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

Mar 12, 2018

Why You Shouldn't Worry About GMO Seeds in Your Garden

the difference between GMO seeds, hybrid seeds, heirloom seeds, open-pollinated seeds
It's that time of year when people are buying and starting seeds for their vegetable gardens, and it seems everywhere I go someone is asking "Where can I buy non-GMO seeds?" Trust me, friends; this is something you don't have to worry about.

It's not that I'm pro-GMO. I'm definitely not. (When humans play God it always ends badly. And where are the studies showing a lifetime of eating GMO food - or pesticide-ridden food, for that matter - is safe? Hint: No such studies exist.)

But here's the deal: GMO seeds are not available to home gardeners. That's right: You can't buy GMO seed unless you're a commercial farmer.

The reason for this is simple: Profit. The creators of GMO seed want to make a whole lot of money from them. Therefore, they don't want just anybody being about to grow GMO food. I know this because they regularly sue farmers who accidentally grow GMO food in their fields because the wind or a bird or some other natural thing makes GMO seed fall on their property. GMO seed costs more than traditional seed, and the makers of GMO seeds want to keep it that way.

No, little ol' backyard gardeners like you and me can't get our hands on GMO seed. worries!

What is the Difference Between GMO Seeds and Non-GMO Seeds?

To help clarify further, let's talk about the differences between GMO, hybrid, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds...because this is where a lot of the confusion about GMOs sits.

GMO seed: Seeds that are created in a lab. These seeds could never be created in nature...never. GMO plants may have DNA from non-compatible plants, as well as from animals and bacteria. (Learn more about creating GMO seeds here.)

Hybrid: Hybrid seeds and plants have been around for a very long time. Hybridization often happens in nature, because wind or animals cross-pollinate plants. Hybrids can also be created by humans, when the process is used to bring out special traits in a plant. (For example, a human might cross a tomato that is particularly disease-resistant with a tomato that is especially tasty and, if she is lucky, come up with a tomato that is tasty and disease-resistant.) No laboratory is needed to make a hybrid. Instead, gardeners simply remove the male portion of a flower to create a "mother plant" and push the male portion of a different flower into it. (Learn more about cross-pollinating plants here.)

Hybrid plants are not the best for seed saving because hybrid seeds aren't usually true to the parent plant. For example, if you collect seed from that hybrid tomato I mentioned above, the offspring plants probably won't have all the good qualities of the parent plant - and may have some of the bad qualities from the hybrid tomato's ancestor plants.

Heirloom: Seed from an older variety of plant, handed down for generations. All heirlooms are open-pollinated.

Open-pollinated: A hybrid seed that was created by insects, birds, wind, humans, or any other natural process. Open-pollinated seeds are excellent for seed-saving because they tend to be true to the parent plant. While all heirlooms are open-pollinated, not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom.

One Last Thing

Because someone will bring it up. GMO seeds might be a real concern if you live near commercial farms growing GMO crops - because the wind or animals could potentially drop GMO seed into your garden. If you're in this situation and you see seedlings where you didn't plant them - especially if they are GMO crops (corn, soy, sugar beets, papaya, zucchini, yellow summer squash, canola, or cottonseed) - pull them immediately and burn them.

Jan 17, 2018

Why and How to Prune Blueberries

Pruning Blueberry Bushes
This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

John 15:2

When we purchased our mountaintop homestead about a year and a half ago, we were blessed to discover four blueberry bushes. Not all of them are large, but they are an excellent addition to the potted blueberry plants we brought with us from suburbia. (Because if there's one thing I've learned about blueberries, it's this: I can't ever seem to grow enough of them for my family!) Last year, for the first time ever, I even had enough blueberries to preserve a few for winter...Happy dance!

Still, the blueberry bushes that came with our property hadn't been pruned in years, so last weekend, I gave them a good trimming. Why prune blueberry bushes? Well, pruning will eventually make your harvest bigger - and the individual berries will grow bigger, too. Pruning also helps keep the plant healthy, warding off disease. Plus, a well pruned plant is also considerably easier to harvest from.
My blueberry bushes were a tangled mess. Pruning was in order!

When to Prune Blueberry Bushes

The best time to prune is when the bushes begin forming buds. For me, that's right now. If your winters aren't as mild as ours, you probably won't see buds until early spring.

How to Prune Blueberry Bushes, Step by Step

1. Begin by removing all dead branches. This encourages new growth and keeps the plant productive and healthy.

2. Now remove any branches that cross each other, especially if they are touching. If you let crossing branches stay on the plant, it becomes harder to find fruit and may prevent (and will always slow) ripening of the berries.

3. Next, remove branches that point toward the center of the bush. Such branches reduce air circulation, which can cause disease. In addition, a more open bush gives more light to the fruit, which helps berries ripen.

The large buds are future blueberries. The small stubs are future leaves.
4. Finally, remove any branches that don't have new growth. They may not be dead, but if there are no buds on them, they are sucking energy from the plant without giving you the benefit of food.

What to Do with Blueberry Prunings

You may wish to burn or chip your blueberry prunings. Wood ash is a great addition to organic gardening soil, and chips are a wonderful mulch. But you might also want to keep at least some blueberry branches for homestead rabbits or pets like hamsters or guinea pigs. These creatures have teeth that continue to grow throughout their lifetime; chewing branches is absolutely necessary for them to keep in tip-top shape - and blueberry branches are safe chewing material.
I'm saving these prunings for our rabbits.

Fertilizing Blueberry Plants

After you're done pruning, take a few minutes to fertilize the plants. Blueberries love acidic soil, and very few of us have enough acid in our gardens to make them productive and happy. (Not sure what the acidity is in your soil? Use a simple home test kit; I use this one. For blueberries, the soil pH should be at least 5.5.) Coffee and tea grounds can help add acid to the soil. Even better is an inch or two of Sphagnum peat. You may also use commercial fertilizer that's made especially for blueberries and rhododendrons. I use Down to Earth's all natural acid fertilizer. Just sprinkle whatever fertilizer you're using around the base of the plant, then water it in well. (Don't dig it into the soil, or you risk damaging the plant's root system.) Having trouble getting your soil acidic enough? Plant blueberry bushes in very large pots, instead. We did this successfully for many years.

Related Posts
* How to Grow Honeyberries
* Mini Blueberry Pies

Aug 31, 2017

How to Grow Figs

When we moved to our homestead, I was pleased as punch there were fig trees. Of course, I'd never eaten figs before (unless you include Fig Newton cookies), but I was eager to try a new fruit.

Soon, I learned why you never see fresh figs in the grocery store: Truly ripe figs are delicate things that handling and transportation would turn to mush. That makes them quite a precious home grown food, then.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that figs grow in most areas of the United States. And they are easy to care for, too. To learn how you can grow figs, please click here to read my article over at Self-Reliance magazine's website.

May 30, 2017

How to Grow BIGGER Garlic

If you grow garlic, eventually it will send up "scapes" - long stalks with bulbs, and eventually, flower heads. You can leave them entirely alone. In fact, flowering garlic is really pretty in the garden.
Courtesy of Panegyrics of Granovetter
But if your main goal is to grow food, you'll want to cut them off. That's because scapes provide additional food - and removing them creates bigger garlic! Learn more in this short video:

And check out my posts on How to Cook with Scapes and Great Garlic Scape Recipes.


May 26, 2017

How to Make Your Own Garden Soil

lasagna gardening, sheet mulching
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

I continue to struggle with setting up our garden. A lot of things have delayed creating vegetable beds on our homestead: particularly, a hurricane-force wind storm that blew the roof off my greenhouse and lead to the loss of every single plant marker (oy!); my husband's limited spare time and projects that I simply needed his help with; weather that seems to make everything bolt (go to seed); and too many holes for our income. So I've decided to do what homesteaders should: Make do with what I have. The problem is, good soil is something we have almost nothing of. And though I don't have the ability to bring truckloads of soil home, I'm doing my best to find creative ways to produce the soil I need.

Building Your Own Soil 

I began by considering lasagna gardening (also called, much more boringly, "sheet mulching"). This is not only easy, but it's ideal for people who have terrible garden soil. The idea is simple: Lay cardboard or many layers of newspaper on top of the soil (no need to remove weeds or grass) and get them thoroughly wet. Then put layers of organic matter on top. That's it!

To help the materials break down more quickly into soil, it helps to alternate "brown" and "green" materials, just like you would when composting. (Not sure what that means? Click here for an explanation.) But it's not absolutely necessary. Any organic matter you use will eventually break down and create great soil.

So what kinds of things can you use for lasagna gardening? Almost any organic matter you can get your hands on, including compost, animal manure that's not "hot;" a thin layer of grass clippings, fall leaves, clippings from the garden (but none that have gone to seed), straw (that hasn't been treated with weed killer), coffee grounds, a thin layer of wood ashes, dryer lint, shredded newspaper...

Ideally, you start layering lasagna gardens in the fall and the beds will be mostly decomposed and ready for planting by spring, but Patricia Lanza, author of Lasagna Gardening, says you can plant seedlings directly into a just-created lasagna bed. Just remember that as the bed decomposes, it will shrink in height.

How I Did It

You can make a large, proper garden with the lasagna gardening method, but I'm having to scramble more than that since my garden area currently has our motor home parked on it. (If you're reading this honey, "Ahem.") For example, recently I drug an old bathtub (which the previous owners left behind) and put it in a sunny spot. (It's 1950s pink. It's got retro charm, dontcha know.)

To prep it, I took a broken piece of terracotta pot (also left behind by the previous owners) and placed it over the tub's drain hole. This will keep the soil in the tub while still allowing water to drain from the hole. Next, I added a layer of bad soil. This happened to be super dry, dead potting soil left in buckets by the previous owners. (Noticing a trend here?) For you, it could be soil from your yard. I broke up the clumps, but I allowed the small roots in the soil to stay there. They will decompose eventually.
My stylin' retro pink bathtub garden bed.

Next, the rabbit cage needed cleaning, so I put a thick layer of rabbit manure and straw (which we use as bedding) in the tub. The wonderful thing about herbivore manure is it doesn't need to sit and compost before you can use it in the garden; it can go directly into the soil without danger of burning plants. (For more info on using manure in the garden, click here.) Finally, I added a bucket or two of decent soil that I'd bought in bags and had previously used for seed starting. I watered this all down well, and voila! I had a garden bed. (But who knows what's planted in it, since all my seed markers went missing...)

A Few Other Tips

* If you're using a deep container for planting, you can prevent the need for quite so much soil by placing small nursery pots, broken terracotta pots, or even packing peanuts in the bottom of the container. This is not, however, recommended for veggies with long roots, like tomatoes.

* If you have woods nearby (that you own, or that a friend or neighbor has given you permission to use), you could remove topsoil from the forest and use it in your beds. You'll probably bring some weeds with you, but they should be easy to distinguish from desirable plants. Obviously, you'd want to do this gently and not remove too much soil from the natural landscape.

* It might pay to check with your local city. Some offer free compost to people residing in the area. Technically, if the compost is completely "finished," you can use it in place of soil. But I find it's almost never finished when you rely on someone else to determine that for you, so it's best to use compost only as an amendment. Nevertheless, it can add bulk to your garden beds, reducing your need for quality garden soil.

* Use kitchen scraps to bulk up your beds. Yes, scraps that aren't composted! Just put fruit and vegetable scraps in the bottom of the garden bed, and cover them with other organic materials. They will decompose there and help create fantastic soil.
Mystery seedlings.

Apr 13, 2017

How to Make Cutworm Collars to Protect Seedlings

One day last fall, I was sad to find some of my cabbage seedlings guillotined - their tops sitting neatly beside the pots they'd been planted in. Last weekend, I discovered some of my precious tomato seedlings had suddenly disappeared. Both problems were caused by the same pest: Cutworm. These nasties crawl around at night and chew through young plants at the base of the soil, quickly decimating garden crops.

Fortunately, there's an easy fix: Just give your seedlings collars!

There are several methods of doing this, but my favorite is to use ordinary kitchen foil, since it holds up to spring rains or garden watering. Watch this quick video to discover how to do it:

Apr 3, 2017

DIY Seed Tape Video - How to Make Your Own Seed Tape

Last weekend, I had fun making seed tape with my kids. It's a fun, quick, and easy project that will save you money and frustration later. Check out the video below. Or, if you prefer written instructions, click here to see the post I wrote on DIY seed tape a few years ago.

Feb 28, 2017

Why You Need A Digital Homesteading Journal

If you're serious about feeding your family off your land - whether that be a suburban backyard or a many acre farm - keeping a journal is important. Farmers have been doing it since paper became readily available, and you should, too. But to really get the most from your journal, keeping a digital journal is, in my opinion, an absolute must.

Why a Homesteading Journal?

The simple answer is that a journal will save you endless amounts of time and frustration. For example:

Have you ever grown a wonderful variety of veggie but forgotten it's name or where you purchased it? That won't happen again if you keep a journal.

Have you ever wondered exactly how much money you spent on the garden, or the goats, or the chickens, or the homestead in general?

Ever wondered if you're saving money by growing and raising you own?

Ever wondered if there are places where you can cut back on expenses?

Ever tried to remember exactly when your goat stopped giving milk last time she was bred, or which rabbit you bred with which last breeding season?

Keeping a journal will make discovering all that quite easy.

In it, you can keep track of such things as:

* Weather patterns and temperatures
* Names of plant varieties you've grown or want to try to grow
* Notes on how to grow specific varieties of plants
* Dates for when seeds were started
* Dates for when varieties came to harvest
* Notes on how pounds of each plant you harvested
* Dates for when varieties died back due to frost, disease, pests, or other variables
* Sketches or photos to remember garden layouts
* Notes to assist in the rotation of crops
* Notes to help you remember the outcome of garden experiments
* Figures tracking gardening expenses
* Notes about how specific varieties taste, or work best in which recipes
* Records of how much you've preserved, and how quickly you went through your preserved food
* Notes on which herbal remedies seem to work best for your family
* Reminders about what time of year to forage certain foods, and where to best find them
* Notes on how much milk, meat, eggs you're getting from your animals
* The dates when your hens started and stopped laying
* Information on how long milk animals keep producing
* Notes on how long it takes to grow out meat animals
* Breeding and lineage notes

In short, anything at all you might need to remember about your homestead should go into your homesteading journal.

Why Digital?

Traditional garden and farm journals are hand written and kept in binders or notebooks.They are certainly useful, but it can take some time to look up the notes you're specifically after. However, if your journal is, say, in a Word document, finding what you need is a breeze! Just use the search feature to bring up the information you want.

For example, this spring, I needed a list of the vegetable varieties I grew last year. All I had to do was open up last year's journal and search "seeds sowed," and I instantly had the list in hand.

Suggestions for Making a Homesteading Journal

Everyone has different preferences, but here are some things that work well for me.

1. Each year, create a separate file for your journal. Its name should simply be the year, or "Homesteading Journal [year]."

2. Keep every year's journal in one folder (named, for example, "Homesteading Journals").

3. In the Word document, separate entries by the date. Use bold lettering to make separate entries easier to find, in case you are just browsing the file, instead of using the search feature. Consider putting keywords, like plant and animal names, in bold, too.

4. Type in everything, even if you're sure you'll remember next year.

5. Include photos of your garden layouts.

6.  Scan plant tags and include them in the file, too.

7. Scan in all paperwork related to your animals. This will serve as a backup to any paper files you might need to keep, but also make access to them easier. Be sure to tag all photos with a keyword, to make searching easier.

7. Keep a back up copy of your journals on a separate drive.

In just a few minutes every day, you can easily collect a huge variety of highly useful information in your journal. And by looking back on your notes frequently, you'll become a better homesteader, and your homesteading efforts will be easier and more successful, too.

Feb 9, 2017

Choosing Seeds for My New Garden

Honestly, I'm trying not to get stressed about my garden - or lack thereof. Because as of this moment, the vegetable garden doesn't exist. We still need to remove a few trees around the yard and set up the garden beds. Thankfully, I do have the greenhouse and a few small raised beds (tall square pallets and an old bathtub or two) that the previous owners left behind. dream garden it ain't. So...I'm reminding myself that getting the garden up and proper is gonna take time.

In the meantime, I've tested my old seeds to see if they are still viable, and have placed my seed orders. There are some "old reliables" coming my way, as well as some fun new varieties to try. Here are a few of the notables that (I hope!) will appear in my 2017 garden.

(Please note: None of the links are affiliate.)

Autumn's Choice butternut squash.
* Autumn's Choice Squash. It's hard to beat a good butternut squash: So tasty, and stores all winter long just sitting on a shelf. This year, I'm trying this new-to-me variety because it's said to have a strong resistance to powdery mildew - always a problem where we live. It's also got a slightly shorter growing season than many other varieties (85-90 days), and has unusual and pretty skin. I bought my seeds at Territorial Seed.

* Morris Heading Collards. Greens are an important crop for me, since we eat them a lot because they're an excellent source of nutrients. My whole family loves collards, which we mostly eat sliced thin and sauteed (usually with garlic and salt, and maybe some chopped bacon). This variety is one I've grown for years. It's reliable, tasty, and slow to bolt (go to seed). It also grows pretty quickly and is an heirloom. I bought my seed this year at Baker Creek Seed.

* Brunswick Cabbage. I've grown other varieties of cabbage, but I always come back to Brunswick cabbages because they are large and relatively fast-growing (90 days). This variety is also especially cold hearty and stores well. I buy my seed at Baker Creek.

Bull's Blood beet.
* Bull's Blood Beet. This is my favorite beet to grow because the roots are tasty - and so are the tops. I love the large red leaves for sauteing, and my family loves the roots for borscht and pickling. This year, I bought my seeds at Territorial.

* Catskill Brussels Sprout. Homegrown Brussels spouts are far superior to bitter store bought ones! And I keep coming back to this variety because the plants grow so large. (A friend once said of their size, "Those aren't any ordinary Brussels sprouts. Those are old growth Brussels sprouts!") I get mine at Baker Creek, even though they claim this is a dwarf variety.

* Amazing Cauliflower. I've never had much success growing cauliflower, but since we eat a lot of it, and since our new homestead is  more friendly to this cool season crop than anywhere else I've lived, I'm hopeful. Supposedly, this variety matures in 75 days and gives good flavor. I bought my seeds at Territorial Seed.

* Hollow Crown Parsnip. This is the best parsnip I've ever grown. It's sweet after a good frost, and stores well in the soil. (P.S. The crown of the parsnip isn't actually hollow.) You can buy this seed at Baker Creek.

* BeaverLodge Slicer Tomato and Silvery Fir Tree Tomato. To be honest, I've never had a lot of luck growing tomatoes from seed. This is because our growing season isn't long and warm enough to grow them from seed without some artificial lights (for the seedlings) - and I have yet to acquire those lights. But while our growing season is technically rather long here, our weather is also generally cool, which makes tomato-growing a challenge, even with the unheated greenhouse. So I'm really striving to find short-season tomatoes that don't mind a little cooler temps. I chose Beaverlodge because it matures in about 55 days, and is supposed to be abundant. I bought my seed at Territorial. Silvery Fir matures in about 58 days, and is open pollinated. You can also buy this seed at Territorial, too.

Double Purple Orach.
* Double Purple Orach. At our old homestead, I always had a tough time growing spinach; the plants grew, just not abundantly. I should have an easier time with spinach at our new homestead, but it's always nice to have orach on hand, too, because it's less fussy and tends not to bolt (go to seed) as quickly as spinach. The flavor is similar. I've never tried this variety before, but I like the idea of getting some purples into my greens, because the nutrients are slightly different. I got my seed at Territorial.

* Double Yield Cucumber. This is a new variety for me, but promises to not only produce abundantly, but to provide good cucumbers for both pickling and eating fresh. I bought my seed at Territorial.

* Fortex Bea. Beans are among the easiest things to grow, and I've always been pleased with my choices, including Dragon Tongue and Golden Gate. But this year, I'm trying this new-to-me variety, which is supposed to be tall and vigorous, with large bean pods. I bought my seeds at Territorial.

Wild Garden Kale.
* Miner's Lettuce. Miner's lettuce is supposed to grow wild in my general area...but I've never been able to find any. It's high in vitamin C and extremely cold tolerant; it will grow year round in my area. I got my seed at Territorial.

* Wild Garden Kale. We eat a ton of kale, and this mix from Siberia is a real winner in my garden, year after year. There are some nice variations in color (light green, purple, red, and blue-green) and leaf shape - and while all kale is cold tolerant, this mix is especially so. I buy the seed at Territorial Seed.

Jan 27, 2017

Do Orchards Attract Wasps & Other Stinging Things?

Q: I want to plant an orchard in our front yard, but my husband says that's a bad idea because it will attract bees and wasps. Is this really a issue?

A: Our front yard is lined with fruit trees, and we love it! Not only do the trees provide cooling shade to part of the yard, but they are pretty, too. In fact, I can't wait to see what our yard looks like in spring, with all the fruit trees blooming!

Fruit trees - like pretty much any flowering plant - will attract some bees. That's actually a good thing, for at least two reasons:

1. The bees pollinate the trees, which makes it possible for them to bear fruit.

2. Bees are struggling, in case you haven't heard. Not just non-native honey bees now, but even native species. So giving them a source of pollen is a positive thing.

Our yellow plums.
The good news is, bees that are out gathering pollen are not generally aggressive. They are unlikely to sting anyone.

As for nastier stinging things, like wasps, we have had zero problem with them. In fact, when I do see wasps in someone's orchard is because they are attracted to rotting fruit. That is a problem easily solved if you simply keep fallen fruit cleaned up:

1. Harvest regularly, and preserve or give away excess. This helps prevent fruit from falling and being spoiled.

2. Use fallen fruit for jams or jellies. This requires checking the orchard daily and collecting any fallen fruit that isn't rotten.

3. Give any livestock you may have fallen fruit that you wouldn't want to eat, but that isn't rotten.

4. Compost the rest. (But don't over-fill your composter with fruit, or it will decompose way too slowly.)

Does this sound like a lot of work? It can be, depending upon the size of your orchard. But if you're planting fruit trees because you really desire to grow your own food, I think you'll find you're easily motivated.

And I can tell you that if I had a bare yard that needed landscaping, the first thing I'd do is add fruit trees to it.