soil way off, making it impossible to grow anything. To avoid this, most manures should be applied just once a year - usually in the fall or early spring. It's also wise to do a soil test once a year. You can buy inexpensive soil test kits at a gardening center - or online. For best results, conduct the test in the fall, before digging in any manure. The test will reveal if your soil is imbalanced - and what to apply to the garden to correct that imbalance.

May 20, 2013

The #1 Biggest Mistake When Growing Herbs

Herbs are really easy to grow. Most grow, literally, like weeds, taking over the garden if you aren't careful.* But how many of you have planted herbs only to be disappointed by how little they grew? Assuming you've given your herbs adequate amounts of sun and water, if it seems like they just won't grow, you're probably making the #1 Biggest Mistake: Not harvesting them often enough.

That's right. Rather than waiting patiently for the herb to grow "big enough" to harvest, you really should begin harvesting as soon as the herb has several leaves. That's because cutting away herb stems and leaves stimulates the plant to grow more stems and leaves.

Many herb growers also fuss over how to harvest their plants - but you really don't need to. There are only two basic rules:

* Let 3 or 4 leaves stay on the plant/stem.
* Ideally, cut off each stem just above some leaves.

Honestly, I don't always follow these rules. For example, when I harvest sage, I cut the mass of leaves haphazardly, sometimes leaving leaves behind on stems and sometimes not. And my sage plant is still vigorous and productive.

So quit being so nice to your herbs. Hack away at them! They actually appreciate a good haircut!

(Need tips for preserving herbs? Click here!)


* To prevent herbs from taking over the garden, plant them in pots.

Jan 27, 2013

Your Gardening Zone - Important Updates You Don't Know About?

I recently ran across the PlantMaps site and realized my gardening zone information and first and last frost dates are different here than anyplace else I've looked. Why? Because the site takes into consideration recent weather patterns.

I encourage you to check out your local information. I discovered my gardening zone had dropped a number - that's HUGE when it comes to having a successful garden!

UPDATE 1/28/13: One reader has written to tell me PlantMaps has completely incorrect temperatures for her area; for my area, it looks accurate. So do look at the specific temperatures the site claims for your area before deciding whether the information is reliable for your gardening zone.