Branch Out! Here’s 5 Weird (But Delicious) Vegetables You Should Plant This Year

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Branch Out! Here’s 5 Weird (But Delicious) Vegetables You Should Plant This Year

Kohlrabi. Image source: Pixabay.com

It’s easy to fall into a predictable habit when you garden. You plant a few of your favorite vegetables and some flowers, and consider your crop selection over.

In doing so, you may have overlooked a few of some of the most unique (and even weird) plants that you could (and should) grow. It’s time to take your garden to the next level. Instead of simply planning the same standard garden this year that you’ve always done, spruce it up with a few of these unique plants.

1. Black tomatoes

Love tomatoes? Add some visual appeal to your tomato crop by planting the Indigo Rose tomato – also known as black tomatoes. These antioxidant-rich tomatoes are healthier than their traditional red counterparts, but are just as easy to grow. With their striking black color, these tomatoes have a dark skin, but the interior is fleshy and savory.

2. Kohlrabi

Earning a place in the “oddest looking” category, kohlrabi comes in bright purple, white or green. Part of the cabbage family, this colorful plant might be the closest you get to an alien encounter – and you won’t even have to leave your garden. Perfect for gardens in cooler weather, the kohlrabi is a cross between the cucumber and the radish.

3. Mexican sour gherkin

cucamelon -- pixabay

Cucamelon. Image source: Pixabay.com

The Mexican sour gherkin (or cucamelon) is a miniature cucumber, with the look of a watermelon.

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They thrive in very similar conditions to the cucumber (warm temperatures and sunny location), but are more pest-resistant than their traditional counterparts. Despite their sweet outward appearance, they have a tangy cucumber taste.

4. Stevia

This calorie-free, natural sweetener is easy to grow and has multiple benefits that can only be obtained from the plant. The highly-processed compound used in most commercial sugar substitutes has little of the healthful properties found in the plant. Stevia leaves can be used fresh or dried. Recent studies have indicated that the stevia plant may be more effective in the treatment of Lyme’s disease than the commonly used antibiotics. This plant can be grown easily in raised beds or containers, making it a plant that can find a home in almost every garden.

5. Amaranth

If you live in a warm climate, then you have a small window of opportunity to grow leafy vegetables such as spinach. With their green, stalky leaves, amaranth gives you a viable substitute to spinach, kale or chard. In addition, it is one of the few greens that thrive in hot, humid conditions. Use this in soups, salads or sandwiches – anywhere you would use spinach leaves.

What unique plants have you tried in your garden? We’d love to hear about them! Share your thoughts in the section below:

Frost-Tolerant Vegetables You Should Be Planting Right Now

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6 Frost-Tolerant Vegetables You Should Be Planting Right Now

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During early spring, the urge to get out in the garden and start planting almost becomes overwhelming.

Stores are stocking up on gardening tools, and seeds are luring me in with the promise of a bountiful harvest. I take full advantage of the warmer climate where I live. But if you live up north you may be hesitant, knowing winter may still throw a few frosty nights at you.

Go ahead and get your gardening gloves out; you can avoid pre-season garden blues by planting frost-resistant plants this spring.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Peas

Snow peas, snap peas or other varieties are easy-to-grow veggies that do well in early spring. With their large seeds, they’re perfect for even the smallest hands to plant. Useful for getting restless kids (and grandkids) out of the house and into the yard, peas do well in early spring – even with a late frost. They’ll grow as vines or bushes, and can take up to 65 days to mature. Plant more than you think you’ll need – the harvest seems to disappear with these easy-to-reap veggies that are loved by both grown-ups and kids alike.

2. Spinach

Baby spinach is a quick sprouting addition to an early spring garden. You can harvest in as little as three weeks, giving you small, tender leaves to use in salads and cooking.

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Spinach is frost-resistant, but seems to thrive when grown under cover, so consider using a garden cover the first few weeks after planting. To help prevent loss from frost, plant spinach close together and harvest early. Plant a few varieties to have an assortment of greens from which to choose.

3. Chard

6 Frost-Tolerant Vegetables You Should Be Planting Right Now

Image source: Pixabay.com

Another type of green that grows well in early spring, chard gives your garden a sneak peek at the bursts of color that warm weather brings. For a beautiful display, add yellow, red or white varieties to your planting rows. Sow seeds close together, and then harvest young growth to thin the seedlings. Some chard is available for harvest within 25 days, while others can be grown longer to reach full size. Use chard fresh, toss some into a blender for a nutritious smoothie addition, or cook leaves for a delicious addition to soups.

4. Beets

Beets thrive with cooler weather, and seem to do best before the ground heats up. You can plant beets up to a month before the last frost. This prevents their roots from becoming woody, and it gives them a sweet taste. Beets mature in 60 days and should be approximately two inches wide at harvest. Plant seeds three to four inches apart for optimal growth. Their lovely greens add bright stripes of green to your garden.

5. Carrots

Perfect for locations with heavy soil, carrots take longer than most vegetables to germinate. Sow carrot seeds directly in the soil, but plant more than you will need, because germination is spotty. Get them in the ground up to a month before the last frost, and then thin out the seedlings when you start to see leaves appearing. This is another fun plant to send your kids out to harvest, but don’t be surprised at their abnormal shapes. Depending on your soil, it can split the roots and produce funny-looking carrots that taste delicious!

6. Lettuce

Lettuce can be hard to germinate, so for best results, start some indoors and then transplant seedlings in early spring. They can be moved to your garden up to six weeks before the last frost. Sow additional seeds around the transplants for succession plants, giving you a season-long supply of lettuce. Cover the seeds with a light soil. Harvest leaves when there are enough on the plant for continued plant growth.

Don’t let the fear of frost keep you from getting a head start on your garden. Use cool weather-friendly plants to ease into spring, and enjoy the tender produce your garden will grow before hot weather sets in.

What frost-tolerant or frost-resistant plants would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

5 Low-Cost, Creative Ways To Build A Raised Bed Garden

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5 Low-Cost, Creative Ways To Build A Raised Bed Garden

With spring finally here, you may be considering putting in a raised bed garden. But if you’ve headed to your local garden supply center, you (and your budget) may have recoiled in shock.

Instead of crossing “raised beds” off your to-do list, consider some of these budget friendly ideas that can get your garden up and growing quickly.

Making the Bed

Often, the biggest expense for raised beds is the actual bed itself. Find ways to reduce the cost of your raised bed by thinking outside the box.

1. Lose the bed. Want to really cut costs? Don’t use a box at all. Build your raised bed by creating mounds wherever you want your bed to be located. Simply put down a layer of newsprint, followed by a two-inch layer of grass clippings or shredded leaves. Include a layer of manure, followed by a layer of top soil. The rounded edges help rain to run off, and the elevated bed helps prevent it from being trampled by mowers or walkers.

2. Use recycled materials. If your garden also doubles as a yard for small children or animals, you may need a raised bed with walls. Look for pieces that can be repurposed: old cribs, galvanized tubs, old fence rails or scrap lumber. A quick-and-easy bed can be made out of concrete blocks. For a natural look, use tree stumps, rocks or reclaimed concrete. Scour your local classifieds or Craigslist ads for free items that you could use to build a garden bed.

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3. Build on the cheap. Really like the look of a wood bed, but don’t want the expense? Visit the fencing section of your local lumberyard. Purchase individual fence slats to build the walls of your bed. Cedar is weather-proof and makes a great raised bed. Look for untreated lumber if you’re planning on growing food. Pallets can be found easily and can be used to build your bed.

Filling the Space

4. Make your own soil. Bags of growing medium can add cost to the project quickly. For best results, and for maximum growth potential, create layers in the growing box. Not only will it cut down on the cost of soil, but it will give your garden the nutrients it needs to produce a bountiful harvest. Every gardener has their own “special sauce” of growing soil — a mixture of dirt, fertilizer and other additives that they’ve had success with. The basic formula I use, however, looks like this:

Start with a layer of weed block. (I prefer three layers of newspaper; it’s effective at stopping weeds and grasses from getting through and will break down over time.)

Add two inches of “green material.” Leaf clippings, grass cuttings and other yard waste is perfect here. A neighbor of mine swears by the fact that he adds a bag of Old Roy dog food to the raised beds. While I’m not sure what the dog food does, you can’t argue with his results! His garden overflows with food year-round! (Don’t have a lot of leaves to use? Ask your neighbors to save their grass cuttings; most people will be happy to have someone else dispose of their yard waste!)

Add a layer of mulch. This helps to hold moisture in the garden bed, and provides additional nutrients as the mulch breaks down. (Be sure to get “natural” mulch. Check with your local extension office for free mulch that may be available.)

Add a layer of dirt. I prefer to mix my soil with worm compost before adding it to my raised bed, to ensure even coverage. Add a few inches of soil to the top of your garden.

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For extra help with water retention, I like to cover my raised bed with hay or mulch after putting in my plants. It helps to prevent weeds from taking root, and holds in moisture, essential in the hot climate where I live.

Adding Your Plants

5. Don’t pay for high-priced seedlings. Start your own seedlings, using last year’s seeds or seeds you purchase.

Or visit local garden shows, small nurseries or other garden centers for inexpensive seedlings. Check with your extension office for “plant swaps” and other plant-sharing events that will allow you to share (and receive) plants from other gardeners. Make friends with people who garden – most gardeners love to share their plants and will offer cuttings or seedlings to get your garden started.

A raised bed doesn’t have to break the bank. You can find ways to garden “on the cheap,” giving you and your family access to delicious fruits and vegetables right outside your door.

Be creative – your garden can be as unique and individual as you!

What advice would you add on building an inexpensive raised bed? Share your tips in the section below: 

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In A Raised Bed

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The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In A Raised Bed

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

One of the best benefits to having your own garden is the ability to pick and choose what you grow. There is nothing quite like harvesting a crop and serving it to your family.

With a raised bed, you have more flexibility than a traditional garden, so your planting options are endless. But what should you plant? Some vegetables do better than others in a raised bed. If you’re new to raised-bed gardening, start with some of these sure-fire winners:

Potatoes. A raised bed is perfect for growing potatoes. The loose soil allows the plant to spread easily, and also allows for easy draining, preventing the plants from rotting quickly. A contained bed makes it easy to add hills over the plant shoots and gives you easy access for harvesting.

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Onions. For best results, onions need a long growing season. A raised bed lets you plant early and leave them until they mature; for most varieties, this can be up to 100 days. By customizing the soil, you can create an optimum growing medium for onions by mixing lots of compost in with your soil. The easy draining and loose soil are perfect for onions.

Root vegetables. Carrots, radishes, beets and other root vegetables grow best in soil that is loose and rock-free. Your garden bed allows these veggies complete growing freedom in an environment designed for success. You can customize the depth of the bed, ensuring that they have enough soil to grow.

Tomatoes. One year, I did an entire raised bed of tomatoes. To mix things up, I had several varieties: cherry, plum, beefsteak, green and yellow. Tomatoes thrive in a raised bed! Give them a rich, nutrient-dense soil and they will produce (and produce, and produce, and produce!).

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In A Raised Bed

Image source: Pixabay.com

Have some specific gardening needs? You can still have success with your raised beds.

Problems With Shade?

If your yard gets less than six hours of sunlight a day, you can still have a bountiful garden. Try some of these shade-loving vegetables that do well in a raised bed: beets, carrots, kale and scallion.

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Some years, I purposely move my raised beds into a shady part of the yard so I can take advantage of early spring planting to grow a variety of lettuces. With a raised bed, I can plant earlier than in a traditional garden, so the less heat-tolerant plants have a better chance of success.

Have Young Gardeners?

Have kids (or grandkids) that love to help in the garden? Add interesting plants to help captivate their attention and keep them interested in what’s growing! Blue potatoes, carrots, peanuts, watermelon, and pole beans are all perfect raised bed plants. Add some cherry tomatoes for fun (they’re perfect to snack on while working in the garden), or Swiss chard for visual interest.

Want a Photo-Worthy Garden?

Make your neighbors (and your social media friends) jealous with a garden that is not only supplying you with vegetables, but has visual appeal. Jerusalem artichoke, fennel, asparagus, peppers and sunflowers are a delight for the eyes (and the taste buds). They do well in a raised bed and make an impressive display for front-yard gardens.

No matter what you grow in your raised bed, always try to add something new. You never know what new favorite you may discover!

What are your favorite vegetables to plant in a raised bed? Share your tips in the section below:

6 Reasons Raised Beds Beat Traditional Gardening Nearly Every Time

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6 Reasons Raised Beds Beat Traditional Gardening Nearly Every Time

Image source: Flickr / Creative Commons / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As winter gives its last hurrah, my thoughts are turning toward the promise of spring.

Maybe you’re like me, and you love the idea of having a bountiful garden, but the idea of dragging soil additives to the backyard, dealing with weeds and pests, and trying to coax a few tiny tomatoes from their vine seems like more work than it’s worth. Instead of trying to force a garden into the ground, I’ve begun using raised beds. It works better in my suburban yard, and gives me more flexibility in how I garden.

What makes a raised bed garden better than a traditional garden? Glad you asked.

1. Improved soil quality.

One of the key components of a successful garden is good soil. Depending on where you live, this may be one of your biggest challenges. Your soil may be too acidic, too hard, too sandy, too chalky. Skip the headache of trying to figure out what to add to correct the soil by using a raised bed. In your raised bed garden, you can create the perfect soil. Add compost, fertilizer or whatever else is needed to create the ideal growing environment for what you’re planting.

2. Pest management.

Few things are as disheartening as finding your garden ravished by pests. Trying to keep critters, bugs and parasites out of your plants is time consuming and frustrating. A raised bed, however, makes it easier. The frames of the raised beds will help keep out pests and other critters that crawl along the ground out of your garden.

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Soil parasites and nematodes can be thwarted with the use of plastic liners. Wire netting can prevent rodents and other burrowing creatures from invading the garden. Raised beds can be secured with fencing. Physical pest control management is easier and faster, thanks to the size of the raised bed. With easy access to all sides of the garden, you can remove interlopers by hand, or apply localized pesticides.

3. Increased production.

Using staggered rows, you can maximize your crop production. Rich soils allow for more plant nutrients, and compact planting areas prevent weeds from invading the garden. This creates an ideal growing situation that gives you more food in less space. In addition, you can extend your growing season by planting earlier and continuing your garden later in the year thanks to your raised bed.

4. Improved drainage.

Plants don’t like to have wet feet. A raised bed allows for rain to seep into the garden, and prevents the runoff that would typically wash away topsoil. Water is able to soak down into the lower level of the bed, giving the plants all the moisture they need, without the stagnating puddles of water they don’t.

5. Improved aeration.

Plant roots need aeration to breathe and to absorb nutrients. By mixing the soil for your raised bed, you are giving the plants loose soil to grow. This provides for circulation to keep the soil (and the plants) healthy.

6. Improved weed control.

Raised beds give you the ability to control weeds by using soil that is free of dormant seeds. In addition, you can use liners, such as newspaper or other bed liners, to prevent weeds from growing up through the raised bed. Close planting of crops prevents weeds from taking root, and the loose soil makes it easier to pull any errant weeds that may make their way into the garden.

This spring, skip the digging. Try a raised bed garden and see what a difference it can make in your homesteading. Your back (and your garden) will thank you.

Do you use raised beds? What are your favorite benefits from them? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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6 Ways To Maximize Your Raised Bed Garden This Year

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6 Ways To Maximize Your Raised Bed Garden This Year

Image source: Pixabay.com

Sitting inside, pouring over gardening magazines, and dreaming about my spring garden, I envision acres of land covered in lush, green plants. Each row is teeming with fruits or vegetables, and my family is awed by the bounty of supplies that our garden provides.

When I step outside and face the reality of my yard, however, reality comes crashing back. I don’t have acres of land to work with, and my expanse of lawn is stopped abruptly by the fence that divides my yard from my neighbors (all three of them). To make matters worse, the “dirt” in my yard is more accurately called sand and doesn’t seem to want to grow more than weeds. How can I still achieve the garden of my dreams? With raised beds.

Using raised beds, I can still have rows of plants; they’re just contained in smaller areas.

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Here are six ways to maximize your raised bed garden this year:

1. Shapes matter

To maximize the space, think rectangle instead of square. Using long, rectangular boxes allows you to easily reach all the plants without having to leave pathways for walking. The benefit? You can fit more plants in your box. Use raised beds that are no more than three feet wide for maximum gardening ease.

2. Location, location, location

If you live in an area where good soil is hard to come by, raised beds allow you to grow plants anywhere. By mixing your own soil, you can grow a bountiful garden in your yard, on concrete patios or elsewhere. Place your raised bed in an area that receives full sun, has easy access to water and is safe from outside forces such as pets, running children or lawn mowers.

3. Spacing

Instead of long rows of plants with spaces in between, stagger your planting rows. A traditional garden uses planting squares to help guide your planning. In your raised bed garden, think triangles. Stagger the rows so that the plants in the second row are in between the plants in the first and third rows, forming triangles. This creates a fuller garden, giving you more production capacity.

4. Companion planting

6 Ways To Maximize Your Raised Bed Garden This Year

Image source: Pixabay.com

As you’re developing your garden plan, follow the lead of Native Americans and use “sister” crops. Planting corn, beans and squash together allows the cornstalks to support the beans, while the squash grow happily in the shade provided. Find other compatible plants to group together to provide an assortment of produce. Some other “sisters” are: tomato, basil and onion; carrots, onions and radishes; celery and beets.

5. Succession planting

Want the benefits of your garden to last all season? Plant in cycles. You can capitalize on fast-producers like lettuce by planting a new crop after your harvest. Replace the lettuce with peppers to keep your garden producing longer.

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For even more production, stagger plant dates by using transplants. Grow seedlings by starting them indoors at varying dates. Add plants to your raised bed at two or three week intervals to ensure a continuous supply of produce.

6. Think vertical

Even if you don’t have a large area of ground, your garden can still produce an abundance of food. Just grow up instead of out. Train cucumber and squash to grow up on stakes or trellises. Plant vining crops along one side of your raised bed with sturdy poles, or in the middle using trellises to provide shade or support to other plants.

Are you planning your spring garden? Maybe you’ve decided to try a raised garden bed this year, or you’ve done raised bed gardening in the past, but haven’t been happy with the results. Using these simple tips can help you maximize your raised bed, giving you and your family a rich harvest that can last year-round.

What advice would you add on raised bed gardening? Share your tips in the section below:  

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How To Keep Your Chickens Legal (And Safe) In The Big City

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How To Keep Your Chickens Legal (And Safe) In The Big City

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Raising chickens, once considered a staple of country living, has made its way into suburbia, where wannabe homesteaders are finding creative ways to bring rural life to their neighborhoods.

Caring for chickens (and their eggs) is not all it’s cracked up to be, however. Even in the relative calm of suburbia, there are dangers that threaten suburban flocks. Ready to enhance your homesteading journey with chickens? Be aware of these potential perils.

1. Zoning laws

Despite the growing popularity of backyard flocks, many cities haven’t kept pace and have zoning laws that prohibit the keeping of chickens within city limits. Check with your city’s ordinance codes to find out what (if any) limitations there may be before you order chickens and set up your coop. In some anti-chicken cities, officials are willing to “overlook” small flocks, provided they are well-behaved and don’t upset the neighbors. Many chicken owners find that paying off their surrounding neighbors with fresh eggs will smooth over any “ruffled feathers” about a few sweet chickens living in the backyard. Be a good neighbor: Keep your coop clean (and odor-free), skip the rooster (they make too much noise) and offer to bring deviled eggs to neighborhood cookouts. Be prepared, however. If you have an illegal flock, you may be forced to rehome them should city officials enforce zoning laws.

2. Neighborhood predators

You’d expect there to be danger to a flock of chickens out on a farm. Suburbia, however, has perils of its own that can be deadly for your brood.

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One night, I forgot to close my chicken coop door. About midnight, I heard a clattering sound at my fence, followed by an uproar from inside the coop. By the time I made it outside, whatever had infiltrated the backyard was gone. My chickens were beside themselves, but all were present. A neighbor later told me she saw a coyote racing out of my yard while letting her dog out that same night. In my neighborhood, a new housing development had displaced a band of coyotes, sending them prowling through the streets in search of food and shelter. Fortunately for my girls, he left hungry that night.

Other neighborhood predators include the obvious: cats, as well as dogs. A hungry neighborhood cat can (and will) scale fences in search of young chicks happily rooting in the yard. Dogs break through fences, dig under coops, and chase errant chickens who may have escaped the safety of your yard. They also can include some surprising additions. As cities expand and develop forested areas, wildlife such as coyotes are trying to share space with the humans that just moved in. They’re looking for food and are willing to sneak into your yard to get it. Possums and raccoons may stealthily find their way into laying boxes in search of their morning eggs. Hawks can swoop down on unsuspecting chicks, carrying them off to feed their hungry young. Rats and mice invade coops and feed supplies.

How To Keep Your Chickens Legal (And Safe) In The Big City

Image source: Pixabay.com

How can you protect your flock? Provide your chickens with a coop. Their coop not only acts as a laying station for their eggs, but it gives them a place to escape the clutches of predators. With a chicken-sized entrance, large dogs and coyotes will be unable to enter the structure. A door that can be closed will provide extra protection from nocturnal visitors such as possums, raccoons and cats. Chicken wire (or poultry netting), buried at least six inches around the base of the coop, will discourage predators from digging in, and help keep your chickens from trying to tunnel out. (Have you seen the movie Chicken Run? I’m convinced it was based on the antics of my chickens!)

3. Free-range dangers

You may not have acres of land to allow your chickens to free-range. Even with an average-sized yard, however, your small flock can happily spend the days rooting through the grass and bushes in search of snacks, a warm dirt spot to burrow down in, or a shady area to rest. Trouble happens, though, when your chickens notice that the grass on the other side of the fence is actually greener, and then fly over the fence to explore. Not only will the rest of the flock follow, but they’ll luxuriate in their new-found freedom and head down the street, checking out what plants and bugs your neighbors have available. Your neighbors may not appreciate having visitors who scratch their way through their yard, and may chase them off or call the city to complain. Secure your neighbor’s goodwill by offering eggs, and offer to let your girls help turn over their garden plot in the spring. Keep your brood grounded by regularly trimming their wings.

4. Poisonous plants

Many decorative plants that look beautiful in landscaping beds are poisonous to chickens. Hydrangeas, tulips, azaleas and other beautiful flowers that gardeners like to grow can be toxic to free-ranging chickens. Look for chicken-friendly plants that can provide snacking opportunities for your brood, while beautifying your yard. Add nasturtiums, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and sunflowers for variety (and safety) in your garden.

Raising chickens in suburbia is an adventure. However, the benefits of fresh eggs and a flock of happy chickens in the backyard are worth the challenges. If you’ve been considering adding chickens to your family, there’s never been a better time.

What advice would you give to someone raising chickens in the city? Share your tips in the section below:

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